FROM THE JOURNAL OF RICHTER BELMONT ON THE EVE OF AUGUST 23, 1820:
Here I quietly sit in the dim candle-lit study of my house, where the flickering light is barely sufficient to read the letter delivered to me earlier in the day by post from Veros. Rest assured that I would have seen to this before, while the sun was still high overhead, had I not been patiently attending to my son. He is now gravely ill, his condition worsening every night. Already he is beyond his wits with suffering, and I fail to imagine what worse symptoms may yet await him should this continue.
I could immediately ascertain the grave importance of this message for several reasons. First and foremost must be the undeniable shadow that has crept over my heart during the past few days. As my son's illness has progressed, so too has this dark dread grown upon me, and I feel that the two must be related somehow. We Belmonts have long been blessed with the ability to perceive the supernatural world and to feel its currents pulse within us. I know better than to ever ignore this sense, as it has twice already heralded the return of the Dark Lord. It is a dread thing indeed, and news in this hour of any kind is a blessing.
Above and beyond this, though, is the name scrawled ever so artfully upon this letter's envelope. That name is Maria Renard.
Maria has been abroad ever since leaving my side that fateful day when Castlevania last disappeared from the earthly plane. She sent word shortly thereafter telling me of her meeting with Alucard, and then again of their marriage. Letters have come now and then throughout the last two decades, but with an ever decreasing frequency. Understandably, she and her prince have little desire to return to this cursed land of Transylvania. This new letter has melted away all the years in an instant. I shall quote from it here so that a permanent record may be made of its message.
Alucard tells me of a trouble in his soul. He fears for our safety, as well as that of the people of our homeland. He told me that I should write you as soon as possible, and that you need to know what he has found. He believes that a new Dark Priest has arisen, and that he may intend to attempt the resurrection of Dracula yet again. I do not wish to believe this, and I am certain that you feel the same, but I have seen the evidence. Not more than two days prior to this writing, a body was discovered in the woods near this place. It was disfigured beyond recognition, and the authorities believe it was used in some kind of horrible Blood Cult ritual. Alucard is convinced that there is no other explanation.
We will have long been on the road by the time this message reaches you, and we are destined for the fortress city of Veros. If time permitted, we would meet you at your estate, but Alucard fears even a moment's delay. Please ride to meet us there at your earliest convenience. And be careful, for who knows what evil may now lurk beyond your door. We hope to see you soon.
Upon reading this, I sat back in my chair and breathed a heavy sigh, my hands trembling with fear. All of my nightmares have certainly become a reality. Will I be forced to face the Count and his legions three times within my lifetime? Not since the days of my ancestor Simon have the powers of Chaos been strong enough to gather themselves so often in so little time. I am now almost fifty years of age. If I were any other man, I would be holding a grandchild upon my knee. I would retire and let the young, strong men of my family continue this fight. But providence has not been kind to me. My son, God bless his soul, is only thirteen. On top of this, now he is bedridden with this malady, and the doctors, what little use they have been!
I must hold on to my faith. I know that the direct line of Belmont ancestry will not come to an end here. I will do whatever I can to fight for this belief. I count as kin many strong warriors, some of whom I trained beside in my youth, and others who are now my own students. Julian's progress has been incredible, and soon he will earn the title of Master Vampire Hunter. Yet, never has so fine a warrior been so brash! I fear that he will be broken of his youthful bravado by rude experience. Regardless, perhaps the time has come to muster the Belmont heirs and make together a stand that will be remembered for all time.
Or perhaps this darkness will pass and leave the sun shining upon us and the rest of Romania soon enough. I shall ride to Veros on the morn and wait in the house of my kin for the arrival of Maria and Alucard. Perhaps a good night's sleep will leave me altogether a better man. I retire now to the master bedroom, where I will kiss my sweet Annette good night and fall fast asleep.
* * *
The night air was violently rent by a soul-chilling howl as a cloaked rider fled through the woods at break-neck pace. He desperately prodded his horses, hoping that they could find some last bit of strength to carry him faster. The abomination chasing behind him grew ever closer, driven by an insatiable lust for human blood. It howled again, calling for any others of its kind that might hear, alerting them that the time to feed had finally arrived.
The rider strained to look behind him, believing that he could already feel the beast's hot breath upon his neck. He realized that his loss of focus upon the shoddy road ahead was dangerous and quickly turned back, but only just in time to have this prudent measure meet with disaster. The front left wheel of his wagon struck a giant rock and shattered, sending wood and metal flying. The creature in pursuit ducked and rolled as a spoke hurled past its head in a deadly blur. In the same moment, the rider was thrown from his seat with bone-shattering force. His horses, mad beyond hope with the most primal of fears, would not remain to see what fate awaited their master. They tore off into the black night, dragging behind them the now unrecognizable remains of the wagon.
Though caught off guard, this rider would not be undone so easily. He flipped through the air with impossible grace and style, seeming to defy all the laws of Nature. He landed firmly on his feet, shaken but completely unharmed. He whirled to face his assailant and saw that the beast was lying face down in the road, motionless. The man reached beneath his flowing purple cloak and brought out a large, ornate dagger. He paced toward the monster with the fire of purpose burning in his dark brown eyes. As he drew near, the monster flew to its feet, growling and drooling like a mad dog. There was no question about it; werewolves were a hardy lot indeed.
The lycanthrope lunged for him. He immediately leapt into the air, passing over the enraged beast. It turned and clawed at the sky as its would-be prey escaped its clutches. As the warrior landed with a thud, dust kicking up around his heavy silver boots, he quickly drew out two cards from underneath his cloak and whispered a sacred chant. A brilliant shell of blue light encased him just as the werewolf hurled itself toward him. When it slammed into the ethereal barrier, it immediately recoiled in pain and howled in agony as flames danced across its fur. Its once dark blue coat was now blackened and gave off a putrid stench strong enough to drive back even the most determined foe.
The warrior stumbled backward for a moment, fighting the urge to vomit. Knowing he had little time to act, he leapt into the air again, attaining an unbelievable height. He spread his arms like the wings of an eagle and plunged down upon the werewolf, delivering a mighty blow to its head. It swiped blindly at the man as he bounced away. A razor-sharp claw snagged his wind-blown cloak, which the werewolf tore savagely from about his neck and began to shred in fury. Morris Baldwin was unfazed. This was not the first time in his life that a monster had eaten his cloak, and judging by the blood-red moon which now sat high in the sky, it would not be the last.
As if on cue, two more ungodly howls issued from the dense woods, one on either side of Morris. The werewolf before him bared its fangs, seeming to grin in pleasure at the realization that its brethren would join it in ending the life of this vampire hunter. Morris knew that the risk of engaging this many werewolves at once would be extreme, but with his horses long gone and the nearest living soul at least twenty miles away, he had no choice. His trusty steeds may have abandoned him, but his faith stood steadfast.
Morris reached again into a small leather bag tied to his belt. This time he drew out a vial and ripped the cork from it with his teeth. He dashed the contents all about him, and as soon as the water from within hit the cursed ground, it sprung up into dazzling flames. He tossed the vial down and it shattered on a small rock, then he looked defiantly into the eyes of the beast before him. The other two werewolves were now closing in, and the three began to circle around him. He clenched his dagger in his teeth and uncoiled a whip riding on his belt into his right hand. He began to turn slowly, lagging just behind the pace of the circling predators and cracking the whip at them with a fiery determination.
As the barrier of flame began to die down, the werewolves moved into a crouch, ready to spring upon Morris. Chanting another holy spell, he began to whirl around in a circle. He turned faster and faster until he became only a blur, appearing to vanish entirely. The werewolves were puzzled by this apparent escape, but they were not to be discouraged. They began to close on Morris's last location, creeping forward cautiously. With their second step, all three were brought into the reach of Morris's unfurled whip as it sliced through the air like a blade. They were driven backward by its stinging lash, taking multiple strikes before they could retreat.
Morris's spin wound down as the werewolves began to regroup. Still they came at him, but now from one side. He cracked the whip and the beasts hesitated, their lacerations still burning with a holy rage. The first of the werewolves howled, and the other two seemed to regain their courage once they joined with it, creating a song that only the Dark Lord could appreciate. Morris clenched his dagger and whip as sweat ran down his brow and threatened to blind him with its salty sting. Without hesitation, he plucked a small metallic cross from his belt and hurled it toward the leader of werewolves.
The creature had no time to react. Before its eyes could even send the visual signal to its brain, the bladed silver crucifix buried itself into its head. A blood-chilling howl issued up from the lycanthrope as it was engulfed in white-hot flame. It fell to its knees even as it was devoured, and as its form became ever more human, it seemed to glare at Morris with a burning hatred that far exceeded the intensity of the death pyre which surrounded it.
The other two werewolves were stunned and then angered to see their brother's sudden demise. As he bellowed his death, their resolve to taste man-flesh grew only stronger. They rushed at Morris with blinding speed, attempting to tackle him to the ground, where they would rip out his entrails and show them to him as he slowly died. However, once again the beasts were foiled as they charged head-on into thin air. Turning quickly, they saw Morris now behind them, eyes closed and head bowed with his weapons forming a holy cross. The werewolves stared in disbelief. Powers like these did not belong to mere humans. Surely it could not be. This simple rider who made the foolish mistake of riding into the forest on the eve of the Blood Moon's first rising was surely not an heir of Belmont!
The dagger left Morris's hand and flew through the air, the red light of the engorged moon glinting off it as it glided effortlessly. It embedded into the left werewolf's arm, which it barely had time to raise in defense. Ripping out the blade with utter disregard, the beast barked, and together with its companion it began to close in for the kill. Morris braced himself and prepared to brandish his whip when suddenly he was struck from behind. He found himself spinning through the air, hurtling directly toward his enemies.
The fourth werewolf had been watching the battle all along, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. The other werewolves barked again, signaling their approval. Morris looked up from where he landed as blood trickled from his nose. He was now at a serious disadvantage with the three lycanthropes bearing down upon him from all sides.
The werewolf to his left stopped and raised its hands into the air. A red light began to grow between them, slow and small at first, then growing into a brilliant orb of flame. Morris had carefully studied all the annals of his ancestors, so he understood what was coming. Chanting the same spell he earlier used, he again invoked his barrier of light just in time to avoid being burned by the rapidly advancing wall of fire. He closed his eyes tight and gritted his teeth as everything around him became an unholy conflagration.
Morris knew what he had to do now. He had been driven to his limit, and this final technique would be his only hope. He reached into his bag one final time, drawing out another mystic card adorned with the image of a phoenix. He focused all of his will upon the card as its power raised his glowing body into the air and caused him to fade from sight, protecting him from a force dangerous enough to destroy him in an instant.
The earth suddenly split open where Morris previously rested, and with an ear-piercing screech there arose from the pit an enormous bird. It spiraled through the air and then spread its wings, reaching easily from one side of the forlorn road to the other. In utter horror the dark beasts turned to run, but for them it was far too late. A shockwave of holy flames exploded from the Blue Phoenix, engulfing them and everything else along the forest path, turning the night into day with its blinding light.
Once the evil had been purged from the forest, the bird disappeared and Morris rematerialized where he had once stood, now alone. He dusted himself off and ambled over to retrieve his dagger from where the werewolf had tossed it. He carefully sheathed it, then he put away his whip and his magic cards. He had not expected to find such a violent test on his trip to Veros, and he prayed that he would not encounter yet more trials on the road before him. Slowly and painfully, he began walking.
* * *
Morris had continued down the forsaken road for what was in reality only an hour, but seemed to him an eternity. His pace was slowed considerably by the sharp pain that radiated from his ribs. With every step he took there was another searing pain worse than the last, and soon he feared that he would never see the river. After his earlier encounter, he was certain that spending the night in Dora Woods would spell certain doom, so he forced himself to carry on.
The Romanian night brought with it a cold wind unusual for the time of the year. The trees swayed and groaned all around Morris, chilling him even more. The red light of the Blood Moon shone down upon the land with a thick malice, and the eerie shadows of the trees that danced across the forest floor added no comfort. After finding nothing aside from an occasional scrap of his wagon littering the road, he was now certain that his horses must have run all the way to Wallachia, at least if their madness had not driven them to drown in the river.
The pain in the vampire hunter's side was unrelenting, and soon his legs were also screaming for the relief of a soft place to sit. Morris struggled to continue further, but the harder he tried, the more his own body fought him. Finally unable to take another step, he fell painfully to his knees upon the hard road, panting heavily. After collecting himself for a moment, he rummaged around in his leather bag. He had not packed any healing remedies or first aid. Thus he found nothing that would relieve his pain or help him continue onward, and in his despair, he wished that he had never left home in the first place. He could be there right now, playing with his young son. Instead, he might die this night in the most God-forsaken place on Earth.
Morris was suddenly ripped from thought by the sound of something coming fast down the forest path. In fear he looked behind him, but all he could see were the waltzing shadows. He tried to get to his feet and head for the trees, but his body failed him yet again. He was practically frozen in place, laid bare to whatever evil had followed him this entire time. He closed his eyes and listened to the sound of his impending doom as it grew nearer each moment.
As the source of the sound moved closer to him, it became familiar. The clattering sound of hooves and wheels on the rocky, rutted road was now unmistakable. Morris tempered his excitement with suspicion, for it was entirely possible that the driver of this wagon would be no less evil than the creatures he earlier destroyed. Having no alternative, he reserved judgment, keeping one hand gripped tightly around the handle of his whip.
As the wagon drew nearer to him, Morris could see that the driver was not alone. Two cloaked figures sat huddled closely as the wind whipped them mercilessly. They began to slow as they approached his position, and as they pulled up beside him, the driver stopped his horses with a deep and demanding "whoa!" The two people looked down upon the shivering, exhausted vampire hunter. Morris was unable to make out any feature of their appearance under the cloaks, and this did nothing to improve their impression upon him.
The driver climbed down from his high seat and began to walk toward Morris slowly. He spoke, "Are you hurt? We saw debris, and signs of a great fire. Were you attacked this night?"
Morris did not answer, but instead replied, "What's your name, and why do you hide your appearance so? I've already fought off a pack of demons, and I am not prepared to go silently. So if you will be spared from my whip, show yourself!"
At the sound of Morris's voice, the other figure in the wagon stirred and began to climb down as well. Now Morris was truly frightened. Although the concern in the first person's voice sounded real enough, it came with a cold, distant, almost aristocratic delivery. Whoever these people were, they were not simply normal travelers. The second figure spoke to the first in a hushed voice which Morris thought might be that of a woman. Apparently at her urging, the first figure pulled back the hood of his cloak, revealing an inhumanly handsome but ghostly pale face crowned by flowing locks of silver.
"You may call me Adrian," he said.
Morris was stunned and still uncertain of the riders' intentions. However, his caution turned to joy when the second figure also removed her hood. "Maria?!" Morris blurted out.
She replied, "Morris, I can't believe you are here! Whatever are you doing in this horrible place?"
"I have been on my way to Jova for many a week now," he explained. "I mean to meet with Richter, as it has been a long time since we last saw one another. I was on the road tonight when I saw the Blood Moon rise, and by then it was far too late to turn back. I'm just so happy to see you now; I thought I might not make it out of these woods alive."
The man offered Morris a gloved hand, and with this help he was finally able to stand; however, he cried out in pain and almost doubled over. Maria gasped and rushed to his side. "Adrian, he's hurt," she said.
Morris continued his story once he caught his breath. "I was attacked... by four werewolves. As I mentioned... I destroyed them, but not before one knocked me to the ground... I think I may have broken a rib."
Alucard sighed, knowing exactly what evil was at work in the land. He said, "Let us go. This place is not far from the ruins of one of Dracula's castles, so the evil is strongest here. If we tarry, we may yet see werewolves or things far worse." With that, he headed back toward the wagon. Maria helped Morris walk over to the wagon and climb up into it. Alucard gave a sharp command to his horses as soon as the two were safely within, and once again they were flying down the forest road.
Morris continued to talk with Maria throughout their journey, even while she tended his wounds.
"What news from the Baldwin clan?" she asked him.
"All has been quiet on the western front for some time. Countess Carmilla was forced into torpor by my father, and since that time her castle has remained an empty shell. Vampire hunting has been slow business since the turn of the century. That only gives me more time with Hugh, though, which is a blessing. He's already turned eight."
"I couldn't help but notice that you are carrying a whip."
Morris furrowed his brow as his hand closed around the handle of his cherished weapon. "This whip has served me well in what few engagements I have found. It is the Hunter Whip, an old heirloom of the Baldwins. My grandfather dismissed it as a useless novelty, but thanks to my father's efforts, it now carries the blessing of the Patriarch of Constantinople, and thus it can burn the flesh of unholy creatures."
Maria's face held a look of disbelief. "But to secure that blessing would have required...", she whispered.
"Yes, an expedition into the Ottoman Empire. It was a dangerous journey, but he was accompanied by myself and many others. The fear of being mistaken for Habsburg spies was always upon us. My father was inspired by the Belmonts to make the creation of this whip his final accomplishment."
"I'm sure that Richter will find this all very fascinating, Morris," Maria said.
"Well, the weapon's power pales in comparison to the Vampire Killer," he replied with a grin, "but I hope that he will."
Alucard had remained silent throughout their conversation, giving only an intrigued glance toward Morris when the subject fell upon his weapon. Morris found the man quite odd, and he did not at all realize his identity.
Finally he asked Maria, "So, who is your man friend here?" Alucard looked in their direction with a stern expression, and Maria smiled at him.
"I'm surprised you don't know, Morris. This is Alucard, my husband. His full name is Adrian Farenheit Ţepeş."
"Ţepeş!" Morris exclaimed as everything suddenly became clear. "You are the son of the Dark Lord himself, who has ever been our friend and ally? This is almost too fanciful to believe."
Maria laughed a bit and then replied, "But it is true. We met twenty three years ago in the depths of the Demon Castle while I was embroiled in the search for Richter. If not for me, Alucard would probably be sleeping again, but I decided that I had to follow him and make him my own."
Alucard's eyes warmed a bit at his wife's recollections, and he extended a hand to Morris, which the vampire hunter gave a friendly grasp. Morris never thought that he would meet the legendary dhampir in his lifetime, but now he quite possibly owed his life to him, and on top of that, the man was married to his cousin's sister-in-law.
"I still don't understand how I was fortunate enough to be on the same road as you two," Morris quipped. Maria explained about the happenings near the city where she and Alucard were staying and about their urgent trip to meet with Richter in Veros. Morris chalked it up to a coincidence, but Alucard shook his head and spoke.
"What happened in this forest tonight was fate. There must be some reason you have been brought here, and only time will tell what that reason is. Since we are headed for Veros, you may as well stay with us. Your injuries still need attention." Morris silently nodded his head in agreement.
The three continued down the road at the highest speed that the aching Morris could bear, until finally they reached the edge of the forest and the East Bridge. Everything seemed calm and in perfect order as they approached, but Alucard instinctively stopped the wagon to check the bridge before crossing. In few of his long years had this bridge been reliable, and he still refused to trust it.
Alucard climbed down from the wagon and walked toward the bank of the Dead River. The bridge's planks looked weathered but stout, and would be sure to hold the wagon's weight. Aside from the mermen leaping from the water with fangs bared and weapons ready for battle, there would be no issue in crossing.
The dhampir gritted his teeth and drew out his heirloom sword with a swift and graceful motion. The first of the mermen raised its club to give him a crushing blow to the head, but Alucard ran it through cleanly long before it could finish the move. Tongues of fire consumed it, but even while it vanished, another emerged from the banks of the river to take its place, this one carrying a spear. Alucard vanished, then reappeared behind a group of four. He opened his cloak, letting loose a barrage of fireballs that fried them to a crisp. Still they came, only increasing their numbers despite his every effort.
Maria, still in the wagon, saw that her husband was vastly outnumbered. She stood, raised her arm in the air, and let out a whistle as sweet as a bird's song. The forest behind her grew calm and silent for a moment. Morris watched in awe as a majestic owl flew from the woods and perched on the woman's arm. Then from behind it there came a great flock of birds of many kinds in a storm of feathers and flapping wings.
Maria screamed to Alucard, "Get back to the wagon!" The dhampir turned around and saw the flock coming his way like lightning. Knowing he would never make it that far if he simply ran, he swiftly transformed into a wolf and barked an acknowledgement to his wife. He bolted for the wagon, passing under the birds unharmed as they directed their rage toward the shore. The mermen began to turn back toward the water. A few made it in and disappeared beneath the froth, but the less fortunate were literally torn apart as the hungry flock descended upon them. Alucard-wolf jumped up into the wagon and then returned to his human form as quickly as he could.
"Go!" Maria shouted, and the wagon began to move once again. Held at bay by the still-circling flock of birds, no mermen dared to challenge them as they crossed the bridge. Morris looked back wide-eyed, wondering what might have happened if he had reached this place on his own.
Maria petted the owl still perched on her arm and it let out a contented hoot. "Evil may have laid a claim on this forest," she said, "but you are still its true master. Thank you!" With that, the owl seemed to nod, and then it flew away into the night.
Just over the bridge was an almost impenetrable marsh which the road skirted for many miles, and in the very center of this bog was the once lavish Berkeley Mansion. It had stood for centuries as a testament to the victory of Simon Belmont over the curse of Dracula. More of a fortress than a mansion, a few noblemen had tried to reclaim it and make it a place they could use to shelter their troops. None had stayed long, though, and its reputation as a haunted house only grew.
Morris knew all of these stories by heart. He looked out across the flat marsh lands in recollection, and for just a moment, he thought he saw a pair of red, glowing eyes take a menacing glance at him from a window of the dilapidated building. As soon as he blinked, they disappeared. Hoping that he was only hallucinating, he closed his eyes and tried to rest.
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.