Dancing into the Night: Part Twenty-Four

The sun had begun to set in the pale, snowy heavens, with the promise of death on the air. From his position on his midnight colored stallion, Van Helsing rode with purpose. He'd been traveling for the better part of that day, and now as the evening verged ever nearer, the man spotted his destination in the distance. He had been given directions to the abandoned abbey before leaving Transylvania, and now his efforts had paid off.

The Abbey stood in its dilapidated glory, encased against one of the curvy slopes of the Carpathians. At one time, it must have been a beautiful place, hidden from all prying eyes and people. But now, after years of disrepair, it was a dark spot against the white of the slope, making it stand out quite visibly.

Van Helsing finally allowed his pace to lull. With a tired snort of relief, the horse complied with a slower trot. The all-but spent steed, heaved in great gulps of air, as it fought to calm its heart from the unrelenting run it had endured. But the man paid his horse no mind. He was here for one purpose, and the horse had allowed him to arrive faster than on foot- no more, no less.

With a calculating hazel gaze, the man approached the Abbey with caution. A million courses of action blazed through his mind, as he silently maneuvered around the far side of the structure. There was no way to tell if the vampire he was hunting was lying in wait, or if he'd beat the creature there.

So, he vigilantly rounded upon the failing monastery at a wary walk. He came to the edge of the grounds, marked with gravestones and countless wooden crosses, and made his way through them. Van Helsing couldn't help but offer a silent prayer for all those who rested beneath his feet, as he bid his stallion to halt, and noiselessly dismounted. He hitched the horse to a bench among the graves, before he grabbed the gear in his saddle bag and continued on foot.

The snow crunched nearly imperceptibly beneath his boots, adding a hushed rhythm of sound to the otherwise soundless mountain. Up here, amid the wild Carpathians, there was nothing but isolation and an echo of ancient times long since passed. It struck a chord with the man as he let his eyes study his surroundings.

Van Helsing didn't belong anywhere. He was neither a man of the church, nor a man of the people. He murdered and fought for good, but he knew that he had lost the spark of righteousness long ago. With each life that he took for his own, the greater the all-consuming hole in his soul grew. At first, he had ignored the effects; he'd even been invigorated by the kills at times. But with each passing year, his mistake became all the clearer.

His work for the Holy Order was damned. In the end, when his time was finally over, Van Helsing knew he would join those he had murdered in the depths of the fiery pit. It was only a matter of time now, before he felt their eternal anguish as his own defeat. Or so he had come to believe.

Van Helsing had been resigned to his fate for some time now, but it didn't stop him from sending the monsters he found to the Gates of Hell. The Hunter would carry out his mission until he reached his breaking point. He would do what the Holy Order asked of him and he would defeat those who stood against the Church. It was his way of life. It was his eternal task, whether he believed in it or not.

So, Van Helsing did not hesitate as he drew closer to the monastery. Each step the man took held purpose and barely bridled strength. His hazel eyes scanned the tombstones in search of any signs of his recent prey. Though instead, he found someone else in the frosted burial grounds.

Several feet away from what appeared to be the entrance to the Abbey, a lone figure knelt in the snow. His robes of washed-out gray created a deep contrast against the pure white of the snow, just like the abbey had from a distance. His garb was that of a Priest, but Van Helsing still, approached at the ready.

With his gas-propelled crossbow aimed directly at the kneeling man, Van Helsing nudged the weapon between the stranger's shoulder blades. At first, the Priest didn't stir, but after the Hunter repeated the action, the man's eyes slid open to regard him. Deep hazel challenged sea green, before the Priest spoke.

"The Church sent you?" His voice was hoarse and as gravelly as stone.

Van Helsing studied him silently, ignoring the question to ask one of his own. "Who are you?"

The Priest, still kneeling in the snow, steepled his hands together in the action of prayer before he answered in a hoarse sigh. "I am nameless. Forgotten and deserted, a mirrored replica of the monastery you now see before you. I am the Priest of the Dhampir, charged to help the Order destroy the Nosferatu Dracula. The Holy Brothers would have explained as much to you before your departure from Rome."

Van Helsing slowly lowered his crossbow, though he still held it firmly in his gloved hands. Only the man he was supposed to seek out would know the details of his mission. The Priest appeared to be honest, and didn't hold any apparent threat. But only time would tell the full story.

"Why are you out here, Father? Surely it's more comfortable indoors?" The question was posed with genuine curiosity. It was well beyond frozen outside, and yet the Priest knelt unrepentantly in the snow and showed no signs of moving.

For a moment, the sea green eyes seemed lost in thought before the nameless one replied. "I was setting the trap for the beast that you have come to kill. He should be here soon. The winds will be his ally when the sun sets."

"Winds? Are you sure giant wings aren't the reason." Van Helsing spoke as if it were obvious, but the Priest shook his head.

"It would normally take him some time to travel so far, Hunter. But he is desperate and running out of time. . . It would do you well to not underestimate him."

Van Helsing studied the Priest thoughtfully, going back in his mind to substitute all the information he'd gathered from the Cardinal before leaving Rome. It finally came to him, as the Priest finally rose from the white powder that encased his skinny legs.

"I was told he hunts those by the name of Valerious, Father."

"That is true enough."

The more muscular and armed one of the two asked, "Do you intend to use one of them as bait for this Dracula? Or do you have something else of value to lure him here?"

"The Dragon could care less about Anna and Velkan Valerious now." The Priest gestured for the hunter to follow him to the abbey, as they made their way back towards what appeared to be an entrance. "His newest prey is something he views as far more precious, than his mortal father's lineage."

"What? Don't tell me you found blood fountain for this crumbling cloister, Father." Though the words were both horrible and humorous, neither really accepted the joke for what it was. It was clear both men were on edge, and no amount of small talk would change that.

"He seeks a human in my care," came the Priest's careful reply, as he opened the ancient door wide for them to enter. "The demon will stop at nothing to find her and take her away."

"A woman?" The slight raise of Van Helsing's eyebrows showcased his surprise, though he recovered almost instantly. "What does he want with her?"

The sorrow in the Priest's eyes was palpable and made the hunter more nervous than he'd care to admit.

"Dracula craves her as no other. . . He wishes to consume her light, Gabriel. To keep her for his own devices, and whisk her from the world of man." Van Helsing's gaze sharpened as the Priest called him by name. How he had known it in the first place was a mystery to the hunter, though he had no time to comment as the Priest continued. "I will assure the lady's safety and happiness, no matter the personal cost. She is an innocent, having entered in at the end of a morbid tale. I would see her saved, before all is said and done."

Van Helsing was still for a breath before he clapped a hand to the Priest's shoulder. His grip was relaxed and surprisingly compassionate as he dipped his head in understanding. From beneath the wide brimmed hat that he wore, the hunter's hazel gaze shone with something akin to empathy, as well as his naturally unshakable resolve.

"We will save her, Priest. You have my word."

The man of the cloth looked relieved, before he clasped the hunter's shoulder in gratitude. His hand only stayed there for a breath, before he was entering the threshold of the abbey.

"You have my thanks, Van Helsing."

Gabriel followed the Priest deeper into the structure, rearranging his hold on his crossbow on pure impulse. "Don't thank me just yet, Father. . . Not until the beast is dead."

The Priest's eyes became sad for the briefest of moments, before he nodded. "Indeed. Come, hunter. We have a trap to set."

The two men disappeared into the deepest recesses of the abbey as fresh allies, to discuss the details of their plan. And all the while, they never heard the velvet-soft words spoken from behind the old chapel doorway, nor saw the oddly colored mist that had begun to seep through the foundations from the graveyard outside.

Lynara had felt each passing second tick away since she'd spoken with the Priest earlier that day. She had prayed and cried more than could be reckoned, and yet she still clenched her hands in a wordless plea. Every fiber of her body boasted fatigue, and yet her intuition of what would soon come made her more alert than ever. The blood burned in her veins as it passed through her arteries and capillaries, racing to be regenerated in her wildly pumping heart. Each pulsation brought the dread closer to the surface, and as she heard two male voices outside the chapel doorway, the woman knew that she had run out of time. The Priest has called for help. The Count would be outnumbered on consecrated ground . . . It was a hopeless fight.

She would have run hours ago, if the heavy door hadn't been locked by the Priest. When he had first left, she'd tried to unlock it and even bashed her body against it. But she wasn't strong enough to make a dent against the sturdy oak. Again and again, the maid had crashed against the wooden surface, ignoring the bruises that rose to her already tender dark flesh, as she fought to break free. But it was to no avail.

Now, the sun was setting. There were no windows in the chapel, but Lynara knew without a doubt that the light was fading. As the hours had passed, the stones had grown colder, and now they were like barren slabs of granite ice against her bared feet. The Count would be walking into a trap if he came here, and yet there was no way to run to meet him. He would come to the Abbey and lose the battle due to the natural disadvantages. Nosferatu had many powers and many playing fields, but nothing undead could pass freely on consecrated grounds. He would be weakened and left open to harm.

Lynara openly wept as she raised her hands to cover her eyes. There was no way to settle this conflict without a battle. No way to keep everyone safe and peaceably blithe. There was no joy in sight. It was a long-forgotten memory on a canvas of blood and pain. It was a twisted game that demanded that all the wretched players pay a price. No one remained untouched by its grotesque hand, nor escaped its death grip. Since the first time Lynara had met Vladislaus, she had been catapulted onto a fast track of torment, and now it was finally coming to an end. At the hands of a broken Priest and whoever he had called to help, her life would end, along with the one she loved . . .

Lynara wiped the plenteous tears from her face aggressively, breathing shakily as she fought to contain the dark thoughts that threatened to overwhelm her. She would not give up yet; not until there was nothing left. She would fight, until it was all finally over.

For a time, the maid sat in contemplative thought. Her brain ached for a plan to achieve the desired conclusions, and it was in this state, that she felt it.

At first it was just an impression, silky and unfamiliar. But it began to grow and form, making unknown chills run down Lynara's spine in almost violent bursts. It was as if invisible, frosted hands held her; one at her waist, and the other tracing its way down her bared neck in beautifully agonizing tenderness. At first, the maid felt panic grip her heart, but as a voice resounded in the silence of her mind, the girl's misgivings no longer troubled her. It was an exquisite purr in the back of her conscious, addressing her in velvet tones that made her blood warm for another reason entirely.

". . . Lynara. . ."

A choked off laugh, somewhere between relief and hysterics, erupted from the dark maid's mouth as he said her name. There was such love in his tone; a pleasant reminder of better days.

"Count?. . . You found me." She smiled through the tear tracks on her cheeks, and reached for the invisible hands that held her tight. She could not grip the manifestation, but she rested her hands along the spots where she could feel it holding her. The maid tipped her head back as invisible fingers pulled her hair away from her face.

"I will always find you, little storyteller." His response sounded warm, soothing even, and Lynara felt her heart skip.

"It is a trap, Vladislaus," she returned in a whisper, suddenly aware of the men's voices that resounded from somewhere outside the door. "Please do not come here. I am in no danger, save for the fear of losing you. There is another man here with the Priest. They are preparing for your arrival. . . Your brother has made his decision, and despite my prayers and wishes, I cannot alter it."

"He made his decision the moment he met you, my darling. Nothing could change it."

"Then you know of his determination?"

"I am well aware, Lynara. . . There is nothing more to do. For just as Vasile has made his choice, so I have made mine."

Vasile? Did he mean the Priest? Lynara's confusion over the unknown name would have given her pause, if the moving presence hadn't made her breath catch in the back of her throat.

The hands grew firmer, the one around her waist splaying against her middle, while the one at her neck held her still. She could almost feel his breath on her skin, as the hands traced her chilled flesh intently. His touch was unyielding, though she knew she wouldn't have pulled away from him, even if he'd allowed it. She could not see him with her eyes, but he was there, and for one blessed moment, she let herself bask in the feeling of refuge he exuded so freely.

As seconds turned into minutes, Lynara realized that for the first time in what felt like years, she could breathe.

The woman tipped her head back as a soft smile crept up to cover her mouth. She could feel Vladislaus's thumb moving against her middle, where his hand was still splayed. His thumb was calloused, but ever so gentle, even now . . . after everything. Lynara felt a shaky laugh bubble up, past the knot in her chest that had been suffocating her, and her body became complaisant.

"I had almost forgotten what it felt like," she whispered in emotional awe, as she leaned deeper into the invisible touch.

Dracula hummed, as he let his hand that rested around her neck caress her frozen skin tenderly. "Forgotten what, my darling?"

"What it felt like to be happy. . ." She struggled to form her thoughts into words. "With all that has happened, I had almost lost that part of myself. . ." Lynara stopped as another grateful breath tore past her lips, her smile growing unbidden. "But I think you've helped me find it again, Count. . . I can feel it, like the sun after years of darkness. . . It's here, inside me once again."

Lynara heard him chuckle softly in her head, and she couldn't help the butterflies that traveled from her stomach to her knees, making them weak. How she had missed that sound and the man to go with it. In her mind's eye, Lynara could see him smiling at her, his deep blue eyes affectionate as he pressed a kiss to her temple.

"You never lost the ability to be happy, little one. You merely couldn't find it with so much darkness around you."

Lynara felt his palm come to rest against her heart, as it beat a natural rhythm in the hollow of her chest. His touch felt warm as they listened to her heartbeat together.

And in that peaceful moment, the maid knew that she would never regret her decisions. She would never be anything but thankful for the love she had been granted and felt in return. No matter what happened, she would never doubt her heart again.

"If your brother knew the extent of what you have given me, he would let me go to you, Vladislaus."

"He fears for your soul, Lynara." Came the calmed reply. "No words or gestures can give him peace of mind, where that is concerned. His loss and despair spurs him into action, much like me."

Lynara focused her mind, and projected all her feelings of comfort to the one who held her. "You both have suffered beyond the point of grief, Vladislaus. And I would wish to see you step into the light with him at your side, before this tale is through. . . If I could only give it to you. If I could only make everyone happy for the right reasons. I would."

"I know you would, little one. And I would let you heal all the wounds that time has afflicted, if I knew how." Dracula's voice was steady, but even so, Lynara could sense a wistful note to it. "But I cannot. So, fate must be challenged, and our afflictions must be disregarded. We must survive, Lynara. . . and to do that, you must find a way to escape your captors."

The moment of happiness began to melt at the corners, and Lynara longed to cling to it with all her might. But she knew that she could not linger in memories and sunshine. There would be more fear and desperation before any such serenity could be found again. So, she forced her mind to clear, and found her determination renewed.

"I've been locked in, Vladislaus. I have tried to find another way out, but the stone is unbreakable, as is the door."

She heard him laugh again, though this time his amusement was palpable in the echos of her mind. "Allow me to take care of that for you, my dear."

"But how-?" Lynara cut off mid sentence, as she heard the lock of the door audibly click. With disbelieving brown eyes, the woman turned to stare at the handle. A thick black mist clung to the door in waves, like a unknown stretch of a midnight sea, as the door slowly cracked open.

Lynara glanced down and realized that her whole body was also covered by the unfamiliar mist. It took her several seconds to form a conclusion.

"You control the mist. . . That is how you are here." It wasn't spoken as a question, as the mist that lingered about her waist squeezed her encouragingly.

"You must escape, Lynara," Dracula bid her earnestly. "Holy ground limits my strength. . . But if you can reach me, we can avoid . . . unnecessary conflict."

Vladislaus was not one to back down from a fight so easily. . . But if he was willing to run for her sake, she wouldn't question it.

Lynara nodded, even though he couldn't see the action. "I can do it, Count. Where does the consecrated land end?"

"Past the churchyard and graves, there are four weeping angels: statues that mark the Abbey. Once you set foot past any of these markers, you will be safe, little one."

"The Priest and his guest are busy. . . I think I can slip away unnoticed. . ." Then the maid thought better of her assessment. "But I haven't shoes or proper clothing, Vladislaus, and there is snow. If they suspect I have fled, they will be able to catch up to my pace with little hindrance."

For a moment, the Count was silent and Lynara feared the worst. But then his voice returned, sounding as if it had come from inside the room itself, rather than her mind.

"I am mere minutes away, my darling. Bide your time and listen for their whereabouts. Once you are free of the Abbey, I will be there." He sounded so certain that even with her fears, Lynara found herself unable to doubt him. He would be there and she would make her way to him without being caught.

"I will see you soon, Vladislaus."

"Be careful, my dearest storyteller." Lynara saw the mist begin to retract from her body, before she felt the pressure of the vampire's hands let go of her. A feeling of dread encompassed her soul as he released her, which threatened to be accompanied by bile from her anxious stomach, but she pushed it away. She could do this. She would do this!

"I love you, Count," she whispered, with her tattered heart bared securely on her sleeve.

"And I you, Lynara. . . Now go!"

Without another thought, Lynara crept toward the door. Her heart hammered painfully, as her ears rang and her hands grew clammy. Her mouth grew dry, as the woman peeked around the edge of the doorway to check both directions of the corridor. When no one came into her view, Lynara slipped out of the desolate chapel, towards the courtyard and her freedom.

A/N: Long time no see guys! Hopefully the wait wasn't too terrible for everyone. ^^;

There are only two more chapters for Dancing into the Night, one a final chapter and one an epilogue. I am so excited to see what you all think of the ending! It's been a long time coming and I hope that it doesn't let down your expectations.

Huge shout out to EEstelle for being my beta guinea piggy! I love you darling!

Special thanks to:

alexc1209: The show is about to begin for sure, dearie. I hope you will enjoy the ride! ;)

Dracul Grigore: Dancing is your favorite Van Helsing fanfic? Oh my gosh, that is so wonderfully flattering, my dear! Thank you so much! ^^ Considering how many amazing authors are on the site, that praise is super high. *hugs happily* Thank you for sticking with me, despite my terrible update patterns. X'D Here's to your continued enjoyment of this tale!

OnyxTears: The male ego is very tiring to write, but also extremely worthwhile. ;) Thanks for commenting and reading, my dear!

Bone App the Teeth: Glad I could surprise you with sporadic updates, dearie. ^^ There have been so many times when I've worried that I haven't given Dracula enough character development throughout the story, but then you and the other reviewers remind me that I'm too particular. lol I really do appreciate the sweet comments and insight you've given. Enjoy the rest, Dev.

RavenHuffle: Hello there, my dear RavenHuffle! As always you say extremely flatter and sweet things! I'm glad the confrontation between Dracula and the Priest didn't feel too forced to you. ^^ I strived to make it a realistic encounter. Hope you like the newest chapter!

Madame Remember: Love you dearest, T. I know I promised better updates, but then again, my muses cannot be tamed or cowed. X"D I hope that you're doing well, and that this newest update will be an interesting read for you. I decided to add some older vampire mythos in there just for the heck of it. I know your superior intellect and eyes will spot it right away. Only two more chapters to go and I am scared of how you will react. lol It is my deepest wish that you will continue to love Dancing into the Night, even after the final word has been typed. But alas, only time will tell. I hope this chapter finds you in good health, dearest. Thanks for always giving me the best reviews in the universe. 3

See you guys next chapter! *blows kiss and hands out cookies*