A very brief note before we begin: This is a story set during the thirty year-long "gap" between the penultimate and final chapters of Hellsing, which seeks to tell some of what happened during that missing time, beginning about two weeks into April of 2010. It functions as a sequel of sorts to my earlier story, "Visiting Hours," but is completely independent, so you needn't have read a word of that story to enjoy this one. That said, happy reading, and if you have any thoughts, good or bad, I'm always listening.
The sky was on fire.
. . . Well, no, actually, it wasn't. But it certainly felt that way; a sweltering, muggy night in the middle of April with the clouds in too low and not a bit of wind to help. A storm was coming, yes, that was certain, but not soon enough to dispel this awful heat.
Which was all to say that Inspector Oliver Mason, he of the precinct-famous Walrus Moustache and Growling Disposition, was not happy in the slightest.
Granted, Inspector Mason was not really the sort to ever be happy, not entirely. He was wide as well as tall, and the amount of space he took up alone was enough to make him an intimidating man, even without the needling eyes and the deep burn scars that lay across his face – scars whose origins he would be happy to lecture about, at length, to any smooth-faced recruit with the patience and the stomach for it, but which he would never, ever tolerate jokes about – but that didn't stop him from piling on a stern and surly mood to go with it.
So no, Mason was certainly not the jolly type, but tonight he was in an even fouler mood than usual, because now when he had been planning to be at home, relaxing and counting off another day toward retirement, he was instead standing out in the street, under the steaming-hot night sky, in front of a run-down and disgusting excuse for a house which contained to fewer than four extremely dead bodies.
He hadn't seen them yet – he was just now making his way through the congested sea of haphazardly-parked squad cars, idle coppers, and yellow tape to make his way inside – but he'd been told the basics, and he felt he knew what to expect.
The only thing that worried him was that word – extremely. It wasn't his; some pale-faced officer on his way outside of the building – on his way to vomit profusely, actually – had been the one to call the four victims inside "extremely dead," and while Inspector Mason was almost certain that the young officer was exaggerating, he still felt the slightest twinge of unease.
He put this unease aside as he marched up the drive to the little house, pushing his way through officers and drooping yellow police tape alike. The house was, indeed, a wreck, with chipped paint, a weedy yard, and a rotten porch, but other than the freshly broken window there was no sign that anything was amiss indoors. He walked up the steps to the porch, and a young officer standing there greeted him with a curt, respectful look.
"I'm glad you managed to make it here, Inspector," the young officer said, fidgeting.
"I'm not," Mason growled, and reached for the door.
The young officer jumped and motioned for him to stop. "Um, you might want to be careful about that one, sir. Don't go inside too quickly, is what I mean. You might want to take a few breaths before you do; it's a bit, ah, messy in there."
Inspector Mason stopped, took a step back, and straightened himself up to his full height. He turned his head slowly, and glared, quietly, at the young copper, who shrank back almost immediately.
"Messy," Inspector Mason said, quietly.
The young officer took a step back. "Er – "
Mason didn't let him finish. "You must be one of the new lads, son. One of the first things you'll learn here, lad, is that you never tell me what messy is." Mason leaned over and jabbed an enormous finger at the scars running across his face. "I survived London, boy. One of the few who saw the city fall and lived to tell the tale of it. I saw it all, every gory bit of it, and it left its mark on me to remember it all by. I've seen things you wouldn't imagine, lad, so I will tell you whether something as paltry as a quadruple homicide is messy or not – is that understood?"
The young officer shivered, and slowly managed a nod. Mason harrumphed, straightened back up, and returned to the door.
"Good," he said, and pushed it open.
There was a long moment of silence. Inspector Mason, the man who did not want to be there and who had seen skylines crumble, stood in the cramped doorframe and, without moving or speaking, very quietly considered the inside of a house which was filled with, among other things, the remains of four extremely dead people.
Inspector Mason left the door, walked to the end of the porch, and threw up. When he was finished, he wiped his mouth, turned around, and glared at the young officer, who was still standing timidly next to the open doorway.
'That," Inspector Mason conceded with a sickened grumble, "is messy."
"Well – yes sir. We tried to warn you, sir," the young copper stammered.
Mason wasn't listening – he was already down the porch steps, gears in his head turning, working on who to call and what to do and trying not to think too hard about just how much work he was going to have to put into finding whatever sick bastard was responsible for this horrendous mess. He was distracted, yes, but he was at work.
Which was why he almost didn't notice the new car when it arrived.
Mason had almost made it to the edge of the sidewalk and the crooked mass of parked squad cars when something glinted in the night – a black Bentley, pulling quietly to a halt on the other side of the street. Mason frowned; he was certain they'd set up roadblocks at both ends of the road. Just who the hell was this, and how had they managed to get through?
The first of his questions, at least, was answered when the passenger side door of the car opened and a woman stepped out, looking tired and wrapped in a long, practical overcoat. She kept her hair long, and the butt of a smoldering cigarillo protruded from the corner of her mouth, which she flicked it away into the street as she left the car.
As she did so, Mason saw that underneath a pair of round spectacles, a black patch stretched across her face, covering her left eye. He frowned. He didn't know what was going on, but something in his gut said that not a bit of it was good.
The woman approached, and Inspector Mason stomped through to the other side of the parked police cars to meet her. She looked to be in her early forties, he saw, now that she was closer, and carried herself with a sort of reserved sense of purpose – like someone who wielded an enormous amount of power, but who knew, and who had had to learn the hard way, just what that responsibility entailed. She looked up as Mason approached, and he fixed her with a cold, authoritative stare.
"Excuse me, Ma'am," Mason said, evenly. "I don't know how you made it past the roadblocks, but I'm afraid you're going to have to leave. This is a crime scene – we can't have civilians interfering."
The woman met his stare. "Am I to assume you are the one in charge, then?" she asked.
"I am," Mason replied, not budging from where he blocked her path. "Though I don't know what that would mean to you."
She put a hand on his shoulder and brushed past, blithely. "What it means, Inspector, is that your investigation is now my investigation, effective immediately. Would you be kind enough to show me where the bodies are, please?"
Mason gaped, and started back from her touch. "Of all the ridiculous . . . ! What on Earth makes you think that I would – "
He never got farther than that, though, as the hulking Inspector was stopped by the sight of the driver's door of the car opening. Another woman stepped out of it, younger, with short, pointed blonde hair. She was dressed in a narrow black suit, with a red vest showing beneath a buttoned black jacket. She exchanged a brief, silent look with the older woman, and then walked across the street, toward the house and its reams of black and yellow police tape.
Mason watched her go, flabbergasted – he expected the other officers to stop her before she even reached the sidewalk, but instead they simply stepped aside, dazed, as though hypnotized by some invisible force. The young woman walked calmly through the crowd of police, stepped up onto the house's porch, and, without a moment's hesitation, pushed her way through the door and let it swing shut behind her.
Mason glowered at the older woman standing beside him. This was beginning to be too much for one night, especially a night when he shouldn't even have been working at all.
"I demand an explanation," he said, his voice on the edge of a shout. "Just what is going on here? And who do you think you are that you think you just have the authority to waltz in here and play at cops and robbers?"
"We operate under orders from the highest authority, Inspector," the woman replied. Even with only one eye to work with, her stare equaled Mason's in intensity. "As for what is going on, I am solving your case, or at least my agent is. I would be more grateful if I were you."
"Solving the case?" Mason spluttered. His hands were shaking, now.
"That's what I said. My agent doesn't like to waste time about this sort of thing. I expect you'll have your murderer brought to justice within the hour, Inspector, though I wouldn't expect it to come to trial if I were you. She doesn't like to leave much behind, either. In the meantime – " She opened the back door of the car and retrieved a stack of paper nearly half an inch thick " – you can keep yourself occupied signing these. You can read through it all if you like, but all they really say is that if you tell anyone about what you've seen here tonight then you'll never see the light of day again. In so many words, at least. You can borrow my pen if you don't have one."
Inspector Mason gaped, helpless. This was not the sort of problem he was used to dealing with. His mouth opened and closed fruitlessly, grasping for words. Finally, he managed to say, in a quiet voice:
"Who the bloody hell are you?"
The woman looked at him with an expression of sympathy. She removed her coat, revealing a plain brown suit underneath, and slung it over her own arm, carefully. Her eye traced across the scars that ravaged his face, and she looked at them with just the slightest hint of remorse showing through her features.
She took a breath. "We are Hellsing, Inspector," she said, after a long pause. "And we are the reason that what happened to London didn't happen to the entire world."
Mason felt something in his stomach twist, and he took a step back as he finally realized what it was that had made the woman's eye so cold – London. She'd seen it too.
And she'd seen more.
Mason gulped, and reached for the stack of papers he'd been offered. Across the street, the door of the house opened, and the young woman emerged, looking calm and determined. Mason watched as she stepped back into the weedy, unkempt yard and stood there – and he watched as the darkness suddenly warped and swirled around her, and as the woman's arm bent and grew and spiraled into something . . . else.
The young woman jumped, nimbly, and the wings made of night flapped. And then she flew, rocketing upward suddenly and seeming to graze the low-down clouds before she was gone entirely, carried off by the night air – which was no longer hot but suddenly growing very, very cold.
"My God," Mason said, quietly, reaching for the pen the older woman had offered him but not taking his eyes off the sky for a moment. "My God."
"Not exactly," the woman said, and lit another cigar.
Somewhere else, a man was suffering from insomnia.
Oh, certainly, somewhere in the city exciting things were happening. Somewhere, a stolen car was being driven at ever-increasing speed by a pale man in a torn suit, serrated jaws still soaking wet with the blood of the family of four he'd taken it from. In the seat beside him, jars full of red shivered and clattered against one another. He held them in place with a protective, bony hand.
. . . And somewhere far above, a girl with wings like shadows and very little patience was closing in at the speed of darkness.
None of this affected the man who could not sleep, however, nor was he even aware of it, locked alone in his basement and pacing nervously as he was. He walked the length of the room, up and down, up and down, treading between cut out newspaper clippings and blurry photographs and barely-legible notes scrawled onto the walls amongst it all, knitting everything together in a tangled, paranoid mess.
The man's name was Eddie Holloway, and he was beginning to suspect he might be insane.
He was a slight man, short and skinny with rectangular glasses perched precariously on the edge of a beaky nose. His hair and clothes were unkempt, and so was the room he walked in.
He paused, mid-pace, and let his eyes drift to the pale light coming from his computer screen. There was writing there, writing which Eddie told himself he was doing for the newspaper, but which he knew he would never dare show to his editor, not if he didn't want the man to think that Eddie had become a raving lunatic.
. . . Which, Eddie thought, there was a good chance he had become, but that was beside the point.
There were stacked folders of notes and clippings next to the computer, as well as far too many empty tea and coffee cups for a man's own good. Post-it notes covered every space that wasn't covered already, filled with half-completed thoughts and wild, distracted ideas. The writing on the computer screen was broken, and haphazard – a first draft only. He'd clean it up before he was finished.
If you're reading this, then I'm probably dead.
. . . Or at least it had, until Eddie had decided that was far too melodramatic and cliché, and had changed it. Now, it began:
None of this would have happened if I hadn't been in London that night.
Bear with me – this isn't some sentimentalist sob piece on the Walpurgisnacht attacks. I was as affected as anybody else, mind, and considering that I was there, that I was one of the handful of survivors, I can assure you that every little bit of it is still fresh in my mind, especially with the ten-year anniversary coming up on us soon. But no, this isn't just some bit of patriotic fluff.
It's not a conspiracy theory, either – at least, I don't think it is. I've heard all of 'em, too, all the ideas that maybe it wasn't just a splinter group of Neo-Nazi terrorists working out of Brazil with scavenged tech and a lot of luck who blew London Town to smithereens, and I can't tell you whether I think those are true or not, but for now this isn't about that.
This isn't about what I've heard, it's about what I saw. What I saw while I was trapped in a building on the point of collapse with the city in flames around me and nobody else in sight. I saw a girl. Nothing special, I know, but please, don't stop reading now. I didn't think much of it then, even if she was dressed in a military uniform I didn't recognize in the slightest and even if she was moving in a way that wasn't quite what I'd call human. We'll chalk that up to my light-headedness from all the smoke I was breathing at the time.
I know it doesn't sound like much, and I didn't think much of it either, but then I saw her again.
Not in person, and not in London, either, but three years after the disaster, three years of memorials and psychologists and support groups later, when I was visiting my mate out in Cheddar.
Cheddar. I know, right? What's some backwards, middle-of-nowhere town like Cheddar got to do with the London attacks, you're thinking. Well, I'd have said nothing too, except that my friend, he's a copper. Just joined the force the year I went to see him. And while I was in the station, I saw her again. The very same girl, I'd swear to it a thousand times over, staring me right at the face from a picture on the wall.
A framed photograph, one of many, hanging behind the main desk. In memoriam.
I asked about the girl, and one of the older officers told me she was the great tragedy of the Cheddar police station: Seras Victoria, the youngest copper they'd had in a decade, gone missing during the Cheddar massacre and presumed KIA without a trace of her body to be found.
. . . In 1998. Two years before London. Two years before I'd seen her, alive and well and looking just like her photo.
I should have stopped there, I know I should have, but I'm a journalist, so I didn't. I followed the name, I scraped the bottom of every resource I had. And every lead I got, every trace I found, always led to one name, at which point I ran into an extremely dead end. Every time, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get past that name.
But with the things I've managed to find out, I know I can't give up. There's more to this than anyone could possibly imagine – not me and certainly not you. So if you're reading this now, it means one of two things – either it's not finished, and my research has met a rather unpleasant end, or it's in print, and the Truth is out at last.
If what I've found out is true, then this island is in terrible danger, even more than it was on the night London burned. Whatever it takes, I aim to uncover the truth of the matter.
And not even Hellsing will be able to stop me when I do.