A storm thundered above a deserted road, the sky so dark with clouds one could not tell whether day had passed into night. The landscape of Styria was desolate, rocky cliffs and dead trees bordering the empty thoroughfare. The road itself was now little more than two ruts on either side of a tall patch of weeds, showing the disuse which had made the plants capable of growing so large. Several areas had been washed out by the desisting torrent of rain, leading one to believe the loose stones above the road would become loose and drive themselves down upon the path.
However, the silence, only broken by the storm, was soon interrupted by the quick pattering of hooves. Soon a carriage rounded a bend, two white horses leading the small coach. Atop the vehicle, in the box, sat an older gentleman, his silver hair tied back behind his head. He wore a heavy raincoat as the storm pounded down upon him, though he sat straight and held the reins firm. He peered through the darkness, one of his eyes being bespectacled, and shook his head as the darkness around them lay impenetrable. Two women were seated inside, their conversation barely heard above the booming of the thunder.
“The old man is certainly laughing at us right now” a young woman with blond hair spoke in an angered tone, looking out the window with a frown. Her manner was stiff and imposing while her clothes showed her fine upbringing, the silk of her dress shining with each lightning flash.
“Perhaps he was just mistaken, Lady Integra?” the other replied, biting her lip anxiously. She was a strawberry-headed blond, her coarser apparel showing the mark of a servant.
“I doubt that, Seras” Integra countered, her gaze never leaving the window as another crack of lightning was heard overhead.
The threesome, prior to their exploration into the countryside of the remote province of Germany, had stopped briefly at a small village. There they had supped at a quaint inn, their meal and service excellent for the region. The natives had been very hospitable, providing for their needs and caring for their horses during their short stay. However, upon asking for advice over how to cross the mountains, the people had suddenly become unfriendly.
Asking if they had offended their hosts, the people had quickly reassured them that they had not. However, their remonstrations showed the question had had a negative effect upon the villagers, their eyes uneasy and their speech so quick they had stumbled upon their words. They had begged the travelers to travel by another route, one more frequented which would take them around the mountains.
Unfortunately, Lady Integra had been adamant upon the route over the mountains, as she knew the way was quicker over the terrain and time was pressing. She was to attend a gathering of nobles, in the place of her deceased father, and so had continued to converse with the villagers for a quicker route. However, she gave up as their rambling had only become worse, with their sentences being punctuated with the sign of the cross. With the delay in asking for directions, the sun had set below the high-peaked hills surrounding the tiny village.
They had, almost by force, removed their horses and carriage from the inn stables and set out on their ride. Their parting of the village had been accompanied by the wailing and crying of the villagers, the sight both pitiful and discomforting to the travelers. However, lady luck appeared to have shined her light upon them only a little while later.
Continuing on their journey, a mere few miles from the village, they had come across an individual sitting at a crossroads. The person, seated upon a stone by the side of the road, had been covered in a large, black cloak. Walter had slowed the carriage before the strange and lonely individual, his look apprehensive toward finding any useful information out of stranger. Integra and Seras, wondering why the carriage had stopped, had peered out one of the side windows.
“Excuse me, sir, but could you assist us on our journey?” Walter had then slowly asked, leaning over his box.
The figure had given no reply, but neither had there been such a refusal as the villagers had done. With such a basis for reasoning, he had continued his inquiry.
“We wish to cross the mountains, but do not know the road to take” the elderly retainer had explained, his voice filled with doubt that the person would answer. “Could you be kind enough to point out the correct path?”
To the surprise of all, and not a little shock, a slender, pale hand had risen from the folds of the cloak and pointed to a road to their left. However, the appearance of the way had been one of much disuse, with weeds having been heavy along the wheel tracks. Then, just as silently, the hand had returned to its place, with nary a word nor any other gesture from the figure.
“Are you quite sure, sir?” Walter had asked doubtfully, looking between their guide and the road.
“Walter, move ahead” Integra had ordered, removing herself from the window and falling back on her seat. “We have no other choice” she added, though her voice was barely heard even by Seras.
Now here they were, pushing forth on their journey only because the way back was just as uncertain and dangerous. The carriage suddenly teetered precariously as the road narrowed beside a steep gorge upon their left, the cab swaying horribly to and fro. Seras let out a tiny squeak of fear and surprise while Integra paled, both tightly gripping the straps above them. To everyone’s relief the vehicle soon righted itself, all wheels once more positioned safely upon the road thanks to the efforts of Walter.
However, everyone’s nerves were now tightly strung as they proceeded along, the pace of the horses slower to avoid another similar situation. Thus the sudden appearance of many ruins upon the right side of the carriage gratefully distracted their attentions, especially allowing the two cab occupants to look out the window in curiosity. Large, toppled stone walls covered in great mounds of rock debris and moss passed by for their enjoyment, followed by what appeared to be an ancient graveyard. The high granite markers of the dead seemed to loom over the small carriage as it passed, like sentinels still guarding their grave possessions. Seras shivered at the sight while Integra looked on in some interest, the scene passing by even as the storm continued its battering of the area around them.
Rounding a corner of the road, and thankfully driving away from the gorge, the companions were greeted by an amazing sight before them. A mere hundred yards ahead lay a large castle, its stone walls standing even with the road as the path wove its way before the grand structure. The structure was several stories high, dotted with tall, thin windows every sixteen feet and topped with battlements. An open drawbridge with a ten foot wide moat appeared to be the only protection for the castle, though their journey was a testament to its easily defensible position. A single tower lay at its back, peering over a forest nestled between the castle at the gorge. The entirety of the building appeared to be sound, as no broken walls nor decrepitness could be seen.
However, to everyone’s greatest surprise, several lights could be seen from within upon the bottom floor, their glow comforting in the storm which they found themselves. The retainer slowed the carriage to a halt, the horses hooves having trouble stopping amid the mud.
“What do you wish for me to do, Sir Integra?” Walter yelled above the storm, addressing the lady by her childhood pet name.
“We shall ask if they have rooms available” Integra responded as she looked out the window, herself shouting above the din of another crash of thunder.
Walter nodded his understanding and faced forward, whipping the reins and proceeding onward. Seras watched the conversation in silence, as was her place, but as they grew closer to the castle she began to grow uneasy about her mistress’ plan. The structure was foreboding, even with the pleasant lights, and the storm merely added to the effect. However, she could not balk against Integra’s wishes, but neither would she let her guard down in such an unsettling place.
Soon the carriage arrived before the open bridge, Walter nimbly jumping down from his box and tethering the uneasy horses to a nearby stone post. Then he rushed across the bridge, none of his age showing at his speed, and arrived at the large door leading to what appeared to be an inner courtyard. Loudly knocking upon a smaller door carved into the wooden slab, the three waited with baited breath for an answer.
To their relief the knocking was heard as the door swung open a minute later, a young gentleman peering through the darkness at Walter in surprise. His dress was of a fashionable suit while his blond hair was combed back as was the popular style.
“My mistress wishes for a place to stay for the night. Would you be able to accommodate for us?” the two women could hear Walter politely ask.
“Well, I don’t see why not” responded the gentleman, his booming voice and manner showing his nationality as American. “I see you have some ladies in the coach waiting. You’re all very welcome to come in” he added with a smile, stepping aside in a welcoming manner.
Walter nodded his thanks and returned to the carriage, opening the door for the ladies even as rain continued to pour down upon him. Integra swiftly alighted from the cab while Seras exited slower, her eyes growing large at the closer appearance of the castle. The moss grown over the stones dripped with the rain coming down, as the ladies and driver rushed to the covered entrance beyond the bridge. For a moment she glanced down into the dark water beside them. She shivered at the sight of the seemingly bottomless depths and quickly shifted her gaze ahead.
Even after their sprint across the bridge the ladies were still wet, their dresses now heavy and damp. However, they both still curtsied to their presumed host, giving grateful smiles. The young man gave a hearty nod and bowed himself before leading them through the door and turning sharply to their right. The group remained under cover with a surrounding walk around what was rightly guessed as an inner courtyard. Between the stones grew large amounts of tall grass while wild roses had taken root along the columns near the walk.
“I thank your for your hospitality” Integra spoke as they followed their guide, her piercing eyes looking at their surroundings. “Is there perhaps a place where we may dry ourselves off in comfort?” she asked, gesturing to their wet clothing.
“Well, the main hall has a cheery fire going that’ll soon dry you out” he responded with a smile, looking over his shoulder with a mischievous grin. “But, um, sorry to have mislead you all” the gentleman sheepishly spoke, scratching the back of his head in nervousness. “The castle really doesn’t belong to me” the man confessed, a lit room appearing down the hall.
“Then who is the owner?” Integra questioned with irritation as she suddenly halted, a deep and dangerous frown upon her head.
Walter, prepared for any attempted harm to his mistress, stepped up beside Integra and looked suspiciously toward the gentleman. Seras stood behind the group, her eyes worried as she looked at the dark shadows surrounding them with a greater amount of apprehension.
Her fears were justified as her gaze traveled over a hallway to their left lit only by light from the windows, which through the shadows she was barely able to see a tall figure standing at the opposite end of the long passage. Her eyes grew wide as the person appeared to be staring directly at her, their body still as a stone statue. She gasped and backed away as her sight perceived two glowing orbs where the figure’s eyes would be, her hand reaching up and covering her mouth before a scream could escape.
Seras nearly screamed once more as someone tapped on her shoulder, the woman’s eyes swiveling to her right in fear. However, she breathed in relief as Walter stared back at her in curiosity, his hand still in midair. The three people before her gazed at the young woman with questioning stares, Integra irritated at the interruption to her interrogation of the gentleman.
“Are you quite all right, Miss Victoria?” Walter questioned, looking down the hall where she had been gazing. However, nothing remained of the horrifying figure. “You appeared to be staring intently at something.”
“Yes, I am fine” Seras answered with a shaky smile, seeing as her fears were now unfounded with the person’s disappearance. “I am sorry for the interruption, Lady Integra” she apologized, giving a short bow to her mistress which was returned.
With Seras’ strange vision having vanished the conversation progressed, as the gentleman had carefully explained to them his plight. Apparently three companions and he had been driving along the countryside, coming from the opposite end of the road, when wolves had been heard around them. The horses of their coach had become frightened, forcing them to search out some place to rest for the night. They had barely made the journey to the castle before the storm had broke, the horses barely manageable at that point.
“My friends and I saw the lights in this castle and found the fire lit when we entered” the gentleman explained, shrugging his shoulders in confusion. “That was not more than a few hours ago, but since the storm we’ve lost track of time.”
“Very well then” Integra finally conceded after a moment’s thought, nodding to her retainer to step down but remain vigilant. “Lead on.”
The companions thus quietly followed their guide, soon arriving at the lit room down the hall without incident. Within was a large room containing several couches and a large hearth filled with wood, a great fire blazing and creating a comfortable atmosphere. A large bookshelf filled with books of all sizes wrapped around the remaining walls, with windows between breaking the monotony. Three people, two women and a gentleman, who had been reclining before the warmth stood to their feet at the group’s entrance.
“We have company” their guide announced to his companions in a merry tone, stepping up beside them and turning to the newcomers. “This is Matthew, Lucy, and Mira” he said, gesturing to each as they made a bow or curtsy with a short greeting. “My name is Daniel” he added with a grin, placing a hand on his chest. “These are our fellow guests for the evening, who have also been stranded by the storm” he explained to his friends.
“Greetings” Integra responded to each as Seras and Walter merely bowed, peering around at the large room. “My name is Lady Integra Hellsing and these are my companions, Walter Dollneaz and Seras Victoria” she introduced, never taking her eyes off her surroundings.
“And a great welcome to you, Lady Hellsing” Daniel said laughingly, gesturing with his arm the way to the fire. “Please have a seat and dry yourselves off. We would offer you some food but we have yet to find some for ourselves.”
“Thank you” Integra spoke, taking up his offer and walking to the couches followed by her entourage. She seated herself upon one of the pieces of furniture, leaving enough room for Seras while Walter merely placed his cloak on the ground and stood behind them.
The other group of individuals looked to one another for a moment at Integra’s lack of hesitation, then shrugged their shoulders and gathered around where they had been sitting prior to their entrance.
“Why are you in the country, Lady Integra?” Lucy asked with innocent curiosity, looking to the mistress and her two retainers.
“We were traveling to the capital” Integra spoke with some amount of suspicion, keeping her answers to the barest of information. “But what brought you to these mountains?” she questioned, looking about the group for an answer.
“Well, we were enjoying the sights of the mountains” Daniel answered after a moment’s hesitation, noticed by the three companions. “We actually came from the capital. Quite a beautiful city.”
“Indeed” Integra replied with little enthusiasm, removing her shoes and placing them closer to the large blaze.
Seras, meanwhile, gazed about the room, her large eyes peering curiously at the books piled on the many shelves. She would have gladly looked at some, her interest in books quite substantial, but she was in need of her mistress’ permission for such an action. Also, there were more pressing matters to attend to, including finding food for the group and herself. However, she dreaded that her mistress would command her to go in search of the needed necessity, the figure in the hallway still lurking in her mind with fear.
Unfortunately, her worries were soon justified.
“Seras, would you kindly look about the area for any food which may be edible?” Integra commanded, looking to her retainer. “The vegetation is similar to those of my castle, so there may be some herbs in the courtyard which could be gathered.”
“Yes, ma’am” Seras obediently replied, though she slowly got up from the couch. Thankfully, her dress was dry enough so she would not catch her death of cold. “I will return in a few minutes” she added, hoping the setting of a time span would alert them to any danger she might befall.
The unsettling feeling she had was only growing worse.