Author's note: as of March 2015 this story has undergone a complete re-write. There have been a number of major changes to plot details and overall structure. As such, all returning visitors are advised to re-read this fic.

I started writing this story three years ago in an attempt to get a long standing idea out of my head. Its initial purpose was to explore the aftermath of one of my favorite games, but I did not anticipate that this story would become one of my greatest creative assets. It's given me freedom to explore my writing process and hone my skills without the massive, world-building pressures of my original works. So while this story has given me plenty of grief (and garnered the "your fanfic is how many words?" reaction from a few peers) I am proud of what I've managed to accomplish here.

This is a "what if" fanfic that begins immediately after the events of Order of Ecclesia. While the game features both a compelling plot and characters it ended on an ambiguous note that made me yearn to know what happened after the credit scroll. I also wished to delve deeper into elements that the game tended to gloss over (such as the Order itself and the villagers). Though this story is a fan creation I've tried to base everything on the limited canon material, including the central relationship between Shanoa and Laura.

At the end of each re-posted chapter I'll provide additional notes on the changes made from the original version. I'll also include some personal thoughts and cite what source material I drew inspiration from (if applicable). These are not required reading, but could help shed some light on my creative process.

Finally, this story does contain some coarse language, instances of graphic violence, and sex. Nothing in excess, but enough to warrant the assigned rating.

Any elements or characters you don't recognize are mine. The rest belong to Konami and the Castlevania franchise.

"IXI" indicates a page break.

Chapter One

In His Wake

Emptiness had begun to eat away at Shanoa's heart, but she would not succumb.

It was an ironic development: this internal 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. A part of her had even hoped she'd fall in battle. It would have been a suitable conclusion to a life steeped in deception. To sacrifice her own soul to end Dracula's reign would ensure that Barlowe's ambitions died with her. She was his creation, after all. She had been his Blade.

As Shanoa carved her way through the vast halls of Dracula's domain she compiled a list of her gravest sins. Her ignorance had been the driving force behind the events that culminated in the Dark Lord's resurrection. She was as much to blame as Barlowe in that regard. It was her blindness that had destroyed the only family she'd ever known; her hands that committed the deeds.

She degraded her own sense of self-worth in the hope that she would come to despise herself, and perhaps in that loathing she'd become numb to the fear that had resurfaced in her heart. By the time she reached Dracula's lair Shanoa had gained the conviction to offer herself as a sacrifice to Dominus so that humanity could live. She owed the world that much for her foibles. When she delivered the final blow there was a hollow ring inside her, and the warrior had uttered a whisper of thanks to whatever god existed that this last sacrifice would – at least – be almost painless.

But even in death Albus sought to intervene on her behalf.

Shanoa hated the overwhelming gratitude that had joined her grief at his passing. In the blackest reaches of her heart she had the gall to be thankful that Albus offered his soul in place of her own. When the ordeal was over, as she watched the castle collapse into the dimensional vortex from whence it emerged, it dawned on the warrior that she'd never wanted to die. Yet what kind of person would be glad that another had died in her place, especially when it was her own brother?

The grief and sickening joy had twisted her soul into the grip of an unrelenting vice, and it was this vice that sought to drain the life from her.

Shanoa clawed against it as she made her way through the dense forest and as far away from the demolished castle as her feet could carry her. Thin rays of light from the encroaching dawn glimmered through the foliage and illuminated the path in front of her. She would have lit up the waning darkness with a spark from Ignis or Luminato, but that was another source of concern. It had reared its ugly head the moment Albus' soul vanished from within her: Shanoa had lost the ability to summon Glyphs.

She made another vain attempt to summon a Glyph – any Glyph – into the palm of her hand, but the incantations remained elusive. It was as if the knowledge of summoning itself had fled her awareness.

This was no good. She needed to get out of this forest and out of the confines of her conflicted mind. She needed a human connection to distract her from the thoughts that raged inside her. If she allowed herself to stew alone in this grief it could become dangerous.

The warrior's feet guided her back to the only refuge she had left: Wygol Village.

The residents of the tiny village were still asleep when Shanoa emerged from the surrounding wilderness and plodded through the cobblestone streets. The air was cold in the early autumn dawn and a thin film of frost covered the windows of the buildings she passed. Shanoa knew each structure intimately by now. They all held memories of her often awkward interactions with the inhabitants of Wygol. It was strange to note how she both knew these people and yet was a complete stranger to them. An empty heart could not forge friendships, but for some inexplicable reason a few of the villagers had yearned for such a bond in spite of the fact that she was unable to return the affection.

She shivered when she stopped to gaze up at the sign that hung above the store in front of her. One of the villagers had managed to break farther through Shanoa's all-encompassing apathy than anyone else. She had made it her fervent mission to elicit any type of emotional response from the warrior. One of them knew Shanoa better than anyone alive, and perhaps Laura could give the broken Blade what she needed.

Shanoa walked up to the front door of the jeweler's shop and knocked with a heavy fist. She waited impatiently for a few minutes and was about to knock again when she heard a faint shuffle come 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 started when she recognized the warrior. The two women looked at each other in shocked silence for a moment before Shanoa gave Laura an empty smile that did not convey any emotion beyond the slight curvature of her mouth.

"I'm sorry I woke you up, but I…" Shanoa's poor excuse for a smile faded. How in the world could she explain why she was here?

"It's quite all right, it's just." Laura paused for a moment as a myriad of questions rippled beneath her concerned expression. "You left without a word. No one knew where you had gone. Then that ghastly castle appeared, and I thought." She gulped. "I started to think that something had happened to you." Laura trembled a bit, as if the implication of Shanoa's absence made her afraid.

"How long have I been gone?" the warrior asked out of curiosity.

"Almost two weeks now."

"That long?" Shanoa's eyebrows shot up in surprise. The night inside of Dracula's castle had been unending, and as such there was no reference to mark the passage of time in the outside world. The castle's gargantuan size did not help the matter. Shanoa had suspected that it took days for her to traverse the winding halls, but for two weeks to have slipped 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 around to look at Shanoa and she 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. Her blue dress was torn and covered in dark blood stains. Her platinum breastplate was battered beyond the point of repair. The heavy gauntlets and boots she wore had not fared much better than the chest piece. In addition, the warrior sported a number of new cuts and bruises across her exposed skin with a few that required attention from a healer.

Shanoa had never revealed the details of her mission or what had brought her to Wygol, but as she stood before Laura she felt the shroud of secrecy that surrounded her persona disintegrate.

Laura approached the warrior without the look of bewilderment that Shanoa had expected should her motivations be exposed. Rather, Laura's eyes reflected infinite tenderness. The jeweler cradled Shanoa's face in her hands and the warrior felt a slight crack in the resolve that held her together. A few tears escaped out of the corners of her eyes and dribbled over Laura's hands.

"When we first met I told you that I didn't want to know what brought you here," Laura said in a gentle tone. "I hesitated to ask more about my imprisonment and the identity of the man responsible because as soon as I spoke of him it brought intense hatred and despair 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 your claims were false." She wiped away a few of Shanoa's stray tears with her thumbs. "That's why I've tried so hard to help 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 something other than the negativity that seemed to drive you." Laura gave Shanoa a warm, heartfelt smile. "You smiled just now. It was empty, but for the first time you've smiled."

Shanoa closed her eyes with a shudder. Her mission was complete. There was no longer a need to keep it hidden.

"I think," Shanoa said in a whisper as her bottom lip began to tremble, "it's time that I told you about Albus. I think it's time that I told you about what I am. Not just because I need someone to know, but because I don't-" A sob broke 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 shivered against the biting cold. Laura's hands left Shanoa's face and she clasped one of the warrior's hands in her own. She ushered Shanoa inside the shop and closed the heavy door behind them with her free hand.

The familiar front room doubled as the storefront and workspace where Laura crafted her wares from the various gemstones in her possession. It wasn't a large room, but was adequate for what the jeweler needed. Besides, it was rare that Laura had more than one or two customers in the shop at a time. Wygol did not receive many visitors besides the occasional traveling merchant.

Laura led her to a door at the back of the store that opened up into the living area. The warrior 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. The latter was furnished with a plush couch and fully stocked bookshelves. A small dining table surrounded by four chairs stood on the opposite side of the room near a wood stove that gave off a steady source of heat. A staircase along the left wall led to the second level and, presumably, the bedroom. There was another door set in the wall underneath the staircase. The warrior guessed it concealed either a closet or a bath.

The jeweler guided her guest over to one of the chairs near the stove and motioned for Shanoa to sit.

"You have a few open cuts that need to be bandaged. I know I have some supplies around here somewhere," Laura said as she rummaged around her kitchen cabinets.

The heat from the stove began to wash over Shanoa's tired body 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.

I should tell her all of it. I need someone to understand, and she's willing to listen to me.

Shanoa's gaze drifted over to Laura (who continued to search for the bandages) and she studied the older woman. Laura's curly, deep brown hair was tied back in a long ponytail, though a few stray curls had managed to escape the binding and framed her elegant face. The jeweler had always struck her as a bit of a fashion plate; a trait that was evident even in her nighttime apparel. Laura was dressed in a cashmere nightgown. The fabric was dyed a shade of light lavender and the garment held in place by a sash that tied around her waist.

"Here we are." Laura's voice interrupted her thoughts as the jeweler at last located the items she sought. She retrieved a cloth bag from one of the cabinets and carried it over to the table. Laura reached inside and withdrew a roll of bandages, a washcloth, and a bottle of clear liquid. The jeweler sat down in a chair next to Shanoa and examined the wounds on the younger woman's face and arms. "I'll get Abram to perform a more thorough examination later, but for right now I'll do what I can," she said as she reached for the bottle and washcloth.

"Thank you."

"Don't thank me yet. This is going to sting." Laura doused a large section of the cloth in the clear liquid.

"I can handle it," Shanoa said. Her tone lacked even a hint of worry. The jeweler smiled at her confidence and targeted a long gash in Shanoa's right forearm. She wiped away the layer of dirt and dried blood that had crusted over the wound. Shanoa felt a slight tingling sensation, but no pain as the jeweler cleaned the gash.

"I must confess that I'm a bit surprised," Laura said as she worked. Shanoa gave her a quizzical look.

"By what?"

"I use this solution to clean my own wounds and it usually hurts like hell. You haven't so much as flinched."

"I can endure massive amounts of physical pain," Shanoa said in a hollow tone. Curiosity flashed in Laura's eyes, but she did not press the matter. Shanoa's gaze fixated 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 of an organization called Ecclesia?" Shanoa's voice faltered when she spoke the name of her former home.

"I can't say that I have." The jeweler started to clean another cut.

"To understand what it is – or, to be more accurate, what it was – you have to know about the Belmont clan." She felt Laura tense at the mention of the surname.

"They're the line of warriors sworn to defeat Dracula," Laura said. Shanoa's eyes shot up to the jeweler's face in surprise. Laura's expression was taut with something that resembled anger, but Shanoa was too exhausted to discern all the emotions she saw there. Laura kept her gaze averted from Shanoa's and continued her task. "I've heard stories of their conquests ever since I was a little girl."

Shanoa recalled Albus' revelation that the residents of Wygol were the lost survivors of the Belmont clan. She hadn't expected that any of them would be aware of their heritage, but then again the subject had never come up in conversation.

"Who told you those stories?" the warrior asked. Laura's terse expression grew even more rigid.

"My father was quite proud of his lineage. He made sure that I was well aware of the clan's 'holy deeds' and 'duty to mankind'." She 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 was tempted to pry for a more thorough explanation, but conceded that now was not the right time to inquire further into the matter.

"When the clan vanished sometime late in the last century their disappearance left many religious and political leaders nervous. They feared the Belmonts had met their demise and that, should Dracula return, there would be no one powerful enough to stand against him. Ecclesia was one of a number of organizations formed with the purpose of developing a successful alternative means to slay the Dark Lord. As each organization failed to provide satisfactory results they were disbanded; all except for Ecclesia. The members of the Order were the only ones who were able to accomplish their goal."

"How did they achieve this?" There was a glint in Laura's eyes that told Shanoa she already knew the answer to the question. The warrior's gaze turned downcast once more. She should have brimmed with immense pride in her pivotal role, but she could not recall a time she felt so meek.

"They created me."

"So that's what you've been doing," Laura said in a soft voice, but a hint of amazement lined her words. "The sudden appearance of all those monsters, that castle, and the reason why the night became so terrifying." The jeweler looked up, but Shanoa could not bring herself to meet the older woman's eyes. "It was Dracula's return." A tremor ran through the warrior as she nodded.

"I am the Blade to banish evil. I am the morning sun destined to vanquish the horrible night. I don't know why I was chosen for this task, and now." A lump rose in her throat. For a horrifying moment Shanoa teetered on the edge of something – a great black chasm of despair – but her sorrow did not spill forth. Instead the grief burrowed deeper inside her chest in an effort to escape her reach. "Now it's taken everything from me."

Her memory loss remained a persistent problem, though there had been considerable improvement since her battle with Barlowe. It would take some time before all of her memories returned, but Shanoa told Laura what she could.

She spoke of how she had been raised in the secluded Order, their discovery of Glyphs, and how she had been chosen to wield Dominus – the one weapon that could destroy Dracula in lieu of the holy whip. Though Shanoa could not recall the means by which she had been chosen to be the Blade, or by whom. She spoke of Albus: a boy who had been her constant companion since they were deemed siblings by Ecclesia's circle of elders. 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 spoke briefly of the hunt for Albus and the truths he revealed after she defeated him, but did not linger on the painful memory. She could not bear to think about the fact that his blood –

Shanoa recounted the details of Barlowe's betrayal, how she had failed to kill him before he achieved his wicked goal, and how she had watched as Dracula was freed from confinement. Duty and loss, spurred by the weighty knowledge that Dominus remained in her flesh, had driven her into the castle. With the Glyph she had slain the Dark Lord, but before it could reap her soul as payment for the victory Albus had intervened again.

"He sacrificed himself for me. He died in my place so that I could live." Shanoa felt tears reform in her eyes, but they did not fall. A powerful wall held them back. "And I…" She buried her face in her hands as a shudder ran down her spine. "I wanted to tell him that I love him. I wanted to tell him so badly, but I couldn't even manage to do that. I begged for him to stay, and I… I'm so selfish. I shouldn't have begged. I should have taken those last few moments to let him know how much he means to me. All I could do for him was smile, but what I gave him is nothing compared to what he gave up for me."

Silence encompassed them at the hefty weight of Shanoa's words. After a few moments she felt Laura's hand stroke through her hair in a soothing motion.

"Was it a sincere smile?" Laura asked. Shanoa nodded, but did not look up.

"Yes." Her voice cracked on the simple word.

"Then you told him. Your smile told Albus how much you love him." The hand in Shanoa's hair made its way underneath her chin and Laura tilted the warrior's head up. Shanoa allowed her gaze to find Laura's and she was struck by the unwavering confidence reflected in the jeweler's amber eyes. "Sometimes words aren't enough to express the true depths of what we feel. Sometimes a look can convey everything we want to say and more."

"Are you sure?" She was dubious of her ability to properly communicate emotions through a mere expression, but Laura's words had given her a spark of hope.

"I'm positive."

They sat in contemplative silence as Laura resumed her treatment of Shanoa's wounds. The warmth from the stove wrapped around the warrior and she took comfort in its embrace as she watched Laura work. It felt rejuvenating to cleanse herself of the battle. She still needed to say so much, but for the moment she could only manage so little. Yet there was one overwhelming feeling that the young warrior knew she had to confess.

"I'm afraid." She trembled at the implication of that short admission. She had not quaked before the Dark Lord, but now she was as timid as a lost child. Laura looked up at her and concern flittered across the jeweler's face.

"Of what?"

"I don't know where to go from here. I've been given freedom from Ecclesia, but the Order is all I've ever known. I have no family, and now I have no place to call home."

"Then stay here," Laura said immediately. "You can stay here as long as you wish." The warrior's eyes widened.

"I don't want to force myself upon you-"

"You saved all of us when you slew Dracula. Let me be the first to repay you," the jeweler said with some insistence. "You deserve so much more, but it's a start." She flashed her guest a warm smile. Shanoa did not have the energy to force a rebuttal. A small voice whispered in the back of her mind that she had manipulated her way into Laura's home, but she quickly squashed the thought.

"I am very tired," Shanoa said with a sigh. Laura chuckled and finished wrapping the latest bandage.

"I'm almost done." Laura raised the cloth to Shanoa's forehead and tended to a large gash located just above the warrior's right eyebrow. "Quite a few of these are going to need stitches, I'm afraid," she said when she finished cleaning the cut. Laura wrapped a bandage around Shanoa's head in order to keep the wound covered. "It's not the most glamorous look, but it'll do for now."

"Thank you."

"Come." Laura grasped the warrior's right hand and led her over to the staircase. It was a short climb to the second floor and they emerged onto an open loft that served as Laura's bedroom. Shanoa did not take the time to study the layout of the upstairs as her eyelids drooped of their own accord. "You can sleep here." Laura motioned to a large bed that extended into the center of the room.

"You don't mind? I can sleep on the couch downstairs." Shanoa attempted to be polite even as her body began to give in to the demanding fatigue. Laura dismissed the comment with a wave of her hand as she left the warrior's side.

"It's much quieter up here. The couch is positioned next to the shop and the walls are, unfortunately, quite thin down there. I don't want to risk waking you on the off chance that I get some rowdy customers, or just any customers, really." Shanoa's ears pricked up at the sound of a soft creak and the rustle of fabric. It wasn't long before Laura returned and placed a soft nightgown in her hands. "Do you need help taking your armor off?"

"No, I could unbuckle it in my sleep."

"That's a useful skill to have." Laura smiled once more at the younger woman. "You can leave everything on the floor and I'll clean it up later. Just get out of that filthy gear and into an actual bed. 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 up at her battered guest. After a moment of contemplation she hurried up the steps and, before Shanoa could ask her what was wrong, Laura flung her arms around the warrior and pulled her into a tight embrace.

"I'm glad you're alive." The jeweler's voice thrummed with emotion.

So am I. Shanoa admitted to herself as she raised her right hand to gently return the affectionate gesture. So am I.

Additional notes: the first draft suffered from a lot of consistent problems regarding grammar and overall structure. I'll list them in detail here, but I'll keep it concise going forward.

I had a bad habit of mixing past and present tense. This manifested in sentences that read along the lines of, "Laura flung her arms around the warrior, pulling her into a tight embrace." The action "flung" is described in the past tense, but the continuation of the same action "pulling" is described in the present tense. The two tenses contradict each other because it describes the action as happening in both the past and present at the same time. Misusing tenses is a mistake I've seen a lot of writers make, but it's a noticeable and often persistent flaw.

Almost all of my general phrasing in the first draft felt awkward which is why this version looks completely different. It's not that the original draft was bad, but I've gone through and refined it.

There were so many grammar mistakes that needed to be corrected. Repetition, overuse of semicolons (I have an addiction, I'm sorry), ellipses galore, and my dialogue tags were atrocious. I'm older now. I have learned.

I altered the point of view to maintain the third person subjective style that developed in subsequent chapters. We're limited to Shanoa's point of view instead of switching between her and Laura without notice. I also added allusions to future plot points in order to maintain consistency. Shanoa's ability to resist pain, for example, was not mentioned in the first draft of this chapter as the idea solidified much later in the writing process.

Finally, I reigned in Shanoa's emotional state to something more controlled. She delved right into a mini-breakdown in the first draft, but it doesn't fit her character. I know how to write her this time around.