Author's Note: Sorry, but at least this time I'm only a day late. Also, about posting on Christmas, that might not happen. My dad would never let me use a computer at home, especially not to post this fanfiction that I started "three" years ago and clearly don't ever plan on finishing (because I totally don't want to become a professional writer, I just want to keep writing a fanfic about a series that I'm getting rather bored with). And yes, I'm being sarcastic about the three years thing. He kind of pissed me off today and broke my concentration three times and so thanks to him, chapter 23 isn't finished as of today.

Chapter XXII

Pathway of the Damned

Charlotte, Jonathan and Maria gaped at the vampire as he leapt from the great staircase.

"Okay, I can honestly say that I was not expecting him to do that," Jonathan said in bemusement, "So, er, no pinning this on me, alright?" Charlotte rolled her eyes and just ran to the door shouting challenges, most of them being along the lines of, "Get back here you coward!" and "You're not even worth the effort!"

Jonathan on the other hand hurried over to the fallen chandelier to deal with the more pressing issue. He took a quick glance at Stella and Loretta, unconscious and bleeding profusely as gravity pulled mercilessly on the heavy light fixture that would easily crush them to death if it weren't removed. Loretta had a gaping wound on her left shoulder and he wretched, tears coming to his eyes as he saw that the foot on her left leg had been smashed flat like soft clay at the shin. Stella looked like she probably had numerous broken bones, but he couldn't be sure. He did know that she had serious gashes on her right arm and the right side of her torso that were spilling more blood on the floor with every heartbeat. "Charlotte, get over here now. The Lecarde sisters are done for if we don't do something quickly."

Charlotte hurried over to the sisters, but looked up at Maria before actually getting ready to help.

"Follow Alucard. Make sure that Walter doesn't escape!"

"Uh, right!" Maria gave a swift nod and then dashed out the open doors, hurrying to catch up with the Dhampir, her dragon flying a few paces ahead of her.

"Charlotte! Stop giving orders and just help me move the chandelier!"

"Alright then," she took hold of the bottom of the heavy fixture beside Jonathan.

"Heave!" the shouted together. Slowly but surely, the chandelier began to rise until finally, Jonathan put his whole body into one last shove, sending the whole thing toppling over backwards away from the sisters.

"So how do they look?" Jonathan asked worriedly.

Charlotte gave them a once-over and shook her head, "I can heal them, but…"

"'But' what?!"

She looked at Loretta. Without the chandelier covering it, it was now clearly visible that even her brown knee-high hiking boot was completely flattened. It had also turned completely red from being saturated with blood.

"Loretta's leg; it's…gone. There's nothing I can do. It's been flattened. Even if we could rebuild the bone structure, the flesh and muscle's irreparable. It'll probably have to come off below the knee."

"Did you pack any bandages? I don't think potions are going to do the job this time around. And if these wounds aren't closed…no, I don't want to even think about that."

"Don't worry, I packed some in case of emergencies just like this," Charlotte assured him opening the Book of Binding to the Heal spell, "In the name of Our Savior, Jesus Christ, I beg thee to put an end to pain. Heal!"

The wounds glowed slightly, and there was a slight cracking sound as a few bones fit themselves back into place, though they didn't heal. The wound on Loretta's shoulder closed completely, but Stella's seemed to fail in this regard, still bleeding, though not as violently as before.

"Okay, get the bandages out."

Jonathan reached into his bag and pulled out a roll of gauze, handing it to Charlotte immediately.

To his surprise, she waited, giving him a look.


A vein pulsed in her temple, as though she couldn't believe that she actually had to explain it to him. "I'll have to undress her to put these on. Leave the room."

"Oh! Uh, okay."

Anxious to avoid getting turned into toast, he hurried out through the open throne room doors and closed them behind him.

After watching Alucard jump from the stairs, Maria decided that she needed a new plan. That plan formulated itself in her dragon's mind when it landed in front of her and arced its back toward her, turning its head to look her straight in the eyes.

"Okay, I may have been on a power trip last time. I'm sorry, but I'm not so sure I'm able to do that again. Especially when you're so much smaller in your normal state."

The dragon gave her an unimpressed half-lidded gaze and snorted, a puff of smoke rising from its nostrils.

"What?! You were much bigger in your Zodiac form!"

The dragon huffed and took matters into its own hands. Or rather its tail, which it swept her legs out from under her with. She fell forward, landing square on the dragon's back.

"Hold on! I didn't agree to this!" she hooked her arms around the beast's neck for dear life.

Ignoring her terrified pleas, it took off and went straight into a dive, following the flashes of light that revealed Alucard's location on the rooftops below as he used his Hellfire spell.

As it leveled out, Maria managed to get a grip on herself and finally stopped screaming. "Thank you for nothing…you useless reptile…" she said between breaths.

Catching up to the dhampir and his vampiric target took only a few more seconds, once they were in range, the dragon opened fire on Walter, spewing a volley of fireballs at the vampire.

Walter adopted an almost lazy pose, and started drifting backwards away from Alucard, just slightly faster than the melancholy prince could keep up with. He raised his hand and shot off a barrage of negative energy bolts at Maria's dragon, sending it veering away and maneuvering unsteadily to avoid the homing projectiles. It then came to a sly conclusion. Dropping in altitude until it was just a few feet above the roof, it did a barrel roll, dropping Maria unceremoniously onto the slanted platform, at which point it turned around and flew in a quick circle around the cluster of energy bolts before flying in an arc above them, and having spread them out sufficiently, dived right into the middle of the danger zone and stayed in the center. The bolts converged, and just a moment before they made contact, the dragon vanished back into the æther. Their target no longer in existence, the dark projectiles just flew into whatever was in front of them. Which happened to be each other.

Maria, who was stunned and clinging to the roof for the whole performance, only managed to groan and dust herself off. "Rotten jerk lizard," she grumbled before scanning the roofs for a sign of Alucard. Spotting a flash as he deflected one of Walter's spells, she ran after him on foot, hoping that the rooftops wouldn't lead her to a drop off or a dead end before she managed to catch up. Unfortunately, Walter smashed his way through a window moments later. She would have to reach Alucard soon, or she would risk never finding him at all.

"You can come back in now," Charlotte said, opening the throne room doors.

"Are they alright?" Jonathan asked.

"That's just it; I really don't know. We have to get them to a doctor."

There was a knock at the door and the pair were nothing short of astonished to see Oliver standing at the doors.

"Why are you here"

Oliver ignored Jonathan and strode quickly over to the prone Lecarde sisters. He knelt down beside them and looked them over before standing back up and turning to face the pair of hunters.

"Stella's stable but Loretta needs a doctor as soon as humanly possible. I have to say, whichever of the two of you wrapped them up, you did an excellent job bandaging them. We can't remove a leg though; we'll need a professional surgeon for that. I'll take care of that bit. You two have to go find that escaping vampire."

"You'll carry them both down?" Jonathan gave him a skeptical look, "How do you plan on doing that?"

"Well," Oliver pointed to the doors where Gaibon knelt patiently "Death decided to mess with me, and now this Gaibon replica is constantly following me around. It's doing whatever I tell him to. It's actually pretty creepy, but I'll admit that under the circumstances it'll be useful. Monster! Carry these girls to the car!"

The Gaibon replica made a guttural noise at the back of its throat and shuffled forward towards the sisters, whacking Oliver painfully in the arm with its wing along the way as though to say, 'I don't like this situation any more than you do.'

"Come on! Get moving!" Oliver shouted with authority neither of the hunters knew he possessed. "I was not expecting Walter to come back and I don't even want to know what he might start doing if he isn't dealt with immediately!"

"Are you sure about this?" Jonathan asked hesitantly.


They left, stunned, but eager to find the vampire.

"Hold on, Jonathan," Charlotte stopped halfway down the giant staircase, "I need to cast a spell."

Jonathan nearly tripped from the sense of bad timing, "Now? Is it that important?"

"Oh, just shut up! I call upon Sylph, Spirit of the Wind, that it may grant us its boundless agility. Speed Up!"

"Oh that's right, you did still have that one…"

"Who's always casting useless spells now?

"I never said that," said Jonathan with annoyance as he jumped from the stairs. If there was a way to bypass both the ballroom and the gardens, he'd take it.

"So… That was his plan," Death thought aloud, "Those hunters didn't put as much of a dent in his scheme as I had anticipated. Now Walter Bernhard walks the Earth once more."

"Master!" Slogra burst into Death's chamber, Gaibon following him closely, "We have an emergency! Our scouts have determined that Bernhard is not truly fleeing the hunters. He appears to be headed in the direction of the Crimson Chamber!"

"What!? How could I not have foreseen this?"

"I do not mean any offense, My Lord, but it is true that the single most important thing achieved by Lord Dracula that was never matched by Bernhard was his obtainment of the Crimson Stone. It is not unforeseeable that he might attempt to steal the Stone."

"Quite right. This lunacy must come to an end here and now!" Death snarled furiously. He rose from his throne dramatically, his scythe materializing in his hands. And within moments, both he and his servants had vanished from the room to reappear somewhere else in the dark castle.

Alucard was getting frustrated. Walter was positively infuriating in his game of staying only a few inches ahead of his range. He remembered the story of King Midas who returned to his avaricious ways after the incident in which he turned his daughter into solid gold. When he died he was doomed to spend the afterlife in perpetual starvation, confined to a deep pool of water with a grape vine hanging down just out of his reach. Whenever he would try and grasp it, it would simply move farther away from him so as to always just be at the edge of his fingertips. So close, but impossible to actually obtain. This arrogant vampire was mocking him.

Moving through an open doorway, Walter suddenly leapt over to the opposite side of the room.

"Rise, my minions!" he shouted. He raised his arm slowly in a long sweeping motion and from the floor between them arose countless skeletons. Crows from outside smashed through the windows turning the room into a mess of black and white. All it needed now was a penguin or a zebra and the comic imagery would be complete. It was meant to be a distraction, and Alucard knew better than to take the bait. Before Walter had a chance to continue his escape, Alucard tore his way through the skeletons and brought his sword down on where Walter had stood, only to be blocked by the Damascus Sword, as usual. They crossed blades for only a few moments before the vampire continued running.

And so the game continued.

Alucard realized that the only way to win this game was not to play, but that wasn't an option. When all else failed in these circumstances, there was only one thing to do: Change the rules.

"Walter, it occurs to me that I should probably thank you."

"What!?" the distaste in the vampire's voice was fantastic.

Alucard continued, "Well, it's simply that if my father had never manipulated you, I might never have existed. I quite enjoy being alive after all. Thanks to you, my father obtained immortality and met my mother."

Anyone who had known Alucard for as much as a couple of hours would have known that he was lying through his teeth, but Walter was a different story. All he heard was that the son of his most hated enemy was thanking him.

"How dare you mock me!" he roared, the Damascus Sword flying out toward the melancholy prince who expertly parried the stab, and bludgeoned him in the small of his back with the pommel of the Alucard Sword. Before Walter hit the floor he transformed into a flock of bats and rematerialized, mid-glide.

"Pah, coward," Alucard spat.

Time to find a new tactic.

Maria dashed through the halls desperately trying to find her dhampric companion. As more and more time passed however, she was growing convinced that her endeavor was little more than an exercise in futility. She rounded a corner, letting out a yelp as she saw the gigantic treant standing over her, its red pinpoint eyes focusing on her unblinkingly. She backpedaled a few steps, hoping to God that the behemoth was as slow as it looked. As she took a few moments to summon her dragon again, the treant clumsily lurched around the corner, and just as the dragon appeared next to Maria the gnarled wooden creature pulled its arm back, and with speed few would have expected, it sent a brutal punch at its prey, sending her sprawling to the floor.

The dragon retaliated and began tearing at the beast with its talons, claws and teeth. The treant shook it off, but was naturally unprepared for the jet of fire that spurt toward it and set it alight. Burning, it staggered backward, trying desperately to put itself out, but only managed to do more damage. As a creature made from a tree, it was helpless against fire.

Maria pushed herself up and stood to face the dying monster, dusting herself off. She decided that now was as good an opportunity as any and summoned her spectral doves, which burst straight through the beast as it roared in pain, a strange rumbling sound like a mossy hollow log being struck.

"Sorry, but we're done here. You really had a wooden personality. It would never have worked out between us."

The treant roared as it fell apart piece by piece; first an arm, then its legs, and soon the entangled roots, bark and vines that composed its body just unraveled. The red pinpoints of its eyes faded, and the creature was no more.

"That was pretty cool," came a voice from behind the wooden wreckage.

"Who's that?" Maria demanded, back on her guard.

"Don't worry, it's just me…and a monster that keeps following me around…" said Oliver as he maneuvered around the giant treant wreckage. "By the way, that lethality remark was really lame.

Maria looked right past him and pointed at the space behind him, "What the hell is it doing with my friends!?" she shouted. Turning around, Oliver saw what he knew she referred to. The Gaibon replica was carrying one Lecarde in each in its talons to ensure its wings were available for flight.

"Don't worry, they're injured so I have it taking them to the car with me. If you want, you can carry one of them and I'll carry the other."

"Uh…" Maria thought about it for a moment. After very little hesitation she decided that she'd rather not lug someone else around. "No it's okay."

"I figured…" Oliver muttered under his breath before moving on and speaking up. "I'll get going then."

"Hold on!" Maria shouted.

Oliver turned back to face her.

"I don't trust flyboy over there with my friends, so I have to come with you," she said, pointing at the Gaibon copy.

"Fair enough," Oliver said with a good-natured smile, "but we should hurry. Loretta's really badly hurt."

"I know. I was there when it happened."

"I can't imagine what that must have been like. For any of you," he said sadly, moving on. "That's why I have to help out in any way I can."

"Then let's stop chatting and get a move on!"

They ran through the halls with very little interruption. Maria wasn't exactly pleased to be leaving Alucard hanging out to dry, but she felt that she had a responsibility to help her friends. And if that monster had a change of heart, God knew that Oliver wouldn't be able to stop it. Although, as she approached the awful zombie filled entrance hall, she couldn't escape a feeling of dread that she couldn't help but feel was not coming from the freakish abominations in that room. Something was waiting outside, and whatever it was, it wasn't going to be friendly.

An armored disk warrior crumbled as Jonathan charged past it, the Balmung rising in an arc and splitting it in two. A pair of double axe armors threw their weapons at him without hesitation as they saw their fellow warrior fall. Jonathan blocked all four axes with the sword, but still needed to withdraw a few steps.

"This is taking too long, even with your Speed Up spell."

"Ugh, I think you're right," Charlotte grumbled, firing off a few minor Chain Lightning spells until the two remaining armored warriors collapsed leaving only dust and otherwise empty piles of armor.

They continued through the halls of the castle, following the faint sounds of combat. Hopefully they would find Alucard and Walter at the source of the noise. If not… well, that would be a problem that they didn't have time to be worrying about yet.

As they entered a room at the far end of the hall they watched as a hoard of black crows converged to form a trio of Malphas that instantly took to air. Without the crows obscuring their vision they say that the room also housed an army of skeletons. The raven demons spread their wings and fired a storm of razor sharp feathers at the two of them. They were too close to dive out of the way and were braced for the attack.

Which made it that much more surprising when nothing hit them. They looked up to see none other than Slogra and Gaibon tearing the skeletons apart while Death controlled his scythe as it spun like a windmill in a hurricane, it had blocked the vicious attack by the Malphas and in seconds it had cut them all to ribbons.

"Continue in this direction, hunters," beckoned Slogra, "we shall accompany you."

"Death!" Charlotte glared at the deity, "Again? What do you want now?"

"Nothing that you weren't already attempting. Without the interference of that vile Camilla, I now am capable of combating my enemy. Though he seems to have been replaced since I first requested your assistance."

"Hey! Totally not our fault!" Jonathan interrupted, "And why should we have to explain ourselves to you of all people?"

"That is because I am offering my assistance. Very few get the opportunity to receive a gift from Death, much less a second. I will secure my Master's future, whether you intend to complete your job on the request of the Order of Ecclesia or not."

"Wait!" Charlotte stopped him before he continued, "Does this mean that you're pulling the strings behind the Order?"

"Of course not! My Lord, Dracula did just that over a century ago, as you probably have learned for yourself, but at this point in time the desires of the Order simply coincide with my own agenda."

As Death spoke, Slogra and Gaibon both crept from the room and made to follow the dhampir and his vampiric quarry.

"Sure. Why should we believe you, exactly?" Jonathan asked with a raised eyebrow.

"I am Death! I do not lie! You have my actions thus far to prove it."

"You're still our enemy. It's that simple!" Jonathan snorted.

"Such arrogance. You still fail to realize that in addition to my duties as the Dark Lord's servant, I must also fulfill duties as an agent of your own God. The spirit world is much more complex than either of you realize, even you Miss Aulin. And my word is among the most valuable of any spirit." Death stated with dark authority, "Keep in mind that it is thanks to me that you were not rendered helpless by that upstart malachi when it consumed your book of spells."

Charlotte's argument died on the tip of her tongue. She tried to respond but all she managed was a smart, "Uh?"

Death hissed in exasperation and turned away from the hunters. "You've wasted enough time already. I shall be following my two servants. You may follow me if it suits you, but I no longer require your services."

"No, we'll come with," Jonathan said with a sudden conviction.

Death turned to glance curiously at the hunter who'd had an abrupt change of heart.

"This is our job. We'll see it through to the end."

Death glided through the open doors "An admirable, though ordinary sentiment. Proceed."

The two hunters ran ahead, passing Slogra and Gaibon in the next hallway, noticing the various demons that the two servants had dispatched. The corpses of a number of fleamen were noted with some appreciation. Those…things—they couldn't very well be called people—were hellishly irritating. There were also a pair of expired mothmen, and a molton puddle of poisonous-looking slime suggested the presence of a glasya labolas. They headed down a flight of stairs to find the bretheren of the slain toxic hellhound. Jonathan immediately took charge of the situation.

"You take it from the left, I'll go right."

Charlotte nodded and immediately slid aside as the creature pounced. The moment it discovered that it hadn't pinned her beneath its paws, it arced its head in her direction and exhaled, expelling a cloud of its rancid, corosive breath at her, stopping her from casting.

Noticing that the creature seemed to be hyperfocusing on his partner, he took advantage of its distraction and slashed at it with the Balmung. The sword tore through its body and it let out a drawn out, though hoarse wheeze as it began melting into sludge similar in appearance to the bubbling pool that Death's servants had left sizzling on the floor at the top of the stairs.

"So where do we go next?" Charlotte asked.

"If we were just looking for another part of the castle, I'd be able to tell you that," Jonathan mused, "But as it is, we're looking for another person, er, I mean a vampire. I think that Death's trying to figure out precisely where to go right now."

"Figures. Are we seriously supposed to just wait for his instructions before continuing?" Charlotte grumbled, "This is humiliating."

"I think doing otherwise would just be kind of stupid though. Death obviously doesn't like Walter for some reason. I'm positive he's not trying to mislead us. Whatever he's making us wait for, he's got a good reason," Jonathan said carefully.

He began looking around the room they were in. It had dark red wallpaper and a similarly colored rug rolled out down the center of the hall. The actual floor was constructed from black marble. There were no windows. Only a few doors: Two to the left side of the staircase and another on the right. Accoring to his map, the one on the right led directly back into the catacombs, while the others were still in proximity to the entry halls.

"I'm still ticked off," Charlotte grumbled, folding her arms across her chest.

Something about this gesture drew Jonathan's eyes towards a place he knew he shouldn't stare at. He pulled them away as quickly as he could and desperately hoped that Charlotte hadn't noticed him staring.

No such luck.

"Summon Medusa!"

He suddenly found himself encased in a shell of stone. He was almost immediately released from his prison only to have his head batted about by Charlotte's heavy encyclopedia.


"Sorry," Jonathan rolled his eyes. Suddenly he came to a realization. Something that explained quite a few of her occasional cases of odd behavior since arriving at the castle, especially during the scaling of the clock tower. "I can barely believe it, but it makes sense! If you didn't actually want me to stare, you would've just worn a less provocative outfit! This whole time, you've been trying to get me to stare at your boobs!"

"What?! How could you make me sound so filthy? You're a jerk!" Charlotte yelled, her face beet red.

"I'm not saying that to insult you! It's a fact! I mean I can only remember the events of the clock tower perfectly, so I at least remember that you asked me to stare at them and then rate them, and later on unlaced the top of your corset so that I would be able to see them almost completely if I looked down!"

"I-Wha-No-I mean!—" Charlotte stammered incomprehensibly, the shade of red that her face had turned was practically fluorescent at this point and it was spreading past her ears and down her neck.


Charlotte let out a sigh of immense relief as the responibility of having to explain herself was nullified by the situation. Walter smashed through the farther door on the left side of the room and flung open the doors leading into the catacombs.

"I'm still gonna ask you about this later, you know," Jonathan told her as they began to chase after the vampire, nearly bumping into Alucard who was still following Walter, just barely managing to keep up. They hurried down the stairs as fast as their legs could carry them. The dark tunnels beneath the castle beckoning ominously to them as the masonry gradually gave way to dirt and natural stone. There was a crash at the bottom of the stairs as Death seemed to come out of the wall and swung his huge scythe in a cruel arc down upon Walter who parried it seemingly effortlessly with the Damascus Sword. Death was unhindered, continuing to swing his scythe at the vampire in quick slashes that should have been impossible for a weapon of its size, yet he continued, Slogra and Gaibon joining him as Walter continued charging down the caves.

"Wait a minute. He's going the wrong way," said Jonathan out of the blue as the three hunters ran, not quite able to keep up with Walter and his new opponent. "There are two ways to get out of the catacombs—three if he can fly which he can—and we came through one of them, but the rest are all in the opposite direction. Where's he going?"

"I don't know, but what's wrong with that?" Charlotte asked, "It just means we'll have him cornered once he makes a wrong turn. Unless…"

"He's not running from us," Alucard finished her thought, "He's taking us somewhere."

"If that's the case, he may end up being the one cornering us if he really does have a plan," Charlotte glared at the vampire ahead of them.

"If I've understood you guys right, this could get ugly."

Walter was more nimble than Jonathan would've expected from an old man. Granted he was in peak physical condition, but still… He'd never seen anyone jump onto a spear, propell themselves into an attack towards another opponent, push off from them, use their weapon as momentum push off from the ceiling with, and then use to chop another opponent in half. Gaibon died almost instantly as the Damascus Sword tore lengthwise through his body. Slogra lunged with his spear, hoping to catch Walter while he recovered from his brutal assault, only to have a cloud of bats fly past him. Before he had a chance to realize that Walter had already rematerialized behind him, the top half of his head was cut clean off.

Jonathan could barely believe that he actually felt sorry for a pair of demons and nearly hesitated, but for Death speaking to him.

"They'll be fine. Leave them."

He didn't understand how they could ever recover from the obviously mortal and brutal wounds that they had suffered, but he was reminded that he had a job to do.

Death finally managed to catch Walter in the stomach and knock him backward toward the hunters who managed to catch him and launch an attack. Alucard immediately impaled him on his sword, only for him to transform into a flock of bats as the sword broke the skin. Charlotte had prepared for this however, and the bats were all hit with a powerful shot of Chain Lightning. He rematerialized and before he continued his maddeningly fast sprint, Jonathan swung the Vampire Killer at him, wrapping it around his wrist. He escaped but not before Jonathan managed to throw his pair of cross boomerangs. That was the moment Walter broke free and continued his charge. Death was waiting for him at the end of the hall and the process began again. This time however, he did not have Slogra and Gaibon at his side.

Maria rushed through the dreadful zombie-infested hall at the front of the castle while Oliver took it at a slightly more relaxed pace, just kicking any of the shambling creatures that came too close.

Maria made her way over to the car and anxiously waited for Oliver, remembering the movement she had seen in the trees only a few minutes earlier. She summoned her tiger just as a precaution. Oliver and the Gaibon replica carefully deposited the fitfully sleeping figures of Stella and Loretta in the car. Even with their task completed Maria still felt very uneasy. There was something out here with them, watching them hungrily almost like a predator before it strikes.

Suddenly, she felt a hot breath on her neck. She screamed, whirling around. Except there wasn't anything there. Nothing that could have been the source of the hot air she felt on the back of her neck. And she knew she had felt something.

She wasn't imagining anything. She scanned the trees anxiously, looking for a sign that anything might be there.

Something shifted just outside her field of vision. She turned to get a better look.

Once again, nothing. Except…what was that?

She took a few cautious steps forward to examine the strange object. To her immense confusion, it was…a person. A man dressed in nothing but a cloth around his waist stood there, looking at her curiously.

"What are you doing here?" Maria asked, "You should really get out of here, there's something really bad hiding somewhere around here."

The man just stared back at her.

"Look, I don't know what it is, but you really have got to run!"

This time the faintest hint of a smile played upon the man's lips, but still he didn't move.

Maria frowned, "What are you doing?! It's not safe anywhere around here! Why are you here in first place? Who are you anyway!?"

The man's eyes opened wider and slowly, the man's faint smile stretched into a grin. A wicked, horiffic grin. His lips parted to show a deranged smile punctuated by a whole mouth of carnivourous sharp teeth. Maria screamed and ran back to the car, but instead of following her, the man—no, the creature— did something far worse. His body convulsed. Slowly, his back seemed to inflate, veins stretching and showing themselves prominently. The man's eyes still watched her, the sick grin still on his face even as he hunched over and his body mutated.

The skin on his back tore open, splitting the rest of his skin into shreds, the demented face exploding in a shower of flesh and blood, and the most terrifying thing she had ever seen stepped out of the corpse.

Maria did the only thing she could do.

She screamed.

Jonathan skidded around a corner just as Walter through open a pair of beautiful ornate bronze doors that looked very out of place in the dark tunnels. The room beyond cast an ominous red glow into the tunnel.

In the center of the room, Death and Walter were squaring off. Death hung in place between Walter and the opposite wall of the room.

"This ends here, Bernhard. You'll not take another step."

"And you intend to stop me?"

"I'll unleash my full power here and reduce you to ashes."

Charlotte peered around to try and see what Death was guarding, seeing a decorated sarcophagus. The red glow that permeated the entirety of the room seemed to be coming from within the coffin.

"You've backed yourself into a corner, Bernhard," Jonathan growled, "there's nowhere left for you to run."

"I thought you would have realised by now, that I wasn't running from anything," Walter sneered.

Alucard saw the coffin and how the red glow eminated from within and his eyes widened even as his expression grew furious with anxiety, "He's telling the truth, Jonathan. Listen carefully."

The occupants of the room fell silent. All but one. Though it did not speak a word, the others could hear it clearly. A rhythmic thumping, constant and unchanging, almost like…

"Is that a heartbeat?" Charlotte asked with trepidation.

"How very astute of you. That is a heartbeat. But not the heart of a human. No, it is not even the the heart of the wretched usurping vampire who dwells within that coffin."

"Then what—?"

"It is the sound of the stone that has revived my father many times over the centuries," Alucard answered grimly, "That very stone is the reason that Vlad Tepes is the one and only master of Death."

"It is the Crimson Stone," hissed Walter with venom, "After nearly one thousand five hundred years, it will finally be mine. And when I tear it from that filthy Cronqvist's body, I will take back my rightful place as the most powerful Dark Lord this world has ever seen!"

Author's Note: So, did Menace's appearance creep anyone out? It's certainly terrified Maria, considering her fear of blood and guts, and therefore undead. Anyway, up next is the final battle. Get ready, because it's going to get violent!