Chapter 26

It was a short run at vampiric speed to the castle walls. It was getting easier to break into the inhumanly fast sprint, Seras noticed, bounding up over a ruined wall and into the castle. She could hear sounds of combat farther in, and smell the heightened blood and adrenaline of the human Hellsing operatives. She ran on toward that, forced to slow down when the path became a crumbling stone hallway that branched deeper into the building.

Still following the sound and scent of her fellow soldiers, she slowly became aware of movement alongside her. Something she couldn't see was keeping pace with her, close enough that if she swung her elbow out far enough she could probably connect with it. Gritting her teeth, she hoisted the cannon on one shoulder and in another blink had out her firearm, shooting into the empty space.

The space swirled to dodge, fading chameleon-like into Selkah's ragged, grinning form. She kept firing, cursing mentally. She wasn't sure she could beat Selkah. When Anaid had talked about fighting him, she hadn't even considered winning, just surviving the onslaught. And Anaid had known him, known his tricks, and his Songs. Seras wasn't about to waste time fighting the freakish werewolf when she was needed elsewhere.

Stay out of his reach, she told herself. Slash and run. Don't let him slow you down. He doesn't even care about killing you, just tormenting you. She hoped the last part was true. Selkah dodged the next two rounds, but caught the third in the throat. His hiss of pain turned into a gurgle and she put another two rounds into his head. He stumbled and went down, but she sprinted on, knowing it wouldn't be long before he was up. Why didn't the silver bullets hurt him like it did Anaid? Was he just older and more powerful, like her and Alucard with the blessed bayonets? Or was Anaid right in that whatever had been done to Selkah had made him unnatural even by werewolf standards?

She turned a corner and ran head on into Selkah. The impact would've sent her sprawling, but his hand locked around her throat and slammed her back into the wall hard enough that she felt the ancient stonework shift. Surprise and pain made her squeak and he chuckled, sending a bolt of rage through her first panic. Her foot flew up with blinding speed, digging into his stomach with force that would've crippled a human.

In her fury, Seras was stronger than Anderson, and Selkah crumpled slightly forward, but his grin stayed on. The holes in his head were closing, but she could still see the jagged edge of his splintered skull in a few places. Her free hand shot out, and her fingers dug into the bullet holes, past the edges of bone, and into the soft warmth of his brain.

Even then, the sound he made was more of wonder than one of pain. His grip on her throat faltered as hers dug in tighter. She jerked out of his hand and spun him, slamming his head into the wall. His eye, framed by her thumb and index finger, refocused on her.

"He fed my blood to the Table," Selkah whispered. "As long as the Table exists, I can't be destroyed. None of his servants can." His horrible chuckle rumbled under the words, and as she tensed to yank his skull completely out, he lashed out with one arm and brutal strength, tearing her hand free and flinging her off her feet.

This time, the wall she hit went down, sending her into another room. Her thud on the floor with the weight of the stones that came in with her had the floor crumbling. She fell for a long weightless moment before spinning like a cat to land flat on her feet as stones and crumbling wood and ages of dust fell around her. The floor she had landed on was earth which hopefully meant she had nowhere else to fall. The cannon's strap had kept it on her shoulder, but she had no idea what had happened to her sidearm. Still shaken, she took a quick stock of her condition.

She wasn't hurt except for the distant ache where she had smacked into the wall. He hadn't hurt her, which meant he was back to his cat and mouse game. Anaid had said he had been careful not to put himself at risk before Bastion had taken over the pack. The vampire lord must've messed him up badly if he would walk right into pain like that.

And he had told her how to kill him, she realized suddenly. Destroy the Table, and Bastion's servants would have nothing to sustain them. They would die like any other freak. If Selkah had been telling the truth. How likely was that? She sighed and pulled the cannon up to firing position. She only had a few rounds left for it, so she would have to be careful.

Once sure she was completely intact and on solid ground, Seras stepped away from the spot and into the rest of the room. It was dark, even for a vampire's sight, but smelled like blood. She looked up at the hole she had fallen down. There was no sign of Selkah. She tried to hope that she had hurt him badly enough to take him down for awhile, but fully expected him to materialize out of the shadows at any moment. The air smelled fresher farther in, so she ventured carefully forward, hoping to find a way out.

It seemed to be a cellar of some kind. There was some stone work and wood fixtures that were in better condition than the ones upstairs. Being underground must've protected them from some of the elements. The smell of blood got stronger, and she slowed again. She opened up her senses the way she had the night she had found Anaid. Selkah's blood had been warm and pumping on her fingers, which meant he had circulation, which meant he had a heartbeat. If he was close she would be able to hear it.

Sure enough, she could hear a steady thump from somewhere in the dark with her. It was slow and calm, as if the owner was not in a blood-stinking hole under a ruin with a vampire battle going on somewhere overhead. She opened out farther, trying to pick up the intent of the attack when it came. Seras tilted her head to listen harder and saw the gleam of eyes in the dark, not golden, but green.

Anderson was there, standing so silent that she overlooked him in her first glance around the room. Even his thoughts were still. In the darkness, she could barely make out his outline. His glasses were gone, and the cross around his neck was missing

"Don't move," he said, even as she gasped. His voice was a growl between his teeth.

"No," she said, backing away. "No, no, no..." Braced to fight Selkah, her nerve wasn't prepared to face the paladin. Her heel caught on something and she fell backwards with a panicked squeak. She had landed on some wooden slat stairs in the dark.

Anderson was charging, she could sense the movement coming at her fast. As she scrambled to get up, to get away, something grabbed her from behind. She was jerked back hard against the stairs, her skull cracking against the edge of a step. Two huge hand were clutched her around her middle, each bigger than her head and without any skin at all. The blood smell rose around her as Rawhead and Bloody Bones forced his flayed head between the stairs and his nightmarish breath panted against her neck.

She screamed again, and a third hand grabbed her collar. It was Anderson. One of his blades stabbed down and she contorted to get out of the way. The blade sank into Rawhead's skull with a meaty 'thunk' and the creature went still. Seras clawed her way free of its hands, even though it meant running straight into Anderson's arms. Anderson kept his grip on her collar, but swung her to the side. Rawhead wasn't dead. In fact, the creature was glaring at them silently, sunken wet eyes on either side of the blade.

"It, it, it's not supposed to be able to come out from under the stairs," Seras gasped.

Anderson didn't answer. She felt a painful tingle from his grip on her and realized that his cross was in his palm. He had tied it there with the frayed cord.

Something splintered in the stairs and then the monster underneath came hurtling out. Seras threw her arms up to block her face as wood fragments and something wet sprayed out over them. Rawhead seized them both. There was nothing as external as fingernails on his raw fingers, but he was so strong that his grip broke the skin. Seras panic cleared enough for her to stab into his eyes with the arm that wasn't being pinched into her side. Rawhead squeezed her harder and his thumb punctured her skin, digging in under her ribs.

Anderson roared something, and there was a flash of gold light that stung Seras' eyes and all her open wounds. Any other sound was drowned out by Rawhead's screaming. His hand was jerked away from Seras. She heard a rib snap as the finger curled to hang on. There was a hurricane of fluttering pages and Seras staggered away from them, clutching her side. Her back hit a wall and she sagged against it.

Heal, she begged herself. Heal quickly. Get us out of here!

When she looked up, Anderson attention was back on her. He stared, quivering, but silent. It was as if all the hatred and zeal in him had been reined in tight. She didn't know whose hand was on those reins, but had a sinking feeling that they wouldn't be able to hold him for long. He needed to kill something. Banishing story time boogey men might be part of the job, but the satisfaction of killing her, personally, had to be tempting him. Not taking her eyes off him, she reached slowly for the cannon.

A blast of sensation shot through her, pure elation and bloodlust on such a scale that it had to come from Alucard. Seras gasped, crying out as her serious, frightened eyes glowed red. Her whole body buckled with the weight of bloodthirsty joy that broke over her in a wave. Everything went red, and through that haze she saw Anderson flying at her, blade in each hand.

The Harkonnen cannon was in her grip as if by will alone. She fired, lips pulling back from teeth suddenly pointed. In her heightened state, she saw the round leave the barrel slowly, had plenty of time to note that it would hit Anderson square. His blood would splatter like rain. In that same slow motion, Selkah appeared again, stepping into the path of the round, taking it in his chest.

She saw it puncture, saw his flesh tear into a ragged swirl around the metal as his ribs liquefied. The round detonated, tearing Selkah's body apart. The hot spray of blood went backwards over Anderson. Seras saw Selkah's head and most of his shoulder splat on the floor. There was an arm partially attached by a few shreds to what was left of his lower torso. The other arm and most of his upper body were simply gone.

To make sure he stays that way, she reminded herself. Destroy the Table. She sprang over the body, not caring where Anderson was anymore, and up the remains of the stairs.

She burst back into open air. It helped clear her head of the shared sensations from her Master. Hopefully that meant he had found Bastion and was silencing that target even now. She ran past a window out into the courtyard and slid to a halt in shock.

There was a whole battle going on. The Hellsing soldiers were fighting an army of spectral monsters. On either side of the fray, stood the two vampires. Alucard was exultant, a bonfire of red and black, still holding his precious guns, but wreathed in his hellhounds and dozens of burning red eyes. Gaping maws of maniacally grinning teeth snapped opened and shut and howled with demonic glee.

The vampire lord Bastion merely looked regally put-out. He was a handsome creature with elegant features and curling brown hair spilling around his shoulders. He seemed more reserved than the vampires they had fought, and certainly more so than Alucard. He had none of Alucard's frenetic madness, but matched him for intensity. His eyes burned a poisonous balefire green in his vaguely disappointed face.

Alucard's hellhound whipped across the battlefield, over the heads of the soldiers and their fight. The two guns fired, black magic trailing from the bullets. Bastion didn't even try to dodge. Holes were ripped into his formal clothing, but instead of blood, clouds of cutting sand like tiny shards of glass poured out. They cycloned around the hounds, tearing them into mist.

Pulling her eyes from them, Seras looked at the human soldiers. They were fighting as best they could against ghost-like vampires and monsters, but every time they cut one down, it regenerated and came back at them.

Table, she told herself again. If there was any truth to what that demented shifter said, the Table has to be destroyed.

She felt more than saw Bastion make some sort of gesture. From an opening that had once been a door to the courtyard, another specter joined the fray. Seras recognized it as the mini-skirted vampire that had tried to wake Anaid to protect her from Alucard. Alucard had left her as a pile of sand in the floor, but the Table had brought her back.

Seras adjusted the Harkonnen across her back with the strap across her chest, and jumped from the window to the ground. She was immediately set upon by something that might've been a vampire, hardly more than a ghoul that had been merged with something else until it was more like a spider. With the Table mantra still in her mind, Seras ducked away from it and ran to the door she had seen the specter come out of.

More specters were coming. They hissed and leapt at her with claws and fangs out, but she was able to shove by them. They were more interested or just more drawn to join the battle than to pursue her so they didn't follow. She was going down more stairs, and the farther down she went, the less tangible the specters were. She followed the trail of Bastion's summoned slaves to a room lit by the blue ghosts of old fires.

A final specter stood there. It was a young girl, with a long dress and dark hair nearly to her knees. She was as solid as the battling specters had been, but made no move to follow them up the stairs. Around her neck was a silver disk with the same raised design of the moon that had been branded into Anaid's palm.

"Christiana," Seras said, remembering what Anaid had called her ward. The specter looked at her.

"You are not my guardian," the child-specter scoffed, and turned with an imperious toss of her head. Seras could see a huge slab of rock on the floor behind her. It was as wide as a mattress and nearly four feet high. A circle had been worn into the middle and a complicated blood channel around the edges. It was caked with layer upon layer of dried blood, and the smell of it sent a stab of hunger through Seras.

"What are you doing?" Christiana asked, still haughtily, but with an edge of uncertainty. Seras didn't want to explain. She had two rounds left in her cannon. That would have to be enough. As she hoisted the Harkonnen up again, the ghost became frightened.

"Guardian!" Christiana screamed suddenly. "Help me!" There was a short pause and Seras loaded as quickly as she could. "Anaid!" Christiana wailed as no answer came. Hearing the werewolf's name from the child-ghost made Seras prickle. "You traitor! Come here now!"

"Shut up!" snapped Seras. She almost argued with the dead girl, but just as quickly decided it would be useless. She turned the cannon to the Table and squeezed the trigger.

"She's dead, isn't she." The voice was heard even over the explosion of the round hitting the Table. It must've been telepathy. "He killed her like he killed me."

One end of the Table lifted off the floor in the explosion, tilting it upwards. Seras saw the fault in the stone as clearly as if it had been outlined in white, and fired the last round straight into it. The Table was blasted in two, one half flying to pieces and the other embedding itself into the far wall, bringing the ceiling crumbling down on them.

Seras turned to run back up the stairs before she was caught in the collapse, but Christiana stood in her way.

"You can't leave," the child ordered. "You have to take care of me!"

"You're already dead," Seras said, feeling hypocritical. "You don't need to be taken care of!" She charged into the ghost, hoping to pass through her. The girl felt solid enough though. She clung to Seras, and her eyes burst into vicious green.

"You have to!" the girl hissed, growing fangs. "I'll make you! He'll make you!"

Snarling in a mix of annoyance, fear, and disgust, Seras felt her fingers stiffen. She pulled back, then lunged forward, using her Master's hand-stabbing trick to impale the child's spectral body on her arm. Christiana screamed as her form dissolved around it. The scream faded with her body until there was nothing left. Seras was almost surprised that it had worked, but didn't have time to give it much thought. With four stories of castle crumbling down around her, she tore up the stairs three at a stride.

Dust was forced up the stairwell in a cloud around her by the cave in. She didn't need to breath, so she closed her physical eyes and ran on with her other senses. She could hear the sound of battle getting closer, and the change in temperature as she got closer to the night air. Then, just as she was sure she was almost out, something blocked her perceptions.

Her eyes opened to see Anderson standing there again, a dark silhouette against the backdrop of battle, blocking the doorway out into the courtyard. For the first time ever, Seras didn't even cringe at the sight. With a growl rippling out of her, she dug in her feet and charged him.