Adrian's fingers curled around the grip of his sword, every muscle ready to spring to action. He felt Sypha raising power beside him, the fluctuations in the air around her making her hair stir in his periphery. Trevor was ready with his whip, the chain tinkling with his slight movements.
As his father rounded fully and stood before him Adrian took stock of him, trying to pick up any outward sign that would give them a better idea of his state of mind. Vlad Dracula Tepes was a composed and tidy individual, always confident when facing an enemy. He let nothing of his inner thoughts show through to his opponent. Of course not. Never give anything away was among the many lessons he'd ingrained in his son from the time he was a young child.
The outwardly cold facade was not enough to mask the evidence of his suffering and instability from Adrian, however. He could immediately tell that something was changed. Though he stood as broad and tall as ever, his father was hollowed, as if he hadn't drunk blood in too long. His face had a severity that Adrian had never seen before, the angles of his cheeks were pronounced, his eyes ringed in faint dark circles. His clothing was not the immaculate presentation Adrian had come to expect of him. There were scuffs of dirt on his boots. His tunic was similarly soiled, and there was a small tear along the hem. His hair was dirty and stringy – not the luxuriant waves of clean black silk it usually resembled – and Adrian could smell dried blood hovering around him, could see it soaked along the edges of his cape, a spattering of it spread over the front of his clothing.
There was something disturbing in the crimson eyes that met his own. They were already fully reddened, but that wasn't it. They held a menacing, feral coldness. Very little of the fierce man Adrian had known all his life was evident here. He had never observed such an expression, like that of a wild animal. Dangerous, yes, but flat. There had always been fire in Dracula – whether it was the ardent glow of his love for his family, or the venomous burn reserved for his enemies – he was always moved by his passion, but now it was seemingly absent.
The past year and a half of living in a world without Lisa's soothing presence had taken its toll, this much was clear. His father was suffering terribly, but he was no less imposing than before, and emanated a nearly palpable aura of danger.
Adrian bristled as it rolled over him, his heart rate increasing with the sense of approaching battle. He took a step forward, jaw firmly set.
"Father," he said, keeping his voice stern, level.
"Son," came the answer as Dracula took a step closer to him. They stared at one another for a long moment, the fire in the hearth casting shadows around them, the red of his father's eyes burning with hellish light.
"Your war is over," Adrian continued, glaring. "You've killed thousands of innocents. It ends now."
"Innocents!?" he spat the word, lip curling in disgust. "Not one of those filthy beasts is innocent. Humanity is a vile plague on this earth. I will exterminate them in your mother's name." His hand curled into a fist, his voice a growl. The darkness swirled around him, the press of it nearly suffocating.
"Mother would be disgusted by what you've done," Adrian countered as he took another step forward. "She would never condone your war."
Dracula snarled, shifting threateningly, flashing his teeth. "You've always been too soft, boy. I don't expect you to understand – you are blinded by romantic notions and the tenderness of youth. You deceive yourself and deny your nature, drinking the blood of animals like a common leech. You've been seduced by humanity; you don't yet understand who you're supposed to be."
Adrian's eyes burned, glittering dangerously. "I understand perfectly, Father. Do not make this about me, because it isn't. They hurt you. Hurt us. They took Mother, but I won't let you commit genocide in retaliation."
The pressing darkness grew more potent, making it hard to breathe, hard to convince himself to stand tall in the face of it. He could hear Trevor and Sypha's strained breaths, their frantically beating hearts. The heat in Dracula's gaze flared, magic gathering around him. Behind him, the flames in the hearth leapt higher, tongues licking out around the stone of the mantle. The scent of sulfur permeated the air, which grew steadily hotter.
"I will not tolerate their existence any longer. All of them must die."
Adrian's heart heaved, recognizing the pain in his father's voice – it was closer to the surface than he'd realized. It disappeared quickly, however, sealed off behind a wall of malevolence and threatening snarls.
"Father," he said softly, closing his eyes. "I know her death hurts. I grieve with you, but I cannot allow the killing to continue. Please, stop this."
"I will," he answered easily, his tone becoming disturbingly conversational and smooth. "When every last one of them is dead."
Adrian nodded, having expected this response. He opened his eyes again, gold once more meeting luminescent crimson. "Then I will stop you."
Dracula laughed, a harsh, mocking bark. "You? You could never beat me before, what makes you think you can do it now?"
"I was alone before," Adrian growled, baring his teeth. He felt Trevor and Sypha's shoulders brush his – they were standing beside him, ready to fight.
The tall figure of their opponent gave a snort of derision. "You bring humans to fight me?" He studied Trevor and Sypha, eyes crawling over them, noting every detail. "A Speaker Magician, and a Belmont. Good choices for allies, but it won't matter. You'll die together."
Adrian was through with the back and forth. It was pointless to keep talking when there was nothing to be achieved from discussion. Dracula was bloodthirsty and mad – he couldn't be reasoned with at this point. If he was to be honest with himself, he didn't want his father's focus to stray from him to his companions. He could take a lot more than they could, and he didn't want them to be injured. As soon as he spoke about killing them it was enough to push him to action.
He surged forward blade first, knocking his father backwards against the mantle, sending a spiderweb pattern of cracks through the stones from the impact. His blade was deflected easily with a swipe of one clawed hand, forcing Adrian to regain his footing before he could begin the next attack.
Immediately Sypha was casting something behind him and Trevor moved to protect her.
Everything else fell away as Adrian put his focus into his movements. He leveled slashes and stabs, whirling in a circular dance with his opponent, his hair flying out around him. Unfortunately, he could not land a blow with his sword, so he released it and allowed it to move independently of his body, slicing from one side while he aimed a flurry of punches and kicks from the other.
Adrian twisted, dodging as many blows as he could. His speed was usually one of his advantages. He had always been extremely fast – certainly faster than any other vampire he'd encountered – but he was not faster than his father, who was able to keep pace with him, and had the infuriating tendency to anticipate his attacks, likely because it was Dracula himself who had taught Adrian to fight.
His next jab was caught in a massive, clawed fist, yanking him suddenly forward to be hurled into the bookshelves. His head struck the stone wall behind them and the whole structure heaved and collapsed atop him, burying him in a pile of books and splintered wood. He wasted no time recovering, bursting free from the debris and blinking hard to clear his vision.
He was thrown harder after the next assault, crashing clear through the wall this time into the next room over. It took a little longer to get back to his feet after this impact. Adrian staggered from the pile of stones he'd landed in, spitting a mouthful of blood on the floor. When he made it back into the room he was in time to see Dracula's cape swirl as he rounded and closed in on Trevor, fangs and claws bared.
"Come on you overgrown monsterfucker. I've been looking forward to kicking your ass," he snapped his leather whip, challenge in his eyes.
Trevor evaded a couple of slower, test strikes, moving fluidly out of the way in a whirl of well-practiced movements and quick lashes with his whip. Adrian knew his father wasn't trying, he was just getting a sense of his enemy.
"Is that all you've got?" Trevor taunted cockily after a missed blow, raising his sword for a counterattack.
"You Belmonts are so rare these days," the vampire retorted. "I don't want to kill you too quickly."
Dracula spun in an instant, claws outstretched for a more committed blow, but Adrian intervened before it could land, the tip of his blade catching his father's hand. A small slice appeared on his palm before the sword was forced aside. The scent of blood filled the room, though the wound healed instantly. Adrian immediately shot forward again. Dracula sidestepped him and kicked him squarely in the back, sending him flying. He careened across the room and impacted the tiles hard, rolling several times until he found purchase with his claws. He dragged deep furrows into the floor, coming to a stop inches from the flames in the hearth.
Sypha sent a volley of ice lances at Dracula. He pulled his cape up and they were deflected, shattering against the marble tiles where they fell.
"Strong little Speaker mage," he purred in amusement, advancing on her.
Trevor jumped in sword first, aiming a thrust at Dracula's side. The strike was knocked askew with laughable ease and Trevor was grabbed by the forearm in a crushing grip, forced to drop his weapon. The short sword clattered to the tiles. Dracula barely glanced at the hunter, seizing him like he was weightless and hurling him out of the way. He crashed hard into a writing desk spilling pots of ink and sheaves of paper all over. The legs of the desk caved under the impact, leaving Trevor groaning in pain atop the ruined furniture. Adrian could smell his blood after a few seconds, though he was already getting up.
Adrian pulled himself back to his feet and advanced once more, assessing what his best course of action would be. Clearly, throwing himself at his father over and over was not working. If he did the same thing again, he knew he was going to end up tossed across the room again.
Sypha glared daggers at the vampire, who towered over her by several feet. Adrian grit his teeth, watching the way he closed in on her with catlike grace, seeming to glide over the marble tiles. He inched closer, his sword hovering at his shoulder, ready to strike at the first sign of an opening.
"You're a brave one," Dracula said to Sypha, coming to stand before her. "But your bravery won't be enough, Speaker. Pity there will be nobody to tell your people your story after you're gone," he taunted, then flipped his cape aside, blasting fire from his outstretched hand.
"Sypha!" Adrian shouted, reacting immediately. He flashed forward with all of his speed, placing himself between her and the attack. The fire struck him, singing his hair and clothes, burning his skin.
Adrian tried to cover his face, hunching his shoulders as he felt himself burning. There was an icy blast as Sypha immediately countered the flames with her magic.
"Take this you fucker," Trevor spat, having regained his footing. He sent the flail end of the Morning Star directly at their foe. It hit him in the side of the head and everything erupted in an explosive and blinding light. Adrian was shielded by Sypha, who cast ice in front of them both, blocking the worst of the heat. He could feel his burns healing already. He was much more resilient to hellfire now that he fed properly, but the blast from the Morning Star was painful to even look at and he had to hide his face, turning from it.
A tense silence fell over the room as the smoke cleared. All three of them watched. Was that it? Was it enough? The Morning Star was heralded as being very lethal to any vampire, and it had obviously had a huge reaction to striking Dracula's flesh.
"The Morning Star," came Dracula's voice, sounding irritated and distorted. "I haven't seen a trace of it for over a century, but I'm not surprised that you Belmonts had it stashed away with the rest of your horde. Bloody nuisances."
His silhouette became visible – intact and very not dead. He brushed himself off and Adrian saw that he was singed, burned on the side of his face down to the bone, but it was already healing. It was grotesque – his skin had melted off, his ear had been completely swallowed by the blast, and once side of his mouth was utterly wrecked so that the teeth and tongue were visible through the hole in his face.
"That hurt," he snarled, even as his flesh knit itself back together and the damage slowly faded.
Trevor visibly struggled to conceal his surprise at how little actual damage the weapon had done. So far, every evil thing he'd struck with it had been completely blown apart.
"Uh… shit," he said, taking a step back. Adrian saw that he was bleeding from a gash in his side where he'd hit the desk before. The red was soaking quickly through his tunic, staining it dark and wet.
"Last of your line, aren't you, Belmont?" Dracula mocked casually, advancing on him. Adrian was about to rush him, but Sypha grabbed the edge of his coat and shook her head. He frowned at her in confusion.
Trevor stood straighter, readying his weapon for another strike. Dracula grinned dangerously at him, reaching for him. "I'll take great pleasure in ending your lineage. So many of your predecessors have met their fate at my claws already, I didn't think there were any of you left."
Without any further preamble Dracula snatched Trevor by the throat, slamming him against the closest bookshelves. Pages flew up in a torrential cloud. Suddenly Dracula's body grew rigid, and he dropped Trevor in surprise, stumbling backwards, eyes wide.
"Holy spell, activated by touching his bare skin," Sypha whispered to Adrian, advancing with fire ready at her fingertips. Adrian very clearly remembered the stunning sensation of being totally incapacitated by the Holy magic. He had not been able to so much as move.
Trevor quickly took advantage of his opening. He pulled a wooden stake from his belt – one of the pieces of the shattered desk – and plunged it into the flailing figure, who was roaring with rage, blinking repeatedly and striking out blindly. The stake sunk into his chest and immediately struck bone, lodging there uselessly. Trevor's eyes widened and he jerked on the stuck wood, trying to twist it free so he could strike again, but his window of opportunity had passed.
Dracula ripped the stake free and incinerated it with a flare of hellfire, having regained his faculties.
"Those little parlour tricks don't work on me," he growled, letting the ashes of the stake fall from his hand.
"Well you can't blame me for tryin'," Trevor shot back, cocking his arm and throwing a punch right into Dracula's face.
It was not very effective. Not one to be discouraged, Trevor tried again, hurling a volley of blows at the huge man, but all he was doing was hurting his hands. Dracula actually stood there and watched him for several moments, until Trevor realized it and stilled, glancing up at the towering figure.
Lips pulled back, revealing sharp fangs. Trevor gulped.
Dracula backhanded Trevor so fast Adrian barely saw him move. His head snapped back and he was thrown clear out of the room. He struck the wall in the hall with a sickening cracking noise, jostling several paintings which hung there. He sagged to the floor, motionless, blood already spilling from his slack lips.
Adrian could hear that he was still breathing, but he had no idea of the extent of the damage. Another head wound was not what the hunter needed right now. An irrational anger bubbled up. He growled. Fists clenched, he glared at his father, who turned his back on the incapacitated man to face Sypha and Adrian.
Sypha struck with a blast of intense fire. Adrian added his own flames to the barrage. Together they advanced, forcing their enemy back. Adrian saw his eyes flash and knew he was about to teleport, but it was already too late. He disappeared, reappearing behind Adrian, slamming the edges of his hands against the junction of his neck and shoulder on either side. Adrian felt something break – his collarbone – and white hot pain erupted in his neck and chest. He was forced to drop to his knees, vision reeling.
Sypha rounded on the vampire but he was much faster, casting magic before grabbing her. The Holy spell didn't work this time – he'd rendered the magic inert. Sypha was seized roughly by the upper arm, claws sinking into her flesh and laying it open until blood was running freely from several deep furrows. Her small figure was pulled tightly against Dracula's broad chest as he backed away from Adrian.
The dhampir was focusing on healing the damage from the last attack. The break was not severe – probably just the barest of hairline fractures – but it was painful and it took a lot of concentration and energy to heal bone quickly. His stomach dropped when he saw Sypha being restrained and he abandoned his efforts, rushing forward to help her.
"Careful," Dracula threatened, one long and very deadly claw grazing her throat. "Move and I'll kill her."
Adrian froze, eyes wide with horror. Sypha had grown very still, her eyes meeting Adrian's evenly. She was fearless, urging him silently not to let himself be manipulated. If there was a chance, he had to take it. Winning this fight was more important than any of their individual lives.
"Let her go," Adrian demanded, but he stayed where he was.
"No," Dracula answered, tipping his nose into the hollow of Sypha's throat, making a show of inhaling her skin. "She is covered in your scent, son," he said, withdrawing slightly to study her. He dragged the tip of his claw along Sypha's skin.
She glared daggers, trying to twist away from his touch. "Get your hands off of me," she spat, wriggling fruitlessly.
He ignored her. "What's this?" he raised a brow, tracing the healing bite marks on her neck with interest. He turned his crimson gaze on Adrian. "You've fed from her."
Sypha tried to get out of his grasp, flailing ineffectually and kicking at him. She began to form ice in her hand and Dracula moved his hand from her throat and closed it over her fingers, preventing her from casting. He squeezed and Sypha screamed. There was a crunch as her bones snapped easily in his crushing grasp.
"That should take care of your magic," he growled, not letting up on his grip. Sypha panted, swallowing her whimpers of pain, She twisted and spat in his face. The gob struck his cheek and began to drip down, but he just wiped it away.
Adrian was incensed, forced into helpless inaction. He was vibrating with his anger. He had never realized how much it would infuriate him to see either of his partners harmed, but just the sight of it was making it hard to think clearly. He wanted to rush headlong at his father and tear Sypha free, but he knew he couldn't do that.
"Let her go!" he snarled, his magic building, flames collecting around him, making his hair sway. The carpet burned away in a circle at his feet and the air around him rippled with the heat.
His opponent was unfazed, watching his display with mild interest.
"I must say, I am quite surprised to find you've broken your ridiculous vow to never feed from a human after so many years of denying yourself. Were you so desperate for the strength to defeat me that you finally compromised your foolish, self-imposed morality?"
"I offered," Sypha said before Adrian could respond, her voice thick with pain. "He needed it."
Dracula laughed, the deep, booming sound echoing around the room. "That's rich. Even a human could tell that you were starving," he said, looking at Adrian before turning his focus back to Sypha. "Weren't you afraid of being bitten, little Speaker? Or does your bravery extend past your natural inclination for self-preservation, like it does with the Belmonts?" he waved a hand in the general direction that he'd thrown Trevor, who was wiping blood from his lips and struggling to his feet, albeit slowly.
Sypha shook her head, wincing, as the claws in her arm dug in a little harder at her movement, making Adrian twitch with agitation. She steeled herself, not allowing the pain to show through. "Of course not. I trust Adrian totally. If you weren't so caught up in your miserable self-pity maybe you'd be able to see how amazing he is. But you can't. I don't understand how someone who is as powerful and brilliant as you are can be so blind. You lost your wife, but you still have a son. He needed you and you abandoned him. He lost his mother and you tried to kill him!"
"Sypha!" Adrian said in alarm, his eyes widening at her words. He heard Trevor coughing behind him, the sound too wet.
Dracula tipped his head back and roared loud laughter. His claws tightened around Sypha's upper arm until she was unable to keep herself from crying out at the pain, her already mangled hand twitching helplessly, blood dripping from her fingertips and soaking into the rug they were standing on.
It took several moments for Dracula to collect himself. "I must say, I am struck by your will little Speaker. I'd have gladly taken you under my wing if we'd met under different circumstances. Unfortunately, you are interfering in matters that have nothing to do with you, and I've had enough."
He bared his teeth, the colour of his eyes intensifying, a fireball growing in his free hand.
Cold fear shot through Adrian and he stiffened at the sight of the gathering flames. "Father no! Don't kill her," he said, his voice alien and desperate in his own ears.
Trevor came to stand beside him. His chin and the front of his tunic was stained with his own blood, but he was holding steady on his feet, his whip in one hand, his sword in the other. His blue eyes were sharp and icy, watching every move Dracula made, looking for an in. He spat a gob of blood, wiping his lips on the back of his hand. "Adrian, we have to end this."
The dhampir looked between Trevor and Sypha. She was wavering in and out of consciousness; her eyes were unfocused. Her injury was severe, and the pain was probably unbearable. Trevor, though roughed up and hurt, was obviously prepared to fight until his last.
It was like being backed into a corner, and he saw the triumph in his father's expression, a smug satisfaction at his approaching victory.
He could not afford to surrender. He wracked his brain for an option that could give him the upper hand. There was no time to deliberate. He had to act. He let his magic flare and in an instant he was swallowed up in a column of flames.
Teleportation allowed him to move instantly, but he wasn't an expert, and it was a long shot. He reappeared in a blast of fire right behind his father, who was already ready for him. As soon as he re-materialized his head was grabbed in a massive, clawed hand and slammed to the tiles with enough force to send him right through the floor, and the next two below that. He was falling, dazed by the blows, but Dracula had to release Sypha in order to levy the attack. The fireball he'd been holding at the ready was sent through the hole in the floor after Adrian, who managed to scramble out of its path in time to keep from being burnt alive.
He had no idea what became of his companions, but he'd successfully drawn his father after him. The large figure appeared over him and pain erupted in his head as it was slammed repeatedly into a stone pillar until the rock was cracking and the pillar collapsed. He used the mist to escape, evaporating into a cloud in time to avoid the pile of rubble crushing him. More pain blinded him and confused his senses as magic enveloped his mist form and began to burn him.
He was forced to reconstitute, emerging dazed, singed, and panting on his hands and knees. A sharp kick struck his ribs, knocking the air from him and sending him through another wall.
"You're still no match for me boy," Dracula taunted, following him leisurely through the hole in the wall, stepping into the next room.
Adrian groaned, trying to breathe. He pushed a huge stone block off of himself, sucking in much-needed oxygen.
"Even with your full strength, you're still just a child. You can never beat me, son."
Every inch of Adrian's body ached, but he forced himself to his feet, trying to keep himself upright. He was still strong, still in prime condition. His injuries were already healing rapidly, and the dizziness abated quickly, He once more lunged towards his father, claws raking through clothing and flesh when Dracula raised his forearm to protect himself from the attack.
They traded blows for several minutes, each of them landing a few, but neither truly gaining the upper hand. Adrian employed his magic, but many times his casting was interrupted before he could complete the spells. He managed a few fireballs and one powerful Dark Inferno attack which struck his father and blasted him through at least five consecutive rooms, but in the end it did no real damage to his enemy. Dracula was too strong; he could cast much faster and both his spells and his blows hit harder. Even with Adrian's restored abilities, it was not enough to turn the tables.
The fight took them on a tour of half the castle, destruction trailing in their wake. Adrian was struck and burned over and over until his coat and shirt were hanging off of him in rags. He was scraped, clawed, smashed through walls and floors, kicked, punched, and ultimately he realized that he would never win.
Trevor and Sypha were nowhere to be found. A battle taking place at supernatural speed was far too much for humans to keep up with. Adrian hoped they would escape, but he knew they wouldn't leave him behind.
Finally, Adrian found himself weakening. It was taking longer and longer for him to heal, and the effect of each strike lingered, making it harder to get back up again. He had to grab onto the nearest solid object to gain his footing. He panted, his claws sinking into the stone for purchase as he tried to gather himself. Blood was dripping into his eyes from a gash on his head, though it was slowly knitting back together. He could taste the metallic tang of it on his exhales.
He was in a sizable room, leaning against a huge mantle. Before him was a red velvet love seat and the pattern on the carpet was very familiar.
He looked up. There, on the wall across the room was a painting of his family. His mother, his father, and himself as a baby. They were dressed in their finest clothes. Lisa was wearing a soft white silken dress, tendrils of her blonde hair framing her face. Adrian's tiny, chubby hand was clutching her hair. He was smiling, his eyes huge and bright. Dracula was in a fine waistcoat, his hair combed and neat, his large hand resting on Adrian's tiny shoulder.
Adrian was caught completely unexpectedly by a wave of emotion. This was their family room – a private area of the castle where even the servants rarely intruded. It was their space.
The red velvet upholstered love seat sat before the fireplace, which was presently unlit, leaving the room cast in cold shadow. Adrian sent fire to the wood stacked there and it caught quickly, washing the space in warm, flickering light. It made it look the way he remembered it – welcoming.
His throat tightened, his eyes burning. He gripped the mantle more tightly.
Dracula came into the room, sauntering, unhurried. He knew Adrian was exhausted.
The light of the fire played off of the staircase which led up to Adrian's old bedroom, casting long shadows on the stone wall behind it. It illuminated the painting. Adrian's eyes fixed on it again, his heart twisting painfully.
The faces of his family looked back at him, happy and carefree. A family. A couple in love and their infant child. A life that was gone forever, preserved only in the memories of himself, and of the sinister creature who stalked towards him, fangs bared, eyes reddened with blood lust and murderous intent.
"Give up, son, and I will make it quick. You can't win. You can hardly stand."
Dracula drew closer, coming to a stop across from him, the red couch between them. He had suffered some injuries in their fight, but they were all healed now. His clothing was burned in many places, and torn by Adrian's claws. He was still intimidating, his powerful frame head and shoulders above Adrian's, his cape swirling around his legs.
"I thought you had more fight in you than this."
Adrian's shoulders wilted slightly, his eyes lingering on his mother's face in the painting. His hand slipped against the mantle and he had to re-position it to maintain his balance. He was weary, but stopping now was not an option.
"I will never give up, Father," he bit out, forcing himself forward again. "I told you. I won't let you do this."
Adrian snarled and threw himself into a desperate attack with everything he had left, slamming into Dracula and sending them both rolling end over end into the far wall of the room. The painting rattled with the force of the impact, then settled, hanging crooked. They struggled together, ripping at one another, trying to gain leverage until Adrian was rendered immobile. Dracula's arms were around him from behind, one huge hand on his throat, the other poised over his chest, sharpened claws ready to pierce it and relieve him of his heart. He heaved and kicked and struggled, but he couldn't get free.
"No! Don't do this! Father, millions of people will die! They are innocent!" he protested, pushing fruitlessly against the iron grip. Even with all of his power, with his lover's blood, with his full magic, he wasn't strong enough. The visions had been wrong. He was going to lose, and then Trevor and Sypha would die, and so would everyone else.
"I have to do this," Dracula said, speaking against his ear, the puff of his breath brushing it. "I know it doesn't make sense to you, son. You're too human to understand. But I must do this."
Hot tears pricked Adrian's eyes. He felt the claws beginning to dig against his chest. The hand around his throat squeezed, cutting off his oxygen and blood flow until he felt the veins in his head throb painfully and his vision was fading at the edges. His heart thundered madly, the fear of a pain he knew far greater than it would be if he hadn't already been eviscerated once. He tried again to get free, pushing with all of his considerable strength, hard enough that he felt his father's muscles flexing with the effort to hold him. He was held fast.
Adrian's blurry gaze fixed on the painting as he felt the claws sink in, slicing easily through his clothing and skin. Blood ran in rivulets down his chest and stomach. He was choking. Suffocating. When he tried to speak he could barely manage a whisper. "Mother… was… human… too," he rasped, each word laboured. The hand on his neck squeezed harder.
Time seemed to slow to a crawl. The only indication that anything was still happening was the sound of his heart, each beat stretched out like it was an eternity. The pressure built behind his eyes, capillaries rupturing from the slow, deliberate strangulation. The wound in his chest had grown larger, the claws grating bone where they met with his ribs, the pain searing and white. Adrian couldn't speak anymore. His trachea was collapsed, his larynx damaged. Tears rolled down his cheeks, a darkness beginning to creep in at the edges of his mind. He fought against it, trying to remain conscious. He didn't want to die like this.
A soft thud broke the silence where the sounds of his breath should have been. Just a small disturbance, a clatter as the painting fell from the wall, landing on the desk beneath it.
Dracula looked up.
Adrian reached out with his mind, searching, calling.
"Lisa…" his father whispered, a tremor passing through him. His voice cracked when h spoke again. "Lisa… my love, my wife."
The grip on Adrian's throat faltered just a fraction, enough that he was able to pull in a painful, ragged bit of air. He found what he searched for, the familiar humming energy. He pulled.
"Lisa? W-what am I doing?" Dracula questioned, taking a shuffling step towards the painting, dragging Adrian with him. The claws at his chest relaxed. The grip around his neck eased slightly. His father extended his hand towards the smiling images on the canvas. "I'm killing him- our son. Killing you."
Adrian tore himself free from his father's hold, slumping to the floor, panting and trying to get enough air. The tinkling silver voice of his sword was loud in his mind. It rushed to answer his call, sailing through the damaged rooms of the castle towards him.
He stared up at the figure of his father, who stumbled forward, his eyes suddenly clear of their blood lust. His expression was a mask of misery. Fresh blood tears streaked his cheeks. "Our son," he whispered, his voice wavering. "All that's left of you. Our boy," he looked away from the canvas and down at the injured dhampir, as if only just realizing his presence.
"F-Father," Adrian managed to say, his voice little more than a wheeze.
Dracula extended a hand. He stared at it for a long moment before accepting it. He was pulled to his feet and he leaned heavily on the supporting arm, unable to stand on his own yet. He blinked away the spots that had clouded his vision.
They looked at one another in silence. Adrian studied every detail of his father's face. The fine lines that were normally smooth and invisible, now showing through because of starvation and suffering. The strong angles of his jaw and cheeks more pronounced than usual. His straight nose, and heavy brow. Eyes that held millennia of wisdom, and of pain. The flat, wild, animalistic quality was gone; his gaze was once more familiar and loving.
Dracula suddenly pulled Adrian into a tight hug, wrapping him in his huge arms. He was too stunned to do more than let it happen. He stood rigidly in the hold, his arms at his sides, but after a moment he hugged back, the sensation alien after so much conflict. It made him nervous, but he gave in anyway, leaning his head against the broad chest and fighting the burn of his tears.
The embrace lasted a minute, and Adrian committed every part of it to memory, knowing it would be the last. Eventually his father pulled back, his hands on Adrian's upper arms.
"I can't endure without her," his father said to him, eyes closing sadly.
"I know," Adrian answered.
His sword sliced cleanly into Dracula's body from behind, piercing his heart. The bloody blade protruded from his chest, coming to rest an inch from Adrian's face.
For a heartbeat, nothing happened. They stared at one another, the sword between them. Adrian didn't flinch, he didn't move at all. He stood stonily, watching to see what would happen.
Then Dracula jerked and his eyes grew wide with pain and shock. His breath caught, stuttering with a sickening bubbling sound as blood began to pour from his mouth. His hands scrabbled against Adrian's upper arms, fingers working in the open air, grasping uselessly. He stumbled forward and Adrian put his arms out to catch his weight, holding him up.
Realization finally passed over the chiseled features, and Dracula sighed deeply, relaxing in Adrian's hold. Relief passed over his face and then his eyes closed, his body loosening, growing limp as it began to rapidly age and disintegrate, the flesh sucking into it until he resembled a skeleton, blood still coming from between his lips, soaking into his tunic until it was saturated.
"Adrian!" Trevor's voice broke the spell of horror as he rushed into the room, weapons drawn. Sypha followed behind him at a slower pace, clutching her arm gingerly.
Adrian was too stunned to take in much more than the sight of his father dying in front of him. A thousand things flew through his mind in an instant, and he felt himself beginning to tremble, falling backwards until he was on the floor just staring in disbelief.
Trevor leapt forward and swung the Morning Star, striking Dracula's back in an uproarious explosion. He wasted no time moving in to follow up with his sword. He relieved the creature of it's head, his blade severing its neck, the head falling to the floor and rolling a few paces, coming to rest against Adrian's boot. Blood poured from the corpse at an impossible rate, many more liters of blood than should be inside of a single body. It began to evaporate into thick vapour until a dark cloud filled the room, choking out the light of the fire that still burned in the hearth.
The corpse fell to its knees and slumped forward. Trevor stepped back out of the way, leaving space for Sypha to do her part. It was obviously hard for her to focus with her severely broken arm, but she managed to summon flame one-handed and blasted the whole thing with an intense, concentrated heat.
The remains gave off noxious black smoke which thickened until the room was nearly unbearable. Inhuman whispers and screeching came from the mess as it shriveled and burned up, but by this point Adrian wasn't really seeing it. He was looking, but he wasn't present in the moment. He felt disconnected from all of it, as though it were happening far away from him, to someone else.
He tried to stand and his legs wouldn't hold him. He tried to move his foot away from his father's severed head so that Sypha's fire could engulf it like it had the body, but he was caught up looking at the shiny wet splatter of blood on his boot.
He couldn't tear his eyes from that splash of blood. He stared, unblinking, barely breathing, until the heat of Sypha's flames forced him to move back. He fled unconsciously up the stairs towards the safety of his room, moving without any real thought.
He stopped at the top of the stairs, sinking to his knees and stroking the familiar plush carpet under his fingers. He gripped the baluster so tightly his fingertips went white, and he curled against them, drawing his knees in to himself and closing his eyes, leaning his head to the wood.
Minutes passed. The heat of Sypha's fire dissipated, the awful smoke clearing. The inhuman creature – his father – was gone, but Adrian was still clutching the rounded wooden balusters, eyes squeezed tightly closed. It was disorienting. He thought for certain that if he opened his eyes he would see his mother and father on the sofa, laughing together, his mother unaware of his presence, his father not giving him away, but letting on that he knew with the odd little glance in his direction.
It felt so real, and so surreal at the same time.
He was finally home.
He was safe, Trevor and Sypha were safe, and it was over.
Sypha was injured – he should help her – but it would wait a few minutes, at least until he could tell what was real and what wasn't.
Slowly, Adrian opened his eyes. He was not greeted with the image of his family, no matter how strange it was that they were absent. That was in the past. The present was a pile of ash in front of the hearth, the carpet singed, the glint of his father's ring in the light of the fire. The present was Trevor picking Adrian's long sword out of the mess and wiping it clean before standing it against the wall. It was Sypha slumping to the sofa, her shoulders trembling from pain and exhaustion and exertion, and probably relief as well.
Adrian had to blink a few times to be certain. He didn't fully trust his eyes. He looked at his hands. His gloves were gone – wrecked in the fighting – and his long, slender fingers greeted him, his skin milk white with a hint of his natural grey. They shook lightly. He felt his throat, where his father's grip had nearly crushed his neck entirely, but it was already healing. His touched his chest through his torn shirt, and found only his usual scarred flesh, no new wounds or marks, just the same chest that had been there before.
He was whole. Alive. So were his lovers. It was over. Vlad Dracula Tepes was no more.
Adrian thought it would feel good to cry, but he found himself too numb. He felt nothing but emptiness and confusion as he finally pulled himself up and moved listlessly down the stairs, his feet silent on the plush carpet.
"We did it, the bastard's dead," Trevor said with a wide smile, throwing an arm over Adrian's shoulders as they met at the bottom of the stairs. "Whatever else happens, at least that's over with. I don't suppose you know if there's anything to drink around here? Maybe a wine cellar? I think this calls for a celebration."
Adrian blinked at Trevor, still not completely convinced that he was actually here in this moment. He shrugged imperceptibly, staring at the empty spot on the floor.
Sypha rose from the sofa, her good hand clutching her other arm, which dangled at her side. Dracula's deep claw marks were angry and red, and still bleeding a little. She must have attempted to cauterize the wound, because he could smell her flesh was burnt and it was blackened in some parts. There was nothing she could do for her crushed hand, which was beginning to swell.
"Trevor, Adrian's just lost his father, try not to be completely insensitive," Sypha said, meeting Adrian's eyes. Her own were filled with understanding and sadness, and he had to look away because he didn't want to cry.
He closed his eyes. "He was a monster," he whispered, hugging himself.
"He was a man too," Sypha said gently. "He was your family. It's okay to mourn him."
"Shit, yeah, that's right," Trevor said, letting Adrian free of his hold. "I've just… it's hard to put it together that you actually were- you know- close to him. Family."
Adrian didn't say anything, reeling in the numb feeling again. He stared at the floor, at the blood on his boot.
Trevor peeled away from the other two and bent to pick up Dracula's ring, turning it over in his hand.
"I guess you might want to keep this," he said to Adrian, dropping it into his palm.
Adrian was hit with the chilling realization that this was one of the scenes from his visions. It wasn't exactly the same, but it was similar, right down to Trevor's words. He looked around the room. Things were destroyed, though not the same things as he'd seen before. The sofa was intact, for example. He wasn't holding his sword. The painting of his family was not hanging on the wall anymore, as it had been in his vision. But it was still frighteningly similar. It gave him an awful, cold sensation, because he knew he had to act carefully or Very Bad Things were going to happen.
Adrian closed his hand around the ring. The metal was warm, and felt strange against his skin, tingly. Millennia of existence, and all that remained of his father was this ring, himself, and the castle around them, which was utterly trashed.
"We should get cleaned up," Sypha said, breaking him from his thoughts. She moved closer, trying not to jostle her arm as she took Adrian's hand with her unhurt one. Her fingers clammy and cold, her grip weak. "Come on," she said, once more giving him the feeling of deja vu, because she had said the exact same thing in his vision.
"Yeah, Sypha's right," Trevor said, coming to Adrian's other side. He opened his hand over the dhampir's back. His palm was very warm. He seemed solid, as though he were anchored in reality. "We should try and clean up, settle in. The horses are probably still close if we can get them. They'll freeze without some shelter, it's too cold and exposed out there for them. And our packs, we've got some food left. It doesn't look like there's going to be much here."
Adrian slipped the ring into his pocket and nodded, moving numbly along with them. He still couldn't seem to grasp that this was real. It was still dreamlike and a little disorienting. The familiarity of the castle was messing with his head. Everywhere they went he kept getting the sense that normalcy wold be just around the next corner, but if course it never was.
They moved away from the room where the battle had ended, and it helped a little. They walked together through darkened, silent halls, backtracking downwards a few floors to put some distance between themselves and the room Dracula died in. Trevor carried a torch for them to see by.
It soon became obvious that Sypha couldn't continue; she needed medical attention and rest. Trevor opened a random door and pulled them into a lavishly decorated guest room that Adrian barely remembered seeing before. There were dozens like it all over the castle. Trevor put the torch in the holder on the wall and guided Sypha to a comfortable looking chaise, helping her ease down on it and lay her broken hand on the armrest.
He went to the window and pulled the thick drapes open, but it had gone full dark outside. Not the unnatural darkness of the immediate area around the castle, but actual night. The world beyond the window was completely blocked out by blowing snow. Strong gusts of wind whipped against the windows, making them rattle.
"Adrian light some candles," Trevor instructed, and Adrian nodded, lighting the tapers in two candelabras that were in the room. He placed one on the table beside the chaise where Sypha sat, and the other on a night table that was to one side of the bed.
Sypha was fading quickly and Adrian was essentially useless, and somebody needed to deal with the immediate. Trevor slipped into that role naturally. He told Adrian to build a fire in the small fireplace, which he did obediently, not brooking any argument. A warm glow suffused everything, and heat began to trickle slowly into the small room.
Sypha had begun to shiver violently. She had her teeth clenched tightly and she was staring wide eyed at her rapidly swelling hand, her face pale and drawn. She was breathing fast and shallow, her pulse weak. Adrian stared at her mangled hand, but he couldn't seem to think. He turned away from her and strode to the bed, sitting on the edge of it. He barely felt the softness beneath his body. He looked at his boot.
"Adrian," Trevor said to him, taking a seat beside him. "You need to snap out of it."
The now dried splotch of his father's blood was still crusted to the leather. It was horrific.
"Adrian," Trevor repeated, closing a hand over his shoulder.
"Trevor?" Adrian blinked at him, unwilling to admit that he'd lost track of his surroundings.
Trevor held his gaze, his own stern and hard. "We need your help. I think Sypha's getting worse, and this place is a fucking maze. Come on. We have to get set up here, get safe, cleaned up, warm. I can't do this stuff without you. I can't even find my way out of here without you. Can you go get the horses? Bring them somewhere where they're out of the cold, bring our packs."
His voice dropped to a whisper. He leaned a little closer. Adrian noticed that he had blood dried into his beard. "I don't want to leave her alone. Is there- can you help her arm? Like you did for me before, with your blood? I wouldn't ask but it's pretty fucking bad."
The disconnect seemed to evaporate with Trevor's earnest request for help. Like everything had been fuzzy and it just snapped into focus. He'd been drifting aimlessly since the end of the fight, numb and lost, but now he was sure that this was real. This was his castle now, and his partners needed his help.
Adrian actually shook himself, like he was shaking free the last of the confusion and he felt a little better. He stood up.
"I'm okay now. Thank you, Trevor."
The blue eyed man nodded, standing beside him and squeezing his shoulder. "'Course. Just- the fight's over but we still have shit that needs doing."
Adrian went to Sypha's side and knelt before her, looking at her arm. It was her left arm, marred over the bicep and triceps by deep claw marks, and her hand misshapen and swollen. He ghosted his fingers over the injuries, trying to feel for the breaks before the swelling could get any worse. The skin already resembled a ripened tomato, and Sypha visibly flinched at even the gentlest contact.
"Your hand needs to be set," he said to her, and she shuddered.
"It… really hurts," she admitted, unable to keep the pain from her voice.
"I know Sypha," Adrian sympathized, taking her good hand in his and kissing it apologetically. She was icy to the touch, and so pale her lips were almost blue. "I can give you some of my blood to heal the breaks, but I have to set the bones correctly or they could heal badly, and we would have to break your hand again."
Sypha paled further, looking like she might actually pass out. "Is that- uhm- you have to do that right now?"
He nodded. "I'm sorry, but it would be best to get it over with."
Trevor sat on the chaise beside her, rubbing her thigh. She stiffened, hunching her shoulders, trying to curl into herself. Sypha was a brave woman, but having an already horrifically painful injury further prodded would make even the toughest person cringe and tremble. Adrian's stomach twisted at the prospect of causing her so much pain. He could probably use his abilities to alter her mental state by putting her in some kind of trance, but those were things he had barely ever used in his life, and he wasn't confident in the results. He didn't want to test something like that on her.
"Syph, if he does it now, then gives you some of his blood it will heal you quickly, and you'll feel better after."
Sypha looked at her hand. Several of her fingers were not pointing in the right direction, although her thumb appeared intact. Her palm was crushed. She glanced back at Adrian. "You really know what to do?" she asked him.
"I'm… pretty sure. I helped Mother set breaks a few times before. Never- never anything this bad, but we don't have access to a doctor. I could look for one of her medical books, just to get a picture of the bones and where they should all be. Sypha- I don't know if it will be perfect after. He crushed your hand. I'm not a miracle worker."
Sypha closed her eyes, settling herself, her jaw hardening a little, though it was impossible to maintain with her teeth chattering so much. She nodded.
"I trust you Adrian. Just try to go fast. I might faint."
Adrian began with palpation of each bone and joint, identifying where the worst damage was. He couldn't see if there were hairline fractures, but actual compound fractures and crush injuries were what concerned him most. Of these, she had several, and he did the best he could.
Trevor held her in place to keep her from jerking reflexively away from Adrian's touch, and they placed a strip of leather between her teeth to bite against. Sypha screamed in agony when he set the first metacarpal, her voice cracking then breaking as he grasped the two sides and pulled them away from one another. By the time he was shifting them back together her voice was gone, and her screams were just hoarse croaks.
She fainted after the second bone was set. It was actually a blessing, because she went limp. Trevor was able to hold her more easily, and Adrian was able to work faster. She still stiffened and groaned under his hands, but after several drawn out minutes had had done everything he could.
"Jesus you have a strong stomach," Trevor muttered after it was over, looking green. "I think Syph was right that time she said you should be a doctor. That was fucking awful. Maybe worse than when we had to set your leg. Or at least on par."
Being reminded of the time he was trapped in the Belmont Hold sent a shudder through the blonde, but he shook it off, returning his attention to Sypha. He gently pushed her sweat-dampened bangs from her face, fingers tracing the angle of her cheek lovingly. "I hope that her hand still works properly. There was a lot of damage."
"You did the best you could, and that's a fuck of a lot better than either her or I could do alone," he answered, carefully poking at her upper arm. The claw marks there were deep: four furrows cutting past all layers of flesh into the muscle tissue, each one several inches long. They still oozed blood, but they were also burned from Sypha's apparent attempt at cauterization. She would have bad scarring. Adrian's blood would reduce it, but it would go to the deepest wounds first. It was possible that direct application to the claw marks could help though.
"She did this herself?" he said, indicating the burns.
Trevor nodded. "Yeah. After he threw you through the floor and dropped her she was bleeding bad. She used her magic and did her best. It reeked, I saw her burn her own skin off in between the cuts, but she didn't make a fucking sound."
The last comment was spoken with obvious amazement, and Trevor smiled helplessly at Sypha, and leaning in to kiss her on the temple. "I think she's the strongest person I've ever met. Who else could use magic with a crushed hand while bleeding out?"
Adrian took Trevor's free hand and squeezed it. "She's amazing," he agreed, studying the unconscious woman.
In another minute her eyes were fluttering. She groaned in pain and her face pinched, scrunching up as she started to wake. When she opened her eyes they were pale and clouded, but she looked around herself, gaze coming to rest on her swollen (likely throbbing) hand. After a second she looked warily to Adrian. "Is it over?"
He nodded. "Yes, love. It's done."
She was visibly relieved, leaning her head back against Trevor's shoulder, letting her eyes close again, the tension draining from her body as fresh, silent tears streaked her cheeks. "My hand feels like it was chewed up by a wild pig and dipped in hot tar."
"I think I can help with that," Adrian said, leaning over her. "My blood can heal you."
He pressed his lips gently to her cold, clammy skin, listening to the rapid racing of her pulse. He kissed her tears away, then found her mouth, biting his own tongue deeply until his blood filled it. He encouraging her to swallow several mouthfuls, piercing his tongue again when the first wound healed too quickly. It was a reverse their usual blood kisses, and it felt good to be able to give, rather than take.
She grimaced at the initial taste, then pulled him closer with her good hand, sucking his mouth urgently, licking her tongue against his until there was nothing more to take. There was something thrilling and erotic about it the exchange, but any possible excitement was easily overshadowed by the circumstances. She released him and fell back against Trevor, panting softly, her cheeks suddenly flushed with colour.
Adrian watched her reaction with curiosity. He'd never given his blood to a human before except the tiny amount he had put directly into the wounds he'd given Trevor a few days ago. He was curious as to the effect. He knew that exchanging blood with humans could have lingering effects, but there was usually magic involved, and a lot more blood. Enthrallment didn't happen by by accident, as he had explained to Trevor once.
Sypha's breathing evened out as the pain and swelling started to dissipate and the breaks began to heal. Other than her colour returning to normal and her heart rate slowing back to average levels, there was no other obvious effect.
It wasn't perfect. After about five minutes the healing slowed, and after ten nothing was happening any longer. Adrian moved to examine all of the wounds and assess the final result.
The hand was stiff, and still healing – but it was miles ahead of where she would have otherwise been, and the pain had receded to manageable levels. It did not look like she needed a brace or cast. She could not make a fist. Her ring and pinkie fingers hardly moved at all when she tried to bend them. Adrian thought that might affect her ability to cast magic, but he kept it to himself for the time being.
Her upper arm looked a lot better too. The slashes were closed now, the skin pink and tender, but the furrows were still visible, and she would absolutely have some ugly scars. Adrian winced at that, almost feeling guilty for not doing a better job with it, but she did not appear bothered. She ran her hand over the area and smiled.
"That's going be a great way to start my story when I tell it. Thank you, Adrian. I feel a lot better," she said, pulling him in for a kiss. She yawned wide. "I think I have to sleep now," she said, closing her eyes and leaning against Trevor.
"We'll be here Syph, just rest up," he said, smoothing his hand through her short copper curls and kissing her head.
"Mm," she mumbled, dropping off.
Adrian stood up straight and gave his back and arms a little stretch.
Now that the urgent concern of Sypha's injuries was past, his mind was starting to wander again, and he did not want to give it the opportunity. He looked around the room, then back to Trevor, who was watching him intently.
"Is it weird?" he asked, when Adrian didn't say anything. "Being here?"
He worried his lower lip, considering. He shook his head. "Not weird," he answered, voice quiet. "Maybe surreal? It has not fully sunk in yet," he admitted, studying the intricate metal candelabra that was on the side table beside the chaise.
"Well, it's weird as shit for me," Trevor volunteered. "I'm in Dracula's castle, and I'm not running for my life or trying to kill anything. I never thought I'd see the day."
"It's not his castle anymore," Adrian answered. The concept was just as foreign to him as it probably was to Trevor. "It's my castle now," he added, not yet certain how he felt about that.
He went to the small fireplace where the blaze was finally throwing some good heat, and added another log. Glancing to the wall above the mantle, he saw the fixtures for the electric lighting. There were a few of them around the room, all lifeless, of course. The switch on the wall by the doorway would normally turn them on. Adrian strode to it and flipped the switch. Nothing happened.
He sighed and turned to face Trevor. "There is a lot that needs to be cleaned up, repaired, and rebuilt. I need to start looking for schematics, notes, and materials. We can't stay here, on this mountain. We'll starve."
"We could go back to Hana's place, maybe think about what to do?"
"No. I'm not leaving. This place is my responsibility. It will attract evil. I can't leave it unprotected. I can't leave it to be ransacked and pillaged. My family history is here, and all of Father's collected knowledge. It's mine. I have to stay."
Trevor eased himself out from where Sypha was slumped against him, laying her against the back of the chaise. He closed the distance between himself and Adrian, sliding a hand around the dhampir's waist. "Adrian you're getting ahead of yourself. A lot happened today, and I think you are still processing. Go downstairs and get the horses. Find them somewhere safe for the night. Bring our packs back up here so we can have something to eat. Some water. We're going to rest, and you're going to take a little time to absorb all of this, because you need it, and so do I. We can talk about what we do from here tomorrow. Alright?"
Adrian leaned into Trevor, brushing his face against the roughness of his beard, letting their heads rest together. He was right. He didn't have the best grasp on reality at the moment. They were physically and emotionally exhausted, and Adrian was still numb.
Trevor had a wound on his side that had yet to be treated, and he'd hit his head hard enough to knock him out cold, which was a no-no after being recently concussed. There were other bumps and bruises on top of those, too. He looked like shit, actually, now that Adrian let himself see it. And on the chaise, Sypha slept, but she was still recovering, and she didn't look great either.
As for himself? Adrian was firmly not ready to think past the simple statement that the castle was his now. If he let himself think about the rest, he was going to be crushed under the weight of it. Trevor was right – he needed to narrow his focus to the immediate and the rest would all come in due time. He had plenty of time, after all. Nobody was going to take the castle from him. He would figure all of it out. How to fix everything, how to get it moving again, and how to keep it safe.
But first, he was hungry and thirsty and tired, and the rest would still be there to worry about tomorrow.
"Stay with Sypha. I'll get our things," he said to Trevor, slipping from the room.