"Nathaniel, I must speak with you."
Nathaniel sat up upon the soft mattress of his bed, blue eyes set upon Allianna, who was lying upon her own bed at the far opposite side of the small inn room. One of his eyebrows rose questioningly at the young woman’s tone of urgency. "Is something the matter?" he said softly.
The dim light of the single burning candle that faintly illuminated the room from the stand between them cast eerie shadows over Allianna’s pale face. Nathaniel became alarmed by the expression of bitterness that creased the woman’s demeanor.
"’Tis about ‘Adrian’, as he calls himself," Allianna finally said, her voice bitter and caustic. She turned her head and made eye contact with Nathaniel. Her eyes blazed dangerously. "I caught the scent of his blood…and he has the blood of a vampire in his veins."
Nathaniel’s eyes widened, taken aback by Allianna’s vehement words. "Vampire?" he said, almost as if questioning himself. His voice noted his distress. "But surely Maria would have sensed something, if she too is a hunter… There must be something different about this one!"
Allianna’s angered expression changed little. "Oh, he IS unusual," she murmured, voice still carrying a harsh tone. "He also carries HUMAN blood within him. He’s a half-breed, a dhampire."
Nathaniel was shocked into silence. Maria’s companion was a DHAMPIRE? A product of one of the most forbidden of unions? Something just was not clear; the unknown burden he had seen in "Adrian’s" eyes was so great that it had quelled any former suspicions about his uncanny strength. Everything seemed to go against the hunter’s developed instincts, everything he thought he knew about the creatures he hunted. Things had become complicated…
Nathaniel slumped back against his bed, hands behind his tawny head. "Allianna," he whispered, eyes locked upon the dimly-lit ceiling, "have you considered that…well, that this dhampire is burdened by his existence? Perhaps he is much like you; there was such an aura of sorrow around him that now I’m having second thoughts."
Allianna sat up sharply, her eyes blazing like coals. "I have no love for vampires or their bastard kin," she hissed, blind in her hatred. "Until I find the vampire who bestowed the Wolf’s Curse upon me, this dhampire had best not cross my path!"
Nathaniel fell completely silent, concerned. "Surely you do not mean such vindictive words," he finally said. "Aren’t even vampires entitled to a chance at redemption, to live as humans, to quell their blood urges and to experience sorrow and emotion as do we?"
Allianna’s mask of anger suddenly melted as Nathaniel’s words hit her. "I…I never considered that…" came the faint reply.
"Maria MUST know that ‘Adrian’ is a dhampire," Nathaniel continued, one again gazing at the ceiling. "She is an excellent judge of character. Perhaps…perhaps she felt compelled to help him in some way."
A flash of lightning briefly lit up the small room as the sounds of the storm outside continued to toll like a death bell. Allianna abruptly shuddered at the unnatural sounds as she turned to her side, staring into the darkness beyond the window. Nathaniel’s words made an impact upon the confused woman’s mind. When they had been within the crowded tavern, talking to Maria Renard and the enigmatic dhampire, she had the gravest feeling that "Adrian" sensed the Wolf’s Curse; his demeanor had dropped its icy tone for one of alarm. She decided to voice her concern.
"Nathaniel, I think the dhampire sensed that I am…" Her voice died off.
"The Curse?" Nathaniel quickly sat up. "He sensed the Curse?"
"I saw the expression on his face. He must know."
Nathaniel frowned deeply, eyebrows furrowed. "Not good," he muttered.
"This is NOT good."
Maria could feel some imaginary weight pull at her jaw. She could hardly believe what Alucard was telling her! "Are you SURE you sensed the Wolf’s Curse?" she questioned again, eyes wide.
Alucard stood before the inn room’s window, only an hour after they had been within the tavern, conversing with Nathaniel Greenbriar and Allianna Dunsvane. His arms were crossed, one gloved finger curled upon the tip of his chin. "I am quite certain she is a werewolf," he said, not turning from where he stood. "There is not a single doubt in my mind."
Maria set herself roughly upon her bed, slumping back as her eyes seemed to go out of focus. She had been so wrapped up in talking to Nathaniel that she had failed to notice anything unusual about his companion. However, what confused her the most was why a lycanthrope would choose to become a vampire hunter in the first place…
Alucard seemed to be reading Maria’s thoughts as he continued to stand at the window like a vigilant guard. "That woman seems to be after revenge," he said, not bothering to turn. The harsh flash of a not-so-distant streak of lightning lit up his marble-like face. "She also sensed just what I am; apparently, if my assumption is correct, Allianna’s Curse was forced upon her by one of my father’s kind."
"She was cursed by a vampire…?" came Maria’s slightly muffled reply. Still slumped back on the bed, she continued to stare at Alucard through her half-focused eyes. She felt disturbed and quickly sat up.
Maria was bothered by the fact that Alucard had used the name "Adrian" when hesitantly introducing himself. His entire attitude to the vampire hunter pair seemed highly unusual; was he suspicious of their intentions? He mentioned the name "Greenbriar" as though familiar with it and the side-winding answer he had given about the name was enough to make Maria’s head spin.
Alucard finally turned away from the window, causing Maria to snap out of her dumbfounded expression. "’Tis late," he intoned, his voice suddenly grim once more. "’Twould be best if you rested, Maria."
The young woman seemed ever thankful to hear those words as she slumped onto the bed once more, an exhausted sigh escaping her slight frame. Pulling the bed covers over her, she paused briefly to glance back at Alucard, who had once again turned to gaze out the window and the night’s tempest beyond. "Are you not going to sleep?" she asked the dhampire, almost cautious in tone.
Alucard shook his head. "Nay," he said quietly, unmoving from his vigil, "weariness I feel not, therefore I need not rest."
Maria shrugged at the response. "Suit yourself," she said, then paused once again. "Alucard…?"
"Please…" Maria’s voice hesitated somewhat, uncertain. "Please let Nathaniel and Allianna be. I feel they intend us no harm…"
Her voice trailed off. Alucard glanced at the young woman briefly.
"Very well," he said, and said nothing more.
Maria felt somewhat reassured by those words. Letting her head
sink onto the bed’s goose-feather pillow, she let her thoughts rest as
the blackness of sleep consumed her.
Flames. Flames everywhere, consuming everything. Panic strangling her heart, Allianna stumbled through the burning building that had been her home since birth, choking from the murky smoke as she desperately searched.
"Illene!! Erin!!" she cried, coughing violently as the smoke clogged her lungs. Her voice grew hoarse. The roar of the dancing conflagration was deafening as she fumbled about her blazing surroundings, blind and weeping. They had to be somewhere! She couldn’t give up, not yet…not while her sisters and mother could still be alive!
Allianna’s trembling heart nearly jumped out of her throat when she caught a small flash of movement just ahead of her. "Illene?" she said as best she could with her quaking voice. "Is that you…?"
The black streak moved once again, faster than quicksilver out the flaming rim of a nearby window. Out of the same direction, the young woman could have sworn she heard a low scream of terror. She blindly stumbled to the source of the sound, careful not to let herself be snagged by the surrounding rubble, her eyes clogged with smoke-induced tears.
Allianna sucked in her terrified breath when she saw the scene two stories below her. On her knees upon the dusty, ash-lined ground was a young woman about five years younger than herself, surrounded by six, grotesquely-twisted, hunchbacked beasts. A most terrifying looks of anticipation glinted within their eyes as they sensed the terror within their cowering victim as guttural, twisted mockeries of laughter rumbled within their fleshy throats.
The wild, feverish look of fear within the surrounded girl’s eyes glimmered for a brief moment when she caught sight of Allianna. Her voice let out a strangled cry.
Allianna’s reflexes seemed to snap upon hearing the voice. "ILLENE!!" she screamed, daring to move closer to the flaming window rim. She immediately cursed herself for being unable to reach her sister…but even if she could, she was no match for the beasts that had surrounded Illene!
As if fate were moving against her, the conflagration that barred Allianna’s way erupted into a solid wall of flame, destroying the hazy image of her sister and the demons. Even so, Illene’s voice gave out one more shrill cry.
"ALLIANNA!!" came the scream. "The Demon!!"
Allianna’s heart leapt into her shivering throat. The now-ragged voice continued it’s terrified cries.
"The Demon…he took Mother! He wants her blood! ALLIANNA!!"
"Who has Mother!?" Allianna finally howled back when the terrible scream reached her ears, her hoarse voice barely managing to overpower the roar of the flames. "Who is this Demon!?"
Illene’s voice did not return her sister’s frantic callings; the only sounds that remained belonged to the fire-filled night and the exhaustion of buildings no longer willing to fight their violators. "Illene…!?" Allianna whimpered once again, desperate. "Illene, answer me! Please!!"
No answer…there was no answer. The crackling of the searing flames was the only response to the helpless pleas. Allianna sunk to her knees, new tears spilling from her reddened eyes, her body weary and close to giving up. All around her were the sounds of destruction, of a literal Hell. She could have sworn that she heard some sort of demonic laugh ringing in her ears, as if sent to taunt her…
And then she realized…that the cackling was not her imagination. Allianna’s instincts screamed at her to flee, that there was a terrible threat looming up behind her—the same threat that took her sister. Slowly turning her head, her body tensed as if ready to spring into flight, she faced the source of the sound at her back.
Like a wraith awaiting to snatch its victim into the night, the source
of the guttural laughter—another of the hunchbacked demons—sprung from
its hiding place within the flames. Then, all that filled Allianna’s
vision were flashing yellow fangs and shadows as the beast loomed over
A thoughtful expression creased Nathaniel’s face as he stared off into the distant countryside, firs and other hardy trees hiding the land in a blanket of darkness. The occasional streak of pale-white lightning briefly shed light upon the needle-sharp tree tops, the following thunder cascading from the clouds like crystalline water down a stream. Three hours past midnight and he found himself unable to sleep, much less rest. His thoughts, troubled, drifted back to Allianna, who was still asleep within their room, five doors down the hall. How confused the poor woman had been, and how so he could relate…
Allianna’s curse had been bestowed to her by a vampire, giving her reason to hate them so, no matter their breeding or if they had human blood within them or not. But…as he thought of this, Nathaniel could remembered the look he had seen within Adrian’s—the dhampire’s—eyes. He had never seen such pain, such a burden, never in one man’s soul. Never within the eyes of a vampire’s kin. What he had seen went completely against everything he had previously learned, what he had once thought—that all vampires were dishonorable, bloodsucking parasites that found delight in plaguing humanity.
Would it be possible for Allianna to understand? Nathaniel mused as he leaned forward a little more, resting his chin within his cupped hand. A hollow pang filled his chest with a sensation he could not describe with words. I should have more faith in her. She is always willing to learn, to try to understand what many others are afraid to…
Yet another stinging sensation rippled through his heart, a feeling that frequently followed thoughts of Allianna. No other had ever made such an impact upon his life than the young woman, no other had given him a better reason to fulfill his purpose as a vampire hunter. As he stared off into the rain-soaked countryside, the faint night breeze shifting his fine sienna hair, Nathaniel knew exactly what his heart was trying to tell him.
However…would he be able to bring himself to tell Allianna how much he cared about her? No, not yet. Now was not the time. But what if, some day, he would pursue a vampire too powerful to combat…? He would have missed the chance to confess his feelings…
The low echo of booted footfalls startled the young man out of his deeply troubled thoughts as he turned to the source of the sound. Standing at the broad opening to the balcony, dark cape blacking out any meager light that may have been shed within the building during that nightly hour, was "Adrian", the one Allianna sensed to be a dhampire.
Expression as somber as ever, Adrian stepped up to the balcony, next to Nathaniel’s left side, and leaned upon the railing, silent. Nathaniel felt somewhat anxious at the dhampire’s entrance; however, he also said nothing as he remained where he stood, leaning against the oaken balcony rail, staring off into the storm-soaked wilderness outside the town.
"So how long have you known Maria, may I ask?" Adrian said, his cultured and noble voice breaking the silence.
Nathaniel finally looked up and glanced upon the dhampire’s face. Adrian was now looking at him, expecting an answer. "Well over five years, I believe," the vampire hunter responded softly. "This was the first time I’ve seen her in years." He paused. "How did you meet Maria, by the way?"
Adrian let his golden-hued gaze travel back to the wilderness surroundings. "She helped me…in some complicated matters. In a sense, she is still helping me."
Nathaniel’s eyes narrowed slightly as the answer baffled him.
He decided not to press further as he leaned against the railing a little
harder, almost finding it unusual that he was standing beside a Darkling
without his weapons drawn.
Looming over her head, hanging from the ceiling by its ebony claws, was a sleek, black shape that resembled the stuff of nightmares. The creature’s baleful yellow eyes glinted a faint bloody red as a fang-filled snarl creased its twisted features. How did the beast escape from her dreams!?
Allianna quickly realized that what she was facing was no nightmare, but a frightening reality. The demon’s head cocked over to the side and, with a slight cackling sound issuing from its maw, detached itself from the ceiling and plummeted down.
Allianna screamed as loud as her lungs empowered her to as she dove
away from her hunter…
The terrified scream that broke the night ripped through Alucard’s sensitive senses like a leaden weight. Beside him, the owner of the screamed name spun around, a look of horror plastered upon his face. In the flash of the eye, a long-bladed silvery sword winked out of its sheath and into Nathaniel’s gloved hand, a trait of speed known only to vampire hunters. The young man was gone less than a second later, beyond the balcony entrance and into the darkened hall.
Alucard’s nose wrinkled, his own hand clasped around the hilt of his sword. Something in the air clung with a putrid scent. The scent of corruption, of death—there was a demon within the inn!
Another scream rent the air, followed by several clamorous thuds and crashes of breaking wood and tumbled doors. Following the hasty path Nathaniel disappeared through, Alucard drew forth his own heirloom blade and entered a scene that looked painfully familiar to the sights he thought he had defeated not that long before.
Pinned to the hard wooden floor, struggling to defend herself from the black monstrosity that loomed before her with dagger-like teeth and razor-sharp claws, was Allianna. Numerous gashes streaked through her blood-stained tunic and leggings as the demon continued to mindlessly flail its black claws at its prey. A look of panic was upon Allianna’s face.
Upon seeing this sight, Alucard tensed up, ready to cleave the demon’s head from its shoulders with a clean swipe from his sword. However, he was not the first to take action as Nathaniel, appearing like an unseen spirit, lunged forward and rammed into the beast with all his power, toppling it into the wall.
"Adrian!" the vampire hunter shouted as he readied his sword, standing in front of the gasping Allianna in a protective manner. "Let me handle this!"
Alucard’s eyebrow rose questioningly, but he hesitantly sheathed his weapon as he stepped back, watching Nathaniel intently, wondering what the young man was planning as he narrowed his eyes and grimaced.
"That’s as far as you go, monster," Nathaniel hissed as the demon struggled back to its feet, a low growl issuing from its deformed throat as it turned its baleful gaze to the hunter. Then, growl turning into an enraged roar, the demon sprung forward, aiming to kill.
Nathaniel’s serious demeanor did not waver as he remained poised, waiting for the demon to close in. Then…he made his move.
A hot white glow erupted from Nathaniel’s blade, forcing the surprised Alucard to shield his eyes. The beast let out a terrified squeal as its unwholesome form was bathed in the holy light. The brilliant sword then flashed upwards with a flick of Nathaniel’s wrist, connecting with the demon’s throat and passing through as if striking through water, toppling the head from its shoulders.
The heavenly light cleared out as quickly as it had been summoned, leaving the wrecked hallway to the quiet darkness it had been in before the intruder had attacked. Allianna was still shocked into silence, her terrified eyes wide and her breath coming in short, painful gasps. Nathaniel immediately sheathed his weapon and knelt down to her, cradling the frightened woman in his arms. "’Tis over," the young man murmured softly. "Allianna, it’s over. The demon is dead, it’s okay now…"
Alucard silently stepped forward, stopping at the demon’s body and looking down as he absently listened to Nathaniel’s attempts to calm Allianna. The stump where the beast’s head had been before was sizzling, as if struck with a hot iron…the effect of holy power on the minions of the Devil. The dhampire’s nose wrinkled at the cloying stench.
Allianna snapped back to her senses, her eyes still wide. "Nathaniel!" she gasped, throwing her arms around the young man and clutching him tightly, her body still shivering. "The demon…just like the ones…that killed my family…"
Alucard looked up sharply, his golden eyes now focused on Allianna. "Demons?" he questioned, his voice hard. "You were being hunted?"
Both Nathaniel and Allianna glanced at Alucard. "I…I haven’t seen
a beast that looked like THAT since…since…" Allianna’s voice died
off with a shudder as she buried her face into Nathaniel’s shirt and wept
Alucard could feel his mind burning with a dozen unanswered questions. Even more burning was his sense of uneasiness that was linked to Allianna. Why would a demon come after that woman, amidst a crowded town, just to kill her in her sleep? There was more to her than there seemed…and it was obvious that Nathaniel was the only other to know the full story…
The sounds of numerous footsteps, both rapid ones and slower, shuffling
ones, echoed down the battered hallway as inn patrons, roused by the terrible
sounds of the fray, came out of their rooms with candles lit, wondering
what horrid sounds had been. The passage was soon filled with a dull
light and numerous people, voices converging into a blend of murmurs and
Alucard could sense the myriad of eyes gazing upon himself, the huddled Allianna, Nathaniel and the vile, decapitated body that lay prone before his own boots. Several concerned murmurs rippled through the crowd.
"What in God’s name happened here?" came the masculine voice of one of the villagers.
"It sounded like the dead reawakening!" another voice echoed.
Nathaniel let out a heavy sigh as he continued to hold Allianna in his protective embrace. "I can explain," he started, turning to face the body in the hall. His eyes fell upon Alucard for a brief moment.
The dhampire remained stony-faced and silent as he met the young man’s gaze, which soon traveled to the demon’s body at his boots. Alucard’s eyes narrowed as he, too, glanced at the carcass.
What would occur next was beyond anyone’s expectations. The black body started to fizzle violently, as if the skin had been thrust into a vat of acid. Alucard took a step back, his eyes widening as the corpse’s bones creaked and shifted, its form twisting into a more human cast. Gasps of shock erupted from the crowd as they swayed back, seeming to try to get away from the fizzling body as much as humanly possible. Nathaniel’s jaw hung open in an expression of disbelief and Allianna’s eyes continued to glimmer with frightened, unshed tears.
"What the Hell…!?" was all Alucard could say through gritted teeth, his voice tight and harsh as the body at his feet lost its inhuman visage and turned from demon…to man.
Silence immediately blanketed the hallway; it was all to painfully obvious
that not a single soul had missed the transformation. Soon, murmurs
of "witchcraft" and "Devil’s minions" rippled and meshed through the hall.
Eyes centered upon the three vampire hunters with blaming gazes, as if
they were the cause of the demon’s intrusion. Alucard easily knew
that there would be no reasoning with the mob and their quickly growing
"Alright, alright! I’m coming!" Maria shouted as to make herself heard over the fist that shook the door. Taking hold of the brass handle, the young woman prepared to see what was so urgent.
Just as she got a hold of the handle, the door suddenly flew open, nearly knocking Maria off of her feet. The entire hallway was packed with villagers, the dim light reflecting off of the angered expressions on their faces. The young hunter flinched when she heard words like "witch" and "Hellspawn" flutter from the mouths of the mob.
"W-What’s going on?" Maria tried to question over the din. She immediately sensed the crowd’s hatred well up.
"No explanations to witches!" came the venomous response as two of the villagers grasped the young woman by the arms and hoisted her up and onto her feet.
"Witch!?" Maria’s eyes widened as the troop literally began to drag her out of the room. "I don’t know what you’re talking about!"
"You’ll see soon enough!"
The rancid stench of burning flesh greeted Maria’s nose as she was forced out of her room, the evidence of a struggle quite evident from the wreckage that dotted the hall. She immediately gained a feeling that something must have happened between Alucard, Nathaniel and Allianna…but her heart immediately sank with dread when she spotted the decapitated corpse that lay prone upon the darker corner of the hallway.
The body was naked, obviously that of a man’s. But something did not seem right. Black steam hissed from the remains and the blood that seeped from the open neck was deep red, almost black. Just a few feet from the torso, the head could be seen…but it, unlike the body, was far from human; twisted, yellow fangs, black-scaled skin, red eyes and a forked tongue brought up a vision of a demon.
So that’s what it was, Maria thought, pursing her lips. Those sounds I heard before… There had been a fight and I slept through it! At least this means Alucard and Nathaniel did not come to arms against each other…
But something else quickly began to worry the young woman. None
of the villagers that surrounded her seemed thankful that the demon had
been vanquished…the direct opposite was quite evident. Maria bit
her lip in confusion. It seemed she would find her answers sooner
and more up-close than she would like…