Author's Note: I'm going to preface by saying that I have every intention of finishing this story. This is a casual side project so my updates will not always be consistent, but I've mapped out the course of events and it will see completion.
The premise for this story has been floating around my head since about the middle of 2009 but got pushed to the creative wayside in favor of a more pressing project and the honing of my writing skills. I replayed Order of Ecclesia a few months ago and since then this story has not let me forget about it.
This has been my favorite Castlevania since I first discovered it and the bittersweet, ambiguous ending gave me ample room to create my own version of what I believe happened after the castle crumbled to dust. The villagers have always been a point of interest for me as I've wanted to delve deeper into the brief glimpse we received of their individual characters. They'll get quite a bit more exposure in this story.
If you don't fully recognize Shanoa that's good considering that at the beginning of this story she's just regained her "lost" emotions.
I also know that I'm not the only one in the fandom who saw the subtle flirting going on with a particular villager. Even my brother (who played the game a few months after I bought it) asked me if I had picked up on it. So with that in mind…
This story will eventually contain a romantic relationship between two women. If that offends you in any way then this story is not for you.
Any elements or characters you don't recognize are mine; the rest belong to Konami and the Castlevania franchise.
Rating subject to change from T to M as chapters progress.
In His Wake
Emptiness had begun to eat away at her insides, but she would not succumb.
It was ironic, this void that had cropped up in the wake of her revived emotions, yet it was strangely fitting. She had expected to die in the process of banishing Dracula; part of her had wished to die as it would be an appropriate end to her life of lies. At least in sacrificing her own life to end Dracula she could atone for the events she had helped come to fruition. At least in sacrificing herself she could ensure that Barlowe's ambitions died with her. She was his creation after all. She had been his blade.
So Shanoa had thrown her soul away before the battle had even begun. She degraded herself to dirt in exchange for the conviction to offer herself as a sacrifice so that humanity may live. She had walked the halls of the castle repeating every reason why she did not deserve life in the hopes that she would come to hate herself enough to numb the growing fear and pain and sorrow. When the time came to deliver the final blow there was a hollow ring inside of her and she let out a silent whisper of thanks to whatever god may be watching that at least this sacrifice would be almost painless.
Albus would have none of it. He refused to let his little sister let go of her life so soon.
Shanoa hated the overwhelming gratitude that had joined her grief at his passing. In her blackest reaches she was thankful that Albus offered his soul in her place. She did not want to die, but to be glad that another had gone in her place… especially him…
The grief and sickening joy had twisted her into the grip of an unrelenting vice and it was this vice that was trying its best to drain the life from her.
She clawed against it as she made her way through the dense forest and as far away from the demolished castle as her feet could take her. Small glimmers of light from the encroaching dawn shone through the foliage and helped light the way in front of her. Though her body instinctively knew the direction of her destination at this point she was grateful that she wasn't stumbling around in the dark anymore. She would have lit up the night with a spark from Vol Ignis, but that was another source of concern; it had reared its head the moment Albus' soul vanished from within her.
Shanoa had lost the ability to summon glyphs.
This was no good; she needed to get out of this forest and out of the restricting confines of her conflicted mind. She needed a human connection; a distraction from the raging thoughts. Her feet guided her back to the only place she knew, the only place she had left: Wygol.
The residents of the tiny village were still asleep when Shanoa emerged from the surrounding wilderness and plodded her way up the cobblestone streets. The air was frigid in the early dawn and a thin film of frost covered the windows of the buildings she passed. Shanoa knew each structure intimately by now; each held memories of her battle preparations and often awkward dealings with the village residents. It was strange how she both knew these people and yet was now a complete stranger to them. Still…
She shivered as she stopped to gaze at the sign that hung above the store in front of her. One of the villagers had managed to break farther into her shell than the others. One of them knew her better than anyone else alive.
Shanoa approached the jeweler's door and knocked on the heavy wooden frame. She waited a few minutes in silence and was about to knock again when she heard a faint shuffling from behind the door. Moments later there was the distinct sound of a sliding bolt and the door slowly swung open.
"I have no idea what time it is but I swear to God in heaven, Marcel, if you're drunk I'm going to-"
Laura cut herself off as she realized just who it was standing in her doorway. The two women stood there for a minute in shocked silence before Shanoa gave Laura an empty smile that did not reach her eyes.
"I'm sorry I woke you up, but I…" Shanoa trailed off. How in the world could she possibly begin to explain why she was here?
"It's quite alright; it's just…" Laura paused as a million different questions burst inside of her head at once. She took a moment to choose her next words carefully. "You left without a word. No one knew where you had gone and then there was that ghastly castle; I thought…" she gulped, "You were gone for quite a while, and every time the sun went down the night just kept getting longer."
"How long have I been gone?"
"Almost two weeks now."
"That long?" Shanoa's eyebrows shot up to her hairline. The night inside of Dracula's castle was unending; there was no reference to mark the passage of time and the castle was gargantuan in size. She knew that traversing the winding halls had taken days, but for two weeks to slip by in that maze…
"You went inside that castle, didn't you? And now that you're back it must mean…" Laura gently pushed Shanoa aside and strode out into the chilly streets. She turned in the direction of the now destroyed castle and gasped when she didn't find it. Laura spun back towards Shanoa and surveyed the warrior with wide, concerned eyes. The younger woman's long, black hair was knotted from endless skirmishes and windblown from the trek back to Wygol. Shanoa's blue dress was torn and covered in dark blood stains; her breastplate battered almost beyond the point of repair. She sported a number of new cuts and bruises with a few that required attention from a healer.
A child could put the pieces together.
Laura approached the warrior without the look of bewilderment that Shanoa was expecting but one of tenderness. When the jeweler brought her hands up to cradle her face – almost reverently – Shanoa once again broke under the weight of it all and a few tears escaped her eyes and dribbled down Laura's fingers.
"Before," Laura began gently, "when we first met I said that I didn't want to know what brought you here. I shoved the circumstances of the moment and the identity of that man who imprisoned me to the wayside because as soon as I spoke of him it brought intense hatred to your eyes. You kept claiming that you couldn't feel – that your soul was devoid of emotion – but I knew from those first moments that those claims were false." She wiped away a few more stray tears with her thumbs. "That's why I've tried so hard to make you see that you've had your emotions all along. I've tried so hard, in the only way I knew how, to get you to feel some sense of beauty rather than the hatred that seemed to drive you." Laura gave Shanoa a warm, heartfelt smile.
"You smiled just now. It was empty, but you smiled."
There was no sense in holding back anything now.
"I think," Shanoa managed to get out as her bottom lip began to tremble, "it's time that I told you about him. I think it's time I told you about me. Not just because I need someone to know, but because I don't-" a sob broke its way past her lips, "I don't know what happens now. I just don't know."
A sudden gust of frigid air swept through the village and both women shuddered against the biting cold. Laura moved her hands from where they encircled Shanoa's face and clasped one of the warrior's hands in her own. She ushered Shanoa inside the building that both served as her shop and living quarters and closed the heavy door behind them with her free hand.
The front room doubled as the storefront and workspace where Laura crafted her wares from the various stones in her possession. It wasn't a large room, but was adequate for what the jeweler needed; plus it was rare that she had more than one or two customers in the shop at a time. The display stands were bare for the night with all of the valuables locked in a safe to dissuade any thieves from breaking into the shop.
Laura led Shanoa to a door at the back of the store which opened up into the living area. Shanoa had never seen this part of the building before and was surprised to find that this room was larger than the storefront. As Shanoa looked around she realized that the room's size was due to the fact that it served as a combination of kitchen and lounge furnished with a plush couch and fully stocked bookshelves. A small, wood dining table surrounded by three chairs sat in the middle of the space near a wood stove that gave off a steady source of heat. There was a staircase along the left wall that led to the second level and, presumably, the bedroom.
The jeweler guided her over to one of the chairs near the stove and motioned for Shanoa to sit.
"You have a few cuts that need to be bandaged. I know I have some supplies around here…" Laura mused as she began to rummage around her kitchen cabinets.
The heat from the stove began to wash over Shanoa's tired frame and she felt her cold skin prickle at the sudden change in temperature. Along with the warmth came a sudden sense of calm; her bottom lip had stopped quivering and she wiped the residue of her tears from her cheeks.
This is what I need. I need to say this; all of it. I need someone to understand, and she's willing to listen to me.
Shanoa's gaze drifted over to Laura (still searching for the bandages) and for the first time that day she was able to fully take in the sight of the other woman. Her curly, deep brown hair was tied back in a long ponytail that reached down to the middle of her back with a few stray curls framing her face. Laura had always struck her as a bit of a fashion plate and this trait was evident even in her nighttime apparel. The soft cashmere gown she wore was a shade of light lavender and sported a sash tied around her waist.
"Here we are." Laura's voice interrupted her thoughts and the jeweler – clutching a few supplies to her chest – strode over to where the warrior sat. She placed the items in her hands on the table: some bandages, a washcloth, and a bottle of clear liquid that Shanoa guessed was alcoholic. Laura dragged one of the chairs over so that she was sitting across from Shanoa and began to examine the younger woman's face and arms.
"I'll get Abram to take a better look at these later, but for right now I'll do what I can." She said as she reached for the bottle and washcloth.
"Thank you." Shanoa whispered.
"Don't thank me yet; this is going to sting."
"I can handle it."
Laura smiled at that declaration and doused a large section of the cloth in alcohol. She targeted a gash in Shanoa's right forearm first and cleaned away the dirt and dried blood with the wet cloth. Shanoa hissed slightly, but other than that displayed no sign of discomfort. Shanoa's gaze was fixed on Laura's hands as they tended to her wound. Her mouth hung open slightly, but she did not speak until the jeweler had finished wrapping the first bandage.
"Have you ever heard the name Ecclesia?" Shanoa began. Laura shook her head as she began cleaning another cut.
"To understand what it is – or what it was I guess would be more accurate – you have to know about the Belmont clan."
"They're the bloodline sworn to defeat Dracula after every resurrection." Shanoa stiffened and her eyes shot up to the jeweler's face. Laura kept her eyes averted from Shanoa's and continued her ministrations. "I've heard stories of their conquests since I was a little girl."
Albus' revelation that the residents of Wygol were the lost survivors of the clan replayed inside of her head. Shanoa did not expect any of them to be aware of their heritage, but then again the subject had never come up.
"Who told you those stories?" she probed.
"My father was quite proud of his lineage. He made sure I was more than well aware of the clan's 'holy deeds' and 'duty to mankind'." Laura shook her head, "But that doesn't relate to you. What matters is that I know about the Belmonts, I know about Dracula, and you don't have to repeat any of that history for my sake."
Shanoa could feel Laura's hands tense up as she spoke and decided that now was not the right time to inquire further into the matter. She continued with her explanation.
"Late in the last century the clan vanished leaving many religious leaders nervous. They feared that with the disappearance of the Belmonts and the holy whip there would be no one to stand up against Dracula should he ever return. Ecclesia was one of a number of orders founded to discover new ways to combat the Dark Lord, and as it turned out Ecclesia was the only organization to accomplish that goal."
"How can you be sure they did?" Laura suspected the answer to that question before she even asked.
"They created me."
"So that's what you've been doing." Laura's voice was soft and tender, but with a hint of amazement running beneath. "That's why the monsters appeared, why that castle appeared, and why the night…" she looked up, "It was Dracula." Shanoa trembled as she nodded.
"I am the blade to banish evil. I don't even know why I was chosen for this task – it was never explained to me – and now it's taken everything from me."
With that revelation the details of her life began to spill forth.
She told Laura of her place in Ecclesia; of Barlowe, his secret wickedness, and how he had chosen her out of the other members of the Order to wield Dominus. She spoke of Albus: a boy who had been at her side since they were paired as siblings in the spirit of the Order. Shanoa explained how Albus had discovered the truth of Dominus and attempted to save his little sister from such a horrible fate, but could not stop Barlowe from sacrificing her memories and emotions. She detailed the hunt for Albus, the rescuing of the villagers, and the truths revealed after her brother was defeated by her own hands.
Then Barlowe had betrayed her, and everything became undone. He freed Dracula back into the mortal world right before her eyes. Shanoa had fought her way through the castle to reach him, to stop the Lord of Darkness from fulfilling his wishes, all possible because she had been too blind to the truth of her existence.
Then her bittersweet victory and Albus…
"He sacrificed himself for me. He died in my place so that I could live." The tears were back and they streamed down her face. "And I…" Shanoa covered her face with her hands as she shuddered, "I wanted to tell him I love him, wanted to tell him so badly, but I couldn't even do that. I begged him not to leave me… it was so selfish of me. I shouldn't have begged; I should have let him know how much he meant to me. I should have let him know that in his final moments. All I could do for him was smile, but it was nothing compared to his sacrifice."
Laura was afraid to touch here; as if this woman would break at the slightest touch. After a few moments she decided to brave the waters and reached out a hand. She stroked it through Shanoa's hair in a soothing motion.
"Was the smile sincere?" Laura asked. Shanoa gave her a small nod.
"Then you told him. Your smile told him you love him back." Shanoa lowered her hands far enough that she could peer over them and into Laura's unwavering, confident eyes. "Sometimes words aren't enough; sometimes a look can convey everything we want to say and more."
"Are you sure?" Laura's words had given Shanoa a surge of hope.
"I'm positive." The jeweler beamed at her. They sat for a few long minutes in contemplative silence. The warmth from the stove had fully encompassed Shanoa by now and she took comfort in its encapsulating warmth and the motion of the hand running through her hair. This was what she needed. She needed to cleanse herself of the battles and her memories; she needed to confess her grief.
"I'm afraid." Shanoa eventually whispered. Laura raised an eyebrow at her.
"I don't know where I go from here. I've been given freedom from Ecclesia, but the Order is all I've ever known. I have no family; I have no place to call home."
"Then stay here." Laura's response was immediate. "Right now you can stay here."
"I don't want to force myself upon you."
"You deserve nothing less. You saved all of us from Dracula when you slew him; let me be the first to repay you."
Shanoa realized she had no rebuttal to that argument. A whisper in the back of her mind said that she had manipulated her way into Laura's home by sharing her turmoil, but Shanoa quickly squashed the tiny voice.
"I am very tired…" Shanoa admitted with a whisper. Laura chuckled a little and finished wrapping one of the many bandages.
"Almost done…" Laura trailed off as she raised the cloth to Shanoa's forehead. She began cleaning a large gash located just above the warrior's right eyebrow. "A number of these are going to need stiches I'm afraid." She finished cleaning the cut and wrapped a bandage around the top of Shanoa's head in order to keep the wound covered. "It's not the most glamorous look, but it'll do for now."
"Come." Laura grasped Shanoa's right hand and led her over to the stairs. The climb was short and when they emerged at the top Shanoa found herself standing in an open loft that served as Laura's bedroom. Her eyes began to droop of their own accord at the thought of sleep and she ignored the room's appearance as they made a beeline for the large bed in the middle.
"You don't mind? I can sleep on the couch downstairs." Shanoa attempted to be polite as her body began to give in to the demanding fatigue. Laura waved her hand and broke away from the warrior.
"It's much quieter up here. The couch is lined up next to the shop and the walls are, unfortunately, quite thin down there." There was the sound of a door creaking and the soft shuffling of clothes. It wasn't long before Laura made her way back to Shanoa's side and placed a soft nightgown in her hands. "You need to get out of those filthy clothes and into an actual bed." She smiled at the younger woman. "I'll be downstairs if you need me."
Shanoa nodded and she watched as Laura began to make her way down the stairs. The jeweler got about halfway before she paused and looked back up at her battered guest. After a moment of contemplation she hurried back up the steps and, before Shanoa could ask her what was wrong, she flung her arms around the warrior and pulled her into a comforting embrace.
"I'm glad you're alive."
So am I. Shanoa brought up her right hand to gently return her friend's embrace. So am I.