(For those who read the last chapter, I did screw up a few details. The characters of Dracula were not all Americans. Quincy Morris was a Texan and I think he was the only American. I also was not aware that Alucard and Sonia had had any romantic involvement when I started this story, so if you're wondering why I didn't say anything about her when Alucard was poring over the notes in the last chapter, that's why. I may throw in something in this story, but since I didn't know about it, it won't hardly be mentioned, so don't harass me on this little detail. :grin: Thank you, Kurt, for setting me straight.)
When Richter had taught Alucard all he knew, the half-breed gained the knowledge easily with his otherworldly skills, strength, and speed. By contrast, little Louis Belmont was agonizingly difficult to teach and so very slow to pick up. It's not that the boy wasn't trying, that Alucard was certain. Oftentimes while he was poring over the family histories, he could hear the child practicing with the whip, the dagger, anything he could get his hands on. It took Alucard a week to figure out that Louis was still a child and was therefore limited in strength and sometimes could not physically perform at the same level of an adult vampire hunter. With this knowledge in mind, Alucard tried being more patient to his charge even though he was not a very patient man by nature, especially with humans.
It seemed to work though. Louis was a diligent enough student and went out of his way to be helpful. He also stayed out of Alucard's way whenever the training was done, which was also a relief, since Alucard had better things to do with his time than trying to solve a little child's problems. The half-breed still planned to dump off his charge at the nearest site of Sypha's descendants, so there was no reason and no chance of getting attached to the child like some housepet.
There were times when he would allow Louis to talk to him. Sometimes Louis just had a question about a certain technique or which was the right weapon to attack a certain group of foes. Other times, the child would ask questions about Alucard's family, something the half-breed really didn't care to discuss and would stop the small Belmont in mid-sentence with a glare. A lot of the questions were about the history of the Belmont family, which Alucard didn't mind (too much) sharing. It was just the way the child looked at him sometimes that bothered him. He had never once been afraid of anything Alucard had to say to him, even if topics got particularly gruesome.
But then there were really strange things that happened with the child that made Alucard stay up late at night and ponder. The one that really stood out in his mind was when he had been trying to find his sword (one of his last family remembrances) and Louis trotted out from his room, holding the large blade with both of his palms.
"What are you doing with that blade?" Alucard yelled at him. "I've been looking for that everywhere!"
Louis flinched as though he'd been struck. "I . . . I was sharpening it for you, Mr. Alucard," he answered in a small voice. "You . . . you said that it needed to be sharpened, 'cause it was sitting in a cave for about 150 years. You're always so busy making plans, so I thought I'd save you some trouble." He looked up at Alucard with his large brown eyes, almost with the fear of rejection. Rejection of what, Alucard had no clue.
Quietly, the half-breed took the sword from his charge's hands and critically eyed the length. Indeed, it looked a lot sharper and keener than it had before. He looked back down at the child, still looking up at him with a fear of rejection and a tiny shred of hope. "I suppose you did save me some time," he admitted, and sheathed the sword.
Louis's face lit up with pleasure and he stood up a little straighter. "I'm glad you like it so much." He startled Alucard again with one of those hugs and skipped away, happy. These were times when he wasn't quite sure he wanted to have the child underfoot, but he almost felt guilty for thinking of it.
At least the child obeyed whenever he had had to leave the protected area surrounding the cottage. He had several times; one time to get his things from his safehold in the hills and once to scan the village of Wakariya. That village was a no-go. Already, Alucard could see that his father's minions were silently permeating the depths of the human habitat.
Alucard still had no clue why all this was happening now, in 1946, and not several decades down the line. But then again, Alucard had never before sensed the currents in the air. He could almost feel the earth shrieking with outrage . . . with what, he didn't know. Death was an almost tangible feeling, something that could almost be tasted on the tongue, but that feeling was ebbing away in minute amounts. Perhaps he would have to find someone to explain this feeling of death in the air.
At last, it seemed as though he could teach nothing more to the dark-haired child, and so Alucard abruptly ended the training time. Three weeks was certainly not enough for Louis to know everything, but it would have to do. In order to travel inconspicuously, Alucard had had to procure some less aristocratic clothes. He didn't tell Louis that he had gotten the clothes from the belongings of several of his dead family members. It was the closest place Alucard could think of and one that would now be the least dangerous. He did feel a twinge of something as he walked inside the deserted house and took the clothes from one of Louis's uncles. Life had completely left the place. The bodies of all the Belmonts had been left to rot, some of them left in several obscene poses which suggested that the men, as well as the women, were subject to the whims of the monsters who had eventually killed them.
Alucard growled at a twinge of what humans called "conscience." Sighing, he had transformed into a wolf and had dug a large mass grave for all the Belmonts, dragged them in, one by one, and covered up the grave. Picking up his sack of pilfered belongings, Alucard walked all around the property. There weren't any bodies of any of Dracula's minions. They had probably been eaten by the living hordes of hell. He did spy the massive picture stone that Louis had mentioned to him. Indeed, on the stone was a carved picture of him. Strangely, he looked almost friendly, if a bit sad, not at all like the smoothly evil visage of his father. Inexplicably, Alucard grew very angry at the stone and at a promise that seemed more and more as though he'd been forced to give. Damn you, Richter, he thought.
That had been a week ago. Wearing his more common clothes he walked through the barrier, feeling the odd sensation of being watched. Louis stopped to wave to the little cottage and trotted effortlessly through the barrier. He still wore a homespun type of shirt and breeches, but also wore a small belt that held his whip and dagger and a special pouch that carried the smaller items, such as holy water. He seemed to be a very sober looking child, not inclined to laugh or say anything at all unless Alucard asked him something. Somehow, this seemed vaguely wrong to the half-breed, but he couldn't exactly say why. One thing hadn't changed, however. Louis always called him the same thing. "Mr. Alucard, where do we go from here?" Alucard's icy gaze raked the sky, partially hidden by the heights of the trees. "We cannot go back to your home or your village. There is nothing in your home and the village of Wakariya is overrun with my father's minions. We have no idea where Castlevania has decided to spring up in this day and age. While you have stayed here and trained, you know I have taken occasional trips. While I also did it to find my things, I have also been scanning the area. The best place for us now is the town of Tirgoviste. It's a big enough place to hide in. It's also on the banks of the Dimbovita River, so the odds are good that there is some kind of shipping going on. We might have to get a boat if Castlevania has surfaced some ways away."
"Doesn't the Dimbovita connect to the Danube, Mr. Alucard? And doesn't that eventually go into the Black Sea? There'd be sailors there. I think I remember my parents saying something about how friends of the family were always sailors called...nasty...something..."
A rare sign of amusement elicited a small smile of Alucard. "DaNasty, you mean. They should know something then, if they live in Tirgoviste." (Author's note: The Dimbovita is an actual river that does connect to the Danube. Tirgoviste was a town at the time of Vlad Tepes in the mid 15th century. I have no idea if it exists now, but if the Belmonts can come from the town of Wakariya, and that's made up, I figure I can throw in some literary license too.;)
He turned towards the northwest. "Tirgoviste lies about thirty miles in that direction. Since it's a city, there won't be any chance of me being able to hunt for both of us for food. We'll have to buy some supplies there. Getting there will be faster if I travel as a wolf." Louis nodded and slung the knapsack of family treasures over his shoulder. The strange pendant he had happily let Alucard carry, since it was obvious to Louis's mind that it was written in those old languages that only Alucard had the smarts to figure out.
Louis had been trying hard to please his new caretaker. It seemed that he'd never be able to be open with the half-breed, not like his parents. So all his sad feelings and uncertainties had to be kept carefully under wraps. It hurt so much inside, but it wasn't anything he could tell Alucard. He obviously had more important things to do than to listen to Louis cry over the loss of his family. It didn't matter, though. Louis's devotion to Alucard was growing steadily stronger with each day, even though Alucard was downright mean to him sometimes. He's not perfect, but he's going to help me get rid of all the bad people who killed my family. I just have to be good and listen to everything he says. Nothing mattered anymore but helping Alucard.
He stood patiently while Alucard transformed into the sleek, muscular beast. He mounted the oversized wolf with care and grabbed onto the scruff. Alucard-wolf took off down the path at a trot, occasionally sprinting up and over large hills. The occasional low hanging tree branch would whip across Louis's face, but he remained stoically silent, as though his silence could somehow aid in Alucard-wolf's speed.
Both of them reached the outskirts of Tirgoviste by nightfall. All seemed very silent, but sounds of late night revelry could be heard by the harbor. The occasional drunken sailor was evidence that the taverns were having good business. Along the shadowy, strangely paved roads, the two walked close together. To prevent upsetting any people in the town, Louis promised to refer to Alucard as "Mr. Fairheights," using the half-breed's human last name. Alucard kept a close eye on Louis. It wouldn't do to have one of Dracula's minions take the child away now. He kept reaching for a cloak that wasn't on his shoulders and that irritated him more than anything.
"Look, Mr. Fairheights. You think that might be a place to look?" Louis asked, pointing to a tavern sign. Alucard looked up. The sign read simply as "Grant's Tavern." Alucard nodded. He had read something about a tavern with Grant DaNasty's name in the Belmont family records. He hadn't known it was in this town, but in any event, help would surely be found here . . . if the DaNasty clan hadn't forgotten about the old ways.
Louis's startled yelp whipped Alucard back to alertness. A small, wiry sailor had leapt from the darkness and was running pell-mell towards Alucard. Snarling, the half-breed sidestepped the sailor and kicked him in the back with unnatural speed. More sailors were running out from the shadows. Two men tried to rush him, but a whip smacked into their faces. "Get back!" Louis howled. He stood in front of Alucard, cracking the whip threateningly. "Leave him alone!"
Before Alucard had a chance to register surprise at his charge's actions, a taller, broader sailor strode out of the tavern and started smacking the heads of the attackers with the flat of his cutlass. "Stop fighting, ya lummoxes! Can't you see that's no demon yer fighting?" Many curses and oaths were thrown at the bigger man, but everyone obeyed and put away their weapons.
The big man sheathed his cutlass and walked towards the pair. "Sorry about that misunderstanding. I can sees yer not a demon."
"Not a demon my ass! You all saw how fast he kicked me in the back!" argued the injured sailor.
"Shut the hell up, Wendell. He may be not human, but he's no demon. No demon of Dracula is going to have a Belmont with 'im. Unless the unnatural fellow be a vampire friend named Alucard, am I right?" Alucard nodded. Obviously some people still held the old stories true.
All the sailors began to apologize profusely. "Sorry 'bout that," a grizzled sailor said, extending a hand. "We's heard stories from Wakariya how they're all crawlin' with beasties and the like from the Demon King. Ya looked like the Demon King hisself, so we attacked first 'stead of askin' questions." Louis and Alucard shook the proffered hand.
"I think we can all talk it over some grog inside, mates. C'mon in, both of you." Louis clipped the whip to his belt and walked inside with Alucard and the rest of the men. The inside of the tavern was a cheap affair: a couple of tables, chairs, a fireplace, a simple bar, all showing signs of age and staining. Some of the wooden floor planks looked a bit warped with one too many spilled beers.
The big sailor sat Alucard and Louis down at a table near the fireplace. He picked up two mugs at the bar and sat down with them. He pushed a mug towards Louis, who looked a little leery at it, until he peeked inside and saw it held milk, not anything his parents would've said he wasn't supposed to drink. The big sailor took a long pull from his seaweed grog and set it down with a clank. "Needed that," he explained to both of them. "Sorry about attackin' ya like that. M' name's Chandler DaNasty, head of these lunkheads here." A chorus of raucous "ayes" filled the tavern. "We DaNasty's keep the river clean of any filth from the Demon King. Nothing we can't handle, or could for heaps of generations. Now since the war's been over, all kinds of nasties are being found on the Dimbovita."
"War?" Alucard interrupted.
Chandler looked at him and shook his head. "God, where have you been? Germany, Italy, and Japan decided to mix it with the rest of the world. Lots of dead people. Thank God that's all over with. Least our town didn't even see any war, which is better than a lot of other places. Anyway's, there's been a lot of talk from Wakariya that children are comin' up missing. Reports say that kids, usually boys his age," here he pointed at Louis, "are being taken away by demons and ending up dead later on. We thought you were trying to pull the same thing, so that's why we tried to stop you."
"Boys my age?" Louis asked fearfully.
"'Fraid so," answered Chandler. "Seems the Demon King is looking for prey or something. We save who we can, but that demon is a nasty son of a bitch."
Damn it, Alucard thought. My father knows that Louis is alive. As long as there's one Belmont still living, he won't stop until the child is killed. Or even worse, depending on his twisted mind. "That's why the child's with me. I won't let anything happen to him." At least until I drop him off at a sanctuary. He ignored the twinge of conscience at the look of admiration Louis flashed his way.
"That's a worry off my skull, m'lord," said the sailor. "I may work in a modern age, but I always paid attention to the old stories. If I don't mind me askin'," he added, hunkering close to the pair. "Does this mean the big castle is gonna show up soon?"
"It's probably already in the area somewhere...but the question is where," Alucard murmured.
"Well, if you're gonna help the young Belmont, then we have nothing to worry about," said Chandler, whooshing with relief. "Not likely the demon'll be around seven years so as he's here to have more children...um...beggin' yer pardon, m'lord." (Note: popular vampire myths say that if a vampire is not killed within seven years of showing up in an area, he can mate and have children, which would work if he was supposed to fictionally be Vlad Dracula.)
Alucard raised an elegant silver eyebrow in response. He let the man's tension build until he could scent it, then defused it. "If it's all right with you, I think I and the young Belmont would like to rest here for the night, if it's not a problem."
"Oh! Not a problem, m'lord. We don't have much in the way of sleeping space here, but if you can find a space upstairs in the storage area, I won't say nothing to nobody, if'n certain unsavory types come poking their snouts about. Come the morning, I can help you out, if you need a ship anywheres."
"Oh, thank you very much!" Louis cried. "You are too kind!"
Alucard groaned inwardly. He is NEVER going to be a real vampire hunter. The sailor, however, didn't agree with his harsh assessment. "Bless yer heart, lad. Least I can do for what yer family did mine a load of years before!" The big sailor shooed both of them upstairs and showed them the storage room. Crates and boxes were abundant, along with the stray keg of grog. "It's all I can offer the two of ya," he apologized, then left the two of them to their devices.
Louis hunkered down in a small space between two roughly constructed crates. He used his knapsack as a pillow. He turned towards the half-breed. "Are you going to sleep, Mr. Fairheights? Or are you going to go spy and look out for trouble?"
Alucard frowned. Perhaps Louis' childlike trust in infecting me as well. There might be something wrong with this establishment. Either that or one of the sailors might be a minion of my father. "I'm going to see if things are as peaceful as they're supposed to be. You stay here and get some sleep. No noise. Understand?" His charge nodded vigorously.
Swiftly, Alucard transformed into a bat. He pumped his wings in the air furiously and circled around the room. The floor in a far corner looked like it had never been completed. Skillfully, Alucard-bat ducked through space and flitted towards the shadows on the ceiling of the common room. His powerful claws gripped the wood beamed ceiling as he let his body hang upside down, his wings folded over himself protectively. In this form, he still retained his intelligence, but he lacked the means to communicate in an intelligent manner. His funnel ears picked up everything. Every so often, he would utter a tiny squeak and let the echo-location place people and objects in their proper places.
For the longest time, it seemed nothing interesting would happen. Then his echo-location, as well as his hearing, picked up something new entering the tavern. Groans came from the sailors. "Aw, God, man, Crispin, go away!" growled a tanned sailor.
The new arrival was tall, nearly as tall as Alucard in his natural form. His golden hair flowed from the top of his skull in waves and cascaded to his shoulders. His bearing was almost regal, his gaze very icy. A very commanding young man. And even....Alucard-bat almost squeaked aloud. He's a Belmont?!
"With all the monsters around in Wakariya, they'll probably come here! I have a right to help you destroy those monsters. I'm a Belmont!" the young man proclaimed loudly.
"Right!" laughed Chandler, filling his mug with some more grog. "Takes more than fancy words and posin' to do the real fighting, Crispin. You don't have the training."
Crispin snarled. "I would have had the training if my father would have accepted me! So what if I'm not the full Belmont all the family is near Wakariya. I have the right to have training!"
The DaNasty leader poked the young man in the chest. "You don't have a right to anything! Way I hear it, your father offered you to live with the rest of his family, but you turned 'im down 'cause he decided to marry someone who wasn't yer mother. Fighting the demons isn't about who's got the best blood. It's about how pure your heart is to fighting that Darkness, 'cause only the Holy can fight the Dark. You may have some Belmont blood in you, but you sure don't have that shining spirit inside you."
Alucard-bat puzzled over that. Shining...?
Crisping crossed his arms over his chest and raised his head proudly, much like a hawk raising its head to show a proud crest. "Well, I'm going to be a monster killer. All the Belmonts are dead. There's only rumors that my runty half-brother is still alive. The stories say that the eldest Belmont is always the vampire hunter. That's me! If Alucard decides to show up, he's going to pick me because that's all there is left."
The bat tensed. Now would be a true test of the DaNasty loyalty. "That so?" guffawed a slightly drunken sailor. "Seems like if'n this Alucard was real, he'd be scrapin' the bottom of the barrel t' train you." The sailors all laughed and agreed with a chorus of "ayes." "Who cares about tales of old monsters in the dark? All we do is clear the river and make it passable."
The bastard Belmont's eyes filled with indignant tears. "You...you don't believe that Dracula is coming, do you? You'd all just wallow in your drunkenness then get up and fight! You cowards! Alucard is going to reward me by training me, then he and I will come back to destroy you!" He stalked out of the tavern and slammed the door shut.
Raucous laughter followed that display. "Oh, aye, I'll bet he does," Chandler laughed.
Alucard-bat had seen enough. He flitted back up to the storage room and changed back. He grudgingly admitted that his fears had no basis here. These were true DaNasty clansmen. Something else bothered him. Richter did say that I was supposed to train the eldest Belmont in the art of vampire hunting. He didn't specify if the eldest had to be pure or a bastard. However, something didn't sit quite right with Alucard. Crispin Belmont obviously had the strength, speed, and maturity that Louis severely lacked. Something wasn't right about him though. If I were to put Louis in the care of Sypha's descendants, I would be able to train the elder Belmont. We'd have a chance at winning against my father. The idea of putting Louis away before had always seemed slightly unfair. To do it now in order to train Crispin seemed inherently wrong. Why, Alucard had no idea.
He walked back towards the sleeping Belmont. The child was curled into a ball to gain some heat in the chill of the storage room. He stooped to take a look at the weaker, slower, more childish Belmont. Strange, but the sides of the knapsack seemed slightly damp. Tears? But no. The child's face was perfectly calm in sleep.
Alucard frowned over this. What was this supposed to mean? He spied a small dusty canvas wrapping that had seen better days. Making as little noise as possible, he unwrapped the canvas, dragged it over to his sleeping charge and draped it over his frame. After a couple of minutes, Louis relaxed his curled pose and sighed contentedly in his sleep. Alucard settled himself on top of a crate and began to puzzle over what to do about this Belmont and the new Belmont.