~= IV =~
Sometimes, despite Walters supervised cleaning maids scrubbing their brushes bald, a dank, old smell lingered in the lower levels of the Hellsing mansion. It wove in and out of other more savoury scents; the flowers the elderly retainer sometimes left in her room while she was sleeping; her perfume; Master’s cologne; gun oil and ozone. It was especially strong in the older areas of the dungeons and cellars where neither her, her master or Walter ever really frequented.
Places like the lower levels of the keep, where the stones were much more worn and the mortar between them sunken and green. The walls were almost sweating damp; she was so low in Hellsing’s underbelly. Somewhere unseen, liquid was dripping, and Seras made note to inform Walter about it. After all that had happened in the manor with the Valentine brothers, water damage going unchecked and weakening foundations with all the rebuilding going on above could be dangerous.
And she was thinking too much again.
It was exactly why she had taken the walk in Hellsing’s bowels to begin with. She needed to lose the frustration that gnawed at her since leaving her room at sundown; the annoyance that only rose when Fergusson had given her the order to stand down and take a holiday, and walking and exploring the dark, hidden parts of her current home seemed like the best way to distract herself from it. She should be thinking not on how to fix the place she was living in – there was other people who got paid for doing that. Her job, as of two hours ago, was to fix herself. Or rather her attitude, to be more precise, and that was undoubtedly Fergusson’s main concern when he dressed her down earlier with that voice that toiled like restrained thunder.
She was having trouble seeing what was wrong with her, though. Sure, she had a bit of a hair-trigger as of the last few weeks, but considering all that had happened she felt that she was justified in being a little on edge. And her uniform was a problem; it was difficult to run in, to kick in, and it caused no end of teasing amongst the troops. Especially the new ones who as of yet had not learnt that she was not available for dating. She was drinking her blood, though it was sparingly and with a cringe on her face she considered might be permanent. And she wasn’t shirking in any of her duties. She might have been clinging stubbornly to her humanity – spiritually and mentally if not physically – and it might have been bothering her master, but it certainly wasn’t causing any harm. It wasn’t like she was getting confused or unable to differentiate between Human and monster. It was just, when sighting down a rifle or Halconnen at a ghoul or a Freak, and realising that, _hey, you’re a monster like them_, and then having to squeeze that trigger… it sometimes made it difficult to justify herself, despite her master’s adamant declarations that Freaks and ghouls were the lowest form of muck on the planet. She couldn’t help but wonder what that made her. More than shit, obviously, but how much more? How long would it be before someone was putting her in place of the ghoul or Freak and squeezing that trigger to blow her into dust? Would Master care? Would anyone care? Or would it just be another monster taken care of. What was its name again? You know, Alucard’s fledgling?
And there was the crux of the problem.
Seras stopped short, standing still in the dark narrow corridor, one hand pressed to the damp stones and the other limply clasping an unused torch.
She had lost her identity. Seras Victoria was dead.
Undead, an inner voice that sounded surprisingly like her master replied.
Dead, she corrected. She was dead. Deader than a doornail, dead. Although doornails were never alive to begin with.
What the hell was _un_dead, anyway? Dead to start with and then not? Did she die when her master took her blood, and then was resurrected by some voodoo combination of her virginity and his spit?
And yet there she was. A facsimile of herself, but with fangs, red eyes, unnatural strength and a voracious appetite for blood. Seras Victoria the Human was dead, and Seras Victoria the vampire stood in her place, using her voice and thinking her thoughts, but with some perverted, dissonant Id that had some serious bloodlust issues lurking in the back of her mind like an independent virus. She couldn’t even say that she was forced into her current existence. She had been asked and she had answered. She made the choice and now she had to live with it, as it were. And she wasn’t. Seras felt her eyes widen. She wasn’t really dealing with it at all.
Fergusson was right. She needed a vacation.
She needed to get away, to think about everything that had happened since that life-changing decision in Cheddar. But where could she go? Fergusson said that it was her choice, but was there anywhere really safe, or safe enough, for a fledgling Draculina to go? Nowhere near Italy, she would be insane and would do herself in just on the principle alone if she ventured anywhere near the Vatican stronghold. France? America? Asia? Africa? Closer to home, maybe. Scotland?
Seras resumed her walking as she mulled destinations over in her head, weighing the pros and cons of each option. Would Hellsing be paying for this vacation or would she be doing it off of her own back? Was she even being paid? On that line, did Master get paid? Eloquently, he was a servant; technically he was a slave. Slaves didn’t get paid, did they. And taking that one step further, Seras belonged to her master, so, along that same reasoning, and although she wasn’t bound like her master to the Hellsing bloodline, she too would be a slave, wouldn’t she?
Seras once again stopped where she was. Partly due to the shock of her unexpected revelation, but also because the corridor she was in ended suddenly at a wall.
Ahead of her there was a heavy metal door, run with rust red rivers down its face, speckled with flakes of green from oxidised copper; bubbled and formless at the edges with rust. A large white eye, barely identifiable through the ravages of age and damp, gleamed chalk white between the raised scars of rust. That it was still clear, still brilliant white when the door itself was like melting wax was telling alone of its magical nature.
Seras’ inquisitive mind leaped on the distraction like a hungry fox on a rabbit. Maybe it was another sealed room, like the one her master had been imprisoned in before Sir Integral let him out. Maybe this one had Frankenstein in it. Or the Mummy! It would explain why this door was still sealed. Hellsing would have no need for monsters such as those – one a lovesick zombie made out of dead peoples body parts, and the other a costly maintenance bill. Mummies would always be falling apart, she imagined. Desiccated skin wrapped in bandages couldn’t make for good warriors anyway. One good tug by a Freak in battle and whoooooosh! Naked Egyptian and a Freak with an armful of bandages it wouldn’t know what to do with. And then Master would laugh and lose his head. She wasn’t quite sure on how he would lose it, but it was inevitable anyway.
Maybe the door held another vampire behind it. One even meaner and more insane than her master. Seras felt simultaneously excited and fearful at the prospect. Her master was intimidating, and really strong, and equally crazy. But he was controlled. If there was another vampire down here, sealed and unused when right now they needed all the help they could get; it would be because they didn’t have the same restrictions on it that they had on her master. That would be the only reason, she thought, as she took a slow step towards the door.
Reaching out with her free hand, she dragged one damp fingertip down a ripple of rusted metal, feeling the sharp edges where it was peeling away from the door tug at the material of her glove. Following the furrow down the face of the door; where it intersected the white curve of the lower lid and interrupted the stark line with its jagged deformation, she felt the tingling touch of a presence.
Something old, maybe ancient. Something long gone, or maybe just very small. The presence was barely a whisper and more like a memory of a thing that had resided there for a while. Like the damp smell in her room, it still lingered despite any reason for it being there having long since gone.
Drawing her finger back she cast her eyes once more over the stylised eye that spread widthways across the door. Something had been behind that door once. Something strong and old, and restrained. A prisoner and slave like her master.
Whatever it was, it wasn’t there now, she decided, and there were no obvious clues to be gained from a sealed door that could give a simple reason why. Maybe whatever it was had been set free. Maybe it had escaped. Maybe, and Seras felt a tide of insensible fear at this, it had died. Maybe they had killed it. Maybe they’d…
She yelled at herself to stop that train of thought right away. They’d only have killed it if it had been dangerous, and uncontrolled – like a true monster. Her master was not like that, not anymore, and nor was she. And why was she so concerned about the thing that had been behind the door, anyway?
Shaking her head at her folly and deciding to leave it as it was for now, Seras turned her back to the rusted door and started back up the narrow corridor. It was a dead-end anyway, and it wasn’t as though she could go any further without breaking down that door – and she wasn’t willing to risk the wrath that might induce if there _was_ still something behind it that her feeble fledgling senses couldn’t pick up. She made a note to ask Walter about it later. The retainer knew almost everything there was to know about the Hellsing family mansion, and if anyone knew anything about what was behind the door, it would be him.
Twenty minutes of twisting corridors and confounding dead ends later, Seras finally found herself somewhere familiar. The scent of mould and stagnant water was not as strong, and if she inhaled through her nose softly enough she could just make out the lingering musk of her master’s cologne. Her exploring was almost at an end. So far she had found the creepy eye-door, an old storage room with rotted wooden barrels of who knows what it used to be but now resembled calcified fuzzy black cat vomit, and a pair of old glasses – unbroken – that had been lying in the corner of a passage where it made a sharp ninety degree turn. The lenses were tinted just a little in a shade that her master seemed to favour, and she wondered if maybe they were once a pair of his. They hung now by one arm off her left breast pocket, lenses out, and she hoped that they were secure enough not to fall.
Pausing just a little when she noticed a flickering light up ahead, she quickened her steps once she recognised the silhouette as that of Hellsing’s retainer.
“Walter!” she greeted him, stopping just short of embracing the gentleman. Habit was always prompting her to hug him each time she saw him, but she was always held back from doing so by her uncertainty on how he would react. Tonight was just another repeat of it.
“Miss Seras,” he responded, a small smile on his lips. “I’ve been looking for you.”
“Yes. Master Alucard is out on a mission and Miss Integral wishes to see you.”
Seras nodded and followed Walter as he started leading the way back up to the ground floor.
“If Master was here you would have sent him to get me, huh?”
“Oh yes,” Walter replied. “It’s much more efficient that way.”
Seras sighed. “Has he always been as he is now?”
“As long as I have known him, yes.” The thread of amusement was clear in gentleman’s voice. “Though I cannot say whether he was better or worse before that.”
“You just like making him fetch things, don’t you?”
Seras barked out a laugh. “Have I told you how much I love you, Walter?” she asked.
“Not since last week, Miss Seras,” he told her.
They passed the rest of the return time in companionable silence. It wasn’t until they were ascending the grand staircase that Seras spoke again.
“Do you know what it is that Sir Integral wants with me?” she asked him.
“I imagine that it has something to do with your vacation, Miss Seras,” he replied. “If I might take that torch off of your hands?”
Suddenly remembering the unused device dangling by its string from her wrist, she disentangled it and handed it over.
“Is she angry with me?” she asked timidly.
At this Walter paused. “Whatever for?” he asked. “Have you done something that would warrant her anger?”
“Um… not that I know of, but-”
“Then I sincerely doubt that she’s angry with you, Seras.”
“Still…” she trailed off as they came to a stop outside Integral’s office.
“Miss Seras,” Walter said, pausing before he opened the door. “I do believe that Miss Integral is merely curious about your travel plans. I would not be surprised if she has a few ideas for you also, so don’t concern yourself with her anger. Your master has been quite behaved tonight and bothered her barely enough to make her throw a stapler.”
Seras exhaled in relief. It was when Integral graduated to throwing furniture that things became hazardous to the relative health of Hellsing’s resident undead. That it was only a stapler, and that Walter was joking about it, was a very good sign.
“Thanks Walter,” she said.
Walter gave a small smile. “You’re welcome, Miss Seras.”