Part I – Realization
<“It was a dark and stormy night. She ran into his arms, her long hair flying behind her. Her bosom heaved as she breathed in the welcomed scent of her beloved …”>
“Boring.” Integra closed the book with a look of disgust. She looked at the frilly, flowery cover of the novel and grimaced. Lady Catherine had all but forced the book on her. “Ladies need their little reads you know,” she had smiled, pushing the book into Integra’s hand despite her protests.
Integra mentally berated herself. What had possessed her to flip through the novel? Helpless maidens and their brawny knights always irritated her. Lady Catherine had tried to impress on Integra the importance of being a “lady” at the last Queen’s dinner. “Always flaunt your assets but keep them guessing,” she had nagged. Pah, foolish thoughts of a lady of leisure. Integra neither had the intention nor the time to be a damsel in distress. Not as long as she remained a Hellsing, sworn to the defence of England.
Just then, the phone rang.
“Hello? Intergra speaking. … What? He did what? I will be there.”
Integra put down the receiver irritably. Sir Lennox was missing. He was the Queen’s cousin but that did not excuse his stupidity of trying to take down ghouls on his own. The man was not trained for it.
She remembered his unhappy sourish look at her last attendance before the Queen. The Queen had been happy with the Hellsing destruction of the ghouls infesting the ancient hunting grounds of Nottingham and had commended Integra lavishly at the last royal dinner. Sir Lennox, Duke of Nottingham, whose honor the party should have been in for his 27th birthday, was seething in envy as the Queen had restored Integra in the seat of honor, calling her “my beloved knight”.
“So now he’s gone to hunt ghouls for glory and get himself killed,” she mused wistfully. “If I could have a choice between my family’s honor and a quiet life, all the crown jewels in the world would not tempt me to choose the former. But I am a Hellsing and am sworn to protect England against all undead, even silly royal dukes.”
She rang for Walter. Minutes later, her faithful servant appeared, fully armed.
“Where to my mistress?”
Seras sighed as she sat at the back of the pickup. If only Walter was around for her to confide in. Seras had learnt to respect the old butler almost as if as he was her father. She was still rather confused in her new role as an undead guardian of the Hellsing family and Alucard was hardly a role model. Walter had been there to guide her along.
She glanced at Pip in the far corner of the pickup from the corner of her eye. He had been so cold recently. Hadn’t they been good friends since her “demonstration” before his troops to prove her “undeadness”? He had seen the funny side of the whole incident after the event and they had been good friends and battlemates ever since.
“But he has hardly spoken to me the whole of this week and he avoids me like the plague,” thought Seras miserably. “Did I do anything to irritate him?”
She looked up to see Pip staring at her. Their eyes met. She tried to smile but her spirit was crushed as he looked away immediately.
Seras felt absolutely miserable. Maybe she would speak to him later, after the mission was over.
“Is Alucard here yet?” Integra stamped her foot impatiently.
“Yes, master has already gone in.” Seras nodded. “I can feel his presence.” Just then, as if to affirm the point, the screams of a few ghouls were heard.
“Idiot.” Integra grabbed her gun. “Seras, you take the left path, Walter, you wait here and secure the area with group A. Pip must seal off the other exit with group B. We must not let any ghouls escape. The town of Lancaster is barely half a mile from here. I will take the right path. Everyone move.”
“But Lord Integra ...” the faithful butler protested.
“I’ll be fine Walter. I really need to ensure that none of the ghouls get out. With Alucard in there, they will be scrambling to escape. It would be a catastrophe if they did and got to Lancaster. Therefore I need you here to ensure that it does not happen.”
“Yes my lord.”
Seras tried to concentrate as she chased the retreating horde that she had discovered barely minutes after parting ways with Integra.
“Why did he treat me like this?”
“Does he despise me for being an undead?” voices ran through her mind as she tried in vain to shut them out.
“Why do I mind so much?”
Her thoughts were interrupted as she noticed that the horde had gotten progressively larger than that she had discovered initially. “They must have joined up with the main group. They hope to win by numbers,” she thought as she instinctively begun shooting them.
The horde continued their retreat. She chased relentlessly.
“What am I doing? Was the taking up of master’s offer the right thing to do? Is this life I’ve chosen or a fate worsen than death? To be despised by all? To be despised by him?”
Cornered, the ghouls made a last ditch effort to overpower the young vampire. Ducking their deadly swipes, she dispatched them efficiently with her firearms until she had put the last one out of their misery.
Why were there so many ghouls? Hadn’t the report provided that about only 10 ghouls had been sighted? Making a quick mental calculation, Seras noted that she had probably fought 10 ghouls and a small army of ghouls instead.
Her relieve that the battle had been so easy was interrupted by the knowledge that the ground under her feet was incredibly soft. She struggled to harder ground but stopped quickly as she discovered every movement merely hastened the inevitable.
Seras realized too late that it was a trap. She had been too distracted during the fight to realize that the ghouls had intentionally led her into the middle of a mire. It was almost as if they were determined to destroy their enemy even if they would die in the process.
No good. She had not attained the skill of transforming herself into mist. Alucard’s words rang through her head, “you will never improve as a vampire until you learn to accept who you are and drink blood like your body requires.” The sticky mud closed over her head, threatening to swallow her for all eternity when a hand reached in, grabbed her collar and pulled her roughly back out.
Pip had spotted the odd pattern in which the ghouls were retreating and figured that the ghouls were deliberately luring their pursuers into the mire. He had instructed his men to take a defensive maneuver but realized with horror that Seras had not discovered that she was being led into a trap.
“Don’t you die on me or I …” he was positively hysterical as he hugged her.
His words sent her into absolute turmoil. “Come on let’s go. There are ghouls to kill.” Pip lifted her to her feet, his barely somber tone jolting them both back into reality.
Integra sighed as she undertook the gruesome job of blasting the heads off the defeated undead that used to be part of the private army of the Duke of Nottingham. What a waste of human lives. “They were soldiers but untrained to deal with the dead.” She returned to her task of searching for the pompous lord who had started the mess with a snort of anger and disgust.
“Sir Arthur Lennox? Sir Arthur Lennox?”
“Here. Up here.”
She looked up. Perched in the oak tree, amongst the lower branches was a extremely frightened Sir Lennox.
“Do come down. The ghouls are gone now.”
“I can’t. I can’t move. I think my legs have gone numb.”
Integra sighed. He was scarred witless but obviously not so witless since he had the presence of mind to have climbed the oak to escape the horde.
She lighted a flare. She pulled out her walkie-talkie, “Walter? He’s here. You’ve seen the flare? Good. Get some men to come pick him up and oh, do bring a ladder.”
Just then, she saw something move behind the bushes. More ghouls? Integra reached for her gun, her nerves tensed.
“Where are you going? Hey? You can’t leave me here alone.”
“Yes I can and I will. Hush, there’s something there.”
“BUT I’M THE QUEEN’S COUSIN, I’M A DUKE!!!”
“Shhh …” would this man’s stupidity never cease? Integra trod softly as she tried to make out the direction in which the creature had fled. Ghouls had to be eradicated to prevent them from attacking locals and spawning more abominations.
Suddenly, without warning, Integra felt something slam into her. So intent she was on chasing down the last ghoul, she did not realize that it had been hunting her until it was too late.
They tumbled roughly down the chasm, the edge of which Integra had been standing on. As she struggled with the ghoul, Integra squeezed the trigger with the hope the bullet found its way through the monster’s head. “This is the end” was her last thought before she blacked out.
She opened her eyes. The world was still spinning. The sky above her looked gray and jagged.
“Am I in heaven or hell?” she thought aloud.
“Neither.” A familiar voice said.
“Don’t move. You just had a very very bad fall and your bones are broken but it’s a good thing you Hellsings are more sturdy than most of your kind.”
“Dead. My my, work before all as usual.”
“Where are we?”
“In a cave. It is nearly dawn and I cannot travel until night falls again. You will just have to wait until then master.”
She shivered. Alucard had torn up most of what had been left of her clothes after her ungraceful fall to make splints for her broken limbs. Beside her were berries and water that the vampire had gathered. She tried to move her arm but winced at the sharp pain that shot through.
“Shh, sleep now.” Alucard admonished as he lifted her onto his coat outlayed on the cold cavern floor.
“Broken. Sleep. We talk tonite.” Alucard took off his shirt. Placing it over her body, he lay down beside her, the slight hint of warm from his back comforting her.
“Why can’t we go now?”
“I’m no human doctor but I know if I tried to move you, the bones in your body will break.”
“But. Couldn’t you go and get Walter. He must be hunting for us know.”
“Master, this chasm is about 20 feet deep. And who would protect you until I return?”
“We will not leave until you are able to move without danger to your life. My duty is to protect the Hellsings and I will not return your broken body to your butler. He would stake me through the heart immediately for one.”
“The rest will be fine. Worry never killed anyone.”
Integra tried to protest but was cut off by the berry fed to her by Alucard.
“But you will need blood.”
“I told you. I cannot leave you to hunt. Look outside.”
Integra strained but caught sight of a pack of wolves in the distance. Their eyes were menacing but they also looked fearful at the same time. Although greedy for fresh noble meat, they were unwilling to risk her dark knight, for now.
“I cannot risk fighting them at this stage. The fire keeps them wary.” Alucard smirked as he fed more wood to the blazing furnace he had lit at the cave enterance.
“Where are they?”
“Pip. Did you see them on your patrol?”
“They are alive. If Alucard is not back, he must be with her.”
“Then why have they not returned? We should explore this place at night. Maybe Seras can pick up his presence.”
“No, it is too dangerous to hunt at night.”
It was then Walter saw it. “Look Integra’s saber.” A feet away, caught by a vine was her shoe. “They must have fallen down there,” he pointed solemnly at the dark crevice below.
~ end of part I ~