Description: "... I have done a terrible thing. What would my father say if he knew I had abused the trust of his dearest friend? In the end, the device did as required of it. But as for the consequences... well, time will tell. I only have my theories for now. I knew before I began that he would forgive me, no matter the outcome... But that only makes this necessary enterprise all the more heinous upon reflection."
Finally, a few quiet days; and with them, the time necessary for Valkenhayn R. Hellsing to attend to more pleasurable activites than 'guarding the Castle from creeps'. Tending the vast gardens, planting his own bonsai trees behind the grounds behind the Mansion, and perhaps the most important duty he performs during his daily activities on the Alucard Estate... one which, the butler would argue, all else hinges upon. One where nothing less than total perfection would be allowed, where all his skills must be utilized to their absolutely peak...
...Madam Rachel's tea time.
The Lady of the house is already present in one of the numerous sitting rooms situated within the sprawling interior of the Castle; numerous oil paintings line the walls, portraits of various figures (includding a magnificent rendition of Clavis Alucard), wonderfully painted landscapes of views that are most certainly not from the earthrealm, and so on.
Nothing is present on the table, however - a fact that is soon rectified when the tall, well-dressed Lycanthrope enters the room silently. One gloved hand is pressed against the door from the outside, opening it up into the room as the elderly manservant steps in. His other hand is held up, palm towards the ceiling, carrying a large silver tray upon which a tea pot, cup, two saucers and a bowl of delicious, freshly baked scones are placed.
It must be said, for a man who has been burning the candle at both ends due to his usual duties /and/ the sudden increase in random intruders visiting the Castle - a matter made far easier now that certain portions of the Estate seem to have bled into other realms - he looks as composed and professional as ever. The only sign of his recent embarrassment at the hands of his old 'partner', Relius Clover, is not any physical wound or lingering aches in his body... but rather a slightly shamed look, no longer holding his head quite as high and proud.
Such things might be expected, when a former Legend has been muzzled by a smug, monologuing 'scientist'. To say that recent event has been difficult for Valkenhayn to come to terms with, would be a definite understatement; but decorum insists that he not complain to his Mistress, and he has certainly done his best since then to keep up appearances... as well as he possibly can, at any rate.
Sliding up to the table with the usual graceful, silent movements, Valkenhayn deposits the tray in the middle of the surface. The silver tea kettle is lifted up by it's handle, angled ever-so slightly over a blue-and-white porcelain teacup (with matching saucer) until a steady stream of the steaming liquid pours out of it's spout - filling the cup to an inch below the brim before he places the pot back on the tray.
Valkenhayn reaches to the nearly-overflowing bowl of freshly-baked, slightly-sweetened scones and procures one - lifting it delicately between middle finger and thumb, to deposit it on a small plate to the right of the teacup.
He is noticeably avoiding eye-contact with his Mistress throughout this entire affair, hoping to disguise the vaguely troubled look in his eyes as he carries out his duty. Once completed, he quickly steps back a few steps - clasping his gloved hands behind his back as he moves towards a darkened corner of the large sitting room. Of course, he remains close enough to attend to any of Madam Rachel's other wishes; and not so far away as to force the Lady to raise her voice in order to get his attention.
The mysterious Castle Alucard always presents a number of unique challenges when it comes to trying to work within it. Not only is the sprawling complex impossibly large to keep track of, but it seems, no matter how old the fortress gets, it is always in a state of continuous flux.
Wings phase in and out of the realm of Earth, inviting adventure seeking would-be heroes to try their luck at invading a true Vampire Castle. Even sections seem to come and go, usually based on how often they are frequented or maintained. Neglected areas may slip away, the corridors and great halls shifting around to accommodate the missing chambers, while other areas manifest, as complete and solid as if they had always been there.
Fortunately, this sitting room is situated in the main mansion-like section near the rose gardens, the section of the great citadel that Rachel Alucard nominally calls her personal home. Rooms in this area tend to be more stable, utilized and maintained with frequency enough to keep them grounded in reality.
Seated at the table in a comfortable looking padded chair with a high back for her to rest against, the young lady of the castle waits, her sleeve covered arms resting in her lap, the picture of patient quiet if ever there were one.
The room itself is just one of countless shows of opulence throughout the castle. Hardwood floors polished to perfection, shelves and alcoves bearing priceless decorations and memorabilia from throughout the ages, and portraits along the walls providing an atmosphere of their own that is hardly mundane.
One painting is of a dark cityscape beneath a miasmic, green sky, a far-away view of some great center of some ancient civilization in the process of burning to the ground. The streets of the city are empty, absent of soldiers, refuges, and even bodies. The small golden placard beneath it reads: The Folly of Udo.
On another wall, a series of four paintings adjacent to each other depict a shore-scene, with a wide, unnatural blue sun setting behind a large jetty. The scene, though somewhat unoriginal in premise, breathtaking in its attention to detail - the play of the fading azure daylight across the water is captured perfectly. Even more interestingly, while it never seems to change while being actively watched, the waves washing over the shore seem to always be in motion and standing near the paintings is to bask in the scent of a fresh sea breeze, smell of brine, seaweed, and old wooden piers combined. That one is labeled: Karasuthran Shoreline.
Atop a marble pedestal in one corner of the room rests a strange looking artifact - a golden gear with a hand crank situated in the center of it. Each tooth of the gear is a different gemstone of absolute perfection in color and quality: diamond, sapphire, emerald, ruby... and so on. The gear hovers above the pedestal beneath a protective dome of glass, turning ever so slowly on its own, each gemstone tooth having its turn to take in the light of the room. The pedestal bears a plate that identifies the incomprehensibly expensive gear as: The Condensation of Zuthral.
Such mysterious pieces of art depicting places or mentioning names not from Earth, Makai, or maybe even the entire time line can be found all throughout the estate, simply one more of the vampire castle's thought provoking enigmas.
The pink bean-shaped bat known as Gii is perched on the back of Rachel's chair and the large, rotund cat, Nago, is laying on the floor at her side, both familiars in a state of comfortable rest for the moment.
Nothing is said as the dutiful servant of the Alucards sets the table with professional care honed by centuries of dedicated service. Indeed, it seems all together easy to avoid meeting the small Bystander's eyes, as she gazes silently toward the framed painting of Udo's final calamity - or rather, through it. The silent care taken to set and pour her tea, and place a delectable scone within reach seems to go unnoticed.
Only once he has stepped back, to stand at the ready to satisfy his lady's every desired comfort or need, does Rachel's right hand lift from her lap to collect the saucer and hold it closer, her left and reaching to the teacup handle, already perfectly angled as to not require any turning of the plate to to wrap her fingers around the handle. Still seemingly lost in thought, she lifts the cup to her lips, inhaling the savory scent for a long moment before finally taking a sip.
There is a gentle clink of porcelain as she returns the cup to the saucer a moment later, still having said nothing. Nago's tail swishes over the floor, right, then left, but otherwise the big cat and tiny bat are also perfectly still, almost as if the two familiars were holding their breath for something that concerned them.
The saucer is returned to the table and finally the small but imperious voice of Rachel Alucard breaks the increasingly uncomfortable silence of the room.
"Valkenhayn. I find myself troubled as of late. Do you think, perhaps, that it is time for you to retire?"
The direct, piercing question is asked without any preamble, any attempt to soften the blow or implication that the old werewolf is simply too far past his prime. She ever was one to cut straight to the point when something was bothering her.
The attention of Lady Alucard's servant - once backed into that nearby corner - seems to be distracted from her enjoyment of the prepared tea. An unusual occurence for a man who takes pride in fulfilling his duties to perfection, above all other concerns.
Unseen to Madam Rachel, the hands clasped behind his back are not still - but rather, he fidgets with the ends of his white gloves, pulling at the fabric with a certain nervous energy that he manages to - miraculously - keep hidden on facial expression.
Yes, he does seem to be troubled by recent events; and certainly not just by the return of all these hated figures from the past... but by his obvious inability to defend the Estate from their undesired presence, from the near-constant intrusions that have befallen these sacred halls. There was once a time when Relius Clover would have had no hope of fending off the savage werewolf; during their days as Immortal Breakers, the fear in the scientist's eyes - even as a partner to Valkenhayn - was visible during his brutal outbursts against their targets.
But he's much older now... and though he remains keen of mind and senses, his vitality and physical prowess are /not/ what they once were. For a man who was once a Legend of the Six Heroes, standing against the monstrous threat known as 'The Black Beast', the act of being defeated by a man such as Relius, being muzzled as though he were a simple, broken animal... it has haunted him, since that day. Perhaps Lady Alucard has noticed some subtle change in his demeanor, despite his best efforts to disguise this.
Valkenhayn's mouth drops at the words from his Mistress, hanging open for a moment before he remembers his manners and shuts it again. Having been so long in the employ of the Alucards, he truly expected to be serving the Vampiress until his dying day - which, with recent events, seems most likely to occur while battling off some unwanted guest. To retire, though?
There is a noticeable pause before any verbal reply from the butler, his neck inclining downwards to stare at the ground with uncertain eyes. The Lycanthrope's mind is racing with thoughts; namely, what would he live for if he were no longer in charge of the daily duties around Castle Alucard? He truly cannot imagine what he might be expected to /do/ with the rest of his unnaturally long life, if he were to be relieved of his position as keeper and guardian of Castle Alucard.
Would he be able to find a reason to carry on? Would Madam Rachel take pity on him and allow him to stay on the grounds, but without performing his usual duties? In his mind, that would be a fate worse than death - to be treated as though he were some invalid, unable to provide any useful services and merely kept around out of pity for his present state.
Finally, after a few seconds of consideration, Lady Alucard's servant takes a few strides back towards the table, stepping up on her right side and silently clearing his throat before he begins to form a response. The words come out slowly at first, as though he were still weighing them in his mind, contemplating her question even as he begins to reply to it.
"I... find myself troubled as well, Madam Rachel. I feel I have not been providing adequate service in protecting these grounds," he states, with a slight twitch on his face as he speaks those final words - it's obvious that it pains him deeply; being forced to come to terms with any such failure is not something he ever considered, prior to the past few weeks.
"And yet, I do not wish to be relieved of my duties. Far from it; I feel as though serving your father - and you - has been a great honour. Without that, I... am not sure /what/ I would do. You know I'm hardly one for leisure activities..."
He wishes to argue against the point more, perhaps even to plead with his Mistress to be allowed to remain by her side until the end of days... but it would not be proper, to debase himself in such a way - or to put Lady Alucard in such a position, to try and force her hand one way or another.
A deep sigh, and a slow shake of his head - as though he were resigning himself to his fate, one way or another - before he continues speaking. Now, his tone is soft; not the usual proud speech one might expect from a man of Valkenhayn's stature or experience.
"But, I am yours to command, as always. If it is truly your wish, then I shall not argue the point."
Nago's tail silently swifts across the floor again, his right ear twitching as he continues to rest his head on his meaty front paws. Gii stretches his wings a little, a minor display of the nervous energy that normally has the flying bean fluttering about and butting in on conversations he is hardly welcome to participate in. But otherwise, the two familiars remain quiet, a heaviness to the room's atmosphere seeming to impress upon them the importance of timely silence for once.
The Alucard heiress is also quiet after posing her question, her eyes drifting from the portrait that seemed to have capture her attention to gazing at the table in front of her. The only movement at all is her leaning to the left, her left elbow propped against the armrest, her cheek resting against her left hand's knuckles as she sits as still as death itself. There will be no merciful reprieve from her, no empathetic shifting of the uncomfortable, dreaded subject. Unseen from his angle, the blond vampiress's crimson eyes bat closed. A question has been posed, and the pervading silence demands that it be answered.
The wrestle with the idea of being put out to pasture is one Valkenhayn is left to battle on his own - the upsetting implications, the fear of the unknown of what would await him afterward, the sense of being deemed unsuitable for the task he lives for... The others in the room offer no help in that battle of the soul.
When he does step forward, Rachel's eyes open a quarter of the way, her lush, blond eyelashes just slightly parted to reveal those inhuman red irises of hers. Her focus remains on the table as the noble Lycanthrope at her side begins to speak, his voice revealing the crushing sensation in his heart that his words may otherwise mask if but a little.
To look at her face would be to find one unmoved by empathy. Perhaps it is simply something the eternally young are incapable of comprehending - that inevitability, the looming abyss of old age, that devourer of all: Time.
The shift in tone as the aging, loyal servant expresses his eternal deference to the young Alucard's will, provokes a flick of the child-like creature's eyes away from the table and more toward where Valkenhayn stands.
"It is," she answers, uttering the words the dedicated steward must have been dreading more anything. It is her wish that his centuries long tour of duty at last come to an end.
"Do not think it unkind, Valkenhayn. It is... simply a byproduct of these tumultuous times, I'm afraid. If only events had conspired to unfold in a more timely manner... But present circumstances call for the strength of youth that has been stolen from you by the passing years."
She sits up then, her left arm slipping from the armrest back into her lap. "Dealing monsters like Relius Clover, and vermin like Yuuki Terumi and those entangled in his schemes, is the work of younger men. It is time we turn such burdens over to them."
Her transition from seated to standing is handled with the usual graceful elegance of one who knows well the importance of keeping up appearances. There is an intake of breath then a soft exhale before she continues, moving to stand such that Valkenhayn is on her right side before she continues.
"Of course, in light of your legacy of loyal service, you are to be compensated. I am not unmindful of the lonely decades you maintained your vigil, keeping me safe in my deep slumber, and of all you have done for my father and I through trials and tribulations."
She lifts her right hand to flick her right long, golden twin-tail back off her shoulder and out to her side. "Gii." she states simply, as if that alone would be enough to communicate a command.
"Yes Princess!" the tiny bat pushes off his perch atop her seat and flutters over to the pedestal with the slowly turning gemstone gear, his tiny taloned feet closing over the handle atop the glass dome. Flapping his impossibly tiny wings faster, he hefts the dome up off the artifact, the translucent cover swaying in the air in his tight little hold.
Rachel Alucard extends her left hand with a slow, unhurried gesture toward the now exposed turning gear and then, with a slight curl of her fingers, gestures the relic toward her with a gentle current of wind. It comes to rest over her left palm as she moves her hand back in front of her.
Nago slowly pushes himself to his heavy feet and pads over to stand on Rachel's left side while Gii ever so carefully places the glass dome back down atop the now empty pedestal and then swiftly flies back over to hover near the left side of his master's head.
"Before we finalize your transition into the next phase of your life, you will accompany me."
The command given, the powerful little sorceress lifts her right hand into a sweep across the front of her, pulling with that motion a cloak of shadow that envelopes her, her familiars, and Valkenhayn.
One last teleportation - perhaps to pick up his severance package.
Having spent so much time around his Mistress, Valkenhayn can tell - even before she responds - that something has changed in her demeanor. Her behaviour is unusual; more solemn, in a way, than he is accustomed to - even though she was hardly ever one for grand displays of emotion... somehow it feels different. He doesn't doubt that this conversation is far easier for her than it is for him, which is hardly a comforting thought, and yet things still seem off.
Perhaps Lady Alucard will, in her own unorthodox way, miss having him around the Castle? Perhaps she is just doing this out of pragmatism, a necessary sacrifice in these troubled times? The idea of it is oddly soothing to the butler's unsettled mind - but it does not put him entirely at ease; for without his duty, what is he?
Decades upon decades have been spent shaping him into the domesticated servant he is today; without the oath of lifelong servitude binding him to House Alucard - sworn to Clavis a lifetime ago - would he resort to his old, savage ways? Would be become naught but a mindless beast once more? Is this the very place that the past month has been leading him to, ever since that monster Yuuki Terumi escaped from the Boundary and appeared within the walls of the Castle?
There is another thought in his head; one that pains him to consider... maybe this is simply the excuse that Madam Rachel has needed to do away with her protector. Maybe he had been failing in keeping things around the Castle up to her high standards? Maybe the tea times he took such pride in were lacking in some way that had escaped his notice? The idea chills his red-hot Lycanthropic blood; that this turn of events has nothing to do with his failure to evict intruders from the premises, but more to do with some flaw in his domestic duties?
Was his service not as impeccable as he once believed?
As all these thoughts rush through his mind, Valkenhayn nevertheless remains standing tall and straight; if this is to be his last hour at Madam Rachel's side, then he is resolved to keep up proper appearances until he is shown the door. His eyes, however, betray a certain melancholy at the thought of leaving the Estate for good; he has been here so long, it has become his home as well as his place of work. Is there any other place on this realm, or another, where he could find the same comfortable sense of /belonging/? Or would he be doomed to wander a world that had no place for him, like his old friend Jubei... and even /he/ had a wife and child to seek out.
Outside of his duty, Valkenhayn R. Hellsing had nothing... nothing but memories and figures from his terrible past.
The first two words out of Madam Rachel's mouth nearly crush him; in an instant, all hopes of being granted a reprieve, some second chance at impressing her once again, are gone. But then, he should have expected as much - for the Vampiress to even raise the point in the first place, surely meant that she had already made up /her/ mind... that she was posing it to her butler as a rhetorical question, rather than a matter he had any real say in.
Even so, that does not cushion the blow whatsoever; and for the first time in the exchange, his shoulders sag slightly - for just a moment - before he rights his posture, once again refusing to allow himself to walk out of the Castle with anything short of a head held high and proud.
Therefore, he inclines his chin upwards and clenches his jaw to steel himself for what he now knows is a topic beyond any argument. His time has come; time to move on, to... whatever unknown future might await him. Were he a more emotional man - a creature who allowed himself such self-centered displays - he might shed a tear at the thought... but such things are beneath both himself /and/ the position which he still, for the time being, holds within the Estate.
"I understand, Madam Rachel," he states firmly, his voice once again calm and resolute - rather than the hesitant, skeptical tones of his previous statements. Now that the decision has truly been made, there is no point in worrying about his fate... he must simply face it, and let the chips fall as they may. After all, Lady Alucard - and her father before her - have been incredibly good to him, particularly since he first entered this Castle with the intent to slay Clavis Alucard.
These decades of service, and the sense of contentment that they have brought the once tortured soul, are surely reward enough.
As Rachel gets off her stool and stands at his side, the Lycanthrope - determined to carry out his duties until the very last - reaches out with one gloved hand to push the chair in towards the table. The teacup is placed back on the saucer, which is returned to it's place on the silver tray which rests upon the table's surface.
He wonders who shall be clearing the table, if he is to be dismissed this instant... but he leaves that question unspoken - surely someone like Lady Alucard has already planned this entire affair out, ahead of time. Perhaps his replacement is waiting in the wings for him to walk out the front door, before stepping in and resuming his duties without missing a beat? Instead, he addresses her point of 'compensation' as soon as she is finished her statement.
"Ah, Milady, the joy of service was, and will always be, compensation enough. All you and your father have done for me, I would be ashamed to expect anything more; I only regret that I was not capable of carrying out my duties to your satisfaction..."
His voice carries an almost sad quality to it, as though he were truly regretful that he had not proved a better guardian and servant for the family that had given him such a sense of accomplishment for so long.
Blue eyes fall upon the floating, turning gear that is beckoned towards Rachel's hand... an eyebrow is raised, his attention finally taken off of his thoughts about where he shall go once he departs the Castle. Perhaps he might be able to track down Jubei? He would finally be free to search out Relius Clover on his own terms, as well... and maybe there, in defeating that terrible man, he might find some salvation - or, perhaps just as desireable, his own end.
"Of course..." he responds to his Mistress' request to accompany her. She would know that Valkenhayn, ever-loyal and never questioning, would truly follow her anywhere - without so much as a word of complaint.
And so he simply stands by her side, as the cloak covers the area surrounding Lady Alucard.
"Oh, Valkenhayn," Rachel murmurs as the man declares the deepest regret that tears at his soul above all other concerns. There is a hint of tenderness to the girl's voice, and a touch of melancholy that is gone by the time she speaks of him accompanying her elsewhere.
The process is familiar to the old werewolf, as he has been at her side through countless teleportations throughout the long years. The world goes black, and then, as suddenly, light hits his eyes as the small party arrives at a new location. There is always that sense of missing time during that moment of absolute nullity, even though the vampiress's teleports seem to happen almost instantly to the eyes of those not affected by them, but the disorientation reliably fades fast as one becomes in sync with reality once more.
The destination of the translocation spell is not one Valkenhayn would have seen before. His instincts would tell him that they are still within Castle Alucard... but not once in all his long years of service has he born witness to this specific location.
The group stands within a large, square chamber. While the circular platform in the center where they arrive is clear of obstruction, the same cannot be said for anywhere else in the cavernous room. In all directions, gears, sprockets, pulleys, and levers move in a steady, rhythmic motion. Larger simple machines move slowly, with one massive bronze gear advancing one tooth every second on an axle so well oiled that it hardly makes a sound in spite its gargantuan size. Smaller parts of the great device spin swiftly, some gears whirling so fast at that their teeth are merely a blur, each feeding into another as the infinitely complex structural sized apparatus churns along.
Overhead, a stained glass ceiling portrays the image of a stone sundial surrounded by a quorum of individuals that appear to be druids down on their knees in supplication toward the ancient time piece. Bits and pieces of the impressive masterwork appear to be missing - casualties of time, no doubt - but it is mostly in tact.
The walls beyond the ever moving machine work are stone with massive bricks missing in places, and through the openings, it will become obvious that this mad man's workshop is located in one of the tall spires of the vampire's citadel as it is possible to make out the peaks of the surrounding mountains in the distance.
A brisk wind rushes through the chamber, and in all directions the sound of unceasing machinery never lets up. The miracle of it is that it isn't so loud as to drown out conversation, but rather never amounts to more than a background whirring that is easy enough to speak over.
A glance at the circular platform they have appeared on reveals it to be a massive, crystalline clock face beneath a smooth pane of translucent, diamond-hard material. The hour hand seems to be made of ruby, but at over a dozen feet in length, the idea that such a stone could exist seems impossible. The minute hand an even larger emerald. And the slowly but steadily moving second hand a long, narrow sapphire, equally as implausible as the rest.
In the center of the clock, the axle where all the hands are connected, is a clockwork podium made of gears mounted to a bronze framework sitting on the top side of the platform situated adjacent to Rachel herself.
And beneath the massive clock atop which the group stands, visible through the translucent faceplate, a swirling vortex of churning energy, a deep pit of ever shifting causality, a gateway to the Boundary - a Cauldron. All around the swirling clouds of thick seithr, several long metal probes stretch down into the Caudron's depths, drawing up all of that potential for change into glass vacuum tubes presumably used to power this great machine.
"Zuthral Bernard," Rachel Alucard declares, her right hand lifting, fingers resting lightly over her right temple, scarlet eyes taking in the incredible sight with her typical indifference. "An ingenious Chronomancer, a Magus of Time. This was his Magnum Opus... the Chroniker of Eternity."
The gemstone gear taken from the parlor continues to hover over her left palm, still slowly turning... just fast enough to complete a full rotation once every minute.
"The library is full of tomes detailing his mastery over the forbidden dimension of time. I have studied them all. Indeed, it was from those tomes I discovered how to detach this castle from the passage of time altogether should a situation require it." A feat she had done not long ago in attempting to bluff Terumi into standing down on the verge of his escape.
A faint frown forms at her lips. "This tower was his final ambition - to take control over time itself." A soft sigh is released. "The impossible dream that tempts all who wish to be able to turn back the clock, to delay the inevitable. Or perhaps not so impossible..."
Rachel extends her hand and the hovering handle-bearing gear drifts forward, coming to rest over the intricate pedestal of idle, unmoving gears.
"In a way, he succeeded. Just not in the way he thought. His attempt to use the Chroniker was his final act. Fortunately," the young Alucard continues, "I am not an imbecile. I know how to use it properly."
But why drag him here, on the eve of his retirement? It seems rather late to be giving tours to the lesser known corners of the sprawling complex.
"Valkenhayn... I meant what I said earlier. As I always do, of course. The work ahead is the burden of younger men than you. So many years you watched over me, so many experiences you gave up to do so. I-" Her voice cuts off, the vampire's eyes closing then. Is she hesitating? "I must ask even more from you than I already have. I need the Valkenhayn R. Hellsing of the past. It is time for the vetus lupus to retire. Allow me to use the Chroniker on you." Worded as both a request and a demand at once. "Allow me to steal from you... a portion of your years."
Her right arm falls from the side of her head to rest against her side.
"In this way, can you best serve me, my loyal servant."
The high-ceilinged and well-appointed sitting room disappears as Valkenhayn and his Mistress (along with her familiars) are consumed within the darkness of those manifested shadows. The aged butler stands perfectly still as the process takes place; he has grown used to such occurences during his many years under this roof... and it has become almost second nature to him, where it was once a jarring and entirely unpleasant experience.
However, rather than being transported off of the grounds of the Estate - as he initially expected - or to some hidden treasure room to receive payment for decades of loyal service, he finds himself in a place he has never seen before. For a man who has wandered the halls of Castle Alucard for what feels like an eternity, that fact alone is enough to elicit a raised eyebrow, his expression filled with surprise and intrigue.
To say nothing of the /contents/ of the room itself; it's as if they were within the inner workings of a giant clock, with gears and levels moving in a constant rhythm around the platform on which they stand. Those keen blue eyes of a Lycanthrope sweep around the chamber, attempting to divine the purpose of such a complex machine - and, perhaps, why he was never privy to it's existence.
Was this chamber some ancient secret of House Alucard? He truly believed that he had learned all of the mysteries of this sprawling Estate years ago... and in this moment, he realizes exactly how wrong he had been. It might have been foolish of him to expect his Mistress to allow him access to all of the hidden corners of the Castle; but he is nevertheless shocked at the sheer complexity of the room's inner-workings.
After a few moments spent gazing at the various moving parts around them, his eyes drift up to the ornate stained-glass ceiling high overhead; again, there is no hint of recognition in his eyes. Even for a creature who has spent so long serving House Alucard, it is clear that there are many arcane mysteries which they keep well-hidden... surely it is part of their own duty, to ensure that such enigmas never become known to the world at large.
One can only imagine the chaos that a man like Relius Clover, or a beast like Yuuki Terumi, could wreak with... whatever this is.
There are many questions in Valkenhayn's mind at present, as he spies the mountains through the gaps in the brick, and notices the maelstrom of energy underneath the platform... /that/ much he recognizes, at least.
The Boundary. The same place where Terumi was once cast into (albeit in a different location), presuming that he had finally done away with that monster for all time...
...but why was he, himself, here? Did Madam Rachel - having no further use of his services - intend to send him into that vortex, as a way to ensure that the secrets of the Alucard Estate did not pass from his lips to another's ears?
It is only a momentary thought - soon cast out of his head entirely - and yet... it is there. After all, his Mistress is surely aware of how he came into service with her father; and despite the long years spent in her employ, he cannot tell for certain whether or not she bore some grudge over the fact that he was once sent to kill her father, long ago.
Perhaps this is simply vengeance, long-delayed? If that is the case, the loyal butler will accept it as his just punishment - a payment, long overdue, for attempting to strike down Clavis Alucard while he was still an Immortal Breaker.
But... it seems that is not the case.
Rachel begins to speak, and Valkenhayn simply listens patiently, hands remaining clapsed behind his back as he continues to take in the enormous complexity of the chamber they have arrived in. This realm is indeed full of wonders; and even for a man who has seen and experienced so much in his lifetime, he is still clearly in awe of the sight which he is presented with.
As Lady Alucard continues, however, the wizened old Legend's gaze slowly turns to his side - falling upon her as she speaks of turning back clocks, delaying the inevitable... could she really intend to...?
Yes, it appears as though that is precisely her intent; her words earlier were not an admonishment, or the beginnings of some final goodbye to the man who had served her so faithfully... but simply a statement of fact. The days and weeks to come are no place for such an elderly - albeit still keen-minded - individual. He could not argue with this fact; not after being defeated by the man who once stood /behind/ him in battle, the immoral Relius Clover.
Long decades /had/ taken their toll on him - and it seems that it is Madam Rachel's intent to return him to some younger state, to resharpen the dulled body of the former Hero.
To retire the aged manservant, and replace him with a tool of battle once again.
It takes him several seconds before he has fully grasped the implications of her words, running through the possibilities in his head... would he even remember any of the time that has elapsed, between now and the age which he is returned to? Would he once again look like a younger man, or simply regain that youthful spirit? And perhaps, most worryingly... would his savage nature once again come to the forefront, undoing the decades of domesticity which servitude had taught him?
"...Madam Rachel, I am..." he pauses, lips twisting as his brow knits in concentration. He truly did believe that she was going to cast him out of the Castle, that she were capable of doing such a thing after all they had been through together; for a moment, he /had/ believed the worst... and that fact fills him with a regret bordering on shame. It shows on his face, that twitching of his lips as he begins to form his next words.
"You must do as you think best. My only desire is to serve you and your legacy - as you best see fit."
Valkenhayn takes a half step back towards the nearest edge of the platform, keeping his front towards the Vampiress who he has pledged to serve for eternity, and places the palm of one gloved hand over his heart. A half bow bends his body, before he straightens it again - his ponytail whipping in the breeze flowing through the gaps between bricks.
"I am prepared, to serve this House as a..." there is a brief pause again; but this time, instead of a pained twisting, his lips quirk upwards into the slightest hint of a smile before he continues, "...younger man."
The questions Valkenhayn has regarding the full ramifications of what the young looking vampiress asks of him have no easy answers. Rachel offers no insight and, if anything, her moment of brief weakness, an iota of hesitation in one who is always so self-sure of herself, is evidence that she might not truly know herself what the side effects such a powerful artifice from the past will be.
Whether she has any idea that he thought, even if for a fleeting moment, the final reward of his service would be to cast away, it never shows on her ever-calm features, her half-lidded gaze coming to rest on the gearwork pedestal while waiting for Valkenhayn's answer.
When he speaks, she turns to face him at last, face lifted, chin raised. One must wonder if it vexes her so, to always be looking up at others from her smaller stature. When Relius stormed in uninvited, she took to hovering, to look down on him as they spoke of grave matters. But with the old servant, she has never done any such thing.
Her right hand lifts, fingers back to resting against the side of her head, a posture she adopts often though the significance of the habit has never been explained by her. As he continues to speak, as he indicates his willingness to go to any length to serve, no matter the severity of her requests, Rachel's crimson eyes open the rest of the way to regard the old lycanthrope.
Slowly, a faint smile forms at lips that seem reluctant to show the hint of warmth; her porcelain features normally more given to expressions of passive disdain. Only after his bow of absolute humility does she speak again.
"Thank you, Valkenhayn. I'm afraid I lack the words to express... how your indefatigable loyalty makes me feel. Perhaps... they simply don't exist at all." she muses thoughtfully, eyes lowering slowly as she turns to the side, halfway toward the pedestal the gemstone gear hovers over.
"As ever, your diligence leaves no room for even the slightest remonstration... No, it would seem your help has ever been absolutely impeccable."
She turns the rest of the way from him then, facing the center pedestal. At her side, Nago continues to face toward Valkenhayn, the large cat sitting on his haunches, his large, blood red eyes focused on Valkenhayn. After a long moment, the ebony familiar bows his head toward Valkenhayn and keeps it lowered.
"Well," Rachel continues, her tone shifting from almost sentimental to matter of fact, "This mawkishness is not getting us any closer to success. Let us be done with it then." She takes a single step back from the platform, still adjacent to Nago.
"Gii. Exactly as we discussed."
"Right Princess!" The crimson bat flutters over to the hovering multi-gemmed gear, maintaining a stationary position directly over the golden hand crank jutting out of its upward side.
"Magus Zuthral made one crucial mistake when he went to use this device. He didn't stop to consider that by using it on himself to roll back the clock, the memory of what he was even doing would also be taken from him, leaving him unprepared and unaware of how to stop the process once it began. I do imagine... his only success was to roll his own existence back to before he was ever born."
Rachel turns around then, no longer facing the pedestal that Gii dutifully hovers over. "One last thing..." That smile, ever so faint, returns. "It has come to my attention that there will soon be a vacancy in the for the role of Chief Butler of House Alucard. Should such an opportunity be of interest to you, I do encourage you to apply."
Rachel extends her left hand to the bowing cat at her side and immediately Nago shifts form, elongating at first, then expanding, opening into a canopy - a pitch black parasol that Rachel holds over her head. A moment later, golden circles expand out from around her feet, rising up int a dome of swirling arcane markings - a barrier. Not just any barrier, but a small piece of Tsukuyomi itself.
Outside of the hemisphere created by the Time-Protecting artifact she inherited from Clavis Alucard himself, Gii clamps his tiny talons down on the golden gear handle and... holds it still.
Everything grinds to a halt. The massive crystalline clock beneath their feet, the massive array of gears, pulleys, and spinning axles, the wind that was rushing through just a moment before. With nasally grunt, Gii begins to turn the handle back the other way, wings flapping extra fast for extra pulling power.
Everything within the chamber begins to rewind. Missing bricks from the decaying walls fly back up from the abyss to plug holes. Sparkling fragments of colored glass twirl back up toward the ceiling, becoming one with the image of ancient time worship. The wind shifts direction as the chamber is forced back through the passage of days, then months, then years, and finally decades that begin to melt away.
One by one, the gemstones on the golden gear that Gii manipulates shatter. Blue, then green, then red, then purple, then yellow, and so on. Each shattering gemstone becomes dust that sparkles with enchanting lights then vanishes.
Beneath her dome, Rachel is able to observe it all, while simultaneously being unaffected. Beneath the massive contraption, the Cauldron itself begins to close, shrinking smaller with each stolen year, until finally, the last tooth of the control gear, a perfectly translucent diamond, shatters and the Cauldron below closes.
Calmly, Rachel Alucard lowers her nago-parasol and closes it, flipping him upside down to press the tip of it against the now inert Chroniker face. Gii flaps back over to hover near the young vampire even as Nago is released from his parasol form to slump to his haunches on the floor once more.
All eyes are on Valkenhayn R. Hellsing.
Once it is clear what Lady Alucard's intentions are, there is no concern in the mind of the elderly servant; he is certain that, despite the obviously precarious nature of this machine (and the unfortunate fate of the man who built it), she is more than capable of handling it in a proper manner. No concerns for any potential side-effects, and neither does he expect any; he does not even pick up on that moment of hesitation from his Mistress... he never was very good at spotting any weakness in the one he was sworn to serve. For him, such a thing is often viewed as outside the realm of possibility - and so his faith in her capability to control the procedure is absolute.
It would not be the first time he put his life in the hands of an Alucard, and he has always had his faith rewarded. Why should this prove to be any different?
So he stands perfectly still with both arms held at his sides, head held high and proud as his ice-blue eyes are fixed straight ahead of him. There isn't the slightest hint of worry in his features; he is almost entirely expressionless, except for that barely noticeable smirk on one corner of his lips... for all he fears the man he once was, that bloodthirstiness and fury that he - still now - tries desperately to keep at bay, there is some part of the Lycanthrope who longs for the days of his youth.
Not of the terrible acts he commited as an Immortal Breaker, but the earlier years of his service to Master Clavis; that perfect blend of recently learned professionalism and overwhelming strength, of new grace and old power, that was unbalanced years and years ago, as his age finally caught up to him.
His eyes dart to the side, to fall upon Rachel once more, at her words of praise regarding his service... he never grew to expect such compliments from his Mistress, simply treasuring those few moments when his loyalty and thoroughness were rewarded with a slight nod or the barest of smiles. To hear her state such things plainly brings a red flush to his face, his own lips twitching up further - the closest he will allow himself to cracking a full smile in such a moment - before he looks away again.
He says nothing in response, not trusting his own voice at present; for the first time in weeks, since the return of Terumi, he feels not just contented or comfortable, but genuinely happy. In that moment, even the focused gaze of Nago is ignored - shooting no glance back towards the familiar, his mind entirely consumed by the knowledge that his efforts had /truly/ been appreciated, and beyond reproach. His life's work, validated by one of the only two individuals he had ever cared about impressing.
At her final comment, about an imminent vacancy for a butler in the estate, Valkenhayn actually allows himself a small chuckle; barely heard amongst the grinding of gears and the noise of machinery in the massive chamber, and responds in a voice that carries with it some hint of humour.
"I would hate to see this Castle fall into a state of disrepair, Milady. As I recall, my oath sworn to your father was for life - past, present, and future."
And then the process begins, and Valkenhayn falls into silence as the time is rewound throughout the entire chamber - barring the protected form of Rachel Alucard and her two pets...
...when it is finally complete, there is a noticeably /different/ man in the place where the wizened old Legend once stood.
Still possessing some vague, fleeting memory of seconds earlier, the butler can tell that he feels different than he did moments before... stronger, vital, of a noticeably more formidable, indefatigable spirit.
With the lack of any reflective surface built into the chamber, Valkenhayn's right hand falls into the pocket of his vest - procuring his smooth, polished golden timepiece... to look into that almost mirror-like sheen.
What stares back at him is a sight entirely different than the man who was transported into the heart of this bizarre machine earlier... different, but in no way unfamiliar to the eyes of the Lycanthrope. The well-aged face he had seen looking back at him in the mirror for decades is no longer lined with wrinkles, but smooth and youthful. Even his skin-tone is different in a subtle way; healthier, more full of colour, not the vaguely ashen colour of a man who has lived lifetimes - with decades and decades spent carrying out exhausting tasks around the sprawling Estate.
Though the pink ribbon is still - miraculously - tied around his flowing ponytail, the colour of his hair is no longer stark white. Both it, and his beard - slightly scruffier but still well-groomed into a fine point on his chin - are now a deep chestnut brown.
This is not the long-time manservant of Castle Alucard. This is Valkenhayn R. Hellsing, of the Six Heroes. This is the Legend, not the man who once /was/ one, long ago, in a different life.
There are even minor changes in his clothing; the long-tailed, black and gold-trimmed coat that he was /always/ seen in is noticeably absent. He wears a long-sleeved white shirt with a gold-and-brown vest, and pleated black trousers; around both biceps - far stronger and thicker than they were when he was transported into this chamber - small belts are tightly tied around the material of his dress shirt. The black ascot tied around the collar is much the same as ever, as are those well-shined black Oxford-style shoes that carry him around the Castle on a daily basis.
Perhaps strangest of all, however, is that even as he stares into the polished metallic surface of his pocketwatch... he cannot remember /why/ he grasped for that object so quickly.
After all, what was he expecting to see? He looks exactly as he always has, since he knelt defeated in front of his Master Clavis Alucard and took up his offer of service. It suddenly seems very silly, that he had grasped for the only reflective surface in the area in such haste. A small shrug, to himself, and then he calmly places the watch back into his vest pocket.
Only then, after that moment of literal reflection, does he notice the Vampiress standing close by. Both eyes - now looking sharper and more aware than they have in decades - zero in on her, and the younger Valkenhayn inclines his head in a slight nod of greeting. No dramatic sweeping of the hand, or palm pressed over his heart to accompany a bow... it seems he is still learning his manners around the young Lady of the House.
"Madam Rachel?" he asks, his voice sounding almost gruff - that of a man who is still learning the finer points of proper, polite speech. The words are professional enough, but his tones still betray the mind of a man who is used to a far more brutal profession, "I'm afraid I don't quite... recall, what we are doing here."
A pause, as he runs through the thoughts and memories that are present in his head; already, the images of the intervening years - from this point in his past, to the moment Rachel brought him to this hidden place in the Castle - have disappeared completely. He is not just the younger man in body and spirit, but in mind as well... the last thing he remembers...
"Where is your father? I believe he had requested my presence regarding certain matters; likely ones that are best not put off for terribly long..."
Rachel watches from behind her dome. The man standing there at the start of the process is the one that was there when she recently woke from a decade of critical rest... the man who has been at her side daily since then, caring for her every need, putting his life on the line in her defense. Even before that, for many years, he served in this role, making his presence a familiar one - one she had perhaps come to count on being around for decades yet.
And moments later, when the clock has rewound its last, leaving the Cauldron below a cooling, sealed fissure, and the control gear shattered and molten, a new man stands before her - an individual from her past, from bygone days of when she would lurk behind the robes of the legendary Bystander, Clavis Alucard.
As he take a much understood moment to look at himself in the polished reflection of his prized pocket watch, Rachel's expression is neutral. To look at her quiet, composed mien is to certainly not see the face of one who has lost a noble caretaker from her life, her crimson eyes gazing toward this individual from her past as if nothing out of the ordinary in the last few minutes.
One might wonder at how fresh were her memories of the man he used to be? What is the passage of time to one who has to cause to fear it? Would half a century be enough to dull her recollection, or is the young Bystander entitled to recall it all, in every minute detail?
Even now, she can sense the vigor flowing through his veins, the scent of youth, power, and... a hint of attitude detectable to her supernatural insights.
At his nod, her eyes narrow slightly. How uncouth! Though she elects to remain quiet, listening to the words that follow, his question hanging in the air, followed by his admission that he isn't quite clear on how he ended up in this unusual chamber of untold contraptions.
"Nothing important, I assure you," she replies, her right hand back to resting against the side of her head.
"Oh my," Nago's deep voice is a purr of appreciation, "I do admit I had forgotten the stunning man he once was. Simply stupendous, I must say."
Gii chimes in immediately after, "Yeah, he's way you-"
Rachel's left hand moves so fast it is nothing more than a blur as she backhands the top of Nago's head, then smacks Gii out of the air a single gesture, her eyes closed, her face taking on a hint of irritation.
"Quiet you two, adults are speaking here."
Slowly, her eyes open halfway to gaze across the platform, not quite coming to rest on the younger butler himself as he mentions an individual long dead. So that is the price to be paid then... it IS possible to roll back the years, as Zuthral had posited. But you are left with nothing gained by the decades lost. The connections, memories, experiences... A heavy toll, but one she must have anticipated. But surely they will have to come back, eventually, yes? The memories DID happen, history has not been changed, the rejuvinated Chroniker tower notwithstanding. Gii flutters back over near the girl cautiously, wisely keeping his mouth shut for now.
"Father is resting," she answers, "And must not be disturbed for now." The girl's right hand lowers from the side of her head, palm raised. A moment later, a small torus of violet arcane sparkling energy appears, followed by a spinning white envelope held closed with a stamp of crimson wax bearing a specific Sigil. Her fingers close over a corner of the invitation, bringing its blurring spin to a stop.
"I am to transfer this to your care. It is an invitation to Castle Strolheim, back on Earth." Gii helpfully flits down, talons closing over the upper corner, taking it from Rachel's fingers to fly across the distance over to the renewed lycanthrope. He'll hover in place, holding out the envelope in order to hand it over as Rachel continues.
"There is a gathering of the world's strongest there. Rather barbaric, I might say. But you are to attend, to represent House Alucard... There, you can and will fight with all your strength, Valkenhayn, holding nothing back."
She pauses for a moment. How will she get on without him? Gii is capable of providing tea as a last resort, but it pales in comparison to what Valkenhayn- well... what the older steward could brew. Alas... the sacrifices one must make, she surely thinks to herself, eyes finally shifting to focus on the man himself.
"One last thing. A moment ago, I spoke of an opportunity... and you spoke of an oath. The day you can remember those words is the day you are to return home. Not a moment sooner."
She lifts her right hand then, making ready a spell that will take the Alucard Representative to the earthly castle in almost an instant. "If there is nothing else..." she offers the chance for the undoubtedly slightly confused butler to interject and may take a moment to answer if so... but then the spell is completed, shadows wrapping around the loyal man for a brief moment before he vanishes from sight.
It is ten minutes after Valkenhayn has been sent on his mission - one he may think comes from Clavis himself, so carefully did Rachel word her instructions to him.
She stands now on one of the hanging garden platforms of the castle. The garden is suspended by massive chains between two massive spires, its surface covered with blossoming vines of all manner of flowers.
The object holding her attention at the moment is a third great tower in the distance - her eyes on a third great tower in the distance. At her side, Nago sits with Gii perched on his head, the two familiars gazing at the distant tower with the girl.
Her right hand is raised, resting against her head, keeping the twintail the wind keeps tousling from blowing into her face.
Half a minute later the distant spire erupts. Chiseled stonework, massive gears, and untold amounts of machinery fly into the air as the edifice comes crumbling down in a giant plume of smoke, the secrets of the Chroniker lost forever.
"Hn..." Rachel muses. It's going to be lonely around the castle. She doesn't even know for sure if Valkenhayn CAN regain his memories to fullfill the stipulation she gave him before sending him away.
"Princess..." Nago intones, worry in his voice.
"Gii, you better have my tea ready. I will not abide by any change in the schedule, you must know." Rachel declares, her voice once more imperious and demanding.
"R-Right Princess, right away!"
Another sweep of the young Alucard's arm, and the trio vanishes from the moon-bathed platform.
Log created on 14:36:55 01/28/2018 by Rachel Alucard, and last modified on 16:42:04 01/29/2018.