A/N- Well, we've had a good run for this story. A fantastic thank you to all of my readers! I hope that you've all enjoyed this piece and will enjoy its sequels to come.
At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
--From "The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter," by Li Po, translated by Ezra Pound
The moon was full and high in the sky, shining down upon the dark forest below. In the distance, the howl of some creature sounded and seemed to encircle the forest. For a moon so bright, the forest was terribly dark, a single shadow being cast over it. The towers and walls of the evil castle loomed higher than the tallest tree, almost menacing down at the world below. There was no sound from the abyss-like moat that surrounded it and flowed under the currently lowered drawbridge. And at the end of the drawbridge, looking up at the demon castle known as Castlevania, was a girl.
Ria Smith felt herself growing a little dizzy as what she hoped was a simple wolf cried out in the distance. A slight, chilly breeze encircled her, causing her blonde hair to sway and the Vampire Killer—coiled and hooked to her belt—to knock likely against her outer thigh. Sara was not to be seen, but Ria didn't worry. She knew that her trainer, and friend, had simply retreated into the whip, as she did occasionally. She had been that way for most of the journey back to Castlevania, coming out only at the beginning of the forest, when Ria had once again broken through the barrier of Eternal Night. And even then, the two had not spoken. Sara had only smiled at her, encouragingly, anytime Ria's eye had drifted her way. As they drew nearer to the castle, the ghost woman had simply vanished. But Ria didn't worry about the absence. Sara was in the whip. Ria knew it.
Had the past month passed too quickly or too slowly? Ria wasn't sure, even now that it was over, and the time had finally come to face off against the vampire king himself. It had been such a strange passage of time, regardless of its speed. Life had been irrevocably changed for the young vampire huntress. She had known that it would, but she would have never guessed how much.
School was starting for her soon, a change that Ria knew would come even before she knew of this destiny of vampire hunting. It would be strange to be back in school after so much had happened, and to be going back in a new place…well, the thought made her stomach do a nervous shudder. But she knew it would come. And school was nothing compared to the other things that had occupied the month.
Isaac had transported them from Castlevania directly into the foyer of Belmont Manor after the final showdown with Walter. Sophy had taken a deep sigh upon seeing the mess of the place and declared that the group would rest that night…and clean first thing in the morning. And she had placed emphasis upon Ria helping, who was all too happy to do so. Anything was okay with her now that her mother was safe and sound…and that any big fights were at least a month away. Because, for all of his faults, Ria knew Dracula would keep to his word.
So, as Sophy was departing to bed, she had paused and remembered their "guest." Isaac, looking very lost, had simply stood in the middle of the foyer as mother and daughter had made repair—and randomly, school registration—plans that night. (It had been better than discussing what had just taken place…they would do so in the morning, when all were rested.) Isaac had coughed that awkward cough one does when they are not entirely sure they really belong and turned, announcing his departure. Sophy had exchanged a look with Ria, and then Ria had stepped forward.
"Where will you go?" she had asked.
Isaac had turned and shrugged. "I'm not sure."
Again, mother and daughter exchanged looks. Ria knew her mother's intention and stepped forward.
"You can stay here…if you want," Ria offered.
"We have plenty of room. It's no trouble," Sophy picked up.
"And since we have that whole blood bond thing, it might be better," Ria finished.
Isaac eyed them. "But…I have no real loyalty to either of you…and you would welcome me?"
Sophy shrugged. "You protected me, whether it was under orders or not. It's the least I can do is offer you a place to stay when you've nowhere else to go."
Isaac looked away from them, staring out into the darkness of the night. Ria shook her head.
"Please, Isaac. Stay," she said.
He turned, his eyes wide with surprise. Ria grinned.
"I'm not going to order you to…it's your choice."
Finally, Isaac smiled. "Very well. I'll stay. But I'm not sure for how long."
Sophy laughed. "That's your choice," then, with a pause, she added to Ria, "Honey, you're going to explain everything to me in the morning, right? Starting with this blood bond?"
Ria had laughed and assured her mother just that. Ria had set up Isaac's room—three doors down from her own—and the household had gone to bed. The next morning, Ria explained everything to a mother who was much more understanding than she had previously been. Ria supposed being the damsel in distress gives one a greater appreciation of the heroes. Sophy was still not entirely happy with the idea of her daughter risking her life each night against the evil undead…but she was coping by knowing it couldn't be helped.
The weeks that had followed were strange. Ria had registered for school somewhere in between repairing the damage done to the manor. Isaac had gone with them, but had waited in the car. Dinners for the first week were quiet affairs as far as Isaac was concerned. Ria and Sophy would chat about anything and everything…the way the family used to when Ria's father had been alive, but Isaac would simply listen. He made no comment upon anything, and was a silent worker in the house repairs…even employing his Innocent Devils for some of the more dangerous repairs. Ria was beginning to worry that he was feeling more like a prisoner than a guest…until one night, in the middle of his stay with them.
Ria had just dressed for bed…a comfy set of sweat pants and a tank top with a cute little bear upon them…when she had felt someone's eyes upon her. Sara, who had been with Ria as always the past week or so, had looked up to Ria's bedroom door.
"Isaac's here," she said, before vanishing.
Ria's eyes narrowed as she turned and jumped to see the crimson-haired devil forgemaster leaning against the doorway of her room.
"I don't understand it," he said, crossing his arms.
"Don't understand what?" she asked.
She had no fear of him. She knew all she had to do was order him to stop if he suddenly had the urge to attack her. However, he had shown no urge do…not in a very long time, it seemed.
"Circumstance, Adriana. I don't understand random circumstance. The events that lead people to the quality of person they are today. I've never understood it."
He pushed himself lazily off the threshold of her room and moved to stretch herself across her bed. Ria eyed the clock on the bedside table and rolled her eyes. This would be a lovely sight for her mother to see should she happen into her daughter's room at this hour. Ria crossed her arms and looked down at him.
"Deep thoughts at one in the morning. What brought this on?"
"Isn't this the time all deep thought comes from?" he asked with a slight chuckle. However, his countenance grew quite serious as he continued, "You and your mother brought this on. I don't understand it. The two of you were so angry towards one another before she was taken…and now…I'm assuming you've never been this close? How does one little kidnapping change all of that?"
Ria gave a hollow laugh. "First of all, when your mother is taken by a vampire who's trying to take over the world, that is no 'little' kidnapping. That's a very big, huge kidnapping. And second…I don't know. I guess that just made us realize some stuff that was between us that was dumb."
Ria shrugged. "Secrets. Feelings that we hadn't shared. Stuff that was all forced out into the open the moment Walter decided to rear his ugly head."
"Like feelings about your father's death?"
Ria felt herself freeze. It was true that Sophy and she had discussed some issues that had arisen from Jared Smith's untimely death. But the two had made sure that they were private discussions. Isaac had been nowhere around, and Sara—out of her natural ability for courtesy—had made herself scarce. And Ria had never mentioned anything about her father in front of the forgemaster. Isaac now stared up at her with an almost apologetic look on his face.
"I've upset you?" he asked.
Ria shook her head, more to clear it, but also to reassure Isaac. "No, no. You just caught me off guard. How did you know about Dad?"
"I've heard his name…Jared, right?...come up at the dinner table. I hear the way he's spoken of. You and your mother loved him very much…his passing must have been hard for both of you."
Ria felt a tear snake down her cheek. Why was she crying? She had made her peace with her father, hadn't she? She found herself, almost against her will, sinking down onto her bed beside Isaac, who looked just as surprised by this reaction as she felt.
"I'm sorry," she sniffled. "It's just…I've always had to discuss Dad's death with someone who's felt it just as hard as me…I've never gotten a chance to discuss it with someone who didn't even know him…someone who could just listen instead of feeling the same exact pain. Is that selfish?"
"I don't think so."
There was a moment of silence…nothing but Ria's quiet sniffling. Finally, she felt a hand come to rest around her shoulders. She looked up at Isaac, who looked like Ria had always imagined the caveman who had first discovered fire must've looked like when the first flame had sprung forth in front of him. She choked down a laugh and fought the urge to rest her head on his shoulder. This moment was awkward enough.
"I'm sorry," Isaac said, quickly withdrawing his arm. "I'm…new to comforting someone."
Ria dried her eyes and smiled. "You did great, Isaac. You should keep up the practice."
He laughed. "You really think so? Think I could ever make it into the big leagues of comforting?"
Now Ria was just cracking up. "Do you even know what that phrase means?"
Things, from that night on, had gotten only stranger…but in a good way. Isaac began taking active roles in everyday things, and Ria and Sophy were getting use to having him around. He was learning about the other side of the world, the side the Belmont family had always been a part of…creatures of the light. And Ria liked to think that Isaac was enjoying being in a world of light and warmth…instead of the darkness and cold he had always known. After a while, "guest" no longer applied to his presence at Belmont Manor. Somewhere along the past month, he had become a resident.
And then…time was up. The month had passed. Ria was almost sure that she and Sara had been the only two to keep up with the countdown. She had finished dinner with her mother and Isaac as she always had, and stood…only this time, she announced her departure for Castlevania. Sophy had looked alarmed, jumping to her feet, but she had said nothing. She couldn't stop her daughter, and everyone knew it. Dracula was a menace that had to be defeated. And Ria was the only one to do it. She had loaded up…taking most of what she had taken to fight Walter…sans phone…and had departed.
Ria's walk had been silent, but not lonely…even despite that fact that Sara had only made herself known at the beginning of Eternal Night. Ria had a sneaking suspicion that Sara had simply not wanted to watch as they made the approach to the castle again…an approach that the whip had made several times before…and each time, Ria was willing to bet, it had gotten no easier for her ghostly friend. But Sara would reappear inside the castle to guide her…because that was their friendship. She did not doubt it at the least.
Now, as she stood staring up at the castle, she shook her head as she heard the rustle of leaves behind her and saw the echo of a flash of light. Ria did not turn as Isaac walked up beside her and gazed up at the castle as well.
"What are you doing here, Isaac?" she asked. "I don't think Dracula will take you back."
She saw, out of the corner of her eye, Isaac turn and give her a genuine hurt expression.
"I haven't come for that, Adriana," he said. "I've come to help you."
Now she turned her full attention upon him. "Why?"
Isaac turned away from her gaze. He smiled grimly down at the darkened forest floor. When he looked back at her, he shrugged.
"I've never been a free man. It's always been a different master, but I've always been the slave. But with you…I've never felt that way. I've felt freer under this blood bond than…than I've ever been. I'm here to help you. To help you win…because I want you to. You've…been good to me…your mother and you both. All I wanted to do was use you both to meet my own ends. But you've continued to help me anyway. You're…too good to do this alone."
Ria eyed him for a moment, searching him for some ulterior motive. Finally, she came to a downright shocking realization. There was none. She smiled and nodded, turning to look into the arched doorway across the drawbridge. The gateway to Castlevania…and Dracula.
"Tell you what, Isaac. I'm not giving you any orders on this. Act of your own free will," she said.
"You…trust me?" he asked.
She shrugged. "Actually, no. This is a sort of test. We make it through this alive…with you doing no betrayals or whatever…side with Dracula or me…whoever you want…and—"
"And what?" Isaac pushed.
Ria turned to him and gave him her brightest smiles. "And you can call me Ria."
Isaac's eyes almost doubled in size. Then, finally, they reduced themselves and he nodded.
"Deal," he said.
"So," Ria asked after a moment, "do you think Dracula repaired the Crimson Stone?"
"Let's find out."
And with that, the two made their way, with no hesitation, into Castlevania.
End Notes: And, the end. Again, thank you to all my readers! I hope that you all will read the sequel, whose prologue I will put up, at least, by next weekend. It will go by the name Trials, and I hope you all will enjoy that one as much as you've enjoyed this one. Also, I apologize for the lack of Sara…she's around…this epilogue was just really about something else altogether. Well…until the sequel. Please review, and, yet again, thank you!