AN: The first chapter of my brand new Silent Hill fanfiction, after an extended hiatus from . It's set in 1993, just before Walter begins his ten hearts murders. Walter, Vincent and Claudia are all students at Pleasant River university. And yes, I'm aware that this sounds like the premise for a bad sitcom. I'm running with the timeline that used to be up on Nursery Cryme (I think), so it's also set immediately pre SH2. I'm probably going to take poetic license with some of the smaller chronological details and mythologies, so no complaining. It'll be a good read, regardless, I promise. This is the first serious story I've written solo in a very long time that's not a one-shot, and updates might, at times, be few and far between, but I'll keep working at it.

The foppish young man leaned back in his monstrously uncomfortable plastic chair, removed his glasses, and pinched the bridge of his nose sharply with a deep sigh. Staring out of the window with blurry vision, he rubbed his temples, took another swig of cold coffee and thought longingly of the springy mattress waiting for him in his dorm room at the university halls of residence. It was almost midnight, and the library was near deserted. He cursed whichever member of the college faculty had come up with the brilliant idea of making the study facilities open all night during exam period. It meant he had no conceivable excuse whatsoever for avoiding his coursework. The dank little building, with its polyester charmlessness and the low hum and bright glare of the computer monitors called to his academic conscience and prevented him from hitting the local bars, or hitting the hay. He was, of course, taking far too many subjects. He had really overshot his bolt this semester. How utterly typical of him, an overgrown schoolboy with far too much to prove. He was in his third year here, and hadn't matured in the slightest. It was, perhaps, a sheer effort of will on his part to resolutely avoid becoming a serious scholar, no matter how adept he might have been in the role. He replaced his spectacles and glared murderously at the numbers and figures laughing at him from his notes. It wasn't that the module in accountancy he was taking was difficult, just that it was all so tedious. Still, it needed to be done. It was a skill which, he felt certain, would be equally as useful as learning about the local history and superstitions, or his private theology lessons. He felt enormously grateful for his education; there had only been two Wish House scholarship places available, and he'd taken one with ease. The other one had gone to that utter cretin, and all round Oedipal weirdo, Sullivan, but he didn't feel too insulted by this association, because he was well aware that his dirty mac wearing comrade from the orphanage had made his way into Mother Dahlia's affections with his freakish devotion to The Order and anything they chose to spoon feed him. Vincent, on the other hand, was quite assured that he had been chosen for his intellect, not his piety.

Speaking of piety, the third little addition to their august company had been quite the surprise, three years ago when they left Silent Hill for Pleasant River University. The river in question, incidentally, was somewhat less than pleasant, and had a disproportionate number of used condoms floating in it, but this was entirely besides the point. It had been something of a surprise when they reached the bus stop that morning and found their travelling companion to be none other than Leonard Wolf's daughter. Unlike them, she wasn't an orphan, but she'd probably have been better off as one. Wolf, the inexplicably influential, chauvinist, alcoholic pig, had apparently decided to stop using his equally batshit crazy daughter as a punching bag for a few years, and let her get a degree instead. He could only surmise that she was being sent to college for the same reason he and Walter were; they were all earmarked to become future priests and priestesses of The Order. So their education was coming at a very high price indeed; a lifetime of service to a demon worshipping cult. Vincent may have been raised in their orphanage, he may have had their dogma drilled into him for as long as he could remember, but he was not, nor had he ever been, an idiot. All their talk of paradise, of God, of faith, it was all bullshit. They were a cult, and just because their demons and Paradise and rituals happened to be a little more tangible, a little more real than say...downing KoolAid to get on God's spaceship, it didn't mean they were any less mental, albeit in varying degrees. As far as Vincent was concerned, if he'd discovered weird shit going on at the site of an Indian burial ground, he'd have skipped town and left it the fuck alone, not founded a religion. Still, that was Saint Jennifer for you.

Claudia and Walter really were a hilariously socially inept pair. Vincent had made friends so very quickly and easily, charming his way around his dodgy lineage so people forgot he was a scholarship kid fresh out an orphanage. Within a few weeks his popularity was assured, and within a few months he'd already bedded enough freshers to get himself a rather satisfactory reputation. He remembered with a slight frown, Claudia marching into his dorm room and pleading with him in an impassioned voice, her long pale fingers plucking nervously at her frayed hems, "But it isn't true, is it?!" He'd laughed in her face. It wasn't that he particularly wanted to hurt anyone, it was just that this was his chance, his one shot at having a taste of the pleasures of the real world before he was reeled back in and given the wholly unwanted title of "Father". Before his destiny came back to bite him on the arse. This was the only taste of freedom he was likely to get, and he wasn't about to let Claudia pop up and remind him of where he came from, of where he was going back to.

He thought she'd understand a little better. After all, she was getting away from her father. He thought maybe she'd take the opportunity to loosen up a little, enjoy life while she could. But it seemed, perhaps, that Leonard's hold over her was not quite so easily broken. Or that crazy bitch Dahlia Gillespie's for that matter, God rest her soul.

So Claudia spent her time studying, praying on her knees and pestering him with endless theological matters as though the fact that they came from the same place meant that she had some kind of right to be seen talking to him in public. Not cool. When she wasn't doing all this, she was hanging about with Walter, who followed her about like a shaggy homeless puppy. Walter had a habit of latching onto anything that had a vaguely maternal air to it, and Claudia seemed to have taken it upon herself to look after him. They were close, very close, and this irritated him a little. After all, Vincent had been the silly little kid who followed Claudia and Alessa around, hoping to be invited to join in their games. And he'd been the silly little kid who'd wrapped his arms around Claudia's waist and buried his face in her chest and sobbed with her when Alessa "died". He'd been the one hiding in the basement of the hospital with her, the two of them huddled side by side in a cupboard as they listened to Dahlia being murdered and Alessa being kidknapped. Walter had been too preoccupied with tracking his mother down. It had often occurred to Vincent that someone should correct Walter Sullivan on certain matters concerning his parentage, but if he was slightly more placid believing that his mother was a holy apartment room (no, he was not joking) than the slightly less mystical probability that she was a whore who had abandoned him, just like Vincent's own mother, then that was fine, he supposed.

But after Dahlia was killed, Claudia had changed. She was no longer a frightened kid who missed her best friend, she blossomed overnight into a batshit crazy evangelist. Dahlia was lauded as a demi-saint in the church, and Claudia had turned to God in a big way, as if she felt it her responsibility to carry on the Gillespie legacy. Vincent frowned. It was around this time they had started to fight, seriously fight. Vincent had found out that Dahlia had burned Alessa on purpose, and thrown it in Claudia's face during an argument. She had never quite forgiven him. It seemed to him that she simply rationalised anything that was barbaric, anything that shattered her vision of Dahlia as a Saint and Alessa as a willing vessel, anything that hurt too much to think about, as "the will of God". She remained painfully naïve and fragile while Vincent grew up and developed a healthy sense of cynicism. Was it any wonder then, that she turned to Walter for friendship and camaraderie? Walter, who was equally desperate to swallow down anything he was fed under the promise of salvation, acceptance, love and belonging and all the other things that Vincent had since decided were not worth pursuing. Happiness, as far as he was concerned, was something you snatched here and there, in the arms of a half naked girl, or in the euphoria of a drunken night with the lads, in a nice meal or a warm bed or something equally tangible. Abstract ideals and asceticism went no way towards making him feel fulfilled. Some people were just wired like that. Some people were a little too sane to find their happiness in delusions and prayer.

It wasn't that he didn't believe in God. It was hard not to believe in God after you've seen your childhood hopscotch companion give birth to it. You couldn't dismiss the facts, after all. But there were different ways you could look at the situation, and he figured he had the more well balanced of views. And right now, he had the chance to live a normal student life, before going back to a world of dark stone and incense and blood sacrifices, and he was damned if he wasn't going to grasp that with two hands.

No, he didn't feel guilty about Claudia. People grew apart, it was just a fact of life. She would be just fine in her own little world of faith and dogma and abstinence. Each to their own.

Besides which, even if she was possibly the least popular girl on campus, no one would give her any real trouble while Walter was at her heels, her loyal protector with his creepy menacing stare and tall, broad frame. Which was good, it saved his conscience from pricking him too much when he walked past and ignored the all too frequent scenes of students jeering at her, of college football players snorting and throwing balls of paper at her flaxen head, of the barrage of insults, sexual slurs, sneers and jokes which always seemed to come flying her way. Claudia Wolf was a magnet for trouble, an ugly, bizarre looking girl with an infuriating air of marytrdom. Hell, he was doing her a favour by not sticking up for her. She probably believed that turning the other cheek, to borrow an idiom from Christianity, would get her to Paradise that little bit quicker.

"I've been looking for you..." Speak of the devil. It was Claudia, pale and sun-starved, dressed like she was wearing hand-me-downs from the Victorian era as usual. "Walter said you were planning on staying here all night."

He frowned, never having quite gotten used to the older girl's uncanny ability to locate his whereabouts, even after three years of campus life. It still annoyed him. "Yeah," he replied defensively, "Well, maybe you should be doing the same. Exams are next week."

"I didn't waste the semester on parties and socialising," she pointed out levelly. "I don't need to cram."

"Did you want something, Claudia, or did you just come to gloat at me?"

She looked vaguely hurt as she held up a flask, rather lamely. "I made soup today. I thought you might want some."

He glared at her petulantly. "You're not my mother, Claudia. And you've been hanging around Walter too long if you think you need to act like it." It was a nice enough gesture, but with Claudia, there was always some insufferable self righteous motive behind everything she did. If he took the soup, it would be a minor victory on her part, because she'd have made him look weak. And he resented her determination to tie him to Silent Hill, her assumption that just because she and Walter were painfully lost at Pleasant River that he must be equally incapable of living a normal life. She was a horrible reminder of the incestuous, suffocating cult he was going back to once his degree was completed.

"I just thought..."

"Look, no offence, but I'm fine. And besides," he added cruelly before he could stop himself, "I wouldn't eat your soup if you paid me. It tastes like shit."

His stomach rumbled, and she smirked, setting it down in front of him with her usual disregard for his wishes. "You might feel differently in a couple of hours," she said simply. And then, in her typical artless way, she let slip, in that badly feigned casual way of hers, the reason she had really come. "Of course, you could always join Walter and I for evening prayer..."

"Or I could stay here and do something productive," he shot back, irritated. "Claudia, it's going to take more than a flask full of holy soup to save my soul."

"I worry about you Vincent."

"I worry about myself as well," he responded in all seriousness. "I especially worry about how I'm going to stay sane when I have to move back to Silent Hill and am stuck with you and Oedipus Sullivan for company." He feigned a thoughtful look. "Maybe I'll cultivate a drink problem, like your father. What would you think about that, Claudia?"

Her face crumpled a little. Back of the net. He was feeling especially nasty this evening, and the blonde haired girl standing in front of him wearing her heart on her sleeve was always much too easy a target. Not only did she embody everything that was preventing him from having a normal future, but she always reacted so sportingly.

"I think if you keep on like this, you'll go to Hell." She sniffed haughtily.

He chuckled. "And what about your Dad? Is he going to Hell?"

There was a moment's silence and Vincent got that familiar twinge he always got when arguing with Claudia. It was the little lurch of guilt that told him he'd baited her too far. It was sometimes a little difficult to make the distinction that while, for him, their discourses were a bit of sport, a way of amusing himself and feeling a little more vindicated, for her they were deadly serious. With Claudia, everything was deadly serious. The girl wouldn't know what a happy medium was if it hit her in the face. "You know where we are if you change your mind," she said quietly, before sweeping off, silently. He glanced at her retreating form. Typical, she wasn't even wearing shoes.