"The journey that I departed on since we left each other has ended successfully as of today, despite the lingering exhaustion that plagues me this night. Even now as I write this letter, I feel as though I could drift off into slumber at any given moment.
"After I had left you at the ruins of Castlevania, I headed westward in hopes of finding Alucard. I searched without stopping to rest for the entire day, but thankfully, my persistence was rewarded. Upon reaching a clearing of some wooded area, I found the ruins of a long-dead town, and in the center, I found Alucard. The ruins were such a forlorn sight; crumbled buildings surrounded a large, wooden monumental cross that must have reached at least eight feet towards the sky.
"But Alucard himself was an even more somber sight than the town ruins themselves. I swear I never saw him in such a sad state. From what I can recollect from his actions and what he had told me, he had journeyed to the cross to pay tribute to his departed mother. The sorrow that clung to him was almost overpowering; I wish there was more that I could do to ease his pain…
"Alucard was quite surprised to discover that I had followed him. He seems worried about my safety; he said that I should have stayed with you the day Castlevania fell. I knew he meant well, but I persisted on staying with him. He is indeed a most chivalrous man; one does not find very many people like him.
"We talked, and I was shocked when he actually confided to me some of his deepest secrets and emotions. I was so used to seeing him as a stone-faced man of honor who had no time to dwell on his painful past, but what I saw today quickly changed my opinion of him…and definitely for the better. He told me the fate of his mother…and as he did, I did not expect to see him shed tears! Tears, from the very son of Dracula himself! I find it curious that, of all the people he’s known, he actually shares these memories and tears with me. But I feel honored that he has chosen me above all else.
"Hopefully, after our exchange of words, I have given him reason enough to live upon this world as a human rather than as a vampire. He is strong of spirit, and I know he will choose the most honorable path. It takes a brave man indeed to tell others of welled-up grief, and Alucard is a very brave soul.
"The storms that had followed me ever since you and I bid our farewells are becoming more violent. Even now, the thunder crashes against the windows of the inn that Alucard and myself are taking shelter in, rattling the entire foundation of the building. The wind is howling like a banshee and the rain continues to fall heavy. Will there be no end to this storm? I hope so; something about this weather sends chills down my spine. Alucard seems alarmed by these storms as well…
"Give my blessings to my sister, dear Richter. Perhaps we will meet again soon; I am sure Annette would be interested in meeting Alucard as well.
Allianna’s cursing was drowned out by the heavy roar of the storm. The drizzle that had followed her and Nathaniel to town had turned into a sudden wave of rain as soon as the already-drenched pair stepped foot past the stone gates. The lights within the buildings still shown through the dark curtains of rain as the two travelers hurried down the street to the closest available shelter.
Nathaniel groaned in disgust as he pulled off his soaked blue overcoat after he and Allianna took cover under the protective awning of the town’s inn. "Just our luck that the rain got worse just as we came here," he complained sarcastically as he jerked his overcoat, which let out sharp snapping sounds as the rainwater was whipped out from it.
Allianna said nothing as she pulled her black gloves from her hands and squeezed the water from them. She bore the same disgruntled look as her companion. "At least we can stay here ‘till this cursed weather passes," she finally said, her voice annoyed. She snapped her crumpled gloves once and then slipped them back over her thin hands. "I could use a warm drink as well. This rain chills me to the bone."
Nathaniel slung his still-damp coat over one shoulder, the neck of it hanging by his middle and index fingers. "We’ll have to spend the night here," he said. "But let’s not stand here too long and be idle in the cold air." The young man placed a hand on Allianna’s shoulder. "Come, let us go in. We’ll both have a warm drink."
Allianna gratefully took up the offer as her companion led her into the building. Apparently, there was a tavern built into the inn, for the loud hustle and bustle of activity greeted the pair without hesitation as soon as they set foot past the door. People of all ages and social standings crowded the lively place; some were drinking, a few others were gambling in a darker corner of the room, and many others were scattered about, talking with friends and acquaintances.
The multitude of aromas that flooded the charged tavern crashed into Allianna’s senses, ones that, thanks to her lycanthropic curse, were endowed with unusual potency. In most cases, her hyperactive senses were some sort of blessing…however, they were more of a hassle when Allianna could feel her appetite surging as the scents of food swirled and lingered at the tip of her nose. Her stomach growled like a guttural beast.
Nathaniel let out a low whistle, indicating he had heard the rumbling protest of Allianna’s stomach. His youthful companion blushed slightly as she was gently coaxed to the fireplace at the far end of the bar.
"Perhaps we should find something to quell that appetite," the young man chuckled, sitting down at a nearby table. He motioned for Allianna to take the opposite seat. "After what we’ve been put through to get here, we deserve this chance to relax."
Allianna set herself in the somewhat-rickety wooden chair, positioning herself by the fireplace as to warm herself the quickest. "So," she murmured, a bit off-hand, as she leaned against the table, "what is our next objective?"
Nathaniel’s face became clouded with a stern expression as he propped his elbows upon the table’s oaken surface, his chin resting on his interlocked hands. "’Tis hard to tell for sure," he said, gaze turned downward as though studying the swirls in the table’s polished wood. His right hand reflexively fingered the small, seemingly-aristocratic golden broach that was pinned to the collar of his dress coat. "Life for a vampire hunter becomes difficult when the main source of his prey dries up. Things will be hard from this point on, I’m sure…"
Allianna’s gaze glanced upwards somewhat. "How long ago was it that Castlevania fell?"
"Hmm…probably a week ago."
A deep sigh escaped from Allianna’s lungs as the young woman began to idly pluck a few peanuts from a small, wooden bowl that sat alone on the tabletop. "Do you suppose that HE will be harder to find?" she finally said, her voice almost inaudible.
"I should hope not," Nathaniel responded sharply, his downward gaze still locked as his entire face darkened. His left hand balled up into a tight fist as his lips turned downward in a grimace. "We’ll find the bastard…he cannot hide forever. If we continue to cut down more of his treacherous kind, we will find the one who cursed you and gain your freedom…"
An extensive period of brooding silence blanketed the hunter pair when
Nathaniel’s vehement words abruptly trailed off. Allianna sat with
her back pressed against the wobbly chair, hands folded within her lap,
gaze locked upon the crackling blaze within the alighted fireplace.
Her companion only let his head sink into his arms, upon the table, his
own eyes distant as if in deep thought. The look within them was
focused upon nothing…not the fireplace, not the rest of the tavern, not
the table. The young woman let out a weary sigh and stared deeper
into the fire, a sense of dread creeping into her soul…
W-Who…? That voice…
"Allianna! Where…where are you? The smoke…I can’t breathe!"
Sister…? Illene! I can’t see you! It’s so dark…
"N-No… M-Mother! She…she’s…"
What? What happened to Mother!?
"The Demon! He took her… He wants her blood…!"
Who!? Who has her!?
"Erin’s gone! Sister!?"
Our elder sister!? The Demon has her as well!? Illene!!"
"The Demon’s beasts…they’re here!! So much blood…the flames…ALLIANNA!!"
The young woman did not expect to see the room packed with so many people. Before her, the tavern room sprawled out in a cacophonous display of gamblers, drunks, travelers and others of all descriptions converging into one huge moving mass.
Alucard’s dark presence was quickly noted when the air shifted at Maria’s side. His pale complexion, now marred by a fairly disgruntled expression, contrasted sharply to the ruddy hues of the tavern visitors’ faces. It was quite obvious he was unused to such…crowded…conditions, but he uttered not a single complaint as his light-colored eyes scanned the entire smoke-clogged chamber.
Maria let out a troubled sigh as she tried waving away a few wisps of smoke from her line of vision. "There isn’t a single table open," she muttered, still trying to peer through the murky wall that obscured the room. "I hope there are still some sober folks in here…I can hardly fancy sharing a table with some of these shady characters…"
Alucard’s hand suddenly fell upon Maria’s shoulder, startling the young woman. "Over there," the dhampire said, his soft voice nearly drowned out by the ruckus that rumbled between the walls. He pointed to the far side of the room, to the table that stood beside the fireplace. Two persons, looking quite sober and incredibly distant from everyone else, were seated there. "What about them?" Alucard continued. "Perhaps they will be kind enough to share their table with us."
Maria squinted greatly to get a good view of the seated pair. It was with some difficulty that she was finally able to discern their features. One, a young woman garbed in burgundy and white, stared thoughtfully into the madly-dancing flames of the fireplace. The reflections within her dark eyes also seemed to dance…as though enthralled in some sort of deeply-withheld, pained memory. Her expression could have been the dark embodiment of misery.
The other, seated opposite of the dark woman, was a man of vibrant youth, clad in deep royal blues and gold. Using his arms as some sort of pillow, he rested his head upon the table. Like his companion, the young man seemed delved deep in thought, one gloved finger subconsciously tapping upon the surface of the oak table. His noble countenance seemed troubled.
Maria felt her eyebrows raise reflexively. Something about the azure-clad young gentleman seemed familiar; she knew she had seen him somewhere before! But where?
Then, the memory dawned upon her. She had seen the man with her own brother-in-law, Richter! It must have been over five years ago since she had last seen the young man; when she had asked Richter who he was, all those years ago, she learned he was a close friend and fellow vampire hunter. But…the young hunter had mysteriously vanished shortly before she and Richter had defeated Dracula that half-decade ago…
Nathaniel Greenbriar. The name of Richter’s close friend finally found its way through Maria’s clouded memory. Who would have thought she would find him here, of all places?
Alucard’s calm-yet-powerful voice snapped his companion out of her reverie. "Is something the matter?" he asked again. "You seem troubled."
Maria shook her head and looked up to face the dhampire, a faint smile finally creasing her delicate features. "We’re in luck," she said, her voice elated. "I know the young man at the table. He is Nathaniel Greenbriar, a long-time friend of Richter’s. This is the first time I’ve seen him in years!"
Alucard’s pale face became thoughtful. "Vampire hunter, I presume?" he questioned, his expression deepening when Maria nodded in response. "The name ‘Greenbriar’ sounds vaguely familiar…"
"You know of him?" Maria said, looking quite puzzled.
"…No, nothing. Let us join your friend."
Without so much as another word, Alucard advanced to the far end of
the tavern, his steps seeming to flow upon air. Maria, although confused
at the dhampire’s behavior, thought nothing more of what he had said and
scurried forward to catch up with him.
As Nathaniel stepped back from his grim deed and his prey’s body began to wither to ashes and motes of faint light, another piercing scream of agony rent the stale, blood-acrid air of the crypt. The vampire hunter grunted in satisfaction; obviously, Richter had found the second they had sought for and sent the damned leech back to the depths of Hell. Two less vampires roaming the world…two less parasites ravaging the blood of the innocent.
Circling around to the other side of the blood-stained coffin, Nathaniel could see Richter entering the chamber. Four angry slashes marred the Belmont’s exposed left arm, a steady trickle of blood flowing down to his hand. Despite the painful appearance of the injury, there was a broad smile upon the hunter’s face.
"Looks like that one leech gave you a bit of a struggle!" Nathaniel remarked, his own face creased with a grin as his gaze fell upon his friend’s wounded arm. "You act as though that wound was nothing!"
"Bringing the final death to a vampire is enough to dull the sting," Richter said as he pulled the bandanna from his forehead and wrapped it tightly over the slash marks. The bleeding slowed. "Seems you had little trouble yourself," he continued.
"Aye, the beast was in a deep torpor when his heart became the resting place for my stake." Nathaniel patted the stone side of the vampire’s empty coffin, of which was stained deep red with it’s owners blood.
Richter let out a weary sigh as he wiped the blood that was spattered across his arms and face. "We should be returning to the town," he said, belting his chain whip. "Annette is probably worried sick and we’ll need to be prepared in case Maria asks why we didn’t let her tag along."
Nathaniel chuckled quietly. "Maria is such a vivid girl. You must have your hands full with her being Annette’s sister!"
"Not always," came the remark. "She’s a precocious child, I’ll give her that. She cares about people, much like Annette." Richter once again smiled broadly. "She has a certain strength so few have these days. I’m sure Maria will be successful, whatever future she chooses for herself."
Nathaniel nodded thoughtfully as he stepped away from the vacant coffin, pacing across the blood-slickened floor to the moonlit entrance of the musty crypt. "Let us make haste then," he said. "This venture has sapped the energy out of me."
"I could do with a bath," Richter replied, grimacing at the vampire’s blood that still flecked his arms and clothes.
The two hunters then departed into the dark, star-sprinkled cloak
of night, leaving the vampires’ crypt and its blood-scented, musty air
to its place in oblivion…
Nathaniel drowsily opened his sleep-laden eyes when a dark shadow fell upon the table, the light blocked out with the sound of the vaguely-familiar feminine voice. Looking upwards as he sat back against his chair, he saw a very young, blond-haired, hunter-green garbed woman—the voice’s owner. The hunter sucked in an inaudible breath at the sight of her companion, a tall, dark-clad man of apparent noble bearing. However, his features were like that of white marble; his gold-hued eyes, silvery-blond hair and ghost-pale complexion sent a faint chill down his spine.
A huge, beaming smile creased the young lady’s face when her gaze fell upon Nathaniel’s. "Dear God, how long has it been?" she said, startling the other when she clasped his hand. "Nathaniel, do you remember? It’s me, Maria Renard!"
Nathaniel, his words struck silent by the shock as his confused and muddled mind searched frantically for the memory that teased the tip of his brain, let his widening gaze settle upon the woman’s face. If only he could remember anything, anything at all of the memories that had somehow been stripped from his mind…
Within the pale, yet comforting light of the small, Transylvanian town, the two victorious hunters could see a few brave villagers tempting the night to repair the age-old wooden crucifixes that surrounded the village buildings. Their faces showed the defiance they would face the darkness with, yet there was still the fear of the stalkers of the night that shown in their eyes like perfectly-cut diamonds.
Either the people were too busy to notice or their fear dulled their senses, no one bothered to stop either Richter or Nathaniel as the pair quickly entered the first house closest to the town gate—Annette’s home.
The heavy oaken door shut behind the hunters with a dull thunk. Feeling very uneasy, Nathaniel peered out a nearby window, glancing at the scurrying villagers with scrutiny. "They work as though possessed by something," he finally murmured, turning from the window to face Richter.
The other only nodded as he carefully unwrapped the bandanna from his wound. The bleeding had slowed to nearly a stop. "They fear the threat of the minions of Darkness," Richter finally said, wincing as the bandage was removed from the injury. "The creatures we killed were only the beginning…I fear that the time that Castlevania will rise again is drawing near."
Nathaniel’s next words were stilled within his throat when the sounds of rapid footfalls fluttered into the room. A light, girlish voice seemed to emanate like a song with its youth.
"Richter! Nathaniel!" the voice rang. "You’re back!"
Like a golden-haired faerie in a wood, the voice’s owner seemed to dance into the room before stopping before the two hunters. She was a young girl, probably around the age of twelve, with radiant blond hair and brilliant azure eyes. Her aura was one of good cheer and kindness.
Richter smiled gently at the sprite-child. "Have you been a good girl while we were away, Maria?" he questioned softly.
Maria nodded vigorously. "Uh huh! Sister Annette seemed really worried, though." She paused briefly, looking up and directly into Richter’s eyes. "You went hunting again, didn’t you? Why didn’t you take me with you?"
Just as quickly as it had come, the hazy image was now gone, echoing away into nothingness.
Maria seemed a bit confused at the almost dumbfounded expression plastered upon Nathaniel’s face. Allianna, still sitting across from him, also turned her attention to the young man, probably the most confused of all.
Then, as if something in his mind clicked, Nathaniel’s eyes lit up in realization and his jaw seemed to drop. "M-Maria!?" his voice burst, expression still one of shock as he abruptly rose from his chair, nearly knocking it over in his haste. "It’s been so long! You’ve grown to be quite refined, I must say!"
"Where have you been all these years?" Maria continued, her hands still clasped over Nathaniel’s. "I haven’t seen you since the time Richter went into Castlevania over five years ago!"
Nathaniel’s expression fell into a more serious, somewhat saddened look as he turned to face Allianna, who merely blinked in surprise. "I do not know exactly what happened," he murmured, "but my memories since past five years before seem like a haze…"
Maria seemed confused by his words but thought nothing of it. Behind her, the black-clad man continued to be dreadfully silent, golden gaze watching both Nathaniel and Allianna critically. Nathaniel dared to say something…
"So Maria," the young man said, his voice faint, "who is your companion here?"
The dark-clad man’s attention settled fully upon Nathaniel as Maria glanced back briefly. "Oh," she said, turning to the side, "let me introduce you to—"
"Adrian," the darker one intoned, his voice smooth and cultured yet deep and foreboding. "That is my name."
Nathaniel bowed his head slightly, although somewhat disturbed by the voice. "Nathaniel Greenbriar," he said, offering his hand. "’Tis a pleasure to meet you."
The man calling himself "Adrian" took hold of the offered greeting with his own, black-gloved hand. Nathaniel found himself flinching as he quickly noted the stranger’s unusually-powerful, vice-like grip. The strength seemed cold, unnatural, as though the man before him wasn’t…human. Yet, deeply etched within the man’s pale, icy face was a burden so heavy that the young hunter could feel his heart almost quake.
Maria finally broke the unseen ice. "So Nathaniel," she said, pointing to the silent Allianna, "would you introduce us to your friend here?"
The other young woman quietly rose from her chair, the gleam from the fireplace casting highlights and shadows dancing across her features. "I am Allianna Dunsvane," she murmured, her voice soft and almost inaudible, "vampire hunter and hunting partner to Nathaniel." She promptly bowed slightly and then settled herself back upon her chair, silent once more.
Nathaniel, although startled by his companion’s abruptness, waved a hand to the quiet Allianna, smiling back to Maria. "I met her a bit less than five years ago," he said, his smile broadening as he saw Allianna blush slightly. "She’s a remarkable fighter, I must say."
The young man stood aside, offering the others a place to sit. "Maria, you must enlighten me on the events of five years and up to this time," he said as the two visitors seated themselves, the darker stranger sitting somewhat distant from the assembled.
The fireplace seemed to flare into life before dulling as Maria cleared
her throat. "Where do I begin?" she said, beaming.
Allianna sat silently in her chair, hands folded within her lap. Her dark eyes were cast low, avoiding eye contact with anyone. The blush that had previously colored her cheeks had quickly melted away, revealing her pale, ghostly features. Her thin lips were drawn in a straight line as she listened to Maria and Nathaniel converse, her pallid face, contrasting sharply with her jet ebony hair, seemingly a mask of contemplation and sorrow.
Alucard’s thin eyes narrowed, although the change in his demeanor appeared insignificant. It wasn’t Allianna’s physical appearance that alarmed him now…but the scent of her blood. He could instantly recognize that she was not fully human. The dhampire sensed that the woman in his presence…was a werewolf.
But something about the lycanthrope confused Alucard greatly. He sensed no immediate, greater power controlling her…however, there WAS something – a burning motivation for revenge. So strong was this lust for vengeance that Alucard actually felt himself flinching.
All of Allianna’s aspects seemed completely unnatural to the dhampire. Both sorrow and the single-minded need for revenge; the young woman was a very unusual creature indeed. Alucard’s eyes narrowed further. His own instincts clashed; one side did not trust the lycanthrope, the other…the other felt pity for her existence. It was as if he could sympathize with her…
For a brief, fleeting moment, Allianna’s dark sienna eyes flashed upwards and met with Alucard’s cold, golden-hued gaze. The young vampire hunter’s face became even more pallid; the dhampire then could have sworn he could feel Allianna’s fury spark up and then well back down, as if she put a tight leash upon it, curbing it.
Could it have been that Allianna had sensed something? Alucard’s thin lips formed a straight line within his stony features as his grim eyes settled completely upon the young woman’s face. It was now more than obvious that she held a bitter resentment towards vampires…and even more obvious that her enhanced senses detected the scent of one…
Alucard then knew that Allianna might be a deadly threat.