The air was crisp and cool and the leaves were falling endlessly along the trail as the weak sun stood low overhead. The dropped foliage upon the ground made for a loud walk as two young women strode through the heaps along an old path. Their faces were glum with the season they both sullenly trudged their way through the colorful fall snow as though going to their execution.
“So it’s come down to this” one of the women, a girl of slightly small stature and dark black hair, suddenly announced in a forlorn manner.
“We did skip a few classes” her companion, another short woman with strawberry blond hair, pointed out.
“But to have failed us?!” the first dramatically exclaimed with a flourish of her hand. “How could they do that to us, Seras?”
“Quite easily, I guess” Seras replied in an offhand manner. She was growing quickly tired of her friend’s drama act, and the darkening evening was beginning to startle her nerves. She never had liked the dark. “But we could make the best of it if we want, Sarah.”
“Make the best of this?” Sarah asked incredulously as though she could not believe her ears. “Because of some grumpy old men in uniforms, we have to waste our evenings of party in boring classes. How will our social lives survive?”
“I think the parties are what got us into this” the blond quietly replied as she looked up to stare at the wondrous leaves above them. A soft grin revealed itself at the beauty which signified the season. “But there is one thing we can look forward to.”
“And what’s that?” her friend asked as she stopped walking and crossed her arms over her chest.
Seras turned around and revealed a wicked smile upon her otherwise innocent face.
“At least we’re the only two girls in an all boy class.”
Sarah thought over Seras’ observation for a moment with a serious expression on her face, then her own lips turned up into a grin. She let out a barking laughter and shook her head in amusement and she moved forward and placed an arm around her friend’s shoulders.
“That’s what I like about you, Seras” she concluded as they continued their journey along the path. “You always look on the bright side of things.”
Her friend blushed at the compliment and they continued their leisurely stroll through the quiet trees far from the main road. Before of the dense brush which lined the walk and the narrow area, they had been forced to leave their car at the entrance of the path. Soon Sarah grew tired of the calm atmosphere and released her friend from her warm grasp with a bored sigh.
“Geez, how long does this go?” she questioned to no one in particular in a slightly angry tone. “I didn’t realize walking to class was going to be part of our training” she quipped with a loud laugh at her own joke.
“The secretary did say it was going to be a long walk” Seras pointed out as she tried to qualm her friend’s rising irritation. The day was too nice for a quarrel to interrupt the scene. “But we should be there soon. See? The trees are already starting to open up” she noted as she pointed to the thinning canopy above.
“And about ti-” Sarah was about to exclaim, but her words caught in her throat as they came in full view of the opening.
Before them stood a giant manor which stood upon a slight hill. With the addition of the large attic, the structure was four stories high and made in the late Tudor style of peaked turrets which dotted the expansive roof. The walls were made of thick, gray bricks and high, top-rounded windows looked out upon the grounds from the three lower floors. Fanciful screens covered the glass and wild vines grew unmolested amidst both stone and glass as it climbed its way to the very roof.
Trees surrounded the grand establishment on all sides and a large lawn stretched beyond sight. On their left they could barely make out the outlines of numerous old, smaller buildings in various states of disrepair.
The entire scene was eery in the quiet of the evening as both friends stood in the shadows of the trees. There appeared to be no one about, and the girls both began to feel uneasy about their situation.
“Tell me again why they decided to have our classes in this rusty old place?” Sarah asked of her companion, though her eyes did not move from the picture before them.
“The owner offered the house free of charge” Seras explained with a shake of her head at the cheapness of their school. “They, um, didn’t want to refuse such a kind offer.”
“You mean they were too greedy?” her friend suggested as her words echoed both their thoughts. She let out a sigh as she was finally able to tear her gaze from the imposing structure. “Well, we’ll be late for these sessions if we don’t hurry.”
“Right” Seras agreed as she nodded her head and they both set out across the lawn.
The distance was about four hundred meters, but the time seemed to slow as they stepped nearer the manor. The air seemed to grow colder as they approached, but not merely because of the setting sun which was beginning to sink behind the building. Seras tightened her coat around herself while Sarah wrapped her arms around herself.
“A little cold, isn’t it?” she half-heartedly joked, as though both were afraid to break the deathly silence which seemed to envelope the grounds.
“Yeah” Seras managed to reply as they finally reached the entrance.
A large door covered by a deep stone arch greeted their arrival and they hesitantly stepped inside the dark area. Both hesitated as they looked upon the heavy knockers which adorned the door, but neither was prepared when the portal suddenly began to open.
Both girls stiffened with fright as the large doors swung apart to reveal a lone, elderly servant who stood upon the threshold. They could see little of his appearance, as the sun did not penetrate where he stood, but they could tell he stood erect as a young man and did not appear frail. His wizened eyes also were little clouded by his age, and the ponytail he wore bespoke of a brazen attitude toward conventional style.
“You must be the two ladies in the class” he spoke with a slight smile as he stepped aside and allowed them entrance.
Sarah, noticing the shadowed entrance and wary of the eerie appearance of the servant, put her hand behind Seras’ back and pushed her friend forward. Seras had enough balance not to fall to the ground, but the shove propelled her into the lobby of the manor while her friend followed with a grin upon her face.
Seras turned to scowl at her companion, but the servant only appeared amused at their antics.
“Since we are to see quite a bit of one another, may I introduce myself” he suggested as he gave them an old-fashioned bow. “My name is Walter. And you ladies are?”
“My name is Sarah Cunningham” the dark-haired imp gave as she looked to her friend. “And this is Seras Victoria.”
Seras would have been offended with not introducing herself had she not been distracted by the entrance hall they now stood within. The tall ceiling boldly showed the large rafters which supported the house and a large, dark-oak staircase was set to the left side of the center of the room. Halls branched off to their left, right, and straight ahead, but they all stood in darkness too deep to see what lay within their passages.
A chilling breeze seemed to pass through her for a moment, though Walter had shut the door upon their entrance, and she tightened her grip upon her coat. The place was eerily quiet, like a tomb, and she had the distinct impression they were little welcomed, regardless of their class schedules.
“A pleasure” Walter greeted with a smile as he raised his arm in a welcoming gesture, a movement which brought the attention of Seras’ wandering mind. “If you will follow me.”
The two women allowed their new acquaintance to guide them out of the large lobby which they had stepped into and up the large stairs into the depths of the manor’s interior. They gazed in wonder at the dark paneled walls which seemed to line the entire house and shroud the manor in perpetual shadow. The bannister of the stairs was thick wood with intricately carved posts depicting scenes of subtle sexuality and violence which rapped themselves in a climbing spiral.
They arrived upon the second story only to turn a sharp left and climb another set of steps. Seras could only catch a glimpse of the halls to their right and left, and both appeared to be lined with many doors. A single window stood at the end of the passages, and the meager light from beyond the thick curtains did little to enlighten the woman as they proceeded to the third story.
“If I may request” Walter suddenly spoke as they climbed the stairs. “But the Master has requested no one enter any of the wings other than those designated for the classes.”
“Will we get a tour later?” Sarah asked as Seras tried desperately not to look down to the floors below. The heights made her dizzy. “By the master himself, too?”
“I am afraid not” the servant replied as they finally reached the third level. “The Master is busy with other arrangements and hasn’t time for such an excursion.”
“What does he do?” Seras inquired with a polite air as they proceeded to their left down the hall.
Sarah and she both noticed there was not another stairwell to the final level, and both wondered where the entrance was hidden.
“He manages his various land assets” Walter vaguely answered as he suddenly stopped before an inconspicuous door to their left. The two young women could hear voices and laughter from inside. “We have arrived” he spoke as he opened the door and gestured for them to enter.
The two young ladies thanked their guide with a nod of their heads and walked into the room. There they were greeted by the normalcy of the classroom, along with several waves from their known acquaintances. The area was lined with their usual desks and a chalkboard stood at the head with books piled on the desk which stood before the writing board. The only differences were the stone walls and the high windows which looked out upon the front grounds, forest path, and small town beyond.
“Hey girls” one of the taller boys, a foreign exchange student named Pip, called from across the room. He had lost one of his eyes in a motorbike accident some years earlier, and now he proudly sported a black eyepatch with skull and crossbones over the front. “I see zee school was not kind to you, either.”
“Apparently not” Sarah noted as they walked over to the windows the small group lounged around.
The other people in the group, which in its entirety consisted of three, were all familiar to the two young ladies. Besides Pip there stood his friend Hans Günsche, a tall, silent blond who everyone called The Captain, and Harry Anders, a natural leader who represented the group whenever they got into trouble.
They often made his work difficult.
Seras, however, noted in surprise that Integra Hellsing, one of the most academically successful students in their class, was seated at the front of the room. She pointed out the oddity to the group.
“They couldn’t have flunked her, could they?” Sarah asked in a shocked tone as she jabbed a thumb in the mentioned woman’s direction.
“No” Pip spoke as they cast side glances at their classmate. “I overheard her telling the teacher last semester she just wanted to see the manor.”
“She always was weird” the young woman noted as she settled down in one of the desks. Then a small, mischievous smile crept onto her face. “But then, so is this entire place.”
“Maybe something’s going on here” Seras suggested as she seated herself behind her friend. The rest of the group gathered themselves around in their own desks as they heard footsteps in the hall. “I mean, I feel like something’s about to happen...” she tried to explain as her voice trailed off into a hushed whisper.
“You know nothing ever happens in Cheddar, Seras” Sarah scolded with a bitter laugh as the teacher walked into the room.
“I suppose you’re right” her friend glumly agreed as she looked out upon the lawn through the window at her left.
The shadow of the manner stretched across the grounds and touched the small town of Cheddar which lay below. The peaks appeared as fingers reaching out to the slumbering village which Seras had occupied for the last three years as a student of the small police academy, one which she hoped to graduate at the end of the next two semesters if all went well.
Unfortunately, with the mark of school came the inevitable ache of boredom within the classroom. The beautiful summer of freedom was over and the first class of the year was beginning, marking the descent in shackles which all the students in the class felt as the teacher rapped his ruler on the desk to gain control over the group of class failures.
But perhaps, just maybe, Seras thought as she slowly turned her eyes from the window, perhaps something would happen this year.