The Hellsing research team was hard at work, scouring Russia for leads on Rifka's creation. Field agents were reporting in every week, many of them forced to search from city to city, looking for anyone that had seen or heard of compounds similar to the one Alucard had found Rifka in, others with local police about missing musicians or young women from upper class families.
The report the troops had was little more than what Rifka had told Integra. She was sure that the building where Alucard had found her had been built by Marcus and his men to be an exact duplicate of the original built by Bentomir. The information was somewhat useful. All Rifka had to do now was remember where in Russia it was.
Sitting in her guest quarters, Rifka had tired of meditating and searching her memory for answers. Crossing to the dressing table, she opened a short jar of salve, and then slowly untied the sash holding closed her short, silk robe. She let it slide down her shoulders to the crooks of her elbows and looked at her body's reflection in the mirror, then gently began applying the salve to her scars, gazing at them thoughtfully.
"They do appear to be fading, if that's what you were asking yourself, Catwoman."
"It's that obvious, huh?" Undisturbed by her sudden lack of privacy, Rifka continued to apply the balm to the bright red scar on her shoulder from where he had shot her the other day. Her dark eyes shifted upward to watch the tall vampire form behind her.
She paused to consider him. His long red coat was missing. As were his hat, gloves, and tinted shades. His tall, lean frame remained clothed in a white dress shirt and black slacks tucked into tall black boots. His unruly mane of black hair hung straight around his face and shoulders, shining with health.
After a moment of staring at him, she smiled. "All right, I'll admit it. I wasn't expecting that."
He laughed, drawing closer. "I figured I could improve upon my appearance, since you seemed to want to improve your own."
"It's true… is it vain of me?" Rifka's gaze returned to her body, and she resumed smoothing the cream over another scar, a long ugly one running down the back of her arm. "Technically, I'm simply healing the new skin. The improvement on my appearance is simply a bonus."
"Honestly, I would just like to be able to move around again without feeling the scar tissue pull suddenly. Softening it with lotion helps that."
"Did you become obsessed with grooming after your transformation? Or were you like this before?"
Her eyes glinted at him as they cut back up to his reflection. Her mouth twisted to the side, and she glanced over her shoulder at him. "I don't know."
The deadpan finality of her tone made him throw his head back and laugh. She smiled, going back to her "obsessive grooming" as she listened to him, drawing her robe back up over her shoulders and propping up a foot on her chair to work on what appeared to be a rather old bullet wound in her thigh. Judging from the rest of her wounds, it appeared to him to be her first, as or possibly even older than the scar on her eyebrow.
"Are you itching to ask me something, Vampire?"
The sass seemed to be a meter for them both, allowing him to judge just how open to his presence she was feeling. The sassier she was, the more welcome he was. He stepped closer, and slowly slid his fingertips over the old scar. She didn't jerk away. In fact, she turned to look up at his face curiously. It was exactly what he had wanted her to do.
He took her chin and turned her head so he could look at the scar through her eyebrow. "The bullets and whips and jagged cuts I understand. This scar is so much cleaner than the rest. How did you get this one?"
She shrugged. "As far as I know, I've always had it. Maybe it was a childhood accident – I don't remember."
She was blushing slightly under his scrutiny, but withstood it patiently until he released her. She resumed her work, rubbing cream over a group of short, thin scars on her right ankle that looked like claw marks. Farther up her calf were the unmistakable remnants of a vicious dog bite.
She saw him looking and nodded. "Those really are what they look like. Bentomir tested me against trained guard dogs, fighting dogs, hunting dogs. At first it was just one on one, and then it was whole packs of them. If they were looking for my limit, they didn't find it. I killed every single one of them."
He saw her pause and shudder, her expression very briefly one of revulsion. "Fucking dogs…" She shook her head and put the lid back on the jar, heading toward the wardrobe. Suddenly she seemed done fussing over her scars. He did not recall having seen her so agitated without provocation before.
"You remembered something, didn't you? What was it? Was it something about the dogs?"
She was picking out a neat brown suit made of butter-soft leather. It consisted of three pieces: pants, vest, and jacket, which she paired with a white silk blouse. From a drawer she selected underwear and started to get dressed. She was stalling, but as she adjusted herself in the bra he found that she was doing it in a way that he… rather didn't mind… at all…
"Are you enjoying wearing clean clothes?" He asked her with an amused smile.
"Oh god yes, you don't how much." She ran her hands over the silk shirt, caressing it against her skin, breathing deeply into the leather.
Looking at her, dressed that way, it wasn't difficult at all to picture her in one of the upper class families. He tilted his head to the side. "Do you remember anything, from before you were Bentomir's pet Monster?"
"I hated the dogs." She perched on a stool beside an assortment boots, starting to pull on a pair. She was keeping her hands busy, and looking down into dark corners of the closet. "I think it's possible that I've always hated dogs, just because of how strong my response is. They stink, they're dirty, they're loud, and—"
"And they do anything that a human tells them to? All the things a cat is not?"
Rifka made a face. She didn't seem proud of what they had learned. "Bentomir ordered the dogs to hunt me, and ordered me to run. This was just after he had played God. I hadn't even gotten used to what he'd done to me. To this day I have no idea what he was looking for. I ran, the dogs chased, and eventually they cornered me. Their master told them not to attack, but I guess it was too tempting. One of them grabbed hold of my leg, and I could see the rest were about to attack."
She folded her arms across her lap, and the sad, distant look on her face reminded Alucard that though a killer she might be, she truly was very unwilling. He watched her silently, letting her continue when she felt comfortable.
"When Bentomir and the rest of the hunting party caught up to us, I had killed all five dogs and their master. I had torn them all into pieces. I remember it so clearly because Bentomir sounded so proud of me. 'Look what she's done!' He told them. 'I see what she's done!' The other man with him was mad. 'That's five thousand pounds wasted!' I think he meant the dogs. Bentomir didn't care. He was looking at me like a proud papa. 'She's marvelous!' He said."
She looked at Alucard, staring at him and shaking her head. "I didn't feel marvelous, Alucard. They found me like you found me. All huddled up against the wall, covered in blood… exhausted and… and frightened."
He gave her brownie points for being willing to admit to her fear. He believed he was starting to get to know this mysterious, secretive woman, though he did not believe for a minute that she didn't remember her life before her transformation.
"So, before Bentomir transformed you, you were a singer from a family of status. You might have had a cat, absolutely no dogs, and your family didn't hunt. Does that sound about right?"
Rifka thought about it for a moment; tried it on in her mind. She nodded as she got to her feet. "Yes, I suppose it does." Crossing back to the dressing table, she picked up her brush and started to tame her long hair, parting it and winding it into two long, sleek braids. "I haven't been able to remember anything else about Bentomir's original site, though. I remember the day I got there, and I remember how… But I didn't see anything."
"You remember how you got there?" Alucard leaned in closer to her. It was the first time she'd used the word 'remember'. He believed they were making progress.
"I was in a car, dressed for a performance. I don't know if I was leaving or coming home. It was a sunny day, hot; a good day to be inside at a show. The car stopped abruptly. We all started asking the driver if everything was all right… Then the doors tore off and these… those things the Freaks keep with them, they pulled me out and dragged me away. I saw them pile into the car… and then I heard nothing but screaming."
She shuddered and looked away. "I don't remember who they were. They may have been my family."
He reached out and caressed a hand over the back of her head. "Tell me the rest."
"They pushed me into a truck filled with a group of other girls, all crying and frightened, just like I was. We were then taken out of the city, and a gas flooded the truck, making us all fall asleep. When we woke up, we were each in a cage of our own. Very similar to the way you found me at Marcus' place."
Alucard watched her face. "I found no other girls at Marcus' compound. What happened to them?"
Rifka sighed. "I was not Bentomir's first experiment. I was only the first that didn't die."
"Why only choose girls? Wouldn't men have been stronger?"
She glanced at him. "I suppose he preferred girls."
Alucard sat back slightly, raising his eyebrows at her tone and implication. "Ah. You were not meant just for protection, then? Pleasure also?"
"I had to listen to all of it… there was no escaping what was happening there. I did not want… any of it… I would have rather died! I fought so hard when he decided it was my turn… I put my mark on every single person I could get my hands on. And so I… I guess I impressed him…" Her lip was curling with revulsion. "And so, all because of my spirit… instead of being raped first, he took me to the chamber where he… Where he did this to me instead! That demented fucking monster!" She lifted her hands, looking at the claws on the tips of her fingernails. Tears suddenly flooded from her eyes and she looked at him with the gaze of a wounded animal.
"You're a bastard, Alucard! I didn't want these memories back!" She pushed away from the table and ran from the room.
"I'm a bastard… but he's a monster?" Alucard watched her go, looking curious.
"Yes, that is a lot of helpful information, Alucard." Integra's voice held the slightest note of approval. "Where is the girl now?"
"Out on the grounds, Sir," said Walter, "we found her in one of the gardens, watching the fountain. We decided not to disturb her."
"That's fine. Keep an eye on her but leave her alone." Integra turned to her officers that were standing by. "Narrow down your search. It will be easier to find reports of a whole family of aristocrats gone missing. Their car left in the street. Something had to happen to their estate if there was no one left alive. Even if there is an heir, even better, for there will be documents about how and why they inherited, and more importantly, where. Go!"
Alucard and Walter watched Integra at her desk while the officers filed out of the room behind them. She spent a minute sorting a stack of papers before looking up at them. Her eyes were sharp behind her glasses. "Do take care not to drive her insane, Alucard. She is quite dangerous; even to you, as I recall."
The Vampire stifled a slight shiver when he recalled the pain of Rifka's claws. She had been so vicious and thorough with her brain scrambled by pain… What could she do to him with a clear mind? "Yes, my Master." He bowed his head, and faded from the room.
"Any orders for me, Sir?" Walter asked of her.
She gazed at him thoughtfully. "Reach out to her, Walter. Bring her one of the meals she prefers, and give her someone else to talk to than that creature. Maybe we can show her she can still be human."
"It would be a pleasure." Bowing smartly at the waist, Walter turned and headed to the kitchens.
Integra sat in her office, letting the silence sink in. She would continue the search for Bentomir's notes. She had to. It wasn't so important anymore to figure out what Rifka really was, but she still had to make sure Marcus did not try to duplicate the mad man's experiments. This could not be allowed to happen again.