Singularity

Order 10:Warbringer

Vicar Dolson was a man of faith. His title may have implied as much, but his congregation would have argued that it went beyond a simple honor or name. He preached, he practiced, he was. There was no rhetoric in his exhortations, no subtle logic or persuasion. Only faith. His followers would have said he needed nothing else to guide his flock.

It was that sense of duty, that pure minded trust, that was to make him first among the casualties. He strode forward to confront the abominations with cross raised and abjuration upon his lips, casting the creature back unto the abyss. Behind him, his citizens' levy, their makeshift weapons, their axes and torches, their shovels and bats stood firm.

The skeletal wraith, its armor a resplendent parody of rust and creaking plate, bore the once proud, now mouldering cloaks and honors of long forgotten campaigns. Its whole form reeked of death, the very ground it trod on rotting beneath its iron shod boot. There was no wind to stir its garmets, and the clouded sky failed penetrate the shadows of its visored helm, as if nature itself seemed to abhor the form.

Behind it, a mixed company of skeletal warriors and floating specters stood in rank.

Skeletal visage peering out from under iron helm, a blight encrusted arming sword gripped in a bony hand, the once knight bashed the kite shield fastened to its other arm into the holy man with sudden violence, sending him sprawling to his back.

With a paced, methodical precision, it raised its blade, and lanced it down, skewering the vicar.

To the horror of his parish, Dolson's face twisted into a rictus of agony and pain before desiccating at an unholy rate. Before their eyes his life force, his spirit seeming to be sucked into the air where it hovered, briefly floating like a will o wisp, before being drawn into one of the specters, reinforcing it and lending substance to its being. Bones materialized and creaked dryly as now solid armor rubbed against leathery flesh.

When the process came to its grisly conclusions only the skeletal mummy of the vicar remained, clad in the now rotting robes of his office. A once man who now rose and stepped slowly behind his killer, falling into the ranks of the other skeletal crusaders, joining the ones he sought to combat in life.

Soundlessly, the Wraith-knight raised his sword and pointed towards the center of the village. In jerky lockstep his forces marched in proper order at his command. First those attired in heavy plate, the two obvious lieutenants of the legion. Then the banner-man, a rather grotesque, one armed specimen hoisting an indistinguishable rotting mass of moulding green honors upon a banner pole with the name 'Mathius' picked out and somehow preserved in gold thread upon its upmost reaches. Then the company musician, who played a hollow beat upon a drum which had fallen to ruin long ago but still managed to function despite physical law.

Behind the command came the foot soldiers, some in plate, some in mail, some in quilted armor, bearing all manner of the weapons of archaic warfare, their skeletal forms moving in time to the haunting drum rhythm. Behind them the half formed, semi solid specters, awaiting the life energies needed to return them to the walking dead.

Most horrifying of all followed last. These skeletons were the ones whose mystically deteriorated clothes and gear were recognizable to the living present. British Soldiers, fellow towns people, friends, family, men and women. The recently dead, and more recently damned.

Before the host the gathered folk fled in terror, conviction and courage forgotten. The wraith-knights did not pursue, however. They did not run down the fleeing, or surge forward. They simply continued on in the direction indicated by their commander, feet rising and falling in military cadence in an inexorable march.

The town would fall, and its citizens with it. To Lord Geoffrey Mathius, it mattered little how quickly it happened. The purposeful, malevolent intelligence which remained his despite the centuries and the death and the rotting told him this, and the Wraith Knight's face twisted into a horrific, reflexive smile beneath its armored visor as his forces advanced. The military installation had fallen before his might nearly two nights ago, and now this place, too, would be grasped in his skeletal gauntlet.

VVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVV

The London news establishment had been, of late, running pictures of various buildings, allies, and dens of inequity with the words UNDERWORLD daubed in blood or red paint upon their being. The subsequent articles generally talked of horrible crimes, of murder and death with the occasional passing word on the Police unit, a specialist and unknown anti-terror task force that dealt with the issues. But all in all the crimes and the meaning of the UNDERWORLD phrase was never explained. That was left to the editorial pages, to the tabloids, to the page three girls and the crazies to speculate on.

Which isn't to say no one asked. Police Chiefs on down voiced the question, what group is it? Who's its leader? Where can we find it? In the end, the got no answers, because it was the wrong question they were asking.

UNDERWORLD was not a person. It wasn't an object or a location. And it was definitely not a group. It was, if one had to attempt to classify it, might aptly be described as a feedback loop gone mad. At one time, it was something more, something purposeful.

That purpose was now at the bottom of the Hong Kong Harbor, tucked away in the slowly decomposing skull of a would-be bio-engineer come entrepreneur who sought an untold fortune in the application of freek chips to everyday life; a deathless, yet dead, population might well have become the next chic trend had it not been for the MI-6 stamped 9 mm round resting firmly in his brain pan.

But while MI-6 got the brains of the operation, and the central production facility for the chips, they missed at least a few things. For starters, the fact that the London based distribution and testing center was also capable of producing a dozen or so of the chips per week.

Originally, the London faculty had been used as a research lab, where the underclass, the unseen and the unmissed of the great metropolis could be whisked away to and subsequently fitted with the chip, observed, and then released or eliminated. Eventually, more widespread testing was begun, by releasing small numbers of the chips to various unsavory characters and organizations. Such was the case with the Valentine brothers, and Bonny and Clyde. To the criminals of England, the distributors became known as UNDERWORLD.

All well and good, until as mentioned before, MI-6 stopped the main production and funding center in Hong Kong. Then, the assembled technicians at UNDERWORLD found themselves in a rather sticky predicament. No funding, but a lucrative field. No guidance, no master plan, but a chance to make an obscene amount of cash by catering to the darker side of society.

The chips created a demand. Chips were produced. Freeks were made. The impressive nature of freeks created a demand for even more chips. And so Underworld would continue, even in the absence of a true goal.

And as Underworld did so, Hellsing picked apart their successes, bit by bit, and gradually closed in on their operation. Freeks would have been a thing of the past months ago, had it not been for Incognito's disruption of the Hellsing Institution and MI-6's investigation. The general balls up that followed pushed it to the back of everyone's mind, and even once re-established, Hellsing was too busy dealing with the back log of built up Freeks, and with the Iscariot, to step back and consider the bigger picture.

Why Incognito? A question that should have been asked, but floundered in the face of more day to day concerns. Where had he come from and what were his ties, if any, to the Freek production? Questions that needed to be answered were never asked, or even considered.

If they had been given thought, had such notions alighted upon the mind of one of the Knights, it likely would have made little difference. The good and great of England's protectors were seven deaths to few to catch the mastermind behind the string of events. To him, UNDERWORLD had a purpose, though it was not UNDERWORLD's purpose.

Why UNDERWORLD? For confusion, for death, and for the return of a creature of true darkness. UNDERWORLD, as large as its scale is, is a cog in an even larger machine. And its end product would be far, far worse, than anything UNDERWORLD had ever produced.

VVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVV

"You're telling me that after all the work my people went through, that the damned Iscariot STILL managed to get the book?"

The targeted officer shifted uncomfortably, the razor's edge in Integra's question barely concealed. A bad day made worse. That's what this was.

"I ahh . . . I assure you, Sir Integra, that it isn't that simple. The research facility was unlisted and remote, the transfer from Hellsing Manor done in a secure fashion, and the staff was all trained in basic combat doctrine in addition to a full platoon garrison. The base itself was fortified, with the main approaches covered by M2 machine gun hardpoints, which, at your request, every fifth round was blessed and silver. There should have been no way anyone, even this Iscariot force you speak of, should have been able to take it."

"But they did, did they not, Lt. Colonel?"

The rapidly stressing officer turned to look at the new speaker, whose curious red eyes seemed to lock him in place from where she stood just to the side, and slightly behind the Knight. Merrick had originally taken the other women to be the Lady Knight's assistant, but such notions were quickly being disabused as he took her measure. The uniform she wore screamed paramilitary to his practiced eye, and the large caliber pistols tucked neatly in rear draw and hip holsters did little to calm him. Nor did the Rank bars, the Major's chevrons, worn on her arm.

He was a Lieutenant Commander in the British Regular Service. Higher, by measure, than a major. He shifted uncomfortably, boots leaving marks in the deep carpet of the office.

This wasn't the regular British service, and the woman, no women, in front of him, were anything but regular.

"Major, umm . . . " he paused, and realized he didn't know the strange woman's name.

"Victoria," came the curt reply.

"Major Victoria. That . . . is the unfortunate truth. I cannot deny it, but my men were my men. I trained with them, fought with them, and assigned Derrick's Platoon to the station because I felt he was the perfect candidate for the job. But no force should have been able to breach the defenses, at least without an armored contingent, of which there was no indication. I . . . I cannot understand how this could have happened."

The strawberry blond nodded, but did not answer, tilting her head slightly to shift her gaze towards Integra's profile, not once shifting out of parade rest.

" Lieutenant Commander Merick, I am to understand that no formal communications were made from the platoon during the attack?" Integra noticed the gesture, and proceeded on with her own line of questioning.

The officer nodded. "The hardlines were cut, and coms were jammed. We noticed the communication breakdown, and command sent runners. By the time we got there . . ."

Integral nodded from across her desk at the standing officer. "When you arrived, you found your men dead. I can sympathize. You had no way of knowing what you were up against. Given what I know of the situation, you can not be held at fault. That chiefly lies with MI-6, who decided to take the book from us in the first place."

"If I may, sir, what exactly was it? The book, I mean." Merick voiced, eyes not quite looking at the ground, but certainly focused on some fascinating knick knack on the Knight's desk.

Integra paused. "Something of extreme value to national security. I can't say more."

"I see, sir. But, my men . . . when I found them, they were . . . ," he paused, then looked up to meet her gaze, "desiccated, dead, or shredded. Hundreds of shells fired, and not an enemy body. No enemy tire treads, no massed boot prints of an enemy. And those were the bodies we found. A quarter of them were missing in their entirety, no corpses at all. I know, I'm not cleared sir, but please . . . they were my men, they . . ."

"That's enough, Commander."

Regaining his mental footing, Merick gave a quick salute. "Sir. Yes, sir. My apologies."

"Step outside , Commander, and await my summons. I need to discuss things with Major Victoria."

The soldier saluted, before stepping smartly out the door, though his face was still downcast. As the door clicked closed, Integra turned to her companion.

"Ceras. You've reviewed his file?"

"Sir. Dedicated and as decorated as can be for the amount of action he's seen, or so Stasi told me."

"You asked Stasi to look it over as well?" A hint of something in the knights voice. Disapproval? Surprise? Both?

It made no difference to the vampire's answer. "It made sense, sir. He spent time in service, and would be a better judge." There was no hesitation in the voice as she replied.

"Good." Whether Integra was commenting on the man's service record, or Ceras's initiative, neither commander nor soldier was entirely sure. "And your opinions?"

"He'd make an admirable officer. His resume is pretty much what we'd need in a commander, and the profile he's got fits our bill."

"Profile?"

"Stasi and I cooked it u . . .I mean, developed it the other day. With the recruiting we've been doing, we've actually had a couple of the support guys going over files and comparing common attributes, than cross referencing the bullet points with files of previous successful soldiers that we have on record. In short, a rundown of desirable qualities in a Hellsing trooper."

Integra smirked "And what, dear Victoria, makes a good Hellsing trooper?"

"A distinct disregard for authority, large red floppy hats, and the ability to stick ones head in and out of walls at inopportune and socially inconvenient times." Ceras deadpanned.

Integra blinked and looked at her subordinates stoic expression before snorting in a restrained chuckle.

"In all seriousness, though, we've found that the most effective soldiers are the ones that have lost someone or something important to a supernatural occurrence. Bonus points are added to those who have prior training, reasonable amounts of skepticism, and relative ingenuity. Merrick has three of those traits, and he lost his men in the line of duty. Fergeson lost his command in the War to Nazi experimentation. Galaice's partner was killed by a pack of ghouls while investigating homeless disappearances in the underground." Ceras explained.

"And a Major lost her squad in an ill advised hostage rescue."

Ceras hesitated, then nodded, accepting the unspoken compliment.

"Yes, that about sums it up. I'd recommend him."

"Very well." Integra leaned forward and depressed a button on her desk intercom. "Walter. Have Lt. Merrick escorted to the briefing room, and ask Sergeant Stasi to brief him and invite him into our organization. Demotion to Lieutenant, command of Hellsing 3rd Platoon."

"Of Course, Lady Integra."

"Afterwards, meet me in the subsection. We need to release Alucard."

She closed the channel, looking up at the Major, trying to gauge her reaction. Now in front of her, standing in an easy posture, the fledgling vampire seemed suddenly ill at ease, her jaw less set, eyes less steady. Certainly less so than she had been a moment ago, while grilling the erstwhile officer.

"Alucard? . . . I mean, Sir?"

Integra nodded. "I received authorization awhile ago, but wanted to hold off until we had the situation stabilized. He's a wild card at the best of times."

Ceras squirmed slightly, both at the thought of her Master's return, and because of the informal way Integra was speaking.

"Problems, Ceras?"

"No, Lady Integra. But when he returns, he and I will have to have a discussion. Of sorts. Its not something I was looking forward to." She looked off to the side as she spoke, though her voice was firm, if hesitant.

"I have full faith that you'll work it out, Ceras. You have my sympathies however, he can be a real bastard."

"Si . . .sir?"

"Well, he can." She replied, almost petulantly. "Give a vampire an inch, and he takes a damn mile . . ." she trailed off muttering, ignoring the pensive look on her subordinates face.

"And . . . me sir?" The voice was hesitant, but anything but meek.

Integra paused, mid mutter. "You, Ceras?"

"You've stopped referring to me as Sergeant, or even Major, Lady Integra. What exactly is my standing with you? A trump card like Alucard, or a soldier of the line, like Galaice and Fergeson?"

"Jesus, Ceras. It was a joke." She paused. "But in answer, you're neither, I think."

"Neither?" The puzzlement was clear in Ceras' voice.

"Neither. Both. Whatever. You've proven yourself competent in my absence, and exceeded my expectations since my return. I need an advisor that can work both realms, with the troops, and with the Iscariot and greater undead. We lost so many last time because we didn't employ either aspect of our force to the fullest. As such, I think I would rather you be a, well, an advisor rather than a straight out subordinate, someone who might help me troubleshoot events that I might not otherwise see. You are in a unique position Ceras, being more intimately associated with the rank and file and the creatures of the night than either myself, Alucard, or Walter. That is a viewpoint I need you to present. Had I realized that before, I might have seen Hellsing's deficiencies before the Incognito massacre showed them to me the hard way."

"Sir?"

"Integra, please. And no more questions. I need to prepare to release Him. In the meantime go and see how the recruits are handling training and inform Merick of his proposed transfer. Then have Stasi interview him."

Ceras nodded, and saluted, still a little shaken by what she had just heard. It was a bit much to process. "Yes, si . . . Integra.."

"And send off a squad or two to recon the battle site; MI-6 supposedly has the digital security footage, but since they won't release it yet, I'd like to try and find out what I can in the meantime."

"Right. I'll send out Sergeant Case's squad, they're veteran enough to handle anything, or at least to know when to call for help and hold back."

A pause.

"Now, Victoria."

"Ah! Sorry, si . . . Integra!"

Spinning on her heel the confused but altogether satisfied officer left the room, leaving her superior to figure out just how it would be best to pull centuries old force of nature off the reserve list and back into the game.

VVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVV

"Bother Andersong.."

"Father Maxwell. Peace be with you."

"And you, my son. You have the item?"

Reaching into the folds of his jacket, the Paladin produced the canvas wrapped tome, handing over to the priest, whose eyes lit up as he reached for it, the smaller man's body almost seeming to vibrate with anticipation.

"Were there problems in obtaining it?"

The Hanging judge shook his head, but at the same time gave a signaling glance to the other man present.

The younger paladin cleared his throat slightly. "We recovered it, Father, but the spell we used . . . it seemed off."

Eklesia almost choked out the last word, as Maxwell's gaze hardened and transfixed him. The cool of the Iscariot's Temple Hall suddenly seemed cold, and the large, arching ceiling suddenly seemed even farther away. He gulped nervously.

"Off? Off how?"

"He means, the wraiths summoned didn't seem to dissipate as the scrolls indicated they would."

"They did not vanish?"

"No, no Father, they did, but I still felt them. As you may know, my . . . specialty is a sixth sense, an ability to track and hunt such," Eklesia paused, trying to find the right word. Abominations is what the summoned spirits were, but . . . "anomalies. The wraiths vanished, but I still felt them, as if they had simply become invisible, yet lingered still."

Maxwell frowned, his brow curling and wrinkling as he gave the matter consideration. In the silence, short as it was, Eklesia was sure all present could hear the jack hammering of his own heart. Crossing Father Maxwell was neither smart nor necessarily safe. Maxwell had been the one to find the original scroll, and had pushed it into use. Oh, how he wished he could be with Lucrecia, tending to the wards and armory!

"Andersong? Did you notice anything?"

The man shrugged. "Brother Eklesia is far more sensitive to such things than I am," he said, turning to look down at his subordinate. "I have no reason to doubt what he claims."

Maxwell nodded again. "It is likely nothing, regardless. It was a spell of some power. It would take awhile for a physical manifestation of that nature to fade away. Do not concern yourself with it. Good job, though, both of you."

Maxwell turned, and began to make his way out of the chapel, his footfalls echoing in the stillness, vanishing out into the darkness beyond the candlelight.

"But sir, what if . . .what if it doesn't?"

The footsteps halted. A voice echoed back from the darkness. "Those summoned were avatars of Sigsmund, his favored Champions, Lord Mathius and his legion. Should they linger, which they don't, they will undoubtedly act in a manner befitting such heroes, even without our guidance. And they are in England. Let the Damned deal with them, pet vampires and all."

VVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVV

Integra refused to wince, even slightly, as she made the small incision, the razor drawing blood from her right thumb, and then pressing the digit in sequence against the six sigils etched into the solid, cold iron door. She braced herself, finding firm footing on the stone floor.

The backlash of energies as the seal broke threw her backwards nevertheless, and she would likely have tumbled into the wall amidst the tumultuous windstorm had Walter not caught her and held her steady, his own form bracing against the magical backwash. As abruptly as it began, the deafening crack faded to echoes, then silence.

Taking her assistance from Walter, she moved to her feet, and straightened her outfit. It wouldn't do at all to show even a shadow of weakness at their reacquaintance.

'Heaven knows he likes to push me to my limits already.'

It was true enough. The damn vampire had, in his more playful moments prior to his incarceration, taken to playing jokes during the down times. Nothing so as elaborate or undignified as a bucket of water over a door, or green dye in the shampoo, but jokes none the less.

Most of which involved getting troops and visiting dignitaries to lose control of their bodily functions in fright. Sticking his head down through the ceiling and right into the face of the prime minister had nearly cost Hellsing a quarter of their budget that year.

It certainly cost the minister his dignity, and the trousers of a rather expensive suit.

'At least Ceras hasn't tried to follow in his footsteps. Maybe I can get her to try and talk him down.'

The Knight pushed open the heavy iron door. The sounds of an old phonograph filling the stone corridor with a melancholy tune as she stepped through the thresh hold, Walter on her heels.

Even knowing Alucard for so long, even trusting him with her life and more, facing the lion in its den still set a slight tremor down her spine, even though she knew, rationally, intelligently, that she had nothing to fear.

"Alucard."

The Iron Maiden's gaze traced over the room past a lighted candelabra and over a shelf overstuffed with leather and cloth bound books to come to rest on a chair in front of a rather rough wooden table. Or more specifically, the slouched, unmoving, red garbed form in the chair.

Slowly the red brimmed hat rotated, a toothy grin being brought to bear.

"My Master. I take it you have need of my services again?" The voice seemed to ooze a relaxed, teasing confidence, as if the speaker was some sort of lazy prophet, who knew this time, this conversation would come, and was as a result singularly unexcited about reliving it in real time.

"We never stopped requiring them, Alucard, though we've been managing well enough without you." Integra replied, voice curt but civil.

The gaunt form rose up, towering over the platinum haired woman, orange shades flashing in the firelight. "Ahh. I have felt stirrings through the Policewoman. She's grown stronger, I imagine." A playful tone, twinkiling with a hint of perhaps . . . pride?

"Major Victoria is doing well."

"Oh ho, Major now, is it?"

"Ms. Victoria is doing quite well, Master Alucard. Her progress has been quite astounding." Walter cut in.

"Is it, Angel?"

Walter smirked slightly at the name. "While not displaying your particular brand of enthusiastic destruction, she is none the less formidable."

Integra cleared her throat, drawing the old partners' attention to her. "Ceras' progress is quite impressive. That is not the issue at the moment. The Iscariot is on the move. We will stop them."

The vampire nodded. "The restrictions are lifted, then?"

"As much as they usually are. Normal invocations of Cromwell are in effect." Integra spoke as she turned to leave, her subordinate and subject falling into step behind her. Crossing the hallway at a quick clip, they rounded the corner to enter into the long hallway to the stairs. Nearly ten feet wide and one hundred and fifty feet long, doors lined its sides periodically.

A single figure stood halfway down the hall. Blue cargo pants, blue fatigue top. Black utility vest, with a hammer strapped to her back. Ceras Victoria fixed the approaching group with her gaze.

For a moment, Integra wondered why she was glaring at them.

'No, not us,' Integra though,'him'. Another small shiver ran up her spine, recalling Ceras' earlier words. A discussion. The thought of what that might entail, and what she might be about to witness made her take a small step back.

Alucard took a step forward face splitting into a wide, wide grin.

"Policewoman."

"Master."

Integra looked from one to the other, feeling the tension in the air, or what passed for tension, at any rate. A mix of excitement, anger, and nervousness from one side, and perhaps anticipation and amusement from the other?

"I've heard you've improved."

"Why don't I show you . . . Alucard."

Integra visibly started at the last word to leave her Major's mouth. The phrase prior had been bad enough, but this . . . this was unprecedented. Ceras Victoria had never addressed Alucard by his name, and she had though the fledgling never would. Alucard would certainly never invite a change in address, as she had just hours earlier. But now that Ceras has addressed him as such, the tone carried a less than subtle message with it.

A challenge. A conflict between what were her two most undeniably valuable operatives. And one she had absolutely no idea how to handle or deal with, and only a vague idea as to what it was about. Before she could open her mouth to say whatever she might have said, the issue was decided for her.

Hand coming up in one smooth motion from where it had rested at her side, Ceras Victoria flexed the muscles in her right wrist. A small single shot firearm appeared in her hand as she completed the action, having slid neatly down the spring loaded slid rail that kept it concealed within the baggy sleeve of her fatigue jacket.

Little more than a barrel and triggering mechanism it had no obvious magazine, or even much of a grip. Undoubtedly single shot, it nevertheless packed a far larger punch than what would have been expected for a hold out weapon. A derringer or something similar might have fired a nine millimeter round. The Boomslang, as Bonner had dubbed it, was something far, far more dangerous.

The gun's namesake was a relatively small and unassuming arboreal snake. Though potent in its venom, it is a creature that shows itself rarely, and when it does, typically will not strike unless sorely provoked. Even then its back of the mouth fangs sometimes find it hard to grasp larger targets. But the Boomslang's venom is something thoroughly unpleasant, leading to nausea, confusion, headaches, and eventually death.

The Boomslang weapon, singular, as Bonner assured Ceras it was a completely custom job, was similar to the snake in many ways. Easily hidden, not to be used unless desperate, with a short range and extremely deadly bite. The product of an all night whiskey and soda bender, the American had dreamt up the plan in a drunken haze, then built it the next day. It fired a single custom round of the re-engineer's own design, a shotgun shell sized item packed with metal or silver twists and glass shrapnel.

The recoil would snap a human's wrist. The blast would shred an enemy combatant.

Ceras pulled the trigger, and the battle was joined.

The elder vampire favored his apprentice with a toothy grin as he realized exactly what it was that fastened to her wrist, before dropping below the incoming cloud of shrapnel with inhuman speed.

Pushing off the floor from his kneeling position, the Red Garbed terror lunged forward, his hands reaching for his own weapons as he did so . . .

Reacting with her own incredible reflexes, Ceras had her Sig-Pro unholstered and ready even as Alucard began to duck the round from the Boomslang, and his blind dash only served to line up his head perfectly with the barrel. She double tapped, and the lead rounds tore through his face, shattering his glasses and sending the rims to the floor.

Alucard's body skidded and fell face down onto the asphalt, blood forming a puddle around his head.

"So the policewoman has teeth after all . . . it remains to be seen if she has fangs." Even disembodied, Alucard wasn't one to pass up a quip, his voice still playful, but a tad cautious.

The pooling blood shifted and began to distort, an inky blackness warping its color as multiple red eyes opened in its reflection, gazing amusedly at the policewoman. The body itself burst into shadowstuff, two canine heads lunging out from it at the aggressor.

The first one disintegrated in a hail of gunfire, but the second gripped her arm in a vise like jaw and twisted, snapping her left wrist.

The handgun fell to the ground with a clatter as the shapeless mass of shadow seemed to rise up.

"Good, policewoman, but not quite good . . ."

"My name is Ceras Victoria. Use it!"

Ignoring the pain, Ceras pulled a combat knife from her webbing and hacked the hellhounds head off with a single, brutal stroke, before hurling the silver edged blade towards her erstwhile teacher.

It stopped in midair and reversed, heading back towards her, only to be batted aside as the younger vampire freed Nox Praetor from her back and swung it in a single, smooth motion.

She lunged forward and brought it down in a massive overhand arc dead center of Alucard's shadow form, only to have it be stopped by a white gloved hand as the ancient undead resolidified.

Alucard's other hand shot out as soon as it rematerialized, lancing towards Ceras' stomach. When it hit, it would cause great pain, but miss the heart. It was not intended as a fatal blow.

Ceras had been counting on that. She didn't even try to dodge, and grimaced as the hand tore through one side of her and then out the other. She grinned up at him, fangs bared. She had him.

The elder vampire managed one startled look of disbelief before he realized exactly what the fledgling had intended. Throwing herself against him, she effectively pinned his one arm inside her own body, and the other was still keeping the hammer from descending and landing even a glancing blow upon his being. With no appendages to hinder her attack, she struck.

Fangs sunk deep into flesh as Ceras Victoria became a true No Life King.

Even as she drank, though, she could feel her own lifeblood ebbing as her powers sought to mend the wound in her chest only to find it still occupied by the intruding arm, her left wrist still bleeding profusely from the hellhound's rending bite.

A few seconds after she struck, Ceras released her hold on the elder vampire's throat and let the hammer fall from her hand, though Praetor refused to clatter to the ground. Instead, the weapon daintily hovered, maneuvering some feet over Ceras' blood to come to a gentle rest on the dry stone.

Its master was not nearly so graceful. Taking a shaky step back, Ceras freed her chest from the impaling object with a gasp, and stared into her former master's eyes.

Without the red lenses of his glasses, the former policewoman found crimson irises returning her gaze, and smiled slightly at what she read in them. Pride. Respect.

"Most impressive, Ceras Victoria. Most impressive, indeed." The voice spoke in a tone none present had ever heard before. Oh, it was still playful, Integra was sure that the damn creature would laugh as he strode through the bloody gates of hell itself, but there was something else there. A sense humbled pride, and its inverse, respect.

Ceras nodded weakly in acknowledgement, body swaying unsteadily as she did so. "Thank you, Alucard."

The nod never fully completed as she pitched forward, the wounds inflicted taking their toll on her stamina as the combat high she had been running on left her. She would live, but now that the immediate threat was over, her body demanded rest in no uncertain terms.

Alucard caught her as she fell, and swung her up into a fireman's carry, much as he had done the night of her death when he had bit her.

He turned slightly to face Integra, who still stood there, mouth agape. He didn't bother looking up from the body he cradled.

"I will return shortly. Ceras Victoria will be fine, but she needs rest. Please do not disturb me." The same voice. It brooked no argument.

Before the Knight could respond the red garbed man spun on his heel and disappeared down the darkened corridor towards his own room.

Walter was the first to find his voice.

"Ahh, then. I guess Ms. Victoria will be needing more blood than usual."

Integra's mouth opened and closed twice before she managed a reply.

"Yes. Do that, Walter. And Walter?" she added, her voice still hinting at the disbelief and exasperation she felt.

"Yes, my lady?"

"Bring me the reserve whiskey. The stuff grandfather laid down. All of it."

"Yes, my lady."

"And feel free to help yourself to some, too. Its going to be a long week."

"Of course, Lady Integra."

VVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVV

Authors Notes:

Well, a couple things to note here. First off, a big thanks to my new beta, Lady Blackmour; helps me to stay on schedule, and acts as a sounding board for some of my less linear plot or technique movements, in addition to the thankless task of grammatical editing.

Second off, thanks to all who reviewed. Sadly, my ego desires these little bits of digital flattery and constructive criticism, and often motivate me to pick up the digital pen for another paragraph or two (curse you, human failings! Curse you!). Special thanks to Drowninginmysleep for her generous review; I've been in similar situations before (sanity is for the weak, or so I've told myself). Shadowkeepre, you can find answers to your question about the familiars on my site, found via my profile. A preview of chapter eleven, featuring the Sergeant Case's recon of the battle site, is also present, though I warn everyone that it contains only original characters, and is just a fight scene.

I apologize for my glacial pace once again; timetables for hobbies don't do so well in my book (still working on my first Warhammer 40k Army; started it 6-7 years ago and now have two more in various states of completion . . .). Anyway, a bit of a question to you folk out there: It seems that the initial chapter, Substance, has thrown people for a loop in that it actually takes place at the END of this particular chronicle (It was originally a one shot, but encouragement brought it to this). Thinking of moving it to the end, but then I'd be kinda weird just having it sitting their, with a huge chunk of story missing. Any thoughts on the matter? Thinking I might just remove it entirely and repost it at the end as the epilogue . . .

And the new Hellsing OVAs are being produced, think the first one has already aired in Japan. Appears they will actually follow the Manga, which I suppose is a fairly reasonable thing. Personally, I don't much care for Pip, or Ceras' crazy power up, but something is better than nothing. This is now and forever based on the original anime canon.

Thanks much, T35