Title: Under the Milky Way
Author: bnomiko
Rating: NC-17
Pairing(s): Trevor + Sypha + Alucard, Trevor x Alucard
Spoilers: through the end of S3 + through S4
Disclaimer: "Under the Milky Way" is performed and recorded by The Church. "Cuts You Up" is performed and recorded by Peter Murphy. Castlevania is the creation and property of Konami. Castlevania (animated series) is the creation and property of Netflix. This is a not-for-profit fanwork and I do not own any of these characters.
Summary: After the events of Lindenfeld, all Trevor and Sypha wanted was to return to the closest thing they had to "home," but Alucard has not fared well in their absence. "You wanted to save the world, remember?" " He also needed it. He needed us." Post S3 + S4 animation canon based.
Archived at: http://www.phenixsol.com/Miko/FF/

* * *

Under the Milky Way

Ch. 13: Through the zero hour we'll walk
We'll cut the thick and break the thin

* * *

By the time Trevor arrived at Danesti, he wondered if his skills were needed at all. The bodies of several night creatures lay strewn about in the dirt, most with very obvious sword wounds. One had a broken neck, another a crushed cranium. Adrian was standing just past a breach in the wood fence around the village, his sword hovering at his side like a loyal hawk. Trevor dismounted and hustled to join up with him, only pausing to stick his sword in one monster that was still twitching.

"Finish killing them properly, will ya?" he huffed as he caught up with the half-vampire.

Adrian managed to quirk a hint of a smile. "Sorry, I was in a bit of a hurry." He turned back to the gathered villagers, who stared back at him with a mix of wariness, exhaustion and hope. "You sent me a letter?"

A woman with sharp eyes edged to the forefront. "Yes. Welcome to Danesti."

Adrian's gaze flickered over the small cottages dotting the valley. "I presume it's seen better days."

"Quieter ones. I'm Greta, the village headwoman," she said, introducing herself.

"Call me Alucard. No 'the,'" Adrian said firmly, before putting a hand on Trevor's shoulder. "This is Trevor Belmont, of House Belmont." He deliberately brushed against the hunter's cloak to reveal a glimpse of the family crest on his breast.

"Belmont...?" she mused. A soft murmur went through the crowd behind her.

Trevor tensed up as he tried to read their expressions. He was used to his family name evoking just as much fear and vitriol as a monster's appearance would. But Greta seemed more curious than disgusted, and no one else was waving weapons in his face, so maybe he'd get through the night without being kicked in the testicles after all.

"Did Marius..." Greta began again, as she peeked behind them, as if expecting a third person to ride up.

"Was that your rider?" Adrian shook his head. "I'm afraid not. He was attacked en route and bled out from his wounds. His horse carried him the rest of the way with your message in his hand."

"Oh." Her disappointment was evident in just that single utterance.

"I'm sorry. "

"Well, he's not the only one we've lost. But he was the last of his family, which is why he risked the journey. Still, I'd hoped..." She sighed. "That's what hoping gets you, I suppose. I have a lot more people to save, Alucard." Turning slightly to address the gathered masses, she said, "Get some rest, everybody, while you can," and it was like a ripple of fatigue traveled through the group as people turned and began staggering back to their homes, pitchforks held in drooping hands.

"How long have you been under attack?" Trevor asked.

"Four days. First it was just one of those bastards. More every night. We barely made it through last night. We're lucky only a third of us are dead. Will you help us?" Greta implored.

"I'm sure we can do something for you," Adrian answered, finally sheathing his sword.

Greta scrutinized the way the blade flew into the scabbard without the half-vampire even flicking a finger. "I'm not interested in magic tricks and one fight. These people are under my care. Will you stay and defend them for as long as it takes?"

"I said..." Adrian tried again, but she cut him off, ignoring his twitch of irritation.

"You have to understand, I don't know you. You've been twenty-odd miles away for months. You creep around the forest. You've got bodies on stakes outside your weird castle. You're obviously half-vampire, and he stinks of beer, and you both appear to me to be at least half-crazy," she ranted, earning a noticeable scowl from Trevor before she caught herself. "But you were the only possible advantage I could think of. I don't need to be impressed by low-key swagger. I need you to commit to saving these people. Because my life isn't worth living if I can't save theirs."

"Oh my God," Trevor muttered under his breath, taking a half step forward as Adrian slid one foot back, indicating he should have his say. "Hold on. You've obviously had people skulking around the woods too, so who are you to judge? And unless you're newly arrived yourself, you must've been aware of the existence of the old Belmont manor - which also happens to sit some twenty miles away - and the fate that befell it."

"Yes. Though rumors held that there were no survivors. A shame, because in times like this, we certainly could use more men like you," Greta said.

"There would be, if my entire family hadn't been murdered."

Greta's eyebrow twitched, and her lips tightened into a grim line. "We're not a large village, certainly not a well-to-do one, and never have been. Though some folks here hold to their beliefs and prayers, the Church has not bothered to extend its influence here as it would the larger towns and cities."

"Is that the roundabout way of saying no one here participated in the burning of the estate?" Trevor snarled, wanting a clear answer one way or another.

"I cannot account for the whereabouts of every single villager back when it happened, but my father was headman at that time. We only learned about it after the fact. As I said, it's a shame. We certainly held no ill will towards your house; in fact, I've only heard your family name mentioned with respect." Her voice dropped as she further confided, "And many folk here - including myself - still dabble discretely in a bit of magic."

Trevor grunted, and half-turned to look at Adrian. He hoped he was able to convey what he was thinking without having to say it: Is she hiding anything? The blond stared at him, his mildly assessing gaze more reassuring than any spoken word, then gave a slight shake of his head.

Trevor relaxed. He was glad he hadn't decided to come in lieu of Adrian in some crazy search for answers. He'd been planning on offering his aid anyhow - it was the right thing to do, Sypha would kill him otherwise, no one had punched him or spat on him yet, etc. - but it was easier to agree knowing that his help was actually wanted.

Adrian cocked an eyebrow. "All done?"

"Yeah," the brunet replied.

Greta looked between the two. "Did it work? Will you help?"

"Yes," Adrian answered for the both of them.

"Then I'm all done as well. Thank you. And that was one hell of an entrance."

"Yes, indeed so. You really are an impressive young man," came a man's voice from a latrine hut. Trevor's brows drew together; he thought he recognized it. Then the door opened, confirming his suspicions.

"Sickening violence isn't especially in my skill set, you understand, but I can recognize a fellow expert, no matter what the field," Saint Germain continued, leaning against the door frame.

Greta groaned, turning away. "Oh, God. This one."

"Saint Germain? How'd you get here?" Trevor asked in confusion.

"Well if it isn't Belmont! I could ask the same of you."

"Someone you know?" Adrian asked Trevor.

The hunter nodded. "This is Saint Germain; I think we mentioned him before? He aided us back in Lindenfeld." He turned back to the flamboyantly dressed alchemist. "I came because the people of Danesti sent a letter asking for help."

"Yes, it certainly has been a harrowing few nights here." Saint Germain looked around a moment, then in a slightly hushed tone, asked, "Where is your Speaker?"

"She's keeping an eye on things back home," Trevor answered, sending a strange flutter through Adrian's chest. It hadn't fully sunk in that Trevor considered the castle "home," but to hear him call it such eased Adrian's earlier worries that their stay was only temporary.

"I did not know Speakers had such a thing," Saint Germain commented.

"If you want to be technical about it, we're living in Adrian's castle," the brunet said casually, gesturing at the blond, who continued to listen on in wonderment. Living there, not just visiting. Not just guests.

Saint Germain's eyes settled on his new target. "You would be Adrian Tepes, yes?"

Adrian stared right back. The last person who'd used his given name without asking was Sumi. He hadn't minded at the time, but now... "The Wallachians call me Alucard," he clarified.

"Ah, yes. My apologies. Do allow me to present myself. I am the Count Saint Germain, scholar in residence to many of the great courts of Europe," said scholar introduced himself with a practiced bow.

"Why were you cowering in a latrine hut?" Adrian had to ask.

"Oh. Is this a latrine?" Saint Germain laughed nervously, then stammered, "I just... I just thought someone had gotten very scared. I'm traveling, sir. Interesting times in Wallachia. I felt that a man of letters should bear witness."

"And are you enjoying your tourism so far?" Adrian inquired, not bothering to disguise his disbelief that this gutless man had proven useful at all to Trevor and Sypha.

"Um... it has been, um... enlightening," Saint Germain answered with a heavy sigh, unable to continue meeting that golden lupine gaze.

The half-vampire shot Trevor an irritated glance that said, Is this guy for real?? Trevor gave him an apologetic look in return, shrugging one shoulder slightly.

Before Adrian could make a disparaging comment about how even cowards had an obligation to make an effort to defend themselves in this day and age, something else caught his attention. He suddenly perked up, his head swiveling as he asked, "Can you hear that?"

Trevor strained to pick up anything unusual, but there was nothing but wind. "Hear what?"

"I hear nothing," said Saint Germain.

"Me neither," confirmed Greta.

Adrian's hand fell to the hilt of his sword regardless. "Trevor, something's coming," he warned as he stepped back into the breach by the ruined gate, the hunter immediately joining him with practiced precision, trusting in Adrian's senses. Neither man said a word as they stood shoulder to shoulder to meet whatever foe came their way, but after a particularly sharp gust of wind sent Adrian's hair flying, even Trevor could hear the sound of multiple footsteps, along with the soft clopping of horse hooves and the creaking of wheels. And then a group of humans came around the bend, waving torches. A heavyset man in the forefront held the reins of the black horse that Adrian had leapt off of in his haste to join the battle.

The blond exhaled, and pulled his hand away from his weapon. "Someone brought your horse back."

"Thank goodness, that's a good horse," said Greta, rushing past him to talk to the approaching band.

Now that it was clear that there was no threat, Saint Germain stepped forward, watching as the headwoman began directing the travelers towards her village, greeting each one in turn. "She's very good isn't she? It's a shame..."

"What is?" asked Adrian.

"Well, such a talent with the common people. But it's wasted out here, don't you think?"

"I think she's probably right where she's supposed to be," Adrian observed. Certainly this was something neither he nor Trevor were suited for - they'd come to lend their strength, nothing else - so at least there was someone here who was willing to lead and direct and see to the needs of the masses.

After talking to several of the new arrivals, Greta returned to explain the situation. "They're from Lasa, a village about ten miles away. They've been walking for hours."

"They were attacked, too?" Trevor asked, concerned about the heightened activity in the area.

"Their village was put to the torch. They say they're not the only ones. This group includes refugees from five other villages in the region."

"Jesus," Trevor grumbled, as tired travelers filed past them, dragging their possessions on makeshift sleds or in carts pulled by weary horses. Was there no safety to be found anywhere? The area around the castle had felt pretty safe, but that was because the three of them could easily take care of any wayward beasts - these simple farmers and peasants, not so much.

"I see. They escaped," Adrian commented.

"They survived," Greta clarified, "despite losing many people to vampire and night creature feeding attacks."

"Interesting. Why would they be burning the villages though?" Saint Germain wondered.

"If vampires are involved this isn't the blind destruction we're all used to with night creatures. They’re conducting feeding to sustain them through continued battle. They’re removing shelter and the possibility of aid and witnesses. This is troubling in its complexity," Adrian said, frowning. Trevor nodded in agreement, his mind racing to figure out why this was happening all of a sudden. All signs pointed to a new plot; he just wasn't sure what it could be.

"I am of course not a military man, although I have certainly advised generals and kings, but might I suggest that this village is inherently indefensible?" Saint Germain piped in.

Greta looked around. The broken gate needed to be mended for sure. And it was going to be a struggle accommodating the influx of newcomers. "It hasn't worked out well, so far, has it?"

"You may have a point, Saint Germain," Adrian agreed.

"Perhaps, just until we all find out what's going on, perhaps the remaining persons in your charge might be moved to a more secure location, like um... y-your castle... possibly," the alchemist suggested, earning a warning growl from Adrian. He wasn't opposed to helping, but his home wasn't an inn or a safe house. There were potentially hazardous things lying about. Trevor and Sypha were still working on clean up and repair. And he couldn't imagine these villagers being comfortable with the idea of being housed in what had been Dracula's castle, in windowless barracks intended for vampire troops.

"It's... not a terrible idea, actually," said Trevor, rubbing his chin, and Adrian turned to gawk at him. "No, really. We don't have to put everyone up in the castle," he explained, as if he'd plucked that thought right out of his comrade's mind, "but it'd be good for defense if another attack were to happen. We can close up the gates if needed, or hell, leave them open and funnel the attackers into tight quarters. Easier for Sypha and I to pick them off that way."

"I... suppose that's true," the half-vampire reluctantly admitted. "All right, then."

"Well, Greta? As headwoman, it's your call. What do you think?" Trevor asked.

"I think it's a long shot, but better than the alternative. If we stay here, we'll get picked off in a matter of days, even with help." She turned to Adrian. "Thank you, once again. My people and I will do our best to not impose on your hospitality."

Adrian bowed his head slightly in acknowledgement.

"Now that that's decided, we should get a move on as soon as possible," Trevor declared.

Greta sighed heavily, looking around. "It's already been a difficult night. We all need time to rest, and to pack what we can."

"Will one hour do? Two?" Trevor asked.

Greta shook her head, her lips pressed tightly together. It seemed like too much to ask when her people were so worn down already.

"Two is reasonable, I think. We must leave tonight, before the attacking forces have a chance to react," Adrian explained. "Greta, instruct your people to only take what they need. Distance and speed dictates that we travel as light as possible. If all goes well, we should be able to make it back to the castle by morning."

"... All right. I'll let everyone know," she finally agreed, before turning on her heel and heading over to the clustered cottages to spread the news.

* * *

They left Danesti with well over two hundred refugees in tow. Small children, elderly, and anyone else unable to make the trek rode in one of two smaller wagons; everyone else would have to walk. The remaining wagons carried essential supplies like food, clothing, and tents, plus an assortment of livestock, clucking and bleating complaints from their cages and tethers.

Since Adrian could see in the dark and hear as well as an owl, it made sense for him to take lead. Trevor followed up the rear, to guard against back attacks and ensure no one fell behind. They agreed upon simple signals to communicate their status: one long whistle if they needed the group to stop for any reason, two short whistles in case of attack. Greta assigned herself to float between the front and back, to further relay instructions or catch any smaller issues that arose.

The first attack happened less than two miles into their journey. Two short whistles from the front and Trevor immediately reached up to grab the reins of the cart horse beside him, holding it still as he strained his ears to listen for any tell tale signs of movement in the vegetation around them. Moments later he spotted a blur of red in the branches overhead and realized that Adrian had engaged the enemy somewhere high above them, which meant that Trevor would be at a disadvantage in dealing with it if it came down to that.

Nevertheless the hunter was keen to join the fray, but he maintained his position, knowing it was his job to guard the rear. Not hearing a long whistle to follow the short ones, he understood they needed to keep moving forward, so he released the horse and resumed walking alongside, his hand now resting on the handle of his whip, just in case. There was suddenly a loud crash off to one side, but after a minute passed without anything else happening he relaxed slightly, as Adrian had apparently taken care of the issue without problem.

After a second attack, this time by a few pairs and trios of smaller night creatures, Greta slowly made her way to the rear of the convoy, checking for any incurred damage and ensuring everyone could continue on at their current pace.

She finally caught up to Trevor and fell in place beside him. He looked no worse for wear after taking down two of the demons himself. He nodded in acknowledgement at her but didn't say anything, content to just continue his surveillance of their surroundings. Greta understood he had a job to do, but she was curious about the man... if she was entrusting the lives of her people to him, she needed to get a better understanding of him, especially given the fact that he'd all but accused the people of Danesti of being complicit in the persecution of his family.

"I never expected to meet a hunter - a Belmont, at that - with a vampire for a partner," the headwoman casually commented, baiting her hook.

Trevor grumbled. "Adrian's half-human. More than that, he's a good man, better than any I've met in a long time."

"So... is he yours?"

What's that supposed to mean? "He's not a piece of property or some sort of prize," Trevor said with a scowl. Was it too forward to label him his boyfriend even though they were still feeling out their relationship? He had woken up that morning with Adrian in his arms... obviously that wasn't something he'd do with just any random person...

"If not, it's no problem if I make a move on him, then."

Trevor nearly tripped over his own feet. "... Wait, what?"

Greta gave a small shrug, then began ticking off her points on the fingers of one hand. "He's polite, well spoken, intelligent, and an accomplished swordsman. And it doesn't hurt in the slightest that he's easy on the eyes."

"Keep your eyes to yourself," Trevor growled, uncertain if he'd said it loud enough for her to hear over the rumbling of wagon wheels, or if he'd meant for her to hear it at all. Why did Adrian always have to wander around in tight pants and a low-cut shirt? Funny... Trevor didn't think he was a possessive type of guy - it hadn't bothered him at all when he'd learned that Sypha liked Adrian, and he'd never fussed over her talking to other men or vice versa - but Greta's ribbing was rubbing him the wrong way. Not that she was wrong in her assessment, but she needed to get in line. Scratch that - there wasn't going to be a line. Maybe he was being overprotective, but Adrian didn't need more drama in his personal life.

She chuckled. She knew it wouldn't take much to get the truth out of Trevor given how obvious he was being. "You should've just said so! But it's fine, I know when I'm unwelcome. I knew it the moment you showed up and scolded him, with bite marks on your throat."

The hunter's hand flew up to the side of his neck. He'd forgotten about those! "Oh. Er... that's..."

"You also haven't taken your eyes off him for more than ten seconds, even in combat."

"Just making sure he doesn't need backup," Trevor said, his eyes flicking back up the convoy to search for the glint of moonlight blond hair up ahead, his beacon in the darkness.

"And you keep calling him Adrian, not Alucard."

"That's... It's his fucking name," Trevor retorted defensively. He was beginning to wonder if it would've been less painful to get punched in the dick at first introduction, rather than having to deal with this commentary.

Greta smiled. "I see." She could've added more, as she'd noticed the two men stood awfully close when speaking, plus Trevor had already admitted to living with him, but she'd made her point. It was a relief to know that her plea for help had reached not just one individual, but a team, given that they'd alluded to a Speaker living with them as well - she and her people would happily take all the help they could get. "Well, I better head back up to the front with 'Adrian' then."

"It's Alucard to you; he said it plainly," Trevor griped.

"Yes, yes, I know," she said with a wave as she jogged off. She hadn't meant to needle him so much, but the fact that he'd been so resistant to giving her a clear answer made her want to tease it out of him. Even without looking back she knew the brunet was scowling at her, but she had no doubt he'd do his job without fail, regardless of anything she'd said. He was a Belmont after all.

* * *

It would've been fantastic if they made it back to the castle unscathed, but even Trevor's luck didn't run that deep. Still, they managed to keep casualties and even injuries to a minimum, with Adrian smashing his way through anything in the front, Greta and a few of her more competent fighters taking out some enemies where they could, and Trevor dealing with the remainder of attacks in the back.

The castle's twisting towers were almost a welcome sight as they got closer and the spires rose higher and higher above the forest, reaching up into the early morning sky like an unnaturally large, mutated tree. Adrian stopped once they reached the clearing around the perimeter of the castle, allowing everyone behind him to shuffle in and get a good look at the massive structure, along with the surrounding space they'd be staying in.

Saint Germain was in awe. "Dracula's castle," he breathed. "Astonishing! It's really quite..."

"Ugly as sin," Greta supplied for him.

"It's not ugly," Adrian protested.

"It's ugly. And it's sad. And it's cold. Bad things happened here," the headwoman complained.

Adrian frowned. She wasn't completely wrong, but... "That's my childhood home you're talking about."

"Well that explains a lot," Greta retorted.

Trevor fought back a snort of amusement, as Sypha had said something similar before; at the same time, he couldn't help but put his hand on Adrian's shoulder, as if to help lessen the blow. "It's less ugly and more straight up depressing, but it's actually pretty comfortable inside." It was a good thing he and Sypha had cleared out all the staked bodies in front. If Greta thought it was a miserable place now, she really would've loved seeing it with corpses decorating the gates.

She glanced at the two of them, then softened her tone a little. "Sorry, some places just have a chill to them. Maybe my people and I can warm it up a little."

Saint Germain was clearly not in agreement with Greta. "It's magnificent," he declared, panning his vision around. "And there, the Belmont Hold I believe! This, my dear lady, may be the most important place in the modern world." He began taking a few steps towards it, as if magnetically drawn forward.

"At this moment, it is the best defense I can think of. Welcome to my home," Adrian said, taking a few steps forward before turning and offering a courteous bow to his new guests.

An even better welcome was seeing Sypha sailing down the stairs and running across the clearing to greet them. She caught up to Adrian first, giving him a quick kiss before hugging him tightly, the folds of his cloak falling around her, almost obscuring her from view, before he pushed one side back to pull Trevor in to join them. Sypha gave a short laugh in relief as she got sandwiched in between them. Although she trusted them to take care of themselves and one another, she was still glad to see that they were both safe and sound.

Greta couldn't help but grin at the show of affection she was witnessing.

Once they were finished, Trevor moved to Sypha's side, leaving an arm slung over her shoulder, while she hung onto Adrian by his hand, interlacing their fingers together. So it was Adrian with his free hand who gestured at Greta and said, "Sypha, this is Greta, headwoman of the nearest village; she was the one who sent the note. Greta, Sypha - our resident Speaker-magician."

The two women exchanged greetings and handshakes, then Sypha turned to Trevor and asked, "So what's the plan?" as she looked over the ragtag masses that stared at the castle with weariness and uncertainty.

Trevor answered, "We need to get these people set up. The area in front of the castle is cleared, so I guess for now that would be the best bet. Oh, and Saint Germain somehow ended up here as well, though... I lost track of him for the moment."

Sypha's eyes widened, and she quickly looked around for a man in a red coat in a sea of muted peasant's garbs. "Saint Germain?! How..." she trailed off as Trevor shrugged.

"Actually, I don't recall if he explained. I suppose it has something to do with the Corridor?"

"I'll see if I can find out; I really am curious!" Sypha exclaimed.

"I last saw that fellow wandering in the direction of the Hold," Adrian offered. The alchemist had been quite overwhelmed at seeing both the castle and the ruins of the Belmont estate, so it appeared that his curiosity overrode common sense, which dictated he stay with the group of refugees.

She nodded, looking between the two men. "I'll catch up with him later. For now, you both look exhausted... and filthy."

Trevor looked down at the stains on his tunic and pants, though they were hardly the worst he'd ever had. Adrian's shirt wasn't much better; he even had some smears across his face and mud in his hair, which was atypical of him. "Blame the night creatures for bleeding on us," Trevor sniffed.

Sypha sighed. It couldn't be helped. "Go get some rest. I can handle things out here for now."

"Trevor, go ahead. There's some people requiring medical attention, so I need to take care of that first," Adrian said.

"Anything serious? Because you know I can handle cleaning and dressing cuts and scrapes," the redhead pointed out.

Adrian looked glumly at Greta, who thought about it and said, "No, I don't think so. Unfortunately we did have some losses but I don't believe any survivors have severe wounds, thanks to the efforts of your friends here." Although she didn't mention it, she knew Adrian had been feeling guilty about one particular hapless soul who'd gotten half melted by a wayward splash of acid from a giant centipede monster, simply because he'd been standing too close to where Adrian had been fighting. But Greta had tried to mitigate his guilt by pointing out that it was partially her fault too, as she had wanted in on the action even though he'd warned her that he needed space; she and her people had ended up underestimating just how far the creature's spittle could fly. "Also, we do have an old herbalist that made the trip; she can help with any aches and pains that need treatment," she added, hoping that would help.

"Well then, there's your answer," Sypha said, pointedly ignoring Adrian's protests as she slipped out from under Trevor's arm and began pushing both her partners towards the castle steps. "I got plenty of sleep last night. And I'm better at organizing people and aid efforts than either one of you. So off to bed now!"

The men exchanged looks, then Trevor shrugged. His hand came to rest on Adrian's elbow. "Come on, you know there's no point in arguing. A bath sounds good. And a beer."

"Absolutely no beer. We need you sober," Sypha scolded.

"Well, shit..." Trevor groused, but he didn't argue back.

Adrian gave him a sympathetic smile. Normally he wouldn't have had issue with it either, especially after a long and taxing night, but they didn't know when they'd be attacked again. Maybe it'd be okay the next evening, if the attacks didn't continue, but he was a realist, not an optimist - someone was deliberately targeting the inhabitants of the area. "Sypha, come wake us if you need anything."

"Of course," she said, waving them off, before turning to Greta and saying, "So, let's talk logistics..."

* * *

The women chatted as they walked in the shadow of the massive castle, about everything from headcount to where to draw clean water from and what to do about provisions. For the time being, they'd allowed everyone to set up wherever they wanted in front of the castle gates, just so the worn down refugees could get some much-needed rest. But assuming they stayed for more than a day or two, there needed to be a more concrete plan, and for that, Sypha needed to consult with Adrian. She knew there was quite a lot of dry goods in the castle, and useful items like blankets and soap and even weapons, but technically none of it was hers to give away, so she told Greta they'd have to ask Adrian about it after he and Trevor had a chance to rest.

"And on that subject, are the three of you..." Greta began.

"... In a relationship? Yes," Sypha finished for her.

Greta grinned, the corners of her eyes crinkling. "I like that you're up front about it. Belmont evaded like he was trying to dodge a dozen night creatures in a fight."

"I'm a Speaker, it's not unusual for my people to have 'non-traditional' relationships. And Trevor's an idiot." Sypha smiled fondly. "And he was in denial until just recently. He likes things simple - 'vampires are bad,' 'men like women,' that sort of thing - and Adrian messed it all up."

"I can see how that'd be a difficult thing to reconcile. But if they can get along, maybe there's still hope for us all." Greta's expression softened. "I admit I was nervous about asking for help - I didn't know if I was inviting trouble to our doorstep - but I'm glad I did. I don't think we would've made it another night on our own."

"I am glad you asked for help as well. I did not think of bringing people here for aid - I wish I had, earlier," Sypha confided, thankful that Greta was easy to talk to, and on the same wavelength as her. "Trevor and I had no intentions of leaving again, but it also didn't sit well with me that we've been holed up in relatively safely while there are still many across the countryside in need of help."

Greta tilted her head back to look up at the castle. From so close, it completely blotted out the sun, casting a huge shadow over everything in its path. She still thought it was unsettling, but it certainly was imposing, like a giant guard dog. "I can see why this would be the safest place around for miles. Just seeing it from a distance was intimidating."

"We do keep the surrounding area cleared, which helps. Not that monsters dare venture too close... even they know better than to do so."

"Must be nice, being able to go outside and not be afraid," Greta sighed. "I've done my best to teach my people to defend themselves, but they're farmers, not fighters - there is only so much they can accomplish with my instruction. And although a few of us dabble in magic, none of it is particularly useful for combat."

"Maybe that's something we can help with, once everyone gets settled."

"I appreciate the offer; I only hope it won't be too late by then," Greta said grimly. She shook her head, knowing she couldn't afford to think negatively, but the last few days had been absolute hell. She felt responsible for not having been better prepared, for not having asked for help sooner, even though she knew she couldn't possibly have predicted that demons would beset them in a sustained attack.

"It won't be, not if we have anything to do with it. Even if we have to take it one day - or one night - at a time."

Greta nodded. She liked Sypha's attitude. Even if the future seemed unreachable, taking things one day at a time... she could handle that. It was pretty much their only option right now anyway.

As they had circled back around to the front of the castle and its massive gates, Sypha finally caught sight of Saint Germain, standing halfway up the wide steps with a look of awe and hesitation. "There you are, Saint Germain!"

"My, if isn't Sypha Belnades! This castle is a wonder, truly! Do you think... do you think I could take a look around?" the alchemist asked, glancing back up the stairs, intense curiosity written all over his face.

Sypha considered it. Undoubtedly he was looking at the castle as a marvel of magic and science, and not as a home. But his request seemed harmless enough, as long as he didn't get too deep in his exploration. "I think that would be all right, just don't touch anything unusual or move things around - there's a lot of items in the labs that we're uncertain as to the function of. And don't open any doors that are shut as they're closed for a reason; this is Adrian's family home so please respect that."

He nodded. "Of course, of course... that is understandable."

Sypha nodded back at him, then gestured at Greta as well. "Since you're both here, I'll show you around and give you a brief rundown of the different sections of the castle, then after that, if you want to spend some time in the libraries, Saint Germain, I'll leave you to it. Greta, you and I can at least take inventory of the foodstuffs, and perhaps do the same for weapons and armaments as well, and then take the numbers to Adrian so we can figure things out for later."

With both guests in agreement, the three of them made their way inside.

* * *

Author's Notes:

May 20, 2023