Chapter 15: Father Gascoigne
Bell crouched before the entrance to the graveyard after following in the footsteps he had prior to his death.
Time spun backwards due to whatever strange magic kept him tethered to the Dream, and so the slain returned to life once more. Hence, he had to once again carve through the Maneater Boar in the sewers and those who stood in his way to get to this point. Yet, the Little Girl remembered him and the promise he made to give the Tiny Music Box back to her mother. There had to be some kind of checkpoint or condition he wasn’t aware of, but he couldn’t be bothered to think on it knowing that Gascoigne was on the other side of the entrance and waiting for him…
Without thinking, he brought his hands up to where the axe had found his neck. The sensation of the blade that had been caked in blood and fat and stone dust and dirt cutting through it had been brief. But the phantom pain lingered even now, and a tremor ran through his arm that held the reinforced Saw Cleaver.
Even now he could hear Gascoigne just beyond the corner. Pounding away at that same corpse from before. The moment Bell stepped past the threshold he would be attacked again. Overpowered. Killed.
Calm down. He pulled down the bandana and took a soft, deep breath. Then he forced his arm to stop trembling long enough to set the weapon behind his back and pulled out the Tiny Music Box instead. The Little Girl had told Bell that when he forgot his family, they used it to remind him of them.
Bell was certain that if he reminded him of his wife and child, he would return to normal. He wanted to believe that desperately. Because the only other option was to kill the man, since he was in the way.
Taking another deep breath, he gathered his courage and stepped into the graveyard. No sooner than his boots hit the ground and he spotted his Blood Echoes where his life had ended prior was Gascoigne alerted to his presence. The tall, aged hunter wheeled around and pulled out his modified pistol, firing without hesitation.
Bell darted to the side as fragments of stonework peppered his hat, tensing as he spotted the man closing in with his axe in hand. Resisting the urge to draw his weapon from his back, Bell instead tried to reason with him. “Gascoigne! Your daughter sent me!”
A snarl was the only thing that answered him as the axe came in from below. Sparks blossomed in the dark as the steel found the worn and weathered stone that was once part of a path for the living to walk without trampling over the dead resting below, carrying with the arch a spray of dirt and pebbles. They patterned down over Bell as the blade narrowly missed thanks to his rough and hasty steps to the side.
Please let this work! The young hunter flipped the lid on the Tiny Music Box as the veteran readied to charge in with his Hunter’s Axe. The cylinder within it began to spin and scrape against the comb, giving rise to a soft lullaby that played out between them and tickled the ears.
The melody took hold of Gascoigne, stalling his legs mid-step so that his murderous gait turned into a stumble. The hand that gripped his axe released the bloodied steel and came up to his head that tremored. Murmurs left his haggard lips.
“Remember who you are, Gascoigne,” Bell said, swallowing the lump in his throat. It was working. He was remembering. “You have a family. A daughter, waiting for you at home.”
“Nnngh… the blood…” His head rolled, body buckling as though he was waging a war within. “The voice… calls me…”
“Fight it!” Bell begged, taking a step closer. “Your daughter is waiting for you and your wife to come back!”
“Vv…vii…vii…!!” The shaking grew worse as the man’s head started jerking. His body hunched over, and pained sound clawed its way out of his clenched jaw, teeth gnashing together. “Vi…violaaahhhh!!”
All at once, Gascoigne lashed out with his arm. The axe that had been dropped was absent, but the Hunt had made the aged hunter strong. Strong enough that his flailing backhand felt like a sledge-hammer as it cracked against the side of Bell’s head.
The world flashed with pain as Bell’s vision whited for a moment. Then something hard, a gravestone, met his lower back and cost him his balance. He fell over to the ground where the impact forced the air out of him lungs. “Huhhh…”
Ignoring the pulsing sting of the forming bruise, Bell heard the stomping of boots and then scrabbled to get off to the side in time to avoid the overhead swing of the axe that came down with the intent of butchering him. His Hunter’s Hat, left behind in the fall, was torn in two.
Rising to his feet, his eyes frantically began to search for the music box that had fallen from his grasp only for him start running for cover. No sooner than he’d gotten behind a monument that held the two burning oil lamps over his head and spotted it did Gascoigne open fire. Quicksilver scattershot sparked and ruptured as they bit into the stone and shattered the lamps, leaving embers, shard, and stone dust to fall onto Bell’s exposed, moon-white hair as he started to run again.
The man’s longer legs gave him a faster gait, even without whatever benefits the blood coursing through his body added to him. He was on Bell’s back in a matter of seconds and pounced while bringing the axe down. The ground ruptured in a loose cloud of grave dirt as the young hunter rolled out of the way at the last minute, right next to where the rippling phantasm of blood echoes marked his previous grave.
Bell reclaimed what he had lost, echoes once more filling the gap that had been left behind, only to suck in a sharp breath as he felt a pained sting below the waist. The axe had grazed his leg before he got out the way entirely, trousers torn and exposing pale and parted flesh with a crimson glint. Painful, but not crippling and soon to be numb from the adrenaline as Gascoigne pulled his axe free of the ground.
The young hunter now realized that he would never be able to get back to the music box and wind it up to play again without being caught and killed. So, he reached out for help through the Hunter’s Mark branded in the back of his mind. Space rippled beneath the Tiny Music Box as the Messengers arrived at his beckoning.
As the Little Ones inquisitively pondered and touched the device, Bell shouted for them to wind it up as the earthen and copper scent of the axe invaded his nose. A horizontal swing going for his head that came too close for comfort as white tufts of hair were left behind. The message carried as they gripped the handle with emaciated fingers and began to wind it up.
“Mister Gascoigne, stop!” Bell said, finally reaching behind his back and drawing his Saw Cleaver. He gripped the reinforced weapon with both hands and used the saw teeth to parry the incoming stroke of the axe, only for the bones themselves to feel the weight of the impact as the axe’s head grated against his saw with a horrendous screech of metal-on-metal.
With a strained grunt, he diverted the axe into the ground next to him hard enough to knock up the dust. Then Bell shot backwards with quick steps, intent on luring the larger man towards the music box as the Little Ones waved for him to come. He didn’t see the scattershot coming through the dirty veil until the bark of the modified pistol spat out the broken Quicksilver and he felt a sharp, piercing pain in his gut as fragments struck where his armor wasn’t present.
“Ngh!” He stumbled over and fell, clutching the spot as it felt like boiling lava was coursing through where the rounds spread the taint of the quicksilver and veteran hunter’s blood inside of him. Only the fact that he could hear the stomping of boots gave him the shot of adrenaline needed to whirl around and block the crescent blade of the axe that was getting ready to carve open his head with the flat-side, braced by his forearm guard to stop it.
His good leg then came up with as much force as he could muster to kick Gascoigne in the stomach. It was like hitting a stone wall, barely enough to push him a step back. All the same, it gave Bell room to roll away from the follow-up swipe and land near the Messengers. “Play it!”
The music box played its lullaby a second time, the melody stopping Gascoigne in his tracks from unloading another round of scattershot into Bell’s crouched form. He shoved the blood vial injector into his abdomen and let the contents push out the acrid mixture while regrowing the damaged tissue and intestinal walls. Then he got back to his feet and tried to reach out to the man again.
“Your wife is somewhere out here, looking for you,” he said, stepping forward with his arms outstretched. “I’ll help you find her! You can go home with her! Be together with your daughter! She’s waiting for you both!”
“V-V-Viola,” he mumbled, head shuddered. “For…forgive… AaaaaaahhhhHHHHHHH!!”
Gascoigne raised his pistol towards Bell for another shot, but he quick-stepped by pushing off his rear leg while his front was angled so he was offline from the shot. Then, pivoting his body on his front leg, he swung the Saw Cleaver down with the additional momentum in order to slam it into the firearm with all the strength he could muster. The barrel of the gun buckled as it was wrenched free of the older man’s grasp, rendering it useless. “Stop it! I just want to help you!”
“RAGH!” Gascoigne’s response was to backhand the young hunter with his now empty fist, hard enough that an arch of blood left his mouth as he stumbled back. Then he grabbed the neck of the axe and held it in place as he jerked the bottom, wrenching loose the telescopic handle to extend the weapon into a halberd and swinging it around.
Bell barely caught the glimmer of the dust-encrusted blade in time to bring his reinforced Saw Cleaver around to shield him from the blow. The fact that it was reinforced was probably the only reason that Bell didn’t lose his head by having the weapon shatter from the sheer force. Instead, he nearly felt his arms jerk out of their sockets as he was knocked along the path of the blade and bumped against another slouching grave.
“Wind it again!!” he urged the Little Ones while leaping behind the grave to put distance himself and the polearm as it came scything around for his head again. That last hit had made it clear that blocking wasn’t possible from how his shoulders ached. He just wasn’t strong enough, so he had to avoid instead.
Which was just as well, given Gascoigne’s attacks were coming in more aggressively. Every swing packed enough punch that it could carve a human in two with each hit. The force and speed of his halberd was enough that if he didn’t use the terrain to his advantage he would be swept up unless he fought back.
“You need to remember why you hunt!” Moving between one section of slouching and worn gravestones to another, Bell continued to try and reach the veteran hunter. “It’s for your family, isn’t it!?”
The sound of crashing stone was the only answer he received as the telescopic axe knocked over the grave in an attempt to silence the rabbit darting behind cover with every move, trying and failing to reach him. Gascoigne grew more aggressive whereas Bell grew fatigued, the former’s swings growing more violent as time progressed while the latter’s legs burned from the exertion. Soon the number of places where he could take cover dwindled until there were none left between them by the time the Little Ones finished winding the music box.
Breathing heavily, Bell’s fingers quickly found their way around the Hunter’s Pistol as Gascoigne advanced on him before he could reach the music box. He opened fire, letting the firearm bark as the Quicksilver bullet flew towards his leg to slow him down. It did nothing as Gascoigne leapt instead, roaring as he brought the axe down with an executioner’s swing, forcing Bell to get out of the way as it shattered the cobblestone beneath where he stood.
Lethargy caught up with him then. Before he could even get back onto his feet, Bell saw the horizontal sweep of the transformed axe coming in to kill him. He brought not his weapon but his forearms to shield himself with the forearm guards again as he leapt back, instead using the force to launch himself towards the music box.
It came at the expense of the impact knocking his own weapons from the grasp, leaving him to tumble over the earth with a jarring sound as the pieces of light armor scraped it. But he came to a stop near the Tiny Music Box and flipped the lid, letting the melody play for a third time. The heavy boots that had trampled across the hardpacked earth and worn stones stopped for a third time.
Only this time, Gascoigne fell to his knees and dropped his weapon to clutch at his ears with both hands. As if trying to drown it out. Trying to resist.
“Please… stop…” Bell begged the man, tired as he stood back up. “I don’t… I don’t want that little girl to lose someone like I did. I don’t want to be responsible for that. Please.”
Bell had never felt as alone in his life as he did when his grandfather died. The man who had raised him and saved him when he was in trouble, only to leave an emptiness within him when he disappeared from his life. He didn’t want to make anyone else feel that way.
“Viola…” Gascoigne muttered as he fell over, his head hitting the ground and the hat revealing aged and disheveled hair. For the third time, the hunter clashed with the beast within him. Only this time the man lost, and an ear-splitting screech tore open the night sky as his flesh was ripped apart with such violence that the air itself expanded. “Forgive MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!”
Clothing were stretched and torn as they tried to strangle the beast within that emerged. Lengthened claws tore through leather gloves and footwear, warped and corded muscles split skin and long hair bristled. The lips were torn off by the emergence of razor-sharp fangs coated in the blood, and the wrap that kept his eyes hidden was now woven into the wild mane.
The newborn Beast lunged into the air and dropped down on top of the younger boy, paralyzed by exhaustion and defeat upon bearing witness to the transformation. Death followed as the Beast wasted no time in tearing him apart with such savagery that when he awoke in the Hunter’s Dream, it was weeping and screaming at the memory of having his eyes torn out and flesh flayed until his throat was finally ripped out. And, as the Doll came over and offered him comfort, Bell recalled the words of Eileen, Gehrman, and even Gascoigne.
That is the duty of the Hunter connected to the Hunter’s Dream, else the night will go on and the innocent will slowly be devoured until none remain.
Show him mercy as only a Hunter can and free him from the shackles of his own making.
Forgive me, Viola.
Even if Bell allowed Gascoigne to escape, even if he stole the key to the gate and progressed on, the fact that he’d transformed meant that he would do so again. Maybe even around his wife or daughter if they found him. No one would want to be responsible for ending the lives of their own family.
“Hestia, forgive me,” Bell said, tears streaking from his eyes. Not for himself, but for what he would have to do next. Whether those tears were for that little girl who was waiting with hope in her heart for her father to return, her mother that was still out there somewhere after spending nights working to keep the beast within her husband at bay, or for the hunter who spent years fighting against the beastly plague only to succumb before the night even began, went unspoken.
He gathered his thoughts as the Messengers finished returning his belongings that had been left by the place that marked where he was slain. He recalled the two encounters that had vividly ended his life. The way Gascoigne…no, the Beast wearing his flesh moved and hunted him down. Then he donned his hat that was knitted together through the magics of the Dream, armed himself once more, and set out to resume the Hunt.
This time… he left the Tiny Music Box behind.
The first time Bell stepped through the archway that marked the Tomb of Oedon, he was caught by surprise. The battering of flesh and the sickening aroma of pungent blood in the air had been enough to stall his feet and clamp a vice around his heart. The resting place of the dead had been turned into a butcher’s shop for the citizens who had gathered there, other hunters from what he could guess based on Gehrman’s explanation of them going through it on the night of the Hunt.
The second time Bell stepped through the archway that led into the graveyard it had been with the intention to reason with Gascoigne within the tomb. He stayed his hand, held off on attacking for the sake of trying to reach the man whose daughter he promised to deliver the music box. His reward for the grueling effort was bearing witness to the Beast shedding its human visage, revealing the man had died sometime before they had ever met.
It was entirely possible that one of those men the Beast killed while wearing his flesh was the little girl’s grandfather. They were meeting up here according to her. But he hadn’t spied a woman among the corpses that could still be made out, so she would still have family once the Beast was slain. She wouldn’t be alone.
That thought gave Bell a small thread of hope to cling to. That he wouldn’t leave a child with no one else in the world as he had been when his grandfather died. He held onto it with an iron grip as he stepped through the archway a third time, Saw Cleaver in one hand and Hunter’s Pistol loaded with a Quicksilver bullet in the other.
The Beast noticed him. Still wearing the flesh of the man like a mask after devouring him from the inside out, it turned to him as the scent of a hunter reached its nose. Bearing teeth as if enticed by the prospect of fresh prey, the Beast charged forward with its stolen legs in a gait and raised the modified pistol to fire.
Bell darted to the side and allowed the scattershot that was meant to wound and cripple prey break and combust against the stone. Then he raised his own firearm and had it spit out a bullet in turn. The Beast dodged the shot, bounding to the side abruptly and continuing its charge over the graveyard dirt and broken cobblestone as Bell did the same.
Then it lunged, axe still covered in viscera and blood from the battered corpse it had been taking to pieces for the third time tonight. The crimson covered blade reflected in the light of the oil lamps as it came down with an executioner’s swing. But, instead of fresh blood and broken bone, only dirt and bits of stone spouted as it missed its target.
Coming out of his roll behind what was once a man, Bell immediately swung the Saw Cleaver before the Beast could heft the weapon from its perch in the ground. Across the back. Shoulder to opposite waist. He swung twice and felt the teeth of his weapon bite into the body from behind, ripping through leather and flesh before tearing its way out.
The Beast snarled with a guttural sound in its throat as first blood was drawn. Sweeping the axe around as it spun on its feet, a trail of stone dust marked the blade’s path. It brushed against the leather of Bell’s garbs as he escaped and kept his weapon that gleamed with fresh blood between them.
The attacks kept coming. Sparks patterned out the dirt and dust as the Beast swung the axe upwards, biting into the ground to give chase as Bell rolled out of the way of another decapitating swing. On his feet once more, he pivoted on his foot and swung the Saw Cleaver down in a diagonal slash that bit into front flesh, drawing more blood.
The Beast didn’t flinch despite the cut, instead bringing the axe around from the side. He couldn’t dodge it, so Bell raised his arm with the pistol and guarded his head at an angle. The axe coming in from his left met with the slanted forearm protector and sparks blossom as the steel was guided over his head while Bell counterattacked with his opposite hand.
The Saw Cleaver came around twice. Once to the left to rip open a new tear in fabric and flesh at the stomach. Then, with a twist of the wrist, he pulled his arm back and brought the teeth diagonally from waist to shoulder, ripping through the chest and cape of the ulster coat.
Pain and blood ran like a waterfall to soak the front of the stolen flesh. The wounded Beast flailed by swinging the axe down from above to drive Bell away from its front, succeeding as he bounced back off his leading foot. Panting as it slouched forward, the scent of its own blood reached its nose.
“Oh… what’s smell?” it mumbled. “The sweet blood, oh it sings to me. It’s enough to make a man sick.”
Bell ignored the words as he ducked down behind a grave for cover in order to reload his Hunter’s Pistol. The effort was made more difficult from his arm shaking from the impact of the axe and his gloves covered in the dark blood that made the quicksilver slippery to fit inside. He barely managed to get it in and close the chamber when he heard the clank of the axe being turned into a halberd. Then he broke cover to run the opposite way in time to avoid the heavy swing that was enough to topple over the gravestone.
Turning around to avoid keeping his back to the enemy, Bell’s reward was only to not have a sharpened tip pierce his heart from behind. Gascoigne used the extra length and point for a thrust, with the chest guard glancing the tip into instead sinking into the unprotected region between it and his shoulder guards. Baring teeth at having caught its prey, the Beast then pushed it further in.
“Auaahh!” Something broke within his body as the tip punched through the back and elicited a louder cry. It then twisted its hips and swung the weapon around to jerk the young hunter off his feet and fling him off to the side. His hair was exposed to the night air as his hat was knocked loose on impact.
It hurt. It hurt to try and even move his left arm. But Bell bit down on the pain to focus as the Beast came in for the execution and turned along his spine, narrowly avoiding the downward cleave that cut into the ground as he got back to his knees. Then he barred his right forearm beneath the left to raise it and pulled the trigger of the pistol before the Beast could pull its weapon up.
The Beast staggered back a step before falling to its knees as the mixture of the bullet gnawed at the inside of its chest, its own blood fighting back. Long enough for Bell to press the clasp of the Saw Cleaver and unfurl the butcher’s weapon. He chambered it back behind him as he stood, tensing the muscles in his right arm to the point it felt like the tendons would snap, and swung it down.
The cleaver end of the weapon broke through the Beast’s collarbone as it came down before it could recover, knocking it to the ground as Bell put all his strength into the swing. The Hunter’s Axe clattered to the side as it struggled to get back up when he wrenched the cleaver free. But before it could, the weapon came down again with the saw-teeth first and buried themselves into the Beast’s back that arched as it cried out.
Bell brought his left boot up and stomped down on the broken shoulder in order to jerk the Saw Cleaver free, opening out a spout of blood to join the rest pooling on the ground. Stumbling back several steps, his body tremored from the pain as he collapsed onto his knees by a tree and jammed the vial injector near the wound. Fresh blood flowed into his body and was used to repair broken bone, mend torn muscle, and regenerate damaged blood vessels.
That was when the Beast shed its human guise. Flesh and fabric tore open as it took on its true form once more. Standing tall once again, it stretched its elongated limbs while howling into the night as a key hung from a rope around its neck.
Bell stood, his breath and body still shaking. This was it. The Beast had come out in full once more. Now he would lay it to rest.
Snarling, the Beast whipped its head around towards Bell and bared its teeth. Then it lunged forward, a mass of fur and muscle shooting towards him with an arm chambered for a swipe. The ebony claws tore out chunks of the twisted bark of the tree as Bell ran behind it.
With something put between them, he reached into his pouch for another bullet and reloaded as he moved before the Beast darted around to try and get him. Then he lined up barrel for another shot the moment he was done and pulled the trigger when he had a clear line to hit. The Quicksilver bullet smacked it in the shoulder, jerking the limb back for a breath before it snarled and then lunged for Bell again.
The young hunter sidestepped mass of fur and rage, pivoting on his foot to keep it in sight. As it landed, he swung the unfurled Saw Cleaver and carved into the leather that clung tight to its hide twice. The weapon didn’t go very deep from what he could feel, its muscles even thicker than before, and was knocked from his grasp into a mound of gravestone as Beast whirled around and swept out with its claws.
Rearing back, the Beast roared at Bell before bringing both its arms down to crush him. Dust and stone spouted from the ground as the young hunter avoided the attack, making for his weapon in the mound. But it pounced into the air and dove to catch him, forcing him to abandon the attempt or be killed.
Unable to get his Saw Cleaver back as it now laid buried beneath a broken heap of gravestones, Bell gritted his teeth. The Hunter’s Pistol needed reloading as well, which would take time. Time the Beast wouldn’t give him as it rose to its hind legs and came after him with a storm of swipes and slashes.
Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t dodge the flurry entirely and had to use his armguards to shield his head since if he took a hit there, he wouldn’t be getting back up. His armor was torn into by the points and his legs staggered, nearly buckling upon being struck twice before the Beast put as much effort as it could in the final swipe. Bell ended up being forced to block with his arms crossed as it sent him airborne until he tumbled on the ground some distance away.
“Ugh…” Getting back onto his feet, Bell shook his head and tried to gather his thoughts when he took a step back and felt something there. He glanced down and saw Gascoigne’s extended Hunter’s Axe, now laying forgotten. He reached down, grabbed it with both hands, and slammed the bottom against the ground to return it to a short weapon before he rolled out of the way of the Beast as it dove down from the air to try and crush him once more.
Armed again, he abandoned his firearm and whirled around on his knees to draw crescent with the axe using both arms. Imitating the shade of the hunter the Beast had eaten from the inside out, the heavy head and momentum buried the blade just above the ankle and snapped the rear tendon. Then Bell stood while pulling the axe with all his might to topple it over.
The Beast howled upon falling onto its back, one leg useless and in pain. But before Bell could retreat to strike again, it twisted around to the source of its pain and its claws found the soft flesh of his cheek. It managed to tear it away, along with the bandana, blood painting its claws as he stumbled back.
The boy cried out, tears stinging his eyes from the hot pain just beneath his right eye. But it didn’t stop him from extending the axe once more as he got into a stance, left leg forward and right foot back as it was angled to the side. He swung the axe back and gripped the shaft with both hands, chambering it for powerful swing.
“SCREEE!!” With a frenzied, feral snarl, the Beast dug its right claw into the ground for purchase as it pushed off the ground with its left leg. A desperate, primal attempt to take off the young hunter’s head with its left claw this time.
“YYYYAAAHH!!” But it amounted to nothing as Bell shouted at the top of his lungs and swung the halberd down with all his might. The weapon severed the limb at the shoulder with enough force that the Beast’s entire body was hammered into the ground as its remaining arm gave out.
It made pathetic animal noises as it rolled around in agony while Bell reared back for another swing and buried the axe into the Beast’s back. This time it hit the spine at an odd angle and you could hear the vertebrae snap, leaving it truly crippled from the waist down. Desperate to escape the pain, it pushed off the ground with its arm violently and twisted onto its back to get the axe out.
But that was the last of the strength it could muster as dark, crimson blood pooled around it from the missing limbs. The heart within its chest that pumped frantically to fuel its rage and bloodlust had little left within the body to spare as it escaped the wounds. Panting, chest heaving, all that was left now was to put it out of its misery.
Bell raised the axe to do so, his breath coming out wet and haggard with the taste of copper in his mouth as the Beast limply reached out a final time. Not to him, but to the building that was next to the slouching statue that towered over the graveyard. His mind that was flooded with the scent of blood and adrenaline even hallucinated its mouth moving, as if to mutter a final set of words.
But then none of it mattered as the Hunter’s Axe came down a final time.
The Beast didn’t get back up again.