Pieces of the Puzzle.

AN: From Metropolis Kid, Okay, here's my section. Sorry about the delay.

Seras reached Vance and saw that he had a gasoline tank and a long blade jury-rigged together and strapped to his back. The man lit a cigarette and took a long drag before saying, "Welcome to Meresti. What brings a couple like you to our little piece of paradise?" Then his eyes momentarily locked with Alucard's, and the man's lips pulled into a knowing grin. "Ah, so that's it. Well, there's no need to run... or hide what you are anymore. You're among friends now, like-minded individuals."

The vampire master's eyes narrowed in response. "Among friends? You presume much... too much. And as for hiding what I am, I'm the only one in this cave of yours who's come to terms completely with what I am."

"Have you now?" Vance asked sounding surprised by Alucard's declaration. "Then why have you come to me?"

"We're here because of what happened to the Wests," Seras answered, cutting into the conversation. "Did you kill them?" She asked without any hint of reservation or fear, knowing full well that she and her former master could handle anything this scrappy gang could throw at her, should they choose to steer things in such a direction.

"No," Vance replied simply.

And it was Seras's turn to narrow her eyes, not quite knowing whether to believe him or not. "What about the boy? Is he here?"

"Yes... But he's unavailable at the moment."

"So make him available."

"No, the boy is at a crossroads, and he needs to decide which path he'll take. You're meddling in things you don't understand, and I can't let your ignorance influence his decision."

"I would be more careful, if I were you," Alucard warned. "You may think you know what lurks in the shadows, in the dark places of men's hearts... but you have no idea what power that darkness truly has." The vampire pulled his lips back, exposing his sharp, white teeth – fangs and all.

Vance was briefly startled by the sight, but he refused to take the bait and attack... nor would he back down. "I see... still, you are outnumbered here, and we will protect our own. You won't take the boy back to his former life, unless he's willing."

"Then is Ian one of your own?" Seras asked, beginning to understand that the young West was not regarded as a prisoner by the members of this gang. No, something very different was going on behind the scenes.

"As I said, he's at a crossroads."

"And we can't talk to him because we don't understand what's going on? So... explain it to us."

The edge of Vance's lip curled. "Knowledge given is not valued nearly as highly as knowledge gained. Talk to the others, they will each relate a part of the puzzle to you. Assemble it and come before me once more, and I shall consider allowing you to see the boy."

And so Seras descended the staircase, moving back into the pit where the rest of the gang roamed around, passing in endless circles or sitting on the church-like pews and mouthing words, their eyes closed in silent prayer. The Draculina talked to each of them and they each, did indeed, have a piece of the puzzle, though many times it was a piece she'd already collected from someone else.

"Kill not our kindred; slay only the enemy. This is our justice."

"Seek not the sun's light; embrace only the shadows. This is our refuge."

"Feed not for pleasure; partake only to nourish. This is our dignity."

"Bear not the child; welcome only the exile. This is our fate."

"Feast not on the flesh; consume only the blood. This is our strength."

And with that last piece, everything else clicked into place, and Seras returned to Vance.

"Have you done as I asked? Have you spoken with the others? Do you understand now?"

"I understand that you think you're vampires."

Vance seemed amused by Seras's words and reaction to the revelation. He chuckled at her. "Do you think me some lunatic, who believes he will burn in the sunlight... or can transform himself into a bat once the moon has risen? No, I am not nearly so deranged as that."

"However," Vance continued, drawing in closer, his voice dropping to a whisper, "those you see here all suffer from a condition – a 'defect', others have labeled it. We were all born with a taste for human flesh; everyone in hear is a cannibal. … Or rather, they were before I met them and showed them that their hunger could be redirected; that they could substitute blood for flesh and in doing so regain some semblance of their human nature."

"There is nothing human about drinking blood," Seras argued.

"Under normal circumstances, perhaps not, but when compared to feasting on human flesh... Which do you think the lesser evil? Blood can be replaced, so long as the drainer is careful not to take too much. But chop off a limb or tear out an organ, and your victims will bear those marks for the rest of there lives. The code I've assembled from various segments of vampire folklore has allowed us to maintain at least a part of our humanity, rather than descending into mindless beasts who aimlessly roam the land searching for fresh flesh to consume – leaving a trail of bodies wherever we go and always being hunted for our appetites"

And suddenly an analogy entered Seras's head. The difference between what these people once were and what Vance had helped them become was the difference between ghouls and vampires – mindless monsters and monsters who did indeed hold fast to some aspects of their lost humanity. "I... I understand."

Vance stared at the strawberry-blonde for a moment. "Yes, I think you do," he mused allowed before nodding his head. "Alright, I'll take you to the boy."

And so the two real vampires followed the faux one to a locked door with a computer terminal to the side. Vance keyed a security code into the terminal, and the door unlocked and slowly swung open. Then Vance turned to leave his guests in private.

Seras had already taken three steps into the room (a dark, dirty place which had served as a public restroom before the bombs fell) when she noticed that her former master was still standing outside. "Aren't you coming with me?" Seras asked, turning her head back towards the door.

"No, this is your quest, remember? This boy poses you no threat, and so you must deal with him without my influence."

Seras was a little sad about the idea of leaving Alucard behind as she talked with Ian. Sure, he was her former master, but she was enjoying working with him again after so many years. It felt familiar – nice – and brought back memories of a happier time.

If Seras had been told two hundred years ago that she'd eventually come to look back on her early years at Hellsing as a happier time, she'd would've called the one telling her that a bloody idiot. But time had a way of erasing the bad memories and only leaving the good ones – a faux, delusional, rosy picture. But even a lie, if it was a kind one, could provide something to cling to when your whole world was crashing down around you. And in the years following the nuclear war which devastated the entire planet, Seras had felt like that many times.

Still she'd grown over the centuries, become more independent, more self sufficient. And she wasn't about to get clingy now. Besides, it wasn't like she wouldn't see her old master again once she was finished talking to the boy. So, without another word – or any look that would've given her emotions away – Seras turned her head back and continued on, into the room where Ian West awaited her.

Alucard (formerly Count Dracula) continued on through the city, leaping from roof top to roof top in search of the peculiar woman who had become his master. He had her scent and he followed it, used it to track her and her captor down. It didn't take long. By the time the sun had finished cresting the horizon, the vampire had tracked down his prey.

However, to the monster's surprise his master was not the 'damsel in distress' he'd expected to find. Instead she stood tall, her gun trained on the cowering, weeping figure in front of her. "No, please, it... it wasn't my fault. I-I don't know what came over me."

Integra's finger tensed on the trigger that she desperately wanted to pull, the trigger that, under other circumstances she would've pulled without hesitation. But this time it was the face of an innocent looking up at her, a man who's only apparent vice was a weakness that had allowed someone -- something – else to control him... and now provoked such annoying begging.

"Tell me about 'Jack'," Integra growled as Alucard stood silently off to the side and tried to figure what could have happened between when his master had been abducted and now.

"He..." the quivering man began. "'It' started coming to me just over a month ago. At first I thought it was just another lost and troubled soul seeking some closure with those it left behind. You see, I'm a medium; I help people... connect with their departed loved ones.

"B-But this one was different, wild, untamed... psychotic. It whispered such horrible things to me. And I tried – I really did – to resist it. I even began searching for a way to block it out entirely... without severing my connection to all the other lost souls who needed my help. Eventually, one of the other spirits told me about a book that had information on how to combat the dead. It was in the private library of a wealthy, though very strange, young girl. She gave me chills every time I saw her, but agreed to let me look through her books in exchange for relaying some messages from her to departed friends and loved ones.

"It took me several days just to skim through the book titles, but eventually I found what I was looking for, 'Selesky's Study of the Dead and Damned'. The obscure tome was devoted to all manner of research into vampires, ghouls and ghosts, and in the ghost section I found a chapter on blocking out individual spirits."

"But now... I think that Jack had planned on me finding that book from the very beginning. When I tried to block him, our minds... maybe even our spirits themselves, joined for a split second and with that brief window he overpowered me and took control. I tried to fight him off, I always do. But... But I'm just not strong enough. Every night, when the sun sets and the spirits are free to roam, he takes me over and... and drives me out, into the darkness, to search for a new victim."

Having finished his tale, the man began weeping again. "Please, help me!" he cried out aloud.

And Integra sighed in annoyance before lowering her gun.

"You should just shoot him and be done with it," the knight's new pet advised.

"And what bloody good would that do?!" Integra snapped back in annoyance. "If this Jack's a ghost, then killing his nexus wouldn't stop him, only slow him down until he could find a new one. In fact, that's probably what happened the last time he disappeared."

"So," Alucard replied slowly, having been placed in a situation beyond his own, considerable experience, "what do you want to do?"

Integra didn't answer right away. Instead she looked out at the rising sun and seemed to examine it for a minute. "I don't know... but we have until nightfall to figure something out." Integra stopped and turned to the nexus. "Our first step should be studying that book you mentioned; where is it?"

"The girl let me hold onto it. It's back at my flat. But I've read that thing cover to cover, trust me there's nothing in there that's going to help."

"We shall see. We shall see."