Disclaimer: Hellsing is owned by Hirano Kouta. All licenses belong to the proper people. This is used without permission. The Shadow was created by Walter Gibson. All licenses and rights belong to the proper people. This is used without permission. This disclaimer also applies to several intellectual properties referred to in the text. Please be guided accordingly. This file can be freely distributed so long as it appears in its complete form and proper credit given. No part may be reproduced for monetary gain without permission from the author.
Chapter 9: Sparring
Sinister laughter filled the room.
This was why Integra hated these early evening sparring sessions, and why they had been discontinued for so long until her return from the military prison where she was incarcerated.
They always started with Alucard and herself going to the manor's hothouse, where the vampire picked a blooming red rose, whereupon he would pin it to the breast of his coat on the upper left where his aorta was located. When she was younger, she had asked the red-coated nosferatu what the reason was for that and Alucard smirked and told her a long involved story about an undead prince, the prince's mild-mannered witch-sister, and about duels involving roses. Of course, it ended with Alucard slaughtering them both, but that was how Alucard's stories always ended: blood, gore, and the total destruction of everyone else except for him. In Integra's opinion, now that she had grown older and wiser in the vampire's ways, the story, like most of the oathbound vampire's stories, was another total fabrication. Upside down castles in the sky, miraculous duels, a wall of swords, a platform in midair: all cribbed from some fairy tale or the other and sewed into a seemingly factual account of an adventure by a centuries-old psychotic and told with the matter-of-fact tone that gave it a veneer of truth. Baron Munchhausen would be a no-account liar compared against the Hellsing vampire and his talent for untruth.
A pathological liar he might be, but Alucard did have a few honest bones in his body, which was the reason why the monster and the monster's mistress, dressed in a light leather sparring outfit that made her sweat profusely, were in a private sparring room inside the mansion.
Another stinging laugh and Integra felt a rush of wind across her face. Alucard's enruned white glove pinched her cheek in the manner that she had always hated since she was little, and her mother's rose-red tulwar flashed a scarlet arc. Too late. The gloved hand was away and the vampire was skipping backwards with an amused, fanged smile.
Integra ground her teeth together and held Bhiima, shortened from the tulwar's proper full name of Bhiima Rakta Paatalaam — the nomenclature owing to the strange red metal that was used in its forging — in her right hand, parallel to the ground, while her left hand held another one of her mother's weapons, a vajrakali with the auspicious name of Saudaaminii, in an overhead grip.
When she was younger, and before her mother's illness, Integra had learned the basics of her mother's own personal martial art: a mix of various combat styles found in the Indian subcontinent melded into a wholly unique dance of death. One of the few things that the current leader of Hellsing regretted was that she never got beyond the basics that were taught to her. Of the arsenal of weapons that her mother wielded, she could only wield six with reasonable skill: the tulwar, the vajrakali, the khanda, the katar, the kirpan and the chakram. When her mother died, the development of her skills had stalled at the level she had been taught, roughly one-fourth of her mother's ability. The only thing she was able to do was to refine her skills to the point they were now, with the occasional help of Walter and, when she was younger, the regular sessions with Alucard.
Alucard laughed mockingly another time, and Integra lunged in with a sweeping slash which the vampire only danced away from. A pinch on her buttocks elicited an incensed screech from the blonde to which her vampiric charge only laughed.
Integra gritted her teeth and reminded herself of why she was doing this. Alucard had insisted on similar sparring sessions like this when she was younger but had relented when after one particularly intense workout, his young charge broke down and cried, afterwards locking herself in her room until Walter had convinced her to reenter society with the bribe of a plate of his chocolate chip cookies and the assurance that Alucard wouldn't force her to participate in such exercises again.
Now, here she was, a decade later, being teased and harassed in the same awful manner by her vampiric servant, all in the hope of releasing the most potent weapon in the arsenal of the Helsing family: the Fury.
The Fury, as Alucard had explained to her when she was little, was part of the strange heritage that the Helsing family shared with the Van Helsings, the original clan of vampire hunters from which the Helsings of old came from. This legacy of the Van Helsing stock gave them the capability to stand toe-to-toe against many supernatural threats that plagued the world of men, giving them the speed, strength and the reflexes to combat those evils that would prey upon mankind.
The vampire related all of this to young wide-eyed Integra, painting alongside it the vast, labyrinthine story of the House of Van Helsing, a tale told with what the his mistress assumed was the closest thing that the insouciant vampire could muster to actual respect. He told of how the first of the Van Helsings came to be: a royal decree by a long-forgotten king of the Hyborian Age by the name of Conan, and a gift from an undead sage by the name of Epimetrius, giving the Eolsing tribe of the Vanir great powers to match a coming evil and to combat the secret forces that preyed on mankind.
In time, they were called the Vanir Eolsing, the distinctive azure blue eyes and the wild blond hair becoming synonymous with the never-ending fight against the forces of Darkness. Their name changed through the ages into what it was now: Van Helsing.
Alucard spoke to Integra of many things on that strange long-ago afternoon in her youth. Of battles and manipulations, of romance and tragedy, of betrayal and loyalty, of the thousand myriad things that made the Van Helsings both the perfect representation of humanity and its perfect defenders. Never had Integra trusted her vampiric charge more than on that afternoon, knowing in some peculiar way that the No-Life King was telling the whole truth.
That was why she was here, with her below-par weapon skills and her oh-so-mortal frame, trying to catch a vampire with reflexes of greased lightning: to recapture the sense that she was who she was, the last of the Helsings and, in some sense, the last of the Van Helsings also, those distant, strange, heroic figures of Alucard's tale. Her recent failures were still fresh in her mind, and she needed something to prove to herself that she was deserving of such a heritage that Alucard had described.
If she couldn't call it up, if she couldn't unleash that part of her blood, she had no right calling herself by the name.
Alucard grinned broadly and Integra could swear that the nosferatu was reading her mind, if she hadn't known that the binds set over her charge limited their ability to affect any of her family. She dervish-twirled, thrusting the vajrakali in a sideway sweep which turned into a feint, revealing Bhiima's upward slash as the true attack. Fading away like a ghost, Alucard laughed again.
Then he smiled and Integra recognized that smile. She steeled herself for what was to come.
"You really have to work on the swordwork, Mistress." The sly serpentine tone was enough to insult any woman, but Integra had taken worse ridicule before. But she knew that the vampire was only building up steam and more was to come.
Integra was quite right in her assumption as Alucard began a long, winding tirade of her all her failings as a Helsing, a woman, and as head of the Hellsing organization. The vampire had obviously long years of practice as he dissected his mistress' character and rubbed into her face her many perceived flaws.
It was nothing new to Integra — she had heard it often enough in the whispers behind her back — but it was always hard to hear it from Alucard even if she knew that he didn't mean it. He and Walter had become sort of surrogate parental figures to her since the death of her father. Their high opinion had become a sort of a goal for her ever since the two had become her erstwhile guardians.
A barb about her frigidness disturbed her line of thought and Integra lunged with an atypical thrust of the tulwar. Alucard danced backward with a flowing gracefulness reminiscent of a snake.
Integra smiled when she noticed that had managed to back her undead charge to the rough stone wall. She twirled again, a bladed cyclone of arms and legs seeking to claim the rose as a prize.
Alucard only laughed and launched himself upwards in the air, twirling in a mid-air somersault. He landed with catlike deftness, swiftly turning around to put a finger at the back of his mistress' neck. Integra stiffened, knowing that, if this had been a serious battle against a vampire, one finger's preternatural strength was often enough to kill a mortal.
That was when she felt something rising up in the back of her mind. The rage was building up, climbing the mountain of her consciousness like a train cresting a hill. All it needed was a little push.
"Really, mistress, your mother should have died a lot earlier if this was all she could teach you."
Integra could literally feel Alucard's smile as the remark caught her unprepared. This was new. Alucard always insulted her alone, never the family. Then, she felt the emotional response to the remark hit her like a bullet.
That did it. Integra felt it fall over her like a metaphysical waterfall, a momentary realization of rightness that was inappropriate with the emotion that followed: ice cold rage.
The world shifted into that new-familiar tinge of cerulean blue, rage and anger consuming her mind like an avalanche. Everything seemed to move in slow motion as she turned with painful slowness to face Alucard. His razor-blade smile was positively gloating as he shifted his stance into something remotely resembling a ready position in contrast to his earlier lackadaisical form.
Integra charged forward with a slash, a stroke which the vampire only narrowly avoided with a well-timed dodge. This, however, left him slightly unbalanced, an advantage that Integra exploited. Saudaminii slammed into Alucard's side with the all the force she could muster, the vajrakali quickly withdrawn in the style of a cobra strike. Blood erupted from the wound for a few moments before vampiric regenerative powers sealed the hole in his side.
The No-Life King just grinned as he moved close into Integra's reach. The blonde only leaped backwards, the wall becoming no obstacle as it was turned into a springboard for Integra's acrobatic leap, a twin to Alucard's earlier feat. The bluish tinge to her sight gave everything an ethereal quality as she floated in the air. Sending her weight forward, she twisted and landed on both feet, the jarring sensation galvanizing her as her body went into action.
She twisted into a backward roll, coming out of it with a slash aimed at the red rose at Alucard's chest. However he slapped the blade away before it could even touch the petals of the blossom. The vajrakali swept in from above.
This time the vampire caught and grasped her elbow and Integra felt a spasm that ran up her arm, forcing her hand to convulse, dropping the ancient blade to the ground. She responded with a rising crescent kick that smashed into Alucard's chin, that surprising enough forced him to let go. Her vampiric charge usually shrugged away physical blows like they were nothing, but it seemed this time he was actually feeling them.
Integra kept up her assault, the blue-tinged slow motion panorama that was her vision making it easy to match Alucard's moves. A hand reaching for her face was knocked away with a slap of her free hand. A dodge was curtailed with a sudden change of direction. An attempt at an aerial escape was forestalled when the last scion of the Helsing family caught the vampire's leg in midair and slammed him to the solid stone floor with a resounding thud.
Alucard was silent now, but the incongruous smile on his face combined with the look of pride — strange to receive such regard from her charge — that he bestowed on her was enough to tell Integra of the vampire's feelings. Still, the rage persisted. Now it was under her control, the icy feel of it a coldness in the back of her mind.
The battle continued, Alucard successfully eluding Integra's attacks on the rose while the blonde did her best to destroy the red blossom.
It ended when Integra twirled again, a cyclone of force, feinted with the crimson-rose blade of Bhiima and suddenly swept Alucard's legs out from under him. Her leg felt like it had crashed into a rod of iron, but the force behind the sweep was strong enough to send the vampire sprawling.
Integra came out of the swirl and lunged downward, only to stare down the barrel of a gun and two blazing red eyes. She halted and the two of them presented a strange tableau: Alucard's red-coated form on the floor, one elbow propping him up and the other hand aiming his Jackal at her; she, sweaty and bedraggled, her long blonde hair wild and free, holding the scarlet-edged Bhiima in a downward thrusting pose at Alucard's chest with one hand on the round pommel.
Then, after moments of tense silence, and Alucard broke the silence with an amused chuckle. Until then, Integra hadn't noticed that her vision has returned to normal. Her vampiric charge lowered his gun to show to her the reason for his mirth.
The only thing that was left of the rose on Alucard's chest was the central bud. All of the other petals had been shorn off in the course of their struggle. Integra could only blink in surprise. Her vampiric charge only laughed harder, which was suddenly accompanied by polite clapping from the side of the chamber.
The last Helsing turned to see Walter, who was smiling proudly at her, and Ceres, an expression of awe on her face, clapping in admiration. She glanced around and saw that all around herself and Alucard were the missing rose petals.
Her vampiric charge had by then stood up and picked one of the fallen pieces of the flower and presented her one of them, his smile telling her to look at her handiwork.
Integra gazed at the sliced petal that Alucard presented to her, so like a drop of blood on the white-gloved hand. The cut was clean, so clean and strangely familiar. Then it hit her where she had seen a similar slice, going back to an afternoon of her childhood when Alucard had deigned to show her one of his vampiric talents.
"A wind slice?" Integra picked the petal out of Alucard's hand, looking closely at the near invisible results of air slicing through plant matter.
"Wind slice. I couldn't have done better." Alucard's voice had a strangely fatherly tone to it that Integra found as surprising as the result of the evening's efforts. She could only gaze in wonder at the petal she held in her fingers.
"Congratulations, milady," Walter broke in and Integra turned to see that he and Ceres had walked up to them in the intervening silence.
"That was great, Integra! I didn't think anyone could move that fast." Ceres gushed, to which Alucard just shrugged with a slightly offended air. Ceres noticed and blushed. "Well, anyone human…."
Ignoring the byplay between her two vampiric charges, Integra turned to the cadaverous butler. "How long have you two been watching? And what, in Heaven's name, are you two doing here?"
Walter smiled thinly and gestured to the Ceres, who Integra finally noticed was wearing what looked like a heavy metal gauntlets with heavy steel chains that emanated from the tips of the chrome fingers. She also noticed that the young vampire was wearing a rather tight leather sparring outfit similar to her own, though the undead blonde filled out the costume in rather distracting ways. Quickly squelching that line of thought she turned to the butler who was explaining himself.
"Mistress Victoria and I have been sparring for several weeks now. She's strong, fast and has developed the killer instinct that makes her worthy of teaching her my skills. It makes my task in finding a successor much easier and I also do not have to worry about her loyalty. Besides, she's managed to figure out the basics quite easily and is very good with her fingers."
Finding out Ceres was "very good with her fingers" while the latter was dressed in an ill-fitting, low-cut costume similar to a dominatrix was not exactly helping Integra's concentration — concentration which was slightly failing as her eyes seemed to drift of their own volition to look at the blonde vampire, who was posed in a rather disturbingly erotic manner, one hand on her hip and her rather buxom bosom threatening to spill out. The undead woman was also not helping by smiling that way.
"Couldn't you have found her a more… Couldn't you have found her an outfit that fits her better? Look at her, Walter, she looks like… like…."
Integra was saved from mentioning synonyms to the words "slut", "whore" and "a meal good enough to eat" by Walter interrupting. "I've already contacted the clothiers and they are already creating something more suited to Mistress Victoria's proportions. I must apologize for her, of course, in using your old sparring outfit. No worries, milady. Her sparring costume should be ready by next week."
Integra vowed to herself not to spar with Alucard until the next week was safely over and allowed herself to look at Ceres with a smile. The expression "too cute for words" flashed through her mind as the young vampire flashed her a smile.
"Now, excuse us, milady, but Alucard and myself have something to discuss privately. Would you mind waiting for awhile with Mistress Victoria?"
The only reason that Integra did not scream "What?!" was her excellent self-control and the fact that Ceres would probably misinterpret her outburst.
"Of course. Though I think you two should stay; I'll have to go to the changing room. Ceres can accompany me." Integra's inner self was pummeling its head against an imaginary wall as the words left her mouth. Did I just say that Ceres could join me in the changing room, with me getting undressed? Am I insane?
"Great!" Ceres chirped. "I had something to ask Integra anyway."
Integra was conscious of Walter and Alucard sharing her strange look at the chipper young undead woman, a look to which the blonde vampire was oblivious. She shook her head. Better go now and get it over with. The warm thought of Ceres watching her undress was squelched under her iron will.
She turned to look at her two erstwhile guardians with a jaundiced eye. Walter treated Alucard differently than herself. Where she treated the No-Life King with a half-trust, half-wariness that which one would reserve to your favorite crazy old uncle, who you hid when company was coming, the butler considered the vampire as a respected part of the family. Maybe it stemmed from their shared experiences in the World War; Integra never could figure it out.
No matter. She could trust the both of them to do what was best for her and for Hellsing.
"Well, come on, Ceres. My sweat's drying on the leather and I find that it usually ruins the leather if you leave it on for too long."
Integra, with Ceres in tow, left the room proceeding to the changing room. They had closed the door to the sparring chamber when Integra brought up Ceres' question.
"So what did you want to ask me about?"
The two were now walking down the corridor that led to the shower/changing room that had been installed there for the use of those who practiced in the chamber.
"Well, I was going to suggest going shopping again."
Integra congratulated herself on not tripping up from surprise as she furiously tried to concoct an excuse to avoid the threatened shopping trip. Not that the last time was bad, but because it made her a bit uncomfortable to be close to her underling in various states of undress, like the upcoming changing room.
Ceres, thankfully, was ignorant of her state of mind and continued with her spiel. "It's been pretty quiet lately and I thought we could go again. I mean, what's the worst that could happen while we're away?"
That was when they heard the explosion.
To be continued.
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