I send you my promised greetings on this, the Twenty Fourth day of August in the year of our Lord Eighteen and Twenty, though I know not when you may receive them as the way to Jova has been destroyed by the storms.
I have met with Alucard and Maria at the house of the Graves, and along the way they found Morris, my closest cousin, wounded in the woods of Dora. All of us faced grave dangers upon the road, and I now greatly fear for your safety. A coven of vampires threatens Jova, and I was unable to destroy them all in my haste. You must keep within the sacred confines of our estate and let neither man nor beast pass the doorway, for the Devil knows much of trickery and may come to you in the guise of friend or family.
I swear again that I shall return to you with haste. Give our son my love and care in my absence, as I know he needs it more now than ever.
Yours truly and forever,
Richter folded his letter to Annette, placed it in an envelope, and tucked it into one of his bags. Just as he finished, the Graves' butler called from the hallway announcing that dinner was served. He immediately headed downstairs where everyone was gathering around the table and making small talk.
Though the time was barely past six o'clock, the sky was pitch black as the storm continued to pound the city throughout the day and only now seemed to relent, however slightly. Richter took a quick survey of the room. Morris sat at the table struggling to find an appetite. Alucard had taken up position at one end, and amongst all present his manner and style were matched only by the elderly William Graves, who stood opposite at the head of the table. Maria was carried away in conversation with Rosalind, who stood holding her son by the shoulders between the two of them. As usual, Julian was nowhere to be found. Richter started to grumble to himself about his apprentice's lack of punctuality when some unexpected motion caught his eye in a mirror across the room. He immediately sensed that something was out of place. He turned to look out the window behind him, but he saw nothing there. He decided to move across the room so he could keep watch, but as he began to walk he was stopped by a tug on his arm. He jumped and almost shouted.
"Julian! Ahh, you scared me," Richter stammered.
"My apologies, Master," Julian replied with a smirk.
"We almost started without you," Richter half-heartedly scolded his student. Just then, a maid entered the dining room carrying a large silver platter stacked with delicious shredded roast beef. The aroma caught everyone's attention at once and the silence was ear-splitting as they studied the food with anticipation.
As the maid began to set the platter down upon the table, a sound like thunder and the crescendo of broken glass blended in cacophony. The servant screamed and fell to her knees in tearful agony, sending the dish of meat clattering to the floor. Morris shouted, "Everybody get down!" as he dove from his seat. As everyone threw themselves to the floor in terror, Richter glanced toward the bar where the numerous bottles of spirits appeared in pairs as they reflected in the mirrored wall behind them. In the image of the opposite window he saw the wicked, hollow grin of a skeleton as it leveled a shotgun. Another blast rang out, destroying the bar and sending shards of glass flying amidst a shower of alcohol.
"What the Devil?" William cursed as he and the others laid face-down in the floor.
"The Devil precisely," Julian muttered while he crawled his way over to the sobbing maid in fear that she was mortally wounded. Yet another shot was fired, this one aimed at the exquisite crystal chandelier affixed above the table. It came crashing down with fearful force, splintering the hardwood table and splattering food everywhere as it resounded with a haunting, fragile melody.
Alucard remained calm even as the symphony of chaos swirled about him in full chorus. He willed himself to transform, and in his place there was now a cloud of mist drifting quickly toward the gaping, jagged hole in the manor's window. The bony fiend discharged its last shot, sending it through his tenuous form without consequence. The skeleton threw down the still-smoking gun and began swatting at the cloud with one of its loose bones, but this was to no avail. Alucard focused his energy and his mist essence turned a sickening jaundice shade. The skeleton had only a moment to emit a rough, hissing growl before it collapsed into a pile of moldered bones.
Inside the house, Julian and Rosalind helped their injured servant to her feet. A fury burned in Julian's eyes, and as he saw Alucard walk toward the shattered window of his home, he shouted.
"Surely you can see now! If we refuse to bring war upon the Dark Priest, then he will bring it upon us instead!"
Alucard stood like a statue in the sprinkling rain, a graven image of sorrow. The situation was apparently worse than any of them had imagined as around him he saw many other skeletons, some being chased down by city troops and others terrifying the occupants of nearby homes.
"Veros is under attack! All able men give aid!" a soldier called after exchanging shots with a rifle-bearing monster. Muted streaks of lightning briefly illuminated scenes of horror as they cut across the sky: a fallen guard bled in the street, ghastly screams came from within a burning house, and the sounds of gunfire echoed across the city in time to the strobing light.
Maria glanced around the dining room frantically and realized that Richter was missing.
"Where is Richter?" she shrieked. Julian and Rosalind were preoccupied with comforting their maid, Morris laid on the floor groaning in pain, and Nathan was rolled into a small ball, his chin quivering and tears moistening the corners of his eyes. William had an answer for her, however.
"I saw him dash upstairs. I fancy he'll return with his weapons."
Maria jumped to her feet and ran from the room toward the front of the house. She arrived at the staircase just in time to see Richter leaping from the second floor balcony and almost landing on top of her.
"There's no time for talk; we have to go out and fight!" he exclaimed as he sprang for the door with whip in hand.
"I'll get everyone together," Maria replied. "We'll meet you at the city gates."
Richter's war cry was fearsome as he flew into the streets of Veros, and immediately he was surrounded by adversaries. A throng of skeletons gathered about him and fought for a chance to mar him with jagged bones and crude weapons made from their surroundings. Another one with a shotgun pushed its way through the crowd and started to raise the barrel, aiming for the Belmont's head.
Richter snapped the Vampire Killer and it coiled tightly around the firearm. With a fierce yank he ripped the weapon away from its wielder, and on the recoil of the whip he caught it in his left hand. He brought it up with a stylish spin and fired it, exploding the former gunner's skull and damaging several of the emaciated carcasses behind it. He tossed away the empty gun and swung his whip, first left, then right, and finishing with a crack before him, cutting down a dozen opponents at once. He launched himself into the air and kicked a skeleton in the chest, sending it stumbling backward into its allies. As he landed, a sweep of his right foot brought down the remaining few. He produced a vial of holy water and smashed it on the writhing mass of bones before him, creating an impressive pyre.
"You made that look far too easy," Alucard suddenly spoke from behind him. He was in the wagon, which had been made ready to ride again by the Graves' butler with only a moment's notice. "Jump in, we'll ride to the gates. I will need someone to cover me."
Richter leaped into the wagon behind Alucard and as they were about to pull out, a soldier came running toward them.
"Wait, wait!" he cried. Richter reached down from his high perch and pulled the young man up into the wagon. "I'll come with you," he exclaimed with an almost irritating enthusiasm.
"What's your name?" Richter asked.
"Ian, sir," he replied with a look of admiration. "I saw what you did back there; it was amazing." Richter could not help but chuckle. If only this kid knew of half the things he had seen and done in his lifetime, this entire ordeal would seem mundane.
The three of them met constant assault as they made their way toward the entrance of the city. Richter's lash never stopped moving as skeletons tried to climb and jump into the wagon, and the young soldier rapidly expended his meager issue of rifle ammunition. As the trio battled their way past the somber graveyard, Alucard took note of the many open graves from which their skeletal foes had apparently burst, awakened from their interment by a maelstrom of evil.
"It seems that the monsters originated from within the city itself. Fortune smiles on us, for it may not be too late to reinforce the soldiers at the gates." Alucard's remark was followed all too soon by the unmistakable sound of cannon fire with its thunderous report.
The attacks upon them ceased as they left in their wake scores of dismembered skeletons, but it was clear to all three that their battle had only just begun. As Richter lifted his gaze toward the shrouded evening sky, the veil of the storm at last began to rend. Gone was the rain, but in its stead there came a new deluge of crimson light which poured forth from the Blood Moon. Its fullness had officially passed the previous eve, but its maleficent glare was not the least diminished; rather, it had grown even stronger as it festered within its prison of clouds.
The wagon reached the gates a moment later and all three men leaped from it at once. The forces of the city had amassed behind and upon the walls, and soldiers ran in every direction waiting for orders. The army was in disarray due to both the unexpected chaos within the city and the inexperience of hastily conscripted civilians.
"Master Belmont! You have come to turn the tide!" a commander shouted over the din as he paced toward the three of them. "This is no human army we fight. Hell itself has opened its gates beyond these walls."
"What number has the enemy brought forth?" Richter asked.
"Five thousand at least, divers nightmares. Our weapons are failing us. We have called upon the priests of St. Wilhelm to bless them, but they are still too few. I am sure you know the Habsburgs have blocked shipments of materiel to our city, as they fear we might seek to expand our sovereignty beyond these walls. We are always short of cannon shot and gunpowder. Those fools! If we die this night, our blood will be on their hands. When we run out of shot, we will resort to the bow and the spear."
"You will have my whip as well, and Adrian's sword. If it so suits you, we will volunteer as field commanders."
"I would defer to your judgment in any melee of this nature. Let us put these troops into order."
Ian scampered away to find his post while Richter and Alucard walked toward the gate, where upon either side a narrow stairway rose from ground level and followed the walls upward. They took their separate ways, each climbing a few steps so as to raise themselves above the crowd. Soldiers began to notice them and stopped in their tracks, wondering if their own eyes betrayed them. Commanders shouted orders, and ranks quickly formed on the gateway plaza. A hush fell over the legion as they awaited their doom.
Alucard took the cue and began to speak, his voice ringing over the crowd like the bells of St. Wilhelm: "Men of Veros, hear me! The enemy from beyond has come to your door, and he is knocking. He is demanding your wealth, your family, your life, and your immortal soul. Will you offer these things up? The enemy will not parley. The enemy will draw no quarter. The fiends which clamor beyond these walls are the denizens of Hell, and they will have this city for their own lest we utterly destroy them. Fight with valor; fight with courage; most of all, fight for your lives. Together we will stand as strong as the walls of Tsargrad, unbroken for a millennium, and we will drive away these servants of Vlad Ţepeş!"
This mention of Dracula, the immortal enemy of Veros, served to rally the men, and together they let out a mighty shout which shook the city and was heard beyond its walls. Through fifty feet of stone, iron, and wood the war cry fell upon the army of Mas Valen, and for a moment even the most hideous monster amongst its ranks felt the shadow of fear creep over its black heart.
A few platoons of soldiers remained on the plaza and spread out along the nearby roads while the majority of the host took to the defense of the walls, both upon the high battlements and deep within the labyrinth of windowed chambers below. From four of the narrow slits in the otherwise glass-smooth masonry there protruded the barrels of the city's only cannons; from the others bristled the muzzles of rifles brandished by eager marksmen.
Alucard appeared atop the wall where preparations were being made against the siege. Heavy rocks rested in haphazard piles, oil was being heated in small cauldrons, and laymen stood ready with axes, sickles, and other tools of trade for use in casting down whatever enemy might somehow surmount the steep sea cliff formed by the wall's outward slope. He walked toward the center of the wall above the city's great gate. Tendrils of lightning lit the eastern sky far beyond him as he raised his hand in token of parley, heedless of the enemy's darts. The men about him fell back spellbound as he stood exposed upon the high rampart.
Mocking calls came from below where the enemy writhed as a black mass, their number ever expanding as creatures continued to swarm into the small forest clearing before the city like hornets from a stirred nest. "Who dares to parley? Come down and let us see! Get you down lest we shoot you from your perch!" Arrows whistled by Alucard's body, but he remained unflinching.
"So be it. But know this!" he shouted, "Never has Veros, the Hidden City, been taken by any enemy. Its people will fight to the very last child to protect it. All that you will find here is your own doom!"
A reply of grotesque laughter accompanied a hail of darts which forced Alucard to at last leap down and take shelter with the other men. Orders came from below to hold fire until the mark was given. Since so little ammunition was available, the commanders hoped to make use of the greater part of it in one giant blast.
Alucard looked at the grim faces of the men under his direction. A motley group of fragile mortals, they inspired in him both respect and despair. It was a simple matter for him to stand before the enemy unshielded when he might quickly regenerate any normal wound, yet these men who were sure to die showed still more courage. However, he could not escape the fact that when they died, it would be the fault of his own blood, for the power of his father now seemed to grope at him from every shadow.
"Prieten, 'tis a black night indeed," an elderly man beside him whispered with an endearing, unsophisticated accent. "I've seen the eyes of those things glowin', and yet if I were to hear it told and hadn't seen it meself, I'd have believed nary a word! How many of these lads will live to see the mornin'?"
Alucard put a hand upon the old man's shoulder. "There is still reason to hope that they will all look upon the sun when it rises," he replied with a forced confidence. Without warning, the signal to ready for battle was given by the call of bugles, and he motioned for the men to take their positions.
An impenetrable silence fell over the entire city as the marksmen took aim and the cannons were primed. Then in one deadly moment the Battle of Veros began in earnest as the order to fire was received; an eruption of artillery unlike any known before was unleashed, and with the power of the blessings bestowed upon it by the priests of St. Wilhelm it cut down rows of the unholy creatures arrayed upon the banks of the moat. As they fell, their bretheren in arms pushed forward with callous disregard, sending the dead bodies splashing into the moat, swiftly turning its waters the blackest shade of red.
The rain of bullets and cannon shot was answered by the brazen blast of war trumpets as the enemy continued to press forward. Those in the front ranks began to tumble into the deep moat, drowning themselves in its polluted mire. The men above were at first confused, not knowing what to make of this apparent suicide. Yet soon it became evident that the enemy intended to build a bridge of flesh, to fill the moat entirely with the corpses of their expendable weaklings so that they might come against the gates in full force. It was then that the soldiers began to realize the full horror of the night that laid before them.
TO BE CONTINUED...
All original content copyright © 2007 James Haley. Permission is granted to distribute and create derivative works from this story in any format under the condition that this notice remains intact.