Part Fourteen: The Castle Center

"Alright." Raziel began. "Let's spread out. Carrie and Chanaur can take this door...." He gestured to the double doors on the right. "....and Reinhardt and I will take this one." He opened the door, and then turned back. "Keep your eyes open. This is the one part of the Castle I never visited."

They left, and Chanaur turned to Carrie and whispered, "Talk about the blind leading the blind." He winked, and she giggled.

Sighing, he opened the door they were assigned to. For some reason, he felt like he was walking on air. Probably from relief, or maybe the kiss that Carrie gave him a little while back..... Either way, he was in the best mood he had been in for a long time.

But when he stepped into the next room, his happiness was replaced by awe. For now he stood at one end of an enormous Colloseum-style arena. The room itself had a vaulted ceiling over thirty feet, over head, and was easily the size of the entire Villa. Niches were set into the walls, between cages. The cages were empty, though.

But what caught his attention was the large mound in the middle of the Colloseum. And just beyond it, was some glowing design on the wall.....

"What do you suppose that thing is?" Carrie asked, approaching the mound. It was about fifty feet away, and Chanaur followed her. It appeared to be some kind of animal.

"Huh. It looks like some kind of a giant bull...... Asleep for who knows how long....." he whispered.

Chanaur stepped around and looked at the creature. It was indeed a bull. The Abomination; The Creature of Legend.

The thing was about fifteen feet from nost to tail. It was in a silent slumber, and if not, the creature was dead.

"Let's just hope that it is dead." He whispered. He gestured to it's mouth, which was half-open. "What do you think the third eye in it's mouth is for?"

Carrie only shrugged. "What makes you so sure that this is the Abomination? Those stories are nothing more than old-wives tales, used to scare children into silence and good behavior." She kicked it in the face. No reaction was brought about, not even a moving of the head. "Besides, even if it was, why would it be here?"

"Who knows?" Chanaur sighed. "What interests me the most is that mural there." He gestured to the series of protective sigla scrawled accross the wall. "These are all protective runes. Whatever is behind here, is obviously not to be messed with."

"Someone must have tried to get through the wall before. The wall is all cracked......" She touched the sigla, with a gentle hand. Because her approach was not threatening, the runes did not react. "We need to get around this. Whatever it is, could probably help us destroy the count......"

"Yeah, but there really is no chance of getting around this barrier. Unless the answer is found later on in the Castle....." He tried reading the runes, and unraveled part of it. "I'm getting some of it. Most of it I can't understand; it's in an even older script than Alucard taught me....."

"What's it say?" Carrie asked. "I can't pick out any of it...."

Chanaur stepped back a little. "Well, it mentions great power...... and a tremendous trial on the road to that power....."

"Really? Does it say where?"

"No. That's all I can understand. The rest of it is indecipherable." He pointed to one sigla right in front of him. "Most of these I have never seen before....."

"Well, I guess there's no sense in staying around here, then. C'mon." She took his hand in hers. "Let's go find the other two blinds and be on our way."

He allowed her to lead him back into the main hallway, shaking his head a little. He squeezed her hand a little, just to reassure himself that she was still there. He was getting really concerned with losing her lately......

At least I know she feels that way too. But to what extent?

Although she tried to cover it up, Chanaur could always tell that she was worrying about something or another. Her eyes always gave it away. Not that he didn't worry himself. She could always tell when, and sometimes what he was worried about.

He felt her smaller hand squeeze back. He suppressed a smile as she looked quickly back at him. She opened the door, and disengaged his hand, and ducking under a flying head.

Swearing, Chanaur drew his sword and stepped into the room. Reinhardt and Raziel had been pinned to the wall by a group of five vampires. With the beheading of the last one, the group was down to four.

Chanaur charged the vampires from behind, coming in low, his sword held ready to slash. Just before he executed the blow, his body blurred. When he reappeared, the last four creatures fell apart, all neatly cut in two.

As the bodies dissolved, Raziel clicked his toungue. "Tell you what...." His breath was a little short. "Let's not split up again. I'm getting too old for this."

Chanaur laughed slightly. "Works for me." He turned and looked around the room. There was a large machine covering a section of the north wall, and there was a shallow pit set into the middle of the floor. "What do you suppose that is?" He asked, gesturing to the machine.

Raziel shrugged. "Probably connected to something in the next room." Taking a deep breath, he said, "Let's get going." He turned to the small staircase and started to climb it. Reinhardt fell into step behind him, and Carrie came up to Chanaur.

Carrie was fighting within herself again. Was it time? Was he ready for this? Am I ready for this?

I just love him so much.... I don't want to risk it......

"Chanaur....." she whispered. She looked at the floor. "I...." She trailed off, her hands coming together in front of her.

"Yes....?" He asked, turning to face her, sheething his sword.

Her hands clasped tighter. "I just want you to know, that the whole time I was in the Oubliette...." She looked up at him. "The whole time, I was praying for freedom. But it wasn't for the reason that I thought it was....."

Chanaur looked down into her eyes. She was smiling nervously at him, her eyes filled with a mixture of apprehension and, surprisingly enough, fear.....

"Carrie? Are you alright?" Chanaur reached out and took her hands. "What are you afraid of?"

I'm afraid that if I tell you this, you'll leave me, and never come back..... Carrie sighed heavily. "I'm afraid....." Her gaze fell to their hands. "I'm afraid that I'll lose you."

An icicle pierced her heart. She wanted nothing more than to wrap her arms around him and whisper in his ears that she loved him. Then she would hold him forever, never letting go.

But she still couldn't get those three simple words out.....

One of his hands moved from her hands to her chin, cradling it. He moved her head, so that she was looking into his eyes again. "I wouldn't worry about it, Carrie. If there's one thing I've proved in this life, it's that I can hold my own." A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. "If I hadn't, I wouldn't have survived."

Carrie nodded solemnly. "Yes. We've both learned that....." But it would be so much easier to bear if you were there to stand with me. You've done it your whole life, but I can't help from wanting a deeper relationship with you.... Carrie clasped her hands around Chanaur's. "And I am thankful that I've had you there to help me through it....."

Chanaur nodded. "And I you." Carrie smiled slightly. His heart was aching, and for two reasos. One, he preferred to keep his mind off of his parents, and how he lost them. Two, he couldn't stand to see Carrie like this..... "If we wouldn't have had each other when our parents died, we probably wouldn't be alive today. Do you realize that?"

Carrie sighed. "Yes. But as long as you are with me, I know I can get through anything...."

Chanaur blushed, something he rarely did. "Thanks." He muttered. Indeed, that much is true. But was there anyting else there.....? "I just pray..... That I won't have to watch you die, like everyone else that was close to me....."

Her hands squeezed tighter. "I'm sorry."

"Hey, no problem. I know you've been through the same thing. What's in the past, is in the past." He kissed her on the forehead. "Let's just hope the past doesn't repeat itself."

Now it was her turn to blush. "You and me both....."

Chanaur smiled. "Don't worry. I haven't had any new dreams lately, so your safe." He ran his fingers through her bangs, just a little bit. "Besides...... I would try my best to make sure you come to no harm."

Carrie smiled fleetingly. "Thank you..... Chanaur." Her eyes twinkled slightly, and she licked her lips.

"You seem like you have something on your mind." Chanaur whispered.

She fell silent, and looked up into his eyes. Chanaur felt her searching inside of him, for something, anything, that would help her understand.

But how could she understand, when he himself didn't....?

"Would you two come on?" Reinhardt shouted back, causing Carrie to jump. "We need to stay together, and alert." Reinhardt turned around again, and walked off.

Reluctantly, she pulled away from him. She didn't want to, because whenever they were close like that, all her troubles dissapeared. "What's wrong with him?" Carrie asked.

Chanaur gestured to his arm, and she saw a slash. "Too stubborn to ask for help, he's going to bear it, and cause himself a foul mood in the process." He sighed, and followed him.

Carrie shook her head, and cursed herself silently. If I feel so strongly about this, why cant I just say it?

She fell into step beside Chanaur, and kept her eyes on the floor. Every once and a while, she would feel his eyes on him, sensing his concern. She walked up the staircase into the next room.

As Chanaur entered the next room, he sighed yet again. Everytime we have one of those rare moments, my doubts redouble. I'm never sure whether her worryings are for a friend, or a lover....

He shook his head, and glanced back at Carrie, who still had her eyes to the ground. He opened his mouth to say something, but stopped himself. What could he say at this time? He already blew his chance back there.....

He looked around, looking for anything that would take his mind from his cowardice. The room was filled with different machines, the biggest one in the center was hollow. The one immediately to the right seemed to be the other half of the one in the first room. It appeared to be a generator of some sort.

In the middle of the west wall was a statue of a winged woman. She was made of a strange blue material, and had her arms crossed before her. Great detail was put into her face, and the folds of her robes and cowl.

As Raziel and Reinhardt walked past it, the eyes brimmed with tears of blood.

Chanaur stopped, and watched in amazement. The crimson liquid winded it's way down the statues cheeks, and then to the torso, to the statues base. It welled there, and slowly spilled onto the floor.....

It gathered, and started moving as a whole toward him. The puddle inched closer, and Carrie readied her bo. Just as the puddle reached his toes, and just before he stepped back, the blood congealed and became a humanoid form. It wavered back and forth like a liquid, but seemed solid enough to cause damage.

Chanaur didn't give it a chance to test his theory. He slashed at it with his sword, but it sank back into the floor. It popped back up again, and he swung again. It split apart this time, and then came back together.

Carrie incinerated the bloodborn, causing it to evaporate. The blood remained on the statue, and would in time generate a new one.

They hurried on. Up a second set of stairs, they were in a grand hall. A crimson carpet wouund it's way around the staircase and toward a pair of doors. The first had an enormous suit of gilded armor holding a halberd standing next to it, and the other seemed to be locked......

"I guess we try this one first." Raziel said, opening the first door, and stepping through. Reinhardt followed, then Chanaur. As Carrie stepped through, she felt a huge hand grasp her by the hair, ripping back painfully. Then the squeak of metal on metal announced the descent of the halberd to her neck.

Chanaur had leaped through the door, smashing the armor into pieces, just as the blade breeched her skin. Carrie's breathing was heavy as she felt her neck as if to make sure it was still in one piece.

She felt Chanaur's hand on her shoulder, and felt the small hole in her neck close. "You alright?" She nodded. His hand squeezed her shoulder reassuringly, and he led her on, his arm around her. She was still slightly dazed, and her eyes were still wide.

"Maybe we should keep score. See who saves who the higher number of times." Chanaur smiled a little, attempting to bring Carrie back to full conciousness. She smiled at his joke, and nodded. "So far, I think I'm winning." He winked at her.

"I'm sure of it." Carrie kissed him delicately on the cheek, thanking him silently.

After turning a corner, they saw that they were in a room with several niches set into the wall, with machines set into them. The machines seemed to be chambers of some sort, and also seemed innactive.

As they passed the first one, however, they all sprang to life. The machines whirred and made all kinds of noise, and then the chambers opened. Out of each one came two lizardmen, making a total of fourteen.

"Damned pack animals...." Carrie muttered, touching the scar on her arm. Chanaur drew his sword, and came up beside her.

The creatures hissed horrendously, and encircled them. They began to make noises back and forth, as if communicating.....

Indeed, they had coordinated an attack. Soon, they had each person boxed in, alone, by a small group of the creatures.

"Is it just me, or are they getting smarter?" Chanaur muttered.

The lizardmen smiled toothily, as if understanding him. "Indeed." The one in front said, the one with the crested helm. "Did you really underessssstimate ussss, Halfling?"

Chanaur saw no sense in continuing the conversation, so only waited. The leader's tongue flicked out, and two of his underlings closed in on him, from either side. Swiftly, his arms were caught, and he was hoisted from the ground. Looking around, he saw the other's were in the same possition.

He caught Carrie's eye, and nodded.

She nodded back, and closed her eyes, her lips moving in an inaudible whisper.

He then turned to Reinhardt and Raziel, who were both struggling as one creature advanced with sword held aloft. Prepare yourself..... Chanaur readied his half of the spell This isn't going to be pretty.

Carrie finished, just as the scimitar pierced her chest. It began to rain, heavy, pelting drops. Chanaur blessed the rain, making it holy.

Being creatures of darkness, the rain affected the creatures as adversely as acid. Skin dropped from flesh, tendons and nerves exposed. They wailed and hissed, as their bodies became incapable of movement, and only dissolved into puddles.

The rain stopped, and the puddles of water and lizard pieces evaporated. Raziel, his cheeks a slight shade of green, said, "I'm definitely getting too old for this....." He moved on, Reinardt brushing a single claw from his shirt before following him.

Chanaur shuddered, and replaced his sword to it's scabbard, which he had moved to his back. He found that this allowed for quicker drawing and the opportunity for a fast strike.

Carrie had her hand over her chest, and was blushing slightly. "Chanaur...." She muttered. "If you wouldn't mind....." Her flush deepened.

Chanaur smiled slightly. "Sure." He reluctantly placed two fingers on her chest, just between her breasts, and sealed the medium wound that the sword had caused. He then immediatly withdrew his hand, and followed the others.

Chanaur had turned away so suddenly because he didn't want to meet her eyes. He had reacted by reflex, forgetting that he didn't have to touch the wound to heal it. Hell, just a few minutes ago, he had healed her neck by touching her shoulder. What would Carrie think of that unnecessary contact.....?

Carrie sensed his uncertanty and wrapped her arm around his. He looked down at her, and she smiled. "Your much too tense. You need to loosen up."

Chanaur smiled, relief obvious in his expression. She loved seeing him smile, especially when it was because of something she had said. They continued, their arms linked at the elbow.

They came to a room with a broken staircase. Climbing over the innitial hole, they continued up. Next was a room with a pair of stained glass windows, set into a wall overlooking a dais. The sunlight refracted off of the colored glass, casting peculiar shadows on the floor.

Raziel was, as usual, the first through the next door. The room was made up of several ornamental archs, some of which were broken.

From on top of one of these pillars, a dark form swiftly dropped onto Raziel, dragging him to floor.

Reinhardt snapped the vampire with his whip, but not before he had infected Raziel. He stood up, swallowing blood in his mouth. Morphing into a werewolf, he pounced on the creature, and literally tore it apart. It had been a long time since he had exhibited that kind of a temperment.

Raziel breathed deeply, and turned back into his human form. He touched the wound on his neck, and plucked a purifying crystal from his pocket. He used it as he continued on, not stopping for much more than a second. Reinhardt followed him, also in silence.

Chanaur looked up, and saw another vampire just over him. It had it's eyes locked on Carrie, ready to strike her down as the other had Raziel.

But just as Chanaur pulled an arrow from his quiver, the vampire turned and looked at him. I would like to have a word with you.

Chanaur put the arrow back, and waited for Carrie to leave the room. She turned back. "Are you coming?" She asked quietly.

"In a minute." He gestured up to the arch over his head. "This one wants to talk."

Carrie looked up and saw the vampire. Shrugging, she turned and left. Be careful. She dissapeared around the corner, into a corridor.

As soon as she was out of sight, the vampire dropped down next to him. Now he could see her clearly, and saw that she was very pretty. She had chestnut hair, and a slender form. She was pale, and her eyes glowed red, like all the others did.

She came closer, as if fastinated by him. "My name is Jara." She was a very demure woman, it seemed. Her voice was quiet, as if she feared him to attack. "I have something I want to ask you...."

Chanaur noticed that she was turned only recently. Had she been older, she wouldn't have hesitated to take his blood, when given this kind of an opportunity. He bowed slightly. "I am Chanaur Majere-Tepes. How may I help?"

She seemed surprised. "You are a descedent of the count?"

Chanaur nodded. "Son of Alucard."

"I knew you were a half-breed, but...." She shook her head. "Nevermind. My question......" She looked up at him with those glowing eyes. Behind the bloodlust, he could see the pain at what she had become. "How do you control your hunger?"

"My huger.... Is not as strong as yours." He muttered.

"But isn't it harder here? Where the influence of darkness is stronger?"

"Yes. But the way I control my hunger is....." He smiled at her grow anxious. He didn't have the heart to tell her that she couldn't live without feeding off of another. "That young woman."

She blinked. "I don't understand. Does she have some kind of hold on you?"

Chanaur shrugged. "You could say that. You see, she knows what and who I am. I've known her since we were both very young. She means the world to me. And she excepted me for what I am. Whenever I feel the hunger surface, I think of her. What if the neck I was about to bite into was hers?" He sighed heavily, disturbed by the thought that that almost happened three times in the last few days. "She would leave me, and forever."

"You love her?" Jara asked quietly.

"Yes. But she doesn't know I do."

Jara looked at the floor. "Oh." She turned away, and began to walk away. "That doesn't help much."

Chanaur put a hand on her shoulder. "Haven't you ever loved anyone before, Jara?"

She let out a derisive breath. "Many times. But everytime, the bastard wasn't after me, but my body. I always was fascinated with the fact that vampires seduce their victims into a sense of security, and then pounce... But then it happened....."

Chanaur nodded, and withdrew his hand. "I see. They always find the lonely ones, because they are the weakest...."

Jara rounded on him. "What is that supposed to mean?"

Chanaur raised his hands in defense. "No offense meant, I'm just saying that's how they work."

Seeming satisfied, she turned around again and walked off. Just before she was gone, she turned back to him and said, "Um..... Could I tag along with you for a while? I'd rather stay with you, then fall prey to one of your friends....."

Chanaur considered. "I don't see why not..... But if you so much as touch Carrie or one of the others in a threatening manner-"

"I understand, Chanaur. I've recently fed, so I'm fine for a while." She smiled a tad bitterly, and headed out the door the others had used.

He hurried to her side. "Don't worry. I know what your going through. What's done is done. You cannot change what you are....."

She turned and kissed him on the cheek. "I thank you for offering your help, my friend." She flushed slightly. ".....and I have a favor to ask."

Chanaur nodded, taking the kiss as nothing more than a thank you.

"If I would ask you to kill me..... would you, please?"

Chanaur opened his mouth to answer yes, but then he thought about it. He had killed his brethren before, but they were nameless creatures, who were parasites on the living. But now that he knew this young lady, he wasn't sure that he could kill her if she asked him.....

"Your life is something precious. Though you have lost yours in a manner of speaking, there is still a chance. The past has proved that freshly turned humans can sometimes revert to normal after the Dark One is vanquished." Chanaur touched her cheek with his fingertips. "But if you ever want me to end it for you..... I will."

Her hand was on his now. "Thank you. I just hope I don't have to put you through that....."

Chanaur sighed, knowing that he wouldn't be able to. "You and me both."

Carrie couldn't wait any longer. He was taking far too long, and she was walking back. For all she knew, the creature had already taken him.

With that thought in mind, she broke into a run.

As she rounded the next corner, she saw something that broke her heart. His hand was on the vampire's cheek, her hand on his. The worst part was, he was smiling at her.

Carrie choked and darted back behind the wall, before Chanaur could see her. This couldn't be happening again, not like with Taolin!

She heard footsteps approaching. Chanaur must have heard her, and was coming after her.

Carrie panicked. She fled as fast as she could, back to Raziel and Reinhardt. She couldn't let Chanaur know that she saw them...

"What was that?" Jara asked, following Chanaur.

He was already following the sound he had heard. It sounded like Carrie, but why she would make a sound like that, he didn't know. He looked at the next turn, puzzled. He felt Jara's hand on his arm. "I think that was Carrie."

Her hand tightened momentarily. "I'm sorry."

Chanaur looked down at her, experiencing a strange sense of deja vu. "You did nothing wrong. I did."

"I don't understand." She said. "What could you have possibly done wrong? You never know, it could have been her choking back laughter."

She was trying to cheer him up. Chanaur only sighed.

"You know, you're much too tense."

Now Chanaur's deja vu jumped to an all new level. Carrie's exact words.

"Let's just go find her and see what that was all about. Shall we?" Jara smiled encouragingly.

Chanaur nodded. They continued on, Jara's presence a comfort and a burden at the same time. What had that choke meant? Was she witholding grief, or laughter?

Had he hurt her again?

He saw her, and called out her name. She turned around, her eyes darting to see Jara.

She shouted, "Duck!" and sent a lightning bolt their way. Chanaur nullified it with a magic shield, and Carrie pretended to be puzzled. "Why did you save her? She's a vampire!"

All of a sudden Chanaur saw the hurt in her eyes. He cursed himself, and pretended not to notice. "She's freshly turned, and needs my help controlling the huger. She has asked to tag along for a while."

Carrie glared at her, replacing her jealousy with suspiciousness. "What makes you so sure she won't turn on us?"

Jara stepped forward. "I cannot make any guarentees, but...... I'll do my best. If I do....." She demured petitely, causing Carrie's anger to flare. "Don't hesitate to kill me."

"I won't." Carrie spat. She turned on her heel, and walked off.

"Oh dear....." Jara muttered. "If my presece is a liability, I can leave...."

"No, Carrie's just not very trusting with vampires. Why, her best friend Taolin was once fed upon......" Chanaur trailed off, following her.

Jara came up beside him. "You say that like it was you."

He let out another deep beath. "It was."

They continued on in silence, until they found the others. Just before they noticed they were there, she whispered, "Will I have anything to fear from the others?"

He whispered back, "Reinhardt is a Belmont, so he'll be even more skeptical than Carrie. Just give him time." Jara nodded, and then approached them, Chanaur close behind.

"Hello." Jara said quietly. She arrested everyone's attention. Carrie shot her an angle glare. Raziel's eyebrows shot off of his forehead into his hair from confusion. Reinhardt drew his feathered dagger from it's sheeth and hurled it at her, recognizing her as a vampire.

Chanaur caught it, but by the blade. He winced, and healed his hand. "It's okay. She's going to be traveling with us a for a bit."

"To Hell with that!" Reinhardt shouted, taking back his dagger. "Haven't you noticed? She's a vampire!"

Chanaur began to speak, but then Jara stepped to his side. "If I so much as look at you threateningly, you may kill me. Fair enough?" She glared at him challengingly.

Sadly, she didn't know that Reinhardt never backed down from a challenge. Chanaur split them up, just before Jara had been stabbed through the heart. "If that isn't good enough, I will vouch for her myself."

Reinhardt looked him in the eyes. What's up, man? Does she have some kind of hold on you?

Of course not!

Carrie seems to think so. She's been pretty pissed since she came back.

Chanaur looked over at Carrie, who had turned away in anger.


"Alright, she can stay." Reinhardt muttered. "Just as long as she remembers what she said."

Carrie turned angrily to him, as if to scream, 'so, you take her side now?' She barely checked herself from doing it, and stormed off, through the next door, passing another severely cracked wall, without noticing.

Chanaur let out a deep sigh. Damn it, I've done it again.

Jara put a hand comfortingly on his arm, Reinhardt taking immediate notice. You dog!!

Shut up! I didn't want this to happen!!

Uh huh. Sure. Reinhardt turned and followed Carrie. Chanaur could have jumped on him then and there and wrung the life from his neck.

Raziel came up to her, being the only gentleman in the group. He kissed her on the hand, making her smile. "Although I can't speak for the other two, Chanaur and I welcome you to our little troup."

But she was dissheartened. "I've made a huge mess, just be being here. I'll go now...."

Raziel still held her hand, making it so she couldn't leave. "No, you don't have too. Those two have always have always been very shaky about who they'll trust." He released his hand, and smiled charmingly. "You don't act like any vampire I ever knew."

"Well, you knew Alucard. You kow me." Chanaur said.

Raziel turned to him, and said, "You two were different cases. You were that way by blood. She can't help it."

"Please...." She muttered. "Don't remind me."

Raziel pulled a face. "Sorry."

"It's okay." She smiled at him a little. "At least you two trust me."

"Yeah....." Raziel muttered, as Chanaur walked off, going after Carrie. "She doesn't like you because she thinks your going to steal Chanaur away from her."

"Good lord, no!" She said. "I like Chanaur, but I'd never take his love from him."

"Well, maybe you should tell Carrie this." Raziel beckoned to her, and went after Chanaur. Reluctantly, Jara folowed.

As she followed Raziel through the door, she recognized the creature they were attacking. It was Thomas, the lizard-human. "Stop!!" She shouted, rusing forward.

"We have, Jara." Carrie said, her voice much calmer. "It's obvious he means no harm." She kneeled down next to the lizardman, who was without a weapon. He had his arms crossed in front of his face, in a defensive possition. Jara knelt next to her, extending her hand to him.

"Thomas?" She asked quietly. "It's okay. These are my new friends, they won't harm you."

The Lizardman Thomas peeked up from his arms, and saw Carrie's appologetic smile. He stood up, showing that he was a good seven feet tall. Clearing his throat, he offered his hand to Carrie, who took it. "I'm sorry. I tought you were a monster."

"Quite alright." Thomas said, his voice hissing. "I expected nothing lesss. I am human, but am thisss shape becaussse of a curssse. Turned by that very machine you see there."

He gestured to what at first they had thought was a four-posted bed, but when they came closer, they saw that it was nothing more than a table, with a canopy over it. In the roof of the canopy, was a machine resembling a chandelier, but was obviously not. All around were blood stains.....

"An unfortunate happening, that Jara and myssself are both turned into monssstersss." Thomas sighed heavily.

"I take it you two know each other?" Carrie still felt terrible about almost killing him.

"Brother and sister." Jara said.

Carrie looked at the floor. "Jara, about earlier...." She looked up, and tried for a smile. "Well, follow me."

Carrie turned and headed for the next door, leading to a storage room. Jara followed her, and soon they were alone.

Carrie cleared her throat, and muttered, "You weren't moving in on Chanaur, were you?"

"Of course not. Chanaur was just being a gentleman and comforting me. You see, he....." She bit her lower lip.

"It's okay, Jara. I know he's a Dhampire."

Jara let out a slight breath. "Well, I had asked him to kill me if I asked, and he was reluctant. I was about to leave and save him the trouble, when he said that life is a precious thing, and that I should wait until he vanquishes the Count. He was just following the instinct carried by the protector gene in men." She smiled slightly. "I'm not trying to steal him from you, and I think he's too smitten with you to notice I'm female."

Carrie blinked. "I'm glad to hear that." She wondered if she had heard her right on that last part..... "I'm sorry for almost killing you and your brother. I just have trouble in trust.... You see, my aunt Actrise, Raziel's sister, killed my father, and both of Chanaur's parents."

Jara nodded. "And you used each other as a crutch to make it through, no?"

Carrie nodded. "I'm afraid that's the truth. We've become the best of friends since, but I never know if he loves me the way I do him....."

Jara had decided to stay impartial for this piece of conversation. She had a feeling that Chanaur would want to tell her that he loved her himself. Besides, she was sure that Carrie probably wouldn't believe her anyway....

"I'm not so sure about love, but it is obvious he cares for you a great deal. He seemed truly distressed that he upset you."

Carrie smiled. "Really?"

Jara nodded, feeling like she had just made a new friend. "Oh yes. The poor thing was all broken...." Jara trailed off, looking at something in the corner.

Carrie turned around, and saw a dark figure dart behind a box. "Wait!" She called out. "Who are you?"

A head off blue hair popped up, and looked at Carrie. He was wearing a black suit to fit his small frame, with a ruby brooch on it.

"Malus?" Carrie stepped closer. "What are you doing here? I thought you escaped."

Malus came out from around the box, looking puzzled. "Here? Escape...?" He looked up at her. "Say, are you going to the Castle? To kill the count?"

"Malus, I told you to leave a long time ago. You shouldn't be here, it's not safe." Carrie wondered how he had gotten here, much less how he had survived.

"Are you going to avenge my friends? My mother and Father?"

Carrie placed her hand in a fist over her heart. "I swear it. You shall be avenged." Jara watched in silence, looking back and forth from the boy to Carrie.

Malus started chuckling darkly, and looked at the floor. Carrie took an involuntary step back. When Malus looked back up, his eyes had changed to match Jara's, but with a slightly redder cast. He wore a molevolent grin, one that she remembered in her nightmares.....

"Impossible." He said, his voice much deeper than it should have been.

At this point, Carrie was looking severely vexed, Jara's eyes wide open, as if recognizing him.

"Why?" The horrid voice continued. "Because you are trapped. You and your family will die like wretches!!"

"Malus?" Carrie fingered the handle of her axe. "What the Hell are you talking about?"

Still, Jara was silent.

"All living things will consecrate their souls to the Dark Lord!" He turned and ducked under a bunch of boxes, and was gone. She heard him shout, "Back to the dark realm, where no wretched sunlight comes....."

Carrie touched her hand to her cheek. "Chanaur was right. That child isn't what he seems....."

Jara lit the other torches in the room, so they could see what else there was in here. Just a bunch of boxes at first glance, but immediately to her right was a bunch of shelves, empty.

Except for one small bottle of red liquid.....

She picked it up delicately, noticing a small plaque above the shelves. Warning! Volatile contents: slight shock will result in a large explosion.

"I bet that this could get through one of those walls....." Carrie muttered, handling the bottle very carefully. "Do you think Thomas would know anything about this?"

Jara seemed reluctant to touch it. "Perhaps. I believe he mentioned something like this before..." She swallowed hard, and then asked. "Who was that? The one you called Malus?"

"We found him in the castle Villa, hiding in the Garden Maze. At that time, we thought he was just a child who had been brought by the Dark One but escaped." Carrie sighed. "Back then, Chanaur expected that he was something much more, and this confirms his suspicions....."

Jara nodded. She opened the door, but then closed it. "Carrie, I want to thank you for understanding." She hugged her carefully, because she still had the bottle in her hands. "And don't let Chanaur go. That man is treasure, and I hope he returns your feelings."

"Thanks, Jara. I'm really sorry I didn't trust you...."

"No harm done, Carrie. Let's go." And with that, she left.

Carrie felt like she had made another friend. She followed, her heart swelling with Jara's reassurance.

The moment Thomas saw the red liquid, he nearly jumped back. "Magical nitrogen! Where did you find that?!"

"The storage room, along with a certain child." Carrie gingerly handed the nitrogen to Thomas, who held it to the light.

"Malus? Is he still there?" Chanaur asked.

"No, he's gone. You were right though, he wasn't what he said he was."

Chanaur nodded. "I thought so. There was just something about him...."

Thomas finished examining it. "Thisss can dessscimate almossst any wall." His toungue flicked out of his mouth, and he handed the bottle back to Carrie. "If properly detonated, that isss."

"And how is it properly detonated?" Reinhardt asked.

"With mandragora. It can be found in the Torture Camber, but I believe I sssaw one in here a while ago...." Thomas walked over to the machine that changes humans to demons, and rumagaed around under the table.

"What if it is detonated improperly?" Raziel asked, helping him look.

"Well, a couple of thingsss." He found what he was looking for, and pulled out a wide black vase, with a top, and an inscription of some sort on it. "One, it will implode, causssing no damage at all, or two, it will explode, and radiation poisssoning will claim all sssurvivorsss of the detonation."

"In other words, handle with extreme caution." Reinhardt said.

"Indeed, young Belmont." Thomas smiled. "Indeed...."

Outside the room, Carrie gently set the nitro in front of the cracked wall, and stepped back. Next, Thomas set the mandragora down, and urged everyone to run as small sparks began to bounce back and forth between the two containers.

Seconds later, after an explosion, followed by a hot wind and the settling of dust, they checked what had happened. All that was left was a hole, and two doors. One was nailed shut, impossible to open. The other led on, into a second corridor.

Walking through the corridor, they found themselves in an enormous Library. The book shelves reached probably twenty feet up, and there was even a second floor. A sea of knowledge; if only they had the time to utilize it.....

Thomas looked like a kid in a candy store, running from book shelf to bookshelf, pulling out a few books here and there. It was apparent that he could stay here the rest of his life, and be perfectly contempt just to read these books.

"Well, I guess we take a breather." Raziel said, settling down at a desk with a large tome.

Reinhardt sat down heavily, rumaging around in his pack for something to eat. Chanaur wasted no time in going up to the second floor. Carrie followed him up, looking for a book of spells to widen her arsenal. Jara wandered around, looking at the different titles. "There must be a book here for every subject under the sun....."

"It ssseemsss that way." Thomas was almost bouncing up and down with excitement.

Carrie found Chanaur alone in a corner, the Necronomicon on his lap. She had busied herself with tying her hair into a bun, not risking her neck to anymore living statues. Before now, she hadn't realized that her hair was the perfect handle. "The search continues?" She asked quietly.

Chanaur looked up, and smiled. "Yeah. Not taking anymore chances?"

Carrie laughed slightly. "Not after that." She sat down next to him.

"Well, you seem to be in a much better mood. I take it you cleared up that business with Jara....?" Chanaur looked at her sideways.

Carrie nodded. "I'm sorry I reacted that way. Hell, you know me. My trust is a very fickle thing."

"Indeed." Chanaur said softly. "Which was why I was so afraid when I almost attacked you...."

Carrie laughed, and leaned her head on his shoulder. "Chanaur, what's done is done. It's no big deal. You can't control who you are...." She patted him on the cheek. "And I think I like you the way you are, affliction and all."

Chanaur blushed again. "Thanks, sweetcheeks." He smiled, and looked down at the rest of her. "...And I definitely like the way you are...."

She shoved him playfully. "You flirt you! I must warn you, if you touch me in an unwelcome manner, I'll turn you into a toad." She winked at him.

"My, my. I never thought a body like that could hold a heart so cold...." He winked back.

She sneered at him, and looked down at the book. "Any luck?"

"Of course not. Have I ever been a lucky person?" Chanaur was still smiling broadly.

"No, I guess not." She extricated the book from his lap, and laid down on her stomach with it in front of her. "I've always had better luck, so I'll look for it."

Chanaur lay down next to her. "But I taught you how to read the Runes." He protested in a whiny voice, making Carrie laugh. "If anyone should be looking through the Book of the Dead, it should be meeee!"

"Aw, quit your sniveling." Carrie reached out with her right hand to turn the page, when she noticed something amiss. She wasn't quite sure what it was at first, but then she looked at her wrist.

The bracelet..... she patted her pockets, searching for it. What happened to it?!

"Oh, by the way, you dropped this back there." Chanaur said, pulling the bracelet from his pocket. "I thought you might want it back, but I forgot I still had it."

Carrie let out a huge sigh. "Thank you, so much." She took it from him and kissed him on the cheek. "If I would have lost this....." She put it back on.

"Hey Carrie, it's just a bracelet. But it obviously has a much greater meaning to you....."

Carrie stared at him for a moment. "Chanaur, haven't you noticed? I've never taken this off since I got it. The only reason it left my wrist is because they removed it for my torturing. If I'm not mistaken, this is the first gift I've gotten when it wasn't my birthday or Christmas...."

Chanaur muttered, "You know, I never really thought of it that way." Chanaur touched two fingers to his temple and said, "Mentle note: Women love impromptu gifts."

"Oh, stop it." She rolled her eyes. "You know what I mean, don't you?"

"Oh yeah. You see, I just meant it as an icebreaker, before I asked you to the ball, but I didn't know it would have affected you like that....." He shrugged. "I just saw the bracelet in a store window, and it said Fear Not, and that rang a bell in my head. I bought it, and added the other message myself."

"So, you were reading my mind that night!" She accused.

"No, you were thinking it awful hard. You were practically speaking to me."

"I know, Chanaur." She nudged him with her elbow. "I was just teasing."

Chanaur nodded. "You know, we seem to do that a lot."

Carrie nodded, mimicking him. "Yeah, but once in a while, you hit on insult, and then I get mean...."

"Yeah, and I've got the scars to prove it." Chanaur muttered. Carrie only laughed.

They fell silent, leafing through the book. They heard the dead whispering around them, which Carrie found disconcerting. When the voices became more insistant, she scooted closer to him, causing him to smile, ever so slightly. "A little scared, are we?"

"Yes. Aren't you?" she asked quietly, turning the next page.

Chanaur felt her hand touch his, and hold it tight. "Terrified...." He squeezed her hand.

He wasn't terrified because of the book before him. He was terrified because of Carrie. This was one of those rare moments when neither of them expected a joke, when they were both, for a time, serious. And these were the times that scared him the most. He was always afraid that his toungue would act of it's own accord, as it often did, and say the wrong thing.

Namely, say that he loved her.

Chanaur no longer saw the page he was staring at. All that mattered at the moment was Carrie's hand, holding his. She just seemed so scared.... So vulnerable.

Her hand tightened suddenly. "Wait, look at this page...." She pointed to a string of Sigla. "A diffuse dose of wolfsbane sap can nullify the hunger for a short time....." Carrie looked up at him, and asked, "Have you tried that?"

He gestured to the book, as if telling her to read on.

"Side effects; heavy nausea, and unconsciousness." Carrie shrugged. "I guess not....." she turned the page.

Chanaur didn't trust himself to open his mouth. He absently scanned the page, as Carrie snuggled up closer. The whispers were beginning to form words....

"You know, maybe we should just skip it." Chanaur said, placing a hand on the cover. "I've been doing alright, I guess I can handle it...."

Carrie put a hand on the page, making it so he couldn't close the book. "We have to try, Chanaur. We should find at least an aid, before Reinhardt finds out." She snorted bitterly. "You and I both know that he would kill you on the spot if he found out what you were...."

Chanaur gave up. He set the cover back onto the ground, and returned to the page. Carrie laid her entire arm on his, their fingers lacing.

Distracted momentarily, he listened to the voices of the dead. They were speaking in the ancient toungue his father had taught him, but which he still hadn't even mentioned to Carrie....

.....take her, Dhampire....

.....smell her blood....

.....taste her blood.....

.....make her like you.....

.....concecrate her to your grandfather.....

.....and live forever with her.....

"No!" Chanaur shouted, slamming the book shut. It was too late, he felt the hunger rising again.

Carrie's hand tightened on his, worry rising in her eyes. "Chanaur? What's wrong?"

He looked into her beautiful eyes, seeing her concern. As if the dead were taunting him still, the smell of her blood reached his nostrils. He recalled the taste, against his will. His mouth would have wattered, if it hadn't been so dry from fear.....

"Chanaur?" She repeated, touching her free hand to his cheek. "Are you okay?"

He started shaking violently. Carrie saw his fangs sprout, and she backed away hurriedly. "Christ! I had a feeling those voices were speaking to you!"

"I'll be okay, hon. Just give me a second...." He turned away from her, and asked her to leave.

Carrie left, jumping back down to the first floor. "Chanaur and I found another cracked wall, back near the beginning. We need to find another bottle of nitrogen, while someone goes for a mandrake."

Thomas nodded. "Yesss, there isss a ssssecond ssstore of the magical nitro. It isss beyond the other door in the grand hall. You'll have some trouble getting it back to the wall, so I suggest you, Chanaur, and Reinhardt go together."

Jara looked up from a book she had in her lap. "I'll go find another mandragora. We'll meet in the grand hall, after I've set the detonator."

Carrie nodded. "But the wall is sealed. The seal needs to be released before we can find what is behind the wall."

Raziel looked up from his book. "Thomas and I will stay here and search for a way to remove it. You four go off and search."

By now, Chanaur had calmed himself, and was back downstairs. Carrie looked at him. You alright?

He nodded. "Well, let's get going." Chanaur rubbed his hands together. "We'll escort Jara as far as the grand hall, and then separate. Being a servant of the Count, she probably won't run into much resistance."

Jara let out a derisive snort. "One of the few advantages of the office....." And then they left, setting off to find the exit to this cursed place.

"I'll look down here, Raziel. You sssearch upssstairsss." Thomas returned to the shelves, no longer excited because of his assignment.

Raziel climbed up to the top floor, looking at the books. He could only understand the titles to a few: most of the words were comprised of runes.....

The ones that Raziel could descipher were useless. Pretty much just books on herbal remedies, astronomy, and old legends. He searched the other wall, but then something caught his eye....

In the middle of the floor was a podium. It was as tall as Raziel, and just above it was a tile that was discolored from the rest of the one in the roof.

"Thomas!" He called down. "I think I've found somthing!!"

After a few seconds, Thomas was standing beside him. "What isss it?"

Raziel climbed on top of the podium, and smiled as the discolored tile slid out of the way. He smiled down, and climbed up. "It would seem to be a private library."

Thomas climbed up, and sure enough there was a single bookcase, crammed with books on astronomy. A desk stood in the middle of the room, and there was another podium to it's right. This one was low enough to step up onto, though.

The next room up had a domed cieling, with stars projected onto it. It was dark in the room, but a machine in the middle of the room emanated light, projecting the stars on the dome.

On the opposite side of the room, were three statues, each made of a different material. Raziel recognzed the first as the one they had found in room where they found the bloodborn....

"Incredible...." Thomas muttered, walking over to the statues. His tail flicked slightly, and he read the inscription. "Arrange the goddesssesss under their father the sssun to releassse the ssseel....." He turned back. "I think thisss isss what we needed."

"The blue one is Neptune, the eighth child. So she would go here....." Raziel picked up the blue statue, and placed it on the yellow circle in the eighth orbit around the red circle in the middle.

"Gold is Venusss." Thomas said. "Sssecond child." He placed her where she belonged. "Red isss Marsss. She goesss here....." Raziel placed her in the fourth orbit.

The circle representing the sun began to glow with a white light. The glow was very slight at first, but continued to intensify. After it became a blinding radiance, they both turned away.

It had dimmed slightly, so they looked back. The light had become a glowing orb, floating higher and higher. Once it was halfway to the cieling, it rocketed between the two of them, and dissapeared through the wall.

Thomas laughed hissingly. "One puzzle down...." He turned and looked at Raziel. "One to go."

"Well, here we split up." Jara said. "Take this door to the other storeroom. You'll find more nitro. It'll be a difficult return journey, nearly impossible with one person. Don't worry. I know you'll make it."

"Thanks, Jara." Carrie waved goodbye, and opened the door. "Wish us luck."

"Granted." Jara said, smiling and waving. They all left, but before they were gone, Reinhardt returned to her.

"Jara...." He whispered. "Do you know of a vampire named Rosa?" She nodded. "Well.... If you see her, send her my love, okay?"

"Of course, Reinhardt." Jara smiled a little, guessing at what had happened.

"Thank you." He said. He turned and followed the others. Jara turned around and headed down the staircase, headed for the Torture Chamber.

She passed by several vampires along the way, who paid little or no attention to her. Most of them were talking, or just lying in wait.

Suddenly, she felt an arm around her throat. She felt someone sniff her, picking up a scent. A familiar voice sounded in her ear. "You reek of humans, Jara."

"Reginald, get off me!" She broke free, and rounded on him angrily.

Reginald advanced again. "So, what happened? Did you loose your nerve in the moment of truth? Did the Dhampire pose too much of a problem for you?"

"Sure, Reginald." She snarled. "When you were young, I bet you didn't go picking fights with four vampire slayers." She turned away. "Especially when one is a Belmont, one a Fernandez, another a man-wolf, and the last one the Count's grandson!" She continued on. The Torture Chamber was at the end of this halway.

He darted before her again. "You freshies are all alike." He spat. "Pretentious beyond toleration. If you weren't a felow vampire, I'd....." Then his eyes widened as he looked beyond her.

He cowered slightly, bowed, and whispered, "Hello, master Death."

Jara's eyes widened in turn. She turned around, and curtseyed obeisence. The black cloaked figure stepped closer, his footfalls silent. "You two would be wise to stop bickering, and return to your posts. The slayers have made it this far." He shot a glare at Jara. "The master is displeased, young one. Cavorting with the living. Much less the ones come to destroy us."

"I appologize, sir." She bowed deeply. "I seeked knowledge from the Tepes descendent. I would have seduced him to my will, had he not been already smitten with Carrie." She stood straight again, and reported, "He is a very trusting man, my Lord. We could use this to our advantage."

"Perhaps, young one. Good work." He inclined his head. "I appologize." He turned to Reginald. "I believe you owe her an appology too, Reginald."

Reginald numbly appologized, knowing he had screwed up bad this time.

"Now, return to your posts. Jara, continue your desception." With that, Death faded away into nothing.

Reginald turned to her. "You learn quickly, don't you?" Without another word, he left, muttering to himself.

Jara smiled. She had lied her ass off, and it actually helped. She turned to the Torture Chamber, and entered into it. She obtained a mandrake, and backtracked to the Colloseum.

She saw that the seel was gone. Setting the mandragora, she turned around to go find the others.

But that's not who she found first.

Chanaur looked back at the series of obsticals they had overcome. "Boy, Jara wasn't kidding. Imagine, carrying something as explosive as the nitrogen accross that alone!"

An enormous pit stood between them and the place they had come from. Crossing the bit, was a network of narrow walkways, each one fifteen feet above the ground. Some of them were booby-trapped, so that they collapsed under your feet. Beyond the pit was a series of enormous gears, too tall to climb up on top of. This way, you would have to run between the gears, avoiding being smashed.

So, needless to say, the task of getting accross to the exit alone would be close to impossible.

"Yeah. Kinda sacary, huh?" Carrie muttered. She turned away, and followed Reinhardt up the staircase into the next room. Chanaur shook his head one last time, and followed.

They found another Hell Knight, and smashed the animated suit of armor with little problems. The next door led to a large dining room. There were two tables, each set for twelve. Tall candelabras were in the middle of the tables, and a grand chandelier dimly illuminated the room.

They continued on. Suddenly, Chanaur stopped, drawing his sword. He had heard something.

The others followed his example. They all looked around the room, ready for whatever was coming.

Suddenly, Carrie cried out, and hit the floor, face down, unconcious. Chanaur whipped around, seeing a vampire a little ways away from her. He had hit her in the head, and had too much momentum to land on her. It turned around, and came back to claim his prize....

Chanaur never gave it the chance. He leapt at it, and beheaded it just before it came to Carrie.

Reinhardt was busy with a pair of others, as another started for Carrie. The dark room had made a perfect place for an ambush. Chanaur had to fight off three others before he could tend to Carrie.

By this time, Chanaur was deuling with a lone creature, and obviously didn't need help.

He leaned down beside Carrie, gently turing her over. There didn't seem to be a mark on her, so he placed a hand on her temple to bring her around....

....and he felt her warm blood on his fingers.

Suddenly, the whispers of the dead were echoing through his head again. ...take her....make her like you are....add her to the family...

Chanaur fought as best he could. He wrapped his arms around her, to set her back on her feet, but she seemed to get heavier and heavier.....

She was now in his lap, unconcious and bleeding. He felt his fangs sprout through his gums again, and shook his head violently. No! I can't let this happen!!

It was too late. He lowered his lips to her throat.....

Reinhardt finished off the vampire, and laughed. "You were right, Chanaur. They are getting smarter." He turned to look at him, and Chanaur saw his eyes boggle.

But only for a second. Quick as a flash, Reinhardt was before him.

Chanaur threw his head back in an agonized scream as a feathered blade slid between his ribs, spearing through his heart.

End Part Fourteen.

Part 15