While Trevor Belmont does take some pride in his name, he doesn’t wish to advertise it in every little village he passes by; mostly because the common folk tend to hate the Belmonts, despite their outstanding skills in vampire hunting.
Anything outstanding is branded as black magic, these past few years, and Trevor’s family has been, according to rumors, soulless demons or cold-blooded killers. The hunter doesn’t really know from where these rumors come, but they are gruesome enough to make people wary and scared.
Trevor munches a slice of stale bread with distaste, his chestnut, shoulder-length hair disheveled as ever and the glint of his blue eyes dulled by cheap ale. They are still alert enough to dart from the door of the tavern to the window, though, surveying the exits.
In front of him, his drinking companion, a traveling merchant, sniffs. Trevor swears something falls from his nose and drops into his soup, and shudders.
“That lady...” he begins, trying to hide his disgust, “you said she’s dead?”
The merchant nods vigorously, closing his eyes to stress his point.
“Yes, poor Ana is dead! Someone bled her out like cattle and left her by the woods, still wearing her night gown. But if you want my opinion,” he says, and Trevor refrains himself from muttering ‘I don’t’, “It’s not someone but something. I’m pretty sure that’s some bloody feral bear. You see, they’re everywhere and they...”
Trevor doesn’t care, after that. Bears definitely don’t bleed out their victims. They are more into mauling, and maybe throwing their victims around, and if that lady Ana was still recognizable and fully clothed when they found her, it’s definitely not a bear.
“Where did that Ana live?” Trevor asks. “I’ll pay my respects, and, uh, maybe see what I can do.”
He’ll maybe investigate around if her village is in his way, but the prospect of dealing with villagers doesn’t please him in the slightest. Trevor will probably have to lie again, and while it comes naturally to him, he quite dislikes it.
“Lupu,” the merchant says, sniffing again. “I always go there twice a month. Nice village, good business. And pretty ladies, too; too bad they’re dying.”
Now, that’s interesting.
“Only ladies are dying, then,” Trevor mumbles. “That’s strange enough. Is lady Ana the first one?”
The merchant waves his hand dismissively.
“No, no. I reckon she’s the fourth one in a month. Always a lady, and always bled out. Bloody feral bears...”
He continues to mutter other things under his breath, that Trevor ignores. Lupu isn’t too far from where he is, near Aiud. He should take a look there, as the descriptions of the merchant point at a vampire den, but the mere idea of having to investigate supernatural events with common folks sounds terrible. He should maybe ride away, directly to Targoviste, but...
“Thank you, friend,” Trevor says, dropping two coins on the table, enough to cover both the merchant’s and his own ale.
The merchant greedily takes the coins and nods, with his irritating eyes shut again. Trevor forces himself to smile before he steps out of the inn, thinking of the merchant’s soup and making a disgusted face.
The end of winter draws near, but the nights are still strangely cold enough for Trevor to regret his beloved fur-trimmed coat. He wrinkles his nose, wonders if he should nap first, between the grown roots and under the shade of the oak he spotted earlier. It would be comfy enough, and at least free. He doesn’t have the coin to pay for a room just for a mere hour.
Trevor grunts when he notices two men standing behind him.
“What do you want?” he mutters. The men have small knives, eyes staring at his coin pouch, and a sadistic grin. Trevor knows he asked a stupid question and sighs.
He should have drank a lot more, he thinks, before he lunges and punches one of the men in his teeth. Trevor feels the first thief bites the inside of his own cheek under the blow before he falls, and there is a satisfying throb on the knuckles of his right hand when he aims at the second man, ducking in time to only hear the swish of a blade over his head.
“Hope you didn’t cut my hair,” Trevor says, and the scoundrel, after a look at his almost unconscious partner, thrusts angrily his knife toward him again.
Trevor jumps back and unwinds the whip he has on his side. He doesn’t usually use it for small, petty fights like this one, but he just wants to take a nap and these two bandits are ruining his plans.
“Listen, you really don’t want to know what I can do with that,” he warns. The last standing man scrunches up his nose, but makes no surrendering moves.
Well, at least he isn’t mocking his whip, like so many men and women before. Kudos to him for his tolerance in front of unusual weapons. Trevor is almost tempted to be nice to him, but then, he can feel that the hair on the top of his head is definitely shorter and no one should touch his hair.
A flick of his wrist, and Trevor is forcing the man closer with his whip, close enough for his face to meet, at full force, his fist. The time, the nose breaks, and the thief plops down, cupping with both hands his face, wailing. Trevor raises an eyebrow, and kicks his face, with enough force to render him unconscious without leaving any lasting consequences on his body.
Trevor stares at the unconscious bodies for a while, then shrugs. He picks up the thieves’ coins, stuffs them in his pouch. He ignores the soft yet accusative neigh of his horse as they leave.
- - -
Trevor arrives at Lupu a day and a half later, at night; famished, exhausted, and irritatingly sober. He reins his horse to the closest and probably only tavern of the village, and finds himself stepping into a noisy crowd of men.
They are all talking and laughing as they gulp down their tankard of ale. Trevor frowns. For such a small village, the tavern is overly crowded, and he even has to push some drunk patrons to find his way to the counter.
The waitress looks at him with impassive brown eyes. They rest a little too long on Trevor’s hair and shit, he curses, passing a self-conscious hand over the top of his head. The two bandits after his coins, yesterday, probably made a mess with their knives.
“What d’you want,” the waitress finally asks. “Ale? If you want bread, we’re out of it.”
“Just ale,” Trevor replies, then adds, lowering his voice, “and information.”
The waitress slides an overflowing tankard towards Trevor and crosses her arms. She looks intrigued enough by Trevor’s request, and narrows her eyes when she visibly notices the short sword securely tucked by his side. Trevor makes sure she sees the Belmont crest under his coat so she doesn’t take him for a bandit, and clears his throat.
She sighs in defeat, and throws a glare at a drunken patron before she speaks. “Guess it’s about the poor girls. What d’you want to know?”
Trevor is quite surprised to see the waitress not expecting any compensation for the clues she might give him, except for his order of ale, and she shrugs, as if she read his mind.
“Well, next time, it can be me, and like Hell I want to be bled out and left to die somewhere in the woods,” the young woman says, then shows the crowd around them with a wave of her hand. “Unlike like these nosy sods and lazy guards, you look capable enough. So. What d’you want to know?”
“Anything you can tell me,” Trevor mutters. “If the victims were acting strangely before they died, or if you have a possible culprit in mind.”
“Well, I didn’t know half of ‘em. That Ana and Lucia -the latest and second victims- were rich ladies, after all, so they don’t come ‘round here. But Vera and Monica -first and third victims-, no. Nothing strange.”
Trevor hums. “Are they all from here or...?”
“Not all of ‘em. Monica came here with her husband two years ago. Happy marriage, not very strange. Lucia just arrived from Sibiu when she got killed. You see, her father has a pretty nice house here; a big mansion. She wanted to live in there. Poor man is probably blaming himself for letting her go.”
“I... see,” Trevor breathes. The information, so far, isn’t very interesting. The victims don’t seem to have any connection between them, except for being a woman, living in Lupu and being bled to death. He purses his lips, then asks, “Anything strange about their deaths?”
The waitress’ eyes light up and she leans closer to Trevor.
“You think it’s some monster, don’t you? I knew it,” she whispers conspiratorially. “Well the poor women, they are always bled to death, dried up like a slice of goat meat, but they don’t have any bruises on them. They’re all nice and pretty, still wearing their night gown or something.”
“They don’t have... any marks, then,” Trevor repeats, frowning, while he thinks it’s definitely not bears.
The absence of any wound would normally rule out vampires, but then... What kind of creature would do that, except for them? Did they find a way to consume their prey without leaving any signs behind? He grits his teeth. Vampires are already a pain to deal with. If they begin to adapt...
“Y’know what,” the waitress says after handing out a round of ale to another obviously too drunk patron, “I think that’s the Tepes son. He’s weird. Everybody thinks that, but since his mother’s the only doctor here, no one wants to say it out loud.”
Trevor sips his cheap ale, and thinks for a moment. If both the waitress and himself are right, it would mean the Tepes son is a vampire, and that his mother would probably be one too.
“What can you tell me, about him, and his mother?” Trevor asks, and the waitress beams, quite satisfied to have her suspicions taken into account.
“Oh, his mother is a sweetheart. Works from dawn till dusk to help people. Helped me a lot when I was sick, even if I didn’t have the coin to pay her. But her son? He is... He’s only out during the night, and doesn’t talk a lot. He never did anything bad, or mean, but there’s something strange in him.”
She shrugs, then adds, “Sometimes I believe he’s not Lisa’s son. She wouldn’t have such a strange brat. But she loves him dearly.”
Lisa, Trevor notes the name in his mind. Lisa Tepes. If she works as hard as the waitress said, she can’t be a vampire. She would die, burned to death under the sun.
He needs to dig around, find some records; hopefully without having to dive into the church’s archives. God, he really, really, hates churches. But thinking about that...
“Is Lisa Tepes married?” Trevor wonders aloud. The waitress smiles.
“Yes she is! But we don’t see her husband often. Last time was a month or two ago,” she mutters, scratching her chin. “She says he travels a lot. She is quite worried about him.”
“I see. Well, thank you for your time...”
The young woman chuckles.
“Olga,” she says. “The name’s Olga.”
- - -
There is a new victim in the morning. Trevor is the one to find her by the woods. Her body is pale, the blood obviously drained out, and as Olga said, the hunter doesn’t find a single wound on her body. There are old scars on her calloused fingers and her hands, but nothing recent enough to appear suspicious. He frowns, crouches down to examine her more closely without touching her.
What Trevor thought to be a simple vampire problem just turned into something more complex, and he has to admit he is intrigued. His work as a hunter is quite repetitive, and for once, there is something else, something interesting, something new.
Five victims in a month, now, Trevor muses. The culprit maybe knows that no one has any idea of what’s happening; letting them feel powerful and in control. If Trevor doesn’t work quickly, there would more even more victims. Shit. He hates working under pressure.
Trevor pushes himself up with a groan, covers any traces he might leave around the body. He doesn’t alert a guard and instead walks back to the village, trying to think of a plan, of something to do. He doesn’t have any clue except for the suspicions of a waitress, and better start here than nowhere.
Trevor sighs. He gulps the last drops of water of his gourd, and makes his way Lisa Tepes’ house.
It is quite easy to find, which isn’t really surprising. Trevor just has to ask for a doctor, citing a fever and some stomachache, and everyone is quick to give him directions, fearing for their own health.
And soon he is standing in front of the Tepes family house. Trevor notices the wooden fence with a raised eyebrow, and a small, tidy garden that someone, the hunter guesses Lisa, takes particularly care of. He stares at the roses, and feels at little bit sick in his stomach.
The house is by no means as impressive as the Belmont family estate, but there is still a resemblance; and the memories are here. Memories of burning wood, so vivid that Trevor can almost feel the smoke clog the back of his nose. He clears his throat. It's suddenly difficult to breathe and to see, dark spots dot his sight, and Trevor wants to puke.
“Are you... sick?”
Trevor isn’t exactly sick, but he almost doesn’t hear the gentle, concerned voice in front of him with the roar of his heart in his ears. His hands are clammy when he grips the person’s robe, and he thinks he’s going to die, suffocated by smoke and burned in fire.
He feels someone lower him down on the wet grass, and Trevor doesn’t care much, because he breathes a little better when the person tells him to breathe in and out slowly, carefully, gently.
When the cloud of panic dissipates, Trevor blinks up to see a woman peering down at him curiously. She wears a soft red robe and her blonde, braided hair is flipped over her shoulder. Her eyes are worried as she tilts her head.
“Are you seeking medication?” she asks.
Trevor shakily pushes himself up. He knows he is pale, feels a pearl of sweat roll down his temple.
“Ah, no, I’m searching for doctor Lisa Tepes,” he replies, voice dry and rough. “I am... Trevor, uh. Trevor. I have a few questions.”
The blonde woman takes a couple of steps back, and suddenly seems more cautious. She glances at Trevor again, this time her eyes inquisitive and insistent. It’s almost a study, the hunter thinks, as he looks back with a raised eyebrow.
“I am Lisa Tepes,” she finally says, slowly.
And Lisa Tepes is no vampire. She is warm, stands under the sun, and carries her bag without the ease nor the strength of a creature of the night. Trevor purses his lips. If she is no vampire, maybe her son is. Maybe he was turned when he was younger, maybe she adopted him. They are so many possibilities. He needs to meet him.
“It’s about your son,” Trevor admits, gesturing at the house. “Is he here?”
Lisa freezes and yes; she is definitely suspicious now. Trevor acts like he doesn’t notice her sliding a hand in the puff of her sleeve to grab something, and continues, forcing a smile on his lips.
“I’d like to meet him,” Trevor says. He feels uneasy, but his heartbeat is calmer now.
“Not now,” Lisa replies curtly. “I am expected elsewhere and...”
“Where?” Trevor asks abruptly. “Where are you expected? Because I’ll find your son, even if you’re not here, and we’ll have a nice. Little. Chat.”
Trevor feels like shit. He hates to do that to such a gentle woman, yet quickly thinks otherwise when he notices the flash of a knife sliding out of her sleeve. Ah. Not as harmless as she seems, the good doctor Tepes.
The hunter takes a step back before the weapon can reach him, but Lisa is only grasping the handle, watching him move with narrowed eyes.
“Don’t even think of touching my family,” she seethes. “I saw the crest on your chest and your whip. I knew one of you would come one day, but we're not doing anything wrong. Leave.”
Trevor blinks. He almost wants to mock her, but the valiant efforts she puts into protecting her family is commendable.
“I really don’t want to hurt you,” he decides to say. “I really don’t.”
“Good,” a deep, rough voice replies. “Because you would lose your fingers even before you lay a single one of them on her.”
Trevor throws a glance to his side, and huffs with contempt.
Who he assumes to be Lisa Tepes’ son is standing not so far from his mother, tall and menacing, his lean body covered by a long black coat. Both of his hands are casually resting on the handle of his sheathed sword, thin fingers drumming impatiently.
If the man; if he can be called a man, is as blonde as his mother and shares many of her sharp features; his eyes are unnaturally golden, and his skin too pale to have blood flowing underneath. All of these details confirm Trevor’s suspicions, and he can't repress the disgusted twitch of his lips.
“Adrian,” Lisa says sharply, worryingly, “please.”
“I will not harm him,” said Adrian assures, then turns his full attention on Trevor. “But I will if he doesn’t leave us.”
Trevor stands his ground and sniffs disdainfully. “If I leave you’ll find another girl to bleed out like cattle and that’s not going to sit well with me.”
Adrian visibly grits his teeth, and Lisa is putting herself between Trevor and her son. She doesn’t look panicked, but there is a fear in her eyes, the fear to lose everything important to her. It’s awfully familiar and Trevor has to look away.
“My son, he is not responsible of this,” Lisa says. “He doesn’t need to...”
She chokes on her words, unable to imagine her son killing, which is... Quite a normal thing to do, Trevor thinks. Parents always want to think their children are perfect and good, aren’t they? He purses his lips. He doesn’t want to shatter her innocent beliefs, but does she realize...?
“I don’t want to break it out to you but,” Trevor finally says, shrugging, “you do know vampires need blood to survive, don’t you?”
“She does know, hunter,” Adrian huffs. “She is trying to tell you she provides for me.”
Trevor raises an eyebrow, and takes a long look at Lisa. Her cheeks are rosy with anger and anticipation, and she seems well. Maybe a little too well for someone regularly providing for a vampire. He rolls his eyes. When are people going to stop to take him for some idiot?
Lisa seems to know what Trevor is thinking, and quickly raises her hand in surrender. The knife she brandished earlier is now thrown on the grass, and she quickly kicks it away, into the bushes of roses closest to Trevor.
“I am a doctor,” she says. Her voice quivers a little. “I am using the blood from the patients I treat with bloodletting. I... Please. Please let me show you how it works. My son never harmed anyone. I never harmed anyone.”
Trevor takes a deep breath. Destroying a family over circumstantial evidences and misplaced pride hits too close to home, and he doesn’t want to feel like his own tormentor. He doesn’t want to be the one burning the house; the one accusing blindly; the one condemning without proof.
When Trevor takes his decision, he can hear his forbears curse him.
“Fine. Show me.”
Lisa doesn’t utter a word when Trevor asks to carry her knife on himself and demands her son to drop his weapon; the two conditions for him to listen to their explanation. Despite Adrian’s obvious distaste, she agrees with a weary nod, while the vampire concedes with a final, icy glare.
He drops his sheathed sword and his belt onto the grass with a wrinkled nose, looking almost petulant, under Trevor’s pointed stare. Vampires are fast, unpredictable. If Adrian does want to fight -something quite possible, judging by the tension in the air- with or without his weapon, Trevor must to be prepared. The brute force of a vampire, as well as their unnatural speed, can not be underestimated.
But Trevor has fought enough, both men and creatures, to know fairness and honor is too overrated if one wants to survive. And so, he takes the easiest option to ensure his safety: after a lazy twirl of his knife in his hand, he points the sharp edge against Lisa’s back, his eyes trained on Adrian in a silent dare, while his unoccupied hand grasps both of her wrists. She gasps in surprise, but otherwise stays wordless.
Adrian doesn’t share her calmness. He immediately hisses in pure rage, fangs visible and menacing, while the gold of his eyes seek to burn Trevor’s. He makes a small movement towards his mother, long claws wanting to scratch and find blood, and Trevor presses the blade a bit harder. He knows it wouldn’t hurt: Lisa’s dress is too large for her, and the rich fabric thick enough to nor tear. The threat still seems enough for Adrian to step down, though, the only vestige of his rage in a disgusted uptick of his upper lip.
“She is innocent,” Adrian grits, voice quivering with concealed fury. “She is human.”
Trevor shrugs, not proud of his actions but remaining undeterred. He doesn’t try to repress the contempt in his words. “Then you better behave, hm?”
“Enough, I do not have all day,” Lisa says, loud and sudden. For someone taken hostage, she seems quite composed, Trevor remarks. She adds, voice gentler, “Adrian, dear... Listen to him. He will leave us once I prove we are not the ones bleeding out these poor girls. Let me do this.”
Adrian hums in acknowledgment, his shoulders a tense line, and reluctantly walks to the door, unlocking it. He doesn’t do anything, then; only stands still, arms crossed. He looks expectantly at Trevor, waiting for him and his mother to enter. Trevor scoffs.
“I’m not letting you behind my back.”
“And I do not need to hide to kill you,” Adrian replies with a roll of his eyes. He steps into his house nonetheless.
“Try it, I’ll make a pendant off your teeth,” Trevor fires back, gently nudging Lisa forward.
She does move, but steps on his foot before that. Trevor winces. Despite the thick leather of his boots, Lisa short heels stab his toe with too much force to be accidental. The hunter purses his lips in a poor attempt to keep his agony silent.
“Oh, I am sorry,” Lisa says.
She doesn’t sound sorry at all.
If anything, she looks smug.
“It’s fine,” Trevor mumbles, voice a little strangled as he follows Lisa. “I’m fine.”
Surprise hits Trevor as soon as he steps into the house. While impressive in its size, the interiors of the Tepes estate are in a lesser condition than he expected to find it.
It smells of mold and some corners are sheltering spiders; cobwebs stuck between rich oak furniture and walls. The manor’s beams creak when Trevor kicks the door shut behind him, and he wrinkles his nose when a cloud a dust makes its way to his face. The estate is not abandoned, not really, but obviously unkempt.
Adrian doesn’t seem to mind. Leaning against the nearest wall, his eyes are too busy throwing daggers to show any embarrassment, but Lisa winces.
“I am sorry for the mess,” she mutters, glancing around as if she is discovering the place “With all these sick people, I do not have time to clean. Adrian isn’t home, too, usually, since he helps me.”
She suddenly turns back, her stomach now pressing against the blade of her own knife, still in Trevor’s hands. Adrian immediately pushes himself up in alert.
“Mother-” he begins, genuinely worried, only to be cut short by Lisa.
“Adrian, be a dear and bring our guest a cup of water,” she says. When her son doesn’t budge, she narrows her eyes at him. “Please.”
“You know I won’t drink it,” Trevor sniffs, watching Adrian’s back as he hesitantly retreats in the kitchen.
Ha. Such a mother’s boy.
“I know, I asked water for a reason. I won't waste good wine,” Lisa replies, arms crossed as she rolls her eyes. It’s strange how her expression almost matches perfectly her son’s. “I just thought you would prefer to talk to a defenseless woman instead of her vampire son. May I sit?”
“I... really don’t think you’re defenseless,” Trevor says. “And do whatever you want, as long as I keep the knife.”
Lisa shrugs as she plops down on an armchair, sighing wearily. She doesn’t spare a glance at the knife now pointing at her face, but instead at the enormous clock propped against the wall, frowning. Trevor stares at it too, a bit curious.
“Ah, yes, they aren’t common,” Lisa comments. “But you must have seen them in churches?”
Trevor grunts noncommittedly, but doesn’t reply. He hasn’t stepped into a church for years. He isn’t fond those so-called houses of God, dislikes the priests with passion; and would gladly discuss of anything but his lack of faith. He clears his throat.
“Why do you think I would believe any of your words?” Trevor asks, steering the conversation away.
Lisa blinks at him, then replies, disbelieving, “Why wouldn’t you? We have sound arguments. We want to live peacefully, and I can provide the blood we need without harming anyone, without arousing any suspicion. We’ve been doing this for years. Why would we suddenly endanger ourselves?”
It does make sense, Trevor thinks, eyes cast down. Besides, he isn’t even sure if the culprit of all these deaths is truly a vampire -they are usually so messy when they feed, leaving gaping wounds on necks or thighs. Lips pursed, he glances at Lisa.
“You say you feed him, but I don’t see any cuts on you.”
“I...” she begins, then slowly stands up and rounds her chair.
Trevor makes a movement to follow her, suspicious, but she in soon back, carrying a wooden box. She opens it with care, showing a myriad of needles. One, particularly long, is stuck to a tube a hollow glass. Trevor squints, his eyebrows knit into a frown. What kind of tools are these?
“It is a syringe,” Lisa explains, seeing his confusion. “Can I... Can I show you, maybe? On myself, of course.”
Trevor is nods warily. As a warning, he keeps his knife raised high enough to strike her. Lisa smiles wryly, and carefully rolls her sleeves up. She deftly ties a strap of leather around her upper left arm, then takes a piece of cloth from the box and dabs the skin of the crook of her elbow.
It smells like alcohol, but it’s too strong and too overwhelming to be it. It’s irritating too, enough to make the back of Trevor’s nose a little sore. He almost sneezes; almost. He refrains himself quickly when surprise overtaking him: Lisa, with clinical precision, is pressing the needle into her skin.
Lisa, seeing Trevor’s shock, chuckles. She carefully yet quickly pulls out a small jar out of the box, putting it right under the tube of hollow glass. The hunter raises an eyebrow as he notices some sort of sturdy cork at the end of it.
When it’s taken off, blood flows out, runs down the sides of the tube, and drips down into the jar. Trevor knows the liquid should pass through the needle, and it’s quite a fascinating process, but the mere idea of having a so small item able to draw so much blood makes him almost screech.
“W-What...” Trevor stammers, unsure of what he is witnessing.
“Mother,” comes Adrian’s voice, sudden and concerned.
Trevor jumps. The vampire is standing straight, still tense and cautious, and his eyes are cast down, worried. In a hand, a glass of water shakes. “You should not have.”
“He wanted proof that I fed you, that you’re not hurting anyone,” Lisa says. Despite the situation, her voice is serene, and Trevor wonders if it hurts.
Lisa carefully plucks off the needle of her arm and presses another strong smelling piece of cloth on her skin. The jar of blood sits on the arm of her armchair. “You can have it, son. And before you ask -yes, I am sure.”
Adrian blinks, genuine surprise taking over his face. He gingerly steps towards the jar and picks it up.
“You should not have,” he repeats, even though he presses the rim of the jar against his lips. He narrows his golden eyes at Trevor, then tilts the small recipient up.
“Don’t worry, Adrian,” Lisa says, unperturbed. “I’ll rest later.”
Lisa seems is a little weaker, and she does look paler; the red of her cheeks gone. Yet, her smile is true and full of warmth. Trevor looks away. He feels like he is intruding, or at least more than he actually is. Adrian and Lisa are, despite the son being a vampire, unguarded around each other. Their concern, their love; they are genuine and too much.
It makes Trevor uncomfortable. He has never seen a vampire like that -feeling, caring, loving; displaying raw emotions with such ease. It sets his teeth on edge. It’s so wrong.
“You know it doesn’t help your case,” Trevor rasps after a while. Adrian has finished the jar of blood and is now standing behind her mother. “It actually makes it worse.”
Lisa tilts her head, confused. Trevor clears his throat.
“The dead girls, they don’t have any noticeable wounds,” he says, raising an eyebrow. “And just right here I’m looking at what is the perfect weapon.”
Adrian steps immediately forward, ready to shield his mother, despite her being still in the vicinity of Trevor’s reach. The hunter has almost forgotten the knife in his hands.
“I saw how you reacted, when you saw it,” the vampire says, vaguely gesturing at the box. “What do you think a normal person would do, if they see that device, when you, a hunter, almost belched like a too drunk peasant? They would flee; they would fight. There would be scratches and resistance.”
Adrian’s lips are a thin, severe line.
“Tell me, hunter, did you even take a close look at the body of a victim? Or did you immediately run to us, ready to blame us with unfounded accusations?” he continues, his voice dropping lower, turning into a threat. “And now, are you going to leave us, or are you going to kill us?”
Trevor remains silent, unable to deny his motives. He did want to put the blame on Adrian; half-hoped to solve the problem quickly and move on. Now... Now, he couldn’t, wouldn’t. He isn’t sentimental enough to trust a vampire, but Lisa genuinely cares for Adrian, and Trevor doesn’t wish to snatch away her only son.
Something sings dully outside, like the elongated ring of a bell. It grows closer; and a split second later a familiar sword shatters the nearest window and finds its way into Adrian’s hand. Trevor blinks. Lisa looks more concerned by the broken window than the blade that passed straight in front of her, but she still takes a few cautious steps back, out of Trevor’s reach.
“That’s cheating,” Trevor says, still blinking is disbelief. Despite his surprise, his knife is already raised, and his free hand hovers over the handle of his whip. Reflexes don’t seem to die that easily.
“Your silence is telling, hunter, and I have abandoned the idea of fairness when you took my mother hostage,” Adrian scoffs. “I can not trust you. If you leave, nothing tells me that you will not come back with other hunters. ”
“I work best alone,” Trevor grunts in response. “And I really, really, don’t want to meet other hunters either.”
“That’s it. Stop it, both of you,” Lisa interrupts. She has rounded the armchairs and is now standing behind her son, both hands anchored to her hips.
When Trevor and Adrian don’t move an inch, air heavy and tension ready to snap, she sighs and approaches the hunter again. Her hands are high in surrender, and Adrian, noticing that, is immediately trying to pull the back of her robe in a attempt to stop her.
She does stop, but only when she is standing between Trevor and her son.
“Hunter...” she begins, softly, before she clears her throat and corrects herself. “Trevor. I know no words from my son’s mouth or mine will fully convince you of our innocence. You need evidences, and I understand that. I will help you gather them. I will accompany you, if you allow me to. As a doctor, I can request a reexamination of the corpses. The people of Lupu trust me, the mayor, too. They won’t say no.”
The idea is quite tempting. Trevor wouldn’t have to sneak into crypts and steal in the mayor’s house, and the presence of Lisa would be reassuring during interrogations. He hums, considering her proposal, when Adrian just hisses.
“I am not leaving you with a man like him, mother,” he protests.
Lisa turns her attention to her son.
“Are you going with him, then? You are as capable as me,” she says, quirking up an eyebrow. She gently prods the top of Adrian’s nose with a finger. “And your sense of smell is better than mine too.”
Adrian is mortified by his mother’s fond gesture, and Trevor snorts.
Until Lisa’s words hit him.
- - -
Of course, because he is too much of a mother’s boy to decline, Adrian accepts to accompany Trevor in his quest. His features are just plainly murderous, though, and the only moment when the hunter doesn’t have to see them is when Adrian is striding ahead, impatient to get the investigation over with.
“Where did you find the body?” the vampire asks curtly after a while, stopping a second to glance at Trevor. His hand is still uncomfortably close to the hilt of his sword.
Trevor shrugs, eyes on the weapon, and gestures towards the edge of the forest, not so far from where they stand.
“She was around there,” Trevor says. “Or further. I’m not sure.”
He wonders if the body has been noticed by now. He wasn’t gone for long to the Tepes’ estate, but Lupu is a small village. All of its inhabitants have heard of the murders, and fear would make anyone suspicious at the disappearance of a girl, especially in the middle of the night.
The vampire scrunches up his nose and goes ahead again, his blonde hair dancing in the morning breeze. It is still unnaturally cold enough for Adrian to bring his coat, but it is black and gray and too fancy for their task. Trevor doesn’t wonder why Olga found Adrian weird.
“How can you forget where a body is,” Adrian seethes. “Have you even considered to call the authorities?”
“Nope,” Trevor huffs. “I’m here to know what does that, take it down, move on; and I can’t really do shit if I’m accused of murder.”
“Of course, false accusation would bother you only if you are the one concerned.”
More than murderous, Adrian now looks absolutely disgusted. He distances himself once more from Trevor, leaving the hunter with his thoughts.
It’s strange, really, to see how the vampire has picked up some human traits. His fingers drum on the hilt of his sword when he is impatient; he scratches the back of his neck when he doesn’t find anything in the forest; grimaces when he spots the decaying carcass of a deer.
“When have you been turned?” Trevor suddenly asks, more abruptly than he intended to. Despite his appearance -grayish skin and golden eyes, Adrian can easily be mistaken with a normal, if sick, man. It troubles the hunter more than he would admit.
Adrian halts and throws him a puzzled glance.
“I was born vampire,” he says.
For the umpteenth time since this morning, Trevor stutters “what”. Adrian sniffs disdainfully, as if providing an explanation to a hunter would be pointless, but he finally changes his mind.
“My mother, as you have seen, is human. My father is a pure-blooded vampire,” Adrian deadpans. “Do I need to go further? Explain how procreation occurs?”
Trevor makes a disgusted face.
“Absolutely not from you,” he affirms, then asks, more quietly, “where is he, your father?”
“Are you suspecting him?” Adrian wonders. Before Trevor can properly offer an answer, though, he grits, voice sour, “Fear not, he is too busy discovering the marvels or the world to stay here.”
“How does he... survive?”
Adrian sighs. “He is not harming anyone either, if it is what you are wondering. He has of box of syringes too. He pays people, or takes the blood from the sick he treats -the ones who need blood-letting to relieve their ills.”
“I can’t believe a pure-blooded vampire isn’t just taking what he wants,” Trevor mumbles.
Adrian’s gaze soften a little, and his voice drops. It’s barely a whisper when he says, “he would, if not for my mother.”
Trevor doesn’t know what to say. He isn’t sure, even, of what he should say. It is rare, but a vampire mating with a human isn’t unheard of. It is the first time, though, that Trevor hears about love. It’s too unsettling to consider it, so he doesn’t.
“So... you’re a damphir,” he comments instead.
Adrian nods noncommittedly. “If you wish to. I am not close to be human, that is for sure; but dhampires and vampires don’t have many differences. They sustain themselves with blood. How you decide to call them, then, has no importance.”
They stay silent after that. The animosity between Adrian and Trevor, if a little less noticeable, is still hanging in the air. It’s diluted enough to make their bickering cease for a while, until they find the body of the last victim.
Trevor was too much in a hurry, earlier, to properly study her; but here she is, still nameless, still bloodless, still propped against the bark of an old tree. She seems peaceful, even in her coarse sleeping attire, as if she just fell asleep there. Trevor sighs.
“Brought a friend,” he says to the body, throwing a thumb behind him to show Adrian, who just sighs exasperatedly. “It won’t be long.”
“Have you inspected her?” the vampire asks, ignoring Trevor’s conversation with the dead girl.
Trevor purses his lips. “As much as I could without having to touch her?”
Adrian hums in acknowledgment and crouches down; a rather inelegant posture for the vampire. He doesn’t seem to pick up anything abnormal on her, and leans closer to pull up her eyelids. The victim’s blue eyes are dulled and milky, but otherwise show no sign of an anomaly.
Trevor watches Adrian inspect her from head to toe, look under her finger and toenails. After a while, the vampire sighs in defeat, and opens the victims’ mouth with a slight grimace, that Trevor mirrors. It isn’t his first time, and he had seen much worse -rotten, bloated corpses that no one dared to approach; but it will never be something he will get used to see, or hear. Somehow, the strange cracks of the unused bones of the victim's jaw, the moist sound of her mouth pried open; they are worse than the sight of them.
Adrian pauses, impossibly still.
“I found something,” he breathes.
I've written Alucard/Adrian less guarded than he canonly is, because I am pretty sure Lisa's death plays a role in it. But since in this fic she doesn't die... /shrug
Trevor doesn’t know what to expect when he hears Adrian say that he has found something. The vampire seems unsettled and stays eerily silent, shoulders tense and a hand itching to find the hilt of his sword. It’s weird enough, and Trevor’s guts twist in a way that’s wrong, too wrong, and he knows there is danger somewhere hanging in the air, adding to the already heavy atmosphere.
“What is it,” Trevor asks, because he needs to know.
He needs to know what’s wrong and why Adrian is like this, and it doesn’t come much of a surprise when the vampire stops to draw a shaky breath, and says, “a puncture wound. Like the ones the syringes do.”
Adrian looks back at the hunter, and it’s not worry taking over his face. It’s fear that Trevor sees in his frown; not for himself but for his mother. Adrian, a son of the night, is afraid of the accusations, of the judgment, of a whole village burning his mother to ashes –that is, if Trevor doesn’t whip her head off her shoulders first.
“I swear if you ever think about it, I will end you and this whole village, hunter,” Adrian threatens, standing up to fully face Trevor in a fluid motion.
There’s a flash of something truly, deeply vampiric in his face when he utters these words, and Trevor has the sudden urge to fight for his life; and yet, he doesn’t move. There’s heaviness hindering his moves, because he does want to believe Lisa and her soft words, and he might want to believe Adrian too.
But Adrian is terrifying, like that, fangs out and the steel of his sword glinting; any semblance of his human side disappearing, if only for the desperation that makes his hands shake and his breath short. Trevor’s fingers immediately snake around the handle of his whip. He understands the lack of humanity Olga speaks about, now, the chilling weirdness she can’t really place.
“You’re... Really not helping her,” Trevor mutters. “Or yourself.”
Adrian doesn’t seem to want to calm down and hisses instead. His claws are dangerously long, and Trevor’s eyes dart behind the creature’s silhouette, trying to find an escape road behind him, in trees and snow and forgotten hills, past the body of this still nameless girl. Returning to the village would be a disastrous decision –he is sure Adrian’s threat isn’t idle. Unlike Trevor, he puts intent behind each one of his words.
“I’m...” Trevor begins, forcing his hand away from his weapon, a gesture of peace he hopes Adrian notices, “I’m ready to hear your mother out.”
He wants to add a witty “again” but knows this is absolutely not the time to be smug. Anything seems enough to make Adrian snap, and it’s... Beautiful, in a tragic way, how a vampire can care so much, too much, for a human, considering their fleeting lives.
Adrian is aware, to some extent, of his outburst. He does try to contain his fear and anger, now laced with a spark of hope at the chance for her mother to be proven innocent. He still seems cautious, and it’s nothing close to his former cold exasperation, but when he speaks, his voice is more controlled.
And it’s a start, Trevor thinks, trying to focus on the vampire instead of his body urging him to run.
“How can I trust you?” Adrian whispers.
Trevor bites his lower lip. Shrugs. He doesn’t even trust himself. Reflexes are hard to shake off.
“I swear I’ll do it,” he says. “If my word isn't enough, I can give you my whip, if you want.”
The second part is more of a jest than a real proposal –half-breed or not, the blessed leather of his weapon would burn Adrian’s skin all the same. He chuckles at his own joke, a weary sound in the air, only to look down in confusion when the creature stretches out his left hand. His golden, icy eyes are on the Belmont whip, and he stays impossibly still. Trevor frowns.
“You really don’t want that,” he mutters, even though he is carefully reaching to the latch on his side. “The hilt’s worse.”
“I don’t care.”
And he truly doesn’t care, Trevor notices, as Adrian’s skin burns under the holy weapon, charring his palm in a sickening sizzling sound. The vampire audibly grits his teeth and is quick to march back to the Tepes estate. Quite often, he would turn back to check on Trevor, suspicious, too much in a hurry to care about the body they left in the woods.
Trevor can’t really fault him. Hunters have, after all, chased down his kin for centuries, both in Wallachia and the rest of Europe. Sometimes, they even went to extreme lengths to ensure their goals would be met –sacrifices are rare but not unheard of, especially those of innocents, and of course, rumors are always extrapolated into terrible, sinister stories. It’s not a surprise to meet people wary, if not scared, of hunters.
Trevor is glad to say that Belmonts, for all he knows, never willingly killed a human –God, his life is already shitty enough to have people run away from him. But he sometimes wonders, lost between two tankards of ale, how many died from his family’s meddling; a collateral damage its members never tried to contain. Trevor is sure he isn’t the only Belmont to have crushed and maimed and cut humans before; thugs and brigands after easy riches. There were never lethal injuries, of course, but this world is not kind to the injured and the sick.
Both Trevor and Adrian are halfway through the village when they hear an inhuman screech. Trevor, in high alert, immediately tugs his whip back from Adrian’s grasp, leaving a red brand in his hands. The vampire barely notices it –he is already running through the small roads to his estate, lips pursed, hair in the wind. Trevor swears, then follows the creature, wheezing behind him, trying to catch up.
His back hurts, his chest is uncomfortably tight, and he is irritatingly sober by the time they arrive.
Lisa is safe, Trevor remarks, letting go of the breath he didn’t know he was holding. She seems agitated, talks to Adrian with big gestures. Her braid of blonde hair is swinging messily on her shoulder.
“It’s from the graveyard,” Lisa screams. “And I’ll be going!”
Adrian has his arms crossed. Despite his height, despite his vampire traits, he winces in front of his mother.
“You take care of the living, mother,” he says. His tone is sort of blasé as if they had this argument a thousand times. “This is not for you.”
Lisa opens her mouth, then closes it. Unable to deny her son’s words, she points a finger at Trevor, who tried very hard to hide in a bush until now. Trevor grimaces when Lisa strides over, Adrian behind her, sighing.
“You can’t let him go alone,” she grouses.
Is it his life now? Being forcefully pulled into a fight between a human mother and her vampire son? It’s so fucking surreal, Trevor thinks, at first, before he tells himself he is definitely too sober to deal with this situation.
Lisa looks desperately behind Trevor’s shoulder, seeking injured villagers, worried. There is no one. She tightly grips her son’s arm, and Trevor would have winced in sympathy if it wasn’t Adrian.
“I...” Trevor finally begins, unsure of what to do, only to be interrupted by a derisive snort.
“If Belmont comes, would you stay here?” Adrian asks after another sigh. “Please, mother.”
Lisa seems conflicted for a moment, then finally, she releases her son from her grasp. Trevor feels robbed of a decision, but since when does he even have a choice? His life is a succession of responsibilities thrust upon him, from the day he was old enough to wield a weapon to this day, teaming up with a creature of the night against his wishes.
A sane mind, a cautious mind, would say his attraction for ale and beer is more than a weary hunter’s indulgence –akin to his eyes searching for an escape road, his mind tries to find a way out.
From this world. From this life. From himself.
“Belmont,” Adrian says. “Let’s go.”
Trevor blinks, and for once, follows without a word.
- - -
The graveyard is surprisingly far from the Tepes estate. When they arrive, the soil is returned at some part, leaving shallow holes where there should be bodies. There is nothing more, except for the occasional patches of blood on the snow, warm enough to have melted some holes.
Trevor hums, quirking up a confused eyebrow. Beside him, Adrian is crouched, studying wobbly footsteps and a discarded pitchfork. He doesn’t show much of his thoughts, but his nose wrinkles in disgust.
Trevor hums again. He did smell it. Along the metallic tang of blood in the air, the distinct stench of rot takes up his nose and the back of his throat, and Trevor wonders if it’s because of the shallow graves or something else. Adrian seems to believe the latter –his swords is just a little unsheathed, a few centimeters; enough to strike the second it’s needed.
“Undead,” Adrian says, hiding a grimace. “Not a ghoul, but not a...”
He narrows his eyes and frowns.
“A vampire, but... Different. They reek.”
“Because you don’t?” Trevor quips, snorting and instantly regretting it.
The acid of the rot hanging in the air is strong enough to coat the back of his nose, like a burn, and his cough almost drowns Adrian’s sigh.
“This is serious, Belmont,” he deadpans.
Trevor shrugs. He does know, of course, how it can be serious. Danger branded him in many ways; from his night terrors to his still throbbing scars. The one of his left eye is the most obvious one. Too big, too red, Trevor can’t even pretend it doesn’t exist every time he catches a glimpse of his face.
Trevor looks down at the small pool of blood at his feet. His sense of smell isn’t strong enough to tell what is it, really, so he gently nudges Adrian’s arm.
“Human?” he asks.
Adrian crosses his arms. His sword now floats eerily beside him, and Trevor has the terrible impression that it has a mind of its own.
“Yes,” the vampire says after a beat. “But this...”
He motions at the strange looking blood, too dark and too thick and too slimy, a few feet away. It hasn’t melted the snow, nor haven’t seeped into it. He wrinkles his nose again. “That’s not human or vampire. Undead for sure.”
Trevor scoffs. “Not ghoul either, I guess. Great. What do you think we should do?”
“Someone has to have seen something,” Adrian mutters, glancing at the buildings and small houses around. “There's human blood but no bodies.”
All the windows have their curtains hastily pulled, hiding their occupants from any scrutinizing glare. Adrian’s sword sings quietly when it clicks back into its sheath, finally plunging the graveyard into absolute silence. The cries have stopped, for now. Too injured, Trevor guesses. Or dead.
Adrian swiftly turns to face Trevor. His eyes are calculating and there’s a frustration on his face that quite doesn’t make sense, Trevor notices.
“You better talk to them,” Adrian finally says, gesturing at the silent neighborhood. “They don’t tend to...”
“Trust you?” Trevor snickers. “Jesus, I wonder why.”
Adrian rolls his eyes and points to the nearest building. It has a window facing the graveyard. Behind the thick red curtain, something moves –almost imperceptibly. Someone was eavesdropping not so discreetly
“Better start there,” Adrian says. His voice is quiet enough to not let anyone but Trevor hear. “I’ll make sure no one uses the back door.”
Trevor groans but doesn't object, not trying to argue. He isn’t good with people unless he can pay or fuck them, but the building is Olga’s tavern, he notices. She isn’t hard to convince, she isn’t stupid, and she’s eager to help, Trevor lists, lips pursed. He hopes she’s alright.
He rounds the graveyard, looks up at the tavern sign as he knocks. "The Red Shovel”. Huh.
“Olga,” Trevor shouts when the door doesn't open. “Olga, open up”.
Someone tumbles down the stairs. The door creaks just a little, letting Trevor see the waitress’ terrified eyes. They are a little swollen, still moist.
“What happened?” Trevor asks.
Maybe his voice is too abrupt -he isn't used to be kind. Olga flinches but steps back to open the door a little more. Behind her, some patrons are cowering under tables; even the drunkest ones seemed to have sobered up.
On her blouse, there is some blood; the slimy, putrid, one; over the bright red, human, one. Trevor frowns.
“Are you hurt?”
Olga shakes her head. “No, it's not mine, but the girl, the girl, she…”
She draws a shaky breath and pulls Trevor in.
“Come over, she's upstairs,” she says, climbing up. Trevor nods noncommittally and follows close behind her, glancing over her shoulder.
The door is ajar, and Trevor can see an unkempt room through the crack of the door. The bed is messy, bloodied bandages laying on the wooden floor, and the end table is covered with cups of water and paper. The candle has just been put out, a small cloud of smoke still rising in the air. The red curtain Adrian spotted from the graveyard is thick, blocking the sunlight.
Squinting to see through the darkness, Trevor spots a lean silhouette over the bloodied sheets, a pale hand pressing on the mattress to find purchase.
“Olga?” the silhouette croaks.
Olga shushes the woman on the bed, rushes to her side. Trevor notices a flash of bright, red hair, and a burn on her side, an ugly pink creeping up around the bandages of her chest. The hunter frowns –it's a cauterized wound, clumsily and hastily so, and he wonders if Olga did it.
“Who is he?” the woman asks. It’s too dark to make out her features, but her eyes shine with the light filtering through the door. She’s frightened.
Olga’s attention turns back to Trevor.
“He’s Trevor,” she says, then hesitates. After a beat, she adds, “he’s a hunter, a Belmont.”
The wounded woman finds the strength to push herself up. She sits on the bed, and, with a flick of her wrist, the candle lights up. She smiles, and Trevor stares at her, then returns the gesture –sincerely.
She's wearing the familiar robe of a Speaker. A traveling historian, of, as Trevor likes to call them, storyteller.
Before his estate was burned down and his name cursed, Speakers were known to be one of the Belmont’s family closest allies. They are quite rare to meet, but Trevor is glad to see a face that is undoubtedly friendly. The usually move in groups, though.
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen Speakers,” Trevor muses, warmth in his voice. “What happened here? Where are the others?”
The woman shrugs. Her hand passes absentmindedly over her injured side. Olga, leaning against the frame of the door, seems a bit lost. Trevor can’t fault her –Speakers, hunters, Belmont, clergy; with many others, they were all part of an old, political structure that crumbled down decades ago. It's now forgotten, for the better.
“I came alone,” the injured woman mutters. She looks down, sadly. “I wanted to know why people kept dying. I knew Lucia… I got to meet her when she was moving from Sibiu.”
Trevor crosses his arms. He would want to know more about Lucia, but there’s something more interesting, more pressing, right now. He tilts his chin towards the Speaker’s burned side.
The woman looks at Olga, then at her hands. The smoke of the candle twirls around her like an inquisitive creature.
“I wanted to visit Lucia, but it was… Wrong. The smell was too strong, and I thought the grave was too shallow, maybe, but then she…”
She takes a deep breath, tears threatening to fall.
“She, that thing, Lucia –I really don’t know, I… It grabbed my ankle and I fell, and then it was out of the… of the tomb, and it came to me… There were two of them… With these fangs… And claws...”
She shakes uncontrollably in both fear and disgust, and Trevor reluctantly kneels beside her. He isn’t sure if it’s really proper for a stranger, hunter or not, to take such a delicate hand in their killing ones, but the Speaker seems to calm down. Her voice is steadier when she speaks again.
“They screamed, so loud, I thought I was going deaf. Then it crawled to me again. I panicked, and I didn’t know what to do. One got to me, slashed my side. Olga knew something was wrong, and she used the pitchfork to push one back…”
Trevor looks over his shoulder to see Olga shrug. “Got to do something,” she mutters, and the Speaker laughs tiredly, just a little before she continues.
“The wound was strange, and I knew something was wrong so I… I cauterized it with…” she moves a bit her hand. The fire of the candle is immediately put off. Trevor understands what she means and is torn between admiration and horror. Cauterizing an injury is already painful enough, but cauterizing one alone? He shudders.
“I was ready to fight,” the Speaker says resolutely. “But then they ran away.”
“Which way?” Trevor prods. The Speaker shakes her head.
“I don’t know. I felt nauseous and fell down. The next thing I knew, Olga was beside me, here, and you were making a racket outside with someone.”
Trevor snorts. “Sorry for that. Hunting weird things is kind of my job.”
The Speaker huffs in amusement. The skin of her side still seems tender and terribly painful, pulling when she breathes, but she shuffles around on the mattress and grasps Trevor’s hand with both of hers.
“I am Sypha Belnades. I am honored to meet you, Trevor Belmont.”
Trevor looks away, fighting the urge to laugh. There is nothing to be honored for, but it still warms his heart.
Sypha twirls the end of her hair with a slight grimace, scrunching up her nose as she notices the split ends. She doesn’t seem to mind much her burn, only notices it when the skin pulls painfully there. She grumbles something in her breath that suspiciously sounds like a curse.
By her side, combing absentmindedly through her fiery hair, Olga sits. Her brown eyes are a little distant, a little lost. Trevor sighs –he knows too well this gaze. In a world filled with blood and death and disease, people can be surprisingly sensitive to them.
“Hey,” he says tentatively, then louder, when Olga doesn't budge, “Olga.”
Olga jumps, then hastily pulls her hand out of Sypha’s hair. As if she is caught in another fight, her body tenses, adrenaline filling her with dread. She seems ready to claw her way out of danger, despite her whole body shaking, and Trevor wonders if he should be gentler, for a second; but the world doesn’t wait, and he needs to act now.
“Find doctor Tepes,” he says. “She needs to see Sypha.”
And I need answers, Trevor thinks. This situation is too complicated to be of human origin, and even by vampire standards; it is too odd, too anchored in forbidden magic –if magic it is– to be that easy to understand. It's bigger than anything he has seen these last few years, and Adrian appeared as lost as Trevor. It was something, to make such a stuck-up know it all like him confused.
“She is already coming.”
Adrian’s low, cold, voice brings an apprehensive shiver down Trevor’s spine. He brushes it off with a huff, steps out of the room to throw a glance down the stairs.
The vampire, casually leaning against the counter of the tavern, smiles. It’s odd, how human this simple gesture is. His fangs are hidden, and the low light doesn’t make his skin too ethereal. It just has a faint glow that could be mistaken for a sick man’s pallor, and Trevor hates it, this humanity he never wanted to find in a creature like Adrian.
“Thought you’d leave,” Trevor says. His voice is quiet, but he knows any vampire would hear it nonetheless.
“I did, and came back,” Adrian replies. “She needs to take her tools first.”
Trevor isn’t surprised. Vampires are fast, and he supposes half-breeds aren’t that different, after all. As Adrian said, they take more of their vampire side than their human one. Trevor is just confused about a single detail.
“She’s not with you? I mean, I thought you’d be with her, knowing that,” he gestures at the door, at the chaos and the blood outside. “There’s weird shit and all.”
“If you think my mother needs an escort, you are very, very mistaken.”
Trevor doesn’t think she needs an escort –for fuck’s sake, she’s mating with a vampire and is still very much alive to tell the tale. That’s a feat. Vampires aren’t known to value the weaker ones. But Adrian is terribly protective of her, as much as she is with him, and Trevor supposed they would stick together until the threat is eliminated.
“You know they’re still around, right? Those things.”
Adrian shrugs. He tilts his head imperceptibly up, nose wrinkling for a brief second. “Their stench is gone,” he mutters. “They left.”
“Oh,” Trevor says, eloquently. After a beat, a grin creeping up his face, he adds, “How far can you smell, anyway? Can you, like–”
“I’m not a hound, Belmont,” Adrian hisses, looking down and back, trying to not get the tavern patrons’ attention.
Something quite impossible –Adrian isn't someone people tend to miss. The clients are slowly getting up and busying themselves into tidying up the tavern, but the creature's golden hair is an unmistakable beacon in the crowd, and his whole being, from his height to his clothes, from his eyes to his skin, is frighteningly fascinating.
Trevor snorts, obnoxiously, and finally takes a few steps down the stairs, but doesn't join the vampire. “When is your mother arriving ?”
Adrian hums. He pushes himself away from the counter, tracing the sticky wood with a finger as he speaks. “Soon, I suppose. She’s always in a hurry for people.”
There’s a slight bitterness in his voice, a bitterness that Trevor finds too familiar. He doesn’t comment on it, prefers to play with a hole in his sleeve, biting his lower lip. He does empathize with Adrian, disturbingly so. He knows what it is, this gnawing feeling of jealousy paired with guiltiness.
Lisa loves and heals and gives, to her husband and her son, to this village and the world. Something akin to a duty, a duty she never wants to shy away from; and Adrian obviously wishes for some selfishness. There's unmistakable love between them, but most of the time, he probably only sees a doctor in his mother, as Trevor only saw a tutor in his father.
He doesn’t comment on it –too soon, too raw, too much– and welcomes Olga’s presence with a hidden relief.
“You alright?” he asks, but immediately stops as he notices her hands balled into fists.
“Y-You... You did this,” she stutters, her eyes plunging into Adrian’s. She precipitately walks down the stairs, almost falls in doing so. She isn’t armed, nor truly dangerous, especially for a vampire, but Trevor is immediately alarmed.
Olga is shaking with fear and confusion. She stays still for a moment, then raises her hands and catches Adrian’s shirt in angry fists.
“You did this,” she repeats, weaker and afraid, so different from her actions, and Adrian draws a shaky breath.
“Woah,” Trevor mouths, glancing at her and Adrian’s unmoving silhouette. The creature doesn’t look uncomfortable, or disgusted, or even angry. He isn’t anything, really, just unnervingly passive –his chest doesn’t even move under Olga’s hands, his eyes don’t try to find hers.
Seconds pass, and it feels like an eternity before Adrian gently grasps Olga’s hands. He wraps his thin fingers around her fists, keeps them on his chest. He is silent, but his face softens, and he truly, sincerely, looks sorry. Trevor hates it, how Olga immediately sobs and relaxes.
“What is happening?” she whispers. “It used to be so simple here, so easy, and now... Now… People are missing, friends are dying and... Why, why...”
Adrian hesitantly pats her head, pausing his hand mid-air first, unsure of what to do. He doesn’t offer words, no comfort beside his clumsy gesture, but tries to ease her concern down nonetheless.
Trevor feels shame seizing up his guts, constricting his chest. How can a vampire, a creature of the night, be more sensitive than him, a human? He didn’t even try to offer any comfort when she obviously needed some, earlier.
Adrian clears his throat and takes a step back. His wrinkled shirt doesn’t seem to be a nuisance for him. Olga doesn’t move at all. She stares at the wooden floor, at a discarded tankard of ale, at the puddle of beer and bile further away.
Lisa is peering through the crack of the door. Her eyes are on Adrian first, then on Olga. From where she stands, she doesn't see Trevor gingerly trying to step away from the whole scene.
“Yes, mother,” Adrian says, snapping back into reality. He pulls the door fully open. “Do not fret, I am unhurt.”
Lisa looks suspiciously at her son but is quick to turn her attention back to Olga and gasps.
“Olga? Are you injured, Olga?” she asks. There's a faint tinge of panic in her voice, though every other move she makes is calm and measured. She goes to the waitress and rubs comfortingly her shoulders. “Let's get you a chair.”
Trevor purses his lips.
“The injured one is up here,” he says.
Lisa looks sharply up, to where Trevor stands, elbows pressed on the handrail. Skeptically, she replies, “Really.”
Trevor snorts. “Not me, I'm fine. There's a girl with a burn –Sypha. She cauterized a wound by herself but…”
“What, why would she–” Lisa begins, blinking in disbelief. She bites her lower lip, eyes darting from Adrian to Olga. After a while, she sighs. “Adrian, can you keep an eye on her?”
Adrian only nods, and she leaves his side, joining Trevor.
Lisa is silent as she observes Sypha’s wound, then mutters something about an ointment or other concoction to ease the pain. She rubs a strange, herb-scented balm on the tender skin, while Sypha watches and comments on the texture and the ingredients. Soon, excitement makes both their voice louder. Not that it matters much –their words are a complicated stream, and Trevor is humble enough to know he won’t ever understand a thing about it.
He leaves the room to see Adrian talk softly to the patrons, who are obviously as curious as afraid of him. Olga is silent, sitting on a low stool, her attention still on the wooden floor. Her energy seems to have left her.
“Adrian,” Trevor calls as he approaches.
The vampire pauses and sweeps his eyes down. With his chin, he gestures towards Olga. Trevor shrugs. He is sympathetic, but...
“Let her be. She’s not going to die. And I need to talk to you and your mother now,” he says. “The Speaker might help too.”
Adrian narrows his eyes. He gingerly pats Olga’s shoulder, once, before he follows Trevor up the stairs.
“It was uncalled for. Some wounds are of the mind, Belmont, and they can be far worse than any cuts,” Adrian seethes once they are out of sight, midway towards Sypha’s room. “But of course you wouldn’t know about that.”
Trevor is making an offended sound when the door is pushed open by the vampire. Lisa and Sypha are still engrossed in a conversation about different medicinal plants, and some fungus properties? Trevor shakes his head.
“So,” he begins, making Lisa and Sypha fall into silence. Behind him, Adrian leans against the wall, arms crossed and golden eyes expectant. “We need to talk about this.”
He gestures dismissively at the window, at Sypha’s wound, before he pulls a chair and sits.
“It’s not just vampires apparently,” Trevor admits, almost painfully, making Lisa roll her eyes. “And now I’m fucking lost. So, ideas?”
“Of course you would be lost if you only thought about vampires,” Adrian huffs, pushing himself off the wall. “As I said, they were ghouls.”
“And then you said they weren’t ghouls,” Trevor quips, spinning back to face Adrian, pointing an accusing finger. “So I still have a point.”
“Vampires don’t feed like this.”
“But they could.”
“Why would they?” Adrian snorts, too abrupt for a graceful creature like him. “We are stronger, faster, than any human. We don’t need to–”
“We? We as, a general we or we, we?”
Adrian suddenly interrupts himself, and stares blankly at Sypha for a second, taken aback. He squares his jaw and looks away. Trevor sighs.
“Sypha, meet Adrian, apparently a non-homicidal, half-vampire spawn, son of Lisa Tepes here,” Trevor says tiredly, waving his hand between the vampire and the Speaker. “Adrian, meet Sypha, Speaker, scholar and whatever she wants to be called.”
Sypha makes an indignant sound, but whether it is for Trevor’s rude introduction or the fact that she is meeting a vampire remains a mystery. Trevor glances at Lisa, shrugs, then continues. Sypha squirms under Adrian’s curious stare. She doesn’t seem reassured, but Lisa’s presence makes her unable to voice her concerns.
“I don’t have any lead, it’s not like anything I’ve seen. And we...” Trevor crosses his arms, his eyes darting between the three other people in the room. “We have a doctor, a vampire, a scholar, and a hunter here. So, suggestions.”
“It’s more than just some creatures acting blindly,” Adrian speaks after a while, a loose hand curled under his chin. “Hm. I feel like it’s planned, maybe. But how...”
“There were traces of necromancy,” Sypha mutters, drawing all the attention on her. “I felt it. I am sure it's planned. It's likely that they all suddenly left to join their master too. So, more than how –who? And why?”
“We’ll need to stick with the ‘who’ for now,” Trevor says, nodding. “But I don’t know. Someone with a grudge against this village? Any problem these last few weeks? Months?”
Adrian shakes his head. “No, my parents chose this place because nothing ever happens here; and I would have known if someone dwelled in necromancy.”
“And it’s not a low level of necromancy,” Sypha adds. “A normal person wouldn’t be able to do that –draining, making the corpses raise without being here... They would need a lifetime of training. Whoever did this is too dangerous to be dismissed as a simple farmer seeking retribution. It’s probable the culprit isn’t even human. Or, they are human but awakened to some power when they were very young.”
Trevor bites his lower lip, throws a glance at Adrian. “Not to be, you know, rude or anything, Adrian, but they can totally be a vampire, right?”
The vampire sighs. “Yes, they can. If there’s such a level of necromancy involved... I am honest enough to admit that. But we shouldn't ignore the possibility that it can be something else.”
Sypha hums thoughtfully. “Demons can use necromancy too, don’t they?” she asks Trevor, lips pursed.
Trevor shrugs, trying to recall whatever information he has memorized from his family bestiary. “High ranking demons, maybe? But they won’t waste time with such a small village. They’re more... Dramatic. They would target Targoviste or something like that.”
The Speaker nods. After a beat, she frowns, as if something dawned on her. “Do you think Lupu is just the start of something bigger? Just a test?”
“What do you mean?” Trevor mutters, trying to not think about something bigger, about Wallachia under a mountain of corpses, of undead.
“I don’t know,” Sypha says, playing with her blanket. “But maybe they are just targeting Lupu exactly because nothing happens, here.”
“It’s not the place that matters. It’s the people in there.”
Trevor crosses his arms, Sypha tilts her head, Adrian narrows his eyes.
Lisa, silent until now, still sitting beside the Speaker, has her hands folded on her lap. She seems deep in her thoughts. She doesn’t explain for a while, trying to search for the correct words. She looks particularly troubled, something that obviously worries Adrian –he wears a deep frown, and he is quick to kneel beside his mother.
“What do you mean, mother?” he asks. “Who are they targeting?”
“You,” she whispers.
“What do you mean, me?”
Lisa shakes her head, her hands grasping her son’s a second before she stands. She is staring down, deep in Trevor’s eyes, a piercing glare that makes him feel uncomfortably bare.
“I believe you were right from the start, Belmont,” she says, wearily. “I am not sure if this is only the work of vampires, but it is highly probable. They aren't alone, though.”
Adrian is impossibly still when he speaks again, “Why haven’t you spoken about it, mother?”
‘Why haven’t you spoken to me’ is clear in the vampire’s voice, Trevor thinks, but he doesn’t say anything. What Lisa is offering is a tangible lead, and he has set his mind in solving this mystery, may the victims be humans or vampires. But to think vampires would target Adrian? Now that Trevor has the ‘who’, his curiosity lies in the ‘why’.
There is a long silence, in which Lisa seems to struggle with her words again. Then, she takes a deep breath.
“Your father. You should talk to your father.”
Adrian freezes. If he already stands out like some perfectly carved marble, except for his eyes, he now truly looks devoid of life. Sypha appears mildly concerned and throws Trevor a glance. He only frowns, then shrugs. They have talked about his father, earlier. There was a hint of animosity, but nothing remotely enough to make Adrian so tense.
Before he can help it, Trevor snorts.
“What, your father some terrible vampire? Kills for sport?” he asks. “If he’s half the... person you spoke of earlier, I don’t see what’s the problem.”
Oh, Trevor is no idiot, he knows exactly how relationships are.
Family bonds are an intricate, complicated thing; with love that can’t always be correctly expressed. His relationship with his parents was less than ideal, where love and care were heavily tied to expectations. Being a Belmont also meant being part of a legacy, and Trevor always loathed that legacy.
“My husband is a complicated man,” Lisa says quietly. There’s a wistful fondness in her voice, almost painful to hear. “We don’t see him often.”
“Is it... Because of these attacks?” Sypha wonders with a tiny voice, and Lisa nods.
“This world isn't a place where you can live as long as him without making any enemies,” she explains. “My husband often leaves because he doesn’t want any of them targeting us, or more accurately, Adrian.”
Adrian huffs with disdain, back to the world of the living, his voice trembling with anger as he speaks, “And finally, the truth. I always found it strange, mother, that he would leave to–”
“I haven’t lied to you,” Lisa interrupts, her voice oh so gentle against Adrian’s. “He does want to see the world through the eyes of a mortal man.”
“He just left us,” Adrian hisses. “You and me in this world that doesn’t want us.”
It’s strange to see such a cold, reserved person, lash out like this. Trevor sees Sypha try to make herself as small as possible on her bed. Himself, perched on his chair, feels out of place in the middle of this family quarrel, but he does make sure it doesn’t show.
“Adrian,” Lisa replies, keeping her calm. “Your father–”
“My father was never a father, and being complicated isn’t an excuse!”
His words obviously wound Lisa, as she doesn’t speak for a while, her eyes down. Adrian, too proud, doesn’t try to apologize. Instead, he looks away, balls his hands into fists. Trevor would have found it almost hilarious (he never saw a vampire throwing a tantrum, for God’s sake) if it wasn’t for the raw, painful familiarity he finds in the vampire’s feelings.
“Your father doesn’t fear many things, Adrian. Vampires coming to us? The church accusing me of witchcraft? He can chase them away. He did it before and can do it again, by any means he would deem necessary. But...” Lisa trails off. “As fearless as your father is, he... doesn’t want you to fear him.”
Adrian’s anger visibly deflates.
“I can’t fear a man I don’t know,” he whispers. He turns his attention to Trevor, his voice more composed as he says, “I apologize for this outburst. I need some air.”
Without waiting for an answer, Adrian nods politely at Sypha and stalks out, the door barely making a sound as it closes.
Fucking vampires. Trevor was prepared for the loud slam of the door.
“And I must apologize for this, it’s... embarrassing, to say the least,” Lisa says with a slight grimace. “Adrian’s relationship with his father has never been easy. They are both stubborn men and...”
Trevor finds himself answering, truthfully, “Yeah. I can imagine.”
He pauses, then stands up. He is taller than Lisa by a few inches, but she has the eyes of a woman who would face the world for her family; and Trevor feels small under such resolve. He sighs. If he doesn’t do anything, she’ll probably throw her life away in a poor attempt to protect her son.
“You know I can’t promise anything.”
“I expect many things from you, hunter, but not promises,” she says.
“Am I supposed to be flattered or...”
Trevor doesn't really know. Lisa is a hard woman to understand; all of her words weighted down with some invisible pain, even when she laughs, like this, shoulders shaking. When the laughter finally subsides, she grasps both of Trevor's arms.
“You have to find my husband with Adrian. I believe he is the only one who might help.”
“And why would I want his help? Or why would I want to help?”
“Because you want to know,” Lisa says. “You act like this, but you wouldn’t have stayed if it bothered you that much.”
Trevor frowns and scoffs. “Huh, or maybe, it’s what I do for a living and–”
“You’re not paid for that, Belmont,” Lisa rolls her eyes. “You’re not acclaimed, you’re no hero. I know what happened to your family; if anything, I thought you would be glad to let this world burn.”
Trevor met Lisa a few hours ago, and she is already picking on a scab Trevor carefully avoided for years. It unsettles more than infuriates him, and he is glad to see Lisa doesn’t comment on anything else, her attention on Sypha’s silhouette.
Trevor is grateful for that. Most Speakers know what happened to the Belmont family, of course –it isn't new or a secret, but it doesn’t mean Trevor wants to talk about it.
“Is it so bad to care about this world, Belmont?” Lisa whispers, not unkindly.
And Trevor doesn’t know what to say.
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It’s been a few hours since the attack, and the early spring sun has already set for the day. The evening feels like the dead of the night –and the strange atmosphere from the earlier event doesn’t make anything better.
Some things don't seem to change, though. Lisa had gone elsewhere, to find another injured to treat, another person to comfort; while Adrian is still sulking somewhere in Lupu.
The traces of blood outside are gone, shoveled away and buried under a mix of mud and snow; the disemboweled tombs are hidden away from prying, curious eyes. The attack sounds like a collective fever dream, now, and Trevor only knows it happened because Sypha, beside him, is grimacing as she pokes her side. She checks if the door is properly closed, then says, “I don’t understand.”
She finally lies still on her back, staring at the molding ceiling. “Adrian is a half-vampire, and you let him be? He doesn’t look dangerous, but... I don’t know. ”
She scratches her chin thoughtfully as Trevor hums.
“He loves too much his mother to be trouble,” he says. “And he’s weird, right, but not dangerous. I mean, I don’t think so.” After a heavy sigh, he admits, “I’m... not sure.”
“Maybe her mother is sending him to find his father for a reason,” Sypha reasons. “Maybe it’s a way to protect him from you.”
“She wouldn’t ask me to go with him it that’s the case,” Trevor replies, shaking his head. “She would keep me far away from her family.”
“Then I don’t know,” Sypha says. “Are you going to do it?”
“Yes. I think. At least I can keep an eye on him if I do.”
Sypha makes a noncommittal sound and fetches the still fuming bowl of chicken soup from her bedside. For a while, only the sound of the spoon breaks the silence. Then, Sypha puts the bowl away, and says, “I’m coming with you.”
Trevor sputters. “Absolutely not. Why would you even–”
“I knew one of the victims, Lucia,” Sypha whispers, sadly, before her tone grows bolder, firmer. “I will come with you.”
“And what? You want revenge?” Trevor guesses. “Well, that’s a fucking no.”
“It’s not a matter of revenge, it’s a matter of peace, Belmont. I need to know.”
Trevor sighs. Sypha’s mind has obviously been set for some time, and he wonders if he can take the decision for her. He pinches the bridge of his nose. He is too tired for that. Or too sober. It's hard to tell.
“Urgh, fine,” he breathes. “I know you can take care of yourself, but if you slow us down with this burn of yours, you’re out. And we are seeing Adrian’s father, so if he says no, you’re out too.”
Sypha nods. She doesn’t insist, and instead asks, “Do you know anything about his father?”
Trevor shrugs. Lisa has been terribly elusive when he wanted to know more about her husband, redirecting all his questions towards Adrian. ‘Ask him,’ she said with a secretive, uneasy smile. Trevor has a bad feeling about this.
“I don’t know. Just that he and Lisa seem very in love?” Trevor tries, his voice unsure and slightly mocking. He still can’t imagine a vampire in love. It’s surreal. Maybe he is just tricking her. Trevor sniffs.
“I’m going to find Adrian,” he says, standing up. “Need to ask some questions.”
“You know where he is?”
“No,” Trevor replies with a scoff, absentmindedly checking the leather of his whip. “Probably crying in some coffin or something.”
He can feel Sypha roll her eyes behind him as he exits the room, and isn’t focused on his path when he runs into a tall, unmoving statue. Trevor groans in exasperation, because he knows what almost ruined his nose is no statue.
“Oh, you’re back,” he deadpans, squinting up.
Adrian raises an amused eyebrow. “Yes. I have finished crying in my coffin.”
Trevor huffs, not even slightly embarrassed to have been heard. “You should have stayed there.”
Adrian sniffs disdainfully as Trevor says, “You probably heard what I was going to ask, so. Your father, who–”
“Not here, idiot,” Adrian hisses, plastering a cold hand on Trevor’s mouth, grasping his jaw firmly, his eyes checking down the stairs to see if there are any curious patrons listening to them. He lowers his head to stare at Trevor’s face for a second, then whispers, “Inside.”
Trevor lets out an indignant squeak as he is manhandled back into Sypha’s room, making the Speaker squeak too. The door shuts in a loud bang, this time, Adrian kicking it close behind them.
“I’m not hurting him,” the vampire tells Sypha, voice irritatingly calm. His hand is still on Trevor’s mouth. “He is just being an idiot.”
Trevor claws at Adrian's hand, but is unable to free himself from the inhuman grip of his face. The grasp isn’t dangerous; he suspects the vampire is now only keeping him silent for amusement. Not a single patron would come up here, and there’s this glint of repressed laughter in the vampire eyes when he finally let the hunter go.
Sypha doesn’t know what to say, but observes curiously Trevor sputter some curses as Adrian grins, pointy teeth visible.
“What did you want to ask?” he finally says. Despite the animosity laced in his voice earlier when he spoke about his father, he doesn’t seem bothered by the curiosity the two humans harbor towards his lineage.
“A name would be great,” Trevor says with a shrug. He is still outraged, his face a bit red.
Red that drains away the second he hears, “Vlad Tepes.”
There’s a heavy silence in the room, then Trevor takes a deep breath, blinks, and says, “Please tell me that’s not that Vlad Tepes.”
“Didn’t my mother’s last name strike you?” Adrian asks with a dismissive huff. “She did introduce herself as Lisa Tepes, did she not?”
Trevor groans. Why does God hate him? Did he drown kittens in the Olt in a past life?
“I know”, he hisses, “But, I didn't know it would be that Tepes, fuck. You know what’s going on between him and my family, right?” He makes a movement between his body and Adrian’s. “Why can you be so calm? I’m supposed to kill him. I have to kill him.”
Adrian snorts. He impossibly looks like his mother when he does that.
“I didn’t mean it when I called you an idiot, Belmont, but now I wonder. If your family is so informed about my father, why would you think you stand a chance?”
Trevor huffs, brushing aside Adrian's words because he absolutely can kill Vlad Dracula Tepes. Well. If he’s sober. And trains a little. And retrieves some old family books... Probably burned down with the Belmont estate.
But the vampire doesn't mock him further.
“Belmont,” Adrian adds instead, walking in front of the hunter with his hands behind his back. “It didn't occur to me you would be someone who would blindly follow orders from another time. I do not know what happened between your forebears and my father, and I do not care.”
Trevor doesn’t know what he should say. He risks a tentative, “But that’s my duty to–”, only to have Adrian interrupt him.
The vampire isn’t a creature with many words, isn’t expressive, but there’s a still plea in his voice when he says, “Would you extend the courtesy you’re showing me to my father? He is a man with many flaws, but he is not a bad man. Not anymore. He deserves at least to be heard, don’t you think?”
Trevor groans. Shit. He wanted an interesting case to solve, not meet the fucking King of the Night. He forces down the anxious lump in his throat, sighs, then nods. He supposes he can at least do that, past be damned. His ancestors have been dead and buried for years, his estate burned to ashes, and he is already listening to a vampire. What would adding “meet the big bad vampire” on the list would do?
“Fine. But if he tries to kill me, the deal's off. I mean, I’m still a Belmont. He will want to kill me.”
Adrian hums, his hand curled under his chin again. “Understandable. You might need to give him another name. He has a difficult temper and is very resentful.”
Trevor wonders if it’s why Lisa spoke about Adrian being scared of his father. He doesn’t sound like one of those bad vampires now, is far from the terrifying creature his old family books described. Lisa’s love has probably softened him, but there is something constant about vampires, regardless of their intelligence: how hot-blooded they are.
“As for you, Speaker,” Adrian suddenly says, golden eyes almost glowing in the veil of darkness in the room, “You don’t need another name.”
“Right,” Sypha says, blinking. “Duly noted. Is there anything else? Should I… Not say I’m a Speaker?”
Adrian grins. “Oh, no. Quite the contrary.”
“What do you mean?”
Adrian ignores her, but his face shows no malice, just a faint amusement at the prospect of something. Sypha frowns as Adrian says, “I believe my father will be kinder if I introduce you two as my friends. Is that a problem, Belmont?”
Trevor rolls his eyes, crosses his arms. “Better than dead.”
Adrian doesn't try to hide his chuckle.
– – –
It’s at dawn that they decide to leave. They manage to find three robust horses, some food for their travel, and Lisa has thoughtfully given a small bag of different concoctions in case one of them is hurt or in pain. There is a syringe in a small box, too, that Adrian almost managed to hide under a disturbing amount of dried goat.
Trevor doesn’t say anything. He is secretly glad that Adrian would use a syringe instead of quenching his thirst like any other vampire.
“I thought your mother would come with us.”
Trevor is adjusting his horse’s harness when Sypha says that. She is surprisingly easy to talk to, even though she grew up isolated from most people. Maybe her group of Speakers was more open to trade and discuss matters with others?
Adrian tentatively reins his own horse closer.
“My mother has still many people to treat here,” he says. “The waitr– ah, yes, Olga. She seems shaken. She and many other people won’t find rest for a while, not after what they have seen; they need a gentle guide, someone who won’t judge them for their night terrors.”
Trevor nods, and Sypha breathes out a little, “Oh”.
“That,” Adrian adds, “and because I am the target. I don’t want to bring misfortune to the village and her.”
He falls into an abnormal silence then. Trevor doesn’t hear him breathe, even when he is this close of him, and it’s unnerving. He still doesn’t know how to act around the vampire, and his awkwardness is quick to make him want to talk.
“Your mother, did she tell you anything about the one targeting you?” Trevor asks, making Adrian purse his lips.
“No,” the vampire says, then, “Yes, but nothing conclusive –it seems my father has always been quite adamant to not let her know anything. But apparently, he did tell her some would try to find me; for what, she doesn’t know.”
“Huh. I really don’t know why she asked me to go with you,” Trevor comments.
“Must be your incredible charm,” Adrian flatly intones. “Oh, what would we do without you, brave hunter of all evil?”
Trevor feels immensely insulted when Sypha represses a cackle, her snort-laugh ridiculous enough to make Adrian bite his lower lip in an attempt to contain his own laughter. The hunter opens his mouth, closes it, then grumbles a curse under his breath.
It’s going to be a long journey.
When the laughter dies down, Adrian beckons his two companions closer. He has a long stick in a hand and draws a large rectangle on the snow with it.
“My father would be in Cireasov, a small village near Slatina,” Adrian says, tapping a place around the lower center of the rectangle, then drawing a cross there. “But I don’t know for how long, so we must hurry.”
“Will we come across Sibiu on the way?” Sypha asks, and when Adrian nods, she adds, “Only if we have time, of course, I would like to meet Lucia’s father there, and offer some reassurance about her death. He’ll be glad to know some people are searching for the culprit.”
“It’s a good place to rest too, and not too far from here,” Trevor says. “We won’t cross many big cities where we can rest or buy supplies, so we can stay a bit there, I think –a night, maybe?”
“Fine,” Adrian concedes, and draws another small cross, where Sibiu supposedly is, turning the rectangle into a map. “We will rest there.”
He then traces a long line representing the Olt river, and triangles –they seem to be mountains.
“Fagaras Mountains,” Adrian elaborates, confirming Trevor’s thoughts. “We won’t be able to stay long there. It the perfect place for an ambush. Isolated. Cold. If they know where my father is, and that we are going to meet him.” Another cross on the snow map. Bigger. “They’ll be waiting there. Under other circumstances, I would have suggested another path, but our time is short. We can’t risk another victim.”
Trevor and Sypha both nod in acknowledgment. When he is engrossed in some explanations, it is hard to not listen to Adrian. He exudes an intimidating, commanding aura –the sort of thing Trevor would expect to find in a war strategist, and not a vampire.
“There’s a border to cross, around there,” Sypha says. She gently pries the stick from Adrian’s hands, who watches with interest, and circles south of Sibiu, right before the mountains. “It’s Talmaciu. It should be safe to rest there before crossing the mountains.”
Trevor hums, “That’s actually perfect. If we rest at Talmaciu before leaving, we’ll be able to cross the mountains quickly. No stops until we get out of them, and then we go straight to Cireasov.”
He takes the stick from Sypha, draws two straight lines. “Here to Sibiu should take a day and a half, so we’ll count two days. Going to Talmaciu is...”
“Half a day, but the roads are uneven. Last time I went there with my family, it took almost a day,” Sypha says.
Trevor nods and adds another stroke, twirling the stick as he thinks.
“With the mountains to cross then… Shit. I’m not sure if a day’s enough now. Adrian?”
The vampire doesn’t reply for a long while, then says, “It will be difficult for the horses. But if we find a village or someone to help us for even half a night... We will put them in danger. Small villages are easy targets, for hell spawns. The best is to camp, somewhere with a vantage point. We will need to take turns watching, of course, but for a night...”
He eyes Sypha, who shrugs. “For a night or for months... I have done it before, I can do it again.”
Adrian smiles. “My apologies. It is easy to forget you traveled so much. You should tell me about your adventures.”
Sypha returns the smile, visibly more for politeness’ sake than anything else. She clears her throat, and hover over the map again, her eyes sharp as she analyzes their plan. Trevor draws another line for another day, then taps the stick to a place south of the Fagaras mountains.
“From there to Cireasov –how long?”
“I... don’t know,” Adrian admits. “I would say a day?”
“Two days,” Sypha corrects, gently.
Trevor draws strokes again, counts his lines, and grimaces when he says, “A week. Not counting any accidents or, you know, surprise pointy teeth attack in the middle of the night.”
There are already five victims. There would be a sixth or even a seventh by the time they find Vlad Tepes, and even more when they’ll come back to Lupu. The three of them know it, and they fall into an uncomfortable silence.
“If they are targeting me, shouldn’t it stop?” Adrian finally mutters, a question more to himself than his companions.
“But the attacks don’t make sense,” Sypha says. “Why would they do this? Are they a way to draw you out of the village? I mean, Lupu isn’t too big, and if they wanted you dead, they would have attacked the whole village?”
“There’s a chance they’re looking for my father,” Adrian suddenly says.
Trevor blinks, then says, “What?”
Adrian purses his lips. “That’s a hypothesis but, they might have attacked the village to make my father come back, because he would, naturally, be worried about my mother –only women are targeted, whether rich or poor, young or old. But, for some reason, my father didn’t come back. Now, my mother is sending me away to find him. Anyone searching for him just has to follow me –us– now.”
“That’s too much effort for nothing,” Trevor mumbles. “If I want to know where your father is, I would have tortured the answer out of you.”
“They are maybe afraid,” Sypha says. “Vlad Tepes is still regarded as the...” –she throws an apologetic glance to Adrian– “powerful king of the night. Even now, despite his change of heart. If something were to happen to his son...”
Adrian shrugs. “I don’t know. He has always been here for my mother, but I don’t...”
He trails off, and Sypha obviously doesn’t dare to ask for more. Even Trevor, who has absolutely no filter between his brain and his mouth, is sensible enough to know it is no time to tease the vampire.
The vulnerability of Adrian’s face is something painfully fascinating. It is a fleeting moment before it morphs back into that irritating blank mask.
“In any case, we need to move fast,” Adrian says.
Trevor and Sypha nod.
Trevor kicks the map, turning it into a bundle of muddy snow, and hops onto his horse. From the corner of his eyes, he notices Adrian helping Sypha up her mount and sighs. The vampire, because of course, he would be attentive to Trevor’s annoyance, immediately offers him a grin the hunter would love to wipe off. Preferably with a punch. But right now, he has another idea.
They are just setting off when Trevor says, mustering all his self-control to not smirk, “Didn’t think about it but the crossing toll at Talmaciu; not to be, you know, like that, but who’s going to pay it?”
“Don’t you have money, Belmont?” Adrian asks, trotting before him, not turning back.
“Well, I used to, but now I’m just a very poor hunter.”
It’s not a lie. His house did burn with most of its treasures. That, and the fact that most Wallachian would gladly spit on his face than pay him for his hunts.
“I can’t help, sorry,” Sypha says, and she sounds sincerely apologetic. She rummages in the deep pockets of her robes. “My family never traveled with much, and I think I spent the little I had in food.”
Trevor bites his lower lip, voice wavering with laughter when he says, “If she doesn’t have money, and I don’t have money, then...”
“Then you sell one of your trinkets, Belmont,” Adrian coldly sneers, turning back a second to cast a scrutinizing glare over the man. “Starting with your ridiculous shirt. That crest is recognizable everywhere. You’ll only bring problems, with it.”
“Hey, now, you want me to strip, you’ll have to buy me some dinner first,” Trevor snorts.
“I know you were cheap, Belmont, but not that cheap.”
Sypha glances between the two of them. “It’s embarrassing. Stop it.”
Trevor smirks jubilantly at Adrian, before Sypha huffs and adds, swatting at the hunter’s arm as she passes by.
“You too, Belmont.”
Feels! Bonding! Disaster trio shenanigans!
Sibiu is a fortified city with grim guards at its door, patrolling the walls like they are keeping prisoners. Two of them circle around Sypha when the trio arrives in the middle of the night, then glance at Adrian as if his mere presence is an insult.
The vampire doesn’t budge, and he is an idiot for trying to stare down the two people who can allow or deny their entrance to the city.
Trevor represses a huff, not wanting to draw any attention. He might understand the guards. People don’t know, exactly, how to spot a vampire, but they do feel something is amiss when they meet one; something unnaturally fascinating clashing with a queerness they can’t really place.
Trevor can’t pinpoint if it’s the vibrant eyes or the pale skin giving vampires away, but after a strange fleeting moment, either people feel a sort of fearful fascination, as witnessed in Lupu, or show an unveiled suspicion. Guards, prone to paranoïa, usually fall into the second option.
Fear, suspicion, fascination. They are the feelings most hunters inspire to people too, Trevor supposes. It’s probably like staring at the depth of a well –knowing there’s a danger by coming too close but still wanting to see how deep the darkness is.
He fishes in his pockets the last of his coins, hoping the loud clinking of metal would peel the guards away from Adrian and Sypha before the vampire comes up with a stupid idea, like clawing or biting his way into the city.
“Here,” Trevor says, flicking a coin at each of the two guards. They inspect the silver, then put it in their pocket. After a moment, they just stare at each other in a silent conversation, then turn back to pull the portcullis open.
“Thank you,” Sypha says later, with a sigh. “I really hated how they looked at me.”
Her voice is loud in the deserted market, and she shivers in both cold and disgust. Adrian has his lips pressed into a severe line as he walks beside her.
“I wouldn’t have let them,” he snarls, frowning.
Trevor doesn’t try to imagine what would have happened.
He turns left, then right, then approaches a small building with a jubilant grin. Even if he dislikes bigger cities, he still somewhat remembers Sibiu from his last trip, a few years ago, and its most important places: the market, the inn, and the tavern. Thankfully, this tavern has built a room or two upstairs since last time, taking away the hassle to find a room while being drunk.
Sypha and Adrian sigh in unison behind him, an exasperated chorus Trevor choose to ignore.
“Listen, it’s night, there’s no one,” Trevor says. “We’re supposed to rest here before, you know, the great cavalcade to the mountains.”
“I’m surprised you know what cavalcade means,” Adrian says with a snort, and Trevor can’t help feeling incredibly insulted.
“Do I really have to remind you who my family is or...?”
Adrian stares at him from head to toe, then shrugs, and says flatly, “The only thing you kept from your family is a name. That, and a crest you fling around like an old, outdated trophy.”
Trevor finds himself at loss, because, rude, and can’t find a retort before Adrian slips away in the shadows, finding a place to hide for the rest of the night. Sypha blinks.
“That was… Uncalled for,” she says.
Trevor has to agree. If he isn’t proud of his name, of his crest, who’ll be? He is the last scion of the Belmont family and didn’t lose everything by choice.
There’s a rage in his chest all night that he decides to flood with cheap mead –because the guards weren’t exactly cheap– and forced laughter in the tavern, his eyes trying to find violent, drunken patrons with whom he can lose himself into a brawl.
There’s something cathartic in a fight, Trevor thinks; in blood and pain and the feel of bones cracking and skin splitting without the looming weight of mortal danger. And he knows it’s pathetic, somehow, but he is not good with words and feelings and anything else.
Trevor also knows the world is bleak and bloody enough to add more violence. He was trained to fight, though, to survive. His courses in literature and trigonometry didn’t help him slice demons’ throats, didn’t behead vampires, didn’t burn living corpses. They didn’t help him, on the verge of dying, when he was cornered by rabid creatures of the night.
Trevor is a storm of frustration concealed in the shape of a jaded man; a jaded man worst than a vampire, he realizes. Back in Lupu, Adrian was kind and patient, offered help when Trevor just ignored –focused only on the task of solving murders and finding something to kill.
He sighs. He wants to drown in his mead. He is embarrassed to think he lost to a vampire. Sypha, bless her, doesn’t seem to be swooning around Adrian, but the rest of Lupu? Even Olga, after all that happened, seemed to trust him to some extent in the end, enough to find comfort in his presence. Trevor was just a ghost then. Useless and forgotten.
Urgh. Vampires. Trevor hates that most people fall into the weird fearful fascination thing when they meet these creatures. He could use a suspicious friend or two.
He orders another tankard of mead, and another, and another; until he doesn’t remember anything anymore.
Trevor’s right cheek is sticking to the counter when he wakes up. He probably drooled, too, and he hastily wipes it away, making a face as he pushes up. He blinks, finding the light too bright, too much, and reorients himself as much as he can before his attention falls on long, golden hair.
“I did think it would take you longer to wake up,” Adrian says.
The vampire looks perfect, and it’s unfair, Trevor grumbles, maybe aloud, he doesn’t really know but Adrian is chuckling. Urgh. How is he supposed to do anything remarkable with something like that beside him?
“Huh,” Trevor replies, very eloquently, making Adrian snort.
He pushes his hair back behind his shoulders, and slides a few coins towards the barkeep, who is humming something way too loud in the morning, Trevor thinks. Then, Adrian grabs him and pulls him away from the counter.
“What– Where’s Sypha?” Trevor slurs.
“She’s upstairs, probably sleeping,” Adrian replies, then adds after a pause, “It is quite early, after all.”
The vampire nudges the exit door open with an elbow, and Trevor realizes that yes, it is indeed early.
The horizon is a pale orange and pink, turning into purple as it mingles with the remnant of the ink of the night. Stars are still spattered in the sky, duller than a few hours before but still flickering valiantly against the morn, some of them hidden behind the silhouette of the Fagaras Mountains.
Trevor didn’t remember that, last time he came. But then, it was some time ago.
“Come,” Adrian says, but he doesn’t care about any protest. He is dragging Trevor behind him like a ragdoll, inhuman strength and the hunter’s drunkness playing in his favor.
Trevor tries to dislodge himself from the vampire’s grasp with no avail.
“I’m not that drunk,” Trevor says, and it’s true. Adrian is just the last person he wishes to see right now. “I just want to sleep.”
Adrian stops, hands still fisting Trevor’s collar, seeming to ponder his options. His golden eyes flick around, trying to find any early bird wandering in the streets. Then, probably thinking that he doesn’t care, his eyes turn red and Trevor squeaks in terror when Adrian whisks the two of them away.
They reappear on a bloody roof, and Trevor feels his guts protest when he sees the ground a bit too far than expected.
“Wow. What the–” he screeches, a hand on his mouth. He is not going to vomit here. Not at all. He breathes; tries again. “What the fuck .”
Adrian is thoughtfully holding Trevor’s shirt so he doesn’t slip and fall to his death. Trevor would be grateful if he wasn’t trying to make sense to Adrian’s odd behavior.
The vampire’s face seems a bit pinched; his nose is scrunched up. He takes a moment before he opens his mouth and says, quietly, “I was unfair last night.”
He carefully let go of Trevor and faces him fully. Crossing his arms, looking down, he forces out, “I wish to apologize.”
The words seem to burn his mouth as he speaks. Trevor huffs. He feels suddenly less drunk. The tiredness is gone, the comfortable heat of alcohol vanishes away, and again, he is a poor, jaded man. He sits down carefully and let his legs dangle from the edge of the roof.
“It’s fine,” he finally mutters.
No, it’s not, you’re right, my name is all I have.
Adrian sits down, gracefully, next to him. He stays silent, making the atmosphere turn almost uncomfortable.
“That’s it? That’s all you wanted to say? Thought you were going to push me off or something. Wouldn’t surprise me.”
The vampire rolls his eyes. “Do you ever shut up?”
Trevor cackles. “Well,” he says. “Sometimes. But I’m curious, why a roof? And this roof especially?”
There are at the top of a tower hovering over Sibiu, the tilted tiles forming a steep, wobbly structure under their feet. It’s obviously one of the tallest building of the city. The morning breeze is cold, but the sight is breathtaking enough to make anyone forget about it.
The vampire sighs.
“I didn’t know if you were going to listen to me, and I wanted a place where we could talk without being heard,” he explains. “You… have been quite antagonistic towards me since we have met. I somehow understand the feeling, but–”
“No, you don’t,” Trevor corrects.
His voice is not unkind, and he is the first to be surprised. Adrian falls silent and turns his attention away, towards the rising sun and the birds and the city square waking up. He doesn’t speak, dropping entirely the subject or just waiting for an explanation, Trevor doesn’t really know. In the end, the hunter groans and lies back, the tiles against his back clicking in protest.
“Imagine, just a second,” Trevor says, watching the stars disappear, “that you grow up with an idea. Idea big I, Truth big T. You follow?”
Adrian hums in assent, but says, “You don’t have to say anything, Belmont. Circumstances are never easy”
Trevor shakes his head. “No, I mean, I want to talk. Indulge this drunk hunter a moment.”
He is not drunk, at least, not that drunk anymore, and Adrian is not stupid. He is tactful, though, so he just encourages Trevor with a curious glance.
“So, Truth, capital T, is what you live for. You do everything according to it. Your life? All for that thing, and you think it’s pretty much easy. But then, there’s an Asshole, big A, who barges into your life and says, ‘nope, that’s not like that’.”
Adrian makes an indignant sound in the back of his throat, that Trevor tries to ignore (without laughing) as he pushes himself up to observe the vampire’s perfect, blank face. It should be enough to shut Trevor up, because he is not fond of discussing matters and feelings and anything; but as much as Adrian can be irritatingly judgemental, Trevor somehow knows the vampire won’t be too harsh on him now, with the sun warming up their skin and the wind combing their hair.
“You know,” Trevor says quietly, “I know he isn’t wrong. And it makes me feel like shit.”
There’s nothing else to say, and Trevor looks down. He doesn’t want to see Adrian’s expectant or gloating gaze, a silent “I told you so” plastered on his face.
But Adrian is not truly a capital A Asshole, and there’s no cruel prying when he asks, “Why?”
Trevor fidgets and drops back against the tiles. The stars are gone now. The sky is blue and light and beautiful.
“I’d rather not speak about it,” he mutters.
How to say it, anyway? “I’m conflicted because I’ve killed countless of your kind without wondering if I had a reason until now”? “I executed on sight without any provocation because I thought it was my duty”? “I probably killed creatures that didn’t deserve it because I’m too stupid to take a step back and think?”
At best, Adrian will despise him even more; at worst, he’ll get pushed down that tower.
A sigh is all Trevor hears before he is gently whisked down the tower.
Turns out wanting to throw up isn’t because of the alcohol. Or the height. The sensation of Adrian’s power –whatever is it– clings uncomfortably to his guts, making them churn and…
“You’re quite good at this,” Adrian says, amused. “I did throw up on my father’s boots when I first managed to do it.”
“Tell me,” Trevor mutters, stopping to breathe and will his nausea away, “Tell me you got spanked or something. That would be the most hilarious thing to imagine.”
Adrian stops his chain of thoughts and grins. It hides something terribly indecent.
“Of course you would love to see me spanked,” he drawls.
Trevor works his jaw in an attempt to find something to say, but there’s nothing, and he can feel his ears turn red and hot as he realizes the implication.
“What,” he only manages to utter in horror, making Adrian laugh.
“Come,” he says. It’s gentler and lighter than before, when he had a hand clawing Trevor’s shirt. He's not ordering the hunter around now, and there’s no force, just a gentle nudge from thin fingers on an elbow.
Trevor follows him wordlessly to the tavern, where Sypha is staring distastefully at a bowl of steaming soup.
“It’s hot water,” she says reproachfully to the barkeep, who just ignores her. She grumbles something, a curse, probably, and proceeds to poke at the bowl with a grimace.
Trevor plops down beside her. Her angry face morphs into relief.
“I didn’t see you at all, I was worried. Where were you?” she asks, immediately forgetting her soup. Or whatever it is.
Trevor wishes her attention would go back to it. He truly likes her, and she is kind, but making him think about all his rambling is as embarrassing as tiring.
“We were seeking your friend’s father,” Adrian lies.
Trevor blinks stupidly. The vampire ignores him. He skirts around Trevor and his chair, and smooths down a piece of paper on the counter, in front of Sypha.
It’s an address, with a name and a title. Lucia’s father.
“He works with the mayor of Sibiu, so it might be quite difficult to reach him. His assistant, Gabi, was kind enough to tell me he is going to be free this morning, though. It’s still too early, I suppose, so take your time to enjoy your… soup.”
Terrible soup does look like hot water, Trevor thinks, for a second, before he raises an eyebrow and says, “ Gabi ?”
“Gabriele,” Adrian says defensively. “She was quite eager to make me call her Gabi.”
Trevor snorts. “And you do, just like that?”
“If that made her give me information, I don’t mind,” Adrian mutters with a shrug. “I won’t meet her again, anyway.”
“Wow. You’re terrible. A real heartbreaker.”
Sypha frowns, the paper crumpled in her hands. “Did something happen…?”
Between the two of you is left unsaid on purpose, but they all still heard it ring in the silence of the tavern. The barkeep sneers.
“I discovered he can actually joke,” Trevor says, “when we were searching for your friend’s father. He’s terrible at it. A tragedy. But not that terrible.”
He knows Adrian does have his pride, and wouldn’t like Trevor to boast about how a vampire sought to apologize to him. Earlier, he said the roof was to make sure no one would hear their discussion, but Trevor knows it’s not about the discussion, but the apology. Even if he doesn’t know anyone here, Adrian didn’t want a soul to hear he was sorry.
Adrian doesn’t seem to expect such a lie from Trevor. He shows his gratitude with a discreet tilt of his head.
Sypha hums but doesn’t seem to mind whatever they did to bond. Instead, she calls the barkeep and pushes the bowl away.
“I won’t pay for this. It’s hot water. Hot. Salty. Water.”
The barkeep huffs. “It’s a winter broth, girl, look, it has herbs and everything”
Trevor leans over the bowl and, indeed, finds some herbs. But it’s just a handful of grass floating in there. There’s even a twig. A mud-covered twig. The hunter grimaces. The vampire, behind him, frowns. Sypha looks pallid.
It’s almost funny, with Sypha, how anger drains the blood out of her face.
“Oh no,” Trevor says, “oh no no no .”
He takes a step back, and Adrian imitates him as the wood under Sypha’s hands turn cold and brittle, ice engulfing the sticky counter. Trevor is glad she’s not burning it, but then, Sypha has always been the reasonable one.
Not when she decided to burn a whole tree because of a spider when they were on their way here, but Trevor is sure she is the most reasonable of them. Kind of. In her own way. To be fair, it was a big spider.
“All right, time to go,” Trevor mutters, grabbing Sypha’s hood and Adrian’s arm. “Thank you, bye, generic pleasantries and everything.”
They can still hear the barkeep yell behind them as they round a third corner, half-running, and disappear in the shadows of a foul-smelling alley.
“Why did you do that?” Trevor wheezes.
Sypha looks scandalized.
“Why did he give me that in the first place!” she retorts. “That… That… Urgh .”
“You could have used fire…” Adrian muses with a very low voice.
“You’re not supposed to say that, vampire. You’re encouraging her! You’re enabling her!”
“I can put out fire quite easily,” said vampire reassures, almost proudly. “And it would have been funnier.”
“Jesus Christ, you’re both insane.”
But Trevor is laughing, laughing so hard he thinks he is going to suffocate. Adrian has that small, discreet smile he shows when he is keeping himself from losing it, and Sypha looks embarrassed but still amused. She does repress a chuckle behind her hands, though, and it just makes Trevor laugh harder.
It is a good morning.
Adrian is the one who finds Lucia’s father, Cornel, holed up into the office of his manor; a small room with barely any natural light. He doesn’t seem to register anything Sypha tells him, just nods along with her soothing words –as if it is a melody to fall asleep to. The reflection of the chimney fire, on his round glasses, hides his eyes. Trevor finds it quite disturbing.
In the middle of Sypha’s explanations, her voice hesitating as she wonders if she should mention demons, Adrian suddenly leaves. Trevor raises an eyebrow, mouthing a “what” to himself. Sypha’s finger twitches. She doesn’t say anything, though, and Cornel is too busy trying to not cry to comment on Adrian’s sudden disappearance.
Sypha drops the subject. Losing a daughter is already painful enough. If she has to elaborate on how and why…
“She was a brave woman,” Sypha concludes instead. “I am… We are sorry for your loss, truly. Uncovering the truth is all we can do to appease her soul.”
Cornel sobs and Trevor winces. “My girl… My little girl… She was so beautiful, so kind… It’s my fault...”
Trevor heard this a hundred times, if not more. People always tend to only recall a perfect person when they pass away; how they were a positive force or some other nonsense like that, along with a part of blame they will try to burden themselves with. A bunch of useless “ what ifs ” that will never change anything.
It’s natural, Trevor muses, if annoying, somehow. He makes himself more comfortable on the pillowed bench he shares with Sypha. The Speaker huffs.
Maybe it was the same, for Trevor, when it happened. His teenage years were a blur then and are still now, he thinks with a frown, staring at the chimney. But he knows there was this forest around the Belmont manor where he used to play and–
Strange horizon; orange in dark blue. Fire. It doesn’t smell of burnt fir, so it’s not the forest going up in flames and it’s terrifying. If it’s not the forest, it’s something else.
‘ I should have been home. I shouldn’t have played outside. ’ Crushing guilt. A thought on repeat as Trevor runs through snow or soot or both.
He doesn’t hear screams, but he can imagine. Silence is always the worst.
“He’s a kid,” a man says when Trevor arrives. Another man sighs. Trevor clings to him. Pulls on the black fabric of his robe.
Pain blooms on Trevor’s face when he is pushed away. He traces the sting with a trembling hand. There’s blood. It will leave a scar.
“Watch. This is what we do to heretics.”
–he also knows some things should be left untouched in his mind. The scar across his left eye throb a little and his hands are clammy. There’s a sheen of cold sweat sticking his shirt to the skin of his back; he feels dizzy enough to want to throw up. It’s too hot, in this office.
He blinks. Sypha, sat beside him, is watching him with concerned curiosity. Cornel is frowning, worried too.
Trevor wants to say he’s okay, because he is , honestly, even if something feels thick and heavy in the back of his throat and he has to work his jaw uselessly a few times before he can force out, “What?”.
“Are you... Do you need to take some air, Trevor?”
Trevor shakes his head.
“No,” he replies, maybe a bit to curtly. Sypha, fortunately, doesn’t seem to mind. She diligently turns her attention back to Cornel, who is staring at Trevor intently.
“Trevor, as Trevor Belmont?” he asks, eyeing the Belmont crest on his shirt. Through his glasses, his tear-reddened eyes seem grotesquely too big for his face.
Trevor immediately tenses. Most people knowing the Belmont name aren’t friends, these days.
“Depends if you want to stab me or something?” He tries.
Cornel huffs out a small laugh. “Oh, no I just– I just knew your father. Helped me out on some occasions. Last time I saw you, though, you were–” he makes a gesture around his mid-thighs “–that big? Around seven, if I remember well. You probably don’t remember.”
“Yeah, I don’t,” Trevor says bluntly. Sypha’s elbow digs uncomfortably in his ribs. He winces, then adds, “Sorry.”
Cornel doesn’t seem to mind. “Ah, it’s fine, it’s fine,” he replies with a dismissive wave of his hand. “For what’s worth… It’s been some time now, but I’m sorry for what happened to your family. A tragedy, really.”
Trevor narrows his eyes and stands up. He glares down at the man.
“Accidents are tragedies. Not murder . But I guess you know the difference, now.”
Sypha makes a noise, half-indignant, half-panicked, but Trevor doesn’t look back when he exits that stupidly overheated office, stomping down the stairs and almost unhinging the door by pushing it open with full force.
Trevor doesn’t know Lucia. He does think no one deserves to finish like this, though, drained of blood, transformed into a human-eating creature and denied rest, but… Fuck Cornel and his tragedy . He’s just one of these people standing aside and keeping quiet, happily ignoring injustice unless it reaches their household.
Trevor finds Adrian leaning against the wall of the house in front of Cornel’s, his silhouette half-hidden in the shadows. From where he is, he could obviously hear everything with his sharp hearing.
Adrian still wears a mask of indifference as the hunter approaches him. He doesn’t seem eager to ask anything about Trevor’s outburst.
Which is great, because Trevor never thought Adrian would be so mindful of boundaries.
“Are you hungry?” the vampire asks.
Trevor wants to laugh at the blatant attempt to not anger him furthermore. It’s still enough to ease him off, just a little. He runs a hand in his hair.
“Not really,” he replies. “... But I'm not going to say no for some food, I suppose. Haven’t eaten this morning.”
It’s not really hunger, there’s just a buzz of irritation and unease shrouding his whole being. Trevor wants to push it away with something, anything that would let him feel less helpless; alcohol or food or violence or sex. It’s almost primitive in its rawness, this urge, tied to wants that aren’t rational.
Adrian hums. There are three strips of dried goat in a gloved hand.
“Here,” he says, quietly.
Trevor snorts and accepts it without a word.
The silence is strangely companionable, something Trevor wouldn’t have thought possible with a creature as intense as Adrian. Well, the vampire did noticeably mellow down, some time between their heart to heart on the roof and Sypha freezing an entire inn, but he wouldn’t have guessed he would see Adrian able to be that tactful and less… Less like a blood-drinking monster.
Maybe he was always like that, Trevor wonders. Maybe that’s what Olga saw. A compassionate person despite the strangeness sticking to him.
Of course, Trevor is quick to ask himself if it’s a trap. Hunters instincts are hard to forget.
Are vampires supposed to have some incubus traits? He knows crossbreeding these demons with vampires is possible, and it wouldn’t surprise Trevor to learn that Adrian has some sort of incubus aura drawing humans towards him. He is beautiful, after all, in an unconventional way.
Not like Trevor really cared.
“Are you done staring at me?”
Adrian has raised an expectant eyebrow and crossed his arms. His defenses are up again, the fingers of his right hand tapping on the hilt of his sword.
Trevor sighs. He raises both of his hand in a peaceful gesture.
“Just wondering why you left,” he half-lies, because he did wonder where Adrian has gone.
Adrian seems even tenser, and his low, “I had errands to do,” couldn’t be a more obvious evasion.
“Alright, keep your secrets, vampire. It’s not like I’m going to judge you or anything; unless you’re plotting, I don’t know, death and destruction,” Trevor says, rolling his eyes. He hates that Adrian still distrusts him so much. “Wait. You’re not going plotting death and destruction, right?”
It’s a jest, and Trevor is glad that Adrian is receptive. The vampire snorts. The crisped line of his shoulder softens enough.
“You make a terrible hunter,” Adrian scoffs, with that unsettling small smile. “But I might like that.”
It’s not in that sense, Trevor knows it, but his neck heats up all the same.
Definitely incubus blood somewhere.
– – –
“Cornel is sorry,” Sypha says, “But you should be sorry too.”
Trevor groans like a petulant twelve years old would groan. He makes his horse trot a little faster to take the lead, ignoring Sypha as she swats his arm when he passes by. Adrian, behind the two of them, remains silent, but his golden eyes are alert.
Sypha’s voice is softer with the vampire because, of course, everyone would be softer with a pair of homicidal fangs. Trevor rolls his eyes and ignores them, munching absentmindedly another strip of dried goat.
Not that he likes it that much, but he is hungry now that the sun is high, indicating midday and, more precisely, time for lunch –or whatever the three of them can call lunch.
They left Sibiu recently, two hours ago at most. They don’t stop to eat, just let their horses go slower and follow a beaten, smooth path. The road to Talmaciu is not that long, after all, and many merchants pass by, leaving the trail easy to navigate through.
Sypha, not used to ride a horse, is gingerly letting go of the reins to pull out a piece of dried goat. She peels a small bit of it and munches it thoughtfully. She grimaces, muttering, “ strong, ” as she swallows down.
“You don’t normally eat goat?” Trevor asks.
“Ah, no. We have poultry, sometimes beef or pork. Fish too, when we move near the coasts,” Sypha says, her voice slightly muffled by her munching. “It’s not very often, so it’s a nice change. But, usually, there’s not a lot of choices, and, well… Food is food.”
She smiles, and Trevor can’t help smiling back. Her serene behavior towards this whole adventure is refreshing.
Behind her, the hunter sees Adrian nibble at a piece of dried goat too, before he makes a face. He tries to put it elsewhere, but doesn’t want to throw away something he paid for neither; so he is caught like that, all prim and proper, with a piece of dried goat in his gloved hand.
“What, not juicy enough?” Trevor drawls, making Adrian snort.
“It’s foul ,” the vampire says with a frown. “I’m glad I don’t have to eat that.”
“Why did you try eating it, then?”
“I…” Adrian seems a bit flustered. He looks down, shrugs, then says, “You were eating, I wanted to try.”
“Wait, you never tried dried goat? That’s...” Trevor mumbles, “That’s impressive. What do you eat, if you’re not eating this? Rye bread?”
“You know what I eat –or rather drink , Belmont. But I incidentally like rye bread, thank you for asking.”
There’s a smile on Adrian’s lips that reveals his two long canines, and Trevor squints at him.
For someone so keen to point out Adrian’s vampiric nature, Trevor has so easily forgotten that he is talking to some creature that can sustain himself only with blood. Anything else –eating that dried goat, drinking water, caring– is probably just a curiosity he appeases by imitating humans.
A shudder runs down his spine. Shit shit shit shit . Adrian seems to always find a way to appear less dangerous as time passes; laughing and smiling and being God damn nice with everyone.
Well, alright, except with Trevor, maybe, but it’s changing, and Trevor doesn’t like that very much. It’s a problem, he thinks urgently, because he is pretty sure Adrian is honest .
“What is it, Belmont? You’ll fall out your horse if you’re not paying attention,” Adrian says with a sneer.
Trevor opens his mouth. Closes it. Tries again.
“We left some days ago and I haven’t seen you feed yourself once.”
Adrian’s face immediately closes off. He is blank again, like before they left, like when they were in Lupu and Trevor was threatening to whip his head off along with his mother’s.
“I have my supplies,” Adrian says curtly. “I asked around when you two were with Cornel.”
“Asking around...?” Sypha trails off, frowning, but it’s not judgemental, just curious.
Adrian sighs. “I have the instruments for taking off some blood. I asked people for samples to study. I’m not forcing them to do anything they do not wish to be part of, of course.”
“And just like that, they said yes?” Trevor sputters, incredulously, remembering vividly Lisa breaking the soft skin of her arm with that strange needle, how horrifying it was. “They see something like that, and they say yes ?”
Adrian shakes his head. He pushes his hair back behind his shoulders as his horse softly neighs.
“Not this time,” he mutters. “But I can still go on without blood for some time; my hunger is more manageable than my… Than other vampires”.
“That’s not helping me to not stake you, Adrian.”
“I'm just honest with you.”.
The air is tense, electric, even. Sypha clears her throat. She mutters, “I thought you were over that.”
And Trevor thought, too, but he knows his questions and remarks make him look as sympathetic as Sibiu’s guards. He doesn’t often notice his hand naturally resting on the hilt of his whip, or the way his eyes keep searching for the nearest, safest exit every time he wanders in a closeted place with Adrian. It’s just pure instinct.
“I… It’s not against you,” Trevor says, carefully. “I just…”
“Don’t, hunter,” Adrian sighs. “I don’t need excuses, and I don’t blame you for being careful.”
He pushes his horse to go further ahead, and Trevor does feel bad. He wants to tell Sypha, but she just shakes her head and gestures at her ears. Ah. Yes. Vampire hearing.
Adrian does go even farther, though, and Trevor wonders if he can really hear if he says, very softly, “Am I that terrible?”
Sypha looks at him as if he asked the stupidest question of Wallachia.
“You keep mocking his vampires traits, call him a vampire when he’s, in fact, more human, and you keep doubting everything he does. You also took his mother hostage –no, don’t you look at me like that, he told me, and that was terrible of you,” Sypha lists, counting on her fingers Trevor’s offenses. “Should I continue?”
“Wait, what, I’m not that much of–”
“You’re an idiot with the empathy of a rock ,” Sypha says icily. “But I thought you were doing it on purpose, that’s why I was surprised this morning when you were almost acting like friends. But turns out I was wrong.”
“Listen. I’m trying,” Trevor grumbles. “But I’m not you.”
“ Me ?”
“I don’t go around being friendly with everyone. I can’t. People usually hate me, I usually hate people, and that’s that.”
Sypha stares at him with her piercing eyes, and Trevor scratches his head. She has finished her meager lunch, but her hands don’t find the reins again. Instead, she crosses her arms.
“What,” Trevor breathes, beginning to feel slightly irritated.
“You don’t hate people, or you wouldn’t do that, with us,” Sypha points out. She sighs and glances at the vampire’s back. “Adrian is trying his best.”
“Wait, weren’t you the one going, ‘ I don’t know about him and his pointy fangs ’ a few days ago?”
“And I changed my mind, Belmont!” Sypha hisses. “If only you tried to stop thinking everything’s revolving around you and start to listen, you would see that he’s not bad.”
“I am listening, Sypha,” Trevor argues.
It’s true. He did listen to Adrian when they were discussing a plan; when they left; when they were on the roof. He even laughed with him –and at him, but it was a mutual kind of thing anyway, nothing to feel wrong about.
“The only thing you’re listening to is your own whining. Did you even talk to Adrian? Not about plans, or finding something or someone. Just him.”
“Because you did?” Trevor deflects.
“Yes, and that shouldn’t be surprising.”
With that, Sypha finally pulls the reins of her horse and joins Adrian far ahead, leaving a frowning Trevor behind. Why is everyone so irritating? He got a good morning for once, and of course, by the end of it, everything has to turn into a disaster and a pain.
Trevor pulls the reins sharply, but instead of going forward, he’s going down .
Nothing makes sense.
His hands and side hurt where they hit the ground. The fabric is torn where he was pushed, and he can feel blood on his arm, slowly dripping down.
Trevor groans, blindly seeking his whip, hisses in pain as the handle rubs against the scratches on his palms. From the ground, he only sees the hooves of his horse quickly trot away further down the road. Traitor .
Two blacks shoes step into his sight, then, and Trevor looks up stupidly to see the sinister face of… A man?
Trevor hadn’t heard him coming, and it’s strange because no man can be stealthy enough for a hunter as experienced as Trevor to not notice.
“Any last words, hunter?”
The man’s voice is poised. In his hands, he is absentmindedly playing with an odd sort of weapon –quite short and flat, made of leather, with sharp spikes covering a side. Probably what the stranger used to whip Trevor down his horse; there was a bit of blood on it.
“Did you really think I’d die like that?” Trevor hisses.
He rolls to a side despite the pain, out of the man’s way, and pushes himself up –not entirely, just enough to maneuver his whip more efficiently. His weapon snaps where the man stands. Or stood. The man is gone. He jumped gracefully away from harm, and he doesn’t seem to gloat or taunt. He silently stares for a second, before he dives back in the fight.
He doesn’t move like a hunter, but he knows hunters moves. He evades Trevor once, twice, thrice. His guard is surprisingly good as if he has been trained to survive these encounters. He isn’t immune to weariness, though, and is soon reckless. He missteps, and Trevor’s whip winds up around his wrist. The man is forced to let go of his weapon under the pain.
The hunter smirks a split second before he has to duck with a grunt –he didn’t expect a ceremonial knife to slide out of his assailant’s sleeve. It whistles right above his head and oh no please not my hair again , Trevor thinks.
Then something else whistles, slashing the air. It’s familiar and Trevor smiles.
“Took your sweet time, Adrian.”
The man frowns and... turns his back to the vampire’s sword? Is he stupid ? Does he have a death wish? Why isn’t he even startled to see a silver sword floating in the air? What the–
The stranger uses Trevor’s surprise to kick him in his guts, sending him rolling on the mud. Trevor groans. Bits of food crawl up his stomach as dust and dirt slide into his mouth, and he really, really wants to throw up.
“My lord,” the man says, to someone Trevor doesn’t see, “you don’t need to intervene. This hunter will die by my hand.”
“That’s the cue to stab him, Adrian!” Trevor yells from the ground.
But the sword doesn’t make any sound anymore. It clicks back into its sheath, and instead, Adrian’s startled voice echoes in the near-empty road.
There will be more action from now on. Sorry it took so long to start!