The first stab went unnoticed in her blind fury. The second caught on her ribs and forced her to turn with a shriek. The third silenced her, slamming straight through her throat. Pain begin to seep in through the rage and she threw herself upright to dislodge the spears. Another sank into her belly and another into her side. They grated against her bones, lifting into her flesh and dragging her inch by snarling, clawing inch from the floor. The pain slowly began to burn into agony. More pain ripped through her and her wrath became tinged with panic.
She couldn't reach her tormentors. She had killed a dozen or more before they had used the spears. The longer the metal touched her the worse the burning was. No one had ever used silver on her before. Lord Bastion had seen to that. She thrashed, trying to rip free of the spears. Another drove into her chest. Her scream emerged as a choked spray of blood. Wet redness flowed down the weapon shafts, raining onto the hunters below. She felt her heart vibrate against the silver blade and that pain ripped even her shock from her mind. Another stab almost went unnoticed in that agony, and the ninth sent her reeling into blackness.
#1 CHILD OF THE MOON
Three hundred years later, a February night had soaked the approaching soldiers with cold rain before finally ending in a mist-shrouded night. The full moon glared down like a milky cataract, turning the haze silver. There was little left of the old castle, but a tower and a small part of the fortress still stood. Bodies were hung from the walls like pennants. Some of them had already become ghouls and were moving feebly on the nails they were pinned up with. Even without them, the ruins would have been an eerie sight. It was the last remaining stones of civilization in a patch of wilderness near the sea. The nearest towns were miles away, but still the majority of young men in both had been lured here by some siren force. They had returned home as ghouls.
The resulting outbreak of cannibal monsters was what had brought the forces of Hellsing to this backwater county. Alucard had gone in first, homing in on some vampire vibe. He had dashed off in a swirl of red and black and after only a moment, the sound of gunshots rang out. The rest of the troops went in more carefully, taking on small groups of roaming ghouls and picking off the pinned ones.
Feeling a little unnecessary, Seras wandered into a corridor. There were a few piles of sand in ragged clothing, so a troop had been through this section already. Then, a darker patch of shadow caught her eye. It was a very small opening in the stone, a half-door leading into darkness. The dust and cobwebs were thick, so she knew no one had been there in recent years. A prickle of curiosity sent her down the narrow stairs, her shoulders brushing each side. The stairs met a much wider corridor and at the end, a wall of blackness that could only be a huge unlit room.
She stood in the dark, staring into the even deeper darkness for a long moment. Her red eyes refocused and she thought she could see shapes appear in the shadows. She remembered how Alucard had traced the other vampire to its hiding place. She tried to send her senses out to detect what was in the room. For a moment there was nothing, and then a thump. She jumped, startled. After another moment of more waiting, she gripped her cannon a little tighter and walked forward.
The room WAS huge. It went straight up to the ceiling, probably fifty feet high. From the floor rose nine spear-like shafts. They were set into the floor, forming a rough teepee shape. Seras looked up and saw a ragged bundle caught between the points. Three hundred years ago, it might have been a body. Not another impaler, she thought dismally. The poor soul. Still, her heightened hearing picked up the faintest shiver of movement. She tilted her head, listening. It was a slow, ragged rhythm. It would have been completely inaudible to human ears. She closed her eyes and let her vampire powers kick in, reaching out further. Somewhere on the rooftop, her Master's gun was blaring away. The tramping feet and muffled voices of the other Hellsing soldiers came from all corners of the ruin. And under it all came the persistent, butterfly-soft thump that had led her to this pit.
She focused on it, straining her supernatural hearing. There was an almost five second lull between every thump. As she became more and more aware of it she could also hear an even fainter, slower sound. It was the softest of breathy hisses. The more she listened, the more sure she was that the source was close by. She sucked in a breath through her nose, smelling old dust and cold metal. Fragments in the air caught in her nose and some predator's instinct formed a picture in her mind. There was blood here; so old and dry that it had become dust itself. Stronger than even that was the scent of pain.
"SHIT!" someone screamed and the sound cut through her senses like a chainsaw. She yelped and snapped out of the semi-trance. A blinding light hit her in the face, dazzling her eyes. She staggered back, bumping into one of the shafts in the floor. A rain of fine dust and little black specks shook down on her. A Hellsing soldier was in the doorway with a flashlight aimed above her head. His face was twisted into an expression of disgust.
Hadn't the idiot ever seen a corpse before? she wondered irately. He must be new... She glanced up at the sad remains in annoyance, wiping the dust from her face with the back of her arm. The only immediately recognizable part of it was the arm dangling free of the mess. There were tatters of fabric and most of the body was hidden by mass of tangled hair. There were scratches on the silver shafts. Whoever the poor creature had been, she thought wincing, it had fought hard even while impaled.
"What the hell IS that?" the soldier sputtered. Still peeved at having her senses so rattled, she glared at him.
"What does it LOOK like?" she snarled. "What did you expect to find in a vampire's lair?"
"Shit..." he said again, this time sounding fearful.
"Get used to it," she added, feeling a very vampiric rush of contempt.
"It's breathing..." he almost whimpered.
"Wha-?" she spun and looked up at the body again. In the trembling glow of the flashlight, a faint vapor of mist rose from where its head might be under the matted hair. After a few seconds, another one drifted up.
"Oh my God..." Seras gasped. "It can't still be alive! We're the first ones in this room for YEARS!"
"Kill it!" the recruit fumbled for his gun, dropping the flashlight. Seras snatched the weapon from him before he could fire.
"Don't be stupid!" she snarled. "Vampires don't breath."
"I don't care what it is! It's not human and that means it dies!" he voice faltered when she turned her red glare onto him full force. His jaw opened like the thought of apologizing had dawned on him, but then there was a splintering crash. A woman draped in black fell from the roof and hit the floor hard. Alucard dropped casually through the new hole in ceiling and pointed his usual hand cannon at her.
She scrambled to her feet, throwing off the velvet cape. She was obviously a vampire, labrat-pink eyes wide and frightened in a gray face. She had adopted modern fashion it seemed, dressed in knee boots and red fishnets. She wore a short black skirt and a tightly laced red corset. Her hair was artfully disheveled and her bright makeup was perfect. The only flaw was the fear in her expression.
"Guardian!" she wailed. "Save me!" Alucard waited, tilting his head expectantly. The other vampire leapt to the wall like a squirrel, and from there snatched the ragged body off the spears. More of the black dust peppered Seras. A speck landed on her lip and burned like a drop of acid. She wiped it away, leaving the taste of blood and the sensation of kissing a lit kerosene lamp. She spit, wiping at her mouth furiously to ease the stinging. The vampiress threw the body down on the floor and stood over it. Alucard casually shifted around so that his gun was aimed at her again.
'Wake up!" she screamed at the body, kicking it so that it rolled over into the small patch of moonlight under the broken ceiling. It came to rest almost at Seras' feet. She gasped, looking from the vampiress to the body. She wasn't going to step between her Master and his prey. She risked a glance at his widening grin and took another step back just to be safe. More Hellsing soldiers who had followed the battle down also hung back.
"Is that the best you can manage?" he said, amusement thick in his voice. "A long-dead servant? Was it a vampire once? A demon? You should be more careful with your toys." The vampiress' scream of denial ended with a gunshot and the sound of sand raining to the stone floor. Seras had seen this before and turned back to the body. It was a woman, gaunt and pale, a long mane of hair covering her better than the crumbling dress.
Moonlight streamed in through the shattered roof, making it easy to see her. Nine fist-sized holes punctured her body, black with layer upon layer of crusted blood. That soft sound that she had heard before was stronger now and she leaned over to squint at the corpse sprawled in the pool of silver light..
"Your heart's beating," she said, unbelieving. As she watched the wound in the woman's throat began to bleed red again. She backed away again with a gasp. Her Master was suddenly there to watch as well. The new blood washed the black scabs away and then the wound began to close. The woman gasped, her skeletal hands making clawing motions on the floor. Her eyes opened to slits and then flew wide. The moonlight filled them like bright water. They flashed silver white once and then clenched shut again. A low growl began to rumble from her thin chest.
There was a series of clicks as the soldiers readied their guns. The silver eyes snapped open and the woman was on her feet in a blur of crazed speed. Her battered body blurred as well, flowing and reshaping into something huge and fanged. A banshee scream of hate and hunger made the walls shudder. Guns slipped from frozen hands and the beast hit the platoon like a juggernaut. Seras stood stricken. The creature moved too fast for her to see exactly what it was. There were screams and splattering sounds and the smell of blood and terror sank into her vampire senses. Through that distraction, she heard her master start to laugh.
"I thought they were all dead!" he chortled. "Now I see. It's been so long!" The gun reappeared in his hand. The last of the platoon was being messily eaten. The shapechanger had pried the soldier open and was gulping down blood and flesh as fast as she could rip it from the bones. It was wolf-shaped, but built on a scale to rival the largest horses. It was dusty and silvery-colored, except for where it was splattered with blood. The wounds from the spears were just smudges of color in the fur.
"Oh my God," Seras whined again, covering her mouth with her hands. The dust on them burned her lips all over again, and this time the taste sent a wave of nauseous pain all through her. It saved her from the first pangs of hunger, but sickness rippled through her. She gagged. For the first time since her choice, she wanted to guzzle water. Alucard strode forward and the creature looked up from its feast. He fired once and a new arc of blood sprayed from its shoulder. The wound burst into flame. It turned on him with a snarl and charged.
"Yes!" he roared. "An elder beast from an age past! Even silver doesn't stop you! Unleash the forces of nature, moon child! Bring me your wrath!" As he spoke his body and coat blurred into a black and red aura. His red eyes went psychotic. Two columns of red eyes opened up in his chest. The beast slid to a stop at the sight, its own moon-colored eyes widening. It was afraid of him, Seras thought triumphantly. It would run and her Master would shoot it down.
Instead, the huge monster crouched before him, lowering its wolf-like head to the floor. His crazed smile faded a bit, especially when it shifted back to a tattered human form. The woman looked a hundred times better now, for all that she was still covered in blood, a decaying dress, and yards of unkempt hair. Her face was still gaunt but her injuries were almost gone. She remained kneeling, quicksilver eyes on the floor.
"Fight me!" Alucard snarled. "Get up."
"I've taken the oath, lord," she said, holding her bloody palms up to him. "I can not." Under the blood, were elaborate symbols. Seras inched forward to see them, and was reminded of the wards on her Master's gloves. She couldn't tell if they were tattoos or scars, but one had an eye as a central point and the other, the moon. Alucard's anger dissolved into what Seras thought might be curiosity.
He seized a handful of her silver-brown hair and yanked her head back until her whole body had to arch. She didn't resist. Her throat was bared completely, but Alucard hooked a finger in the ragged neckline of her dress and ripped it downwards. Seras 'eeped' in embarrassment, but all he uncovered was a small black scar over the woman's heart. It was shaped like either a star or a cross, and the vampire stared at it intently before releasing her.
"The Mark of Devotion," he said, (almost grudgingly, Seras thought). "You're young for such an honor...And you didn't save your last master..." The shifter sputtered in outrage, finally daring to look him in the eye.
"THAT?" she sneered, stabbing a blood-caked finger at the pile of leather and sand across the room. "THAT wasn't my Master! That gutter-tramp leech? I wouldn't have served that low-grade filth if she had come to beg for my help everyday for a hundred years with a bowl of milk in each hand!" Her odd accent was becoming more marked. A pointed grin was spreading across Alucard's face. Perhaps he enjoyed hearing his own opinions spouted back at him. "Hah! I was sworn to the service of a TRUE vampire, and I know one when I see it, and THAT was NOTHING."
Seras was baffled by all this and she was doing her best not to look down the corridor of dismembered Hellsing agents. She had grasped that her Master at least knew what this thing was and that it was some servant to vampire-kind. The strange woman glowered a bit longer, then remembered her manners and looked at the floor again. Alucard stood upright again. He glanced at the carnage down the hall and grinned again.
"My Master will want some explanation of what happened here tonight," he said. "Best to give her one in the flesh. Will you willingly leave this place, moon-child, when it has been your home for so long?" His voice was mocking and Seras fully expected the shapeshifter to respond angrily, but she got to her feet, eyes still downcast.
"As moon follows day," she said. "Her children obey. The oath was taken. Command me, lord."
The rest of the soldiers weren't happy about sharing a helicopter with the woman that had torn through and eaten almost a dozen of them. She was obviously uncomfortable in the machine and sat quietly.
"What's your name?" Seras asked, a little nervously. The creature was rubbing her hands clean on her dress. She eyed Seras carefully, then leaned close to sniff at her. Seras held her ground. Up close, she could tell that the shapeshifter's eyes seemed to have an extra lens on them, making light reflect off them as if there were no pupils. After a moment, the creature drew back, apparently satisfied.
"Anaid," she said. "Of the Dummanios." Seras wanted to ask more, but the wall of cold eyes watching and the stony silence made her nervous. She sat down to block the soldiers' view of the stranger and no one spoke the whole way home. Alucard was there as soon as the door opened and he herded the shapeshifter and Seras in to see Integra together.
The news of the massacre of her men hadn't gone over at all well, and when she learned that Alucard had brought the killer home, Integra hit the ceiling. Anaid appeared unruffled. She had been given one of the soldier's jackets to cover up the blood and mess and stood there with narrowed eyes. Once the shouting had died down, Seras gave her report timidly. Anaid stood to the side and looked Walter up and down. Finally, Integra turned her fury on the cause.
"What kind of creature are you then?" she hissed, blue eyes flaming. Anaid inclined her head.
"The vampires called us the children of the moon," she said. "Humans called us werewolves. We hunted both of them in the old days. Then, Bastion came. Wolves don't hold grudges. The strongest rules the others, and Bastion was powerful. He killed our leader, and insisted that we obey him. Instinct didn't argue.
"And it wasn't so bad. He taxed the people for silver so that they would have none to use against us. He let us have the wildlands to hunt in and we enforced his borders. By the time any army reached his lands, they were running scared, begging him for sanctuary from the beasts of the night. If he was defied by any of his people, we killed them and their mates and their livestock, leaving only the bloodied children to spread the tale of what happened. We were his army, his border guard, his secret police, and the daytime guardians of his court. I, myself, was chosen to be his fledgling's playmate when I was just a fumble-footed cub."
"You're some sort of feral monstrosity," Integra snarled. "A new kind of freak..."
"New?" Anaid chuckled in a short, barking way. "My people hunted out the mastodon. When the humans of this land lived in caves and wore flea-filled furs and cowered around their fires for fear of the night, it was us they were truly afraid of. "
"Those days are past!" Integra slammed her palm down on her desk. "Even if what you say is true, your people are gone. There had been no one in that castle or the wilds around it for 300 years. You may well be the last of your kind."
"My value has gone up then!" Anaid grinned, still being careful not to look directly at Integra. "What shall you do with me then, lady? The last of an ancient breed! The lord calls you master, so it is your choice. I've never served a human, but I understand pack hierarchy."
"What are you talking about?" Integra voice was now low and dangerous. Seras found herself biting her lip and wishing she had been allowed to leave for this.
"The strongest will always be Alpha," Anaid said, glancing at Alucard. "He rules the pack, but his chosen female rules him. I can only assume that would be you." There was an instant and chilling silence. Seras would have gladly thrown herself out the window to escape it all.
"The moon-child bears the Mark of Devotion," Alucard said suddenly. "It is a mark of extreme trust. Only the most faithful and deserving servants gained that honor. Only a high-grade vampire would be able to command the werewolves. Stronger than humans, smarter and fiercer than ghouls, some even a match for their masters. Powerful, but with a sense of loyalty." He grinned at Integra. "Once their loyalty was earned, there were no better guardians." There was another frosty stretch of quiet.
"You killed a whole squadron of my men," Integra said finally. Her eyes had never left Anaid. "Replacing all of them and performing all of their duties should keep you too busy to rampage."
"Wolves weren't meant to hunt alone," Anaid said. "Very well."