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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.

Chapter Text

The surface of the pond rippled away from the men, the intermittent breeze brushing the water forward. As the water met the confining perimeter of the pond, the water was pushed back, against the breeze, creating indecision that amounted to the water having no direction, becoming random and wandering and contradictive – so the wind stirred the contents of the pond as the leaves overhead rustled and old wooden limbs of trees creaked. The breeze was stronger, due to the flatness of the leveled, tilled or seeded land around it. The men had cut through a pasture, and now stood in the night air, moonbeams imitating sunlight by chilling their necks, where their jackets and their packs did not cover them. Their packs were being unloaded beneath a tree with long, drooping branches - soon obscured by the thickest patches of mixed grasses, which had been meticulously selected and distributed over the pasture to feed the animals.

Some livestock, cattle, could be heard and moving shapes could be seen – those who were fed from the earth. The pungent smell of rotting carcasses was dispersed by the varying will of the wind, the stench wafting into their faces for the length of a new breeze, and then the wind would shift to refresh them with frigid but clean air. The scent was so commanding that it would overwhelm the sense of touch, hoarding the body's capacity to perceive the environment, thus forcing the soldiers to forget the chill when the smell assaulted them. The men expected to find a large and unfortunate number of dead livestock on the last stretch of their journey. They unloaded their packs solemnly.

Near the pond, with its eyes fixed on the waving reflection of the half cast moon above, the Vampire Alucard stood silently as the breeze brought the rotting stench back to them, stirring the black mane. Abraham was near, but his eyes were on the moon above, narrow and observing the movement of the clouds. They were encroaching on the night's natural light, which Hellsing would prefer to have for their work. Assuming a controlled sense of haste, Abraham ordered the men to get ready to move before they lost the moonlight, beginning their less than a quarter mile march, with the Vampire Alucard melting among their number, moving with them unseen, though it had been ordered to be at the head of the party.

Boots trotted down the dirt road after leaving the pasture, passing the lines of withering crops, dead fields, and empty, unsown land. The rotting carcasses were not seen, but their stench grew more frequent as they drew ever nearer to the farm yard.

This neglect of the land had before been unheard of; the man who owned the land had always maintained it, and was a successful and well-known farmer. The sudden change had drawn the attention of acquaintances and friends, as well as laborers who had helped during past harvests and were perplexed when they were not invited to work. Fear had already come to stir and torment the people of the countryside, and those who lived in the small town near them. Youths and farmers' wives were disappearing. An entire family had either burned in their home when it was set ablaze in the night, or they too had been taken away and the house had been burned by the assailants – it was uncertain, since the bodies had not been found in the charred remains of their cottage. With this threat weighing upon the acquaintances, friends, and laborers when they noticed the decline of Fred Wilmer's farm, it was feared that a second family had been taken.

When men who had known Fred Wilmer arrived at the property, they noticed the drooping crops and empty fields in passing – bewildered by the withering land since the rain should have been enough to maintain it - yet the land was dying, for no obvious reason. They were further disturbed when they were confronted by a pen of thinning chickens as they drew closer to the house. Gravely the men with black expectations had checked the house, but to their astonishment, they were met by the son of Fred Wilmer, and then his daughter. The youths claimed that their father and mother and their youngest brother had gone missing. And their uncle had come to care for them. The two men did not know the stranger and had never heard Fred Wilmer mention a living brother, so they were instantly suspicious – so much so that they would have set the local authorities upon him that same day – but the men had to trust the Wilmer children - who were barely children now, at their age. Then again, the 'uncle' did show that he was troubled by his brother's death (or disappearance) and seemed to know him well, recounting a few fond memories that fit Fred Wilmer's character. So the men left, but word of the strange matter was caught by the wind along with the scent of the decomposing farm, dying as it lay abandoned by man and disowned by nature which had withdrawn the land's past fertility.

There was no reason for the brother of a farmer and Fred Wilmer's son to leave the land of their forefathers unattended. They were two able bodied men, and Fred Wilmer had owned his land – they made good money off their farm. And there was no reason why the daughter could not care for those chickens, which (it was rumored) were eaten by the family's starving dogs before the poor creatures ran off to other farms in search of better homes. Those were details that had been observed by passersby and the more concerned who came to visit but were turned away.

Their suspicion was carried over miles, where it reached Van Hellsing who caught their concern. He accompanied the hunting party that was dispatched to investigate, supervising the vampire as the trial period continued.

A black-spotted pig was being devoured by maggots where it had slumped, dead from hunger, against a wooden post - which held the fence that had trapped the pig after it had managed to escape from the pig sty, or after it had been set loose to roam the farm yard. A dead pony was found in a small corral. It had collapsed and lay on its side, but its snout was suspended as it hung from its bridal, where it had been tethered and then forgotten. The worst of the stench was met by the men who circled around towards the back of the farmhouse to surround it. The two men who went to investigate the odor coming from the stables swept past the teeming carcasses in the stalls – two riding horses that stared at the men from the straw covered floor with white orbs for eyes (one of which had been the prized possession of Fred Wilmer's son), an outstretched cat that might have been killed by the mob of rats the men heard in the darkness, and the two shire horses that had been the muscle of the farm. The dim interior of the stables was filled with the buzzing of disturbed insects and squeaking vermin. Handkerchiefs covered their noses and mouths, but the men still came close to retching when they emerged and closed the wooden door to shut in the buzzing feast.

Abraham walked beside the Vampire Alucard, which was again visible. He was alone with the vampire as they reached the front of the farmhouse. Hellsing had noticed the dark windows from a distance, suggesting the occupants were either asleep or absent – if they were human. Now his eyes strayed beyond the East side of the house, towards the lifeless pen of scattered bones, noting clumps of feathers that had caught against the wire netting that had failed to protect the hen house. Night insects sounded, and an owl screeched after one of the vermin that had come to feast upon the dead land, the dead fields and unpicked orchards, where more fruit than could be consumed by the animals fertilized the roots of their mother trees as they fell to rot at their feet. The land was unpleasant for the men who had distributed themselves around the farmhouse. Their skins were roughened, their eyes twitched, and their hearts could not calm – as if determined to prove that they still beat. There was too much death for the living to remain here.

Van Hellsing was warm, a thin layer of sweat coating his back from the long march and his brimming anticipation. He could feel the undead that dwelt in this oasis of death, encircled by the produce of other country farms, and the liveliness of free fertile land. Hellsing recalled the suspicions he had heard, and his hand touched his coat, determining where the handle of a blessed silver dagger was fastened in a sheath at his belt. He also carried a revolver in his fastened trench coat. He would usually carry a light sword at his hip, not the dagger, but he had wanted a weapon that could be concealed. And the Vampire Alucard stood at his side in place of the sword - his unconscious mind acknowledged this as Van Hellsing knocked on the front door of the farmhouse, standing on a white painted porch which continued to display the farmer's years of success. This was the only man-made sound in this isolated land, where the wind governed the senses, steering scent and sound, shepherding touch as it brought the cold, and sight as it moved the clouds. Taste still belonged to the body, shielded by closed lips.

Curtains to their left had moved moments before, so Abraham was aware that at least one of the inhabitants knew that they were there, and that they were only two. The rot was strong in the wind, and the clouds passed in broken and splayed patterns across the moon, so that the light was dimmed, but not gone. It was quiet as they waited.

The curtains in the window to their right moved, but only briefly. This view of the strangers was not better, so again the curtains hanging over the left window parted slightly. A shape that thought it was obscured by the darkness of the house peered at Hellsing and Alucard. Red irises flickered with the shifting strength of the moonlight and darted to the newly revealed face, finding the guarded expression of a young man – now deathly pale and fully undead. There was another figure behind him, and a younger but similar face stared out at the visitors. This fledgling was the undead body of the daughter, and the one before her was her brother. So the creature who opened the door, and who received the full force of the Vampire Alucard's gaze when it shifted, was the sire that had killed the master and mistress of the farmhouse.

Master Van Hellsing's orders had been:

Clean decapitations.

Avoid excessive damage – this applies to both the targets and the surrounding area. Be inconspicuous until told otherwise.

Act when told, or when the targets act.

If a heart is removed, do not damage it. And if presented with the opportunity, 'cleanly' remove the sire's heart with the intention to retrieve a prefect sample – as perfect as possible.

And all the previous orders - so on and so forth.

The man wanted new playthings, and he didn't want them battered and broken. Master Van Hellsing liked to do the battering and breaking himself. So the Vampire Alucard was not allowed to play with its Master's toys – it must retrieve the toys, undead or fully dead. The state had yet to be determined.

Now the sire, of male and average appearance and height, stood before them in the open door, well dressed with polished shoes. His brown eyes were faintly crinkled with pleasure, and he wore a smile that leered at his visitors, assured of his power. The sire met the gazes of Van Hellsing and the man's slave with no evidence of being disturbed by their late visit, arrogant and unashamedly smug, with a forearm reaching the frame of the door which he leaned against and smiled.

To Alucard, the creature smelled like the pampered and powdered skin of a milk fattened babe still in arms. The light in the red irises dimmed with the moon shrouded by a sudden shift in the gathering cloud cover, and an already blank expression deadened, hollowing as the vampire viewed the sire which had once seemed slightly promising, based on the rumors that had traveled to the demon's master. The Vampire Alucard had no incentive to interact with the sire, nothing beyond suggesting that he return to suckle at his mother's teat for a few decades before daring to crawl out into the night and make any claim on a land and its people, as if he were a vampire a century or more old. If the No-Life-King had come across this babe before, near enough to the Count's land, the smug child would have been flushed out by the Count's wolves. Wolves, fed and nurtured by Dracula, could have overwhelmed the babe sire.

But emotion could not be spared on such a pathetic creature, so the Vampire Alucard was deadened rather than annoyed. There had not been enough built up anticipation to experience disappointment, beyond facing a fact that was uninteresting. The demon was silent as the ignorant babe spoke to Master Van Hellsing, grinning like a child that did not know danger, not even when it came in pairs and was presented at his doorstep.

The ignorant babe thought his voice was sultry and intelligent, as it dribbled and cooed before the stolid No-Life-King. "Welcome. Are you traveling at this time of night? My niece and nephew do not recognize you." The brown eyes were fixed on Van Hellsing, touching Alucard only to note the other's freakish appearance, in a garment of black rags and belts, dusted with a film of filth that grayed white skin and left streaks where moisture had rolled down the face and dried.

Van Hellsing felt a flutter of amusement in the back of his mind, picking out the false air of sophistication that only conceited characters who were both stupid and proud of their dishonesty could so horrendously portray. "I have come some ways to meet you." Hellsing spoke in a tone that was lightly warmed by his humor. "I do not plan on staying long."

Hellsing had little opportunity to interact with targets, only when they continued to play the mortal – as this one was doing. But even then, Van Hellsing would keep his distance. If it was one of the soldiers in his position, little was said before the target was disposed of. Hellsing had enough nerve to engage a vampire before killing it. But with Alucard at his side, total calm was possible; he was relaxed – though prepared for any sudden changes. Abraham had not interacted with such assurance with any other undead creature, beyond a disoriented fledgling, with the exception of the Vampire Alucard.

"No, stay the night. My house is open to all. You and your companion may use our beds. We have other places to sleep. And it is late, and dark…and cold." The sire's lips creased and his eyes squinted, filled with laughter.

The Vampire Alucard watched, its lessened presence creeping back gradually. But no change was seen in the sire. The babe did not have much experience with his brethren. His senses were blinder than Master Van Hellsing's greenest soldier.

As Abraham declined, the sire became more interested in the man's noble appearance, able to smell wealth while remaining oblivious to the Vampire Alucard's increasing aura. Abraham noticed the change beside him, and watched the sire keenly, humored more now that he had found the same foolish conceit in both the human and vampiric characters of the undead creature in the doorway.

The sire was unfazed by the rejection. "What are your names? I am Henry Wilmer. Did you know my late brother?"

Ignoring the second question, Abraham responded. "My name is Abraham Van Hellsing. And you do not need to bother knowing my companion's name."

The sire's grin was stiff, showing signs of annoyance as he stepped back and beckoned for them to come in. "Then come, sit and we can discuss business or reminisce, if you came to talk about my brother, or if you wished to see my niece and nephew. If their mother was your acquaintance, we can talk about her – but come, sit." Van Hellsing remained where he was before the open door, so the Vampire Alucard stayed beside him. The undead children of Fred Wilmer were now visible in the middle of the dead man's house.

The boy fledgling was staring at Abraham, thinking hard, reaching for human memories that had been trivial even when he had been alive. He had not been much of a reader, not much of a writer either, though he could do a little of both. He had been a listener – quiet among others, who thought fondly of him – a speech impediment had kept his words short. Now he made for an unsure and slow fledgling – something the Vampire Alucard knew would not weather well in years to come, even if he were not going to die tonight.

"Is this a j-joke? S-s-s-sir?" The boy fledgling asked Abraham, adding the 'Sir' when he noticed his sire's glare. The sire scowled at him, and the boy fledgling backed away to wait by his sister. The visitors observed the oddity quietly.

…A stuttering vampire seemed… Well, certainly, it was less daunting. Its ability to intimidate was crippled. It was unexpected that the impediment should have endured, despite the radical transformation, from living to undead.

…The pitiful fledgling of a babe sire. It was fitting.

"Don't mind the boy. He's been addled by his parent's sudden passing. Now, will you come in so we can get started? And shut the door, it's cold tonight." The man smiled with less humor, irritated by the visitors and his fledgling. He threw a sharpened glare at his boy fledgling, then flinched when Abraham spoke – trying to find a grin, but losing it.

"No." Van Hellsing smiled now, the futile persistence of the sire and the boy fledgling's response had been too much.

The sire interpreted this response and smile as scorn, and his mood shifted, heating as he gave another scowl, this time to Van Hellsing. He was annoyed, but still sure of his standing. The two visitors were prey. They could not escape his prowess even if they remained outside. He had only wanted to have them seated at Fred Wilmer's table because it would be a great joke. The sire's jaw worked itself as he glared at the figures in the doorway.

You think I am below you. You do not know. You have no idea how wrong you are. The glare that was searing into Van Hellsing's amusement switched to Alucard, who, again, seemed freakish and out of place. Fangs suddenly snapped when the sire spoke, his voice bitter and heated by his flaring temper. "What about you? Who are you? I don't think I should let a man with your unwholesome appearance into my house. You look mad, wearing something that absurd. I thought I should tell you, before you subjected others to that costume. People will not trust a man who looks like he belongs in an asylum." The false sophistication had Abraham's lips twitching.

"What else?" Alucard's words rumbled slightly, resembling a low hum.

The sire frowned at the deep voiced response. "What else?" He echoed, chewing his lip at this mounting oddity. The sire's plain pale features made his thoughts obvious - he was bewildered and disgusted as Alucard continued.

"What else? What else do you see when you look at me?"

His voice – he's a foreigner. The sire scoffed, and flung a hand in Alucard's direction, his conceit drawing on amusement. "A madman! That's what I see in you, sir. A madman!"

"Yes. …And what else?" The vampire's dead voice was becoming more animated, adopting the obvious tone of a question as well as the expectation to receive a better answer. "What else?"

Scoffing again, the sire smiled at Alucard. Then his smile faltered as the man in the doorway became uncomfortably strange in his mind, as if he had come to realize that a disturbed mind was not an object of amusement, that assumptions made around a warped man could be dangerous. This whole scenario became too strange for his liking. He shifted his weight from one leg to the other, and tilted his head, looking at the visitors, looking at them hard, narrowing his dark eyes. It was awkward and strange in a way that the sire was unsure if he was acting the fool by interacting with these odd men. He felt neither fear nor alarm. They were strange, but not a threat. The sire shook his head, annoyed in a resigned way as a frown twitched his pale lips – having determined that these guests would not have long to live. They were annoying, not entertaining. Whatever business they had with this family, it didn't matter, he no longer cared. He spoke to Abraham. "What is this? …Mr. Hellsing, or Mr. Van Hellsing - I'm beginning to wonder if this really is a joke. Come in or stay outside. But is this really the proper thing to do? Would you rather talk, standing in my doorway? You, and your… fascinating friend?"

Hellsing had grown less amused, tiring of the empty exchange of words. The joke had grown old. He sighed. "I've finished." Van Hellsing looked to the Vampire Alucard. "Any further talking is your business. Time is not a concern. We arrived earlier than I had expected."

There was a short pause, in which the vampire stared at its master. "As they are?" Alucard waited for Abraham to respond. But Abraham didn't understand the question, so the vampire went on. "The reason you have come here. Taken as they are? Or like before?"

"Like before, but with my new rules applied."

The sire was confused by this nonsensical conversation. But as Alucard stepped over the threshold and approached him with a straight and purposeful stride, the sire came to a new conclusion that made him annoyed, scornful and humored. "You've come to murder us? Ha! To take the farm, then? Or to rob us?" He laughed at them, and then more specifically at the Vampire Alucard as it came steadily nearer. "Oh, but you can't kill me. You can't." Alucard stopped before him and the sire observed the towering dead stare, and brown eyes crinkled with hilarity that ridiculed the No-Life-King for its naivety. The sire was smirking when Alucard raised a gloved hand and drew it back, as if to punch him somewhere in his chest or throat. Then the oblivious creature's face twisted, unadulterated glee coating his scorn, as he expected the straightened gloved fingers to curl into a fist. "It won't work. But you can try." His arms raised in an open gesture, welcoming and mocking Alucard. "Try, but afterwards I will kill you. So-"

The Vampire Alucard did not seem to notice any of the sire's words or actions, making precise mental calculations and measurements before plucking the sire's heart from his chest, like a poised egret waiting and watching a murky shadow before snatching a fish from the water. The rest, his body, was superfluous liquid that contained the fish Master Van Hellsing wanted. The calculations were for perfection.

In the moment of the removal, there was enough time for astonishment to corrupt the sire's sardonic features before he fell back, flat and decomposing on the wooden floorboards. The two fledglings took too long to react, pinned to the floor by their shock as they stood gaping at their sire. The demon they had been led to believe was the most powerful being in this world. Watching as his godly flesh shriveled and caved in on itself. Neatly kept clothes deflating and turning a deep seeping red in a series of instants.

Impossible. Impossible-

-the spell broke – the alarms sounded – heads jerked up – upwards - and gaping eyes flooded with fear-

When the Wilmer children saw that the thing that had killed their sire had turned to them, the fledglings let out cries of terror and scuttled in one direction or another, the boy halting and turning to follow his sister when he saw Van Hellsing still standing in the doorway. But as he stepped forward and his eyes found his sibling, the demon in belts had caught hold of her hair and was at that moment slicing the edge of a flattened hand cleanly through her neck.

His eyes were wide.

-more of the sensation – more - flying – falling -

Her headless body collapsed beside the brown bonnet that had tumbled to the floor an instant before. The bonnet absorbed her blood as it pooled around the body, spreading outwards when it did not cling to her clothes to outline her fallen form. More blood slopped onto the floorboards and streamed from the severed neck of the head the monster held, each stream crashing into the floor with a deafening and destructive intensity that corroded away the world beneath the boy fledgling's feet. And the deafened boy fledgling stood still in disbelief, reality distorting as time contorted, moving back towards the moment his sister had been decapitated - and then forward and then back to the moment - finally progressing forward long enough for the floating fledgling to see that Alucard was before him. The boy fledgling stumbled back on the nothingness below him, slow, as time oozed like tar, slowing while making all things distant. The gloved hand stretched for the second that made up forever and caught hold of his hair, a grip that tightened and became painful somewhere that was becoming closer. He tried to pry the fingers from his hair with hands that were weakened by the slowness of the moment. But time had started going forward and it had brought everything close and his undead nerves were screaming as blood tears were streaming spilling rolling flying falling cold I'm going to die- a flattened hand was at his throat-

Eyes stared with a skewed view of the home - where the boy had been raised. Staring at the familiarity - until it faded. Becoming irrelevant, a moment before the empty world… slipped away.

As the boy fledgling's body buckled and toppled, Alucard held the decapitated head the moment the fledgling died, considering whether Master Van Hellsing would permit snacking, and then determining that Master Van Hellsing would only approve of draining most of the blood from the bodies on the floor, to clean away the evidence. So the vampire dropped the sightless head that landed on the floorboard with a heavy and solid thud, and the crimson blood from the leaking bodies flowed into Alucard. Van Hellsing had left the doorway and the vampire caught a glimpse of the man as he passed the window, where a slit separated the curtains. The demon sensed that the man was not going far, only to the soldiers who had so far done nothing and were finally of some use.

As they seemed to be leaving the area to retrieve their supplies, the vampire left the farmhouse, shutting the door to avoid some unforeseen error that would anger Master Van Hellsing and postpone the return of the necessary coffin. The road was empty, but chances were chances, and the coffin was necessary.

…And that man was a tormenter…drunk on the power this seal - which the man could not even begin to understand - had given him. All of this, the result of two errors: underestimating Van Hellsing, and sleeping too deeply.

Farther down the road, Alucard could see the soldiers emerging from behind the obstruction of fences, pens, and crumbling wheat to march back the way they'd come. Alucard swept forward to follow, but slowed as the rot was carried by the breeze. Red eyes fell upon the flesh of the pig that was squirming with maggots, still lying against the fence post. The blood was no good. But it would fill space in the demon's empty innards… This flesh was left for the maggots and scavengers. The undead predator had no intention of degrading itself - to become an animal that shared meals with maggots.

They reached the tree beside the pond, and then returned.

Alucard watched from the shadows as the men worked on the undead remains in the farmhouse, the men having lit lamps and candles in the house to finally brighten it. Red eyes observed Van Hellsing keenly, and were satisfied when the man openly expressed his pleasure to the captain as they assessed the sire's heart. Every order had been followed. The coffin will be returned.

-Or would he change his mind? Or go against his word? The vampire did nothing until its patience thinned.

"Meister. Mein Sarg…"

The men jolted, one cursed as the voice alarmed and confused them before they finally understood 'what' had been speaking. The German captain was not part of this unit, so none of the men understood that the vampire was inquiring about its coffin.

"Vielleicht."

Was-! Was ist-? "Warum?"

Hellsing's response was sharp, yet it resembled a huff of exasperation. "Don't ask me why." -you've been told countless times: Never question me! I was going to decide when we returned, but you couldn't wait. You've decided for me, Dummkopf. Nearly as witless as this fool – you deserve to wait another night. Van Hellsing's hands continued to work on the sire's remains, picking at the bones and organs. Alucard was floating about the outskirts of the men's activities. "The answer is no."

Cur. Alucard would not throw verbal insults at the man, but mental insults flowed freely through his mind. And the demon drifted for a time. It noticed that the men were only half-way done.

"Kann ich spazieren?"

Van Hellsing paused. The men had been startled by the voice a second time, flinching over their work. One man spluttered another curse with a muttered complaint that might have influenced Hellsing's response.

"Ja."

Alucard had expected the man to say no, so the sudden freedom to walk about where it willed was a glorious pleasure. The demon faded from the farmhouse and soon stepped past the dead pig, no longer entertaining the thought of eating it. There was a strong stench behind the house. It smelled of dead horses, which Alucard accepted as a familiar odor. But boredom and freedom intertwined led the demon to the stables in order to look at the dead horses.

Spoiled meat and decomposition had no effect on the demon when it strolled leisurely past the stalls, as if admiring a living animal in each. And some of the animals were huge to the observing red eyes, the plow horses whose strength had given out. The insects were ignored, accepted as a part of the scene of decomposition, being natural and necessary. Rats were also feeding, and they picked up their heads with gory maws to look at Alucard, attracted to the vampire for a reason that could not be pondered by tiny brains - which lacked the capacity to ask abstract questions. In a human mind, though the reason could be questioned and on most accounts not understood, the feeling that the rats were experiencing would have been described by a word. 'Friend.' The rats felt that the vampire was a 'friend,' that if a single finger was lifted by the 'friend' they would instantly scamper off in the indicated direction. If the 'friend' wished for them to bite something, scratch something, kill something, they would invariably follow the 'friend's' will. That was what they felt, and that was why they took a moment away from their feast in order to look at Alucard.

The rats tore at the stinking flesh, stretching it with their sharp fangs and tugging back to rip the flesh free. They fought with one another on occasion - only squeaks and small skirmishes. The vampire was watching them, gradually approaching the far wall where bridals and brushes hung, and a stool sat, abandoned and cold. But it was not as abandoned as the vampire had expected, and Alucard paused, stopping to look at the bowl that occupied the stool. A spoon jutted from it.

With so much rot in the air, the vampire could not easily identify what held the spoon in place. The vampire supposed it was some thick gruel or oatmeal when it caught the scent. It did not smell old – a bit stiff, yes, but not a stale scent. Nothing that had this scent, nothing that had been in this abandoned place since the time of the owner's death, could have escaped the rats.

Alucard went to the stool and stared down at the bowl, then at the area around it. There was an old scent lingering in the straw on the floor, which the vampire had assumed to be unimportant. Now the scent was more interesting. The vampire preserved the smell in its mind as it left the stables, closing it up to allow the rats to have the feast to themselves. A moment was taken to observe a dead pony that lay in a corral - the head suspended and appearing even more wretchedly neglected. Then the Vampire Alucard resumed its stroll among the dead things, finding a pen of dead white mounds, wool stuck to the corpses of sheep that lay about and added to the stench. A few mounds still moved and their eyes glittered in the dark as they turned their heads and watched the vampire. Alucard passed stone walls and wooden gates in the farmyard that held in the rotting and starving bodies, organized in such a way that the vampire had a line of dead exhibits to look at as it walked. There was the carcass of a white duck in the demon's path, nearly picked clean. The insects were hard at work.

Wild animals had left their scents all about the property. They had claimed it after it was abandoned, and so this land had become a feeding ground. The flashing eyes of a fox gnawing at a plume of feathers, which had once been a turkey, was seen, along with other opportunists. The fox scampered away to leave the turkey when Alucard came too close, only to watch the vampire walk past the scrumptious meal. The scent the vampire followed was weak, but it still lingered.

The vampire found a large bar of wood with ropes and a trailing chain, held up by a mechanism of gears and a thin frame that was metal. It was a contraption that transmuted the physical power of a horse walking circles - turning the bar - which would turn the gears and devices that led into the brick building the vampire entered. The building was filled with an array of belts, pullies, gears and fans – and something like a funnel, an expansive mechanism that ground the wheat grain that had once fed the livestock. But this had become an empty building of mechanisms that could not move without a source of life to leech power from, and all the suitable candidates on the farm were dead. So the machine had died, and would remain dormant until someone put it to use.

The scent trailed inside and around the building, but it was not a new scent and no body was discovered. Alucard left, relying on scent and other more natural senses to prolong the hunt. The scent brought the vampire into the pasture where more sheep slunk in the darkness, some dead scattered here and there. Blood twanged like a struck cord in the crisp night air, distracting the vampire as it stopped to drink in the intoxicating aroma, rich and thick. But feeding on injured sheep which had been attacked while left unprotected, would not do. It was little better than the pig. And the filthy, tick and flee and perhaps maggot infested wool covering the bodies was unappetizing – because of the degrading condition. A shepherd's hut stood in the middle of the pasture, where the farmer's son had most likely watched the sheep at one time or another. Now the scent led to the box-like hut, and the demon opened the door.

Cloth and straw lay bunched up on the floor to create padding, similar to the gathering of straw that would fill the shelter of a pregnant sow, to give the piglets a cozy place to lie. Something much larger, but not much different than a piglet, lay in the bedding, curled and thin. Sickness was prominent in the small hut, as well as the scent of the fledgling vampires. One child of Fred Wilmer had not been turned into the babe's fledgling. Perhaps the boy had been too young. Perhaps he had already been sickly before he had been confined with the dead and dying animals, fed in a rotting stable – or there could be many contradicting explanations for the bowl of gruel, left now on the stool to be eaten by the rats – perhaps on purpose. Explanations for the boy's prolonged survival, the absence of blankets, the reason the boy was not welcomed in the house – there were many things to ponder and assume – but the demon was not interested in the child's story. Yes…the fledglings' scent had also been in the stable. It appeared that they had wandered the property to watch their family's farm disintegrate and wither around them. But this too held no interest for the demon.

The Vampire Alucard stood, not at its full height, in the hut, looking down at the human boy in the straw. The demon crouched, red eyes wide, horrifically mesmerized by the body that lay on the floor. This was no animal. It was not ideal - no, not ideal - a sick human body – but it was human blood, young, virgin - most importantly human. It did not matter if the boy was already cold, that the blood had been still for hours, if not a day. This. This would fill the demon's starving innards, or combat the pain of hunger. But the body was dead. Life was warm. Feeding on cold dead blood was as good as eating the corpse itself – and the process would be similar. Ripping off the flesh, stripping bones and clawing out organs to wade through the rotten blood, suckling cold tissue, eating chunks that might sit reasonably well in the demon belly. But beyond considering how Van Hellsing would react to the vampire ripping a child's corpse apart, the vampire was crouched, staring at the body with a hovering hand that had begun to twitch, fingers imagining picking the child clean like the wild beasts had done to so many of the farm animals. The vampire was considering whether it would be allowed to touch the body. Just to touch it. Beyond eating it, something as familiar and comforting as a naturally dead body was inviting. Alucard wanted to hold it, to remember what a dead human body felt like.

Should the vampire risk touching the body? Should it inform the men? Or bring the body to them? The Vampire Alucard imagined the scenarios: one that was safe, and one that was full of uncertainty but would be the preferable choice – if true choice was permitted. What would the men do with the body? In fact, the vampire did not know what happened after Van Hellsing's men left a site. Would the site be abandoned until local authorities or neighbors came to take care of it or investigate? What about the questions that were asked? What about the 'people' who disappeared, as in this case, when men had met the vampiric dwellers and now thought of them as 'people' occupying the farm? Was nothing done after the men left?

Alucard continued to stare at the dead boy, the questions turning over, revolving until they brought forward the awareness of the men in the farmhouse. Alucard pondered whether they were nearly done - then, with a twinge that tore the demon's eyes from the boy to seek the open door, the vampire considered whether or not it would be safe if it were found staring at the boy, hoarding the body for as long as it could. The wary creature looked at the body, emotions bubbling – which had become a dangerous sensation since the beginning of the demon's enslavement. Rage and anger were building again - outraged by the absence of the coffin, by the man's ability to take it away and keep it, to order the vampire, to keep it from feeding, denying it the warm bodies of its prey. The orders. The orders! So many rules! And all of them, hated!

There had been no rule for this situation.

Abraham had not anticipated Alucard finding an undrained human corpse – no corpse that was not a ghoul. It would not be killing the human, the boy was dead – but feeding was forbidden. Feeding was always forbidden. Touching, that was not forbidden. Imagining the outrage that the demon's touch would instill in Hellsing – with it being done, and impossible to undo – Alucard lifted the body, cradling it since that was the only way to hold the stiff little form. So the boy was cradled as he was carried from the hut and past the dead animals.

The body was so close, but Alucard could not feel it – there were gloves and belts and cloth in the way. Hunger shook the demon's very foundations, making reason flicker in the undead mind. But the cold walk past the many corpses eased the vampire, eating away at the rage that had made Alucard lift the boy. There was only wariness and caution as Alucard approached the farmhouse, leaving the pens of animals behind, leaving behind the dead pig by the post. The vampire was filled with uncertainty; it no longer had the will to carry the boy into the house and witness Van Hellsing's horror. No. No, that could not be done. No.

The former Count stood beside the house where the men and Van Hellsing were at work, standing still, immobilized by what it had done and what it could now do to lessen the damage. Return the boy? No. It is done. This decision will not be hidden. It is done. …Leave the boy here? Find a sheet, something to make it more presentable? A dead child, presentable? Foolish thoughts. But the sheet would suggest that the boy had been carried in it – that…Master Van Hellsing would prefer. There would be no lie unless he asked, and why would he ask? Why couldn't he assume? But there is no sheet, and time is short. If they find a vampire holding a dead child, that would be the worst scenario with the worst outcome. Or would there be no difference at this point? Futile.

Alucard crouched to lay the boy carefully on a browning spot of grass, with the least amount of dirt – which looked better to a human eye, or so the demon thought. The child looked like he was sleeping. He did not look tainted by any evil touch – and any such taint was entirely imagined. There was no real influence in the contact that had taken place. Nothing was done. Only the body had been moved. Nothing more. But then, it was nothing less than a vampire carrying a dead human child in arms that had slaughtered tens of thousands and bathed in their blood – with hands that had decapitated the boy's siblings so recently. But there was no guarantee Master Van Hellsing would have these thoughts - make these same considerations. No. …No… It was not certain.

The vampire stepped to the front door and entered the farmhouse, mentally denying what Van Hellsing would soon be considering. A gloved hand was at the vampire's neck, rubbing it, clawing at it, massaging it. When Alucard stood before Hellsing and his work, near the captain who was arranging the contents of a box, Van Hellsing viewed the demon with cobalt eyes. Immediately, Hellsing found the vampire's behavior odd… the Vampire Alucard acting as if it needed to scratch an itch on its extraordinarily sensitive vampiric throat.

What did the blasted fool do? The Dummkopf looks nervous, it's anxious about something – but that human response is rare, perhaps unconscious.

The new discovery was a fleeting distraction. Hellsing was immediately focused on the present, watching his slave and the gloved hand. In the back of his mind, Hellsing was concerned about how the men might react to his words, but a pressing urgency, an absurd doubt, prompted Abraham to speak and ignore their feelings for now. And their involvement might be necessary. So, let them understand us. "What did you do?"

Alucard did not respond, staring at the man, gloved fingers working at the pale throat. The captain looked up, processing the question and the tone of Hellsing's voice. He had no sense of alarm before he turned and saw the guilt clearly visible in the vampire's demeanor. The rubbing that would become scratching and then rubbing again, continued against the pale throat – an area all of the men knew vampires usually guard and prefer untouched.

"I found the boy." Alucard stated.

Van Hellsing stared, and his words came before his thoughts. "What boy?"

"A boy."

Hellsing was taken aback, but not alarmed. "There was another?" The man seemed to remember his work, and his hands began to move again. The other men saw him and followed his example, though they were curious. And this was the first time any of them had heard the vampire speak in their language. The accent was noticeable, more so than the commander's. And it was different, maybe Slavic – but they knew where the vampire came from. They were only considering the demon's speech because it interested them, slightly, and they wanted to compare it to other accents.

The vampire was silent, which Abraham usually would have interpreted as an affirmative, but in this case, the rubbing of the throat continued and now the vampire had turned its eyes away. Is worn boots were still planted on the floorboards, unmoved.

Alucard felt the stare, and finally responded. "No."

Van Hellsing's hands stopped, and he gazed at the vampire, eyes narrowing as his mouth slackened before he began to chew the inside of his lip. "What do you mean 'no'?"

"The boy was not a fledgling."

Finally, heavy emotion erupted in Abraham, bright concern and alarm, but not anger. His voice was sharp and his words were rapid. "Where? Where is he? Where is the boy you found?"

The captain was also alert. "The Wilmers had a young boy. He was also missing."

Abraham passed the captain's statement, having already considered the possibility. With more urgency, he demanded to know where the boy was. The others were also roused from their work and were growing more excited. It was as if the demon had lit one of the dry fields of wheat with a torch – his words had ignited chaos. Some men were scrambling to stand. Hearts were beating, hope was already there –Alucard gripped the pale throat mercilessly - clamping down, digging fingertips - as all of this was observed, and muscles constricted in the pale neck.

"Where is the boy? Tell me, where is he?" "God, to think he was alive?" "How could he have survived?" "Where is the boy? I don't want to waste time –this – I need to know this now. Where is the child?"

"Dead." Alucard pronounced, dividing the questions – and they fell like sheets of water, severed from the momentum of their course. The word carried an abrupt note that rung in the men's chests - a tolling bell as, in their minds, the young life was carried into the river Styx.

Movement became leadened, and stopped. The men were heavy, struck by the hefty blow that could have been avoided if the demon had chosen better words. Alucard saw the dullness that stole the sudden explosion of light in Abraham's eyes, the loosening and readjustment of features as they adapted to suit new emotions, reflecting the new reality Abraham perceived. Then a harsher change took place, and it began to take root in the others who turned their eyes to the vampire – suspicion blooming.

"The boy was dead, with the sheep." Alucard said, watching Van Hellsing.

"Tell me more." Abraham snapped, irritated by the demon's careless tugging and pulling on his emotions.

Alucard began, using curt statements - suddenly heavily accented as the demon's concentration was weakened. "There was food in the stable. I caught his scent." Men who had swept through the stable were surprised, and chastised themselves for not noticing it – and then they wondered where it could have been as they recalled the foul place.

Abraham scowled. "Food? That could be any food, old food, new food, animal feed. Be more specific." The annoyance was undeniable. But it waned in degrees. "If new, was the boy feeding himself? How was it presented?" Abraham muttered to himself, his knees and legs stiffening on the hard floorboards, where he had remained since his work on the sire had begun.

"In a bowl. Cooked. The boy was fed by his siblings. His body was in a hut - on the floor - dead from an illness, not killed. He was untouched." Untouched… A poor word to use. A poor word, a very poor word. Choice of words is important now, and to use such a poor word…

Abraham was no longer looking at the Vampire Alucard, his eyes were downcast and the man sighed heavily as he rubbed his leg. The men were caught on the detail involving siblings. The siblings had been turned. Fledglings had continued caring for a past human sibling. Had the sire allowed this? It had seemed obvious that the missing boy would have been eaten along with his parents if he had not been turned…

Van Hellsing's knees cracked as he stood, and he massaged the stiffness from them, having sat and knelt too long. He sighed again and was approaching the door, passing the vampire - bringing the creature with him as Alucard followed, eager to separate Hellsing from the men, to have him outside but not in view of the child – not yet. But what had been preferred did not come to pass. Van Hellsing halted just inside the door as he asked the question – blocking the vampire's access to the door, which was unpleasant.

"Where is the body?"

There was silence. Alucard took too long to respond, so Abraham turned tired eyes to the demon. "Tell me where I can find it."

"Outside." Alucard stated. Abraham stared. Then the man blinked slowly. Suddenly the movement of his body became strange, through it flowed naturally. The steps were too long, swinging, somewhat powerful, and his fingers flexed, anticipating. Alucard sensed this, but willingly followed Van Hellsing through the door. When they would not be seen by the men, a hand had gripped the belts and cloth at Alucard's throat, holding the vampire against a post that supported the wire netting guarding the empty chicken hut. As Dracula, the vampire had been large, tall and wholesome in body. Though the demon was lighter, thin from hunger, and perhaps shorter due to a lack of power – Van Hellsing had difficulty pushing the vampire, regardless of the distance. If the Vampire Alucard had not submitted to the treatment, this action would have been nearly impossible without a considerable amount of force and momentum.

Abraham's voice broke through clenched teeth – and it was deep, a rumbling, snapping whisper near the vampire's pale face. Blue eyes looking beyond the crimson irises, entering directly into the inner darkness of the undead pupils. "Now tell me what you have done." The fist at Alucard's throat tightened with the fluctuation of anger in Hellsing's words.

The vampire's hands were at its sides, and its body was straight, somewhat taut – but calm. The vampire was bracing itself, but it was not fearful. The past uncertainty had diminished – and even the tautness was loosening. Alucard and Abraham spoke in German, to avoid the chance that the wind might decide to carry their conversation inside. The Vampire Alucard was muttering and its voice was drawling, as if the vampire was giving a dull lecture. As Alucard carried on, the response tightened Abraham's scowl and eventually his fist.

"You gave me permission to walk outside. I went to the stables to inspect the dead horses – I found them rotting and nourishing the rats - and I saw that there was a bowl of gruel placed on a stool. I smelled the boy, and the scent was not old, so I searched for the body. I discovered many dead animals, the pig you have seen and a duck you most likely have not seen – so this information must interest you greatly – and other livestock. A pony, some sheep and other beasts. There was a building for animal feed. Some of the animals I saw were not dead. I saw a fox. Oh, and there was another important carcass. A turkey. The fox was eating the turkey – which was dead – because it was being eaten - while the fox was not dead – because it was eating. After this lengthy odyssey, I found the child in a hut that stands in a fenced pasture filled with sheep, as I have said before. Some of the sheep are injured, if the well-being of the animals concerns you at all. And that is what I have done while I was away."

"Watch your tone." Abraham hissed after Alucard had finished, but his worst fears were eased as he observed the faded anxiety in his slave – though the sudden impudence was aggravating beyond all means of measurement. The vampire had gone from caring a great deal about Van Hellsing's response, to being entirely indifferent. So it will not be as terrible as I had imagined. Thank God.

Alucard had stopped speaking and the explanation was not yet complete, so Abraham growled. "What did you do afterwards?" No response was offered. Hellsing's grip became violent, and a snarl was twisting his features. "Where is the boy? Answer! What did you do with the boy after you found him?"

A breath slipped slowly from the demon's undead lungs. Red eyes had dimmed, apathetic and distant. The clouds covered the moon, and the night deepened – which made it more pleasant. "I retrieved the body. It is near the house."

Blue eyes were already staring, widened and unreadable.

It no longer cared – nothing concerning Master Van Hellsing mattered. The Vampire Alucard's numbness persisted, deadening its body. "I did nothing else. I simply-"

"Where is it now? Tell me the exact location."

Red and blue stared at one another. Hellsing's jaw was set and his mouth was firm, flat and ambiguous. The expected outrage had yet to arrive.

"It is beside the West wall of the house."

"On the ground?"

"There was nowhere else to put it."

Anger had begun to burn through Hellsing's mask, and Alucard watched. The demon exhaled, and Van Hellsing caught the scent of frozen corpses and felt the chilled breath pass through his flesh and bones, severing his wrist from the warmth of his body. Then the sensation and scent were gone – taken by the increasing wind that flared to toss the vampire's hair, weaving strands into the wire netting – gathering it like the bunches of feathers on the ground. The wind would leave and return, with smoothly building gusts.

"I thought you would prefer that. Should I have brought the body into the house? Would that have been well received by your men?"

Abraham shoved the vampire's body away, and stood with flexing hands, tensing with irritation and his steaming temper. His hands jerked at his coat, accustomed to having it open which would give the man something to tug on. Hellsing grunted at the demon. "Come. Bring me to him."

And the vampire silently complied, hollowly passing the front of the house, feeling the eyes that had sensed its approaching presence. Alucard turned at the corner of the house, Abraham a moment behind. But with the end of that moment, the man had stopped, and the vampire no longer needed to participate. Blue eyes were concentrated on the body, the controlled anger stolen from his face as it crumbled beneath the weight of his grief. His lips moved as teeth chewed them, then bit into the inside of the lower lip and stilled. Alucard observed with no emotion. There was patience as the creature waited for Abraham to take action. The emotion the man was exuding was human and unavoidable.

Abraham's steps were gradual, and he winced as he forced himself to get on one knee beside the body. He observed the dead face, turned away where it would have nestled into the ground. He breathed. Yes, the boy was dead from natural causes. Dead for some time…but if they had come sooner, the night before, they would have found the boy alive. Abraham could not help but regret what he had no control over, and in the cold he unbuttoned his coat, stood to remove it, and then bent to cover the boy with it.

Abraham spoke with the captain, and it was arranged that one of the men would go to the town and retrieve the authority figure they had contacted before heading out to the farm. This man would take care of the boy, and the situation – as had been agreed upon in advance, in case vampires were discovered. The body was taken by the man and a carriage, but nothing more was done. The Hellsing men left the farmhouse after burning the undead remains of the Wilmer children, having already moved their supplies to the drooping tree near the pond. And once the supplies were checked, they set off on their return journey.

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

Van Hellsing stood in the cell, light from the corridor flooding an exact portion of the stone chamber, reaching across the floor and building against the wall – where Hellsing's shadow climbed. The Vampire Alucard was being scrutinized by an icy gaze. There was silence that isolated them and shrunk the world, as the man stared at the demon and thought deeply. Hellsing's arms were crossed, and he was without the trench coat he had used to cover the dead child – and a scarf he had been wearing at the farm was gone. His long shirtsleeves were white and prominent in the dim underworld beneath the Hellsing manor, while the darker vest fit the dimness. And there was little to listen too. The cell and the corridor that led to the other cells and the laboratory where work had already begun on the latest samples, were buried deep in the earth. This added to the quiet Van Hellsing had created.

But the quiet was broken by the sound of metal clinking against metal and a rattle that came from the lab, traveling down the stone corridor. All of it was hard stone. Softer material had been avoided during the underworld's construction. It would be impractical, with the sort subjects that were brought here and kept for a time in the cells. The noise came as Abraham shifted, moving his body slightly when the sound drew him from his thoughts. His mouth was hardened by dissatisfaction. And there was still anger in his eyes – the ice was melting away.

German was again their language of choice – in accordance to Hellsing's preference.

"What would you make of this?"

The creature was uncertain whether a response had really been asked for, so Alucard watched the man and said nothing. The white features were barren, while the hell-fire eyes were vigilant. Abraham pursed his lips, then frowned more deeply. "What do you expect me to do now? You knew I would not approve of what you did, but you chose to do it anyway. That was defiance."

The vampire was mute, standing near the wall just within the light that poured in from the door. The creature did not move, but it would have preferred to step into the shadows. Darkness was tantalizingly close.

Abraham continued to speak now, his tongue harsh with the jutting syllables. He did not know if the scientists could hear him, but that was unimportant. "What do you think will be the consequences for your actions and the tone you chose to use with me? You were going to sleep another night without your coffin for questioning me. What do you think will happen in response to an act of open defiance?"

How is it open defiance? I moved the body, yes, but I did not do many of the things I could have done. I could have slaughtered the remaining livestock, but I did not. I could have torn the beasts apart and swallowed the little that my innards would accept, but I did not. I went through the effort of disposing of the babe sire and the pitiful fledglings as you had asked. I moved the dead boy to displease you, not to directly and openly defy you in the way you claim. Not to the extent you have accused me of. But that is no argument. I cannot argue with you, though you seem to goad me. Argument and disagreement is resistance which is defiance – to you. I cannot speak without harming myself. I cannot defend myself or offer an explanation. Defiance would have been a much greater action, a devastating action. …But you would not recognize this. Because you have yet to see true defiance.

Despite the vampire's thoughts, the decision to carry the dead boy had been an act of defiance, as Abraham had claimed. The man knew, though the vampire could deny it. But what would happen as a result of this choice? Hellsing had nothing planned – nothing in his mind. But the idea would come.

Abraham's body was unmoving, and his stare was solid, constant, unrelenting. It combated well with the steady, unblinking gaze of the demon, where flames crept behind the irises, diminishing themselves to become less noticeable. The emptiness of the body was trying to tame the crimson eyes, but it was difficult.

The silence built with each second, adding a boulder of pressure as each grain fell and built upon previous seconds. "What do you think I should do?" Abraham asked again, but the tone left by his question was different, pulling words from between the ivory fangs, though Alucard did not wish to utter them.

Crimson eyes had lowered without Alucard noticing the change. "I do not know what should be done."

"What do you expect will be done? You cannot expect nothing." The jutting language snapped against the stones, shot by the force of Abraham's annoyance.

The demon gazed at the darkness that was not pieced by the open door, hiding behind the slab of metal, where the darkness could still resist the light. "With what you have said, I expect that you will concoct a new and unpleasant punishment for me."

Abraham, staring at the white face and the redirected eyes, said nothing. He watched Alucard for several moments before finally unfolding his arms and shifting the weight on his legs. "And that is what I will do. If you know you will be punished, why would you continue to be difficult? Do what you are instructed to do. Behave in the way you are instructed to behave. Speak only when spoken to, or when necessary. Keep your deprave thoughts to yourself. Be obedient. …Obedience is what you need to practice. Ignore whatever urge you have – do not take the opportunity to defy me when you come across such an opportunity." After the voice faded, it was again quiet. Abruptly, the man barked, "Have you heard me?"

"Yes."

"Have you understood me?"

"Yes."

"And what am I?" Blue blazed with the fire that would fuel his mind's ingenuity, in the hours to come after he had slept.

"You are Master Van Hellsing." Alucard's monotone continued to respond.

Hellsing growled deeply. "And what are you?"

"I am the Vampire Alucard, which serves its Master – which follows orders – which does not feed on the living. I have nothing – everything I receive is a gift from Master Van Hellsing. Finally, I am Nothing, and will forever be Nothing – until I become dust and can no longer serve my Master. …I was Nothing, and Master Van Hellsing gave me a name with which to identify myself. I was Nothing and without a purpose, so Master Van Hellsing gave me a purpose. I am your Slave." The vampire took some time to complete the demanded response, silently fighting against the order. Fangs grated against the individual words, though the demon's expression showed nothing of its resistance. "And I am most grateful for Master Van Hellsing's generosity, for allowing me to take such an honored position, while I am a creature so undeserving of the privilege. Thank you for such kindness, Master." May it one day kill you. …That day shall be glorious. I look forward to seeing it.

Narrow eyes watched Alucard, pausing – and the demon wondered whether the man had heard its thoughts. "I will come here tomorrow." Abraham announced before he turned. Just as he stepped beyond the door and had partially drawn it closed, he stopped and waited, his eyes forward. The vampire noticed, and its head bowed in the shadow that had covered most of its face.

"Goodnight Master Van Hellsing."

The door shut and the key was turned, locking the vampire in the darkness.

Chapter Text

The entrance into the underworld resembled the descent into the crypt which had marked the beginning of the Vampire Alucard's trial period. But the Hellsing underworld had greater, stronger archways and arched passages. The stone steps sunk into the ground at one side of the Hellsing manor, where they were easily accessible to the men coming into the estate from a hunt. The steps met a silver and steel plated double door that was carved to fit the arched entrance. It would open inwards, allowing the soldiers and scientists to continue down the last of the steps. Torches were always lit throughout the expansive passages, the corridors that led deeper into the underworld, passing branching corridors and cells, the specialized labs, and rooms with large iceboxes used to preserve flesh as well as test undead or fully dead vampiric tissue against cold. There were dry rooms, rooms filled with jar clustered shelves or hanging carvings from undead bodies which had been smoked or dried in some other way. There were rooms of chemicals and instruments, rooms for alchemy which was dabbled in on occasion – to quench human curiosity. In the deepest regions of the underworld, the experimentations on live samples were carried out and cells for temporary storage of the undead vampires were present. Here, with an acceptable distance applied to separate the demon from any temporary dwellers, the Vampire Alucard was also kept.

It was never silent for the few days and nights following a successful hunt. Ample material would keep the scientists busy – instruments clattering echoes that skipped off the sides of the stone corridors like pebbles bounding over a lake, traveling down the branching passages and weaving through the men's work. The work often drew Van Hellsing into the underworld to participate and observe. When the droughts, the periods of no vampiric activity, arrived – spanning weeks, but never more than a month – the underworld could become quiet. But it was also during these times that the undead samples were dragged into the depths of the earth. Some were quiet, some were frantic to resist due to pride or anger or fear, and some screamed through the silver, steel, and hard leather muzzle that was placed on all of the vampires that were brought to the estate. The screaming creatures were mad with terror. And some would calm, but many were overcome by their fear of death, a thing they had believed they'd defeated the moment they were transformed. But the droughts were hard to predict, though they were most common in the summer months, when the days were long, when tourists were abundant so the missing persons went unnoticed. They would simply never return home. Their fate would remain a mystery until all who had known them passed on, and there was no one left to carry on the questions that create mysteries.

The nights were growing longer and colder, and the weather was molding the shifting seasons. Vampiric activity was increasing as it became easier to recognize, so in these months (for Fall and Winter) the underworld was bustling with activity. But there would rarely be screaming creatures in the cells to create the usual mind thrumming din, the uneasiness that affected the men from time to time when they did not recall, for an instant, that the cries were not the pleas of helpless humans, but instead demons who had earned their place in the world below the estate. So the months darkened as only the fully dead were brought to the labs, and the clattering of apparatuses and instruments grew.

There was a larger circular room that was set apart from the rest, serving a singular purpose – and it had been in constant use for many years. The chamber had an oval shape that still allowed it to resemble a floor of a castle tower - a narrow stair wrapping up part of the curved walls, beginning near the soundproof door – sealed with rubber after entering – and reaching upwards and around until it melded into the next floor where the instruments were kept, ending short of the wall that was longer and flatter and was adorned with iron rings. The rings could be found in various places, usually in pairs, and they all served various but similar purposes. The Vampire Alucard would be restrained in some manner that was tied, linked, or looped into the rings.

As the stairs ascended and wrapped on the left, on the right of the circular chamber stood heavier equipment that was organized on or against the curved wall. There was a great thick table with rings that could open and then be locked shut – also used to restrain the Vampire Alucard – and pails stuffed into one another, mallets and stakes and tools used for farming or harvesting, and other tools used for mining – the sledge hammers, hand drills, picks, and even miniscule stores of gun powder. There were more instruments which would come and go at times, chemicals of various colors, and they all served to contribute to the restraint and punishment of the Vampire Alucard.

But recently this room had been empty and silent, dead without the symphony of screams to claw at its walls – circling and climbing yet finding no escape. Van Hellsing had even fashioned a pair of altered earmuffs which were used to protect his ears from the sound – (he preferred not to insert anything into his ears, so he had created an alternative option which was then recreated to be used by some of the other scientists in their work).

The door had been opened and the vampire had been returned to the chamber at the height of the day. No instruments were touched, besides a rope. Van Hellsing had strung the rope through a ring attached to the ceiling of the second floor, having the Vampire Alucard witness the process - standing and waiting patiently – a dead expression thickening. Then the noose was looped over the demon's neck as Alucard stood over the trap door, waiting as the noose was tightened, clasping the vampiric throat and then hanging from it as Van Hellsing stepped away. White hands were not bound. The order was given that the vampire could not touch the rope, loosen the noose, or in any way escape until it was fetched by Hellsing.

The lever was pulled, the door opened, and the vampire fell through it.

Swinging, suspended in the middle of the chamber, the figure hung from the makeshift gallows with the thick rope creaking like an unoiled door hinge as it swung – describing the passage into death which should have occurred but never would. The sight was unpleasant, as was the act of composing it. But Hellsing had wanted the sensation of an execution to be present, and the hanging would not kill the vampire. It had no need for air and there was little pain, merely discomfort with having a rope tightened around the sensitive neck. But Van Hellsing would not look at the swinging creature as he descended the steps, never turning his head when he reached the door and locked it behind him without looking up.

The room gradually filled with the building screams that rung only in the demon's mind as it hung, swinging slightly before the rope stilled, the undead body turning from time to time in an intermittent motion on the rope. The hell-fire eyes were faded and saw nothing, and the dead mask was a hundred leagues thick. Slowly, beginning as distant whispers, the screaming and the torment rose in the mind of the silent black figure that hung in the torch-lit room. Only the creaking of the taut rope could be heard by the room – but the vampire did not hear the rope. It was submersed in those years so recently passed, when the demon had lived in this chamber, and its undead blood had coated the stones of the walls and floor, and the instruments had been doused in crimson and re-sharpened before its eyes.

The initial violence of the hanging would spark the memories. Time would punish the monster. And time drew out the seconds of the minutes that composed the hours that construct a day in progressing layers of time. The voices did not silence, while the creaking had nearly faded from the chamber. The demon had no concept of the present reality while hanging between present and past – it had no way of measuring the experience in terms of time or in terms of physical pain, since it was detached from both. And the mental pain had no physical substance so it could not be concretely measured. In this way, the memory of this punishment would ultimately melt away from the demon's consciousness and collect in its unconsciousness, where it would lay as a lump of emotion and sensation for years to come – drawn to the surface, like droplets of melted wax rising in water, when the false execution called upon it.

Van Hellsing returned a day and a half later, in the evening. He untied the rope and let it slowly pass through his hands, gently lowering the vampire until it lay on the stones of the floor, entirely senseless. Minutes passed before the vampire surfaced to re-enter the present. When Hellsing noticed its returned awareness, he told the Vampire Alucard that it would now return to its cell. The only mercy the vampire received was a promise that the worst of the punishment was complete, and good behavior would keep the vampire from returning to the stone chamber.

"I dislike this room almost as much as you do." Hellsing claimed, in German, as he walked the vampire to its cell. Alucard did not look up or respond. And it did not believe his words.

Abraham instructed Alucard to sleep during the night – as much as was possible for a nocturnal haunt – and announced that the next day would be demanding, but that it would complete the punishment in a much more pleasant way than the demon was accustomed to.

Alucard had not slept while hanging in the stone chamber. The memories still would not let the creature sleep, so it sat awake and staring into the pitch blackness of the cell its vision could easily pierce, listening to the sounds of the underworld, feeling the harshness of the grime slicked stones, feeling the unpleasant dampness of the place until Van Hellsing returned and opened the door.

"Today is grey and cloudy – you shouldn't be too bothered by that. I have arranged something new for you." Van Hellsing held the door. "Come."

And the demon did as it was told.

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

Van Hellsing was a noble – wealthy, knighted – but he did not participate in the usual Victorian pastimes for men of his status. Guests were not brought over for dinners and parties, and Hellsing, in turn, did not attend the dinners and parties of other well-to-do families. He did not go to gentlemen's clubs, did not dine on four coursed meals and extravagant desserts. The soldiers of the Hellsing Organization did not participate in these either – though some had enough personal wealth to participate in these pastimes, to an extent. The men, the maids, and the servants, as well as the disabled employees housed in the mansion, dined on single or two coursed meals. Meat was not as prevalent as it was in most Victorian households – vegetables and fruits, especially when imported, were luxuries, but they were in large supply to contribute to the men's health.

During the day the men were without work. They, and Sir Hellsing, would sleep from some time near or before dawn until the early afternoon - if they had been on patrol or part of the night's hunting party. If they did not leave the estate, the men were split into two groups. One group slept from sunset until the black hours of the morning. Then they would switch with the group that had kept watch over the estate, thus allowing the second group of men to sleep. These strange sleeping patterns governed the day's schedule. Breakfast for all of these men would be served at 9 o'clock. Their lunch at 2 o'clock was the patrol and hunting party's breakfast. Dinner was served late, between 8 and 11 o'clock – this meal varied the most.

Since the men had some hours to themselves and since caring for so many active people was difficult for the servants, the men often contributed to the maintenance of the Hellsing estate – which included everything within and between the perimeter of the property, their living quarters, and the mansion. (The scientists maintained the labs.)The men repaired fences, cut down the occasional tree, hunted for pheasants and rabbits that were owned by Hellsing since they lived on his property, helped with the laborious work that went into doing the laundry, the scrubbing of floors, and so on. It was optional, but the men felt obligated to make these contributions – and the unmarried men quite enjoyed the company of the female servants – though courtship was not by any means encouraged. It was discouraged to keep peace in the household. And many of the female and male servants were married and lived in their own homes with their families. Almost all of the employed (crippled) war veterans lived in the mansion. Some did domestic work, others handled political and social affairs, and others were in charge of the arrangement of hunts and patrols – since it was necessary to warn authorities before they found bands of men armed to the teeth tromping through their local area. They got permission to enter private land, kept track of supplies and shipments, and expenses. No one at the estate worked for the organization in order to gain wealth; most of the funds went into their weapons and their work. They received descent pay that allowed their family – should they have a family – to live comfortably and in most cases enjoy middle-class Victorian social affairs and pastimes. Some men worked in the Fall and Winter months, when the nights were longest, and went home for Spring and Summer. Then others lived on the estate as permanent residents. The comings and goings of individuals varied, based on individual circumstances – so the population of soldiers rose and fell considerably over the course of the year.

Due to the seasonal fluctuations, it was most common that new recruits joined in the early Fall, present when the Organization needed them most. At the current time, the seasonal soldiers, who worked from Fall to the end of Winter, had already returned to the estate before the Vampire Alucard had been revealed. Now was the time when the main, and sometimes only, batch of new recruits would arrive for the Fall. The men were assessed before being deemed eligible to apply to the organization – checking health and mental faculties. The men needed to be educated as well, and if they did not pass the tests and examinations, unsuitable in either body or mind, they could not join. But after joining, they were observed and gradually integrated into the units. Some were expelled, some left on their own, but most would stay.

There had been nine new recruits that gazed at the estate with the sensation of being foreigners in a new land, wandering on the surface while the Vampire Alucard had hung in the stone chamber below. They arrived and were given tours of the men's space, the property, and the parts of the mansion that the men used freely – the library impressed them greatly. They were shown the various duties they would be expected to assume, though the recruits had already been informed what their duties would be. And they were given a day to settle in, welcomed by the men and Van Hellsing himself in a semi-formal introduction held in the dining hall. The next day they began to do basic jobs, some jobs resembling chores.

The new recruits were also allowed to have the most regular sleeping hours, and were permitted to mingle with the men – to eventually settle into a unit they were most comfortable with – though some manual rearranging was not uncommon. These recruits needed to mingle with the captains as well as familiarize themselves with the weapons and knowledge base stored in the Hellsing estate. So formal instruction would be supplied in general classes, some taught by captains or regular soldiers, by the specialists – which were also known as the Hellsing scientists – or by Van Hellsing (who taught many more classes than new recruits usually expected). Hellsing seemed to enjoy teaching the men, and it usually did not take long for the men to bond with him, approving of the man's presence among the soldiers' activities: dining with them, fighting and working right beside them. He was respectable and admirable.

However, this would be the first time new recruits would arrive, settle in, and then have to be introduced to Alucard. The men's pledges were fresh and shallow – it was uncertain whether they would remain and accept Alucard as the other men had.

And, it being the first day after their arrival, the men did not have a solid opinion of Van Hellsing. When they were told to expect a basic lesson in vampiric traits and behavior at 1 o'clock, were arranged like school children in a room inside the mansion - each fitted with a desk, a journal, and a writing instrument - and were then told by one of the newly introduced captains - who stood at the front of the room and had caused many to assume he was their teacher - that Count Dracula had been defeated and enslaved for the purpose of fighting in the war against the undead… the men did not know what they thought of the Hellsing Organization or of Van Hellsing, or of this captain who they now suspected was trying to make a joke of the newcomers.

The men looked at one another, doubting and then speculating before recounting their speculations as being complete rubbish that could not possibly be true. It was the middle of the day – no vampire would be awake at this hour.

All of the men flinched like guilty school children when Van Hellsing opened the door and stepped to the front of the room, standing before a chalk board that was held up on a stand. The men clenched their teeth or widened their eyes for a moment when they noticed the shadow of a creature that had followed Van Hellsing into the room, the shadow that had shut the door. The shadow-man wore a common white shirt and an old vest, with dark trousers and boots that needed to be polished – scuffed and greying. But the pale skin, the unsightly mane of hair, and the burning red irises that ringed the black pupils which stared into the floorboards – these traits kept the men's stares, and many of them grew uneasy. Was this a vampire, or was this part of the joke? Without having been through the rigorous training that would sharpen and build their senses, the men had no way of knowing for certain whether Alucard was a living man or an undead monster.

Van Hellsing had greeted them and the new recruits had echoed the greeting and then remained silent as Hellsing gave them an introduction to the Vampire Alucard that summed up the introduction the rest of the soldiers had received. But the opportunity to ask questions was not given, as the answers to the questions the soldiers had presented in the dining hall were included in the introduction – as well as a summary of the two hunting expeditions the demon had been a part of.

The men stared. Some were naturally numb, while others were attempting to force the sensation of numbness in order to show respect to the great man and not shout in outrage. These men who struggled with their emotions channeled some of these feelings into glares that bore into the shadow-creature, which had been presented to them as a vampire. Their doubts were falling away as Abraham explained Alucard's role in the organization.

Alucard had been given a new change of clothes – an indulgence that had been asked for many times in the past – in order to manipulate the new recruits' perception and ultimate acceptance of the vampire. If the creature looked like an untamed demon, then the men might find it harder to accept Alucard. The change of clothes had been suggested by one of the captains.

The vampiric flesh felt the glares, burning hotter than the bewildered stares coming from many of the men. It was uncertain and loath to create some excuse for Master Van Hellsing to return it to the torture chamber, but the eyes of these ignorant newcomers - who were as useful as any cold street urchin or whore that could be fished from a gutter – these eyes were bothersome. An annoyance. They were not exhibiting the proper reception for the vampire, though at least they had enough sense not to express their disagreeable thoughts to Master Van Hellsing.

They were looking at the vampire as if it were a beast or some lowly creature, not as the No-Life-King, the Nosferatu, the great Vampire Dracula. If the memories of the chamber had not been so fresh, the demon would have returned the glares with fangs and mental threats, but the recent hanging kept it still and silent and the red gaze remained on the floor.

The men did not know how to respond - regardless of how much they disapproved of Hellsing's use of the vampire or how well they were managing to accept the new information - so they said nothing, and this response allowed Van Hellsing to merge Alucard's introduction with the beginning of the lesson. The captain took a seat in an empty desk, watching Van Hellsing and scanning the recruits from time to time. To him, their response was not promising.

"The greatest known bane to the undead is silver. Running water is a means of restricting undead movement and of forming formidable boundaries to keep out the undead. Great Britain is an island. Since it is believed vampires originated in Southern Europe, the water isolating Great Britain has so far kept it relatively safe from vampires. But with the rise of the empire and the explosion of invention and innovation, and the increasing population – with the eyes of the world looking to Great Britain, the vampires have also taken an interest and have begun to make their way into our cities and towns.

"They may pass over moving water so long as they have their coffins, containing grave dirt, thus enabling their passage. This is unfortunate for us, since the number of vampires has been increasing – spreading like a disease as one vampire can create multiple fledglings which in turn create other vampires, and so on." He went on and the men listened, some glancing back to the vampire, others keeping their eyes on Hellsing, and a few stared at Alucard for minutes on end. The captain observed this while Hellsing wrote on the chalk-board and the men were forced to open their journals and begin to take useful notes of things that were new to them.

They had returned to the vampires' physical reaction to silver, as well as the ways of killing the undead. Here a yard stick that had lain on the ridge of the blackboard with the chalk was used to indicate the parts of a vampire's body, pointing to or touching the Vampire Alucard. White chalk was left where the ruler touched Alucard, but the demon did nothing while Van Hellsing continued to use Alucard as a prop for the lesson. "When using long-ranged weapons – you may think of guns, but we prefer to use crossbows, which are quieter and easier to control and we want to avoid scaring off other vampires in the immediate area – with these weapons, we generally aim to damage the brain." The wood of the ruler and the dusting of chalk tapped Alucard's forehead. The demon noticed that this was supposed to humiliate it, but the demon was indifferent at the current time. "When the brain is significantly damaged, the undead will be killed. When I use the term undead, I am generally referring to vampires, fledglings, and ghouls - collectively."

The vampire pulled back instinctively when the ruler sliced over its throat. Abraham continued: "Decapitation is harder to achieve – and requires you to get quite close to the vampire. So using a projectile, or when it is necessary a sword, lance, or stake, to pierce the heart, is another alternative for dispatching the undead." Abraham continued for fifteen minutes, indicating other body parts and organs that could be damaged in order to injure or cripple a vampire, therefore making it possible to kill. The knees, the hamstrings – injuring the arms or shoulders was not always unhelpful-

"However." Abraham paused and looked at his students, making eye contact to ensure that they understood this was important. "There are some vampires who have regenerative abilities. Older, mature vampires have the ability to mend minor wounds – and can even sustain wounds from silver bullets and continue to move and retain their agility. This ability to regenerate flesh, bone, and organs varies between vampires. They have other individual abilities as they mature - but that I plan to cover in another lesson. For now, I want to focus on the regenerative abilities of vampires – which can often catch one unawares and could prove to be a mortal error. A vampire may play dead if it has this ability. It can be shot in the head or chest with a silver projectile, or sustain deep chest or head wounds, and appear dead – but they can attack when you go to inspect it or when you turn your back to it."

The men were engrossed in this topic, watching Hellsing and writing furiously. One man raised his hand. When Abraham saw it a smile brightened his face, shining in his eyes – which Alucard found to be an annoying expression, and undead nerves grated against the man's white toothy grin. Dead fangs clenched, and a growl was silenced.

Hellsing welcomed the question with warm enthusiasm.

"At what age do the vampires begin to show signs of possessing these abilities?"

"A specific age has yet to be determined, but it is likely that vampires begin to develop this ability to heal their wounds after they have been undead for fifty to eighty years. It may depend on the amount of blood they have digested over that period of time, however we-"

"At any age."

The room lost Hellsing's words as Alucard's deep and accented voice replaced them. The recruits cringed at the unpleasant illusion they now perceived: A demon dressed in common mortal clothes and speaking like a man. Vampires should be hissing, growling, filthy, vile monsters. The vampire was dirty, but it had dignity the men did not approve of. And its speech lacked the bestial stupidity that should have been there.

Van Hellsing was watching Alucard with a half-formed glare, assessing how this interruption would develop. The demon had been recently punished. Its behavior should be improved in some way after hanging in the chamber.

Alucard spoke after this shift in attention had taken place, in no way concerned about angering Hellsing – it believed Master Van Hellsing would not object to the men actually learning something. And the vampire was irritated by the men's reception, Van Hellsing's inaccuracies, the lack of sleep, the daylight hours – so it spoke clearly and contradicted Hellsing openly, with confidence. "A vampire has the potential to awaken its powers at any age. Regenerating the physical body is just one of these powers – a basic power at that. The extent of the regeneration depends on the ability and power of the vampire's sire. The vampires in Britain are not true vampires. They are weak and worthless things –scraps cast away from a vampire many generations in the past – and these scraps in turn make weak and worthless fledglings. They are stupid and inexperienced, and leave ghouls as evidence of their feeding. So it takes little effort to kill them.

"Upon the first feeding, the fledgling of a true vampire will be able to access its power – which is passed on to it from the sire. The ability to regenerate is present, but will mature, becoming faster and more complete as more humans are consumed. It is not the quantity of blood that is important. It is the quantity of human lives."

Alucard stood, as impenetrable and unaffected by the silence as if the vampire was a granite pillar. The stares and glowers could not scratch the surface of the demon's expression, and it watched the wall behind the men, looking through them and ignoring their existence. Van Hellsing, who had been listening closely, had examined the vampire as it spoke.

Alucard was in a talkative mood…it was not being helpful on purpose - maybe it enjoyed pointing out my error – but this mood could be the due to the environment and the time. Daylight, so it's tired. And in this setting- Perhaps it doesn't mind instructing the men – it would make the vampire feel empowered, most likely – at least it would feel intelligent, and it would feel like it was more intelligent than the men … well, the Vampire Alucard is not stupid. Though it can be a Dummkopf... He hummed quietly. This event might be reproducible. There was potential to expand on this experience.

Abraham's eyes left Alucard and returned to his students, still playing with his new ideas – but he shoved them aside in order to speak. "So this is an example of how the Vampire Alucard can prove to be useful. In this case, the vampire's word will not be assumed to be truth – it can lie and mislead us – but the reason for this hesitation is to allow experimentation and quantifiable data and observation to show us that this is indeed the way vampires' regenerative abilities vary and mature.-"

"-That would be impossible."

Abraham's temper sparked as he was struck by this second interruption. Cobalt eyes flashed as they assessed the demon's lifeless features to determine how much impudence was supposed to be present in its behavior. But the Vampire Alucard went on, again assuring itself that Hellsing would not object to more information.

"The majority of vampires in Britain have no regenerative abilities – at least none of the fools who make themselves obvious – which are the ones you hunt. If the sire cannot heal itself and regrow limbs or reform its body, the fledgling will not have these abilities. A weak sire passes its weakness onto its fledgling. The true vampires tend to be older, though they do not have to be old. Unless you mean to capture a true vampire and force it to create a fledgling, and then feed that fledgling in order to prove what I have told you – you will not be able to observe this process. Vampires, not the common trash you hunt, do not tend to make many fledglings, or keep them around. Having fledglings present means there are more bellies to fill. Either you must hunt and provide for them, or they must hunt for themselves and take prey that would have been your own. They become competition.

"Unless the sire has an established territory, with several villages or towns that are aware of his presence and need for blood, then a vampire is unlikely to keep fledglings or make fledglings. If a territory has been claimed, the people will feed them, determined by some agreement that may, on some occasions, even benefit the living party.

"So it is clear - you are unlikely to get the scientific proof you are looking for, in this case."

The captain did not know how to react to this second, more offensive contradiction. However, his attention was taken away from Alucard as he noticed the aggravation that was beginning to smolder in some of the recruits. They did not like being taught by the vampire – or having the esteemed commander contradicted by the vampire. The captain watched Van Hellsing until the man turned from the creature, communicating the need to observe the men through his expression. Abraham noted the reactions, but instead of responding to the vampire, he drew out a silver pocket watch that was linked to his vest by a chain. He checked the time, and then slipped the pocket watch back into his vest pocket.

"I don't need you anymore. There is other work for you outside." After speaking to Alucard, Abraham returned the captain's gaze as the man began to get up from his desk. "Mr. Wolheim, can you take the vampire and see that it makes itself useful?"

The captain nodded, slowly recognizing that this would be the first time the vampire interacted with the men without the commander's supervision. Captain Wolheim followed the vampire as it left the room before shutting the door and leading the creature out of the mansion. It was as nauseating as usual to have the demon stalking behind him, but the man busied his mind with thoughts to avoid feeling exposed – alone with the monster, with his back turned to this horrible presence…

At the door, the hair on the back of Captain Wolheim's neck shot up in alarm as his ear funneled the brunt of an undead hiss into his skull, making him turn as he assumed he was the target of the vampire's displeasure. But the Vampire Alucard was looking beyond the captain, snarling at the cloudy sky that did not have the decency to block out the sunlight. It was still relatively bright, and the light constricted the undead pupils, stabbing at Alucard's head, and making it loathe each step it took away from the mansion – even though Alucard hated anything that belonged to Van Hellsing. They went into the woods that ringed most of the estate (primarily the left side), and soon the demon spotted the soldiers who had been hacking away at a relatively stunted and straight tree. They sat with a saw stretched between them, pulling and pushing the teeth of the saw through the white exposed interior of the tree trunk.

No cutting tools had been prepared for Alucard, the vampire observed as it surveyed the work area. The captain passed Alucard as he left, and the two men who had been working on the tree examined Alucard before being comfortable enough to resume their task.

Back and forth. Back and forth. Push and pull. Again and again. The repetitive motion, maintained over hours, made the men's speech breathless when they asked one another how much needed to be sawed on their side of the trunk. They had finished one half of the trunk, but were not very far along cutting through the other half. The saw still stuck out from the wood, although the trunk had been chipped at with the axe that lay nearby in order to make the beginning of the sawing process easier.

The Vampire Alucard had nothing else to do other than watch the men, standing where the captain had left it – but this silent presence and the burning of the red eyes disturbed the men, and they wished the commander had not told them to work with the vampire. And it was even more eerie, having a vampire out in the daylight hours, watching them, isolated in the woods that were dimming as the peak of the day gradually fell closer to dusk. But the Vampire Alucard was not enjoying itself either. A headache had drilled into its temples and continued to prickle Alucard as the repetitive motions of the sawing men jerked back and forth, pushing and pulling, over and over.

"That's enough."

The men stopped sawing, pulling the saw free and moving away from the tree – in the midst of mute confusion as the vampire strode forward and seemed to claim the tree, seizing it in its hands. The vampire maneuvered its body until it had a tight hold on the trunk and had found the necessary angle – looking through the open path between the treetops, where branches would not catch the tree. And with a resounding crack that fired like a gunshot through the woods, followed by the usual creaks and crackles of a falling tree, the tree passed through the space between the branches of nearby trees and landed flatly on the leaf coated earth. The dry leaves crunched and twigs snapped or bent to accommodate its weight as the demon strode down the length of the tree, stopping near the middle. Oblivious of the speechless men who stared with the gangly saw still held between them, the vampire bent and jerked the tree forward, away from the stump, to sever a few remaining strips of bark. The stump was left attached to the earth.

Next, the trunk was stripped of its branches, cracking like twigs in the undead hands. The tree was not too tall; it would not need to be cut into shorter logs. With all of the branches removed, white gloves clapped together as Alucard brushed the dirt from them, an involuntary action that the demon's hands were not accustomed to - not used to this sort of labor. But the job was done. The men would get a horse to drag the log off to its destination. Now Alucard could sleep and get out of this wretched sunlight.

"Where is the horse?" The demon asked, still brushing away the dirt, with its eyes on the de-limbed and nude tree. When no response came from the men, Alucard frowned and crimson turned to them.

The men had collected themselves by now. One of them was bent over, picking up the axe, while the other was available to answer Alucard's question. "We were told that you would help take the tree back with us. We were supposed to cut it down ourselves – but I'm glad we've finished early." His voice was pleasant in a way that was half forced and half engrained in his character. But Alucard was deaf to the tone, staring as the man revealed a yolk, rope, and chains – what would have been worn by the horse Alucard had expected. The man was turning the yoke over in his hands, worrying the bulky object and the rope that was tied to it. Alucard's expression was stiff, and the red eyes were unblinking – more dead in appearance than usual. Glancing at the trunk of a distant tree behind Alucard, and then examining the yoke in his hands, the man tugged on the rope as if to show he had thought about how the yoke could be used. "But I don't think this would really do you any good. It's not made to fit you, and it would be rather cumbersome instead…"

A hiss that was flat and full of air caused the man to wince, and the other man who was returning to them froze. But Alucard said nothing, ripping the yoke from the soldier's hands and throwing it into the dirt and leaves and other dry dead plants on the ground. The vampire detached the chain and tied it to the trunk, tugging and jerking at it with frustrated movements. When it was deemed secure, the creature searched for the best path to drag it from the woods. The man who had been speaking picked up the yoke and strung the rope through it, until it was more manageable. Both of the men were uncomfortable remaining so close to the furious creature, whose eyes were ablaze and whose lips were caught in a snarl.

The Vampire Alucard was prepared to order the men to assist it, but it was clear that they had enough to manage while carrying the equipment back to the estate. So instead Alucard growled and then snapped at them. "Where am I taking it?"

The men maintained their composure, as well as their ground, keeping strained eye-contact with the demon. "Near the living quarters. Then we will leave it for the others to trim down."

"Where are the living quarters?"

The men looked at one another, before the man continued. "Once we are out of the woods, we'll cut across the grounds, and then there won't be much farther to go." He dithered for a moment, and then cleared his voice and began trudging up the slope that opposed their task. His hand indicated the direction. "Up straight through here would be best." The doubt and uncertainty that came with giving instructions to a demon which could easily decapitate vampiric fledglings passed as he heard the tinking of the metal links in the chain as it was hitched up on Alucard's shoulder and worn boots dug into the soil, somewhat cool and damp beneath the foliage. The men led the way as the vampire followed, sensing that allowing the creature to do its less than desirable job outside their field of vision would be best.

When the deep voice rung out again, the men's shoulder's tightened, but they did not turn.

"What is this for?"

"Making fence posts. Been putting up new fences." The man with the saw and the axe replied in blunted statements. Yet this speech had nothing feigned in the way the words were composed and selected, or how the tone was delivered. It was gruff but it was the exchange that would be made between two hard working men. "The log will be cleaved, but that won't be our job. Once we've made our delivery, we'll be done." There was a pause as their boots tramped and the sliding of the log could be heard, skimming over leaves, or dragging along whatever was caught at its head. Speaking seemed like a good idea, something that would make this last bit of the task involving the vampire easier, so – to the surprise of his companion – the axe-carrying man went on in a voice that was deep and as natural and plain as the scenery around them. The man walking beside him was astounded by his calm.

"Five hours I expected us to take to cut down that tree. And we get off with only – it couldn't have been more than two and a half, at most three. And now I'll spend the rest of my free time lying on my poor back…if I have anything to say about what I'll be doing with my time. You have more uses being undead than I thought possible – that log must be over three hundred kilos, but you carry it like it's thirty. I don't understand how a body that's supposed to be dead, but still has a human anatomy, can do this. …If I have to chop down another tree, I'll see that you'll be around to make it a reasonable job. I could imagine that the tree might end up simply ripped out of the ground, roots and all. …Have you ever tried it? Seen what you could do with a tree?"

The bewildered companion nearly swallowed his tongue in disbelief. He retracted the thoughts that had doubted the axe-carrying man when the demon actually responded.

"No. I don't wrestle oaks to the ground when I am the master of my time. …I will not be dealing with any more trees, not during the day, not if I can help it."

"You should be sleeping."

"I should be."

"Huh. …But I didn't think your lot could move about in the sunlight, not much. I didn't think you'd burn to a crisp. But it can't be pleasant, or you'd all be moving about in the sun all the time. There wouldn't be a single hour when we'd be able to say we were safe from vampires then."

"We're more tired than hungry during the day. Sleep comes before food, and after that, food comes before everything else."

"Hm."

And they carried on over the crackling ground, listening to the sliding of the log as the vampire dragged it. Once they had left the woods and began to travel over the grass that covered the estate, Alucard no longer had the privacy the two men had so far provided. Men were about with their work – not a profuse number of men, but enough that their frozen observation caused undead fangs to grate against lower ivory teeth. Towing the log towards the men who were sawing away at what would most likely produce planks or posts for the new fence, the demon growled and then kept its gaze low, watching the path it was taking towards the men. It stubbornly ignored the oncoming stares, blocked out a laugh that came some distance away on its right, maintained the sound of the saw eating through the wood long after the men had abandoned this work to watch the demon drag the log towards them, like a common workhorse or other beast of burden. Yes. The vampire was nothing more than a beast of burden. Or a hunting dog, retrieving its master's prey.

Undead jaws tightened until the log had been deposited in an indicated location near the men's working space. No one was working now, having taken an interest in the men who had arrived with the vampire.

"You're back earlier than we were expecting."

"A vampire is handier than an axe. Cut our work in half – just in a minute." The gruff spoken man explained as he set down the axe and saw. This amused the other men – there were only three, and only two of them had been sawing. The third had been sorting wood, adding the useless bits to the collection of firewood that was stacked up against the back of the barracks. Men inside had not noticed the vampire at first, but gradually, as Alucard's presence was prolonged, their senses detected the demon and soon men's faces were filling many of the nearby windows. As if the demon were putting on a show, soldiers were slowly gathering to witness a vampire standing out in daylight.

The clouds were as thin as before, and just as useless as the vampire had last deemed them to be. It took a moment to curse the sky, and spent another to send a fleeting glare slicing through the gathered audience. But Alucard would now be returned to the cell, where the demon would be able to sleep – at last.

But a change in the men's tones took crimson eyes to the gruff spoken man and the men who had been sawing the posts. "The vampire is supposed to stay with you now? Why? Are we supposed to pass him around and have him do all our chores for us? I thought our work was done. He tore down the tree, didn't he? He's done our share as well as his."

It seemed that for once the Vampire Alucard had found an ally, but the man would not fight for the demon, only reason with the others and make sure they understood that the vampire was doing plenty of work – and to create a moral sense that the creature should not be taken advantage of just because of its usefulness. The unfairness that was highlighted by the gruff spoken man influenced how the sawing men treated the vampire as it was used to help split the logs in half – doing it quickly and with a shocking amount of strength. The wedges were hammered along the vertical middle of the log, and while it would usually be chopped at to eventual have the wedges do the rest of the work, splitting the log into two splintery halves – this chopping was unnecessary. The vampire tore the log cleanly in half, using the wedges to make the split straighter.

But, once this was accomplished and the men had set to sawing off the sides of the split logs to fashion them into more aesthetically pleasing posts, the demon was sent off to another pair of working men, who handed the dull-eyed creature a shovel and told it that Van Hellsing expected it to dig holes for the posts. Alucard stood with the shovel in hand, looking through the man who had given it Van Hellsing's instructions, doing nothing. Then the tired No-Life-King regarded the tool it was holding, lifting and turning it in one hand as the shovel underwent an examination that completely lacked curiosity.

The men were watching and waiting, not having the confidence that would let them tell the demon to start working. So Alucard had a slow start as the vampire came to accept this new task and stepped to an indicated point of soil. The blade of the shovel stood on the point of soil and then turned half-way, and then back and forth, grinding away a miniscule layer of dirt as the vampire failed to put any weight on the shovel or attempt to dig.

But the blade was abruptly sheathed in the ground and then drawn out, and then stabbed back into the earth again and again, until a square was distinguishable. Then the geometric clod of earth was torn out of the ground, and the vampire went on digging through the soil that became wetter the deeper the shovel wounded the earth – filling with brown water. The next hole was dug. Then the next, and the one after that, as the vampire steadily dug a row of holes for the posts that would be completed several hours later. It finished the job the pair of men had been assigned as they were finishing up their third hole.

The backs of dirt and clay marked hands wiped away sweat from the men's brows, and they readjusted the caps they were wearing. They walked forward a few steps to squint at the holes that were filled with the deepening shadows of the approaching evening, as the sky was becoming tinted with a faint shade of pink.

"Well. That will be more than enough for today, I suppose. We don't have many posts – not expecting to have many more until tomorrow. So this'll do." The men exchanged glances and then observed the holes, avoiding the demon's dull stare. "And." A throat was cleared and a man fidgeted and adjusted his cap before leaning on the handle of his shovel. "That's all you're supposed to do. I'm not sure where the commander wants you to go now, but-" The man sniffed and drew his sleeve over a nose that was running due to the cold. The men's hot breaths were clearly visible as vapor. "-there isn't anything more for you to do here."

This last half of the man's sentence was said to the retreating back of the vampire that was striding past the barracks.

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

The doors to the underworld were thrown open and the Vampire Alucard swept through the stone corridors, marching past a scientist who was nearly knocked down. Others were surprised when they saw the demon storm through, but not a single body came between the vampire and its destination. It found its cell and threw open the door, then shut itself inside to create the familiar pitch darkness.

The rag was found and the usual spot was polished - on the floor and the walls of the stony corner. The vampire spent more time cleaning than usual, to protect its new clothes from the filth, but then the rag was tossed aside and the vampire fit itself into the corner, the undead head drooped, and Alucard was asleep.

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

For five hours the vampire was left alone, allowed to sleep. But before 10 o'clock Van Hellsing opened the door to the cell and flooded most of the small chamber with light from the corridor. In the corner, Alucard was spared – having become fond of this corner for that reason. The vampire had awakened as soon as the man's hand had touched the cell door.

A pale face, lined with fatigue and irritation, lifted to find Hellsing as the man reached the center of the cell and stood examining the tired creature for what only could have been for his own amusement. The demon was too tired to respond with an expression, but hazy thoughts cursed the man. Hellsing used German.

"How was your day?"

Alucard hissed internally and recoiled from the idea of responding. But the vampire had to answer. "Unpleasant."

Abraham's expression was neutral, plainly observing Alucard. "You're useful around the estate."

The demon said nothing and Abraham was quiet.

The man's eye snagged on the clumped form of the vampire's rag, at first not identifying what it was in the dimness, but Abraham realized what it was and lost interest. "You will be going out again tonight. We will be going farther than you have before, so we will be taking a carriage and using the roads for most of the journey." Alucard was not responding, so Abraham did not leave a pause for the vampire to react. "We will be investigating some disappearances, but it is likely that it is the work of a man. Nothing that resembles a vampire or vampiric behavior has been reported. …Get up. We are leaving now."

Silently, Alucard complied and followed Van Hellsing from the cell and left the underworld to enter the night. The air was icy and the clouds had thickened, blocking out the moon much better than they had managed to block out the sun. The breeze was slight and almost unnoticeable as Hellsing led Alucard around to the front of the manor, where three coaches were waiting. Men had loaded the supplies onto the roofs of the coaches and squeezed them into what would be the men's leg room, and all remaining space was left in the third coach within the empty boxes and crates. The heat of living breaths clouded the men's faces, and the reddening cheeks and noses were thankful once the men had taken shelter in the black coaches and the clopping of the horses' hooves had begun to take them away from the mansion.

In the first coach, Van Hellsing sat beside the Vampire Alucard while two men sat across from them, empty crossbows on the men's laps. The hell-fire eyes of the demon would flare on occasion, showing its consciousness, but for the most part the vampire's eyes were dull and tired. Before committing itself to a nap, Alucard inspected the two soldiers and recognized the gruff spoken man.

The red orbs sparked, lingering on the man until his grey-blue eyes rose to meet them. All of the men were outfitted in their uniforms and heavy coats – all of it dark-greenish-tan, with large pockets on the front of the coat, which was closed by a line of brass buttons. The caps were usually unique to the individual. The gruff spoken man wore a worn, dark brown cap over his black hair – the vampire observed, approving of the man's ability to maintain steady eye-contact with it.

"What is your name?"

Alucard's question earned a glance from Hellsing, narrowed with mild suspicion or interest – overall Hellsing's features were difficult to interpret. But the glance flicked to the gruff spoken man when the low voice spoke.

"Claude Rubin."

The Vampire Alucard appeared to be satisfied and proceeded to cross undead arms and let its head hang forward as it slipped off into sleep. The men showed some interest in viewing a sleeping vampire, especially a vampire that did not hesitate before allowing the men to see that it was asleep. But a sleeping body could only hold so much interest, and the men's eyes, including Hellsing's, turned to the windows. The captain seated beside Claude Rubin went over the information for that night's investigative hunt with Van Hellsing, while Claude listened and said nothing. Neither of the men confronted Claude about the vampire's interest in him as the journey came to a close, well over an hour after they had left the Hellsing estate.

It was a rural area with thick trees that were shedding leaves over the dirt road. The coaches were pulled a little ways off the road to hide in the gloom of the trees. Then they were left in the care of the drivers as the soldiers marched down the dirt path to reach their destination. The captain walked up to the front of the house, accompanying Van Hellsing who was there to meet the man who was the origin of the information that had brought them here, passed along by word of mouth and finally a letter. The man had been warned beforehand, but he was still out of sorts as he listened to the stranger's questions and words of caution, simultaneously trying to answer their questions as accurately and with as much detail as he could. The man gave them names and told the strangers how to reach specific houses to meet with the families that had lost loved ones to the series of mysterious disappearances. Two dead bodies had been found, but they were old and rotten, and the animals had had their way with them so it was impossible to determine how they had died.

The family that had lost a grandfather could only say that the old man had gone on long walks by himself in the evening and usually came home just after dark. But after leaving for one of his usual walks, the man had never come home. Another family, which had lost an aunt, explained how they had been having difficulty with a fox or a dog that was attacking their chickens and which had stolen a duck. They had heard the birds squawking and the father, sons, and the aunt had run out with lanterns to investigate. The perpetrator was not found, and when they gathered again at the house, they noticed that the aunt was missing. They searched for her, but she was not found. Human remains had been found instead, some time later, which were broken up and useless for identifying who they had once been, but the aunt's dress had been discovered with them – so the family had buried the remains and were waiting on a tombstone that they believed the stubborn, hardworking old maid had deserved. She had raised her sick sister's children and cared for the house ever since the children had been babes. So they felt as if they had lost their second mother – and the living mother was devastated by the loss of her caring sister. Then, the last family that was visited was the home of the teenage boy who had gone missing for several days before his remains were discovered, identified by a disembodied head that was found in the forest. The family blamed themselves for assuming that the boy's imperfect character gave them a reason to assume he had runaway to London – which the boy had proclaimed was a dream of his, to get educated enough to travel around the city selling cure-alls – and he didn't give a damn if they couldn't actually cure anything at all.

Evening and night hours were obviously the criminal's hunting period, but these same hours worked well for both the living and the undead. They asked about neighbors, whether any had been observed to avoid going out in the sunlight, or had suddenly become recluses. There were a few people who were known to live in the forest. Only one man was known to live alone. But he had been living there for over a decade, acting as a woodsman and a basket weaver. Van Hellsing thanked each of the families for this information, and returned with the captain to speak with the other men. They decided to question the woodsman, to see if he was undead – though they were fairly certain he was alive since the families claimed the man would come to their houses during the day, never at night. It would be worth their time to ask him whether he had seen anything in the forest, since that was where the bodies had been found. They also decided to check on a cottage that was near the woodsman's home, having found the small family of two relatively grown children and a father who had been living there for only two years, to be more suspicious.

Van Hellsing took Alucard and two other men to investigate the small family, while the remaining six men went with the captain to see the woodsman. Hellsing had a hard time with the father when the old, alcohol swollen man hollered and complained about the late hour, and how dare these rotten neighbors turn the authorities on them when they had done nothing and were just as afraid, living alone in the woods with a murderer running loose, and that his younger son had developed a terrible case of insomnia after finding that horrible Harrison boy's head lying on the ground, but that the son had had the courage to wrap it up in a cloth and return it to the family – and how dare that family now accuse them of killing that horrible Harrison boy-

"Where did your son find the head? We need the information to determine whether the killer is working in a set area within the forest. We might be able to uncover the other missing body."

"I don't have any blasted idea! And do you think I'll go up there and ask my son to tell you? When he's been struggling - struggling! And with no doctor! – since that blasted Harrison boy went against his father, as he always did – not an ounce of respect in that child! – and got himself killed? He brought it upon himself! We all, all of us with a family to take care of – we all made sure to tell ours sons and daughters, if we had sons and daughters, that they were to stay inside when it started to get dark, but that horrible-" The old man's rant was drawn out, and his words became airy as his lungs tired. He took a moment to breathe. "-Harrison boy brought it upon himself! So no. We will not-"

"-here! It's here! IT'S HERE! WE'VE FOUND IT! -! –ten! –BITTEN!"

The shouts startled the old man, draining his sunburned face as he spluttered. Meanwhile, alarm lanced through the soldier's spines, and they were sprinting into the trees as Van Hellsing's snarled curse was left behind for the old man to digest. Badly shaken, the old man hurried inside and bolted the door. He called to his sons to pick up the hammers and nails that were set on the table, and to get to work nailing boards over the windows and pushing the kettle in front of the back door after bolting it shut. The hammering filled the cottage as the soldiers dashed through the foliage and bounded towards the woodsman's house. The yells had stopped, and Hellsing grit his teeth and announced to his cynical mind that the men had decided he had heard them and was on his way. "Go!" A roar followed the Vampire Alucard as it quickly complied.

The demon caught the scent of blood, and, though it was delicious, the pale features crinkled and twisted with displeasure – lips lifting in a grimace. Daggered fangs hissed their frustration, before Alucard broke into the battle, finding – as its poor luck would have it – Claude Rubin acting as a shield against the soldier's crossbows. Claude was held in place by the maw of fangs that were buried in the seeping blood that was gradually coating his neck. The gruff voice had been heard, demanding that the men shoot. "I'm dead anyway! Shoot me now! And kill the monster! I won't turn into a ghoul! Don't you let me turn into a ghoul! And don't let this monster get away! So shoot! Damn you! SHOOT!"

The blonde haired woodsman, with his fangs buried in the soldier Alucard hadn't detested, growled through the living flesh, glaring at Alucard as the vampire strode towards it, the undead body curved and predatory as gloved hands were open and welcoming the woodsman to attack. "Come. You know what I am. You know if you don't kill me, I will eat you. So come! It is time to see which of us will live or die! Which is stronger. Come!"

Claude grunted as his side and elbow hit the ground after being shoved out of the way by the woodsman, but he was left to stumble away towards the other soldiers who were backing into the trees, eyes watching the two creatures tear at one another. For the first time, the target was actually exchanging blows with the vampire. The two bodies crashed together, the woodsman snarling and snapping his teeth at the vampire, but Alucard caught him and hurtled the creature into the front of his own cottage. The creature was undaunted, immediately crouched. It lunged with a snarl as the vampire met it, a calloused fist cracking undead bone in Alucard's face, but a gloved fist was there to embed itself in the woodsman's stomach. The momentum lifted the creature from the ground as Alucard flung it away from the cabin, and followed the body, bashing it about as if it were suddenly lifeless. The men watched the cruel battering, hearing the grunts and yells of the woodsman as his voice adopted the same dread the No-Life-King's prey usually contain in their eyes and faces when they die, forever left with this terror-molded death mask.

Van Hellsing and the rest of the men had arrived, but it was only moments before the woodsman made one last desperate attempt to tear the vampire with his teeth. Alucard's speared hand shot through its roar, breaking teeth, and impaling the creature's head on an undead forearm. The Vampire Alucard let the creature's head slip from its bloodied arm, and growled at the body that stuck the ground. A similar growl came from Van Hellsing as he cursed the monster into oblivion, having seen Claude's wound for himself.

Hellsing went to the soldier who had slumped against a tree and had quietly watched the woodsman's defeat with a calm hatred. Now the grey-blue eyes were on the men who were gathering, finding Hellsing as the great commander crouched to gently inspect the bite. The artery had not been damaged and the skin was not torn. The fangs and teeth had left bruises forming around the puncture wounds, visible once Hellsing had wiped away some of the blood with a clean cloth - brought along to act as a bandage should a need for it arise. But bite wounds did not need bandages. And Claude had asked to be allowed to go off on his own and do the job himself, so the other men would not have to watch.

The captain, whose hardened features spoke of the weight this failure had set upon his shoulders, handed Claude the crossbow he had dropped, readied with a new bolt. The gruff spoken man took it with a nod and a grunt of thanks. Van Hellsing stood and gave Claude some room as the man began to lift himself, weakened more by the experience than by the wound. Without being able to recognize the origin of the solid force that struck him in the chest, Claude was shoved back into the base of the tree. He coughed and gasped to refill his crushed lungs, and then was unable to keep hold of the crossbow as something bent down and wrenched from his hand. Recovering from this rough treatment, Claude squinted up at the figure of the vampire as it held the crossbow and growled down at him - lips raised to expose part of its fangs.

Alucard's throat vibrated with a deep rumble emanating annoyance, and it hissed suddenly as a glare speared Van Hellsing before the look blunted to meet Claude's gaze. Then Alucard turned an undead back to the man and spoke as worn boots made their way towards the woodsman's body. "You will not turn into a ghoul. …You men claim to fight vampires and to know something about the undead, yet you can't tell when a body is alive?" The vampire scoffed, standing over the woodsman. To exhibit its distaste, a boot toyed with the torn and mutilated lower jaw and then prodded the blonde head.

Van Hellsing was approaching - the demon sensed this as it lowered itself, red eyes remaining on the body, inspecting the woodsman's chest. The other men were migrating towards them as well. Claude Rubin stayed where he was, with two others, and watched from the tree. The calmness persisted in Claude's expression, but his face had paled and his jaws were clenched tightly together.

"This man isn't undead?" It was the captain speaking, questioning yet beginning to grapple with this new chance for hope. Maybe his man wouldn't die. He had experienced losing his men before, and it was something he would rather die before witnessing again.

"No." The vampire responded blandly, and the gloved hand that did not contain the crossbow reached out to seemingly play with the woodsman's collar.

"Then what is he? He's alive but he isn't human." The captain stood beside Van Hellsing who was examining the body while remaining behind the vampire.

"No, he is not human- and GET BACK!" Alucard snapped at the men who retreated from the body after having circled around the vampire and lowered themselves to get a closer look. "You can't tell when a thing is undead, and you can't tell when a thing is alive." The insulting tone only inspired fear, the men beginning to feel intimidated by the vampire's truthful description of their ignorance and shortcomings.

Abraham asked the next question, keeping his voice void surprise – he had assumed Alucard had killed the creature, since by its appearance it looked dead. "What is it?"

A crimson orb peered up at Hellsing as Alucard's head turned, using a single eye to watch the man without openly insulting him for having to ask. The red eyes were on the body again, watching for signs of the creature regaining consciousness. A hand reached forward to grasp the woodsman's collar, and the men watched as Alucard ripped the shirt from the lifeless body. Alucard parted the torn cloth to leave the chest bare. No one asked what the vampire was doing. "It's a wolf." The vampire's teeth closed on the fingertips of its right glove and a pale hand slipped free. The glove was discarded beside the woodsman as Alucard hovered over the body, and blunt nails sharpened into claws. As the claws sunk into the woodsman's chest, Van Hellsing demanded to know why the vampire was ruining the body.

Alucard said nothing, and made sure to quickly slice through the skin and sternum of the chest, and carve an upside-down 'v' below the ribs. The men winced and a few looked away with grimaces as Alucard's hands dug into the body and ripped open the left ribcage to expose the working organs beneath. The ribs had fractured like stone – Hellsing's lips pursed.

The crimson heart throbbed in the cold, steam clouding the air and curling over Alucard's face. "A beautiful sight isn't it?"

Abraham growled at Alucard's words, only thankful that it had been said in German. But Hellsing examined the contents of the living monster with curiosity that could not be tamed. "This is a werewolf?"

"The only wolves left in Britain." Alucard responded, but the crimson eyes would not leave the sensuous rhythm of the throbbing heart. A cold tongue ran over the backs of the vampire's fangs. "Do you want to take it with us? …Or may I eat it?" Alucard's voice was deeper than usual, thick with hunger.

Van Hellsing was no longer looking at the werewolf. "Do vampires eat werewolves?"

The demon let out a hum that resembled a low purr. "I do. …I wouldn't want others to eat them – but most are probably too weak or stupid to feed from them. And they are nice to have." A true purr filled Alucard's silent chest. "They can be kept and fed from again and again, and they will refill their veins with blood - they taste alright, but they have more valuable properties."

Abraham would ask more questions later. For now he scowled at the exposed organs. "Close it up, sow it up, and bind it. We'll take it back with us." The announcement carried through the cold air, igniting movement among the men. "Will it survive the journey after what you've done to it?" Hellsing's tone was hard as he glared at the demon.

The vampire was not pleased with this decision, but it closed up the body as the means for stitching it up was revealed in one of the soldiers' hands. "It should." Van Hellsing noted the irritation in the tone, but said nothing. The Vampire Alucard gave up its spot to the man with the needle and thread - who also had found a bandage to help hold the werewolf together - while gloved hands accepted the leather and silver bindings, and then the steel chains. The bindings fixed the werewolf's arms behinds his back, and then fused its legs together. Once the mutilated chest had been sown up enough to ensure nothing would fall out of the body and the pooling blood would remain inside, for the most part, the vampire wrapped the steel chain about the werewolf's torso, pinning the wolf's arms to his back. Then the muzzle was used, undead hands gathering up the tattered lower jaw and stuffing it into the muzzle before fastening the leather and silver over the face.

As men left to fetch the coaches and inform the man they had first visited that the job was done, the demon stood beside the body, observing it. Two teeth were spotted on the ground, and the creature bent to pick them up.

"For you." Alucard murmured. Van Hellsing accepted the unexpected gift, not realizing what had been left in his hand until he had the chance to inspect the fangs closely. They were over half the length of his pointer finger. Abraham said nothing and turned the ivory daggers about to try and get a better look at them, before wrapping them in a handkerchief and storing the fangs in one of the pockets of his trench coat. This coat was different from the one used to cover the dead child, being a dark and earthy green, which matched the scarf that was tucked beneath the collar of Abraham's shirt.

Hellsing watched Claude Rubin as the man waited near the unconscious body, hands resting in his pockets and a bloodied bandage wrapped about his throat. The man's grey-blue eyes were on the partially covered face of the werewolf, and his pale features were set in a calm and quiet mask. No emotions were leaking out, if the man was experiencing any. He spoke to the vampire who had remained close, waiting for the man as Claude had made his way over to the body. "Will I become one of these?"

Crimson was focused on the gruff spoken man's composed features. Hellsing was, not for the first time, amazed by the way his men handled themselves, how they could manage horrors and their worst fears without giving in to human despair or panic.

Alucard was not responding, so Claude continued to memorize the werewolf's face. "If I will, hand me my crossbow. It's no better than becoming a ghoul. I hate this thing. I don't want to become one."

"It's not certain. You may. And then you may not. A werewolf's bite is not as potent as a vampire's. It may go either way, but you will know for certain by tomorrow – at midnight or just before." Alucard witnessed the hand Claude had lifted to accept the crossbow fall back to the man's pocket – it did not go unwillingly. Hellsing noted the crossbow in Alucard's hand, but waited to see what the vampire was planning to do with it.

Claude was not moving, and neither was Alucard, so Van Hellsing stayed with the man. The captain returned to them, but he only exchanged a look with Van Hellsing before going to Claude. The captain looked down at the unconscious werewolf and kept his eyes on the face, seeing what Claude was seeing. He placed his hands in his pockets, just as Claude Rubin was keeping his hands. They were two men who could have easily exchanged positions – the split second decision the werewolf made to attack and then select Claude as his target had determined where they now stood.

"Are you alright?" The captain spoke lowly, but the tone was familiar.

"I'll know by tomorrow night. Midnight, I've been told." Claude huffed out a cloud, feeling the cold. A breeze was moving the heads of the trees, but the air only grazed the men.

The captain inquired more from Van Hellsing, looking to him and waiting for a nod that would tell him the risk Claude was now facing. He now looked directly at Claude. "Is there anything we can do in the meantime?"

Claude did not know, so he said nothing. Someone who did know would answer. And if no one had the information, then the quiet would continue.

"Clean the wounds, place silver over them – any burning will give you the first sign – feed him, let him sleep." Alucard stopped and found Van Hellsing. "Where will he be staying?"

"The labs." Claude grunted before Van Hellsing could speak. "Put me in a cell. I won't go anywhere else."

The men listening to Claude were grave but approved of the man's decision, though they disliked it. Various comforts would be fetched, and a cell would have to be scoured – by the men, since the household servants were not allowed in the labs.

Alucard was unaffected. "You won't go on a violent rampage as soon as you become a werewolf. And there is no reason for you to die. Werewolves are not restricted to a human-based diet. They can eat human food. I would not keep creatures that I would have to share prey with. …You'll develop a greater appetite for meat, raw on some occasions. And you'll be easy to dispatch if you turn on your comrades. The werewolf that bit you was weak, so, as a fresh wolf, you will be absolutely pathetic – if that is good news to you."

Claude said nothing, and neither did the men. Alucard heard the approach of the coaches before the mortal ears detected it. "Well." Alucard circled the body, determining how it would be carried. "I won't eat you, if you become a wolf."

"I'd prefer to be burned. Have my ashes buried. I don't want them getting into mischief, even if they shouldn't be able to." Claude left the body as he and the others heard the coaches. The equipment in the third coach was distributed across the boots and laps of the men who filled the other coaches, making room enough to situate Alucard, the werewolf, and – though the men protested – Van Hellsing. The men hated the idea of leaving their commander alone with two evil creatures, but Hellsing insisted. Claude rode again in the first coach and again sat beside his captain. When the other two men who took Hellsing's and Alucard's seats asked questions, he told them what had been planned. The the coach was quiet until Claude mentioned the werewolf, thus giving the men permission to talk about it.

"I wouldn't mind learning to kill a few of these wolf-monsters. Might like to see if they can transform into anything, or what a stronger monster is like."

And the discussion carried on without Claude, as the men made their journey home.

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

Abraham had been examining the werewolf's body from where he was seated, looking down at the monster that lay between his black polished boots and Alucard's greying boots, which had once been black and polished. The stunted candles wavered behind glass, the small lantern-like source of lighting that branched from the side of the coach with a metal stem. It cast a shadow on the face of the werewolf beneath it. This light and the others in the coach allowed Van Hellsing to see Alucard clearly as he spoke, converting to German. "How do you know Mr. Rubin?"

The undead eyes contained candles of their own as they met the cobalt gaze. Claude Rubin's crossbow sat beside the vampire. "We cut down a tree together. That is how I recognized him."

The next phase of the conversation took several minutes to arrive. This quiet was customary for the man and the vampire. "How is it possible to identify werewolves? Is there something beyond scent that you use to identify them?"

Alucard's eyes were no longer linked to Hellsing's. The light of the orbs were reflected in the glass window as the demon peered into the night world, and the candle flames licked at its undead pupils. "Lyncanthropes may have come before vampires." Hellsing listened as the Vampire Alucard spoke to its reflection. "They were present in the short time Greece was the center of the world of men, or when the only worthwhile European minds could be found in Greece. The story of Damarchus summarizes the common lyncanthropic tale. A sacrifice is made that should not have been made. And the punishment is the loss of one's humanity. The punishment and the sacrifice are usually one and the same. But it shows that the transformation from human to werewolf is as complete as the transformation from human to vampire. Their scent changes, but their nature is also different."

Hellsing spoke before Alucard had finished. The demon was thoughtful, and at these times Alucard could take an hour to form an answer. "I can do without the tangents. But it is through behavior, alone? Humans do not possess a sense that can detect them? Even though they prey on humans, just as the undead do?"

"Behavior can be one means of distinguishing them. They have narrowed emotions, sometimes as few as two – anger and complacency. They do not gather like wolves, but are usually solitary – a matter of competition. And they do not care for the other lyncanthropes they create; they do not seem to have the ability to create bonds. When threatened, they attack immediately, and only cower once they have seen with their own eyes that their enemy is too strong for them. They seem to settle down for somewhat long periods of time, to plant themselves in a community of humans. During that time, as their roots fix their place among their neighbors, the lyncanthropes will live like a human, and eat human foods. But their restraint gives way, or their patience, and they will begin to hunt. The more experienced lyncanthropes will take a victim every five or so years to remain undetected and to be able to stay in the same place for a prolonged period of time. They will move when it is clear that they have not aged as humans should. But they seem fond of settling down, and may even take a human mate. They cannot breed with humans, but they may still have the urge to claim a mate."

Abraham accepted the information, but was unsatisfied. "Be more concise. And can humans develop a way to detect them?"

Alucard was silent and watched the passing scenery. "…I am not human. I do not know whether a human can develop a way to sense lyncanthropes. To me, the difference between a lyncanthrope and a human is obvious. They smell different, and to me the difference in movement and behavior is plain. But then, when I meet a human they do not bare their fangs and lunge at my throat. They treat me as a predator, because, I suppose just as vampires instinctively know that they hunger for human blood and hate the sun, lyncanthropes know that a vampire is a creature that can kill them – so they would much rather kill it than die."

"Hm." The length of the answers were less annoying as they shrunk. Abraham was shifting his gaze from the vampire to the werewolf, watching one or the other for a length of time. There was only the same difference between the creatures that he had always used to differentiate between a human and vampire. Van Hellsing wore gloves, but his hands were still cold. He began to rub them for warmth. "The answer is no."

"The answer is you must learn how to distinguish between humans and lyncanthropes."

Hellsing's mouth twitched and then the corner of his lips dipped far enough to create a familiar crease beside the man's mouth. "What are the odds that Mr. Rubin will remain human? And how can we end his life before he has fully transformed? – since this is obviously his wish."

The demon glanced down at the werewolf as its heart began to thud wildly. "The wolf is awake."

As Hellsing looked down, the werewolf began to squirm weakly, like a writhing insect on the floor. It was unpleasant to have the creature knock against his boots, but Abraham did not have enough room to move them away. The werewolf was also moaning in pain. But suddenly the body became rigid and straight, its back arched and its eyes were wide and reddish brown. The howl that cut through the muzzle caught both of them by surprise. As it rung out from behind the horses, they spooked and tried to bolt, taking the coach off the road.

The Vampire Alucard was on its feet and the heel of a worn boot landed squarely on the creature's damaged jaw. The reddish brown eyes filmed with water and the pupils seemed to float upwards until the werewolf's sockets contained white, red-veined spheres. Alucard caught the pungent scent of bile that rose in the werewolf's throat.

The coach came under control in that span of time, all of this having occurred within seconds, and the driver stopped and coaxed the horses down from their sudden fright. The other coaches had stopped and the captain had leapt from the head coach to sprint back to the third coach.

The door opened without a knock, but the anxiety-hardened expression of the captain softened into relief when he found all was well. They had learned that werewolves have much more powerful vocal chords than vampires –this was turned into a topic of amusement to help distribute calm among the men, mentioned to them through their open doors as the captain returned to the head coach. After there was no need for concern, the coaches resumed their journey.

The third coach was silent for many minutes before Abraham repeated his question. Alucard had prepared an answer, having mulled the matter over during the silence.

"Mr. Rubin has a slight chance, enough of a chance to make waiting worthwhile. The silver placed against the wound, as I mentioned before, will provide us with a warning. Once it begins to burn, Mr. Rubin will ask us to kill him. My mind is not for imagining humane and quiet deaths, but the options are few. Cut off his head, though that will be bloody and violent – more than you would like. Shoot him in the head with a silver bolt – or let him do this, as he was prepared to do before. Or…" Alucard sighed, and was reluctant to make his mind work towards a proper way of disposing of a creature. "Or you may use some of the chemicals that have spread in this day and age. Use chloroform to put him to sleep. Then take a thin silver nail, and knock it with a hammer so that the tip passes between the ribs and pierces the heart. If this is done immediately after the silver has begun to burn him, Mr. Rubin will die a human. And that death would be more peaceful, for all of you."

Abraham had not expected to get much of an answer from Alucard, but this last plan was everything Abraham could have wanted for one of his men, for even himself. But the vampire would have had to remember human emotions and concerns for people they care for, and to insert itself into Van Hellsing's human mind and the situation he was in. It was an impressive feat for the creature, and Van Hellsing found that this had pleased him more than anything else the vampire had yet done for him.

Hellsing settled back into his own mind to work out what would need to be done when he returned to the estate. He only engaged the vampire long enough to reconfirm what the vampire had said before. "There is no chance of any change occurring before tomorrow at midnight?"

"Nothing will happen before eleven o'clock tomorrow night. The change will not be complete before midnight."

Van Hellsing returned to his thoughts until they reached the estate. The first job he needed to take care of was transporting the werewolf into the labs. He had one of the men run ahead of them to tell the scientists what they should expect to receive in the next ten minutes. Alucard was given the job of transporting the werewolf, a second time, and the interest the werewolf amassed from the men who flocked to see it before it entered the labs delayed the news of Claude Rubin's misfortune until the men's excitement had cooled. The change that came afterwards was instantaneous - a spark reached powder, as the men's interest turned to blazing hatred for the werewolf, and they cursed it vehemently and were glad to have it suffer a slow death in the labs. Then they dedicated their time to tending to Claude, having his wound cleaned and fresher and softer bandages applied. Ice was even fetched from the kitchen to soothe the bruised and swollen skin around the wound. When the ice had melted away and the tale of that night had been completed and each of the men, it seemed, had spent some time with Claude, the man was tired and was given another change of bandages before being allowed to sleep. Claude chose to remain in the barracks with the other men, refusing to sleep in the mansion. He claimed that the commander had made the barracks just as comfortable as the best room in the Hellsing manor. Having these men beside him, having been able to know these men, was all he would have asked for in this life.

When Claude was asleep, the men who had been closest to him went about getting his affairs in order while others descended into the underworld to find the most comfortable room the stone passages had to offer. They did not want Claude anywhere near the werewolf, so they delved deeper into the underworld, until they neared the vampire's cell. Van Hellsing had met with them, and was now present to help them choose a cell. All of them were cold, dank, and filthy, but having one near the demon seemed safer – and Alucard knew the most about the matter and was deeply involved, it seemed.

A cell was selected and then the men were off to get the supplies they would use to scour the stones clean. The sun rose as they worked, and the day progressed as black faded to grey in the cell. Fresh men came to carry on the scrubbing – nearly burning the bristles of their brushes against the roughness of the stones as their arms drove the soap through the grime. An hour before noon, the cell was acceptable. Candles had been brought in to allow the men to work. Now a table and comfortable chairs were carried into the underworld, as well as cushions and other objects of simple comfort. When Claude woke, he was greeted with a feast, joining the men in the dining hall, all work forgotten for that day. The sun was out though it was not quite warm, but it was plenty for Claude Rubin who had expected to die alone behind a tree, by the force of a silver bolt impaling his brain. He knew others had died this way. He was blessed to have these comforts.

Claude suggested that he help finish the fence, since he had assisted in cutting down the tree the day before, but his neck hurt and the men argued against it, so the man settled with observing his comrades and listening to their stories. He walked over the property and was accompanied by many of the others. They never left him, and he did not mind having their company.

Upon arriving, Hellsing had ordered that the silver nail be crafted. It arrived at the estate in the late afternoon. The nail was sent to Claude's cell, along with the hammer, a cloth, and the chloroform. A priest arrived to bless the cell and then met with Claude.

Claude feasted again for the men's dinner, accepting these gifts quietly, as the night deepened and the hours shortened. At eleven o'clock the farewells were exchanged. Many asked to be with Claude during this time, but the man told them he didn't want any of them to see him if he did become a werewolf. The men respected his wishes and allowed their parting to end above the earth.

Claude entered the underworld with Van Hellsing and the captain of his unit. When he found the cell brightly lit and decent smelling, he went to the neighboring cell and opened the door. He grinned faintly at the difference. Small talk was made as the hour progressed and the men sat in the chairs, the cell closed off from the rest of the underworld – it seemed like they were in another world all together. The stones isolated them and trapped their voices, trapping their very lives in this confined space – just as any world does. The Vampire Alucard startled the captain when it phased through the stone wall just behind him.

It seemed that the demon's arrival signaled the beginning of the waiting period. Hellsing checked his pocket watch and found that they had less than a half hour before midnight.

They had not wanted to discuss the grimmer matters before, but Claude would not wait any longer. He asked Hellsing, using his grey-blue eyes to indicate the objects on the table in his calm manner. "Will these be enough? I don't care so much for the chloroform. Quick and efficient. I just want it done, and I would rather not have anyone do it for me. My life is my own. It is in my hands. Not yours."

Hellsing did not speak. Claude was looking at the nail and the hammer, considering the ways he could use them himself, or use one and not the other, to bash out his brains – but he would only knock himself unconscious, and he was sure he would miss if he tried to send the nail into his heart by himself. Despite this, he told the men, "If the silver begins to burn – leave. Come in at midnight, and if the job isn't done, please finish it for me."

"The way we have planned it," Alucard's voice was heard, and Claude watched the demon with the other men, "we will be able to kill you as soon as it is certain you will become a werewolf. With the chloroform, you will not feel the silver burn your heart. And with the nail the job is clean, and the absence of pain means the length of the time that it takes your body to die can be a bit longer. If you died before midnight, even if the change has begun, you will die a human and may be buried in any way you choose."

Claude was thinking, retracting into himself to make this final decision. He was not afraid of pain. It wouldn't last forever. And he had accepted that he would die at some point in time while he was serving Van Hellsing. So he did not fear death. All he wanted was to avoid becoming a wolf-monster.

The minutes shortened and only fifteen minutes separated them from midnight. "So I will start to change before midnight?"

"Yes."

Claude looked from the captain to Van Hellsing. "Will this be best for you?"

The captain let Van Hellsing answer for both of them. "Yes. And we will make sure you do not transform."

Claude accepted this death, just as simply as he had accepted his likelihood of dying while hunting vampires. "I would like to be burned. And I would like my ashes to be buried in a grave with the others. If I become one of those wolf-monsters, burn me and throw my ashes in the sea."

Van Hellsing spoke quietly. "You do not want to be buried traditionally? There is no need to cremate your body."

Claude's eyes showed that he was resolute. "I've seen plenty of ghouls. I don't want to become anything that slightly resembles them. I had decided that if I lived and died an old man somewhere, away from here – I'd like to be burned, my ashes collected in an urn, and then be buried in a marked grave in our cemetery. I've worked hard to earn my place among them. I want to be buried here with them."

"You will be, when you die an old man."

Claude didn't mind the hope in Van Hellsing's words, and his lips formed a faint smile, similar to the grin that had formed upon contrasting his cell and the neighboring cell. "What is the time?" Claude asked a moment later.

Van Hellsing was holding the pocket watch clasped in his hand - on his lap as he sat across from Claude. He opened it and cobalt found its face. "11:48."

So the silent wait began. All of Claude's senses were focused on the small sheet of silver that was held against his wound by the bandage his comrades had wrapped around his neck. He waited, again accepting his decisions, accepting that he wanted to die – more than he wanted to live – if the silver began to burn him.

And the sheet heated as if suddenly shoved under a pile of blazing coals, warm and then hot and then burning, and then excruciatingly painful – he was able to speak as the silver warmed against his wound. "Give me the chloroform." Van Hellsing and the captain's expressions opened with dismay before molding into the grave acceptance that was needed. The captain rose from his chair and wetted the cloth with the bottle of clear liquid, all of the men functioning with swift movements. Meanwhile Claude could no longer bear the heat of the silver, and he ripped off the bandages and threw the sheet to the floor before sitting down again. The chloroform doused rag was presented. Claude was the one to draw it near. "And now I welcome this. It feels like my bones are on fire." He held the rag, the captain's hand still attached to it, and Claude Rubin paused. Grey-blue eyes, as calm as a misty morning sea, met Van Hellsing's. "Thank you for letting me serve you."

"Thank you for fighting beside me." Abraham returned.

Claude looked up into the captain's close face - the captain was stooped with a hand on the armrest of Claude's chair. "Thank you for guiding and teaching me."

The captain's lips quivered before he could respond, his eyes filled by the grey-blue calm. "Thank you for everything you've taught me. May we meet on the other side."

These words were enough for Claude Rubin, and he pressed the cloth against his face and closed his eyes. The captain held the cloth when Claude's hand showed signs of weakening, and soon the man was unconscious. They laid him gently on the stone floor, placing a pillow beneath his head. Abraham took the nail and the hammer from the table as the captain left the cloth on the wood. The captain seized the nail and hammer from Abraham, refusing to allow the man to do this job. But Alucard stepped in to postpone the fulfillment of Claude Rubin's wishes.

"Let me kill the werewolf first."

Hellsing frowned, building anger as he resented the interruption. But then he thought about the request and cooled.

Alucard was looking at Hellsing, hands beside the undead legs. "The wolf should not outlive him."

Abraham nodded, and he and the captain silently agreed. The demon phased through the wall, passing through stone and darkness as it flew to the creature that was found strapped to a table. The men who were present guarded the living sample as the vampire seemed ready to claim it as its prey.

"These are Van Hellsing's orders. The werewolf dies before Claude Rubin."

Struck by the news, the scientists ended their resistance and complied when the demon needed their space, silent and watchful, filled with sadness as Alucard took a long knife from the assortment of tools the scientists had gathered. The demon went to the werewolf that gazed up at Alucard in a dazed state of fear, and an undead hand tightened around the wooden handle. Swiftly, the knife severed the head from the creature in one stoke. Then the bloodied blade was left beside the body as Alucard faded from the room and returned to the cell.

The waiting men saw that the job had been done, and the captain positioned himself over the man who had served him, who he had known and would miss. The nail searched for its path, only to have a gloved finger reach down to show where it should be placed.

The tip of the nail passed into the space between Claude's ribs, the hammer soundless in the mute world this moment was enclosed in. With the second restrained strike, the nail passed smoothly into the soft, pulsating tissue of Claude's heart – and was then pushed in another centimeter by a steady thumb. The captain waited on the stones, kneeling beside Claude, as Van Hellsing remained kneeling closer to Claude's head. The Vampire Alucard watched from the side of the brightly lit cell. They waited patiently to watch the man's life leave them. The captain placed a hand over the head of the silver nail, feeling the broken and deteriorating heartbeat, and the faint scent of smoke integrated itself into the air they breathed. The silver pocket watch was open in Van Hellsing's hand but his eyes, and the eyes of the captain, were on Claude's face for the last moment he was alive. Then the heart could take no more, and the captain's head bowed. Hellsing's head lowered as his eyes sought the face of his pocket watch.

11:57.

Claude Rubin had died a man. He had been saved, though they had lost him forever - in this life.

Chapter Text

The captain's boots were audible against the uneven stones of the corridor, passing murmuring torches that sparked instances of increased warmth, increased awareness of the world around him, as the man continued his departure from the underworld. Claude Rubin lay dead in the cell the captain had left behind. He lay wrapped in a white cloth, and waited for the news to spread, for the somber men to file into the underworld and carry his coffin to him. There was the sound of waiting men ahead of the captain, and he gave the scientists a solemn look as he passed, their eyes seeking this brief answer before the two scientists turned and walked down their branching corridor to inform the others of what must be done. They would find the coffin that rested in one of the many rooms of the underworld, fashioned for Claude Rubin fourteen months ago when he had joined the Hellsing Organization. All of the men, with the exception of the new recruits, had their coffins prepared and waiting for them in the Hellsing underworld. The coffins were not always used; should a particular soldier need to be burned and his ashes sent to relatives or scattered, a porcelain urn waited in another room, filling the wooden shelves that covered the walls. This room was locked tight to ensure no creature would knock them to the floor. The coffins were similarly protected, as was Alucard's, which sat alone in a cell close to where the scientists performed most of their dissections.

The clipping of the man's heels sounded solidly down the arched hallway as the stair leading out of the underworld came into view, a soldier's march creating the distinct tone of his passage as the scent of death that clung to his body chilled and corroded the air. He unlatched and opened one of the double doors, pausing at the sound of falling water. The rivulets slipping down the sides of the stairs had pooled before the door, and his actions had allowed the accumulating flood to enter the underworld. A gloved hand shut the door and then pulled the man's scarf higher to warm his neck as the air of the dark morning struck him. The wind was unseen, invisible without enough light to allow the captain to see its impression on the trees. He only felt it with his face and his eyes as it stung him, and he had to hold onto his cap and lean forward as he strode through the slanted rain that struck and bounced off of him like shards. He made his way to the barracks, muddying his boots and dousing himself with chills when he left the cobbled path to cut across dirt and grass. In the distance a storm was growling into the black dome overhead, smeared with thickening greys and falling water. The rumble of thunder did not produce lightning, and the sound was too far away for the captain to be certain whether lightning would reach them. But these thoughts were at the surface of his subconscious. His true thoughts were sliding past one another, like a mass of gathered snakes writhing at the bottom of a pit, each whispering or hissing warnings as they quickened or slithered slowly, gradually tightening the knot of their tangled bodies.

The man was dead. And the captain had done all that he could; he had fulfilled Claude Rubin's wish, he had been the one to pierce his heart. He had felt the organ stop. He had held death in his palms, and these icy hands were now heavy and scared.

In the past, he had lost five men. Three had been killed by vampires or their fledglings. In the dark, the eyes of the undead had an obvious advantage. A shard of wood was thrown, and it had skewered a man in the throat - he had fallen in the darkness, and was not found until the targets had been destroyed and his absence had been noticed. That was why the captain disliked stormy black nights such as this one. When the thunder comes and the lightning distracts the mind, a man can die in the shadows, and one can pass his body without feeling it. Any last words are lost and the man dies alone, or he dies watching his comrades, his captain run past him without sensing his need. On another night, a sire had shot a man in the stomach with a hunting rifle. The blast had been horrendous, a sound that was escalated by the blow of impact, of metal ripping through a man's body, the grunt and guttural groan, the black mental cataclysm that rears on its hind quarters and wails before plunging into the mind like a servant of the apocalypse- a thing of night terrors and crippling fear. To the captain, a gunshot will always be amplified when its target is human – the black image burned in his eyes whenever he heard or merely thought of it. …And the man who had been shot had died slowly, surrounded by his helpless comrades as the captain had looked on, just as helpless. Another man had been struck in the head by a vampire. The force had thrown him into a stone wall. His skull had been crushed, the indent had been clear, blood had trickled from his ears and seeped from his nose. He had been carried back, only to die without waking two days later.

The captain slipped and stumbled forward in the black mud his eyes strained to see. But only darkness lay beneath his feet, and the slick earth did not want to support him. He fell back, catching himself in the slop with one hand submerged in the cold mud. His pants and coat were plastered on his left side, but as he stood the man did not try to wipe it away. It felt heavy, so he knew it was there, but he continued with the weight of his limitations and strode towards the faint silhouette of the barracks, where he could see faint candlelight in a few of the windows. The mud was like ice that could only grow colder and wetter, and the captain's muscles protested as it soaked into his trousers and clung to his body, chilling him further as he trudged onward.

On two nights, the captain had watched men who had been bitten take up their crossbows and say farewell to their comrades, had seen their sober horror in their widened gazes, queerly overflowing yet empty – prepared to die while they still contained so much life. Then these men had come to him and thanked him for his leadership, though they were dying and the captain had felt that he should be the one to take a crossbow to his head. But though he had felt this, and though he had wanted to drag them back, force them down, and seize their weapons, he had stood there and watched as they stepped into the darkness of the trees, and he had listened for the release of the bolt, the impact with its target, and then the sound of their fallen bodies striking the leaves.

Claude Rubin's death was unique in the short but dense history of the Hellsing Organization. He had been bitten, there had been renewed hope, he had been brought back and had lived another day with his comrades who had celebrated their bond with this single man, and then he had waited for his hope to die in the underworld, and his captain had put an end to his life painlessly, before it was corrupted by the demon's bite.

The captain's mind fell silent for a moment, as he approached the door to the barracks; the ground was much sturdier beneath his soldier's march. He had been fortunate not to have had to shoot one of his men in the past. Other captains, many of whom were now dead, had shot one of their men or watched one of their men do the job when a soldier had been bitten and killed, and when that body had crawled and jerked, had turned on comrades to feed as a ghoul. And again, for this death, this had not been the worst. Claude Rubin had not suffered, and he had not been corrupted. He had died a man, a man sacrificing his life in order to save his humanity. This was the glory that shone in these soldiers who served Van Hellsing. They valued their souls and would do anything to protect the gift the Lord had bestowed upon them. It was not an instinct, their decision to turn a weapon upon themselves, to choose death immediately. It was overcoming the instinct to live. They were martyrs, in the captain's mind. They had stood by their belief in humanity, they had confronted their enemy despite the danger, they had been bitten by the enemy of humanity, and they had resisted and saved a piece of humanity by preserving their own with the decision to die rather than become a monster.

And Claude Rubin had resisted more than most. He would have turned into a werewolf, which by the vampire's description was less feral. Claude had the chance to live in the semblance of a human state, being alive and able to eat human food and not feed off of his own species. But he had drawn the line and had distinguished an existence as a werewolf as being the equivalent of an existence as the undead, seeing it as becoming a monster. And he had chosen to die, without hesitation. The only life that had been fit for him to live was the life of a human being. And the captain deeply respected the man's decision. But he was now sure, that if he were in the same position, he would have wanted to die in the cell before midnight, just as Claude had.

The door opened and the dimness of the barracks was revealed to be lighter than the darkness of the storm. Those who were awake turned their eyes to the captain, and among them the new recruits were either sitting on their beds or dressing after having woken. A few recruits were still sleeping, as well as a few of the soldiers who would soon need to get up. Men who were about to sleep stopped dressing or undressing, or rose from their beds to see the captain who stood before the door after he had closed it. In the dimness they saw the mud, but the hardness in his face was difficult to distinguish from the usual influence of the shadows. It took time before the death that clung to the hem of the captain's coat could step forward and reveal itself to the men. They stared, and then they grimaced, cringed, turned away, or sat down on their beds and stared into whatever would allow them to view their thoughts and memories and sadness and anger. Some had their hands at their faces, but no more than a few tears were shed.

The new recruits were dumbfounded and disturbed, gathering together where they had been sleeping when Claude Rubin had died. Some exchanged looks, others sat on their mattresses and held their hands in their laps with bowed, thoughtful heads.

A whispery mutter that did not leave their company drew gazes from the new recruits or did nothing to change their positions, though the mutter infected their minds. "What is the point of having the monster here, if men like Mr. Rubin are still allowed to die? What point is there in keeping a vampire?"

A deeper voice, but one that was reasoning internally and had yet to form an answer for himself, replied, speaking to the recruit who was scowling, slouched at the edge of his bed. The speaker watched the back of the scowling man from where he sat on his own mattress. "This is what all of us are committing to. This is no different from any other war. Soldiers die in battle. We may acquire grander guns, better weapons, faster horses and new tactics, but men will always die in a battle. Nothing will change that. …I don't believe anyone expected the vampire to put an end to all of our casualties. That would have been impossible."

The men fell silent when the captain's steps were heard. They glanced up or turned their heads and watched him pass. The bottoms of his boots were scraped clean, but the mud still clung to his uniform. The captain walked down the aisle between the two rows of beds, passed the sleeping bodies and the watchful eyes. The declaration of the death was carried to the end of the aisle, where some soldiers gathered and spoke – but the recruits could not hear their conversation.

One of the recruits rose from his bed, kneeling to rummage through the dresser before going to the desk that separated his bed from his neighbor. From a drawer he took out paper, and at the desk he found a fountain pen. He began to write a letter as the others watched or ignored him, reflecting on their own thoughts.

"Who are you writing to?" A half-interested murmur inquired.

The man at the desk did not pause when he responded. "To my mother." Those who had heard said nothing, and the writing continued. The man's eyes were close to the page, squinting at the paper. He dragged the candle closer to his work in order to see. Then he continued, "I had planned to write the letter yesterday. Now… I must write it before I forget the reassuring things I would have said. At this rate, if I continue to put it off…my mother has always been able to read what I leave out…so my letter will most likely have something that will upset her…."

The writing continued as the men were silent, most keeping their eyes away from the young man at the desk. They abstained from judging his gentleness. Then the scowling man flopped over on his blankets, burying the side of his face into his pillow before he shut his eyes with a grimace.

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

Claude Rubin's ashes were poured into his porcelain urn, and the urn in turn was placed in his coffin, held in place by the personal possessions that would be buried with him. His uniform was among the few objects that were included, folded neatly at the bottom of the casket as it cushioned the urn. The earth in the graveyard was softened by the storm that had left the sky grey and drizzling. The Vampire Alucard was asleep in its cell when the first shovel of dirt fell on Claude Rubin's coffin.

That night, the storm had grown and lightning brightened the sky as thunder broke overhead, splintering and crashing through the clouds. The wind screamed as if it were a flock of fleeing souls that dashed through the trees and snapped thin branches, which it flung against the other trees. The wind seemed to be filled with wanton wrath that was inspired and directed at nothing in particular, simply bearing an overwhelming hatred for everything that fell into its path – much in the same way monsters weave destruction into the fabric of human society. The men stayed in their barracks, smoke and embers sucked from the chimneys as the men stuffed the bellies of fireplaces with the wood that had been brought in and spread out on the floor to dry since that morning. Coal had been used until the wood had adequately dried, but the filth and foul odor the coal left behind still lingered. Some men occupied the mansion as others spent the night in the underworld, taking their posts in order to guard the estate. But no hunt had been scheduled, and the weather would not allow the men to go off on patrol. So they passed the night quietly, still coming to terms with the empty bed that lay amongst them.

The Vampire Alucard was awake and sitting silently in its corner when it heard Van Hellsing come down the corridor. Glowing red eyes rose to the door when the undead face turned to watched Van Hellsing enter. His demeanor was quieter, due to the funeral that had taken place that afternoon. It was ten minutes past midnight, and Hellsing would have liked to have been sleeping, but sleep would not come to him easily tonight. He held a large brush in his hand, and a heavy pail of water that smelled of lime and soap. It was set down on the stones and the brush was deposited beside it.

Abraham examined these objects as he thought, and then the thoughtful distance in his gaze found the vampire which was watching him from the corner where it was dark. Nothing was said as Abraham pondered his undisclosed contemplations, and then humor twitched in his cheeks. But the feeling was quelled by the reason Van Hellsing was giving the creature this privilege. After some time, the man pivoted and then spoke as he left the cell. "Return these to the dissection room when you've finished and someone will put them away – if I have gone to bed before then. I will be looking into the work that has been done on the werewolf's remains until then."

The man paused before shutting the door. The unwilling, and heavily accented, response came quietly from the vampire as it continued to sit in the corner, waiting for Abraham to leave.

"Thank you, Master Van Hellsing…for this privilege."

The door clanged shut and the cell echoed with the sound as it returned to blackness, the air seeming to compress with the sound, becoming thick and dead. But undead eyes blinked, and the pupils enlarged to accommodate the pleasant change. Alucard rose to inspect the brush, turning it over in a cold hand, and then crouched to view the contents of the pail. There was a smoky film on the surface of the liquid, but other than the smell there was nothing more to observe. Meanwhile, the bristles of the brush were tough like dull quills, and they snagged on the white glove as Alucard's thumb assessed their strength. The body of the brush was wooden and light as it was weighed in Alucard's hand. Soon the brush knocked against the stone slab it was placed on, as the vampire left to retrieve the filthy cloth that was still many years cleaner than the floor. It was folded to accommodate the demon's knees, choosing the cleanest side. With fluid motions, the gloves were removed and stuffed into an empty pocket on the dark vest Alucard had been given, and the coat was removed and hung on the outside of the door – later moved to the floor when the door was needed. As Alucard shut the door, shirt sleeves were rolled up to the creature's elbows to ensure that they would continue to be white.

Thus prepared to confront the filthy and somewhat degrading task, the pail and brush were moved to the corner the vampire slept in - Alucard bent to dip the bristles into the water, and then set the brush against the wall. With circular motions the bristles scratched against a targeted stone, and a thin white foam began to bubble and then smear into nothing as the vampire worked the bristles through the grime. The wooden brush dove up down, in all directions as the stiff bristles worked. But the stone was never clean enough, and as time went on, Alucard lowered the standards that had been imagined before and moved on to the next stone, targeting those that had contact with the undead body when the vampire slept. The rest of the wall was left as it was, in order to ration the vampire's meager resources.

The cloth became of use when the Vampire Alucard began to scrub the slabs on the floor where it tended to sleep, moving across the cell to the neighboring corner, and then working along the perimeter of the cell until the door was reached. Then the opposite side of the cell was scrubbed, as the filthy island in the center shrunk.

After layers of dirt and slime created by a mixture of soapy water and filth had been added to Alucard's rag, hands, and the tips of the worn boots, the door was opened and Alucard was on hands and knees, scrubbing the entrance. When the cell was meant to be clean, the vampire sat back on its haunches and examined the possibly…faintly…somewhat 'optimistically' improved mess of suds and dirt that coated the floor.

…No. It was not clean. No part of this cell was clean. It was still filthy.

Filthy, grimy, disgusting, and unacceptable.

Disregarding the slick state of the floor, Alucard began again, taking up the corner, and bending over the stones with blackened, slime coated hands, scrubbing with the rough indifference of the stones digging into the bare palms and the undead knees with icy fangs – body parts which continued to ignore discomfort that would have crippled a human for days. These aches were so minor that the demon was nearly oblivious of their existence. They were still felt, and the filth covering the white hands was still unpleasant, but the desire to have a cleaner floor made these details insignificant as a distinct goal – a goal that fed Alucard's own desires – lay before the vampire. For tonight, the creature's efforts would serve only itself, the vampire would work only for itself, and it would erase some of Van Hellsing's oppression with the grime it scrubbed away from the cell that imprisoned it.

And the brush worked, and scrubbed, and dug into the stones that seemed to be made of more filth than rock. The bristles were flattened, useless at the front and back as the brush had been rotated multiple times to wear down all of the advantageous edges. It was ruined, useless, but unforgiving hands pressed harder, frustration gripped tighter and a frown dug deeper. A scowl broke through human limitations, and the pitiable brush was rubbed into the stones until the wooden body began to suffer from the abuse, wearing away against the rough surface. And suddenly, as if the brush had succumbed to despair and gnawed away at its own body to escape from Alucard's murderous intent, the front half of the brush snapped, flying and flipping forward where it clattered onto the filmy stones a short distance away. And that was where its desperate escape came to an end.

Alucard paused after the brush had snapped, and red had followed the wooden piece that had skipped away. Sitting back on its ankles, the vampire surveyed the dim mess of water and what could easily have been identified as universal 'muck'. It was damper than before, so in this sense, the cell felt as if it had grown dirtier rather than cleaner. The matter of the brush was a dull puzzle that the demon did not want to confront. However, what remained was useless. The bristles were no longer straight and willing to work. They lay at all angles, flat, so that they dragged over the stones instead of scraping into them. They were collapsed, overused and abused laborers who could not be incited to stand and work properly.

Without a second option, and still intent on cleaning the cell while the opportunity persisted, Alucard picked up the other half of the brush, and brought the halves into the torchlight of the corridor, as old damp boots tapped against the stones, leaving a taste of the dampness behind with each step. Alucard headed towards the sound that clattered down the arched passages, feeling Hellsing's presence among the activity. Turning into another corridor, Alucard met no one before arriving at the door-less space that had become an active site in the underworld, constantly filling with discoveries – usually as bodies emptied of blood and other contents. The scent of corrosive chemicals bit into the demon's nostrils, twisting unpleasantly into undead lungs, so the vampire stilled its breath in order to avoid the fumes.

The men had white cloth hoods draped over their heads, with discolored goggles fit for their eyes. Together, the scientists were nearly identical, strange and meticulously scientific in an intimidating way – a god-fearing man would have taken a step back and viewed them with doubt or horror. But the men continued with their work, moving around the slivers of organs that were laid out on a metal table, and which were sizzling beneath distributed droplets of various chemicals. The hissing was strongest on the piece the men were currently concentrating on, where a bead of mercury was searing into the tissue with black smoke spreading and waving from the chemical's curved shape to break through the air like ebony wings, which dissipated into nothingness as they spread to take flight. Alucard viewed this with an expression of utmost indifference, cold and narrowed eyes watching from the arched entrance as pens took notes and the hands of pocket watches lurched to grab hold of the next instant. The wings of smoke continued to break as the werewolf's flesh struggled to burn away quickly, hungering for the transmutation into ash that would allow it to rest.

Van Hellsing was at the back, observing. Only he sensed Alucard as the creature waited in the entrance, having suppressed its undead presence to avoid disturbing their work – which would have angered Master Van Hellsing, with no doubt in the undead mind. Abraham detached from the gathered hooded men, and went into the hallway to see what the vampire wanted. The hood was removed to reveal a slightly flushed face, and Abraham filled his lungs with marginally fresher air – while in the back of his mind he returned to the question of how he might remodel this area to add a ventilation system, but the thought was pushed away for now. With a clearer view, the sight of Alucard's attire was faintly amusing as the man pictured the past-No-Life-King scrubbing at the floor on hands and knees like a common house servant, with sleeves rolled up to its pale elbows, wadding through the swampy muck – it was a vision that pleased him.

Abraham took this moment to wipe away some of the condensation that clung to the inside of the goggles. But motion caught his eyes, and Hellsing glanced at the bare hands that had been thrust towards him, seeing the filth that coated them like blackish-grey plaster. The dirt was so prominent that Abraham needed to look past it in order to see the two individual pieces of the brush he had given Alucard earlier.

Abraham's lips flattened and then arched and moved with displeasure as the ruin was examined. "What have to done to it? I would have thought you'd have finished by now."

Alucard stood rigidly, emotionless and deeply monotone. "Es war zu schach. Es brach… Und ich habe nicht fertig."

In a lighter mood, Abraham might have smirked at these words, but instead he told the vampire where it could find a pail of clean water, along with another brush and any other miscellaneous objects the demon might need. And then the white hood was donned, and Van Hellsing returned to the experiment as Alucard retraced damp footprints down the corridor. In the rooms Van Hellsing had mentioned, Alucard found the clean water, several more brushes of mostly the same size, old cloths, and even a store of branches and bricks that had been used in past experiments, related to the effectiveness of different wood for stakes (and assessing the power they contained in their raw form) and an experiment testing the pressure an undead body could withstand.

A sampling of these materials was brought back to the cell, where Alucard shut the heavy door and filled the confined space with the dull crunching and breaking of the old brick. Then chunks of the brick were ground into reddish brown dust against a stone slab on the floor. This was repeated on several more stones in the corner Alucard slept in before the brick was set aside and a dry stick of hawthorn was used to carve into the gunk that filled the space between the stones, scrapping it out and forming a pile on a dirty rag. A clean cloth was shielding Alucard's new trousers from the dampness as the vampire worked at the crevices, digging, scratching, and scooping. When a distinct maze had been drawn into the floor by several blunted sticks of hawthorn, Alucard returned to the piles of brick dust. A brush was dipped into the cleaning solution that remained at the bottom of the pail Hellsing had brought, taking just a little water before Alucard began to work the brick dust into one of the stone slabs, using tight circular motions as the grime began to break up beneath this new tactic. And the other stones received the same treatment, so slowly the brushes ground through filth and finally began to reach the stones.

As the bristles were dabbed into a collection of brick dust and then applied to the unclean wall in the corner, Alucard froze and hidden eyes shot to the door, remaining there as the footsteps became louder and finally stopped at the entrance. Metal screeched against metal as the door was pulled open against the will of unoiled hinges, and Van Hellsing filled the center of the cell with light from the corridor. Alucard remained in the gloom that held onto the edges of the cell, but a collection of the materials the vampire had gathered were illuminated as Hellsing took note of them. The sheer number that the Vampire Alucard had claimed did not seem to please Abraham (he had seen a mountain of rags lying outside in the corridor, with the creature's coat sitting on top of the mound), but he did not think it important enough to require a reaction, so he sought the demon's frozen position in the corner, where it stood with the brush in hand.

If the man had been expecting something more, he did not profess his disappointment. He said nothing, almost leaving, but then he recalled another use for this moment and placed a look on Alucard that forced the vampire to fulfill his expectations.

"Dankeschön, Meister Van Helsing. …Gute Nacht."

The door shut, but the creature did not return to its work, watching the door coldly as the footsteps grew dimmer. Annoyance stilled the undead hand, displeased with the man's 'interest'- Abraham's amusement caused Alucard's clenched fangs to fuse until Hellsing had left the underworld. Then work on the cell was resumed. The materials were brought out into the corridor, and the door was left open as Alucard reentered with the pail of clean water. It was sloshed against the corner, and then the other slabs of stone received a dousing in order to chase away the residual dirt and soup mixed with brick dust. The rags were dragged in to dry the cell, though the dampness would linger for days, given the usual condition of the cell which exuded dankness naturally. What was unwanted was returned to the storage rooms, but Alucard kept what would add comfort to the cell, including the cleaner hawthorn branches which looked and smelled pleasant. Some sticks were shredded in the hopes that the flakes would absorb some of the dampness. Then the clean rags were layered in the corner until a dry seat was created. Thus the Vampire Alucard came to possess a cleaner cell, and slept easily through the daylight hours, though the underworld chilled along with the rest of the region as Autumn morphed into Winter.

As it grew colder, undead bones creaked as ligaments stiffened, and the need for the coffin and grave dirt entered the vampire's half-formed dreams. These visions would slip across Alucard's consciousness like the shadows of birds vacating the colder lands to seek warmth in brighter regions. This was how the demon slept through the day.

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

Van Hellsing had left to see to some personal business that morning and was not expected to return until the next day. So the Vampire Alucard lacked his supervision when the hunting party set out in the black coaches, departing two hours after sunset and arriving in London when the night had yet to completely mature. But the frost was building as the nostrils of the horses puffed like steam engines, and the men wore their scarves high and their socks layered. The vampire rode in the first carriage with the captain and two other soldiers, keeping crimson eyes on the window as trees fell away to become fences and later buildings in the cramped and highly populated city, with the framed scenes melding into one another as the journey progressed. The hunting party left their carriages outside of their unwholesome destination, leaving behind crossbows and bulkier or louder weapons to rely on blades that could be concealed within their trench coats. They were prepared to take on their targets themselves, while the demon expected them to contribute nothing to the hunt.

The streets, buildings, and people were gritty and tired. Waste lay in heaps in the street, where during the day the street urchins would often forage or play. Dung cluttered the gutters while the particular ally the men filed down smelled of whisky and piss, mixed in with the shattered and abandoned bottles and ragged clothing left to blanket the ground in the stead of leaves. The clothes that had been torn carried the scent of old blood, snagging Alucard's gaze as the creature melded into the group of men, as six beating hearts trudged around the creature.

The buildings were tight, squeezing the group as they stepped over filth and garbage, and side stepped to avoid rats or other annoyances that dug themselves out of the shadows only to dive back into their depths against the nearest wall. They soon came upon an ascent of stairs which branched from the gloom like the heads of trees peeking above the surface of floodwater. It was a thick and morose gloom that was increased by the blackness of the windows of the first floor of the building, which appeared vacated and lifeless. Suspicion stepped up to fill the geometrical voids as the men passed further into the rising shadows, but the gloom ebbed against a shore of light as the stairs brightened in shades, and boxes of light opened upon the opposite building.

Up above where light was plentiful, hungry eyes were already watching the men, hanging from the open windows like lounging cats, whose fingers flicked like tails before their painted lips. At the top of the stairs two of these hungering women had appeared, pale, thin, painted, and aged beneath the layers of blush and exotic colors, which fit their dresses like theatre costumes donned for the night's performance. The authorities had plans for this carnal buffet, having found that a license had yet to be acquired and ignoring its existence would be in bad taste, but rumors of men disappearing and of clothes and personal belongings being found in the area or in local shops had required the Hellsing Organization to assess the reports and determine whether their participation was necessary. It appeared as though a temptress vampire might be involved, but the women who now beckoned to the gathered men from the top of the stairs were human.

The soldier's expressions were steely, which would have seemed more threatening if they had been wearing their uniforms, while Alucard's was blank and somewhat dulled by the women's appearance. How would the Hellsing men handle the witnesses? There were several vampires present beyond the stairs... But the demon's curiosity was shallow, and Alucard headed the ascent as the men hesitated to follow – they had yet to agree on what would be done with the other prostitutes – but they followed their captain as he took to the stairs, his boots clopping on the steps likes hooves on cobblestones as he drew the other men forward. The two women were cringing beneath their makeup, reluctant to accept Alucard as they viewed the demon's features, the starved angles of the creature's face and the unpleasantness of the unwavering stare Alucard placed on them.

Behind the demon the captain's footsteps quickened, and he skipped steps to reach the women, extending a comforting hand and leaning forward to provide them with a hushed warning, his words smooth yet rapid with urgency. "Good evening. Yes, yes we are from Scotland Yard – no, we are not here for you. Yes – we are here about the rumors. We have confirmed that several murders have been traced- no, please lower your voice. We seek only your cooperation. You are not involved. We will find the women we have come for, and we must ask you to leave, and to take the other women who are not involved with you. Yes- That is all, now please do so quickly. This area will soon become dangerous- And do not alarm the women inside immediately. We need to be cautious so we do not allow the murderers to escape. How many of you are there?" The man listened, murmuring when the unsteady whisper responded. His eyes glanced back at the other men waiting at the top of the stairs. They watched the windows as those who remained in the ally dispersed to keep watch over other possible exits. Only three men, accompanied by the Vampire Alucard, entered after the paler of the two women who was unwilling but committed to participate – she followed the flamboyant red tresses of the smiling woman whose graceful motions allowed her to pass into the room and melt into the small gathering of women who had emerged from the bedrooms that lined the hallway behind them. Couches, curtains, and paintings brightened the room while the floor was covered by a rug that clearly showed the distance it had traveled to reach London, as well as the miles of steps that had crossed it in passage to and away from some threshold. Candles stood in the corners and others glowed from above where they hung from the ceiling – dousing the room in an orange glow.

Alucard found two women, out of the six that were present, who possessed an undead aura. A third was in a room down the hall. The women who were not aware of the men's business were staring, forgetting to appear gay or alluring as they eyed the men doubtfully. The captain and the soldiers were wearing attire that would have allowed them to blend in with the general public – dressed like men who were unhappy with their aging wives but were generally stable – but it was strange that they had come in such a large group, and that only four of the men had come up. They also carried themselves like gentlemen who were not interested in their services. There was no delight or eagerness in their expressions. It was clear by their tight lips and dark gazes that their moods were grave and serious, while the pale man with red eyes was disturbing to look at. This strange looking man made their palms sweat, their hearts beat with anxiety, made their thoughts return to the memory of Jack the Ripper – and they entertained the thought that the horrible butcher of prostitutes had found them. But that was simply ridiculous, they assured themselves – though their painted lips were chewed by their lingering anxiety.

The Hellsing men had identified the two fledglings, and had sensed the stronger presence of the sire in the other room. But before they could act, the Vampire Alucard had stepped forward to carry on the façade, walking up to the fledglings which stood at the mouth of the hallway, and placing two gloved hands on their shoulders.

The women's lips pouted in frowns that could have been viewed on the lips of any playful girl, pretending to be cross yet enjoying the attention, but the fledgling's eyes were sharp, piercing through the creature's face as the crimson gaze reached down the hallway behind them. "We will have that room." Alucard's glove left one of the shoulders to indicate a door on the right. The undead women glanced in the indicated direction, but their bodies did not move.

Quietly, the red woman had gathered the remaining prostitutes and urged them to go to the men at the door. The fledglings noticed this activity, as the soldiers did not follow their companion's lead by passing much farther than the threshold.

But Alucard dislodged their attention by moving abruptly. "Come." The word was pronounced as a command.

With an unwelcomed nudge, the women lurched and one glowered at Alucard as the cold hands turned them. Alucard's arms were draped over their shoulders, pulling them down the hall as the demon strode toward the aforementioned door. The vampire was rough with its movements, not allowing the women to look back at the door – so they did not see that the others had gone, leaving only two men who were now beginning to follow.

The front door had been shut gently behind them.

Red eyes drank in the interior of the bedroom once a gloved hand had opened the door. The room was draped with curtains of blue and grey gloom, which smudged framed paintings against the walls. The thickest shadows gathered in the corners and creases of the canopy that cloaked the four-poster bed which took up much of the room. From the comforter of this bed, with only her white flesh separated from the shadows, amber eyes viewed the arrival of the unwanted visitors, darkened by unbound ribbons of russet brown hair.

The sire was clad in white that stood a shade away from her pale skin, drooping far from her throat to reveal the crest of her breasts. Around the undead figures, the room was cold, as if it had been empty for years, even as Alucard brought the two fledglings forward to further fill it. The silence was occupied by stares as the intrusion over the wooden floor was made. With the creaking of weight being applied to the floorboards beyond the door, he men coming down the hallway were heard, and their sound brought more and more of the moment into the present, so that the two fledglings which were still held in Alucard's grip began to stir irritably while they shifted the coals of their anger – twisting images of torture through their imaginations. With these venomous thoughts, the fledglings began to concoct a plan to strike the crimson-eyed man down in order to use him as their nightly feed.

Yet nothing more was to come from their feelings and their desire to punish the creature that had dared to treat them so roughly, as the gloved hands slipped from their rounded shoulders, caressing the length of their necks and then dipping over their spines. Quickly, Alucard had stepped back and bent as if preparing to shove them towards the bed with all of the undead body's strength. Instead, the faces of the fledglings erupted with gaping shock and agony, choked gasps and a single gurgle pouring over the silence like the crimson blood that spurt from their snapped ribs, blood running down their backs as their bodies lost their strength and hung forward from Alucard's wrists - where the vampire's hands had plunged into their backs and now clutched their hearts. The tips of their fingers dangled over the floor for a moment, before they became the first to touch the wood as the hearts were wrenched free and the fledglings dropped forward. The heavy thudding of their heads against the floor masked the sire's panicked scurry as she crawled backwards on the bed, heels digging into the comforter and hands grasping for more distances as red lips opened to reveal fangs that bore no menacing threat, only cowering within the female demon's mouth.

She shrieked with more fear than rage, as her subconscious clawed at the loss of her scheme to build upon this new 'business' she had planned so thoroughly but had yet to truly begin. These thoughts became snarled in her fear, knotting to create mind numbing confusion, which ultimately left her mute and staring at the Vampire Alucard as the monster appeared at the side of her bed – silent when a white glove reached down and clasped her throat as if to strangle her. The sire choked and thrashed before her body was pinned to the mattress by a sharp knee and the vampire's speared hand stabbed through her chest, thus relieving her of her icy heart.

More dust than blood spilled onto the silk pillow cases when the body went rigid and then decomposed into the crevices and folds of the bed. Stepping away from the mattress, Alucard turned to find the men watching from the doorway, hands returning bare blades to their sheathes. As one stepped forward to inspect the sire and the other adjusted his short sword before crouching between the fallen fledglings, Alucard left the bed and passed them, soon traversing the orange candlelight to stand at the top of the stairs to show that the targets had been killed. The soldier at the bottom of the stairs left Alucard's field of vision to tell the others.

The backs of the remaining men soon appeared in the ally, returning to the coaches to collect the necessary supplies for retrieving samples. And the vampire waited and observed their return from the top of the stairs, noting the emptiness of the ally and the curtain thinned light that entered only a few of the windows of the opposite buildings. The men did their work swiftly in the bedroom as one man left to send word that the job had been done, and to also inform the authorities that they would have to look for the other prostitutes elsewhere – since they had departed quickly without making any effort to suggest that they would change their ways.

In the crisp air, dank with smoke and uncleanliness, the Vampire Alucard waited on the stairs and viewed the partial moon that was white and shining beside the clouds. Yet it was covered when the creature left with the men on the return journey.

To the vampire, this night had proven to be utterly forgettable. However, for the men who had witnessed the cold slaughter in the doorway and the execution of the sire in its own bed – the images were ingrained in their minds. Details were left to wander between the pros and cons that tossed the memory of this night back and forth from the men's varying thoughts, while they were quietly pondering the creature that sat across from them in the coach. The captain's cold gaze was ignored after Alucard spared it a glance and then left all of its undead attention on the window. The man was silent with the others, as his mind tracked any possible progress the demon's work and behavior had made. To him, it was similar to keeping a dog as one's side, tugging against the length of a chain – letting it go to lunge after its prey and then deliver the carcass to the hunter's hands – the dog would leave the fate of the quarry to be determined by the hunter's will after following the orders it had been given.

Using the vampire was effective, yet cold, and detached in a way that was unfamiliar, given that the captain was accustomed to entering the battle himself and not merely serving as an audience. But, with the case of Claude Rubin, there were limitations, presented by the singular presence of the vampire. It could only be in one given place at one given time, and it could not be dispersed among the men as weapons effectively are, to allow their benefit to be present in multiple co-occurring situations.

But the dissatisfaction found in this could only be traced back to the identity of the weapon, it being an undead vampire. The captain did not take pleasure in seeing Alucard on the grounds or in having to sit across from the pale form as the vampire was permitted to ride in the coach and sit beside one of the captain's men. A boundary had been crossed, but it was apparent that an exception would have to be made. It was true that the vampire's presence had changed how the Hellsing Organization functioned, how the men hunted, what they ultimately relied on… But the old ways would need to be maintained to secure the space the vampire could not fill, when men were without the vampire and when the natural unexpected twists and turns of life should take place.

The captain shut his eyes and reclined his head back against his seat, breathing deeply to fade these thoughts. The report would have to be written before the commander's return, and a personal statement would need to be perfected from these muddled thoughts by tomorrow. So the captain set to work on straightening his observations and categorizing various details that the Vampire Alucard could not have been aware of itself.

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

With their return, the muddled thoughts that had sifted through the captain's head were now appropriately at the forefront of his mind as unexpected news greeted the soldiers while they were unloading their cargo in front of the mansion.

The patrol had come across a capable vampire not far from the Hellsing estate. It had been shot by multiple silver bolts, striking the throat, the torso, and finally the side of the head before it had fallen. The head had been separated from the body, and once this had been done, the men had observed, and were astonished by the discovery, that the creature had been a fledgling – having not turned to dust as a sire would have.

A frown was creasing the captain's lips as he listened to one of the men who had been on patrol recount the agility and ferocity of the creature, and how it had been unclear whether the fledgling had been trying to escape or attack them. In additional searches that had recently ended, no sire or any other undead presence had been detected. Alucard was listening in the background as the man told his story, and narrowed molten eyes were burning brighter than they had during that evening's dull hunt. The creature stepped forward when all of the relevant information seemed to have been disclosed, and the man had begun a tangent related to the crossbows and other equipment that had been used.

"You brought a 'capable' vampire to Hellsing, and the only precaution you took was to sever its head? You've left the body unbound?"

The soldier frowned with befuddlement scrunching his brow against the malicious crimson glow of the irises that cut through him. On this strange and clouded night, the demon's presence appeared more surreal to the soldier than it had before. "The body was disassembled as usual, for transportation. It was divided among the containers we had carried with us – and it was carried by separate individuals."

"And you believe that this would be enough to thwart a 'capable' vampire's attempt at attacking Hellsing? – delivering them to their destination? Providing them with, no doubt, a feast and a chance at carrying out some mode of revenge. Or are you underestimating the power of a creature that may or may not be a fledgling? – which you seem to have praised as a remarkable specimen, but inferior only because you believe it to be a fledgling."

The men looked at the demon, quiet and dull as they took in the odd suggestion and unraveled the confusing words, the tone knitting their nerves into a web of anxiety, strung by imagined horrors they tried to deny with the force of reason and self-confidence. The captain spoke when the soldier was mute, "And why would that not be enough to ensure that the fledgling was dead?"

The vampire's lips twitched but formed no clear expression, lying flat with ill humor. "If you were to cut off my head – if you emptied me of my organs, scattered them over miles, or even threw them into the sea - I would have no difficulty playing dead for a time, if it was required to complete some task – but I would be able to reassemble myself regardless of all that. Only the time that this would take would depend on how my body was divided, and where it was located. Van Hellsing hasn't taught you that 'capable' vampires should be impaled? You haven't learned that for yourselves?" The smugness in the voice was not overlooked, but no response came from the men who were dumb and stiff. "The head is less important to them than the heart. But I will soon see the state of the labs myself. They may not all be dead, but your carelessness and stupidity are astounding. …Simply astounding."

The demon's steps were casual as the two men dithered, tangled by their alarm and confusion so that together they were frozen in place. But the chaos in their minds was subdued by the need to see that none of the vampire's visions had become a part of their reality. The two men strode after Alucard, both assuming responsibility as they passed the demon and entered the underworld moments before the creature came down the steps after them.

With the opening of the metal doors, the activity inside was released, tamed yells that retained past excitement that had outlasted a moment of distress. The men sprinted down the arched passages as the vampire entered behind them, leaving the last stair and allowing the doors to hang open. The cold breeze was pleasant and would hopefully lighten some of the dankness from the stones. Voices were heard rebounding off of the walls and snaking through the passages as Alucard stepped along, heading for the cell which had yet to completely dry. Yet the vampire avoided the commotion which it would have usually found enticing – Alucard abstained due to absence of death and human blood that could not be found in the air. There was only the blood of an interesting creature the demon would investigate at a later time.

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

Blue eyes were tight, creased and narrow, gazing down at the mangled creature that had been punctured by silver stakes and sharpened instruments until its muscles had shriveled like those of a carcass sunk in a desert climate, sapped of vigor as its undead existence dried up. The skin was not as affected by the silver, but its looseness in places showed the state of the tissue beneath it. The slayed vampire's torso was nailed to a wooden table, with the sloppily mended legs re-severed at the knees, the arms which had contorted when they had regrown had been removed – and these limbs were gathered in a box, now that they were satisfactorily dead. The head, which the Hellsing eyes examined, was held in a metal contraption which resembled a cage and served as a stand to display the undead features. Wires bore into the jaws, currently holding them shut though there was no fear of them opening on their own accord. Abraham reached for a knob on the contraption, and as he turned it, small gears revolved and pulled on the wires of the contraption, adjusting the assembled moving parts as the turning knob caused the dead jaws to open.

Abraham left the head in this state, standing and watching it for a time, until his pondering had wandered enough through his newly planted theories – which he would tend to later. His mind was still listening to the report the scientist beside him was recounting with a heavy air, the pale face made grim by the memories of the night before.

"So in the end it was a fledgling." Van Hellsing turned the knob back, closing the jaws. Another turning knob adjusted the angle of the head on the table so that it revolved backwards in advancing degrees, until the lightly damaged features were facing the ceiling.

"We have assumed that to be the case, because it did not decompose when it was killed. It could be a young awakened vampire, but I do not think that is likely. We were led to believe, from our own experience with the subject before it was killed, that the subject was a full formed vampire. Yet, the Vampire Alucard has insisted, from scent, that it is a fledgling."

Abraham was quiet a moment, staring at the severed head which rested some space apart from the torso on the wide table. His lips tightened subtly, and his eyes squinted before resuming their past expression. "Why has the Vampire Alucard not come here to identify it?"

"He has been sleeping. When we disturbed him, that was all he would do for us. I am supporting my conclusion on his judgment." The scientist remained where he was standing as Van Hellsing left the table without a word. Looking after the red trench coat which disappeared around a corner, the scientist anticipated what Van Hellsing would soon bring back with him, so the scientist deemed it wise to prepare the other leading scientists and have them arrange themselves about the table and await Van Hellsing's return.

The vampire was taken from its cell, fatigued and sour, but its eyes were on the table the moment it had followed Abraham into the room, leaving the metal door open behind it. Alucard stepped up to the table, taking the path the men made between them, and afterwards the men resumed their places and set to observing what would transpire. Traveling slowly over the protruding instruments that stuck out from the corpse, hellfire irises were flickering, brightening as the moments carried more and more of the specimen into the vampire's eyes, and finally the head came to be examined. Mild pleasure that came from assessing the prettily assembled features allowed Alucard's lips to smirk and the undead eyes to linger on the whole composition, taking a moment away from focusing on its individual parts.

The specimen was female, and the face was not marred by the blood that soaked its brow and the raven hair which had been cropped unevenly by hostile hands. The skin, even dead and having undergone the changes of the undead existence, still retained the stain of its natural color, being darker and richer than skin the vampires of mortal nightmares tend to possess. The raven hair, which Alucard now revisited, had been chopped off and shaved in large patches, but what remained as wisps that clung to the dark neck were rich and silken. Alucard's vision could easily douse her head in the long ebony waves that must had fallen against her back when she had been in a better state. The bareness of the body was concealed beneath the damage and the protruding weapons that mutilated it, stripping it of its human need for dignity so that clothes and decency had no more worth to it than air or nourishment. But the face was beautiful, and without the mane of hair that should have framed it, and shaved and hooked into the metal monstrosity on the table, there was shame in allowing it to be exposed to their eyes in this manner.

The vampire assumed she was of gypsy decent because she looked the part. When a gloved finger ran across the edge of one of her wounds, tracing the silver stake without touching it, Van Hellsing's muscles tensed but he decided not to intervene when Alucard tasted the flakes of her dry blood.

The finger left Alucard's lips as the demon eyes remained on the indecent presentation, viewing the dead and closed features. The white lips were parted by the vampire's tongue before they closed and the men waited for a verbal response. "She is a fledgling, but she is upwards of fifty years – undead – twenty-two years alive. …As she is dead, I cannot learn anything more. But it appears that you have made an enemy of a true vampire."

Van Hellsing glared at the amusement that curled Alucard's lips, frowning at the demon as the other men remained silent, though their eyes had responded clearly to the statement by widening or blinking while remaining on the table. "So long as it was a vampire, it was our enemy to begin with. Let it confront us on its own. That will only save us the effort of hunting it down."

A sneer glanced off of Van Hellsing, before Alucard's burning irises returned to the contraption on the table, the dead fledgling's face reflected in the demon's pupils and ringed by fire. "This is good. This is a vampire." The creature murmured, the words were not far from a croon as they passed through glinting fangs, jaws that grinned at the vision that was burning in the demented mind. "And she was so well cared for, for so long." The finger that had tasted the fledgling's blood passed beyond the wires, and came to stroke the gypsy woman's cheek.

Van Hellsing held Alucard's arm in a grip that tightened with suppressed anger, drawing the red eyes from the table. The expression Hellsing wore was stern, sternness that masked other feelings, but there was also a height of severity in the disapproval that threatened Alucard, urging the creature to obey and return to its lowly place. Alucard never managed to do half of what a tamed creature should, though this mode of conduct would have made Van Hellsing treat it better and would have therefore provided Alucard with an easier life. But instead of showing submission, which is what Van Hellsing wanted, the vampire merely stepped back from the table and stood in silence before it returned to its cell when the order came, uttering no word or apology, or of wishing the man 'goodnight' when it departed.

The scientists dwelt on the mysterious fledgling for the duration of the day, turning to the targets that had been acquired the night before once the sun had begun to set. When the moon had risen, their work was well underway in the labs.

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

"It's a wonder how these women could have become vampires." Although the question was not in the best taste, it was a curiosity that was founded in their work, so the scientist asked the question as he toiled behind the disturbing death mask that clung to the decapitated head mounted on the metal table, his hands working to disconnect the brain and remove it as completely as possible. The other men watched his hands, or continued packaging away the hair that had been shaved from the fledgling's head minutes before. The metal instruments tinked together as the man shifted them to one hand and then discarded them entirely in the hands of an assistant, leaning over the disembodied head and sliding his hand in between the brain and the skull, lifting the brain out as his wrist pressed against the edge of sliced bone.

The brain was placed in a large metallic bowl, where it slumped on its side as it was moved to another table against the wall while the scientists prepared for the removal of the eyes.

Alucard was present, the creature observing on its own accord, though it had been forced to watch in the past. When it was a decision founded in free will, Alucard did not mind observing the men's work. These creatures meant nothing to the vampire after all – kin was only an identity; there was no further bond for the demon.

"They were young." The assistant responded to the statement as he prepared to receive an eye the scientist passed to him. As the scientist worked with the other eye, leaning down so that the goggles he wore were almost level with the dead sockets, it was clear that the eye was swollen with blood, and suddenly it burst in its socket, splattering the dead features and the man's apron when he stood sharply to avoid the spray. He hissed, and muttered what sounded like curses in a Slavic tongue. Regretfully, the scientist left the table to don a new pair of gloves as the demon smirked beside its master. Van Hellsing was fatigued and thoughtful, so he was as mute as the apprentice that was shadowing the scientist that night, saying nothing as the dissection continued.

"Yes." The scientist huffed as he returned, finding that the head had already been adjusted and firmly screwed into the cage-like stand which would hold the dead jaws open to the ceiling as the back of the skull hovered over the table. "But for them to choose this particular method. And they were not so very young." A gas lamp was held close to illuminate the interior of the mouth – the rest of the room was fully illuminated, the only shadows present hung beneath the table or under the other forms that were present.

As Alucard chose to join the topic, the scientist paused, halting his inspection of the fledgling's mouth with his tools retracting to rest on the table in a softened grip. Van Hellsing looked away from the fledgling's head as well, setting his eyes on Alucard. "Once the body is dead, what is done with it matters less than you can understand. But the death has to be embraced before that is possible. So it is very common for (undead) women to use a living man's lust for her own gain. They will swarm like flies to fat, and she will be able to dine handsomely without having to exert herself. And in a society such as this which allows (or forces) these activities to be 'hidden', it will only make their hunting easier."

The scientist set to work again, but he showed that his mind had been digesting the vampire's words when he spoke as he tilted his head to peer into the back of the fledging's mouth, tapping a strangely shaped molar with a metal tool – only to have a sliver of bone fall free from where it had lodged itself in the tooth. "A female trait?" He transferred the flake of bone to his assistant, gazing after it with much interest, before he returned to the head.

"No, not by any means. Every human contains a reserve of lust – the quantity may vary, but it is usually present when one wants to take advantage of it. Women can be seduced just as easily as any man. And specific appearances can prove appealing to either sex. Youth is valued by men and women. And again, the way this society treats such matters only makes the vampire's work simpler. These women would have done better to seek out other women – but their personal tastes and their youth (as the undead) most likely drew them towards men."

It was quiet and the scientist worked without speaking, perhaps having lost interest in the direction the topic was moving. But the assistant was idle during this time, only having to hold the lamp for the scientist, so his mind was more prepared to take up the curiosity the scientist had dropped. His eyes were on Alucard as he spoke, with old and new stains on his apron, a thin layer of blood on his fingertips, and flecks of red on his wrists. "Does the choice in victims vary much? Or does it become irrelevant as the vampire becomes more removed from their past human behavior?"

The demon's lips twitched with mild approval as crimson viewed the assistant for a moment. Van Hellsing was observing Alucard attentively, heavy features lightening with the new subject he began to ponder, wondering at the demon's interest in discussing these things. "As tends to be the case, it is a mixture of both, which varies from individual to individual. Some may hold onto their humanity, things that they have attached to their honor or dignity - such things as these determine taste. Some use their existence much in the way a scholar might take advantage of immortality – in most cases, because they have mistaken their 'state', believing themselves to be immortal – when such a thing does not exist. Everything that has lived will die, at one time or another. No existence is infinite – once there was a beginning to something, there must invariably follow some end to that existence.

"But how this affects personal choices, some may observe taboos, may place certain actions beneath them, and so forth. And some may throw all restrictions away and leave the whole world open to their desires. However, women have a tendency to prey upon children when this is the case, and men will prefer to prey upon female virgins – some of them children, or others will choose only young women. I view eating children as wasteful, and it has never been something I have preferred or chosen willingly. But it has been described to me by one, that for women there is a nurturing sensation, a sense of protecting a child in consuming it so that is how they come to be so willing to drink from them. She called it 'nurturing,' but it appears to be a form of selfishness in my view. They desire a child, so they take it into themselves. Just as the mother beast of a brood will swallow her own children to 'protect' them, they hoard this pleasure and do not wish for another to have it or to take it from them. But I have come across many women who will not touch children, so it varies significantly. The same woman might have no qualms about sinking her fangs into a blind beggar with his hands outstretched towards her, but she will not touch a child because it disgusts her personally – or does not suite her tastes, as is the case for me."

It was quiet as the jaw was removed from the eyeless face, and a chisel and hammer were brought out to set to work on the teeth that remained in the head – work which drew a grimace from the vampire which observed without comment. When this was complete, the head was moved to hover on its side, baring an ear which another scientist would inspect. For now, the area was cleared and the scientist who had been working prepared to take the eye he had acquired into another room to labor over for several more hours – taking detailed sketches and comparing them to the other fledgling's eye and a preserved human sample.

The assistant remained to serve the next scientist, and the apprentice stayed to take notes as Alucard and Van Hellsing watched the newly arrived scientist inspect the ear. With this newcomer, the assistant appeared to have given up on the discussion. However, the Vampire Alucard was in a talkative mood, and believed it had something interesting to say.

"Another reason for how these women were able to become vampires also exists."

The scientist was distracted from his work, looking at Alucard and then noticing the others' responses. He realized a conversation was merely resuming, not beginning, so he bent to continue his work as he listened.

"For no reason that can be clearly supported, but for many reasons that could be imagined or fabricated from preexistent beliefs, it appears to be the case that if a virgin is raped, they will not become a ghoul if they are bitten, no matter the behavior that follows later in their human life. So many more than is assumed have the potential to become vampires."

The awkward shuffle of the apprentice burying his nose into his journal as he wrote was the only response that followed Alucard's words, after which the dissection was carried out as usual, and Van Hellsing eventually retired – sending Alucard away before leaving the underworld.

A stiff frost formed over the estate as the black hours progressed.

Chapter Text

"To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to forgive them is barbarity."

— Maximilien Robespierre, 1794

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

Van Hellsing scowled over the contents of the unfolded papers he held in his hands, making use of the solitude of the corner to brood. It was dark, shadows screening Hellsing as his eyes rode the handwritten lines, lips forming words, then pursing. Alucard traced Van Hellsing's angered movements, watching from a short distance further along the stone passageway Hellsing would be entering soon. The letter was folded and slipped into its envelop before Van Hellsing's head rose with a brief start, having detected Alucard's presence. A glare cut through the inconsistent glow of torchlight, and was received by Alucard. The vampire's neutral expression was unchanged as Van Hellsing's glower worked his mouth into a grimace of distaste. He shoved the letter into the pocket of his dark trench coat, clenching his hands into fists as he strode past Alucard and down the echoing passage. His harsh tread was unaccompanied by Alucard's step, though the vampire matched the pace of Van Hellsing's shadow.

An undead murmur rose from the monotonous beat of Hellsing's boots. The stride did not lessen as Alucard's low voice rose and ebbed with pauses, amplified by the closeness of the walls – which was utterly tomblike this far beneath the surface of the living world. "Have you forgone your appointments because the men cannot stand alone, when only a few creatures have slunk out of the darkness? Are they so lacking in ability, wit, or rudimentary instinct, that they cannot handle a straightforward battle? Not a battle- not the term… I would say, a skirmish? That is nearly what this will amount to…"

Hellsing said nothing, did not acknowledge Alucard's hazardous words… The behavior was inexplicable, to be so vocal about its opinions and its interpretation of his decision to remain at Hellsing, in the face of the threat they had received the previous night… What was the monster's motivation?

It was true that Van Hellsing would have been away if not for the danger that had triggered a rearrangement of priorities, order eagerly becoming disorder. There was no weight tied to this trivial piece of information, but the question of how Alucard had acquired it was disquieting. Certain personal matters had been postponed; the reason was comprehensible to all who were affected, and so he had been excused. It was a daring move for Alucard to provoke Hellsing by toying with the conditions of their situation in this way. And yet, the vampire continued to speak – and Van Hellsing listened.

"Are they so lost? -when they are not the attackers, when they cannot catch prey unaware and thus vulnerable… Are they more suited for the role of assassin than they are for fighting as soldiers? What are commanding officers for, when they cannot command? What are they, if they cannot lead a minute squadron of men? To command a mere eight, or a mere eighty, less than a hundred - really nothing – and yet it cannot be accomplished by mediocre-"

A stony glare found the monster, burning into its pale face steadily. Alucard fell silent, shifting a dead gaze to the rocks and its greyed boots. There had been more than the simple annoyance Alucard had caused burning in Hellsing's eyes. There was a stunted rage that writhed beneath his ribs, a churning in his chest that thickened his heated blood. This heat coursed through the veins of his arms, into the curled fingers of his fists, hungering for a mindless explosion of violence that would ease the strain of continual self-restraint. Emotion would only breed disaster - rampant and unheedful to the risk of self-injury, an animal throwing itself against obstacles and clinching throats between its fangs- yet the act of neutering one's rage was nearly impossible.

But as the silence persevered, the chilling effect of the Nosferatu was cooling Van Hellsing's mood. Normally, Alucard's presence seemed to splice Abraham's nerves, seemed to meld emotions and their origins, causing them to be indistinct. Prolonged exposure to the dead presence would create jolting spikes that raced through his system - as if he were both falling from and climbing to great heights, a fatiguing exhilaration – then it would normalize into a steady static; a constant state of heightened awareness to detail, to telltale signs, striving to predict the next moment to combat the probability that some immense calamity was about to descend upon the Organization. Many of Abraham's men were aware that merely tolerating Alucard was a mentally strenuous task, but they were not aware of how it could leave the rest of their commander's body achy and weary, similar to the way a winter chill ignites the aches and pains of accumulated wounds after they had been forgotten while the body was warm and secure. It would be preferable if the cold would never come bearing the reminder of his limitations, but Abraham van Hellsing had tied the demon to his own existence, so he was left now to pack and stuff discipline into his body to insulate his nerves against the undead chill.

Yes, noticing the chill, old musings flitted through Hellsing's conscious mind as his fists became numb, detaching from his body. He worked his fingers to warm them. …The demon was a chronic cold that caressed his spine, hardened it in ice – which could fracture with a sudden change of climate; the chord within would shatter once Hellsing returned to the warmth of human company. The alarm of having become accustomed to speaking with the dead and finding that he thought more often of death and of demons than he did of life and the joys most associate with it, caused the fracture to climb like a vertical spear pushing through vertebrae, reaching his skull, and puncturing, to enter the corners of his mind – where the wound could hide itself in shadow. Where it festered, now. Whenever awareness stumbled upon the cracks – as it did now - a hand would cover them again, to forget the toll of the passage between worlds. Other matters were pulled over the wounds, to bind them in suffocating layers of diversion…

Van Hellsing began to hiss words that were aggravated and rough as he strode through arched corridors, but it was Dutch that slipped past his grimaces. It broke into English so suddenly and so sharply that Hellsing's teeth nearly clipped his tongue as he spat the words – a flare of emotion too foul to retain.

"I cannot be away, and you are in no position to ridicule men who are above you. You lack even the power to command yourself. You. Are superior to no one. To no thing or creature, to no corpse or clod of soil. You obey. Or the consequences will be severe."

Climbing the steps and shutting the metal doors, Abraham left his underworld with the vampire mute, a silent phantom at his back in the darkness. The night was biting and the openness of the sky deepened the chill by not providing the comfort of a blanketing cloud-cover to secure the contents of the Earth to their world - to look up and witness the void told of the reality that anything and everything could plummet into the chasm of space and pinprick starlight if the ground were to relax its grip. The dark openness sucked all warmth from Hellsing's lungs, and he tightened his coat over his stinging chest, eyes squinting against the wind. The vampire was gazing up at the underdeveloped moon when Abraham stopped where four of the six captains were gathered near a slanted tree. Silver leaves fluttered in the scant moonlight, surrounded by the thick moaning of strong winds and the mutterings of uniformed men, who were engrossed in a grim-faced discussion. Van Hellsing gave the vampire its orders without turning to meet its eyes. Alucard observed him, stolidly noting his decision to relinquish his heated mood as the voice that emerged was hard, authoritative - emotionless. "Check the perimeter of the estate. Do not go beyond. Stay close. Kill the vampires cleanly – immediately - if you cross paths."

Not providing a verbal response, the demon faded into the darkness, swiftly covering the grounds it would be guarding for the duration of the night. All of the Hellsing Organization was alert and ready to accept an attack. Van Hellsing and the captains had considered the possibilities: that a sire might arrive with a significant number of ghouls – anywhere between four and eleven, since the men doubted the disappearances of more than eleven people ('neighbors,' since ghouls are difficult to shepherd over long distances) would have gone wholly unnoticed; and the possibility of a sire arriving with a brood of fledglings – two to four, since the men had yet to come across a larger brood. Even Dracula's brood had only consisted of three fledglings. But if it were to be four fledglings of the same caliber as the one they had come across before, and a sire which was more powerful… It would prove to be a significant threat, though the men were not concerned about a defeat or something as absurd as the downfall of the Organization – not while they were on Hellsing soil, with Van Hellsing at their head. They were only concerned about the number of losses that might accumulate before the vampires fell.

Van Hellsing expected an attack consisting of two fledglings and the sire, unconsciously using Dracula as the basis for this prediction. Alucard had been asked to contribute to the men's cauldron of brewing hypotheses, and had offered a lecture on the habits of 'true' vampires which Van Hellsing dissected and concentrated until an undeviating statement was ladled into the cauldron, bypassing the tangents which coated the surface like scum over a stagnant pond. The demon which tread over the soggy grasses of the estate, was searching for a sire and possibly a single fledgling that might be accompanying it. Tasting its own past behavior and current mode of reasoning, the No-Life-King believed in the existence of a second fledgling, which was supported by how well cared for the gypsy had been, leaving Alucard to assume that the adversary had a strong attachment to its fledglings – possibly as lovers or as children, which tend to represent the strongest bonds between the undead. And it was challenging to care for three or more fledglings – two was all that could be expected.

An hour had passed since the Vampire Alucard had been sent out to patrol the grounds.

The demon's movements had become more predatory, temporary strokes of shadow slipping over wet earth and grass. Gleaming crimson melted into discs of molten desire, impaling dark shapes that rustled in the night, bypassed as the target's scent was drawn up, pulled in from the depths of obscurity – like a fisherman hauling in netting he had cast over a black ocean. The demon stalked its evasive prey.

If the Vampire Alucard had paused its hunt, momentarily, to recall its past outlook of the battle, to calculate the sire's strength given the strength of the fledgling, which must have received power from the sire and yet had not been 'exceptionally' strong… the creature's current lust-fueled outlook on the battle to come would have been broken down, demolished, to make room for an upcoming heaping disappointment – only if the demon's past scale of assessing such things had been rigorously applied. However, bloodlust had made such a task impossible, such forward thinking and reasoning had vacated the demon's mind. Though the sire that Alucard predicted had some estimate of its power tied to its imagined form, no further thought was put into this shallow speculation.

"Above Average," a simple skirmish, was nothing that would have excited the No-Life-King in the past, but having been imprisoned on this island for a bleak and dry near-decade, mostly confronted with foes that qualified as "Trash," "Excrement," "Disgraceful," and "Pathetic" - "Above Average" had become something exceptional. It had sprung a coil that had begun to rust in the demon's mind since the beginning of its confinement. The lust for battle had forced enough anticipation to the forefront of Alucard's consciousness to make the vampire eager to stalk the shadows that were cast over Van Hellsing's land. If the demon were to be forced into this war the Hellsing Organization had been waging these past years, it wanted a challenge that would make its effort worthwhile.

The clear night was silent, a soft breeze came and left. Alucard's steps were muted, though the ground yearned to squish and squeak beneath the worn boots. The undead senses were picking up nothing significant, but faintly it detected the presence of a being that had lurked amongst the trees at one time, a time that was recent – a vampire which had assessed its prey. So some creature had been watching Hellsing. That was clear. This pleased Alucard, and as the patrol continued, a phantom smile would waver over pale lips, rising with various musings.

Meanwhile, the men were not patrolling the grounds. Alucard was handed that duty, as it had been decided that it was not safe enough for groups of eight to take on these assailants. The number of casualties would be decreased if their strength was amassed instead of divided – they would not be picked off one by one. The men guarded the barracks and the manor – which could not go undefended. The two locations were close enough to satisfy the captains and provided the men with two points of attacking or defending. The new recruits wore their uniforms and held on to their weapons, melding in with the soldiers well enough that their inexperience was not noticeable. The orders conducted their movements and made their decisions. They acted in accordance to the captain's wishes. The test that would define their abilities would not be action, but reaction - that being a test of their ability to make a split decision which could not be guided or stabilized by a more experienced mind, and would arrive in the moment that stood between the fangs of the threat and their own lives.

Many of the men were prepared for a barrage of ghouls and one to three vampires. The tenseness in their limbs could not comprehend that the threat could merely consist of one to three demons. Battles are large in the mind and lay waste to fields of thought, sowing the freshly plowed fields with memories that are recollected later either too perfectly or in a fragmented jumbled conundrum, and this threat against the Hellsing Organization towered as some great historical event in the more wanton imaginations, thus creating the vision of ghouls and guns firing, wiping out the weaker attackers first, and then confronting the vampires. The dream would end with the men dashing out in pursuit of the intimidated creatures which had become cowardly once their folly had been realized. The calmer minds imagined what was more likely to result from an attack conducted by a creature which was brave enough to stand against the Organization on its own. Where the calm saw bravery the dreamers saw arrogance in the open threat that had been made, with the buzzing irritation of undead presences visiting the surrounding woodland the night before and just after the sun had set a few hours ago. The nights were growing longer, so the darkness the beasts dwelled in was heightened – as if black tides were rising, sweeping the vampires closer to the mortals they preyed upon.

It was after eleven when Van Hellsing made the decision to call Alucard back as the strolling creature came within sight of the manor. The demon seemed agitated when it was suddenly reigned in from its hunt, which was good. Abraham was pleased to see that the former Count had become invested in its work. If Alucard were set off at the right moment, the vampires would be unable to escape, and they would, hopefully, be slain quickly, so this matter would be over and done with and they would have new subjects for their experiments. Being directly threatened by a vampire and its possible brood had not reflected well with certain parties… whose opinions unfortunately mattered... The Hellsing Organization was currently faced with impending political turmoil, but the undead threat was getting in the way of business. In addition, it had been irksome for Van Hellsing to write and seal a letter in his desk, to be sent out to make his death and state of mind known to the one it had been addressed to. By the end of the night, Hellsing expected he would have the pleasure of throwing the letter into the fire, to watch it shrivel up, nothing more than ash sculpted by flames, as he succeeded in surviving yet another battle.

Alucard was sent to the barracks to be made available to the three captains who were stationed there. Abraham himself traveled in a party of three, with one captain and one soldier - who had the potential to rise to the rank of captain - as they made their way to the manor to take up a position of command. They agreed indirectly, through their tones, that the attack was expected to come tonight, given what they had felt earlier and the presence the Vampire Alucard had reported.

It was at the midpoint of their journey that the nauseating flow of the undead presence filled their heads and sunk through their veins like lead weights, wringing out their muscles, tendons, and ligaments with spasms, halting their bodies. In their ears they heard the rushing of wind as their eyes went to the origin of the presence that was flying towards them, the light figure glancing over wet earth like a blade soaring over ice. Abraham had drawn his rapier, his other hand resting on the handle of his dagger, as the men beside him let loose the prepared crossbows they were carrying - successive twangs that became spikes in his pulse. The blur of white passed the bolts like a weaving serpent- the men tensed with blades in hand- blue eyes were luminous sapphire flames in the dark as Abraham's body moved forward to strike out– but suddenly fate changed hands, the dice that were about to settle were recast – as another took Abraham's place.

With the deafening collision of two bodies of unyielding flesh crashing into one another at an inhuman velocity, the rippling impact jarred the very air in the men's lungs. They inhaled – sharp and empty – their pounding veins sapping thought and feeling from their minds. They were numbed by the daze that lingered as their consciousness faltered and their lungs recovered, gradually turning to watch the ensuing battle.

The No-Life-King's speed had been greater, resulting in the white form being thrown off course by the Vampire Alucard's momentum – the intruder vampire skipped over the grass in a graceless tumble while Alucard's boots scalped the lawn, digging deep into the sodden soil. The tumbling vampire collected itself, piercing long hooked fingers into the earth and leaving rough furrows in its wake. This position left the creature with one knee and both hands immersed in mud when it finally stopped. There were mounds of soil beneath the toes of the thick boots it wore. Two pairs of crimson gazes bore into one another's depths, burning over the span of wet grass between them. Silence - utterly complete, and cold, though the breeze rose subtly for this moment. The thin face of the intruder vampire was wrinkled with disordered rage, with a twitch of irritated hesitation brought about by renewed confusion regarding the demon's position in the Organization. Meanwhile Alucard's razored maw was gaping, a spread grin of excitement and hunger opening the demonic face, features as sharp as the fangs that glinted with its mounting appetite.

The female sire was covered in what had once been a white coat. Due to the collision, it was soiled by grass and mud that caused the cloth to cling to her hidden skirts. Over her chest and shoulders, which were relatively cleaner, it could be observed that heavily-petaled roses had been sown into the white fabric with copper thread, accompanied by leaves, vine-like stems, and thorns. Light brown fur, reminiscent of rabbit, ringed her collar, low enough not to obscure Alucard's view of her throat, which pleased the No-Life-King as it surveyed its newly exposed prey. Her hair was a reddish-gold that was plaited and tied at the back of her head. Wholly disheveled, internally and externally, the female sire stared at the demon with thoughts seething in swells of passion while strands of hair hung down into her eyes. In the pause that had followed the collision, men had emerged from both the manor and the barracks. Soon the demons had a wall of mortals on each side, weapons drawn. But the female sire did not seem concerned by their intrusion. She glanced in the direction of Van Hellsing, who watched her, a flitting reassurance that he was still present; then resumed her glare with a forming snarl as she stood from her crouch and examined the grinning creature before her. A shabbily dressed monster, brimming with arrogance.

In her eyes, Alucard's face was twisted, distorted beyond the limitations of human anatomy – inhuman, monstrous – starving, and aching with bloodlust that could ignite the same hunger in her own jaws. Pain that held no potential for pity as it was experienced as well as gleefully promised for the sire, was transferred through the molten orbs. The sire's scarlet irises glowed steadily with stable embers, as the monster's gaze flickered and sparked with the chaos of consuming golden flames. These were eyes she had never before witnessed or imagined in either dream or waking thought. Now they were imprinted on her mind, never to be forgotten.

The men observed the Vampire Alucard as well. The white features which had been sharpened and shaded by hunger were contorted, hideous to look upon, and soldiers cringed with a tensing of hunched shoulders as they experienced a flush of shame - that such a monster was part of the Hellsing Organization, a holy and sanctioned army, upon which this creature was a blemish that could not be wiped clean. They could not overlook the creature, not with this vision leeching onto their memories, thoughts, comparisons, their logic tainted by sudden fear and disgust. But they hardened their minds against all consideration of Alucard, and kept firearms and blades prepared for the sire.

The female vampire's boots squelched over the slick earth as she selected a direct path that led to Van Hellsing - singling him out amongst the drove of soldiers. But as she circled, her glare creased with building wrath when she saw the Hellsing creature mirror her movements and obstruct her course. The demon stood between her and her quarry, despite the claim she had placed on the Hellsing man. The creature watching her should have known better than to interfere with the completion of her objective.

Alucard read this in the female's bent and predatory stance - the pompous King, itself unguarded, standing before her insolently with an offensive grin that curled at the hiss the female unleashed. Her fangs were bared, she was growing more irate, yet her demonic nature was in ecstasy as she watched Alucard. Internally she drank from the Nosferatu's accumulated bloodlust and reveled within the boundaries of her lucid reasoning. Nerves were pulling taut as the madness born from self-deprivation and unrelenting desire pressed down.

It pleased Alucard that she was not distributing her attention to the soldiers – all of it, her hatred and impatience and fury, all of this heat was given to the demon, the Vampire Alucard, the sole receiver of this loathing. It was the demon's opium: hatred, anger, and killing intent directed towards its own existence.

More. Give me more, woman. Show me what monsters still dwell here… that there are still vampires that have not sunk into the depths of the world. What still roams out in the open?

The twisted grin, the burning eyes - molten fire and lust, torturous and cruel. Into the face of the demon, the female kept her gaze stiff and direct. And she spoke. Only the Vampire Alucard could understand her words – which was yet another pleasant surprise for the creature that wished to hoard this moment, to wring it out, to shrivel and squeeze and suck the fibers dry. She spoke Byelorussian [Belarusian], and the Vampire Alucard joined her.

"I have heard that this man had a vampire under his power. Are you his slave, or do you serve him freely?"

The demon chuckled in response, dark and inimical – but these words had altered Alucard's mood. However, nothing more came from Alucard, and in the silence, the jagged grin remained. The expression grew more offensive as the female waited. Her lips arched and bent into a snarl.

"Are you a vampire?"

Vampir. Hellsing listened to the female's voice, able to watch her by peering around his slave. Her eyes were on the Vampire Alucard as the two monsters spoke roughly in their foreign tongue.

"That I cannot fully accept." She bit down on her declaration, fangs glaring with moonlight as anger bore each word into the night. The breeze trailed loose strands of hair across her folded brow. "You do not feel like any vampire I have crossed. You are another form of monster. It is in your face. It is in your voice. It is in your breath and your being – your bones are not those of your human corpse. They are something dark, without substance – and like darkness, but more devoid of an identity, of an origin, a cause of being…there is no greater intention for the existence of the material that built you. …No. If I possessed the time, I would have studied you. …But I will ask…how do you allow them to mistake you for a vampire?"

Alucard sipped at her words delicately, as if they were a simmering concoction of pleasures. A potion of curiosities. A fine wine. Intoxicating. The demon was smirking, an undead tongue curling and sweeping across the backs of cold fangs. "Is that so? Dear, you do not know what you are seeing. There is nothing undead beyond a vampire and the ghouls one creates."

Her sharp face adopted a narrow and delving gaze, reaching into the Vampire Alucard, and assessing its being. "You have no corpse, nothing within you, nothing dead. Therefore, you are not the same as the undead who have their bodies preserved within them, there to become ash that will scatter over the earth so that they will not need to rest in a coffin forever. There is a release for us, and our ashes and bones are of our dead selves. You do not possess such a thing. I feel as if you are darkness, animate. A void, a space that is filled and yet empty. Where you walk you displace the balance of the living and the dead."

The smiling demon tilted its head, eyes pulsing with its molten fever, yet calmer, contained. Mild interest, a form of amusement separate from the desire to feed upon and destroy a flesh and blood being, had distracted Alucard. "The undead do not need a body. It is a hindrance, a husk, a skin that must be shed and discarded in order to unfurl the vastness of the internal being that exists, that which is not dead but not living. Bones are the framework and support, what your existence hangs from, draped over, retaining a past shape – the shape that was first provided. But the undead are no longer human. There is no need to hold onto what once was, when there is something else that can take its place in the present."

The female glowered, jaws clenching, the muscles of her body tensing, tightening across her bones – embracing them. "Yes. I do not know what I see before me. This thing that you are, it is not something I can understand. I do not understand a physical entity composed of nothingness, a vacuum consuming space, drinking time, and enveloping matter. A needless existence, with no advantage, no prospect of creation and continuance outside of one freak speck of reality. But you are not a vampire."

A true barking laughter erupted from the Vampire Alucard, wild and convulsing - jolting the men, the female sire, and Hellsing who turned his gaze to his slave to observe the effect of the female's unknown words. The conversation had been strangely calm until now, despite the bitter tone the female used – but the change was evolving, with the demented cackle that broke like lightning through his slave's rumbling voice.

"You are too nostalgic, dear. And you have not traveled to seek out your roots. You are little more than a century old, and that is a rare occurrence – in my experience. Vampires which have had enough time to come into their being are scarce. If you had let go of your past life, if you had cast off your bones, your precious ash, the idea of escaping from your final resting place, you would have developed more."

The sire's face contorted with the disdain she now held for the beast. "I would have become something I could not understand. And I do not live within mysteries, I tread on facts and stones I comprehend. …And though your existence holds no logic, I can see the circumstances of your presence here. You are tied to the man, Van Hellsing. A shackled monster – yes, and all you can do is laugh. You are pitiful." Her humor rose and warped with the bitterness of her tone, a flare of derision and distaste, as she watched the Vampire Alucard's smile and listened to the drumming chuckle that emanated from it. "It is due to your connection with Abraham van Hellsing, that I will put an end to you. And I will see what is left behind when a creature without bones is split open. … I will dissect your empty void. …And I admit…the prospect excites me."

The promise of violence sent bloodlust surging into the steady flame of Alucard's hunger – creating billowing and searing thirst, the demon vampire's presence expanding like a breathing sun, butting against the female's own presence – it so potent that the soldiers needed to retreat several yards in order to retain the contents of their stomachs. Her stance lowered and her eyes brightened, boots sinking into the wet and torn grass. The Noseferatu's thick, bellowing laughter captured the wind and seemed to circle those gathered on the lawn, spurring the air, riding harder, whipping cloth and hair with the icy wail of the sky. Building a storm and calling forth wisps of cloud. The Vampire Alucard was standing erect, howling with an emotion the soldiers might call madness, but which monsters recognized as a deep, insidious desire to consume and break down all things that are raised from the ground, to flatten, batter, and reduce to dust what cannot be consumed. The desire to collide with the world.

She dove forward and Alucard met her with daggered fangs flashing, the laughter unceasing - building, heightening, rolling over the colliding forces of their blows. Her speared hand entered the demon's abdomen, and the monster sniggered above her. A careless fist swung down upon her, but she withdrew and slipped back - the blow broke through her trailing hair. Van Hellsing was within sight, but the Vampire Alucard advanced – bearlike, as the its crude swings reached for her without caring whether they connected with their target. It was a drunken thrill, the bliss of expending energy and expending violence without destroying the object immediately. The Vampire Alucard was not aiming to extinguish her at this time, the carousing desire and momentous pleasure that rolled and writhed in the demon vampire blunted skill and wit and killing intent. A mercy many would have grasped with eager hands, but the female was infuriated by Alucard's arrogance, and flew at the monster when she could have otherwise turned on her true prey. Van Hellsing remained, watching, as he had since Alucard's arrival.

Glaring human eyes tracked the dueling pair, the walls parting and widening to remove themselves from the danger. She was agile, swooping and alighting from her target. Alucard would chuckle when she struck, would smirk as she dove. She was a bird, talons gaping, a cry from her breast. And her claws snagged and tore through the demon's coat and vest, slicing the shirt and parting a cavernous divide from the Vampire Alucard's hip, sinking as her claws passed over the cavity that was shielded only by abdominal muscles, and glancing over the ridges of the bones protecting Alucard's un-beating heart. The sire's foot was planted firmly in the soil after this successful strike, she did not retreat as she had before. Finding an opening, she clenched her teeth and then cried out with the thrust of her arm. Inch-long talons penetrated the soft underside of the Vampire Alucard's jaw and were embedded in the roof of its mouth as her fingers sunk to the knuckles in cool undead meat.

Wincing at the feeling of this monster's flesh, the sire acted quickly. Her fingers clutched Alucard's lower fangs and slipped over the underside of an icy tongue – which seemed to taste her – and she twisted the jaw sharply, fracturing Alucard's dense bones. The sire's body bent back, and with a snarl she tore - Alucard lurching forward as she wrenched, stretching pale skin thin. Cracking, ripping, skin shredding- the sire leapt away with blood spatter and gore trailing from her prize. Clasped in her right hand was Alucard's jaw – half of the lower lip still clung to the bone. Her blood mixed with the demon's where the lower fangs had dug into her fingers... But, the demonic grin had finally been removed. Vindictive malevolence shaded the sire's features as scarlet irises glowed, adoring what she saw:

The white tongue hung down like a flap. A twitch running through it - a swell and curving tip of motion – then flat, hanging. Any hint of motion made the tongue eel-like. It was hideous.

The sire tossed her trailing hair back with a jerk of her head, and sneered at the Vampire Alucard. Then, spitefully, she flung her grotesque trophy aside with a laugh. Men ducked or braced themselves as the jaw shot into their wall. Hellsing saw this, and then watched the vampires – emotionless, thoughtless. Waiting to see more.

Though the jaw was gone, and the grin destroyed, the humor remained in the expression of Alucard's squinted eyes and raised cheeks – a hilarity that now reached its peak, and vexed the female sire. It goaded her, and she fell through the fury, lunging again with a threat on her lips. But as she reached the demon and her next blow flowed through the muscles of her body, the Vampire Alucard hunched, and triceps flexed. Her eyes shot open, wide, like her jaws, the air and blood forced from her throat as Alucard's fist burst her organs, and sunk deeper into her belly. Intestines exploded, muscles tore, the welling blood choked her- Before the female's gasp could break through her gurgled cough, Alucard' hands caught hold of her and she was flung hurtling over the lawn, as if she, her entirety, were as slight as the lower jaw she had thrown with so much pride.

The sire skipped and rolled, unable to stop herself, and layer upon layer of mud coated her until she came to rest in the wet earth. Staggering and dripping, it did not take her long to rise, but the concept of time brought her attention back to the soldiers, to Van Hellsing. She saw the man. He was watching her. Fearless. They were at a distance of a mere forty yards - tantalizing. And her gaze swept to the Vampire Alucard, the creature that was nearer, the creature with a torrent of blood cascading from its ruined maw. But the torrent was stemmed, the blood clung to the pale face, it wriggled into another form, into bone and flesh and fangs. Reconstructing the demonic grin she so hated.

This sight resurrected the sire's goal. Returned her mind to her revenge.

With reddish-golden hair smeared with mud and her clothes wrapped tightly around her, clinging or hanging heavy and sopping from her body – the female spun, flinging off grime as she did so, and lunged, flying towards the men. The Vampire Alucard was at a disadvantage of several yards, which combined with the fact that the demon's pursuit was not immediate, having grown accustomed to waiting to receive her attacks. Once the break in the pattern was observed, however, the demon's dexterity followed her.

The sire, unheeded by the mud, sprinted faster, a burst of urgency - drawing out a dagger.

Gunfire broke through the night as haphazard thunder that bounded like tumbling rocks instead of rolling across the air and breaking like an ocean wave – it produced the vision of horses galloping over a plain of flint and gunpowder. The bullets whizzed past her, and the crossbows twanged somewhere beneath the thunder and hooves. A few bullets burrowed into her shoulders, struck her torso, tore open her arm, but none could impede her as her scarlet glower beheld Van Hellsing releasing his pistol, drawing his sword-rapier with his right hand and a dagger with his left.

The sire's blade reached for his skull, but Hellsing parried her stab with his dagger, an agile motion deflecting a jab that carried the weight and momentum of a bolt loosed from a heavy crossbow. Hellsing cringed as he fended off another strike and stumbled back. But he wedged his boots in the muck and received her next attack. His muscles strained, and the light of his eyes sparked as their blades screeched and then quivered against one another. Pain seared through the bones of his wrist, but he endured it. Teeth creaked within Hellsing's hardened jaw and the earth was marred by his boots as they sculpted the lawn - sliding - forced back by the undead strength of the sire that hissed at him, her fangs glistening and dangerously visible. Cold spittle struck his cheek – his eyes narrowed in contempt for the beast. Abraham's rapier shot into her side with a sharp thrust, but the woman did not seem to feel the blessed blade burn through her guts. Knowing his attention was occupied by her dagger, the sire clawed at Abraham's neck, but missed him entirely as Abraham detached himself from her and withdrew several steps. The first quarter of the rapier was wet with her blood - on his dagger she read the inscription: per Angusta ad Augusta.

She knew her time alone with Van Hellsing had expired. The head of reddish-gold turned as her dagger flashed, finding Alucard behind her. But she could do nothing as dead hands gripped her muddied coat and swung her as the Vampire Alucard skipped over the grass, still carrying the momentum of its pursuit, and broke through the gathering of men who hastily parted for the creatures' passage. The demon hurled her slight form, the sire becoming a blur for an instant in mortal eyes. She struck and crumpled against earth, and was left with no time to rise. Instead Alucard lifted her, flipped and bashed her into the splattering muck, struck her spine with the heel of a boot - and then again, with mud and water scattering from her slick form, the Vampire Alucard flipped and slammed her into the earth with a jarring thud. At this instant, the female rolled to her back as Alucard bent over her - the tip of her blade entered the icy artery of the demon's neck - slid deep into flesh as if it melted against the blade - and the length of her dagger sliced through the Nosferatu's throat .

With the collapse of the demon's knees beside her, a spurt of mud showered the sire as she lay flat in the muck, together with the crimson blood that spewed from the headless corpse – the contrasting color standing out against the remnants of white on her coat and face. Time slowed for the folding body, then sped up, as if motivated by some malicious urge, to accelerate the impact- The starved bulk of the Vampire Alucard crashed stiffly, like a toppled pillar upon the streaming ribbons and rags its clothes had been reduced to, falling with the disembodied head to squelch into the sludge and water. Scarlet eyes still open, open to the soil, open to clouded and bloodied water, sinking, the earth reddening – until one half of the dead face was submerged. The female had pushed herself out of the path of the falling body, and now she rose, looking down in silent loathing, viewing Alucard with gritted teeth. The hatred and hunger in her eyes morphed into contempt, triumph, and ultimately became euphoria.

To her advantage, this development stunned many of the soldiers – they had expected Alucard to finish her just at the instant she had beheaded the creature. Their grasp on the present situation splintered as what their minds had predicted and had already accepted was hacked apart by the nonsense reality had just forged before their eyes. -A delay that lasted through the moment she turned once more upon Van Hellsing. A few bolts missed her, a few of the soldiers' boots strode towards their leader, but again, for this time, she had Hellsing, and her dagger rang against his and she dodged the thrust of his rapier. The daggers clashed again, a harsher connection, as her victorious gaze met his stony blue stare, and they were close, his heart beating, hers dead, weapons crossed, she could smell his loathsome scent, and his fingers felt the frigid death that clung to her blade – her hatred for the man bloomed, as ripe as a corpse.

The sire's fangs were bright as she smiled with her dead, bloodless lips, declaring to the abhorrent man that his monstrous servant had been slain, and that now he would follow the demon into Hell.

Abraham read this in her features, and his lips twitched.

An unexpected roar shattered his tame composure, and a frontward kick embedded his boot in her gut. She choked, and her eyes gaped in astonishment. The blunt impact knocked her off her feet, and suddenly he was the one to advance, she was forced to recover and defend. But she held her ground in the torn earth as Hellsing's rapier impaled her shoulder, deflected by her dagger – and, anticipating his strategy, she swung the blade to parry the second attack, halting Hellsing's dagger before it could plunge into her heart. The piecing impact of ringing metal grated against Abraham's ears and he growled at the spike of pain that drilled into his forearms. The two bodies detached and then lunged at one another, thrusts and slashes, parries, shoves, and even fists whirling motion in their turbulent exchange. The blows grew heavier with each collision, her blade grew crisper. Hellsing's only advantages were experience and skill. He was no match for the strength and dexterity of the vampire's deceptively small and slender body.

The sword would be diverted, the dagger would rebound off hers or they would shove themselves apart, and both blades would shudder before they were forced to clash again. The two appeared evenly matched for this instant, but then the man, with a snarl that piqued the sire's feral instincts, slammed his whole weight into a forward thrust, targeting her balance. The shear ferocity in the attack caused her to add an additional step to her retreat when she avoided his rapier. Abraham seized this opportunity and lunged at her, extending his arm - the tip of the rapier reached for the space between her narrowed, crimson eyes. Metal screeched and Hellsing fell off balance as her dagger scraped down the length of his sword and pushed the rapier aside, finally stopped as it struck the hilt. The impact left his right hand numb past his wrist and sent a tremor through his bones, as if his blow had landed against an anvil.

An awkward step to the side corrected his balance, and Hellsing panted; his lungs protested, rebelling as they coughed out the icy air he gasped. He swallowed, and perspiration slipped from his brow, narrowly missing his eye. Although Abraham's veins bulged with effort, he hissed as his extended arm gave away precious centimeters, bending beneath the sire's strength as she pushed against his sword. Clouds of breath puffed from Abraham's mouth, while her dead lips remained shut and failed to emit even a wisp of vapor. Her breath was as cold as the winter wind that sliced through Abraham's body and froze the sweat on his skin.

In this awkward stance, the Hellsing commander was too slow to withdraw and in the wrong position to defend himself with his dagger. So when the sire's talons swiped at his chest, they cut through the fabric of his coat and, at their deepest, sliced his vest. But they could not reach his skin. Van Hellsing was able to bound nimbly away, unharmed, and, thereafter, he was outside her reach.

When this distance appeared, a soldier drove his bayonet between them and then thrust his rifle towards the sire's undead heart. But fear did not glance over her expression, only acrid annoyance that sharpened her glare. The force of her dagger snapped the bayonet from his gun, ending the immediate threat. But another soldier attacked her from behind, and the sire spun, reaching out a filthy hand– She caught a second rifle before the bayonet could pierce her, halting the soldier's advance. With an abrupt scowl, the sire ripped the rifle from the soldier's hands and swung it to the side with cruel accuracy, in order to club a newcomer. The gun landed against the side of his face – compressing bone and brain as his consciousness skipped seconds, jolted, and then folded. The single man flumped onto the muddy grass. His fall ignited the fuse for his comrades' wrath, their desire for vengeance. Their passion exploded and the men's fury thundered from all corners of the scene, so that the storm in the sky drowned beneath the weight of human cries.

The small sire was overwhelmed by the masses of muscle and steel compressing her, the swarm of soldiers who had come to support their commander and fallen comrade. Sensing that they posed a significant threat, the sire hissed defensively, baring her fangs to show her frustration, and she leapt away to gain some distance before renewing her attack. However, where there should have been open space, she struck a wall – lifeless, glacial… it was adamantine flesh. Wide eyes struggled to both grasp and deny what this obstruction could be as the rigid arms of the No-Life-King clamped down, a vice that was as relentless as the horror that seized the woman sire. It restrained her as she cried out and choked. Her ribs caved; her lungs and heart, squelched. She writhed. Kicked. Her head beat against the solid chest while she gagged – held firmly in place, though the mud that plastered her hair and body ran onto the arms and caked the demon's rags. There was nothing that could loosen this hold.

Crying out in pain, her eyes shut. Blindly, her trembling fingers flipped the dagger in her fist to change her grip, and she growled and choked on blood, then on agony. She shrieked as she stabbed the dagger into the monster. Sharp steel plunged again and again, merciless as it punctured, sliced, and mutilated the monster's hip and side. Red gore was visible and blood ran freely over Alucard's leg to coat the rags and paint a greyed boot. Her desperation fueled more destruction, and yet, Alucard's chuckle rippled over her spine. Beyond the grasps of composure, the sire gnashed her fangs so that they grew more beastly and vile. She released her anguish in an unrepressed howl, and cursed the monster obscenely as she fought against its physical power. Her muscles bulged, her tendons reached out of her skin. Scarlet eyes shone as jaw muscles arched and capillaries ruptured. Above this horror - this creature in the throes of her angst – the Vampire Alucard wore a grin so savage, so repulsive, that it surpassed any mortal depiction of the Devil's visage, no matter how deeply they had dared to delve into the Abaddon of their most wretched imaginings. Gradually, the Nosferatu tightened the constricting embrace, relishing the sounds and feelings of her bones slipping from their sockets and her muscles tearing loose as she remained pressed against the demon's chest. They seemed to pop beneath the membrane of her skin. The demon wallowed in her rage, listening to the tenor that deepened her roar and halted any man who had attempted to pursue her while she was caught in the Vampire Alucard's arms.

Alucard leaned forward, pressing down on her shoulders. Cold lips crept through her hair; they grazed her ear. Then an undead cheek rested against her head, ignoring the grime and slivers of grass in her matted hair. The sire snarled with loathing while Alucard hummed, absolutely delighted by her responses, "I will keep you." The demon crooned in a hushed whisper that played with strands of her hair. She wrenched her head away in disgust, but was pulled back, seething and yowling deep in her throat. The Vampire Alucard's mouth spread with its fanged, voracious grin. "You will be mine to have – he will not have the chance to touch you. I will have swallowed you whole."

Her outraged curse was lost in a shriek of pure abhorrence and repulsion. A surge of strength in her limbs caused the muscles in Alucard's arms to strain – slightly. The monster would not yield. Then, without due cause to expect more from her, the Vampire Alucard had no response other than mute bewilderment when it felt and heard the female's neck pop, felt and saw her head slump forward. While Alucard questioned whether the embrace had been the cause of this phenomenon, her head rose like that of a weaving snake, and her face twisted upwards, it revolved so completely that her eyes met the befuddled stare of the Vampire Alucard.

Her jaws sprung open with a raspy, guttural hiss that resembled a groan, and bare fangs struck out at the Nosferatu's shoulder. Alucard shoved the sire away before the fangs could meet their mark, and let her limp body slap heavily against the mud. There, her body twitched unnaturally, squirmed and created hollows in the earth that oozed water, forming small pools. Watching quietly with its lips drawn into a bemused smile, the Vampire Alucard saw the buttons of her vertebrae return and realign in her neck, where they snapped and cracked into place.

Magnificent. Close – develop her more – she would become something splendid, yes. …More. Show me something grander, show me a miracle.

The sire's dagger was still embedded in Alucard's hip. The creature drew it out now before the sire could recover, and, seeing movement, slammed a boot into her back as she began to raise herself. The Vampire Alucard pressed down as it crouched on her shoulder blade, just enough to keep her still. The demon did not want her to sink too far, but since the earth was fixed on swallowing as much of the female as it could, Alucard's hand swept across the back of her neck, as if brushing off a flee, and the dagger passed through her flesh with ease.

Decapitated, the sire lay limp in the mud, face down. Unmoving. Alucard rose, eyes fixed on her, observing. Van Hellsing approached and other men followed him, though most remained where they stood quietly, watching. Van Hellsing stood over the body, his brow beginning to scrunch, his mouth a forming frown – his eyes beginning to register... Her body was full - not dust, not bone. He saw that inches separated her head from the base of her neck, and yet an impression of movement on the ground touched his vision. Instinctively, Abraham's foot tried to move out of the way, but it was impeded by the clutch of the mud that fused it to the earth. The mud immobilized his boot, resisted his muscles, and allowed true alarm to strengthen Abraham's need to retrieve his foot as he clearly saw an undead arm slide over the mud towards him. No one other than Alucard noticed the movement before the inch long claws had lodged themselves into the tip of Abraham's boot.

The men reacted with alarm, lungs seized –a weak scent of blood, then the rearing thirst, throbbing, resounding in the demon skull- Van Hellsing tearing his foot free –men striding forward- But the Vampire Alucard, dueling an escalating bloodlust that was fueled by the fumes of Hellsing's blood, had already stamped the sire's arm into the slew of mud and grass. The leg of the sire's body slipped as she tried to get up, her head still sunken, face immersed in sludge. As the body made simple movements in its attempts to stand, the Vampire Alucard mentally applauded each twitch – the demon grin expanding. The vampire's worn boot withdrew as Alucard laughed and moved back to get a better view of her efforts.

Van Hellsing was beside Alucard, unharmed beyond two shallow incisions in his foot. When he spoke, his voice showed only composure, though anger dwelt beneath his words. "Keep it restrained. I don't want to offer it another chance to injure someone or escape. We will take it into the labs-" There was a pause as Abraham sensed Alucard's inaction and noticed that his men had begun to follow his commands. He scowled at his slave and began to repeat his order, addressing the demon directly this time – but Alucard's chuckle interrupted him. There was a shout of disbelief somewhere to Hellsing's left, coming from one of the new soldiers. Inquisitive, Abraham returned his attention to the body and found it hunched over, on its knees, the head reattached. And now scarlet eyes rose, peering at him through a mask of slipping mud-

A soldier's sword whistled through the air, but the sire allowed it to sink into her open palm. Clenching, though her arm was twisted and mangled, she held it there. Her eyes had not left Hellsing's. Blood that encircled her neck bubbled softly against her skin, and for a moment, Hellsing watched, entranced by the boiling red.

Snarling like a cornered animal, the female lunged from her knees, her hand slipping free of the sword. Her bones were still realigning as she grasped weakly for some part Van Hellsing. The graceless assault was intercepted by Alucard, which was something the sire had expected. With one boot digging into the mud, she pushed up with a surprising amount of power, and sent a blow into the Nosferatu's gut that forced the larger body back. The men retreated quickly by whatever path was available, to make way for the resumed battle. But it never became a battle, it was merely a display of stubbornness. Alucard was the superior monster. It had been made clear. This next stage in that night's source of entertainment served only to satiate the No-Life-King's curiosity.

The Vampire Alucard flicked away her blows as if she were a kitten pawing for affection, and the two vampires moved sluggishly over the lawn, further demolishing the esthetic charm the grassy plot had previously held as their boots left gashes and bleeding scars that formed tiny ponds in their wake. Abraham did not approve of Alucard prolonging the battle. They still did not know whether another fledgling or a pack of ghouls might arrive – though the pack of mindless ghouls seemed improbable at this point. Hellsing was cautious, though the female had never called to any companion for aid. "Finish this now. We are not here to play with it. Capture the vampire or kill it." Blue followed the vampires' movements over the lawn. Seconds passed; the lawn gained more scars. Van Hellsing's patience waned and his order boomed with the threat of an unspoken punishment. [He had not seen the change.]

"Do it now."

All action came to a halt. Silence flooded the lawn, brief yet powerful as it altered the scene it receded from, riding upon a nauseating, rage-filled scream that scattered startled looks and unease among the men. Alarm bloomed in Van Hellsing's face, and his tongue tripped over words. The sire screamed incessantly, the final note of her concluding struggle - caught in the Vampire Alucard's jaws with her head fixed in place as her body resisted and her hands clawed. The sire's desperation soared while Alucard swallowed mouthfuls of her blood… blood that was drawn from her veins… pulling against the tide of a dead circulation that consists mostly of stagnation. Her voice split. The shrieks were roughening with the hatred that was mounting, wheezing the curses that damned the monster.

Another was also caught in the midst of boiling rage. Van Hellsing strode forward, incapable of speech while his features were hardened in place by his fury. Livid and swift in action, he said nothing as he thrust his bare sword through his slave's side, the blade sinking deep into the vampire's body.

Automatically, Alucard's jaws released its tempting prey. Dull red rolled in the undead eye sockets until they found Master Van Hellsing at the other end of the pain that speared its belly. The ivory teeth were dyed orange-crimson, and more blood stained the pale lips and the sides of Alucard's mouth. A disturbing haze distanced the demon's gaze - miles beyond the Hellsing estate, centuries past, where the lust for blood had originated. Blind with hunger, the demon stood, holding the sire against its chest possessively, clutching her as if the demon's whole existence depended upon this single meal. While the blind eyes had turned to Van Hellsing and had seen him at first, within the thickening haze, they could no longer identify him. The Vampire Alucard could not perceive why it had stopped feeding. It detected a feeble human beside it, but that was no reason to stop. 'Master' flitted through its consciousness, and then the man's name, but a name and a single mortal meant nothing. There was food in its arms. It should feed. It was holding a source of nourishment, power – sustenance it needed.

I must drink.

The blade was pulled from Alucard's side. But as soon as it left the seared undead tissue, the demon leaned towards the sire to resume feeding, oblivious of the outrage that colored Van Hellsing's face and the fury of the thrashing female who whipped her head wildly.

"Hör mal auf!"

Alucard froze. The haze burned away. The molten light of the demon's eyes shone. It saw Master Van Hellsing, heard his deep throated growl – knew that Master Van Hellsing was displeased-

"Zurücktreten!"

Following the order, the vampire released its prey and stepped away from her as she collapsed. The bleeding sire fell, and Van Hellsing stepped forward at once, raised his sword above her spine, and thrust it down with a snarl. She screamed, hands pushing at the mud and tearing at the grass, beating the earth she was impaled against. The smoke was taken by the wind as the silver burned the female sire. Her hands were driven deep into the soil, and her face buried itself in the clinging earth, smothering her screams. Van Hellsing assessed to what degree she was incapacitated. Men were at hand, waiting for orders.

Hellsing considered the possibilities for a moment, and then spoke, watching the squirming form. "Dismember it. Remove the arms, the legs. …Fetch a muzzle and the mercury. I do not want to take any chances. If the mercury kills it, then so be it. A loss, but one we can afford. It must be weakened much more than it is now."

"Yes Sir. I'll have a man bring one of the surgeons. We will immobilize her, so he can work on her safely." The captain nodded as Hellsing thanked him and then passed the order onto a nearby soldier.

Abraham observed this, and spoke. "Have two other men accompany him. They will work faster, and we should not assume all is over simply because one vampire has been defeated."

The captain nodded again, and the small group was sent off. As activity swirled around the female sire, soldiers were dispatched to the manor to inform the rest of the men of what had happened. Though it was likely the men had been watching from the windows, the night was dark, and clouds were thickening over the moon and starlight.

Someplace where silence could settle in this bundle of activity, the Vampire Alucard stood, arms limp at its sides, barren eyes fixed on the sire lying in the mud where she was pinned by Van Hellsing's rapier. This did not change when Abraham stopped in front of the creature.

Abraham's voice was hard. "Scout the perimeter. Come to me at dawn. If you encounter another vampire, disable it, or behead it-" He muttered something through gritted teeth, and scowled at Alucard's dull expression before continuing, "–in such a way that it is dead, not so that it can mend itself immediately." His anger was barely repressed at this point, nostrils flaring as Abraham breathed in the night chill he was now only beginning to remember. His skin was rough, his nerves strived to make him shiver. And his fingers – though gloved - were frozen, his hands were a mixture of numbness and pain, so Abraham breathed on them to make them a bit warmer, and then moved them to his pockets since this was more convenient. His injured foot throbbed.

Observing Alucard at this close proximity was never pleasant, but a wisp of interest had wafted into the man's mind. It was a thought that made Hellsing scowl, so he pushed it away and shifted his weight off of his injured foot, growing even more aware of the cold as he shivered. It wouldn't have surprised him if the mud froze by morning.

"Go now. Come if you are called. If nothing more happens tonight, find me at dawn – you will be permitted to go upstairs to my room in the manor, I will not be in the barracks tonight. But do not let any of the house servants or my men come across you. Disturb no one."

And with this, the demon left Van Hellsing. The surgeon arrived, and the men arranged the containers, drew blood and stopped up their ears before administering the silver mercury. As the mercury entered her, the piercing agony that rent the night brought Hellsing's attention to the grounds, to the woods, the trees, blue eyes searching for a response. But as the ringing echoes of her cries broke and were lost, nothing moved in the darkness. Pensively, Abraham waited, and the men behind him clenched jaws and fists as the sire's hair whitened to snow, and her skin greyed, her bones rose at sharp angles as her blood was turned to ash, and her veins ignited, burning away like candlewicks through her undead tissue. Then, the ash reached her heart.

Her death was imminent, so they removed the sire quickly and carried her into the labs to begin the experiments. The sire's body crumpled into dust on a bloodied table within a span of two hours.

Later, dawn rose, purple and blushing scarlet against the clouds, and crimson seeped across the horizon.

Chapter Text

Abraham had not slept when the red dawn opened over his window. And he did not spare it more than a glance. He sat on a dark leather ottoman positioned between a four-poster bed and a dresser which had a mirror mounted on it. The punctured boot was held in his hands, his mind muddled with musings. Blue eyes slipped over the contour of the boot, moving as these mental puzzles were categorized and complimentary pieces were assembled.

The room was composed of a pallet of browns, olives, and grey-greens. The floor was dark, wood – a few shades darker than the color that was featured by the dresser, armoire, and the frame of Hellsing's bed. Above the ottoman hung a landscape painting of the heart of a misty woodland bathed in golden twilight. Small portrait paintings of philosophers and German composers melded into the pale-olive of the walls, among narrow tapestries of dark singular trees, about which dragons of different colors and characters were wound discreetly. One broad tapestry displayed a medieval scene: a knight in golden armor, helmet raised, seated upon his chestnut stead, broad sword sheathed – eyes given to a maiden whose pale arm was extended towards him, otherworldly grace spilling over her face, bright in her pale eyes, shining in her long tresses of flowing starlight hair. There were trees, a glinting river, and a kingdom built before a range of mountains in the background. Many of these had been found in the mansion when it had come into Abraham's possession, though other objects had been gifted or collected over time. The bedchamber had been even more gallant before Abraham had removed much of the gilded luxury. But, in truth, Hellsing rarely retired to this room, and would frequently sleep in his study, wake when he was refreshed, and return to his work. His men knew of this, and so, in lighter times they referred to the study as 'Van Hellsing's bedchamber.' In truth, Abraham did not mind it - since that was what his study had become. Only exhaustion or need for mental repose could place the commander in this room.

Overall, the bedroom was not expansive; it contained enough space to permit Van Hellsing to pace comfortably over the wooden floor and tread on the Indian rug, a patterns of tans that spread over the space at the end of his bed. The curtains were normally a dark olive, but the red rays of the morning sunlight deepened them to black as they passed through the uncovered window panes. Hellsing had watched the grounds and the woods, what little could be seen in the darkness, and had left the window bare before retiring to his ottoman to think and take up his damaged boot. The bedcovers and pillows were also of tans, most shades bordering gold. Beside the bed, on a nightstand a shaded lamp shone upon the pistol Abraham had polished since the time he had dropped it in the mud, hours ago.

Reflecting the light like a clear mirror as it lay beside the gun, Abraham's silver pocket watch rested on the nightstand as well, ticking beneath its closed cover. The sound of seconds passing was audible in the quiet, resembling a slow, clockwork heart.

There was no sound in the hallway outside, no weight to creak the floor boards. In silence, Alucard passed through Abraham's door, more specter-like than usual as the blush of the dawn doused the creature in phantom blood. Abraham rose and closed the curtains to dispel the illusion.

The man passed into German naturally once he had returned to the ottoman; his hours of musings had all been in German. This time he left the boot alone where it stood on the floor by his slippered foot. Red eyes had noted the boot, and had recognized it. There were traces of blood in the leather.

Abraham's voice was quiet. "The sire spoke to you before it attacked. But you were not speaking about Hellsing, or myself."

Alucard's face was carved plainly from dead skin and shadow, the room dim, light merely the faint glow of the curtains and the shaded lamp, both set apart from the majority of the room by the width of the unused bed. The Vampire Alucard stood at such an angle that its reflection should have fallen within the frame of Van Hellsing's mirror. But, as no such phenomenon was attached to the demon's person, the mirror showed only the holy and natural creations that were assembled in the room. The demon had responded to its master's statement with nothing, neither movement nor expression arising. Hellsing was hunched, in such a way that showed his conscious thought lay in his mind and not in the worldly present. His hands – now warm and discolored with bruises while his wrists showed minor swelling – were clasped, his elbows on his knees. His gaze had been on the shadows that were gathered near the door, but blue irises rose to the vampire to insist that it respond immediately.

The Nosferatu's voice was quiet, matching Abraham's volume, although it was monotone, while Abraham's tone had been touched by his inward contemplation. It was a familiar dead voice. And it brought forth the chill that pricked at the bones in Abraham's neck. "She spoke of her own thoughts, regarding me. …Not insulting, not when she began – though the change was expected."

"What were these 'thoughts'? Observations? Interest, regarding your purpose in Hellsing?" Abraham's body was tired, and the plainness and patient leisureliness of this exchange, this setting, were unusual. It slowed the vampire's responses. Alucard began to observe its master, as the master observed its servant. The creature sought nothing in particular, not weakness, not thought. It was a general, undirected surveillance of a moment – to gather the experience for a later evaluation.

"Why does this interest you?" The demon murmured. Abraham's temper was inert, so the question was treated as an inquiry without suspected insubordination.

"Why would a conversation between two vampires – both creatures that can survive a decapitation - not interest me? Should anything that can hold your interest not be capable of holding mine?"

The comparison, bringing himself down to the demon's level, was a slip – in Alucard's mind. The beast was standing equal to man within that sentence. The vampire masked its thoughts, and proceeded to satisfy the man's curiosity – gradually, fatigued as the sun rose, the exhaustion building with the strength of the light. The Vampire Alucard had not expected Van Hellsing to question it on this subject, rather it had braced itself for a punishment or to be chastised for how it had behaved during the battle.

"She said that she could not understand what I was, and was confused, yet interested. The woman was curious, that was all. But her claims humored me."

"Claims?" Abraham asked dully, registering Alucard's deliberate slowness, the intended suspense the demon was playing with. It did not amuse Hellsing, but he tolerated it.

"I was accused of misleading you, allowing you to believe that I was a vampire, when I was not."

Abraham stared at Alucard, bemused, and then squinted as he wondered at the reported response and tried to avoid feeling – somewhat unjustly – that it was overwhelmingly stupid. The man shook his head and shrugged his shoulders in a way that sprung a snort from Alucard.

"Most do mistake me for something worse than I am. Though ' worse' is not what I would apply to…the 'unnatural.' A werewolf is not 'worse' than a vampire."

Abraham's wonder and amusement had not faded, his eyes stared into the gloom attached to the wall. "The sire did not seem so afraid."

"She should have been, but she was too proud for fear. There is nothing strange in what she claimed. Most do not wish to associate themselves with something foreign. The living separate themselves from the dead. Weaker creatures see strange and more powerful creatures as monsters, thus monstrosities, the evil foe. Vampires who have not attained equivalent power, view one another differently. Humans do the same. The educated see the uneducated as ignorant. The wealthy see the poor as lazy, wasteful, therefore deserving of their misfortune. An oppressed or unhappy people see their king as a tyrant, and justify extinguishing his bloodline. King Louis XVI was no tyrant, but the people traded him for Robespierre, the Jacobins, for mass butchery and terror. It lacks reason, so it resembles stupidity. But it is not without thought. It is a difference of perspectives."

Abraham viewed the demon, listening to the dry speech that ridiculed history – events that had come decades before Hellsing's birth. This was another aspect of Alucard that interested Abraham – a little - but it was not common for the vampire to willingly discuss matters that were not intentionally offensive or disturbing, or engrossed in the subject of 'true vampires.' This discussion teetered on the border of what the man tolerated. But he was tired and his mood, thoughtful – a little careless. "You could not have disliked a time of calamity, one sunken into madness."

The pale lips parted, then spread to expose the chilling grin the fangs easily produced. However, Alucard knew better than to laugh, and so, contained the urge. Distaste had already risen to Van Hellsing's face, the man rethinking his words. So the vampire distracted him from a path that might lead to punishment, if Hellsing were to recall the night's events. "Vampires flocked to France to lap up their savagery and drain their streets. It is one reason for the great growth in their number. The sire who attacked you was no doubt in some way a result of their revolution, by some chain of descent. And there will only be more in the future, so you will not face idleness in any approaching time."

Blankness had opened Van Hellsing's gaze, sitting upright slowly as his mind gnawed at his slave's words.

Interested in drawing out this reaction, Alucard continued, watching Abraham closely with dim eyes brightening - temporarily. "A billion men now live. More die. More are born, just look at the royal family. Medicine improves, diseases are battered down and the sick are healing. The number will only grow. More humans, more of the undead. Science and weaponry advancing. More violent and devastating wars. More of the undead. The war ends. People compensate for those lost, are drunk on a lust for life, for happiness and family, to reconstruct the lost kindred. More humans. More of the undead. The cycle has always been there. Now it is accelerating."

Yes. Van Hellsing was absorbed, captured – in however minute a way. Alucard swelled with a hollow sense of power. "I have gone decades without seeing another vampire. Here, they are crowded on this island. None know how to establish territories. They hunt openly and terrify potential prey without establishing a functioning system. What you combat is chaos. I seem so divergent, the sire you killed seems so abnormal, because what you are used to is not the way the undead establish a hold in the world."

How the conversation had taken this particular path, the vampire did not bother to question – it did not question the direction it was going – monotone voice and dulling eyes, losing light as the sun cast more of its rays over the estate. Hellsing would not speak, would not dare to interrupt the oddly civil perspective Alucard was presenting to him. The demon never humanized monsters – and for Hellsing they never could be human – but it was a stance Alucard had never before taken with Abraham. It was ridiculous.

"An agreement is maintained with the humans dwelling within the territory, order is kept. They know to stay away, to keep the vampire secret. And so, they will expect minimized contact with the vampire. The territory is large. Unharmed, the vampire need only feed once with every cycle of the moon. Even less, in some cases. Distributed in this way, and with immigrants and travelers passing through, a parish may expect to go a year without a loss. And then they benefit. If raiders come to burn them to the ground, those raiders are challenging the vampire who has laid claim to these people as its own prey. So the vampire guards them."

Abraham was sitting upright, a half-formed smirk twitching before returning to a plain frown. "A sickening and delusional, 'utopian' farce. And a theory I doubt has ever been put to use so smoothly. You take the life of a man's wife or child, he will not thank you for sparing his own."

Alucard did not disagree, speaking with stony features. Eyes as barren as a gargoyle's. The morning was glowing hot, melting red into gold. "There are very few who would thank a vampire – of course all manner of men exist. But the individual is part of a community that is also at risk. There are other men with wives and children who will argue that this one death does not warrant a foolhardy revenge that could lead to the ruin of the entire community. If one man acts out and angers the vampire – and they know he will not succeed in killing it – then they stand to suffer the same loss. They govern themselves. If one cannot be appeased, as when a woman goes mad with the loss of her child, then some system is established – usually to expel the woman, marking her in some way to show she is mad. If it is a man, they may kill him or wound him before allowing him to go to the vampire. It shows their loyalty, in the end."

Hellsing's smirk returned with the pause. "You romanticize tyranny so grotesquely, Vampire. It is bizarre that you would glorify your kind in this way. Vampires are insatiable beasts, killers that drink the blood of human beings, taking the victim's life and even their humanity. I have observed them for years. The majority are violent, caustic, and tactless; unholy creatures that slink in the shadows, full of nothing but evil intentions, hell bent on destruction. They are demons which yearn for Armageddon. Structure and order do not coincide with their natures – only devastation and disorder."

The demon spoke, "But vampires should not feed so recklessly."

Abraham sneered, laughing once. "You want them to gather humans like chattel?"

There was still no anger in Alucard. The sun continued to climb, millimeter upon millimeter. "It would have been nothing for me to have emptied London of its inhabitants in a single night. It would be easy to burn down a forest and relish the warmth of the blaze. But it is not applicable. Destroy a city. Lay waste to humanity. Conquer and rule humanity. All possible – but also impossible. Why do it? Will it change the taste of blood? Why exceed one's thirst to that degree? There is a limit to indulgence. Nothing is insatiable – a man's greed is dead when he is ash. Desire will expire with the limit of mortality. And with immortality, there is no rush – patience stems these. The perspective has changed…

"I was more destructive as a man than as a vampire, because I had cause to hate other men - I thirsted for power, for a legacy - I could not benefit from the lives of the insignificant. All human lusts were replaced with the lust for blood. I do not need women. I do not need wealth. I need none of this. Blood is pleasure, food, and desire. All else - entertainment. Treasures and a castle - nostalgia. Claiming something material, just to possess it - establish a hold, stability. And then when a dwelling becomes dull - leave. Wander. See the world again, and the changes."

Retaining an altered, darkened form of his past humor, Abraham examined his slave. A smirk sat discreetly upon his lips. "What is this? When did this offend you? When the sire accused you? …" He stanched another laugh, and this repression altered his mood. The smirk left him. "What you have said does not make sense. I know what you are. I know of your cruelty, your adulation of torture, of destruction."

The vampire continued on its own, deepening the creases on Abraham's brow, deepening his displeasure. "You think you saved humanity, or did it some great service when you captured me. But I was less of a threat to them than the trash you sweep into bottles and study under lenses in your laboratory. I do not care that you believe in an exaggeration of what I am. Talk of the sire and her claims made me think you might be interested in being enlightened, finally. You did very little for humanity by binding me here. All you accomplished was the acquisition of a power outside of your ability. If I posed the threat you've imagined, I would have wiped out the human race within the centuries I have passed among them. What you take pride in is something you have misunderstood. And it would be interesting to consider how you approach eradicating vampires. Killing the old, who know the ways of living as the undead, leaves fewer who will kill the trash that cross their path, fewer who could teach this trash how to be true vampires. Kill the young first. …And you teach the public that vampires are rampant demolishers, so the confused fledgling will identify what they are through your vision, and will become the monster you have described because they have not been taught otherwise."

"Are you blaming me?" Abraham laughed outright, in disbelief.

Alucard's face was dead, as it had been for nearly four centuries. "Blame – no one's to blame. It is how it is. It is perspective. Something different – not mine… No. I was doing nothing – thinking. I was telling you that your actions have more influence than you are aware of. And perhaps you are too sure of yourself. You have been treated for too long as the expert on the undead, the master of killing and discovering more about them. But you are not a vampire. And you have not seen true vampires. I've told you what identifies them. Power, and the proper way of existing with the living. But, no, nothing is as civil as I've made it seem – if I have made it seem civil. Ramblings- But it is also for you – it is arrogant to believe in what you would like to believe and ignore what is real. …I'm tired. It's morning. And I've lost track of what I've said. Trust none of it. I don't want to talk to you anymore. This was not meant to become an insult. …I am too tired."

Van Hellsing wore a derisive smile, one that believed the demon king had humiliated itself. Alucard felt nothing. Hellsing snorted. "You've given me a chimerical blending of a double nature that does not exist. I believe having your head cut off skewed your reasoning. But it entertained me. And I won't forget it, not a word. And I'll digest your 'insults' while I sleep. …Now go." The smile had already expired. The man had hardened.

"Thank you Master Van Hellsing, for this privilege. I wish you goodnight."

"Good. You said it properly."