A Ghost Tale

Summary: When sir Hellsing sent her new troops to a survival exercise, they weren't counting on a haunted forest.

Disclaimer: Hellsing belongs to Kouta Hirano and the Young King Ours magazine.

Author's notes: This is set before the trip to Rio. Manga-based as per usual. I wrote this story specially for Zimon66, she knows why.

Special Thanks:  To BlueMew for beta reading overall; Asenath, ChibiJen and Puck 1/3 for structure nitpickings; Lilliam Dashwood for inspiration about wildlife; and Mr. Mitts for British facts. All of you are amazing.

- Chapter One

Escape & Evasion Training

Epping Forest was the largest public open space in the London area; home to multiple species of wildlife, such as woodpeckers, nightingales, hawfinches, nuthatches, deer, great crested grebes, and gadwalls, among many others. Aided by the rich soil, there grew a great amount of flora, more than a hundred species of trees, brushes, and plants. Besides that, there were held several leisure activities like horse riding, cricket, golf, football, hunting. Also, this was the very forest that surrounded the area of the Hellsing Mansion and, due to its position, Sir Hellsing believed it would make a fine testing ground for her new recruits.

"Pick up the wood, Simmons! Reeves and Adams, make the camp! Move, ladies this isn't an hotel, there's no room service!" Pip Bernadette shouted orders from his post, a comfortable chair on which he lounged. A big oak blocked the rays of the sun, thus giving the Captain a fresh shadow.

His men mumbled curses in reply but complied, bri
nging a smug grin in his lips.

he mused, closing his eye. Nothing like the sweet smell of…Ooooow. Suddenly his body made contact with the ground, landing in a rather funny position back down, legs up, braid messed upon the grass. "What the…" he frowned and eyed the one who just flipped him from the seat, thereby making him look ridiculous in front of his people. "Seras!"

Seras lowered the chair she had lifted with a hand and smiled at Pip, fang showing. "This isn't a hotel, we aren't your personal room service, Captain. So get up and help us or I will tell sir Integral when we return!" she exclaimed before gesturing towards the packed bags.

Pip winced, standing, then tried to brush the dust and the leaves out of his clothes and hair. His look soon turned sly, not wanting to be berated by Seras. Why would he let the she-freak order him around? He was, after all, her captain. Though he admitted the little girl had her spirit. "Don't tell me you, with your monster-like strength, can't unpack them?"

Seras, even with the obvious lack of blood proper for a starved half-vampire such as she, blushed. "Mo…monster?! Listen, one eyed creep. I am not happy to be around you either but…" she paused and sighed, another unnecessary human habit she still retained. "But we have our orders, and I don't want to fail Sir Integral nor my Master."

Pip considered her words, his mind seemed to wonder for a while. Not that he was much of a thinker. He was smart, but not a genius. "Truce, monster girl?" He stirred an arm and offered his hand to shake it. Seras hiked a brow to his monster girl comment, grinning, she took the said hand and gave it a squeeze.

"Truce," Seras released the pressure once she saw Pip visually cringing in pain. She leaned on his ear. "And I have a name, Captain. Use it."

"Y…yes, Seras," Pip nodded his head a few times, faking a smile. She's picking on habits from that barny old corpse. That's no good.

"Good, I'll be helping Jones to collect mushrooms," Seras commented bubbly and trotted at one mercenary's direction.

Pip watched her go, for the sake of peeking on the movements of her hips with that mini-skirt, then started to unpack the equipment. He was losing style, allowing Seras to smack him around to her desire. And to increase his annoyance, mosquitoes seemed to choose him as their meal. Great, from one bloodsucker to another. Right now the survival exercise Sir Hellsing proposed to test their abilities wasn't too entertaining. And, of course, he had to take the vampire as a burden.

not," he remembered his boss saying, icy eyes narrowed behind the frames of her glasses. "Sergeant Victoria will supervise the escape and evasion training, then she will report the results, be them success or failure. And," she made a pause that, in Pip's opinion, made her appear more intimidating. "If I ever hear that you or your men harass her, I'll personally allow Alucard to 'play' to the ones who wronged his fledgling. Hellsing isn't a date service. Is that clear, Captain?" He had nodded, wordlessly. "Good. Dismissed."

He did not complain, of course. Sir Integral paid them well and the accommodations inside her Mansion were good. It was just that the Wild Geese were a manly group and they wanted to remain as such. Seras disturbed things around their base of operations. They had their own group dynamic that basically consisted in him sitting down and ordering the rest around, unless there was a battle or a firing practice.. They cursed first but eventually complied. Apparently, now he must work as well. What was next? Set himself as an example to follow?

When he finished, Pip sat on the floor, leaning on a birch in an attempt to rest. He had the arms behind his head and his long braid around his neck like a scarf. He tilted his cowboy hat to block the sunlight that annoyed his face. Several squirrels settled on his shoulder, using him as ladder to climb upon in order to find their food. It passed as such for several hours; he remained undisturbed, the peacefulness of this place was delightful. Choirs of birds, the gentle breeze caressing his cheek. Eventually, Seras came to awake him. To his surprise, she didn't push him to the ground.

"Five minutes more mum," he cracked his eye open lazily.

"Stop slacking Pip. It's night already," Seras frowned, "We… they are about to eat." He noticed how she corrected herself, and felt some sympathy. She wanted to belong, but she couldn't.

Pip screeched his arms and yawned gracelessly, "I'm comin'."

"Don't move that way! You'll disturb them!" Seras chided, folding her arms.

"Uh? What? Who?" Pip asked confused. The girl was strange to say at least.

"Them," she gestured to his shoulders. Pip followed the direction of her hand and found four squirrels making a bridge to gather their provisions out of the tree. He must have been quite sleepy for not noticing them. "Aren't they cute?" she giggled.

Pip stirred, and the movement scared the rodents. Afraid, they jumped, landing on his family jewels before taking off towards the nearest tree. "Oww! Shit! That hurt!" he whined, twisting himself into a fetal position. When the pain started to vanish, the mercenary stood, angry. He re-holstered his firearm, scanning the zone to any sight of the little culprits. "I guess we can eat squirrels tonight."

Seras grabbed his wrist and tightening her grip until he dropped the pistol. "No, you won't."

"Ow… I heard a crack. Did you just break my bone?"

Seras huffed, "Serves you right. Threatening such adorable, little things."

"You wouldn't have thought the same thing if they have jumped on your crotch!" he argued.

"But they must have been starved, Pip," she mocked before giggling again. "And, you know, squirrels like nuts. Besides, is illegal to hunt squirrels, Captain."

"Not funny Seras! I'm in pain here!" Pip snorted while rubbing his wrist. Really, the brute should mind her strength. "And who cares about followin' the law?"

"I care. I used to be a police woman, you know. I've arrested many wankers like you."

Seras narrowed her eyes, taking some steps forward in an attempt to appear frightening. It didn't work.

"Handcuffs, Seras? I didn't know you were that type of girl." He smirked to himself as he saw her cheeks gaining colour and smirked to himself. How could anyone who dressed like her be this shy was beyond him.

"Pervert! I can report this as sexual harassment!"

"Oooh, I am so scared."

Truth to be told, he was wary about what Alucard could do to him, but like hell he would show that in front of Seras.

"Pip," a tall, red haired mercenary called out, interrupting the bickering. "We have a situation. Jim has gone missin' since this afternoon."

"Jim? He's the one with the blue bandana, right?" Seras asked, turning to look at the newcomer. The mercenary assented. "I think… I think I saw him passing while I was collecting mushrooms."

"When?" Pip asked, suddenly serious, his tone was demanding. Jim was one of his oldest mates; he wouldn't allow anything happen to him.

"About an hour ago. I can show you where."

"Larry, stay in charge of the camp while we are away. If we don't return in three hours, organize a search party," Pip instructed. "And don't eat all the dinner, I'm hungry too. And knowing Jim, he will be starved."

Larry smiled. "Will do, Pip. Take care you two."

Pip bent down and picked up his fallen firearm, placing it back to its holster. He could smell that something wasn't right--which wasn't a big surprise, considering he was hired to hunt vampires of all things--Jim was very sharp when it involved food. He frowned deeply, a resolute expression crossed his normally, easy-going features.

Quickly, Pip searched among the unpacked goods until he found what he was looking for: a pair of ruby-tinted goggles, radios and two flashlights. Unlike Seras, he didn't have night vision so he needed something to illuminate his way. After he tried on a camouflaged jacket, the mercenary turned around, addressing Seras. "Ready?"

Seras blinked, taken aback by his mood swing. "Yes, Captain."

Pip nodded and lit a cigarette, winning a fleeting scold from the Sergeant--smoking inside the forest was forbidden, after all--exhaling a thin stream of smoke before inquiring. "What direction?"

"Left," Seras replied, brushing several strands of hair from her forehead. "Follow me."

Pip bit down the cigarette and ran after Seras, turning on the flashlight in order to not bump into something in his way. He noticed that as they moved further inside the forest, the place started looking more and more spooky. The night was eerily quiet, the owls and nocturnal creatures did not emit a sound. An unnatural green mist covered the whole place, thickening below their knees. He couldn't see what he was stepping on to and was forced to trust Seras' instincts to continue. The trees stood, quite menacing, around them. The wind moved their long braches in a way that reminded him of  fingers, gesturing to come closer and closer until there was no other way out. Perhaps he was hallucinating, but he felt as if he was being watched. Something was out there, waiting. He froze while the cloud of mist gathered around his legs. For a minute, he had the feeling they were really hands.

That's it, not even a week around this blasted place and I'm already going crazy. He wanted to kick himself for acting this way.

"You okay, Pip?" Seras asked. She had stopped as well, her head turned to check on the Captain. Was his eye betraying him? She looked almost concerned.

Pip placed a hand behind the back of his head and laughed, "Yeah, I'm not nervous at all." Despite his words, the tone of his voice was trembling. It was pitiful in his mindset, he was supposed to be a brave mercenary who had faced scum. And what scared him? Trees, mist and a bloody forest.

Seras, against the common belief, wasn't a brainless bimbo. "If you say so," she said and looked around, "I am getting bad vibes about this place as well. Maybe I should have brought my Harkconnen with me."

"I wonder where Jim is," Pip mused aloud, forgetting Seras was there. She was an outsider of the Wild Geese, thus not allowed to meddle. Much.

"Are you worried about him?"

"No, I am just thinkin' we'll freeze tonight because he was supposed to gather the wood to make the fire," Pip replied, verging in sarcasm. "Of course I'm worried! But you wouldn't understand."

Pip regretted those words as soon as they crossed his lips. He could see that Seras was hurt by them. She spun around and increased the pace, storming away from him. Grasping his hat so it wouldn't fall, he went after her.

Damn me and my big mouth.
"Seras, wait!"

"Why should I? I am just a freak for you and your men. A freak with big breasts." Her voice was sour, so unlike her chipper tone. There was some underlying tiredness that Pip noticed at once.

"Sorry," he said quietly, "Look, we are just… not accustomed to have a girl around. And I am stresseded because of Jim's disappearance. I guess I was a…"

"Real, bloody wanker, Pip Bernadette," Seras finished for him, the rhythm of her steps becoming slower. "I am tired of being treated like I don't belong. It has been always like this."

"Tell you what," Pip caught out to her soon. He watched her from the corner of his eye, "Help me to find Jim and I'll name you honourary member of the Wild Geese. Deal?" He grinned down her, a eyelid half closed. He looked goofy enough to make Seras giggle.

"Deal." She smiled to him. The smile was fleeting, a naked branch of tree touched her arm. Seras jumped, startled. After realizing it was only the wind, she calmed down. "Sir Integral should have chosen a less… spooky site," she commented, shuddering.

"What? Don't tell me a vampire like you is afraid of the dark?" he teased, feeling better. If a vampire was wary of the woods, why shouldn't he? It had nothing to do with cowardice.

She started twitching at the taunt. "I was never afraid of the dark, not even when I was a child."

"I dunno if I should believe you. You are bein' too defensive," Pip leaned on her, whispering on her ear. "Maybe we can sing to cheer up the atmosphere?" he proposed, smirking. "I know how you enjoy the Eskimo so…" A hand flew to cover his mouth before he could finish. That was meant to silence him, but the strength put on the gesture sent him backwards. He was starting to think making pass on her was a bad idea. It was becoming a health issue.

"Sssh. I think I heard something," she commented, Her brows furrowed in concentration. "It's a… groan? It sounds like Jim."

Pip re-holstered his pistol, all his flirtatious mood lost. "Which direction?"

Seras looked up, "That way."

The flashlight soon illuminated the area where she directed. At the landscape, Pip gulped loudly. It wasn't exactly what one called a pretty picture. The path was made of leafless trees, they were deformed and apparently petrified. The fact the mist seemed to dissipate there only made it more frightening. He had the horrible impression that someone--or rather, something--wanted them to go there.

Bloody hell Jim! Why the fuck you had to take that path?! Why not one filled with flowers?

Pip took a deep breath, "Jim had better appreciate this."

They followed the path, Seras guided him using her superior hearing sense. Each step was difficult to make. There was something about the soil, it seemed to be made of slippery rock.

"This is gettin' annoying!" He growled as he kicked the ground. His foot made contact with something hard but shattered due to the impact. Whatever was, it had his foot trapped.

"Oh God, Pip… look!" Seras exclaimed, horrified.

Pip used the flashlight again, to see what held his foot. He paled. It was a skull, a human skull. The rounded rocks they felt all the way weren't stones. They were craniums. The mist suddenly covered their view, blinding even Seras' vampiric sight. They heard a laugh before the bones beneath them started to glow.

Holy crap!" Pip dropped the flashlight and grabbed Seras' hand, "Run!"

He didn't need to repeat it. Seras was, in fact, dragging him along with her. Her inhuman speed got them out of there fairly quick. He could hear the teeth of the skulls clenching, trying to get hold of one of them. Bernadette was so eager to get out as fast as he could that he didn't mind losing his hat and cigarette in the runway. Sacrifices must be made.

When they stopped, Pip breathed heavily, tired by the race. "Well, I think we lost…" his eye widened as he felt a sharp pain on his leg. Wincing, he looked down to see a skull hanging there, teeth on his pants and flesh, biting down maliciously.

"Argh! Take it out! Get it off! Shoot at it!" he screamed, moving his leg, trying to shake the animated bone off him.

Seras looked at him unsure if she should laugh, freak out or be concerned. "Eh… Pip… you have a gun on your right hand."

"Oh, yeah. I forgot," Pip replied dumbly. He swore that Seras rolled her eyes.

The mercenary lowered his arm, aiming to the skull. The glowing cranium released its hold only to jump at his hand's direction. Extended jaws ready to disarm him, chewed until arriving to the bone. Lucky, he was quick enough to fire twice and the thing shattered into pieces. He rubbed the injured area; the wound was superficial and no blood had been drawn. When he returned his attention to Seras, she wasn't around anymore.

he cursed, growing tired of this forest already. Less than a day here and so many problems already.

"Seras? Seras, where are you?!" He sounded too desperate for his tastes, but he didn't want to be left alone around this forest. Sweat started to cover his forehead as he continued to look around for any sign of her. To his relief, she replied shortly after that.

"Over here, Pip!" Seras called out. He searched the source of her voice. There she was, hiding inside the high brush- no wonder he didn't notice her. He heard her continue, choking her reply. "I think… oh dear God, I think…I found Jim."

The choked sound of her voice disturbed him. She was obviously disgusted by something. Gathering courage, he headed to her side. She had the head turned, refusing to raise her sight from the ground. His spirit fell. That bad?

"There?" Pip asked, in a half hearted voice. Seras nodded, without daring to meet his eyes.

Bracing himself for the sight, Pip's gaze scanned the area. Too dark. He switched the light of the other lantern- he was glad to have picked up two instead of just one. The first thing he noticed was the blue bandana. Beside it, Jim lay on the floor and he was…


To be continued.