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Song of the Furies

Chapter Text

“Dear gods, do you think a beast or a hunter did… that?”

Osborne, with wide eyes, points to the missing chunk in the neck pale corpse of a hunter laying in a pool of sticky blood, hunched over. His tenor voice shatters the contemplative silence. The autumn morning sun beats down on him and the older black-grabbed Church Hunter like a sledgehammer, causing the eldest of the two, Jan, to squint and adjust his wide-brimmed hat. Jan crouches down. He strokes the black stubble on his chin, looking over the gaping wound that likely caused the hunter’s death, given its location. Scant few flies just now begin to buzz around the corpse drained of blood.

Surely, it could have been a more gruesome sight. In his decades of being a Church hunter, he witnessed macabre scenes that he could recall almost perfectly, so burned into his brain crystal clear. Among them included memories of bodies so thoroughly torn apart they could hardly be considered more a sanguine smear on the streets. Entrails hung on awnings like ivy. But this scene disturbed him just because of its simplicity. A mere instinct-driven animal or man-turned-beast wouldn’t have left the body in such a relatively pristine state; there would be viscera and blood everywhere. The victim’s clothes, from the long pigeon gray coat down to the trousers, shewn no tears or even bloody prints from being roughly handled. To add to the weirdness of the scene, he recognizes the elliptical pattern of the injury.

Teeth marks, if only one looked close enough at the wound. He notices deeper indentations where the canines would be. Not unexpected in an area with a bestial plague, but it didn’t necessarily mean anything yet. Especially when the bite otherwise had a typical shape for that of the bite of a man.

I f he could find footprints, perhaps he could have his answer.

His apprentice pulls a handkerchief from his coat pockets and holds it over his mouth. Truly, Jan couldn’t fault him for his sickened and shocked reaction; Osborne hadn’t been out in the field yet as a black Church Hunter. Bodies in a clinical setting, after all, aren’t quite the same as seeing them in more lively contexts. In the classroom, a body is a learning tool. On the field, a body is a tragedy.

What kind of person tears into someone with their teeth and neither eats them nor kills them using other methods of violence? And drains their blood almost entirely? Jan thinks whilst worrying at his lower lip with his teeth and furrows his eyebrows. The answer would hopefully not only come to him in time, but before the next murder which would surely happen. He could feel it. This mystery behind the culprit bothers him and causes his stomach to tighten.

And yet, someone murdered this hunter in cold blood by tearing out his jugular with their teeth. A more thorough examination of the body at the clinic would be necessary to confirm this, as well as uncover anything not currently visible. Regardless, most “ordinary” (if one could use such a word) murders committed by non-afflicted humans in Yharnam involve weapons as the cause of death.

Another detail caught his eye. With the strange trail of blood leading to this spot, he knew the hunter couldn’t have died there. They did not have the appearance of streaks to indicate the victim dragged himself to the spot. Rather, splotches on the cobblestone road show the way to the body. He clicks his tongues, jotting down observations in a small book, small enough to fit in one of his palms.

Whoever slaughtered the man left no footprints, so the blood must have followed their trail.

With a grunt, Jan stands up, putting his gloved hands in the pockets of his long, heavy coat in the process. When he received a summon from the Healing Church earlier, he could just hear in the back of his mind screaming that they gave him a case that wouldn’t be so damned clear cut or easy. After all, the culprit bothered to carry the body but didn’t bother to properly hide it. Perhaps a warning, a harbinger of things to come? What unspeakable things would they unearth in time?

“Well...” he begins to answer in his slightly gravelly baritone with a frown, “The bite in the neck would normally suggest a beast. However, when a beast kills someone, they are usually far more maimed. Almost unrecognizable. The dentition here on the neck is also quite human,” he gestures to the bite with his right index and middle fingers, “Perhaps an odd sort of cannibalism was involved. Something drained this poor soul of blood, but there isn’t enough around here to correspond to what was lost. Even the trail on the street and below the body isn’t comparable to the amount a grown man’s body is supposed to have.” Jan turns partially to face Osborne, his youthful apprentice.

He continues his answer as he points to the trail that eventually leads to the dry crimson spray on the streets. “Someone early on in the transformation could conceivably have killed him. But, as I said, beasts tend to be far more destructive and chaotic. Less calculating, due to the madness of therianthropy. Whoever or whatever did this had enough restraint to not only fatally injure our Good Hunter without destroying his body but to move him out of the streets. But they didn’t cover their blood trail, and that’s the oddest part.” The last sentence draws out long and ends abruptly.

Of course, he fails to mention that little tidbit eats at his mind and nerves. In his book, he begins to scrawl down his feelings over this case in elegant cursive:

Suspect left little discernible physical traces yet left victim out in the relative open. A challenge? A wordless statement? Most likely not the last or the first. Will have to keep word on anything or anyone out of the ordinary. Something’s not right.

He slips it back into his pocket along with his tiny pencil after underlining the last sentence multiple times, really digging the graphite into the book. The gloves end up smudging the writing slightly in his vehemence.

Earlier, at around daybreak, a messenger from the Church informed Jan of the murder in Central Yharnam. Some old woman had discovered it on her morning stroll and had been so hysterical about it, one of the Church doctors gave her sedatives after she gave them the necessary information. From there, they sent out the two hunters to analyze the scene in order to determine whether or not a victim of the plague of beasts caused it. Though a beast or someone in the process of becoming one would definitely be eliminated, other possibilities would possibly require more consideration. Their superiors did not specify what these “possibilities” might be, and would not elaborate when questioned.

The white hunters could keep their damned secrets. Jan just wanted to keep Yharnam safe from another hunt. To keep his children safe. To keep the everyday people safe. And if he had to kill someone with all of their faculties … well, he would gladly do so.

“Ugh...What do you...” he stops, swallowing, “...think the doctors will find upon the autopsy?” the younger man asks, voice muffled from the cloth still over his mouth but thick.

Sighing, the taller, older Black Church hunter pulls out an unevenly rolled cigarette and a worn lighter out of his coat pocket. Click. A pale yellow flame flickers in a pleasant, slight breeze before it touches the end of the cigarette and turns it glowing orange and red. The pungent scent of tobacco alight causes the younger man to let out a small cough, and he inches away from Jan as the man takes a long drag. Boots click on the cobblestone as he leans against the wall opposite the corpse, staring at Osbourne with weary eyes. After exhaling the smoke through his nostrils, Jan answers in his distinct accent:

Something we, and the Church, don’t like.”

The alleys fills with his bitter, frightened laugh made raspy by the smoke.

Chapter Text

Adrian stared at the ceiling in the relative dark, his brown eyes reddened and glassy both from a fever and lack of sleep. His long, curly hair stuck to his sweat-glazed forehead like glue. Despite all the windows being open in the drafty hovel their landlord called a “house,” it still felt like an inferno in there to him, and yet the moment he would throw off his threadbare blanket, the chills would return. He let out a loud, racking, phlegmy cough that went on far longer than it should. Despite covering his mouth, it still resonated throughout the tiny living space.

Somehow, he managed to not only fit his entire spindly body onto their sofa with pillows and cushions long since flattered, he actually looked small, all curled up in a sick, gasping ball.

Outside, in the chilly spring night of Yharnam, crickets chirped, unaware and uncaring. Somewhere, an owl hooted loudly, enough so it sounded as though it originated in his room.

To think, the young doctor of Iosefka’s clinic had just began to gain back weight after nearly seven years of being waifishly thin. His hair had begun to strengthen and thicken, once thin from both intentional and unintentional starvation. Pink tinges returned to his cheeks, his lips, his chin, and the area around his nose. A slight roundness graced his cheekbones, making them far less severe, though still pronounced.

All of this, quickly ripped away from him again, like a bandage off a healed wound.

Something sticky and wet coated the palm of his hands, and not wanting to find out whether it was mucus or blood or both, he wiped it on a kerchief he kept close to his chest. His mouth tasted of copper and iron and salt, his saliva thick. Sighing, he shifted from being on his side to laying on his back.

More staring at the brick ceiling. How long until his older sister would return? Had it been hours or mere minutes since she left? She had gone out with a few other Church hunters on a small patrol to look for any signs of the beastly scourge. And given the relative silence of the night, it must have been going well.

Yet here he lay, inflicted by an entirely different sort of plague, one he most certainly picked up from an asymptomatic patient. When he treated anyone with consumption, the good doctor took extra precautions of covering his mouth and nose with cloth. And there was simply no telling how long he had it; it was well known by practitioners at this Healing Church run clinic one could exhibit no signs after exposure for months, if at all. How many had he unwittingly exposed? Ah, like it even mattered. Blood ministration likely kept it at bay in most Yharnamites, given how widely the Church utilized it.

A weak, bitter smile crept across his once-broad face made narrow and pale. I suppose I ought to ultimately deserve this, and yet it still feels like I’m being cheated . Again, he coughed, and this time he could feel a large, gooey, coppery mass in his mouth. Cringing, he took his handkerchief and spit it out, wiping his lips after. Shuddering, he tucked in his feet as close as he could to his body as possible. Fatigue desperately wanted him to sleep, and yet that which caused it kept him from getting sleep. Every cough, harsher and more painful than the last, tore through his body far more viciously than any beast ever could.

A cramp began to form in his upper thighs. The ill doctor turned back onto his left side with a moan. Eventually, his heavy eyelids must have given in, though he didn’t quite remember slipping into a dreamless sleep. Nonetheless, the rickety front door opened and rattling shut startled him from a shallow slumber. Upon wakening, he gasped for air, both out of sheer surprise and the inability to properly breathe. Eyes darting in the dark, he looked up at his similarly tall but less thin form of his sister, the whites of her eyes gleaming in the silver light of the moon. With his eyes already adjusted to the light, he could see that she donned her hunter’s face mask in addition to the distinct silhouette of the hat that sat upon the shoulder length curls on her head. But given his myopia and the fact his glasses lay on the table in the kitchen, he had to really squint for those details to not be a blurry, indistinct mess.

He did notice she didn’t stink of sweat and beast’s blood like she usually did after a successful hunt. Perhaps this time there were no beasts.

“Adrian,” she said in her usual monotone, every word spoken deliberately, as though every single word excruciatingly calculated, and crystal clear, “I’ll say this one last time: If you don’t see about getting blood ministration- and the irony that I have to point this out to you, a goddamned barber surgeon no less- you’re going to,” and he heard the slightest of pauses and watched her form just slightly quake, “die. Stop being such a pigheaded fool.” Even as she raised her voice, it remained level in intonation. She folded her arms, staring at her sickly brother with the all too familiar austere expression that characterized her relationship as an older sister to him. Especially after all they had been through together…

Adrian merely replied, voice hoarse and paper thin, “At this point, I don’t think I have the energy to sit up, much less walk to the clinic .” At the end of his statement, his voice grew louder and irritated, though he hadn’t intended to sound so incensed . He hadn’t wanted it to come to this; the idea of getting injected with the Old Blood terrified him. Lucia, the sister, and him quite bitterly disagreed about ministration. Naturally, as a hunter, she greatly depended upon the healing blood of the Church, consuming it more than water or tea. Yet, the doctor, working in the clinic underneath Iosefka, and the Church, saw it as an absolute last resort, relying on his actual knowledge of medicine versus relying on substance that created dependence, and in some cases, outright addiction.

And after what happened to their mother, gods rest her soul, he took many great strides in avoiding the potentially addictive. And the thought of losing control (again) terrified him.

“Then I can walk you there. Problem solved,” she snorted as he began another coughing fit that had the furniture jolting and the floor creaking. Her boots heavy on the wood beneath them, she glided to the sofa that served as his bed even before his deathly illness and gently pulled him up to a sitting position. She had always been surprisingly strong, though losing weight again made it look like a fluke. Working in the docks while they still lived at their hometown developed her strength, and becoming a hunter refined it.

Groaning, the doctor stared right past her, eyes glazed over again and barely able to focus on her between the pain in his chest and feeling like he never could get enough air. He must have wobbled or swayed, because his sister, looming over him, laid a gentle but firm hand on his shoulders, stilling him. Everything felt so distant, from the way he whistled while he heaved his chest in hopes of gathering a breath that actually felt sufficient to avoid feeling light-headed, to the pain in his chest, to the metallic taste in the back of his tender, torn up throat.

“Can you stand, or do you need me to lift you onto your feet?” To outsiders, the question might have sounded like it lacked warmth, but Adrian knew she cared. At least, in her own unique way. Though both had major repression issues, Adrian was always the more emotionally expressive of the two.

Shaking his head to the former question, his eyes barely focused, he replied in between gasps of air, “I need you to help me up. I fear if I try to stand, I’ll faint.”

With a grunt of confirmation, the more taciturn of the two wrapped an arm around his torso and carefully pulled him up. Even taking care to not go to fast, he did temporarily see black as blood surged to his head. As she did so, he couldn’t help but wonder if she could clearly feel his ribs and vertebra, his skin pulled tight over them again, though not as bad as in the past. Indeed, how could she not notice how his face had thinner again, going from handsomely strong to woefully angular?

In fact… they had never really talked about his anorexia after they moved to this shit hole, come to think about it. In fact, there was plenty the two took a great deal of effort avoiding the discussion thereof, especially their life before the death of their parents. Unspoken trauma united them, kept them together, kept them from falling apart. And it served them well, with the openly hostile xenophobia of Yharnam, their only saving grace being that they were linked to the Healing Church. It at least afforded them money and a begrudging respect that they had made themselves useful to the wretched city.

Still couldn’t get a damn house with an actual bedroom separate from the rest of the house, let alone two. He couldn’t really remember now why the two of them sought out Yharnam in particular, other than it kept them entire countries away from the bowels of their past.

“Alright, wrap your arm around my shoulder.”

Though straining to grasp onto her coat, he managed to cling to her the best he could so weakened. She gave him a nod, then stepped forward, patiently helping him walk to the door as well as just keep his balance. Indeed, Adrian felt as though if she hadn’t been there to hold him up, he would surely fall one way or another and likely pass out. They shuffled to the door, and with her free hand, she opened it, cursing under her breath as the breeze made her taller sibling shiver terribly.

The cold cut through Adrian’s flimsy bed clothing and bit at his dampened skin and hair. Even in his feverishness that practically radiated from him, or perhaps precisely because of it, the Yharnam spring had him feeling even more like death walking, all freezing and aching as a result. It chewed all the way to his tired bones. Not to mention, the coldness of the stone on his bare feet didn’t help.

Under the distant, uncaring stars, the two made their way down Central Yharnam, illuminated both by the moon and the sparse gaslights on the street. Her footsteps echoed softly off the crowded buildings and narrow streets. Beside her, Adrian still shivered, his eyes closed and forehead furrowed. With a frown, she thought about how she should have grabbed one of his coats and covered him with it. Though the walk to the clinic wouldn’t take long, with the way he pressed himself against her and how his teeth chattered loudly. Once they reached the main street that widened, the wind finally stopped, and it became eerily still, if only for a moment.

And then, they heard plodding boots on the stone street beneath their weary feet.

They no longer found themselves alone; a three person group patrolled the area, one wielding a torch in their left hand. Each of them wore black coats, large Church shawls, and broad-brimmed hats that contrasted to the usual tricorn hot. As the two siblings passed them by, they gave Lucia a nod; they, too, were Church Hunters. More specifically, those hunters were Black Church Hunters, known for their role in rooting out the scourge. Though they didn’t know each other on a name to name basis, they had seen each other both during church service and during the Hunt. Of course, Lucia found it no surprise to see them out roaming during the late hours.

Every hunter knew that particular breed did rounds when the moon hung at its most pregnant. Maybe it was just superstition, but they swore by the knowledge beasts became more numerous during the full moon.

The one holding the torch stopped and squinted at Adrian, pursing his lips. “Is he gonna be alright?” he asked in a deep voice, Yharnamite accent as thick and rough as as the material of his scarf wrapped around his neck. Though the locals hated foreigners, they loved and revered the hunters. No doubt they would be cursing the earth we walk upon and telling me to die elsewhere if she weren’t a ‘Good Hunter’, Adrian thought as he sighed at the question, but made no attempt to answer.

Would he be fine? Would he be on the road to recovery?

Lucia shrugged her broad shoulders. She honestly didn’t know if it was far too late to save her brother; after all, she was a mere hunter, not a trained medical professional. Nor did she know the limits of blood ministration. The Healing Church claimed it could cure anything, and its properties did lead to people from all corners of the earth journeying there to partake in it. Even Adrian could admit to that.

“I’ve seen blood alleviate far worse,” she replied as though reassuring herself. While she hadn’t have lied, she still felt her heart skip a beat thinking about the last of her immediate family dying. After all they had been through together, it would be Adrian’s own damn self that would lead to his demise. Stubborn just like our father she thought grimly, clenching her teeth together.

Time seemed to pass forever for her brother waiting for them to end the conversation and get back to the task. Truth be told, being around hunters other than his sister made him nervous; he didn’t trust them, between blood drunkenness and the fact so many of them were wolves in sheep’s clothing, slavishly loyal to the church. He knew some of their deepest, darkest secrets just from treating their ailments and their family’s ailments. And many of them, despite all their attempts at appearing saintly, had multiple skeletons in their closet as the result of dealing with the trauma of the hunt as well as some of the negative effects of the blood.

In many ways, he considered it worse than liquor. Medical school didn’t really prepare one for dealing with, for example, a veteran hunter who took out the stress of the Hunt and blood dependence by beating his wife and further indulging in the “Good Blood.”

Nodding sagely, the Black Church Hunter gave her then the intently staring ill brother with a small but genial smile. “Then I wish the two of you the best. May the Great Ones smile upon you.” Their leader waved them off, watching as the sister helped her brother cover the distance to the clinic.

Only a bit longer until they walked to the telltale doors of the clinic, the windows showing a faint yellow light deep inside. It was far from unusual for Iosefka to be tending to patients or conducting her research far into the night, and no doubt she would open the door for one of her prized assistants. The hunter cleared her throat, and gave the window a rapid set of taps. Normally, Adrian had his keys, but Lucia doubted in his state of being in his nightgown that he had them on his person.

The younger sibling stared forward vacantly, still shuddering both at the cold of the air and the chills his fever kept giving him. Though she couldn’t really feel it through her gloves, Lucia could clearly see that sweat soaked his pajamas.

Both to Adrian and his sister, it felt like ages had passed before the two of them saw a shadow pass in front of the light, and heard a faint, metallic click. A sigh of relief passed out of Lucia’s lips as the right hand door opened, first a slit, then more than wide enough to see the ivory robes of the Church doctor. A delicate, white gloved hand held the door open for them both, with the other gesturing for them to come inside.

“Thank goodness you’re still alive.”

The ill doctor focused his swimming eyes on the white, instantly recognizing that soft, caring, calm voice. He let out a strained breath. Lucia guided him inside, now more aware than ever how light he felt against her. At least the clinic felt nice and warm inside, if a bit stifling with his fever. Iosefka shut the door behind them and promptly locked it. Then, she turned towards them, scrutinizing her colleague with pity.

“I would chide you for not coming sooner, but we need to prepare you for blood ministration immediately, Doctor Orsini,” she referred to Adrian with a slight frown, before turning her gaze upon Lucia, “Are you able to lift him up? I’ll need him up on one of the stretchers in the sick room.” His sister gave her a quick nod, following the clinic doctor down the dark hall to the dimly lit room.

While she carefully lifted her lanky brother onto the flat bed, Iosefka retrieved a steel syringe with an empty chamber, a cut of stretchy, rubber-looking material and a vial of blood out of a nearby glass and wood cabinet with a lock on the doors. Then, she lit one of the kerosene lamps, giving the room a gentle golden glow.

Adrian laid there, swallowing thickly from the anticipation of a needle piercing his flesh and the strange blood flowing into his veins. He felt a cough coming on and covered his mouth with his left hand as his mentor took his right. With her white gloves hands, she began to roll up the sleeves of his garb, noting that at least it didn’t look like she’d have much trouble finding a vein. Tying the rubber tubing around his elbow, she began to firmly poke his flesh until thick, blue lines protruded through the sensitive, thinner skin of his arm. Even at the softness of her touch, he winced just from the pressure.

Pressing her lips together and wrinkling her forehead, she inserted the tip of the syringe into the vial and pulled back the plunger, watching the dark red fill the glass barrel. Once the contents of the blood vial filled the one attached to the needle, she gave it a gentle squirt to get out any air bubbles.

“Under less dire circumstances, I would simply give you a drip versus a more direct, concentrated injection. This won’t be new information, but you will more than likely experience a warm, possibly tingly or even crawling feeling, especially centered around your head. This is normal, and will quickly dissipate. The ceiling might appear to crawl. And yes, it’ll be cold.”

Her pale eyes turned towards her colleague, whose own glassy brown eyes had trouble focusing on her in his haze. Not so much as sitting up, he simply moved his head up and down in acknowledgement, his skull rubbing up against the sheet on the flat wood. It had been a while since he was on the other end of a bedside manner.

“I need you to stay overnight in order to let the treatment run its course in a controlled environment, though I suspect between the weakness brought on by consumption and the potency of the blood I’m giving you, you’ll fall asleep very quickly after I administer it.”

She gave a pause, giving him a comforting smile.

“Now, take a deep breath...”

It didn’t feel like the sting of a bee at all as the needle puncture his skin and found temporary shelter in his veins. He hissed, scrunching up his face from the slight pain and the pressure from the thin metal being in his arm. A century seemed to pass as Iosefka removed the syringe and bandaged the area of injection with soft gauze. And, as promised, the jet of this special concoction felt cold as it surged down and up the limb. Though he knew it would happen, the sudden flush of his face, how specifically his face and head seemed to become so hot, but not at all like a fever. The ceiling moved as though made of worms.

Adrian squirmed, making a soft noise of discomfort.

After that, he didn’t remember much, though he did know that he fell asleep soon after, exhausted and in need of rest. Adrian also had a recollection of dreaming of a pale, gray-haired doll in a dress, just a hair taller than himself, and a workshop in the middle of a field of white, blooming flowers that were difficult to actually look at directly, as luminous as the sun itself.

Right before he woke, he heard a regal, breathy voice.

Come, return to Us, bearer of the Orsini family crest.”

Chapter Text

Impossible to miss despite the mid-afternoon rush of people in Central Yharnam, Jan si ts down in front of one of his fellow black church hunters, Gascoigne, at a round table. At noon every other week, they met up at that cafe run by immigrants in order to have drink and a small bite to eat. A biweekly ritual, of sorts. The taller man grunts in acknowledgment, with his elbows sitting awkwardly on the wood. Even off duty and outside the Church, the man we ars his shawl proudly.

Though from different countries and having different mother tongues, the two men found quick comradery in the fact they were both foreigners in Yharnam. Both of them found a place, if hard won, in the Healing Church and knew the xenophobia of Yharnamites first hand.

Dressed in street clothes, Jan didn’t so much as cause eyebrows to raise in the crowd of people. Around them, he se es various carts and stalls of goods, ranging from apples and pastries all the way to homemade ceramics. During the day, the area served as a marketplace, but when dusk rolled around, it didn’t matter whether or not a Hunt had been called, the market would disappear.

In his gr uff v oice , the behemoth of a middle-aged hunter questions his comrade with a slightly amused inflection . A small, lopsided grin quirks at the right side of his mouth.

Your new case got you that ruffled, huh?”

With a sigh, the hunter shrug s his broad , then nodded his head. In between words, a waiter glides out to bring Gascoigne a steaming cup of milky tea and a plate of what Jan assumed were scones. Then, the cafe worker gi ves Jan a genial smile and straightens out his posture. In his right hand, the man holds a small pencil, and the left, a small leather bound notebook.

“What can I get you, sir?”

The usual: coffee, black, and a croissant.”

“Just a moment.”

Nodding, the waiter wri tes down the order and disappears inside the cafe. He return again this time with a small stoneware dish filled with cubes of sugar and a small carafe of cream. Upon setting it on the table, the restaurant worker vanishes again, presumably to deal with customers inside. Meanwhile, Gascoigne drops in six of the sugar cubes inside the tea cup and stirred it delicately with a provided small spoon.

Jan clears his throat, adjusting the sleeves on his ivory hued blouse, and tucked the stands of his hair behind his ears.

“I’m not sure what to make of it, but I guess it’s only natural when only a week has passed. Did you hear about the results of the autopsy?”

G ascoigne ta kes a hearty swig of his heavily sweetened tea, seemingly immune to being scalded by the hot liquid. His green eyes, the pupils growing cloudy with cataracts, burrow through the other hunter.

Ehh, I heard a couple of things down the grapevine.” He waves one of his paw-like hands. “You know, rumors and gossip and such nonsense. You know how youngbloods like to tell tales.” The gray bear of a man takes a bite out of his crumbly pastry and chewed with his mouth closed. Then, he brushes off the resulting fallout from his beard as well as his lap.

Jan’s shoulders relax a bit. He si ts back, though he s tarts to cew a bit on the inside of his cheeks. A long time smoker, h e found when he h ad gone a while without a cig, he resorted to such tics. Nicotine certainly had its claws deep in him. At least he didn’t drink or burn through blood like he smoked.

So Gascoigne looks around and continues in a hushed voice , I f you’re wondering what I actually heard, I’ve heard so far they can’t for certain say it was a beast. From there it gets… confused. Am I right?”

“Heh. Yeah. The white coats have been fairly tight lipped about it, even to me. Apparently, while examining the body, they found fresh needle marks on the arm, but the hunter’s own syringe was completely dry. When I looked at the scene, we didn’t find any fur, paw prints, or clawmarks to indicate a beast.” His nose wrinkled, and he grimaced.

We did manage to find the missing chunk of flesh on his neck after searching some more. The kid found it in the fountain and vomited all over my boots. So it rules out the cannibalism angle, but really doesn’t help us that much.

Gnawing a bit more on his scone, Gascoigne stares at Jan for a second. He stops chewing, completely frozen in place .

M eanwhile, Jan pulls out one of his cigarettes and his lighter from a coat pocket and lights the thing at the table. Though Gascoigne’s cheeks twitch as though attempting to avoid a grimace, he doesn’t tell the man to snuff it out. Though the acrid smoke did sting his nostrils, there were worse things in the world than a bit of tobacco in an open space.

But yeah, it’s still too early to really say much of anything is in stone. Whoever did this was strong enough to take down a hunter, so we might be dealing with someone blood drunk. You know how it is: with the dearth of evidence, we don’t have much of a motive, let alone an identity. It’s only been a week so we’ll see what happens.

Clink . The waiter sets down a cup filled with steaming, fragrant coffee and a single flaky, buttery croissant in front of Jan. With his free hand, he takes a sip of his coffee, not so much as cringing or hesitating at how hot the liquid felt on his lips or tongue. After years of scalding hot coffee, he simply found himself acclimated to it, and indeed, found he preferred it that way.

Cold coffee, after all, is sad.

That hunter shouldn’t have been alone on duty. Have you interviewed his assigned mentor yet or are they missing?”

Gascoigne finishes his scone, then folds the fingers of his hands together in front of him, waiting for the response.

Coffee in one hand, lit cigarette in the other, Jan replies between sips of coffee. Behind them, bells toll in the Oedon Chapel district, as they did every hour of the day, and the occasional bird would land on the cobblestone before them, pecking at crumbs and discarded food and any insects unlucky enough to be around.

“We currently have the partner detained, awaiting interview. Fairly sure he didn’t do it, but he could always have information we could use. We also had someone come forward saying they have information. You know that carpenter who made that music box for you and Viola? Well, apparently she heard shouting outside her window.”

He taps the gray and white ash off the glowing orange end of his cigarette that rapidly consumes it, and takes another inhale of his first addiction. Weary, wrinkled and hooded eyes bounce between the awe of Gascoigne and staring off into the distance. Jan found it hard not to sigh as he exhaled the smoke from out of his burning lungs.

“While she didn’t recognize the voice, she described it as, to quote, ‘full of character.’ Mentioned a peculiar accent she couldn’t really place other than she’s definitely heard it in Central Yharnam, so we’re dealing with an immigrant.”

Jan snorts loudly and rolls his eyes. They had to be an immigrant. Yharnam would eat it up, and use it even more of a bludgeon against people like himself; even if he had a place in the Church, the comments always got to him even after decades . Locals loved tales about boorish, strange outsiders. The only thing separating him from this was his shawl, and he knew it too damn well.

By the Old Blood, the Healing Church treats him well but at the same time, he couldn’t help but feel frustrated by how bigoted the locals could be. Yharnam gave him opportunity, a job, a wife, kids . And yet, it frequently reminded him how he could never be a true Yharnamite. Funny, how a city that attracted so many people from across the world (and relied on them) just really feared and disliked people unlike themselves. Even when Jan moved here decades ago, people blamed the beasts on the immigrants.

Gascoigne’s lips twitch at the sides for a moment, and a frown forms. The hulking hunter finally finishes off his scone and tea after being practically paralyzed out of shock in his increasingly uncomfortable seat. After clearing his throat, he finally speaks.

“At least that won’t be public knowledge yet.”

Jan takes the last gulp of his still hot coffee, having barely touched his croissant. At least now he acknowledges its existence, nibbling at it gingerly. Between the cigarette and the case, he didn’t have much of an appetite anymore. He chews on it like its existence fundamentally annoys him, and swallows it with just as much rancor.

Yeah. I’m just not looking forward to our own harassing those unfortunate souls in the backwater. And let’s be frank here: no one likes to see us.”

G ascoigne releases a cynical, barking laughter that startles some passerbys , a sad smile curling around in the center of his gray beard. If Jan weren’t across the table, he would have given him a pat on the back.

Hah! Don’t have to tell me twice.”

The waiter, long forgotten by the two men, returns, taking their used dishes, seemingly ignorant to the subject of conversation. With a pleasant smile, he asks the both of them despite knowing the answer.

May I get you anything else, gentlemen?”

Gascoigne shakes his head, and Jan waves his left hand as a gesture indicating the negative . After taking one less puff of his tobacco, the Black Church Hunter drops it on the stone beneath him, then crushes it with his boot.

No thank you, sir.”

Jan tries his best to flash the worker a gracious smile. Forced as such, it almost resembles a nervous grimace.

Chapter Text

Though she tread light on the wooden floor, Iosefka gliding across to the dark blood ministration room still roused Adrian from a sleep that left him more confused than restful. His sable eyes shot open right before she pulled the curtains in another part of the room, then turned towards her lanky colleague curled up on the stretcher. Dawn’s chrysalis of blue light caused him to squint even harder as he sat up, shifting the blanket she had thrown on him as he slept soundly to the casual observer. The bright white of her uniform did nothing to help with being dazzled by the light. Holding up one of his large but surprisingly elegant hands, he gawked at her for a moment; Adrian forgot his whereabouts, certainly not helped by the dream he woke from.

Was it a dream? Everything about it felt so real. He could still feel the chill of the air on his skin and still smell old musty books from the dream’s workshop….

After taking a long, deep breath and releasing a contemplative sigh, he released just how much better he felt. For one, he could actually take a full breath. Not to mention, he could also breathe without pain or without the worrisome whistling of lungs filled with bloody mucous. He rested on with his palms flat on the stretcher, blinking as he begrudgingly concluded the blood worked. The blood worked and he was alive.

Alive.

Adrian, coming across that word in his inner monologue, paused, hesitated even. A pained frown formed on his face, and the corner of his mouth dipped a little. So much, in fact, Iosefka took notice.

“Are you alright?” Her voice, not unkind, did nothing to help the rising tide of disappointment and shame. Iosefka immediately approached his side. It only served to make him more uncomfortable.

“...Did my sister bring my glasses?” The young clinic doctor completely avoided answering the question, though at least wanting to know the location of his pince-nez made sense. He sat up with his feet off the stretcher.

Rummaging through the pockets of her white Church doctor’s coat, she pulled out a pair of glasses with silver rims and suspension chain. It glinted in the light as she delicately handed it over to Adrian’s eager hands, who quickly pinched it to the straight bridge of his pointy nose. After pinning the chain to his nightgown, he spoke, a rushed and breathy quality to his voice.

“Thank you. I’m fine… I feel fine.”

Well, he didn’t completely lie. Physically, at least, he felt fine, even better than he did before he came down with consumption, honestly. Adrian really never doubted the Old Blood’s restorative and healing abilities; rather, he maligned its addictive and dependent properties, not to mention it caused one to be reliant on the Healing Church. Though he might work under them, the Good Doctor didn’t attend the Church. More accurately, he didn’t trust the Church after working at the clinic as long as he had. How could he when the clinic not only had a backdoor to maintain the secrecy of some of their more unseemly research, and a trapdoor dumping ground for their failure?

But really, he didn’t feel fine. Not at all. Between the eerie realness of his dreams and his emotional state, he could hardly be said to be “fine.” Healthy in the body, certainly, but hardly in the mind.

“Mm.. don’t suppose she also left me a change of clothes so I don’t have to go out like this in broad daylight?”

Indeed, it even hung slightly off his clavicles, exposing some of the now flushed pale skin of his upper chest. His cheeks reddened at the thought of anyone seeing him so… compromised, and then covered himself up to the next with the blanket.

Chuckling lightly at his modest blushing, Iosefka walked over to the cabinets on his side of the room, opened it up, and pulled out a full set of gray clothing as well as a large pair of boots. She handed them over to Adrian, then turned away in order to pull close the heavy privacy curtains, shrouding the room in relative darkness. Ducking behind the curtains, the head clinic doctor left the room so her subordinate could get dressed.

After staring up at the ceiling for some time, blinking and zoning out in thought, the doctor rolled off the hard surface of the board as reluctantly as a cat slinks away from a warm spot in the sun. As the blood rushed to his head as he stood up so suddenly he nearly saw black, he absorbed himself in his murky thoughts and sifted through them. His own uncertain desperation lingered in the air like the stench of sickly sweet embalming fluid in a freshly preserved corpse. The cold wooden floor beneath his bare feet barely registered, feeling an entire continent away.

His existence barely registered. He didn’t even really feel like he stood in the clinic, or that he was a person. Everything felt so disconnected. Far. Unreal. Even trying to contain his thoughts didn’t seem to work.

All too familiar, all too familiar, yet he never got used to this...

Get yourself together and put on your bloody day clothes before she starts asking questions.

Unbuttoning his gown with unsteady yet frantic hands, Adrian tried to reattach himself to the fuzzy, foggy, and frightening reality he found himself anchored to. His clothes fell to the floor around him, forming an almost floral-like shape.

The chill in the air caused his skin to prickle up. Adrian didn’t need a mirror to tell him how scrawny and frail he must look and that only further instilled his discomfort with his existence. Detached from it all, he pulled on his underwear over his bony hips, sitting below his rather small waist. Thin lips curled in slight disgust as the cloth slithered its way up his body, persisting as he repeated the ritual with his trousers that, admittedly, did hang a little off his body, but not so loose that an overcoat couldn’t hide or a belt couldn’t fix.

Once he pulled a jangling belt through the loops and secured it, he forced his arms through the holes in his long sleeve white undershirt, far stiffer and far scratchier than the material of his trousers. Then, he slipped on the similarly rough and thick largely plain gray vest. An embroidered rose of slightly muted red adorned the pocket on his left pectoral, the single thing that made the garment stand out. Though Lucia had not provided him with a coat, he felt confident he would survive the spring morning. And, of course, he donned a pair of wool socks and his boots and pinned his glasses to his undershirt.

Parting the privacy curtain and lowering his head slightly as to not disturb it too much with his height, the young doctor cleared his throat and asked in his thick, distinctly Italian accent, “I suppose I’m clear to return to home and eventually return to work?”

Despite knowing what she would answer, he still felt an odd glimmer of hope he could at least return in the next week or so, back to healing the populace and maybe, just maybe, finding the cure for the beastly scourge.

Iosefka smiled sadly as her forehead wrinkled up in sympathy pain.

“You and I both know it can take months for consumption to clear and that we cannot risk contaminating the clinic further. Sorry, but I cannot allow you to come back to work for a few weeks just to make sure the first treatment is working properly. From there, we can assess how the blood ministration is working and determine if you can come back after your second.” Despite her voice being gentle and empathetic, it still cut Adrian neatly to the bone.

“I was afraid you were going to say that,” he sighed, his shoulders slumping slightly in resignation.

She reached out to lay a hand on his left shoulder, embroidered white gloves contrasting against his gray vest.

“I truly am sorry. I know how much your work here at the clinic means to you. It means the world to me too, but I can’t risk getting any patients ill because you’re highly infectious with a deadly disease.”

“What will I do in the interim?” he asked, his voice raising slightly in pitch in concern, his hooded eyes widening, “What will I do for my source of income? My sister and I barely get by as is.”

The light in Iosefka’s eyes became even more compassionate and it just further disheartened the youth. He didn’t like being the subject of pity. It felt so… infantilizing.

“I wish I could do more for you. You could see if the Healing Church can offer you something. Besides, I’m sure they’ll give you a small stipend while you’re on leave, given how long you’ve been a loyal employee.”

The suggestion made Adrian visibly cringe. Though he didn’t express it overly much given they provided him employment, even Iosefka knew he didn’t have the highest opinion of the Church just from what she could piece together. After all, he never attended service, and used blood ministration as a last resort when treating patients, of which she did at least find begrudgingly respectable. Everyone knew that blood proved to be far more intoxicating than alcohol.

With the rising sun’s rays beaming down on the head doctor of the clinic, the searing contrast in the room made her look like an angel sent down to deliver the news. Removing her hand from his shoulder, she reached up to gently ruffle his cloud of long, thick curly hair. With the way his brown eyes opened wide and just how hard he subconsciously began to pout in conjunction with his still boyish face, he managed to look younger still, a far cry from a twenty-five year old man. Fitting, given how small and irrelevant he suddenly felt.

“Everything will be alright, I promise. You’re an intelligent, resourceful, and capable young man, Adrian.”

He stared at her right in her pale blue eyes, a fire behind his usually quite docile, even meek and cervine, brown eyes, and the shadows in the slowly brightening room only made it appear more sinister with the shadows beneath his slightly sunken eyes. Pursing his lips slightly and lowering his head, he regarded her in a low voice, unable to contain his frustration and despair. Yet, the man did not intend to express his anger.

Bile rose up his throat and he just couldn’t contain the seven years of rage of being contained to a drafty shack in Central Yharnam. And to think, him and his sister gave up living in a decently sized house in a harbor city only to live in near squalor in a place known for its miraculous healing blood!

Iosefka shrunk back slightly, even before he opened his mouth. He clenched his fists tight, held rigid against his sides.

He despised feeling so powerless.

“I’m afraid you don’t understand, nor am I truly blaming you, but what does it matter, in the long run? I’m nothing more than a cog in the machine. Yharnam doesn’t bloody care about my life and would see fit for me to die in the streets, if not for the fact I prove useful to the Church.”

He released a long sigh, shaking his head, and softening his severe expression. Adrian returned to appearing feeble, soft, scared as his eyebrows went up and scrunched up in sadness. Again, his shoulders sagged, though he didn’t slouch too much.

“I’m deeply sorry. You didn’t deserve that, especially given you’ve been exceptionally good to me over the years.” The spindly doctor fidgeted for a moment, then ran his hands through his hair before letting out a hollow laugh. He swallowed thickly, prominent laryngeal prominence almost comically large on a body made thinner and weak by disease and malnutrition. A lump of emotion welled up in his throat, refusing to go down quietly, and it made him feel shameful.

“You’re the only person that was willing to give me a chance and I… am thankful for your guidance, Iosefka.” He paused, averting his eyes as they became shinier and wetter in the warm growing illumination, “It’s only a few weeks. It’s not like you told me I am here, now and forever, banned from practicing medicine in this city!”

Adrian grinned, showing off his slightly stained, crooked and chipped teeth. Years of disordered eating followed by his love of tea took its toll on his dentition, and he certainly knew it, not that the average Yharnamite had a better smile. But at least it would put her at ease. Yes, the sadness bubbling up him had diminished, but he didn’t wish to frighten, nor concern her any more than he already had. He meant every word of gratitude, after all; he came to the clinic by the direction of his sister as a mere eighteen year old who found the human body fascinating and just wanted to help with what he knew from a childhood engrossed in books.

Despite being startled by his outburst, she still gave her colleague a sympathetic pat and brief rub on his back. With their relationship to one another strictly professional, even bizarrely so given the years, she knew surprisingly little about his private life, but it didn’t take someone with her experience to recognize that pain. Or his loneliness, for that matter: Iosefka had never seen him meet up with any of the other clinic workers after work. He could be remarkably chatty if it related to their profession, and had zero issue maintaining a warm bedside manner. Relating to others hardly seemed to be an issue with him. So why, then, did he maintain such distance?

“Your anger is understandable, Adrian,” she give him an understanding smile as she looked up into his eyes, “I promise that if you’d just give it a chance, the Healing Church will have something to tide you over as you recover. I’d be more than willing to put in a good recommendation for you.”

Gritting his teeth hard and biting his tongue, Adrian capitulated, or at least made the pretension of giving into her advice, by nodding. He adverted his eyes from her briefly as his mind latched itself to old images.

I don’t know how she can consolidate her faith with the things we’ve seen, he thought to himself, allowing himself to grin, though mostly out of irony. Oh, the things he’d seen treating Yharnam’s poor, the unfortunate, as well as the hunters…. But worse still, the things he had done in the name of science, injecting willing but largely ignorant subjects with different “cocktails” of blood in order to further refine blood ministration as well as a serum to make it easier to partake in communing with the Great Ones. Among many other paths of discovery of a clandestine sort....

“Well then, I’ll stop holding you up from opening the clinic and bid you farewell. Besides,” he said in a cheery voice despite feeling torn up beneath the surface and then Adrian smiled genuinely, “I could use a cup of tea.”

The tall former clinic doctor bowed to his superior, his features beginning to look a lot less severe in the light that had changed from a muted blue to bright yellow. Any minute now, more of his colleagues would be arriving, and they would open the doors to the clinic. Then, the injured and sick would inevitably flood in like the tides.

With that, the head doctor replied, “Take care, Adrian, and get some rest. Please return for another blood ministration in a week and report any returning symptoms.”

She waved right before he turned towards the stairs, and exited out of the locked clinic door into the day, careful to re-lock them behind him before ducking all the way through the passage and into Central Yharnam.