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Child of the Night

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“Soma,” Julius said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “What are you doing?”

“Sneaking out when you explicitly told me not to go after whatever you and Yoko are trying to track down?” Soma replied, at least having some sense to look sheepish as he did. He still hadn’t left his perch on the windowsill, the cool night’s air rustling his jacket.

Julius sighed. The kid was honest, if anything. He wished the windows in the old Belmont estate had a screen, or something. At least then Soma might have made enough noise trying to remove it so that Julius could catch him before he was half dangling out a second-story window.

“Soma, we can handle this on our own,” Julius began. “We’re trained for this, and we have Arikado on call if need be. You don’t need to get involved.”

“But—“

“I invited you here for a vacation from school, Soma! To see the Belmont collection, not to get yourself killed!” Julius retorted. He moved towards the window, all but dragging Soma in by the scruff of his neck away from it. If anything, Julius likened him to a kitten—full of energy and not ready to listen, but ultimately innocent.

Some days he felt like he was scolding his own child, though.

Soma pouted. “I can fight. I have magic. I think I can handle whatever your after—in fact, I know I can handle it!”

“This isn’t just one simple minded monster, Soma! And this isn’t like the castle, we can’t just charge in, guns blazing and hope it turns out well,” Julius explained. “And these werewolves—which is what they are and is a crucial fact you didn’t know, which is dangerous —are strong. Smart. That’s why they’ve been such a nuisance to deal with and track down. I honestly wasn’t expecting to even have to go after them until you were back in Japan.”

Soma sighed, shaking Julius’s hands off him. “I’m not a child, Julius. I can help! I hate just being left behind while everyone else gets to help people… I don’t like feeling useless.”

“I know you don’t,” Julius said, closing the window in one fluid motion. The lock clicked shut, still working despite the rust. He really needed to clean up this damn house… “But Soma, last time you ran off on your own… it could have ended badly. It almost did, if Mina hadn’t given you that charm.”

Soma crossed his arms, leaning against the wall. The wallpaper was old, yellowed with time and peeling—just as Julius had remembered it being as a child. His father had always said he was going to tear it down and paint the walls, but he died before he ever had the chance. After the Demon War in 1999, the Belmont family was in a state of chaos that meant that things like wallpaper were not a priority.

Maybe he’d do that himself, then. Over the summer. Mina and Soma could visit, help out, Yoko could help too if she wanted to join…

Julius was snapped out of his thoughts by the sound of Soma’s voice. “This isn’t like that,” Soma was saying. “There’s so evil cults, no threat of Dracula.”

“Exactly. So, this really doesn’t need your involvement in any way. You have no stake in it. So—leave it to Yoko and me, alright?” Julius replied, hand playing with the edge of his scarf. He had to get going, lest he leave Yoko and Alucard to deal with the monster alone. Yoko had set out on her own, likely to meet up with Alucard if need be, but Julius had stayed behind to make sure Soma had listened to their request for him to stay put—and well, it was obvious how that had gone. He knew to trust his gut, as it was usually right—especially about Soma.

“I know, I know, but I just… I feel so. Restless, now, not doing anything. School’s fine and all but I just… I just feel like I need to be out there, with you guys. Helping you,” Soma said. “And… I dunno, I worry too. I feel like sometimes all I do is let you guys protect me from the supernatural when you really don’t need too… and I don’t want people getting hurt when I could be there to stop that. I can’t... I can’t just have a normal life, no matter how much I try. I know that’s what you all want but I just don’t think it can happen.”

That sounded familiar, Julius thought to himself. He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. God, Alucard was going to have his head, assuming Yoko didn’t completely obliterate him. “Alright. You can come.”

Soma’s head snapped up, silver eyes sparkling. “Really? Thank you, Julius, I won’t let you guys down, I’ve even been working on my sword skills—”

“Soma… Just be safe, alright? And don’t expect this to be a thing. I’m just letting you come so I can keep an eye on you, since I feel like the moment I left, you woulda been jumping out that window again,” Julius said, grabbing his gear. He tossed Soma a sword that had been brought out from the Belmont armoury. Soma caught it easily, attaching the sheath to his belt.

“Probably,” Soma replied, doing his best facial impression of a rather mischievous cat. Julius sighed. This kid was making his hair turn grey more and more with each passing day.

“Let’s head out then, we have a lot of ground to cover before we’ll be able to catch up with Yoko and Arikado, I suspect,” Julius said, motioning for Soma to follow him down the staircase.

A normal life, no matter how hard he tried… It was true that the three of them had been hoping that Soma would return to his normal life after the eclipse. Be a normal Japanese student again, the world of Dracula and monsters behind him—and it seemed to work, for awhile. But lately, it seemed like Soma had been getting more and more restless, trying to involve himself in the supernatural whenever he could.

A normal life, forever unreachable now—Julius could understand that. That restlessness, that need to help others, to be involved with the night.

That was a feeling he knew very well, even around Soma’s age.


He awoke with a jolt. Pain was a constant as his bleary eyes surveyed the room, trying to make sense of the blurry shapes he could make out. White, grey… idle sounds in the background—voices, things moving. Where was he?

…who was he?

He sat up, wincing when pain coursed through his abdomen. What was going on? His mind was a hazy mess—he could remember some things, basic things—he was Romanian, and he spoke the language. English too. He was male… the year was 1999, right? Or was 1998? But otherwise… otherwise he felt like he was drawing a blank.

First, he needed to find out where he was.  Looking around at the drab scenery, the simple white sheets of his uncomfortable bed… well, a hospital was the obvious answer, but was he at least in Romania?

A woman in scrubs—a nurse, he reminded himself—came scurrying over to him, clipboard clenched tightly in her hands. “You’re awake!” she exclaimed, before ushering over some others. His mind drifted away, barely catching what the nurses were talking about as they checked him over, looking over his bandages, asking him questions.

 He merely groaned. Now that he was awake, his senses felt like they were under attack. Between the bright lights, the noise, the pain of his body…. He felt like he had been hit by a train.

“Sir,” the first nurse said, voice stern. “Can you understand us, Sir?”

“…yes,” he finally said. His voice was sandpaper to his ears, scratching its way out from his dry, unused throat. The nurse handed him some water, before speaking again.

“I need to ask you some questions, but if you feel you need further rest, I can come back later. My name is Crina,” she told him, clicking her pen.

The man shook his head, before wincing at the pain that brought as well. His body ached and burned—he was covered in cuts, burns, and he had a feeling several of his fingers were broken. It was hard to breathe too—he didn’t want to know about the state of his ribs, honestly. Yet, he had no idea how any of this had happened.  “I can try.”

“Alright. We can stop any time. First, your name?” Crina asked. For a moment, the man was distracted by the bustling outside the room—they seemed awfully busy, for what at first glance did not seem like a big hospital.

Crina looked at him, concerned “Sir?”

“I…” he hesitated. It hit him full force, the emptiness in his mind. “I don’t know.”

He swallowed, thoughts racing. “I don’t… I don’t remember. But, it’s fine, right? You know, right? You’re just checking to see what state I’m in, but you can tell me, right?” he said, getting panicked the more he spoke. Oh god, oh god —the reality of the situation he was in was starting to sink in. He could feel the anxiety bubbling up inside him, ready to escape at any moment via a full-fledged panic attack.

Who was he? What was he doing here? Why did everything hurt, what’s going on, what’s going on, what’s going on—

Crina bit her lip. She looked deep in thought, clearly considering her next words carefully. “Sir, I’m… I’m sorry. No, we don’t know,” she admitted. He was snapped out of his mantra by her voice, but the building panic did not dissipate.

At his silence, Crina continued. “We’ve… we’ve had a lot of people through, and with some odd wounds. There was some sort of… accident, the church told us. Military said the same thing. Something about a factory accident outside the town, something very dangerous; a chemical fire is the standing rumour. Out near that old crumbling castle, in the forest. Creepy place. People get attacked by wolves there a lot.”

“…you.. you don’t know? ” he breathed, barely focusing on her words.

Crina shook her head. “You didn’t have any ID on you at all when you were brought to our hospital. We tried to find any next of kin who may have shown up looking for you, or if any survivors from the factory accident knew you, but we’ve turned up nothing. I’m. I’m sorry. We hoped you would be able to tell us when you woke up.”

The man stared at his hands, eyes glossing over, vision unfocused. “How long was I asleep?” Talking, he noted, seemed to help quell the panic constricting his chest. It was so hard to breathe, but he needed answers—he needed to stay calm.

“Two days—since the eclipse, actually,” Crina said, pouring him another glass of water. “Drink. We’ll keep trying to contact someone for you, I promise. Are you feeling okay? Is there anything you need?”

“I mean, everything hurts, so maybe some pain killers? But otherwise. I think I’m good. Food, later. That’d be nice,” the man replied, sipping the water. It was cool, soothing to his throat even after the first glass.

He smiled a little, feeling calmer, but it faded at her next question, “Do you remember anything that may help?”

“No. Nothing. Other than I’m Romanian but…” But they had been speaking it the whole time, he knew, so he figured he was in, well, Romania. The look on Crina’s face confirmed it wasn’t much help either.

 “I’ll talk to the doctors about your pain killer dosage,” Crina said, motioning the IV in his arm. He hadn’t noticed it, admittedly. With a polite, professional smile, Crina turned, heading towards the door with a steady gait. She paused, though, hand hovering over the handle.  Turning towards him, she said, “You’ll be okay. We’re here to help you. It’s possible your memories may even return on their own, and if not… No one is alone in this world. We’ll find someone who knows you.”

He felt himself smile as she left, hands gripping the sheets as he tried to stay calm. Yeah…, things would be okay. They had to be.

 

 

Right?

 

 

 

But it was at that hospital that Julius learned he really was alone.

 


 

Days passed. He talked with Crina and her coworkers, his voice returning to what he assumed was its usual timbre with use while his throat—and numerous other injuries—began to heal. He still had no idea who he was, though. The most they had managed to come up with came early, about two days after he met Crina.

His clothes were damaged, full of holes and singed beyond repair. This left him with just the hospital gown, but luckily, it seemed the blood red scarf he had apparently worn had mostly survived. It was soft to the touch, maybe made of silk, and something about having it made the man’s heart feel lighter. It was nice to have something of his… something to own, something that couldn’t slip from his fingers like his memories.

On the tag, Crina had discovered a small message written in sharpie – Good luck, J . The handwriting was neat and small—and after a bit of testing, discovered it to not be the mans. Neither of them was sure if J was the message writer or who it was intended for but… but it was something. And god, J was desperate for any clues as to who he was, where he belonged. So. J he was, and J he would be until he knew more.

Having the scarf was nice—he had ended up having a panic attack after the first day despite trying so hard to keep it down, but he found the scarf helped calm him now that he had it. Having it there grounded him, reminded him there was something tying him to his old life. J would find out the rest soon enough, right?

J often found himself struggling to sleep at night. Crina joked he was nocturnal, but part of J wondered if that was true. Had he worked night-shifts, perhaps? When he did finally sleep,he had nightmares, dreams of death, fire, and blood, but he could barely remember them come morning.

Being up at night did have its advantages. Crina tried to be gentle with him or distract him by talking about whatever topic came to her mind. She was good company, and one that took a lot of night shifts.

However, at night, especially nights where Crina was not there, he often heard the nurse’s gossip about him, unaware he could hear.

Gossip about him was no surprise. He was some teenaged (or young adult, they weren’t so sure about that either) runt who ended up here covered in wounds and burns with no memory of anything. It was worth talking about, he supposed, though he hoped some of their theories for who he really was weren’t true—some of them were out there, with talk of Russian mobs and family curses.

That part was not what bothered him. No. It was the confusion about why he even had amnesia in the first place. J had a concussion when he was brought in, he was told. But otherwise, he had not suffered much of a head injury. While concussions could cause memory loss—for it to be this bad, this extensive, and last so long? That, according to them, didn’t make much sense—his memory was just gone like it was magic.

The holy water he discovered in his jacket when Crina had brought it to him made him wonder if it was. But he also could have just been religious. He wondered if God was watching him now, then, while he was lost and alone.

So, at the hospital J waited. Talked with Crina while he healed. Forced himself to enjoy the Jell-o and other foods he was given. He was hoping, desperately hoping, that someone would walk through the door to his room and hug him close, talking about how much they missed their son, brother, friend… anything.

No one came. 

By the time he was discharged all he had were hospital fees (which the nurses, including Crina, god bless her soul, helped pay for. Perhaps it was sympathy, perhaps it was pity—but he’d take anything at that point). There nothing to help him figure out where he was from and where to go next. Nothing at all.

J was completely and utterly alone.


Crina and some of the other nurses had been kind enough to give him some money. He could tell they did not like the idea of sending this amnesiac, homeless man—or perhaps even minor, with his age so vague—off on his own, but they hadn’t had any say in it. J just could not stay at the hospital anymore, according to the higher ups, and instead suggested social services or the like.

J really did not like the upper management of that place. The few times he had met with anyone with any authority, they hadn’t seemed very fond of him. A lot of people had died, they said. Others were in far worse condition. An amnesiac kid was of no worry to them when they had so much more to deal with—though said much more tactfully.

J had no choice—perhaps it was more apt to say kicked him out than discharged him. He was healed, though, and healthy as could be.

J was grateful for the nurses’ help. It was nice to not have to worry about food—at least at first—and the homeless shelter was kind to him. Crina had even given him clothes and a bag, which she said belonged to her younger brother who was moving out soon.

So, at first, it wasn’t so bad. However, J soon found himself restless in the sleepy town he had woken up in. It was hard to get a job with no experience or identity, but he also felt… felt something was calling to him. Something from the woods. He thought back to what Crina had said, about the ruins of the castle where the factory accident. Where he supposedly lost his memory.

Perhaps, he thought, he would find some answers there.


 

The trek through the forest began easy enough. The woods were thick and colourful—autumn was in full swing, golds and reds overtaking, clashing with the deep greens of pine trees, as J made his way through. The sun was low in the sky, but there was still enough heat that his simple coat was enough. He trudged through, keeping an ear out for any animals—Crina had mentioned something about wolf attacks—but it was hard to discern the different noises from one another. Especially when with each step he took, he was met with the sound of crunching leaves and snapping twigs.

On J’s way through the forest, westward towards where he had been told the ruins of the old castle near the factory were supposed to be, he was able to see the leftovers of the accident easily. Trees were damaged, collapsed on their sides or branches broken. Scorch marks and burned leaves were scattered across the land.

As he neared the ruins, the destruction got worse—until there was nothing but charcoal around him, the remnants of a blazing forest fire. It was cool now, but the smell of burnt human flesh and plant life still hung heavy in the air, making his stomach churn.

Wait.

How did he know what burnt flesh smelled like—especially human? Perhaps his burns, he thought, even if J didn't remember receiving them. Still, it was odd his brain had been able to pick the scent out so easily.

J sighed, looking around the destruction with a feeling of emptiness. There wasn’t much. Just blackened earth and charred remains. He felt something snap under his weight, brittle from the heat—glancing down, his heart leaped into his throat. It was bone. Bone, peeking out from underneath the ash, its flesh long charred off.

J jumped back in alarm. He pressed a hand to his chest, trying to calm his heart rate—it was probably just animal bone, like a deer. It seemed like most of the area had been shifted through—the remains of the burnt forest neatly put into piles. The authorities had likely already collected whatever human remains they could—and any survivors like J himself.

Still… it only cemented this place as ominous—as full of death. 

As for buildings, well—there were chunks of stone that perhaps had once been a wall, but no trace of any factory nor even the castle Crina had spoken of. The stone itself was oddly shaped, irregular and blackened like everything else. “Kind of looks like a face,” J murmured, lightly kicking one boulder.

He sighed, surveying the destruction. He was surprised that there was no one cleaning up the aftermath, but it seemed that finding bodies had been the main priority.

J tried to imagine it, the blazing flames—that didn’t seem to engulf the whole forest—the destructive power needed to completely char the ground like this, to destroy any signs of life, be it man-made or natural. All that was left was a barren wasteland, deathly quiet in the evening light.

He wandered through, finding bits of animal bones (or he hoped it was animal), but not much else. There was no sign to what exactly had happened here, nothing to point him towards his next goal.

“Coming here was pointless,” J said to himself, running a hand through his bangs. He really needed a haircut…

He felt worse than he had before. It wasn’t just the disappointment of not being able to find anything out about his situation, either. Something about this place… it made him uneasy, filled his stomach with a feeling of dread. It made his heart heavy, longing for something he did not know seeping through. This place was cursed. A place of death. Of loss. Of great sorrow.

J wanted to go home.

But what was home, for him? He didn’t even know who he was.

He was alone. Alone, with the only connections to his life nothing but ash.

The sun was nearly set now, oranges and pinks washed away for cool blue as the light faded. The moon was full, J noted—and that thought sent a feeling of urgency through him. Full… full. The moon. Something about the moon, the eclipse—something about it made him anxious, but he didn’t know why.

Perhaps it was merely the dark. He was an area unknown to him, without useful landmarks. J didn’t exactly fancy meeting any of the animals that liked to attack humans that Crina spoke of. That, he thought, was probably the source of his unease, combined with his feelings of being lost.

Shoving his hands into his jacket pocket, J turned, trying to follow his own footsteps in the dirt as he went back the way he came. He hadn’t walked that far, he thought, so it wouldn’t take long to make it back to the town.

The moon rose higher in the sky. It’s light luminated his way, breaking through the bare branches of the trees. At least the moon was full, to help guide him back.

The moon was no friend of his, his thoughts told him. He didn’t know why.

Howls reached his ears. Wolves. No—there was something off about them, something not quite natural, like the sound was tampered with. J’s heart thrummed in his chest.  Adrenaline shot through him—but he didn’t feel the urge to flee, rather to reach for—for what? He had no weapons, aside from a single knife he had invested in (and only because his gut kept urging to buy it, a rather cheaply made dagger, from a pawn shop. He wasn’t sure why he’d need it, but it calmed the anxiety in his stomach whenever he felt its heavy weight in his pocket).

He doubted a knife would be any good against a pack of wolves. He’d be fine, though—the howls sounded far off. He’d be fine. He had to be.

A branch broke in the forest, to his left. J walked faster.

His hand gripped the handle of the dagger, still sheathed in his jacket. He didn’t let go, not even as his knuckles turned white. His instincts screamed at him, demanding he do… do what? What could he do, he was just… a person. Some punk kid. Even if he had any training at dealing with attacking animals, what good would that do him if he couldn’t remember it?

J just wished he could turn off his brain. All it seemed to do was scream at him about how something was wrong. He knew that already—that something was the fact that he couldn’t fucking remember anything.

More sounds came from the woods. Creaks and snaps—the thump of feet on earth signalling something nearing. J stopped walking, slipping the dagger out of its sheath without thinking. The polished metal glinted under the moonlight. The feeling of it in his hands, the sight of it in the corner of his eyes—it kept him grounded.

The creature was closer now. He kept his eyes on where the sound seemed to be coming from, digging his toes into the dirt. If he was lucky, it would leave him alone—but his luck so far had not been especially grand.

The animal burst from the treeline in a sudden rush of noise. J’s heart leaped into his throat as he prepared to defend himself, arms shielding his face, blade raised—

The deer that had emerged bucked up, spooked by his own presence. The doe ran off ahead of him, in a blur of limbs, the sound of cracking branches following suit.

J let out the breath he had been holding. Just a deer. The tension in his stance melted away, muscles relaxing as he began to walk again. Just a deer. He was just being overly cautious, alone in the dark woods. It was best he got back to civilization as soon as possible. Why hadn’t he left for the woods around noon? That would have been smart, he supposed, especially if he hadn’t slept most of the morning and part of the afternoon. His sleeping schedule left something to be desired.

 The howls seemed to disappear. A deer cried out in the distance—possibly the one he had seen-but he paid it no heed. If it was being attacked, he rather it be the deer being torn apart than him. No need to attract attention from any wolves.

J swore. Was he even going the right way? It felt like he had been walking for far longer than he had expected. The woods seemed to melt together, the trees nothing but dark shapes with the scent of pine and autumn, indistinct from one another, with the barren and burnt remains far behind him. He was sure this was the right direction but…

The smell of blood hit him. Right—fuck, the deer had run in the direction he was going, so if it hadn’t turned… A detour, then. Still, the smell was oddly strong, mixing with the scent of smoke that seemed far too strong. Had he been turned around by accident? No, even the burnt forest hadn’t carried such a pungent scent of smoke, not after a few weeks of time and at least one rain storm.

The weather was dry, now, perhaps it was merely another forest fire. He ought to take another path, avoid any feasting animals or raging fires. J knew that was the smart thing to do, yet—yet his feet took him forward, hand still gripping his knife as he headed towards the smell.

He creeped along the undergrowth, mindful of exposed roots. J kept his body low, stance defensive as he made his way closer and closer, the smell overwhelming his senses as the sound of flesh ripping reached his ears. This was a bad idea, he thought to himself, yet his feet kept carrying him closer.

He made his way to a small clearing. Stopping at the edge, still hidden in the dark of the fir trees, J stared out at the sight in front of him. The moon was higher in the sky now, silver light washing over like ocean waves. He could make out a dark silhouette, a wolf that seemed to be built a little off, a little too big—feasting on the poor deer he had seen before.

J swallowed. He stepped back, stumbling on a gnarled root. Catching himself on the tree it belonged to, he managed to right himself. He winced, the pine needles digging into his skin from the branch he had grabbed.

The wolf stopped eating. Its ears swivelled around, towards the source of the sudden noise, before it lifted its head from the deer’s carcass. Blood stained its dark fur a deep scarlet. It stood up— it stood up!— reaching its full height on strong hind legs.

It was a wolf, no mistaking it. From the trail to the snout, a wolf—but it was massive, built like an athlete and carried itself like a human.

Wait. Full moon. “ Werewolf,” J breathed. The word had come to him out of a void, a remnant of his old memories, just out of reach. But… was this normal? To run into a werewolf on a streak of bad luck? No… Crina would have mentioned werewolves, right? They were different from plain wolves, J knew that, just like how he knew what a wolf was, what Romania was, and what a werewolf was. They were pieces of his shattered memory left behind for him to gather up, to try to put together like the world’s worst puzzle.

He hated living like this.

The werewolf turned, silver eyes on him in an instant. It let out a low growl. It wasn’t moving yet, J thought—perhaps debating on whether it was worth killing J or guarding its current kill from scavengers.

J’s hand shook, his grip tightening on the knife. Half of him wanted to run, to get away—he had no idea what he was doing, and honestly, if he didn’t run, he was going to fucking die. But something deep inside him pushed at him, urging him to deal with this monster before it could hurt anyone else.

Had it even hurt anyone? Or was he going to be the unlucky first victim?

The werewolf howled then, teeth bared as he quickly began to close the gap between then. Oh fuck, oh fuck—J felt his heart jump in his chest.

J dived to the side, rolling until he slammed into a tree. Groaning, he quickly got to his feet. This was bad, this was bad, this was very bad—he sprinted off, stumbling over tree roots and rocks as he desperately tried to remember the direction he had come from. Where was the town again?

He could hear footsteps behind him, far too close for comfort. He was a dead man, if he didn’t think of anything quick. Kill the monster, the annoying part of him said. How? He asked back.

He didn’t get a reply.

Running seemed to be the best option. He felt himself adjust to the terrain, soon jumping over roots with ease, barely noticing the scratch of pine needles on his skin as he rushed passed. His heart thundered in his ears, drowning out any sounds except for his own, his breathing heavy as he ran northward.

He just needed to get away. To get his bearings straight before he did anything life threatening. Was he going the right way--? 

“Fuck!” J cried out, claws digging into his flesh. His face met dirt, a sudden weight pinning him down. Hot breath tickled his skin, the smell of blood and smoke overwhelming his senses. He struggled against the beast on him, his knife abandoned in the dirt just out of reach. “Motherfuck—”

“Little human, what are you doing out here all alone?” the beast spoke, its voice unnatural and dreamlike, a deep baritone that sent shivers through his body.

J didn’t speak. He was close to panicking again, he knew, but he needed to keep calm. This wasn’t a hospital, where his panic attack could be comforted by a nurse. If he didn’t do anything quick, he was going to die—or be turned, the ever-annoying part of his brain supplied.

Right. Don’t get bitten. He wished his brain hadn’t decided to only give him advice when he was already in mortal danger.

He reached out, trying to get his knife back in his grasp. It was darker now, the moon hidden by massive pine trees. He could just barely make out the glint of the blade, his vision shaken by the sudden fall.

The claws dug deeper into his shoulders, staining his clothes with his blood. He hissed but kept reaching. So close… “Little human?” the beast repeated, nosing at J’s cheek. “I know you can speak. It’s rude to ignore people.”

Gotcha. J swung, bringing the blade down on the beast’s face by his own. The werewolf barely had time to react, blood flowing as J buried the blade right under its eye. The beast reeled up, letting go of J as he pulled the blade out. Panting, he pushed himself up, backing away from the monster. He was injured, pain shooting through him with each movement. He didn’t think he could outrun the creature like this if he hadn’t been able to before. Fuck.

“You little—” the werewolf cried out, voice devolving into growls. It reared up at him, heat radiating off it in waves.

J stepped back, gritting his teeth. This wasn’t over yet.

The werewolf growled again, a tower of flames erupting towards J. Oh fuck—seriously? Magic? He dived out of the way but was pointless. While it hadn’t hit him head on, the forest around him soon went up in flames. Fuck, fuck, why did he come here?

The werewolf chuckled. “Little boy, lost in the woods… are you scared?” it headed towards him, J trapped by the flames behind him. J raised his knife again, hand shaking. He didn’t want to die, not until he remembered who he was.

The werewolf stopped, quirking its head. Its eyes ghosted over his face, now illuminated by the fire. “Wait a minute… I thought your scent seemed familiar, little human.” J couldn’t stop himself from perking up at that. Familiar?  He was desperate for whatever information he could get about himself. Even from a beast that had been trying to kill him.

“It does?” J said without thinking.

The beast cocked his head again. “Hmmm, is that surprising? That’s odd… I wonder, did you come back here to deal with the rest of us, or… I can smell it, my Lord’s curse on you—” The creature stalked closer, teeth bared.

“Curse?” J asked softly, backing up as far as he could. The heat from the flames was hot on his neck, licking at the backs of his feet. He didn’t want to smell any more burned flesh tonight, if he could.

The werewolf chuckled. “Interesting…. Interesting,” it mused, licking at the blood on its claws.

J swallowed, mind racing. He needed to end this before he ended up an unidentifiable corpse. He took an offensive stance. He hadn’t injured the werewolf’s eye much, but perhaps if he gorged them out… But that involved getting close. Getting close meant being in range of those fangs, and he didn’t doubt that the beast was stronger than him. He needed to play this smart.

“There was a prophecy, the witches said—that during the eclipse in 2034, the dark powers of Dracula and his castle would be inherited by someone new… and if you’re that troublesome little brat that I’m thinking of—” the creature chuckled. “Then luck is on our side.”

The werewolf lunged, claws bared. J’s heart stopped, his mind racing desperately, trying to react in time. Why him? He couldn’t fight, he was injured, still weary from the accident, and this creature was massive. He couldn’t run, not without getting burned by the raging fire trapping him. His options where to die by teeth or by flame. Flame… flame. Water puts out flame…

That was right, he had almost forgotten.

His hand flew to his pocket. The moment it hit glass, his arm was raised, throwing the bottle with as much strength as he could muster. Glass shattered over the face of the werewolf, holy water washing over its fur. The beast screamed, blue flames igniting wherever the water touched it, blood dripping from its wounds.

“You bastard--!” the creature cried out, falling to the ground as the flames consumed it, the smell of burning flesh and fur filling the air. J gagged, inching around the werewolf.

“Fuck--!” he said, the beast latching onto his leg. He fell to the ground with a harsh grunt, claws digging into his ankle. “Let go!” he hissed, trying to shake the beast off.

“You… I cannot wait for the day you meet the same fate as Lord Dracula,” the werewolf spoke. “The day you choke on your own blood and join every one of your damned ancestors in hell.” Its grip slackened. J pulled his leg away, wincing. He watched the burning creature closely, now fully consumed by flames, as it slowly stopped breathing.

“What the fuck,” J breathed, his adrenaline fading. Shaking and pale, he sheathed his knife. He’d clean it later… He let out an unsteady breath. “Oh my God.”  J stood up suddenly, head feeling uneasy as he tried to keep his balance.

He felt like he was going to be sick. The burning smell seemed to invade his nose, overtaking his senses and mingling with the scent of blood. His whole body burned, muscles exhausted, his wounds stinging. He coughed, the smoke starting to become overwhelming as the fire spread. He needed to get out of here before he collapsed.

He staggered along the path, gritting his teeth with each step that jostled the cuts on his leg. How was he going to explain this to Crina? Or the hospital in general—could he even afford to go back? J bit down on his lip. What was he going to do—he had no real place to stay and clean up, barely any money… Would Crina take pity on him again?

He hated this, living like this. Unsure of where to go, of who he was. Tired of being alone.

He was close now, to the city—the lights sparkling just outside of the treeline, the sound of cars going by on the highway. So close… Just a little farther.

J’s head found ground yet again, body laid out on soft moss. He needed to stand up, he needed to get help—




He woke up as the sun was rising, the early morning mist around him. The moss under him was soft and dewy, specks of blood dotting the greenery. He could still smell smoke in the air, but for now he was away from the flames. Safe.

J’s vision was bleary. He tried to focus, listening to the movement of insects on the ground, the feet of a deer in the distance. It took him awhile to gather is thoughts, his mind waking up piece by piece. His vision came to, but it wasn’t much help through the fog—the fog clouding his thoughts and the fog around him.

J’s body ached.  His wounds had stopped bleeding during his sleep, at the very least. He could feel the congealed blood around the wounds, sticking his clothes to his skin. 

His muscles screamed in protest as he pushed himself up. He wanted desperately to lay back down, to just let the moss cover his body. It wasn’t like there was anyone who would notice or care he was gone until he was nothing but another skeleton to be found in these cursed woods.

He sighed, shaking those thoughts out of his mind. He needed to focus. First… He needed to get back to town, get some food, and decide on what to do next. And he needed to do something about his injuries. 

J stood up, ignoring how the world around him spun. It hurt, he felt sick… god, this sucked. Slowly, he forced one leg to move forward, movements jerky. He continued like this, slowly finding a limping rhythm as he made his way back.

J’s thoughts raced. He had almost died, hadn’t he? It felt surreal, to think… to think that had been real. But he knew it was. The dried blood caked into his clothing proved that. He had a feeling if he turned around and walked far enough, he could find the burnt husk of a corpse.

He didn’t want to turn around, or even look behind him. These woods were cursed. Death was throughout it, buried into the roots of the earth, radiating from every too-dark shadow.

He swallowed. J only hoped he could make it back to the town without being attacked again.

 As he walked, he considered his options. He had no way to explain this to the hospital and something deep in his gut told him they would not believe the truth. So what were his options? Perhaps he could see if he knew any first aid, since his awful brain loved to tell him about skills he had while he was in the middle of needing them after all.

And then what? He couldn’t say in this town. These woods were awful, and honestly, what even was keeping him here? He had no family, no friends, no job, no identity…. This entire place felt wrong. All he wanted was to be home, but yet he did not know where his home was. Maybe he’d travel, do jobs under the table to get money, try to hunt down his past…

There was more to him than he had first thought. He knew that much. J remembered the werewolves words vividly. Lord Dracula.  A curse. Knowing who he was. His ancestors. J felt a shiver run down his spine. He wondered if most people knew about Dracula, or if his name struck them down with fear like it did with J. He had a feeling the answer to that was No.

And that prophecy that was mentioned—what did it mean, what did he have to do with it? 

J wasn’t sure. But he knew he had to find out. At the very least, he had about 35 years to figure it out. That was plenty of time.




Right?





The walk back to civilization was eerily serene, the world around him ignorant and uncaring of the fact that he had almost died in the night. J was glad it was early in the morning, at least, since it meant there were few people bustling about the town. He really didn’t need the attention his bloodied appearance would bring him. He headed towards the shelter he had been staying in, sneaking in through the back door (apparently he knew how to pick locks, the muscle memory there with him even if he wasn’t sure why he even learned this let alone anything else). 

There was a first aid kit in the staff room he swiped, before he snuck off towards the bathroom to tend to his back. It was then he realized how hard it was going to be to bandage and clean his back on his own, but… he knew he had to do it. Because he was utterly alone.


That evening, with his wounds bandaged and a new jacket on his back, J left the sleepy Romanian town for greener pastures. It was a somber affair, with his only goodbyes being a quick stop at the hospital to thank Crina and the other nurses for their aid. 

“Stay safe, J,” Crina had said, her soft hands clutching his own, blissfully unaware that less than a day ago they had been used to fight a monster. “Okay? And keep hope. No one out there is truly alone, even if you do not find those you used to know, you can always forge new relationships. Take care.”

J took those words to heart, if only because he had very little else to keep him going, to keep him grounded. He didn’t have much at all. Just the single backpack of supplies and some money, but he knew he had to leave. Perhaps, out there, outside of this cursed town, he would find answers.

The whole world was at his fingertips, whether or not it cared about his forgotten memories.

Chapter Text

2034

“Are… are you sure about this?” 

The words hung heavy in the air. J fought back a sigh. He was already regretting having a tag-along. He usually did this alone for a reason. “Yes, kid, I’m sure,” J replied, easily cutting through the thick overgrowth with his machete. “The lil’ beast is a threat to fowl and goats—or your unlucky cows, sure, but us? We’ll be fine. If you’re scared, you can turn around.” 

Despite the sun beginning its descent in the west, the heat was inescapable. The humid air left J’s hair sticking to his forehead. He was considering cutting it all off again—a habit he gained after he left Romania. Growing it out long, then chopping it all off, rinse and repeat every half year.

“It’s easy to get lost here if you aren’t familiar,” his companion, one wiry kid by the name of Jaime, replied. “Very easy.” The chicken nestled in his arms seemed to cluck in agreement.

J didn’t fight the sigh this time. It wasn’t like he had a bad sense of direction. Sure, the forest grew thick and dark here, but he had found himself lost in worse places. 

Jaime’s family had insisted someone come, and they were paying him. He felt like he couldn’t refuse when the task wasn’t even dangerous—in his eyes, anyways. So, J had relented to an escort—even if that escort was a teen who hadn’t quite grown into his limbs yet. “Right, thanks. We’ll find your little troublemaker soon enough.”

“I hope so,” Jaime replied. 

Silence settled over them, only slightly more comfortable than the sweltering air. Even the chicken didn’t seem to be one for small talk. They continued through the thick overgrowth, the mountains of Puerto Rico looming over them—watching them, as the shadows grew long and dark. 

The sun had begun to kiss the horizon when Jaime spoke up again. “Is this something,” he hesitated before finding his voice once more, “...that you do often?” 

“Guys gotta eat, right?” J replied. They were both speaking English; an interesting experience when neither spoke it natively and both had strong accents. It left them pausing often as they parsed each other’s words. This wasn’t anything new to J, though. “Not purposely,” he clarified, “I mostly just travel around, and stumble into things like this. Sometimes I’m paid, sometimes I just do it anyways.”

“So, you just, go around and fight monsters? Is there that many?” Jaime asked, glancing around. The shadows were stretched long in the sinking light. Jaime eyed them warily, tense as the chatter of animals picked up for a moment. 

“Not as many as it sounds. A lot of the time I’m really just taking in the sights and doing odd jobs,” J explained, coming to a stop in a clearing. “But trouble has a habit of finding me, so I’ve definitely dealt with my fair share of the supernatural.”

Jaime stopped behind him, nearly ramming J over. Still spooked by the prospect of monsters in the dark. “I see… I just never thought—” 

“Shhh.” J pressed a finger to his mouth. He crouched down, motioning for Jaime to do the same—quietly. “I sense it. It’s nearby,” J whispered. His hands gripped the bag he wore; its weight, the feeling of metal digging into his back, his knife strapped to it—all a reminder of why he was here. 

Jaime frowned. His eyes moved around wildly, trying to take in each and every detail of the area without moving a single muscle. A breeze rustled the thick canopy of trees, mixing with the cries of the birds that called the El Yunque forest their home. Jaime’s chicken, one beautiful brown hen named Rosa, clucked along with them. Jaime was rather fond of the creature—and the whole coup they had back home, even though his family were cattle farmers by trade. 

A sharp crack resounded through the forest, the crunching of plants accompanying it. Jaime tensed behind J, nearly jumping out of his skin when several parrots took the sky. Their cries sounded almost indignant; startled, by J’s prey. 

J stayed stock still. He had been like Jaime, once; tense and jumpy at every little sound. Now? Now, he had years of experience behind him—try as he might, he really did have a bad habit of finding himself in supernatural messes. Perhaps the monsters of the night were attracted to him, like a magnet to iron. Perhaps it was just bad luck. Over time, J had gotten used to it; taken advantage of it, even. After all, despite being in his fifties now, he was in many ways still that lost young man who had awoken in a hospital one cold September day, just trying to survive in a world that was a stranger to him. 

Rustling kept J’s attention on the trees. There—between the thick leaves, about a foot from the ground: the gleam of an eye suited for hunting at night. With the sun getting ever lower in the sky, the creature was preparing for the hunt to come. Cautiously, a blue-gray head poked out of the foliage, hairless and wrinkly.

“Chupacabra,” Jaime breathed. 

“And now we just have to catch it,” J said, grabbing the trap off his back. He moved with a practiced grace. “We’ll need Rosa for this.”

“Will she be okay?” Jaime asked, clutching his bird closer. Rosa just clicked in response, clearly used to being manhandled like this.

“Yes, I promise.” J lowered the trap gingerly to the ground. His movements were careful, calculated—too much sound and they’d scare off their target. 

Said target was making its way out of the foliage, unaware of the predators lurking nearby.

The creature was thin, all leathery skin and sinewy muscle. It was canid in appearance, in that slightly wrong way a greyhound was. Its long snout pulled back to reveal uneven fangs—they gave J a rather amusing image of a vampire with braces, for whatever reason. The creature moved with a surprising amount of grace, padding carefully along the ground, claws digging into the soft dirt. Its back was arched high, almost unnaturally so, the spinous processes easily visible just under the skin, along its tail.

J’s eyes never left the Chupacabra for a second. 

“I thought it was supposed to be a reptile?” Jaime murmured. 

“Cryptid reports aren’t always concise and reliable,” J admitted, giving a shrug. “Especially if they don’t get a good look at it.” He set the trap up without even a glance to his hands, moving with an ease only experience could give. 

“What if it smells us?” Jaime asked, placing Rosa into the metal trap. There would be metal between her and the Chupacabra, though J knew it wouldn’t deter the creature. If fences were able to stop the Chupacabra from getting its meal, Jaime’s family wouldn’t have needed help in the first place. 

“That might be good, actually. If it’s hunting around your farm, it might associate the scent of humans with food,” J explained. He grabbed onto Jaime’s arm, grip gentle on the boy’s wrist as they backed farther into the treeline. 

The forest was awash in a dull blue, twilight all but finished. The Chupacabra seemed to disappear, blending into the dark. Even straining J eyes, he struggled to pick it out from the scenery. J didn’t dare create any light—it could scare the nocturnal creature—so he had to rely on his ears.

The padding of paws across the dirt and grass. Closer, now, but featherlight. The stride of a creature used to moving in the dark, used to taking it slow and quiet as to not wake its kill. 

Rosa clucked. Next—rustling feathers as she settled into her cage. Diurnal birds liked to sleep as soon as it got dark, after all.

J waited with bated breath. He could practically hear Jaime’s heart thudding beside him, but he paid it no heed. 

The cry of an animal—a yelp that could perhaps belong to a dog, but a bat-like edge. Metal hit metal—the slamming of the trap door. Victory. 

J was on his feet in one easy movement. He fished a flashlight out of his pocket, shining it on the live trap—revealing the glint of the creature's dark eyes. It growled, gnawing on the metal bars, feet clawing at the dirt as it tried to escape, get to its meal, anything. 

J removed Rosa, leaving the Chupacabra to its fate. It snarled at him, making a swipe with its claws. J paid it no mind, as he returned the sleeping hen to Jaime’s arms. 

“So… now we kill it?” Jaime asked, voice soft, staring down at the snarling animal. He didn’t dare get too close, but J recognised that curious glint in his eyes. It was only fair—not many people got to be this close to a Chupacabra, rare as they were—even if the creature had been harassing livestock for months. 

“No,” J replied. He grabbed onto the handle of the trap, ignoring the hisses from inside. He began to head towards the forest once more, flashlight clasped tight in his other hand. The Chupacabra struggled against its confinement, but J paid it no mind. Even if it escaped—which he doubted—he still had his knife and machete strapped to him. 

“No?” Jaime repeated. He followed J, fumbling to turn on his own light. “But that thing has been killing our livestock! It’s a monster, right?” Jaime skidded to a stop in front of J. He stared J down, warm brown eyes meeting J’s own. The Chupacabra whined as it curled up, away from Jaime’s light.

“It’s true that it has been causing you trouble,” J said. He spoke slowly, softly, trying to choose his words carefully. “But it’s no monster.”

“What?” Jaime snapped, eyeing the creature for a moment.  They were a lot alike, Jaime and the Chupacabra—a bundle of nerves.  J had a feeling the darkness settling over them like a blanket was not helping. “How is that not a monster? It’s evil, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s not,” J said, side stepping around Jaime to push farther up the mountain. “For something to be truly evil, it has to know right from wrong. The Chupacabra is an animal; it has no concept of morality, or evilness, or even the troubles it’s causing you. It’s just an animal, not a monster, and nothing more.”

Jaime was silent. If it weren’t for the sounds of his footsteps or the bobbing of his light, J wouldn’t have realised the boy was still walking with him. “...then why help?”

“Because animals can still be dangerous and cause problems,” Julius explained. “You don’t have to be evil for that to be true. Like with any animal, I’m taking it someplace to release it where it can’t cause harm.” He adjusted his grip on the cage. The creature was silent now, accepting its fate for the time being. 

“Will that keep it away?” Jaime asked. He pressed Rosa closer to his chest, feeling her little heart beating alongside his own.

“It should, hopefully, if it’s in a good spot far enough away. Chupacabra are like vampire bats; they need to eat every night or else they die, as blood is not really nutritional,” J continued. “As a result, they tend to favour livestock; they’re confined to the same place every night. It’s a guaranteed meal. And much like those bats, they do not mean any harm; they’re just trying to survive, unaware their kills affect the lives of humans, unaware that they can spread disease.” 

Jaime mulled over his words. “I’m sorry,” he began. “I didn’t mean to come off so trigger happy.”

“It’s fine, Jaime,” J said, surveying the area. They had scaled some of the mountain. The tree range made it too hard to tell how far away they were from civilization, however.

 Were they far enough away? Julius would just have to hope. “You have your reasons for it. I guess I’m just a little soft. I’ve learned, after all my years, not to assume the worst of the night and all her offspring.” He paused. “If it returns, you may have to kill it, like it any pest, but for now…”

“It’s an innocent creature, technically. It’s just trying to live,” Jaime finished.

“But don’t worry if this sort of empathy is hard for you,” J assured. “Perhaps one day I’ll be the idiot for having sympathy for the wolves—the very same uncaring as they devour me.” 

Jaime made a strangled sound at that. “Dark, much?” 

“I don’t have the best sense of humour, I suppose,” J chuckled. 

 He sat the trap down onto the soft earth. “I’d say we’re in the national park by now. This might be a good spot for it—away from farms. Lots of wildlife. And there’s probably already more hiding around—likely even some from the same litter—so we’re not likely to upset the ecosystem.”

Jaime stepped back, putting J between him and the creature. J removed his machete from his side, using it to lift the door of the trap—no point in risking a bite, that was just asking for an infection. The Chupacabra bolted out, snarling at its assailants as it disappeared into the dark The sounds echoed, before disappearing, lost to the forest chatter.

J sheathed his machete.  He went to work on packing the trap up, his light laying half haphazardly on a slope. Jaime looked around warily, before his eyes rested upon J’s back.

“What about monsters—ones that do know right from wrong?” Jaime asked.

J paused, hand hovering over his work. “What about them?” he parroted. 

“Would you have killed them?” 

“Yes, if I felt like it was the only way,” J answered, as he finished packing. “The thing is… the term monster may sound negative, but the reality is—is, well, that they’re still living creatures like you or me. They’re not inherently more capable of cruelty or kindness than anyone else. It… was a hard lesson to learn, but it’s one I’ve carried with me.”

J climbed to his feet; the trap slung around his shoulders.

“...thank you,” Jaime said. His hands threaded into Rosa’s feathers. “You’re an interesting man, J. Let’s head back, I’m sure my mother will love to have you for a late dinner, as an extra thanks for everything.”

J gave a small smile. They began the long walk back to Jaime’s farm. “I wouldn’t want to intrude, but… if you’ll have me. I can’t stay long, though. I have an important plane to catch tomorrow.”

“A plane? To where?” Jaime asked, blinking owlishly at J. 

J grinned. “To Japan.”


Travelling on fake visas and passports made him nervous.

For the most part, he lived a normal life—or as normal of a life as an amnesiac traveler could be. Never staying in one place, learning new things, and meeting new faces. J searched desperately for an answer to who he was, chasing any lead he caught wind of. 

Once those winds died down to nothing, he worked on focusing on the future—on finding a place for himself now, in his new life.

Settling down never worked. J felt restless before long, so travel was his way of life. Having no real identity caused issues, but nothing some under the counter work and a few favours from shady people couldn’t fix.

Getting into Japan had been nerve-wracking—American airport security was tight, and he worried they had realised his passport was fake. The anxiety of being caught stayed with him even as he sat staring out the airplane window, clouds racing by, the ocean nothing but blue stretching for miles below.

J had already lost around 20 years of his life to the void that took the place of his memory, and he didn’t fancy losing anymore to jail time. Customs in Japan was a breeze, at least. 

Japan was beautiful, as were many of the places he had traveled. J seared each place he visited into his memory, clinging to them for dear life. He feared forgetting more than anything—more than Dracula—and all J wanted was to remember every detail of the life he had spent years carving out for himself since awaking in that hospital.

The eclipse was still far away—over a year—but he supposed that merely gave him time to work on his Japanese. Long international flights were not a good place to brush up on it, he had learned. First, though, he needed a place to stay.

“Well,” J murmured to himself, “time to get to work.”

He just hoped that whatever waited for him on that day was good. He didn’t fancy losing any more of his memories.


The sun rose that day like any other. J rose with it. Such a thing was uncharacteristic for him. Oh, he had seen his share of sunrises—usually in the context of being up after a long night.

He couldn’t sleep. The eclipse was today—and culmination of the last thirty-five years of his entire known life. What would it bring? Answers, questions, sorrow, happiness? Anything at all? Or would it just be another page in his notebook, an unremarkable footnote in a life full of the supernatural? 

J’s eyes lingered on his battered leather-bound book. It carried everything he had learned since he had woken up on the fateful fall day in Romania. It was his only reminder that he was real, he existed—and was a backup plan if he somehow were to experience amnesia again. At least then he’d have his own ramblings to turn for answers instead of being a lost babe in the woods once more.

He was getting too old for that to be as nearly as pitiable. 

J grunted as he heaved himself out of bed. He knew there was no way he was going to fall back asleep anytime soon. It was time to prepare for the unknown. 


Dracula.

The world was in darkness, the sun blotted out by the moon. Julius felt a wave of fear roll over him, something important just out of reach from his mind. He swallowed thickly. The shrine was still a world away—but it was the best vantage point to see the eclipse. He needed to make it to the top—fast. Time was dwindling. If he missed this window, then it had all been for naught. He’d die without ever knowing anything—about himself, about the prophecy. 

About Dracula.

He didn’t need to worry. He reached the top in a blink. His breath caught in his throat. Dracula’s castle loomed over him, familiar and foreign all at once. 

That name still sent shivers down his spine whenever he thought about it. His stomach churned, warning him to stay away. But J knew he couldn’t; not only in hopes to stop the prophecy, to stop… to stop what? A threat that chilled him to the bone for reasons unknown?

Whatever. He’d had a job to do, and he was going to do it, reason be damned. He had to have some sort of connection to Dracula, after all—the werewolf all those years ago had known him, had connected him to its supposed dark lord.

It was one of the few hints to his past life he had. Dracula was likely the reason for his amnesia, and that thought scared him as much as it thrilled him. Maybe, maybe he’d get his memories back. Maybe, maybe, he’d lose even more.

Or maybe nothing would happen, and he’d be as lost as he always had been, just like every other supernatural encounter before.

After all, who was to say he was to run to Dracula? The prophecy spoke of someone inheriting his powers, so it was possible Dracula was no more—or would soon not be. 

But he had hope. Hope had been his one companion since he awoke in 1999. It wasn’t about to leave him now. There was one thing he was sure of: he wasn’t going into the maw of the monster alone.


J had found out, not long after that fateful night under the full moon, that he was magic. It had been bitterly funny, finding that out after having almost perished at the hands of a werewolf capable of similar feats. He couldn’t do much, admittedly, but that magic still hummed under his skin, there to reach for whenever he wanted. It was useful in combat and not much else. 

There was one perk, however. It allowed him to feel out a connection to other magical beings, human or not. A lighthouse in a storm, illuminating what was around him to make out a simple shape. Feelings, intentions, the general ‘type’; not much gained, but enough to help with any battle plans. 

In the castle, it was suffocating. There were magical creatures aplenty—most drowning in a dark power, black and inky, telling only of bloodlust and a want to serve their dark lord. There were differences between them; some more earthy, some just a little left of human, others like sea salt or incense. Some far worse. He didn’t like to dwell.

There were a handful that stood out—blazing against the backdrop.

Two dark spots moved on a mission—not roaming monsters, but maybe people vying for the power of Dracula. On the front steps, outside—a figure at first glance that seemed to be serene, sweet, but held the power of the sun just below the surface. Another person—powerful, a swirl of the arcane without any taint of darkness. 

Then there was the one he couldn’t pinpoint. Gold mixing with black; something that seemed almost at war, blood mingled with witch hazel. There was a familiarity to it, one he couldn’t place—but he hoped it was good. After all, hadn’t Crina assured him he couldn’t be completely without people from his old life?

 Maybe he’d finally get a true answer to that. 

Oh, and he was pretty sure there was someone there with no magic whatsoever. It was a guess. The downside was that if someone had no connection to any magic or magical energies, he was blind to their presence.

It had felt odd going straight through the front door but really: what else did he have to lose? 

 

(everything, and yet, nothing)


Dracula’s castle was huge.  That wasn’t a surprise. The monsters infesting its halls weren’t either. Even the fact that it carried an odd familiarity wasn’t all that big of a deal to him. These things were to be expected.

The fact that it was a maze that made no damn sense, however, was a shock. 

How the hell was anyone supposed to live here? Let alone Dracula and his legion of monsters? No wonder they were wandering like lost souls without a leader; they probably were lost. 

J had passed what felt like the eighth identical painting in the dance hall when he felt it—when it chilled him to the core. A presence. Someone —someone strong. Friend, or foe? J had weapons on him regardless. (How good would they be against Dracula, though?)

He stayed still at the foot of a short staircase. The baroque designs of the hallway would have been breathtaking, if he wasn’t already suffocating on the dark magic of the castle that invaded his senses. 

Before him—a boy. A child. What?

The young man was ethereal, short hair a stark white, matching the fur on his jacket. The rest of his outfit was basic—black turtleneck, blue jeans.  Japanese, likely.  But it wasn’t his odd looks that caught J off guard. Or even his age.

It was the sense of dread that constricted J’s chest, the dark energy coming off the child in waves. One of the dark spots, like cigarette burns on a map, that he had sensed. 

There was something off about this child. Something that pawed at the edge of his memories.

The prophecy rang through J’s head, as it often liked to do; it was a future that had haunted him his entire life.

The boy was running towards him—yet to notice J.

He didn’t look dangerous, but J knew better to jump to conclusions. There was no point in tact; not with the prophecy weighing heavy on his shoulders. “Strange,” he began, watching the boy jump in surprise, sword in hand, looking like a frightened cat. “I sense a dark power within you. Who are you?” He spoke in Japanese, accented but passable.

J liked to think of himself as an ‘ask questions first, fight later’ kind of guy. Perhaps it was stupid, but it hadn’t killed him.

Yet.

Mistakes in the past—being both too trusting and not trusting enough—stayed with him, heavy on his conscious. J also had to grapple with that little voice in his head, the very same one that loved to give him vague advice too little too late—telling him that not all creatures of the night were inherently vile. 

(J liked to call that voice Before J—before, as in before his amnesia. Before J knew many things that he did not and wasn’t good at conveying these things. 

Before J was also a total asshole). 

The boy huffed, puffing up like an owl as he spoke. “It’s rude to ask questions before introducing yourself.” The fur on his jacket was to make him look bigger, apparently.  

J couldn’t help but snort. Lively punk, at least. But why was he here? Trapped civilians didn’t carry swords like they were born wielding one. “Yeah, you’re right. People call me J.” 

The boy’s stance relaxed; his sword sheathed.  “People call you J?” He repeated, gazing at J with an incredulous look, one eyebrow raised. “Why hide your real name? Are you a criminal?” The kid kept his hand on his sword, grip tight enough to turn his knuckles white. Impressive—because J was pretty sure he has never met any one so pale. It was like someone had given life to the white rabbit in the moon.

J leaned against the wall, ignoring the dig of the side panelling, eyes closed for a moment. J could lie, he knew, or avoid the question. But what did he have to lose, anymore than the risk that this damned castle came with? “No,” J said, voice serious. “I suffer from amnesia. I was told I was in an accident in 1999—when I awoke in the hospital, I had forgotten everything. My name, my past. All gone.”

The kid stared, in surprise rather than distrust. His hand left his weapon. “Oh,” he said, voice small. “I see. I’m sorry for pushing. I’m Soma.” The tension in his body melted away.

Soma… Soma. Genuine something—blue perhaps, or the sound of the wind. It depended on the characters used. It was an interesting name. He had met someone in India, around Calcutta, with that name once.

(He wasn’t sure why he cared about the meaning, really, except for a distant voice that told him about the power of names. Or perhaps it was easy to cling to the meaning of others when you yourself had no real name to call your own.) 

J watched Soma closely, taking him in. He couldn’t shake the feeling from before, dread mixing with a sense of déjà vu.

The latter scared him the most.

“Your dark power,” J pressed, “were you born with it?”

Soma frowned—a small quirk of his lips, really. “I don’t really know,” he admitted with a shrug of the shoulders. “I… I first noticed it when I entered this castle.”

J’s face softened. Maybe he was being too on guard. This was probably some poor child cursed with magic who had gotten tangled in Dracula’s web by mistake. “I see.” He stared at the scars on his hands for a moment. “I guess I was mistaken.” Not a threat; not an old face (Soma was too young anyways, for J to have met him before his amnesia).

Soma stepped closer; his head titled. “Mr. J, why are here? In this castle, I mean?” 

“Just call me J, kid,” J chuckled. He knew it was probably natural for Soma to default to -san; in his experience the Japanese people he had met were all very polite, favoring formal language. If he had a surname, he was sure Soma would be using it now—something he never really had gotten used to over the last year. He had never considered having a family name, at least not one he used more than once. It felt wrong—wrong in a way that got under his skin.

The mirth was short lived. “Honestly…” J said, rubbing at his facial hair. “Fear. It’s fear. Every time I hear that name, Dracula, I get filled with this sense of panicked urgency. Like I need to do something, like my adrenaline is spiking. And of course, because of the prophecy, do you know what one I mean?”

Soma nodded. Someone must have told him too. It seemed more people knew of it than he had assumed. He was used to being alone, after all, even when it came to the supernatural. 

People here, all because of a prophecy he had first heard 35 years ago… but was that good? Were they here to stop it, or ensure it came to pass?

“...I also hoped perhaps my memory would return,” J admitted, sighing softly. “Since my arrival, I’ve felt like something is scratching at my brain, trying to break through, but it’s just there, just out of reach….”

Soma nodded, listening intently. “And your accident? That was in 1999, right? Do you think… maybe Dracula was involved?”

“I fear that might be the case,” J replied, running a hand through his ponytail. He wasn’t sure of the significance of the date with Dracula, but it seemed likely. “Especially since, like you, I have magical powers. I feel like that might be what connects most of the people here. In all my travels, I’ve never ran into so many people with magic in one place, not even with other paranormal monsters and events.”

Soma made a face, thinking for a moment. He showed his emotions on his sleeve, J noted. “Are you an exorcist or something?” 

“Well, you might say that, but I work for only myself. No church, no shady cult,” J said. It hadn’t stopped people from trying to recruit him anyways though. In the distance, a clock chimed, echoing through the winding halls. Right—he was wasting time. “...I should go. I’m sure we’ll met again, Soma.”

J gave the boy a lazy salute as he turned to go back the way he came. Maybe he had taken a wrong turn because he was pretty sure he had seen the painting Soma stood beside already.

“Yeah! See ya!” Soma replied, waving excitedly.  He was so young. And so human. But why couldn’t J shake the feeling that something about the kid was wrong

Maybe the castle would have answers. He only hoped he wasn’t walking into a bloodbath.


“Goddamn cats,” J hissed. He angrily bandaged his fingers. He definitely was not pouting, thank you.

He hated cats, he decided. Or at least ones that were also witch’s familiars. They were more annoying than the witches themselves (Wait, when had he ever met a witch? …perhaps not this lifetime.)

Ugh! It stung, bad, likely infected with bacteria already. Nasty little—

Something—someone—chuckled at his grumbling. J’s heart jumped into his throat. He had thought he was alone. He felt it now—another ink blot soul, this one like a void; a reflection of Soma’s in some ways, yet so different in others.

J stood up straight. Right—he needed to be on guard. This place was dangerous—it wasn’t just cats he had to worry about. The sound had come from the floor below him. He draped his hands over the railing, glancing down from the dark hallway he had was in, to the foyer illuminated by chandelier light below. 

“They can be quite nasty, can’t they?” the voice continued. It was a man—much like Soma, he was clad in bone white. 

“Can’t they ever; be better if the cuts didn’t get infected so easily,” J agreed, trying to hide his discomfort. Even if someone looked human, it didn’t mean they were. But Soma had been nice, despite his dark magic; this man, clean cut with his suit and tie, could be the same.

The man gave a good-natured laugh. J felt himself relaxing, ever so slightly; that chilling edge the first chuckle had seemed to be gone. Damn paranoia. 

“Are you here by mistake as well, like that boy Soma?” the man asked. “Ah, right—my name is Graham. I’m a missionary.” 

A missionary? From the Church? Maybe J had been jumping to conclusions too easily. He supposed it made sense that they had sent someone to defeat Dracula. The Church had bothered him enough after all. Wanting him to help them fight for the greater good, or God, or whatever—but J had never been interested. He’d rather handle this himself. 

God hadn’t been there for him when he lost his memories.

“No. I came here to find something out. I’m J, by the way,” J said. He moved to the stairs, grabbing the candelabra he had been using. The floor he was on was enchanted, cloaked in a nearly inescapable darkness. It was like it was swallowing up the light before it could penetrate it too far. Yet, it stayed stationary in the hall, not even a shadow spilling into the foyer below. Probably connected to the coven the cats belonged too—but it made noticing them in the darkness a bitch. 

J made his way for the stairs. He missed having light.

“I see. This place is full of secrets,” Graham said. “I came here for a similar reason. You know of the prophecy, correct?” The light from the foyer haloed around him. J almost felt jealous—he had been stumbling in the dark for far too long.

“Yes,” J sad, taking the steps slow. He’d rather not miss a step—he wasn’t in the mood for some more burn scars. The light of the chandelier—untouched by whatever spell he had been suffering in—seemed to warm his very bones.  “I am. I’m interested in seeing how that plays out myself.” 

Graham turned to face him; likely he had been struggling to follow J’s voice, lost in the inky blackness of the spell. “I—” Graham cut himself off with a strangled sound as his eyes met J’s. The man blanched, slowly taking a few steps back. “You—” he began, voice a mix of fear and venom.

Graham ran.

J stood there. His hand still gripped the candelabra. What the hell? 


It was official. His true enemy wasn’t Dracula—it was his fucking castle. Who built a castle like this?! “I’m going to burn this place to the ground,” J muttered. “Again.”

Again?

He couldn’t say he disliked the faint memories that had been nestling in his head as he wandered, but he wished they didn’t paint the picture of such a violent life. (Then again, he had been a scrappy kid, hadn’t he?)


J stumbled, feet catching on the uneven stone below him. The world around him spun, a mix of colours and auras. He felt like he was drowning in nothing, miasma filling his throat and cutting off all air. 

He fell to his knees. The pain was background noise to the buzzing in his head. He felt like… like he was experiencing an entire lifetime again,  images and words flashing through his mind at a rapid pace. He shivered, his skin feeling cold and clammy as his mind raced to make sense of things, to bring him back to reality. 

Something solid was against his back. A stone pillar, he managed to make out, as he leaned his full weight against it. At least he didn’t feel like he was going to keel over anymore. His head felt like it was stuffed with cotton.

“J?” came a voice, breaking through the dreamlike state of his mind. “Are you okay? You look pale…” 

J took in a deep breath, trying to configure his thoughts for just a moment. “Don’t worry,” he said, pressing the palm of his hands against his eyes for a moment. “Just… my memories. It felt like they had come flooding back. I just. Need a moment, to make sense of this all.”

“What?!” Soma. He had the clarity to know that it was Soma. That was good. Improvement was good. Now if only he could form some coherent thoughts.

The older man swallowed, his mouth feeling dry as everything finally began to fall into place. His worries returned in full force.  Now… now he was not just a letter, a wanderer—he was Julius Belmont, the last living member of the Belmont family that had fought Dracula for a millennium. 

Julius staggered to his feet. 

He turned, facing Soma finally, as he spoke, “Dark powers triggered their return.” Maybe yours went unspoken. “And, like I had guessed, I have quite an extensive history with Dracula.” Ha—that was putting it lightly. He had been raised to fight the man.

Soma sobered at his words, a serious look in his eyes; he understood the gravity of Julius’s words. “I had a feeling.”

“My real name,” he began, “is Julius. Julius Belmont.” It felt foreign on his tongue, his name clashing with Japanese that spilled out of his mouth, but yet. Yet—they felt so right. After so many years of living life alone, it was odd to have a name, a history—a family. But it felt so natural to call himself Julius, to think of the family he had adored and grew up with. “My family… we’ve fought against Dracula for ages.” 

Soma titled his head, staring into Julius’s very soul with sharp eyes. “...so then… the person who killed Dracula in 1999 was…”

“Yes,” Julius breathed, and for a moment, he felt like he was there, like he was back in the castle in 1999, fighting for his life—fighting against the flames, the rock monsters, and Dracula himself. What a monster he had been, corrupted so heavily by years of vile hatred. “Yes, it was me. But,” he paused, sadness gripping at his chest. “There were others who assisted me.” His parents. His siblings. His family, his friends—most of them likely gone now. Some he knew were dead for sure. None close enough to find him, or perhaps repelled by the very same curse that left him without an identity. 

There were survivors other than him, he knew. But he wasn’t sure if it was anyone he had been close to—except—

Alucard.

Alucard… was he okay? Had—wait, that presence he had felt, black magic, just slight off, like a reflection on an imperfect surface. It had been him, hadn’t it? Alucard was here. That man, with the long dark hair… something about him had given Julius chills, and now he knew why: with his hair dark like that, Alucard looked so much like a younger Dracula, instead of resembling his mother. They would have to talk when this was over.

When this was over, ha! Even after all this, after living an entire life without knowing who he was, he was ever the optimist. 

“So,” Soma began, snapping Julius out of his thoughts once more. “If Dracula is revived again, just as it is written—”

“Then,” Julius cut in, a dark edge to his voice. “I end him.”

If Soma was bothered by the change in tone, he didn’t show it. “You haven’t met a man named Graham yet, have you?” he asked. He wrung his hands nervously.

Julius nodded. “The missionary, right? We met a little while ago. Talked from afar, but when he saw my face, he turned and ran.” Julius still didn’t understand why. Even with his memories back, the man was a stranger.

“He told me he was Dracula,” Soma said. 

Ah. That explained it. He had known he was a Belmont. Still, it wasn’t adding up quite right—

“I did sense dark powers at work within him, but,” Julius began, “it’s difficult to believe that he’s Dracula. Rather, I think…” He trailed off, tapping his chin with the side of his fist as he thought. He looked at Soma, eyes intent, taking in every detail of the boy. 

He had a bad feeling about him. The power that seemed to radiate off the child… Not only intense, it spoke of a connection to dark magic that Julius had never seen in another being before. And worse still, it had a familiarity he just could not shake. It was a bad omen, but one he couldn’t pin down. 

Considering his past with Dracula, it painted a rather unsettling picture. Graham did not carry that same raw power, that mingling with the souls of monsters, that twisted feeling of déjà vu. 

Soma did.

Julius didn’t like the explanation his brain suggested. But the signs were there, weren’t they? And Soma was the first he had met, as if drawn to him by fate. The Belmont family’s fate had always been intertwined with Dracula’s after all, like a twisted red string. 

Yet, as he looked closer… all he saw was a young adult who had never hurt a soul, not until the eclipse. To describe Soma would be to describe abstract art; a swirl of colours and magics, souls in a hurricane, the eye of the storm a blue-white light—purity, innocence, similar to the feeling that some of the other benevolent magic user gave him. It was calming.

Was he overthinking this? Here he was, with a man claiming to be Dracula already, who was clearly familiar with him and afraid of him… and yet, yet, he was doubting that, wondering if the kind, overly trusting child in front of him could be the real threat. 

Maybe he was getting too old for this. Maybe he was becoming paranoid after all these years. Perhaps, after this was over, he would retire.

“No, forget it,” Julius finished. His hand dropped to his side. “It’s nothing more than a hunch.” Instinctively, he went to grab his whip’s handle.

It wasn’t there.

Ah. Right. He had nearly forgotten.

“Huh?” Soma said, unaware of the currents of Julius’s thoughts.

“Assuming that he is Dracula,” Julius replied, switching the subject. “I won’t be able to kill him just yet.”

“Why not?” Soma asked, crossing his arms. He gave Julius a dubious look, just a hint of worry under the surface.

Julius’s fingers twitched. He wasn’t bad with knives, but they had always felt wrong. Now he remembered why. “I need my weapon.”

“Weapon?” Soma echoed.

“A whip—the Vampire Killer—it’s an old family heirloom given to me. It was in the hand’s of family friends once, but they trusted me with it again. It should be here still, sealed away to weaken the magic of the castle.” He had tried to plan ahead—planned for the chance of his own death. Julius hadn’t realised Dracula had wanted him to suffer instead.

“So… it’s a good thing it’s in the castle already, I suppose, but this place is like a maze…” Soma remarked. Julius’s lips twitched. Oh, he knew. He knew.

“The castle is magical; it changes, has almost a mind of its own,” Julius said, like he had recited that fact a million times.  “Regardless, I know exactly where the whip is, so I need to make my leave to retrieve it.”

Soma stood straight. “Right. Good luck. I need to find Graham.”

Julius gave a nod. “Farewell for now,” he said. “And pray that my hunch proves to be wrong.”

He left swiftly, not wanting to see the confused, innocent look that was sure to be on Soma’s face. It would only make things harder if his fears turned true. 


Finding the Vampire Killer had not been hard. He remembered exactly where it was. There was a single pro to losing one’s memories to a curse, he supposed—once they were returned, they were as fresh as the day he had lost them. Julius didn’t have to worry about the years wearing down on them, didn’t have to worry about misremembering after years of the memory changing ever so slightly. 

It also made navigating the castle so much easier—no more guessing or half formed memories to guide him, but an easily visualized map sitting happily in his mind’s eye. Easier, even as he made his way through the dark waters, adapting to any subtle changes in layout.

He had to do some heavy backtracking to get to his weapon—it was nestled by an angel statue deep within the castle. At least it gave him time to think, to go over his memories and make peace with them one by one.

It was easier to accept the deaths of the people he once loved when he hadn’t remembered their faces for over 30 years. 

It didn’t make him miss them any less.