Author's Note: Wow. I posted this extremely late. What I did was not cool. I just hope that this chapter makes up for it's overdue status with its quality.
Toccata of Nightmares: The Second Movement
The six hunters stood at the base of the open stairwell. Fork lightning split the sky around the top of the castle, though no rain fell. The thunder was deafening, but they were too fixated on their goal to pay it any attention. After what seemed like an eternity of simply staring up the long flight of stairs to the pinnacle, Jonathan took the first step and began his ascent, and the others just followed his lead. He reached into his bag, deciding that he wouldn't use the Vampire Killer, but for some reason, his hands couldn't grasp anything else. It was as though the whip was trying to ensure that it was the weapon that would kill Alastor of its own will. Jonathan shrugged off the thought, dismissing it as fantastical. He was so lost in his thoughts that he barely even realized that he'd reached the top of the stairs and would have walked into a door if Charlotte hadn't grabbed hold of his shoulder.
"Oh…uh…thanks. Sorry," he rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment.
"Honestly, you're clueless right to the very end."
They opened the double-doors and were nearly staggered by the dark aura that overflowed out of the room.
"I can't see a thing!" Jonathan choked out.
It's t-too hard to breath—" Charlotte gasped, holding onto Jonathan's shoulder for support, only for his legs to give out. Both of them fell to the color coughing uncontrollably.
"I can take care of this," Alucard stepped forward. Maria reached out towards him, but her gesture went unnoticed.
"Dark powers, heed your true master and obey the Prince of the Night!" Alucard's already deep voice took on an even deeper, even demonic quality, "Dissipate and hinder me no more!"
This new voice chilled Maria to the bone but she noticed that somehow, a part of her found it almost…sexy. 'Ahh! Bad Maria! Bad! Don't think things like that! That is so inappropriate!'
The darkness wafted away, bending to Alucard's near indomitable will. Charlotte and Jonathan found they could breathe again and began taking greedily deep breaths, urgently refilling their lungs. Once the smoke had cleared and the two incapacitated hunters had recovered they stepped forward. Their target waited inside. He lounged in the throne normally occupied by the Dark Lord. Alucard noticed that he was even mimicking his father's infamous pose; one leg crossed over the other as he leaned on one of the arms of the throne, head held in his left hand, with a wine goblet filled with blood in his right.
"I even perform Mathias' own gestures better than he himself does them. What a—"
"Be silent, you abominable wretch! While I hold no respect for my father's behavior, the fact remains that you're nothing more than a usurper."
Alastor jumped to his feet indignantly, "How dare—"
"Close your mouth and listen to me; the final word is that as long as my father possesses the Crimson Stone, he alone is the master of Death. You have no such power. Compared to the true master of this castle, you're a weak little boy attempting to look taller by standing on a chair."
"Damn you, son of Cronqvist!" Alastor howled, whipping the goblet in his right hand at Alucard's face, only for the glass to be knocked aside by the Alucard Sword. The vampire fumed for a moment before regaining his composure.
"I should get back to the more important matters. I do have guests to…entertain…after all. Consider this an honor! As soon as I tear this half-breed limb from limb you will all witness a performance that will rival the majesty of your idle God himself."
"Really, let's see the actors!" Jonathan taunted. The vampire's reaction was not what he expected. Alastor just smirked.
"I'm glad you asked," he said calmly. He raised an arm and a curtain that apparently had been hiding a fairly large area of the room began to rise. And on the other side were the bodies of…
"Are those…?!" Loretta gasped in horror.
"Camilla, Orlok, Lyudmil, and Joachim," Charlotte confirmed, but she was having difficulty holding the contents of her stomach down. Dark blood seeped steady from the wounds on their bodies, despite the fact that several of them had been dead for days, and the blood had spread almost across the entire room.
The vampires were nailed to crucifixes that were arranged at the points of a pentagram, the center of which was struck with a sword with a blood-red ruby encrusted in its pommel. One point of the pentagram was empty however. No crucifix was struck into the floor there. Jonathan wondered why the pattern was inconsistent there.
The moment Alucard saw the sword, he could tell something was seriously wrong with it. He lunged forward, desperate to confiscate the diabolic tool from the hands of the vampire. With a laugh, Alastor dissolved into a flock of bats, reforming right in front of the sword, plucking it from its place in the stonework just before Alucard could reach it.
"Alucard! Get away from there! I'm not sure, but based on what I saw him do to Joachim with that sword, if that blade so much as scratches you it'll rip your soul right out of your body!"
"Is that all? I've faced things that would make you die of fright where you stood. Simple mortal peril is child's play."
The Vampire Killer suddenly tugged itself forwards, pulling Jonathan with it. "What the—" he yelped as his body moved on its own. He was fighting in a completely different style than he usually fought with when wielding a whip.
His mind was assaulted with images of a young woman. A medieval noble maybe? But why would he be seeing something like a medieval woman in his head?
And then, in a single moment of clarity, it made perfect sense. He was about to tell Charlotte not to worry and explain the situation when she blurted it out first.
"I think… No, I'm sure! That's the whip's memory of Leon Belmont fighting! That and the spirit of Sara who lives on inside the Vampire Killer!"
"Hey, I was going to say that!" Jonathan whined.
Alucard was presently engaged in a blindingly fast sword duel with Alastor. The Damascus Sword and the Alucard Sword were flying at each other without any noticeable response time. Jonathan thought this would be an advantage for him when he joined the fray, but before the whip made its mark Alastor pivoted his body behind Alucard who back-dashed out of the way of the strike and then flipped over the vampire's head, landing in front of him and pressing the offensive, driving Alastor backwards. The vampire only snickered derisively however.
"Lunar Hellfire!" Alastor burst towards his dhampir opponent and sent a barrage of crescent shaped firebolts towards him. Alucard jumped into the air himself to avoid the burning projectiles, only for them to follow him. And it only got worse when Alastor materialized in front of him and knocked the Alucard Sword clean out of his hand. Alucad managed to recover just in time to give his enemy a sharp kick, causing Alastor's follow-up to miss its mark, merely cutting off some hair, rather than removing Alucard's head from his shoulders —and, Alucard mused, sucked out his soul as well.
"By the time I've finished with you, you could be put in a box labeled 'some assembly required!" Alastor giggled at his own awful joke.
"Give it a rest you big windbag!" Jonathan shouted, landing a hit with the Vampire Killer. Alastor went wide-eyed, apparently appalled that his opponents had actually managed to land a hit on him. This gave Alucard the opportunity to slash ferociously at the vampire. Alastor didn't remain vulnerable for long however. With a cackle, his body dissipated into a swarm of ethereal black bats and reemerged behind Jonathan. Charlotte decided it was her turn to join the fight and apparently so did Stella. Both swords drawn, she threw a Furious Wave at Alastor. Unfortunately, he managed to slice the storm-force winds it in half with a single swipe of his blade. And he still managed to evade or parry most of Alucard and Jonathan's attacks.
"This ends now!" Charlotte cried out, "Raging Fire!"
Her immensely powered up spell was unavoidable. Alastor transformed once again into a flock of bats but once he rematerialized, he found that he was still completely scorched. He was consoled by the fact that all the other combatants except for Jonathan were in the same condition.
"Was that really necessary?" Stella asked grumpily.
"Well, at least I actually landed a hit on him!" Charlotte retorted herself.
"Y-you trashy little…what the hell am I doing! We have a common enemy here. We can start a gossip war later; now, that vampire dies!"
Loretta sighed as she stared at her sister, "This is the woman who's shadow I may very well always live in."
"Aww, c'mon Loretta, you don't know that," Maria said cheerfully.
Meanwhile, Alastor had returned to his fight with Alucard while Jonathan and Stella attacked in turn. The vampire had begun to use his bat-swarm tactic very frequently, transforming into a flock every second time he was about to get hit. He didn't hesitate to attack after reforming either. He practically reappeared in mid-slash, and it was nearly impossible to block his attacks without having to dodge them entirely.
Suddenly, they were given a saving grace as Charlotte cried out:
Based on previous experience, Jonathan was half-expecting Alastor to wither and die, like most other opponents that Charlotte had used that spell near. However, he simply transformed into a flock of bats…all of which promptly died.
"Dammit!" he roared, the dead bats transforming back into his body. He tried transforming again, but he simply wasn't capable of performing the proper magic any longer. His bat-transformation ability had been killed with the spectral flock. He parried several attacks by both Alucard and Stella and then leaped out of the way of the Vampire Killer as Jonathan, or maybe it was the Belmont's or Trantoul's spirit, lunged at him. He found himself backed against a wall, and jumped clear over the fighters' heads and landing behind them. He was mortified that he hadn't landed a hit against any of the hunters, but this thought only fueled his determination to slaughter them all. His next lunge was cut short as one of the hunters impaled him from behind. Turning his head he snarled at the transgressor in question. "Cronqvist scum!" Alucard didn't even dignify him with a response, merely yanking his sword out of his gut and readying himself for another attack.
And then, the Damascus Sword began to glow.
A read and black aura simply began pouring out of it, flowing steadily outwards and fading after it got a few feet away. The screams they heard before throughout the castle could faintly be heard coming from the blade, much softer than normal, but the hunters all noticed that they were slowly but steadily growing louder.
"Such a beautiful sound, the terrified screams of tortured souls. It means the ritual is almost ready to begin. All I need is…" he trailed off, "Well, I'd hate to kill the suspense. Sadly, I can no longer afford to let this sword strike anything but the flesh of my final sacrifice, so I'll need to use something else."
"Didn't Alucard just like, stick a sword through your pancreas or something?" Stella asked obnoxiously, "And what the hell do you mean by 'sacrifice?'"
"Patience. You can see what I mean for yourself soon enough," he said in the tone one would use with a child, but the malevolent hiss always present in his voice never faltered, "It will be one of the last things you shall ever experience in this world, so I would so hate to spoil it for you."
"Damn it, tell us now!" Jonathan demanded, his words were echoed threefold by the spectral voices of Sara and Leon.
Alastor just smirked and strolled casually to the center of the pentagram, where he struck the Damascus Sword back into the spot he had taken it from. He then drew a nearly identical sword from a scabbard at his hip. The only real difference between the two swords was that the one he now held had an emerald in its pommel instead of a blood ruby. Without any warning whatsoever, he collided with Jonathan, knocking him to the ground.
"Sole darkness that this boy possesses, come to your new master," Alastor commanded, from somewhere on his person, the Darkfire Whip, an experimental weapon Charlotte had synthesized using the Flame Whip and the Jet Black Whip as materials, flew into Alastor's free hand. He kicked off of Jonathan and made a move towards Alucard when he noticed the blonde haired wench standing off to the side, utterly defenseless. He grinned wickedly and leaped at her. She didn't have time to react. All she could do was scream.
And then something very strange happened.
Everything went black. She did notice however, that something was glowing from behind her.
"So, you're my reincarnation. Oh! Yay! You look just as good as I did in that outfit!"
Maria whipped around, turning to face the speaker. And it was like looking into a mirror.
"Maria Renard. Pleased to meet you. Your name is Mariabella Fox, but you prefer just Maria, right?
"Uh…yeah…before you say anything else, could you answer one question for me?"
"Am I dead?"
The other Maria stood there for a second. Then she began laughing hysterically.
"No, of course not!" she gasped out between giggles, clutching her side, "Not nearly. You're just here because I called you here. I can't have you dying on me or I won't be able to spend any more time with Alucard."
"What's wrong? Talk to you're old pal Maria."
"Well…you're me. Shouldn't you know?"
"What do you think I am? A perfect copy of you? I don't know everything about you. I just get to live through you every once in a while."
"Then you should still know!" Maria shouted at her predecessor.
"Look, just tell me," the other Maria asked, an air of exasperation creeping into her voice.
"Well…I'm kind of having an identity crisis. Am I myself, or am I just you?"
The other Maria stood there for a little while with her head cocked to the side in thought. After what seemed like an eternity to Maria, her doppelganger finally responded.
"Well, while I can't say I've never influenced your behavior, I can still reassure you that you have nothing to worry about. Just because you're my reincarnation doesn't make you…er…me. You're you, and nobody else. Never forget that, I don't want to have to repeat myself like how I had to whenever Alucard had an episode where he would start thinking that he would inexplicably take his father's place as the bane of all mankind one day." the ramble began, "Tall dark and broody. It's like he never grew out of the teen angst phase. Must have been from the constant sleeping."
"You really are a lot like me," Maria giggled.
"Other way around darling."
"Uh…sure. But why did you call me here only a second before Alastor chopped my head off?"
"Well, that's the other reason I called you here. This whole conversation is taking place over the course of a nanosecond. I'm going to set our connection to break the moment you finish saying the following incantation…So don't worry about a thing. Alastor is in for one red hot surprise."
And with that, the other Maria grinned cheerfully and vanished into the void.
The hunters looked on in horror as Alastor's sword arm prepared for the slash that would Maria's life.
But now Maria was prepared:
"O eternal bird who burns bright as the Heavens, erupt into holy flames of glory! Rise from your ashen slumber and smite the darkness in your wake! Arise, O Brilliant Phoenix!"
As Maria finished chanting, she reawakened as the sword began its arc. It never continued as a massive blaze erupted from Maria's body and carried Alastor across the room, knocking him into a wall, everyone watched in awe as the flames took the shape of a majestic fiery bird crying out in victory.
"Now go! Burn him to a smouldering crisp!"
The phoenix nodded as it let loose a continuous blast of fire from its beak while Alastor could do nothing but howl in pain and astonishment.
"That's enough!" Alastor roared. His body began to glow with an eerie blue light, and they were all forced to jump back when a pair of monstrous batlike wings tore themselves out from his back. His already visible fangs grew longer and his teeth sharper as his mouth and head elongated into a snout. Bovine horns sprouted from the back of his head. Skin and armor melded together into coal-black scales as his body transformed into something akin to a twisted reptilian minotaur. His arms continued to extend until they nearly reached the ground from a standing position, and his hands grew into almost disproportionately large paws with claws the length of falchions. With a bellow he charged towards the group and swung slashed them all with his claws in a single swipe, knocking them backwards. He pushed off the ground before any of them could recover and landed between Alucard and Stella. Raising his arms, he swung downwards and crushed both of them beneath his paws leaving his prey unconscious in craters he had made in the stonework.
Jonathan didn't hesitate to strike with the Vampire Killer, eliciting a roar from the monster that Alastor had transformed into. The demonic creature recovered quickly however, and took to the air using his gigantic wings. He dove towards Jonathan with all the force of a stampede, knocking another member of their crew out.
Charlotte realized that the creature was to quick for her to have enough time to use her magic and took out her completed Tome of Arms, using the myriad of weapons within to attack him, however, just like the other attacks, it was brushed off. Before he had a chance to incapacitate Charlotte however, he was blasted with a massive shard of ice.
"Loretta!" Charlotte cried in relief.
The next huge ice shard shot forward. However Alastor was ready for it this time, and to Loretta's utter astonishment, he knocked the mass of ice she had created directly back at her, pinning her beneath her own spell.
The phoenix had been circling the room. It still hadn't found a good opening, and had been waiting for Maria to provide it with instructions, but she was preoccupied with tending to Alucard. Every so often his body would seem to pulse, and she was trying to figure out what was happening to him when a shriek came from Charlotte's direction, as Alastor bucked her into a wall, using his horns to do extra damage. Maria gasped as Charlotte fell limply to the floor. They were losing.
"Come on, Alucard! You can save us! I know you can! You just have to wake up!"
And then, with a sound like a massive heartbeat, Alucard's eyes shot open. And they were glowing a terrifying red. Maria stood back, feeling like she knew what was about to happen. And she was right; wings burst from beneath his cape and he transformed into that huge gargoyle that he had become when he had been turned to stone. The beast that was Alucard roared ferociously as it rushed Alastor head on. The two beasts collided with a crash that sent shockwaves along the floor, carrying the unconscious hunters Almost immediately, the gargoyle overpowered the demon, holding it in place as Maria's phoenix dove in to deliver a scorching blow. Alucard grabbed Alastor by his horns and brought him to the floor before yanking sharply upwards. Maria was expecting the vampire's neck to break. It didn't but something else did.
To be more precise, two things broke as the horns on Alastor's head snapped off with a sickening, bone-shattering crunch. The vampire-turned-demon bellowed in pain and rage as he slashed at Alucard with his massive claws creating a brutal gash across the gargoyle's torso. He continued attacking mindlessly, pummeling Alucard with oversized fists. The Dhampir struggled to keep his balance while defending against blow after blow with his own arms.
Maria busied herself waking the other members of the group up, occasionally looking back to the fight to direct her phoenix.
Alucard leapt into the air, hovering using demonic energy more than the powerful beating of his massive wings. He suddenly twisted forward, and Alastor found himself in a position he would never have himself in: Having his neck bitten in the jaws of a vampire, or in this case, a vampiric beast. Using strength borne of unmitigated fright, he wrenched Alucard off of him and flung him to the floor. And to his horror, he found he could no longer maintain his demonic form. Alucard on the other hand simply transformed back into his human shape for lack of necessity. After all, he didn't need to take the energy consuming form of a demon when he had the support of five very prepared and conscious vampire hunters.
Alastor had never looked so worse for wear: His crimson hair was stained with twin trails of blood pouring from where his horns had been in his demon form, his cape was in tatters and his neck looked like it had been wrung out like a sponge, a trait that was now manifesting in a hollow sound whenever he inhaled.
"Not so tough now, are you, ya creep," Jonathan snarled.
"You can't win!" Alastor gasped hollowly in wide-eyed desperation, "I've prepared for all the possible outcomes!" he suddenly wretched and hacked up a handful of his own blood.
"Yeah, I beg to differ! Let's finish this!" Jonathan commanded.
"Certainly," Alucard said.
"With pleasure," Stella agreed.
Charlotte just began casting a spell.
"Blood sucking freak!"
Two swords plunged through his armor one after the other as Stella get to him first, after which she hefted the Alucard Spear off of her back and pierced him again.
The Alucard Sword got him next as Alucard lunged forward, while Charlotte's spell hit simultaneously.
When the Vampire Killer struck, the assault was already approaching overkill. Of course, these hunters were not going to leave a job unfinished, and they were going to make sure that Alastor would never recover.
"You ready, Jonathan?"
They joined hands in front of Alastor and raised their free arms skyward.
Alastor had never witnessed one of the Great Techniques of the Belmont Family, and had certainly never expected for one to be used on him, but for all the awe and terror he felt, he couldn't escape from his personal ground zero. Huge phantom crosses the size of cathedral monuments rose out of the floor and spiraled around him as they ascended toward the heavens, blessing the area around them with holy energy. It was like getting third degree sunburns, or so he figured, as he couldn't so much as set foot outside during daylight hours without disintegrating upon sunlight touching his skin. He couldn't even bring himself to scream.
But there was still time.
Even as the last holy emblems vanished into the sky, he forced himself to stand.
"I had hoped…to use Cronqvist's dear son… as the last…sacrificial…vampire," he croaked, even as his voice and body failed him, he still maintained his malevolence, "But there is still one more…" he struggled to move his leaden body towards the center of the pentagram.
"The Damascus Sword…was altered to…hold…the souls of those it cuts…so that the body…will remain alive…until it returns…" he struggled, "For the sacrifice to work, all the vampires…must be alive…at the time of completion. And that time…is…now! My grandfather…shall once again be…the Dark Lord!" Barely managing to hoist the Damascus Sword out of the floor, he plunged it into his own body.
The hunters watched Alastor in grim astonishment as the familiar howling came from his own body as it floated to a crucifix that materialized at the empty point of the pentagram where nails promptly drove themselves into his flesh. The Damascus Sword's aura erupted into a torrent of darkness and fear.
"What the hell!?"
"What did he just do!?"
"And what did he mean by…he couldn't mean—Oliver said—!"
"I have a very bad feeling about this."
The aura swirled around and the screams had grown in volume to a fever pitch.
But they were drowned out by the diabolical laughter that came from within them.
Jonathan had felt the Vampire Killer's rage for the past several days. Now he felt its terror. Sara Trantoul was trying to warn him about something. But what?
The dark aura swirled inward and took the form of a man. But this was no ordinary human. Charlotte and Alucard recognized him from portraits of him shown in books they had read. Jonathan felt both Sara and Leon's memories.
Author's Note: So who was expecting that little plot twist? Next time on Castlevania Nocturne of Ruin; the return of Walter Bernhard, the second most powerful vampire to have ever existed!