Series/Sequel: Sequel to Discovery and Disillusion
Summary: The Wraith and the Incubus have been defeated and the Master sent back to Hell. But the war is just beginning.
Notes: The next Chapter will start in the new story Blood Wars
Warning: Aspersions against the Church of Van Helsing's time (which I feel are merited), the start of slash (in a loving relationship)
Disclaimer: I don't own anything (sniff), but I do like to play
Feedback: For all of you who followed the past stories, I hope that you find this story equally as interesting if not more so! Your reviews and suggestions are, as always, deeply appreciated! Due to Fanfiction rules I am unable to thank you in depth but I would like to say thanks to reviewers Kirke, Pineapple Ice, Jania, Verona Dracula, Curious Dream Weaver
Anger...rage...the never-ending need to strike out and spill blood. Two enemies that should have fought one another instead combining to croon their need for satiation. They needed the pleasure of tearing into vulnerable flesh combined with the shivering delight of freshly spilled blood, its scent rich and dark and infinitely precious...
Hide and Seek 10
Van Helsing threw himself to the side of the small rooftop cupola as another gargoyle strafed the Borgia Tower. The wind from its dark grey wings, spanning twelve feet from tip to tip, buffeted his body as it passed over him, dark talons plucked at his moving body without gaining a purchase. Rolling against the ornately tiled wall of the enclosure, he brought the restored crossbow to his shoulder and fired, taking grim satisfaction in the beast's shrieks as it spiraled out of control and plunged to the ground. His satisfaction was short-lived as a heavy body plowed into him from behind, sending him sprawling over the waist-high wall surrounding the platform. Rasping chuckles filled his ears, identifying his attacker as a harpy as clawed hands caught at the back of his coat and threw him off the roof.
Blindly throwing out a hand behind him, he caught the edge of the wall, groaning as he swung back to slam into the wall then hung twisting painfully, over the blood splattered paving below.
Laboring to catch his breath, his mind perversely chose to recall and regret not accepting Benerd's earlier offer of help.
Looking up, he saw the leering face of the harpy peering down at him and winced as its drool splattered onto his shoulders and into his hair when it leaned further out, smacking its lips. Without sighting, he brought the crossbow up to waist height and fired a stream of quarrels into the overhanging face, then pressed his own to the rough stones as, with a gurgling scream, the monster fell past him to the ground.
He thought longingly of a soft warm bed with plenty of covers even as his ears registered the heavy rustling noise of flapping wings approaching him from both sides, their origin hidden by the curve of the tower walls. Gritting his teeth, he swung the crossbow up, hooking it over the wall, then let go of his handhold to cling to the stock of the weapon instead. Shoving his free hand into his coat, he found the ornate handle of his gun by feel and drew it, already cocking the hammer before it cleared his body. Bracing his feet against the rough grey wall, he pushed out so that he stood upright on the vertical wall. With the additional height his head cleared the curve of the wall enabling him to see the harpies circling, coming at him from both sides. Their expressions of wide-eyed surprise at seeing him appear suddenly out of midair were obliterated by several silver bullets.
Van Helsing didn't bother watching their whirling plummet; instead, he concentrated on pulling himself back up over the wall of the cupola, rolling over it to fall to the blood and feather strewn tiles with a groan of relief. For the moment, all was quiet. The setting sun's rays cast a red pall over everything it touched and he shivered as the cold night wind stirred his sweat-soaked hair and curled around his body. Sitting amidst the carnage of his battles, it occurred to him that there must be an easier way to make a living and he worried that, for the life of him, he couldn't think of what that might be.
Carl, propped up in his bed and covered in a multitude of blankets, looked up from his journal at the knock on the door of his chamber. Briefly he considered pretending he wasn't in as he had long ago lost his fondness for visitors, but somehow he couldn't bring himself to lie outright. Besides, everyone knew he was laid up. He could hardly claim that he had been in the lab or out to the outhouse.
"Come in," he called with a sigh as he carefully marked his place in his journal with a ribbon and set it and the stylus he had been using onto the chair beside his bed.
The door creaked open to reveal Benerd's tonsured scalp and then a pair of remorseful blue eyes. The monk eyed Carl as if he were a bristling dog whom he wasn't sure of as he muttered a muffled apology against the door. "Er, Carl...so sorry to disturb you."
"You're not disturbing me, Benerd," Carl smiled, waving his hand at the monk in invitation. It occurred to him that inviting the monk into his chamber might be tantamount to inviting a vampire in–both would consider the invitation outstanding until the crack of doom. Still, he liked the monk and, truthfully, he wanted to pick his brains to verify what was happening in the war.
Benerd emerged around the door like a full moon sailing majestically out of cloud cover. His beaming face evoked a like smile on Carl's face and the friar found his mood improving.
"Sit down, tell me what's going on. Gabriel has spent the last few days almost living on the roof and I haven't had any news."
With his easy rolling gait, Benerd walked the few steps to the far side of the room, and picked up the spare chair from beside the clothes press, bringing it over to Carl's bed. Settling himself comfortably, he patted Carl's blanketed leg.
"I'm pleased to see you're doing better! You had me worried for a while."
Carl ducked his head slightly as he shrugged the good-natured chastisement off. He appreciated Benerd's concern; when he had awoken, his first question had been for the monk's well-being. Once he had been assured of Benerd's safety, he had been able to rest easily.
Looking up to meet the monk's friendly gaze, Carl smiled as he gestured to himself. "Well, as you can see, I am much better. I've been able to take short walks and have been to the outhouse–thank God!"
Benerd 'tsked' with sympathy, then leaned forward to speak in a voice much quieter than his usual squeaky roar. "Er...bit hard having women do your nursing, eh?"
Carl closed his eyes as he nodded with heartfelt embarrassment. He had no difficulty with women, in fact he loved them–all kinds, of every age. He was fascinated with their secret lives and unknown rituals and usually the idea of being waited on hand and foot by two women would have constituted a cherished fantasy to be gloated over for a long time to come. But to wake up incapacitated and then to realize that he was to be tended to by a young girl who he doubted very much had ever had any kind of relations with a man–and then to find out the other woman was the dark-eyed forbidding matron Mavis... The wavering smokey projector image of the older witch had not done justice to the force of her personality. He felt like a naughty schoolboy every time she came into the room. With her stern all-seeing eyes upon him as Gretchen innocently tended to his battered, and sadly all too-human body...well, it had proved to be a nightmare rather than a pleasant fantasy. The old...er...matron had smiled with an all too-knowing smugness as Carl squirmed red-faced under Gretchen's ministrations. It was a relief when he was safely tucked back under the mound of blankets and left alone.
"Well, it's good that you're up again," Benerd's hearty voice pulled Carl up from his miasma of embarrassment and the friar gratefully acknowledged the monk's ringing endorsement with a large grin of his own.
"So, tell me how the war is going?" Carl demanded, settling himself more comfortably, prepared to listen at length.
Benerd's smile dropped like a stone as he shrugged and shook his head, his gaze falling to his pudgy hands resting in his brown homespun lap. "Not so well, I'm afraid. We've got monsters pouring out of every direction except our ears. The Cardinal seems to be everywhere and he constantly carries that big silver sword now. He's in a fine state as it is but swinging that great bloody sword around..." Benerd shuddered. "At least the fighters that were abroad are back for the most part."
"The other Hunters?" Carl asked eagerly, curious to hear about the men that he had only vaguely been aware of prior to his first journey with Van Helsing. His days of being a simple inventor who had no concept of the dark shadowy men who made use of his weapons were long gone. He wanted to know, now, with a curiosity that was ravenous.
"Hmph, scary lot," Benerd shuddered and rolled his eyes. "Dark, masked, scarred, they look like they'd as soon cut you up as look at you. After seeing them, Van Helsing appears as genial as a chuckling pink-cheeked babe!"
"P.p.Pink...," Carl stuttered then began to wheeze with laughter as he held his tender stomach. He could hardly wait to tell Gabriel.
Benerd shifted in his seat uneasily, apparently reading Carl better than the friar would have given him credit for because he caught at the friar's shin and shook it urgently. "Now, you won't be telling him, will you? That wouldn't be healthy for me! Promise me, Carl! Or no more news for you."
The friar waved his hands as he struggled to contain his laughter, gradually bringing himself under control. "N..n..n..."
"No? You won't tell?" Benerd asked anxiously and then sighed with relief as Carl shook his head vigorously. "Thank you, Carl, you're a good friend. Probably better than I deserve. I meant no harm, of course. Just that Van Helsing is a good deal more approachable than those others. One gets the feeling they enjoy their job...if you take my meaning."
"Mmm," Carl sighed breathily as he wiped his streaming eyes. "I..I suppose, though, they're doing a good job of containing the monsters. After all, they deal with this all the time. Have they been down to catacombs?"
Benerd winced, nodding. "Aye, they have–the catacombs I mean. And I heard the two that came back tell Jinette only a mad man would go down there. They flatly refused to go back down. Apparently the third man was killed and left behind."
Carl's wince mirrored Benerd's. He had been roundly castigated by Gabriel about his foray into the dark tunnels, hearing more than once that only a suicidal mad man would attempt it. Evidently Gabriel's brothers-in-arms had agreed with him. He opened his mouth to ask further questions but was interrupted by an incredible din of shouts and screams and a roar that made the heavy wooden door of his chamber rattle.
"My God," Carl gasped, sitting bolt upright, his gaze fixed on the rattling door. Benerd had lunged to his feet, stumbling back against his chair which tipped over, its legs catching at and tangling with the monk's robed legs.
The monk fought the chair, his wheezing breath rendered almost inaudible by the incredible din outside even though he was only inches away from Carl. With a desperate kick, Benerd extricated himself from the chair and managed to stand upright only to fall back against the chair again as his face drained of color. As Carl watched him with alarm, the monk pointed with a shaking hand, directing Carl's anxious gaze to his window.
Carl's skin prickled with gooseflesh as he forced himself to slowly turn in the direction Benerd pointed, then had to stifle a cry as he saw the dark malignant form crouched on the windowsill, its great dark wings filling the aperture. It was a dark grey, vaguely manlike form in that it had two arms and two legs. But all its appendages were tipped with long curving white claws that glittered in the soft red light. Its body was thin, the dark skin stretched over too-prominent ribs and a hollow belly. As Carl dragged his eyes up the long torso, he cowered back in his bed as the large pointed head turned to him, and he looked into the protruding red eyes. The pupils were diamond shaped and deep deep black. Its face was elongated and pointed, like a wolf's but the creature was entirely hairless. Long pointed ears swiveled on the skull, as if listening to their racing hearts and ragged breathing. Thin lips wrinkled back to reveal jagged dark teeth from which drool slid down in sticky long strands.
The eyes were the worst part–they were unmistakably intelligent and when they fell on Carl he saw, with a sinking dread, that a look of satisfaction reflected in the crimson orbs.
Compressing its wings, the monstrosity slid through the window, stepping heavily onto the creaking wooden floor. Benerd fell back against the second chair at Carl's bedside and fell sprawling onto the floor. Carl shoved at the enveloping blankets, scrabbling back in the bed to rise to his feet, wobbly on the shifting and uneven mattress.
The monster's gaze moved from Benerd to Carl, verifying that they did not have weapons. Then its gaze turned back to Carl as it raised one arm to point a long thin finger at him. When it spoke, it was in an almost unintelligible hiss.
"You...sssstaaay! Commmme quietly and I will not harmmmm you."
"Come?" Carl gasped, backing up against the wall, sliding over it toward the door of the room. "Come with you? Why?"
"My masssssterrrr wantsssss you. Commmme."
"Er...I'd rather not, if you don't mind," Carl bleated and leapt from the bed to the floor to seize one of the fallen chairs and heaved it at the monster. It hissed in fury, batting away the heavy piece of furniture as if it were a falling feather. Carl didn't wait to see what would happen. He was already wrenching the other chair away from Benerd's legs and swinging it at the monster as well. It caught the elongated skull squarely, making an ugly thudding noise. The monster staggered, red membranous eyelids dropped down to protect the protruding eyes. Pulling back the chair, Carl swung it again and struck the monster, this time knocking it back against the window.
With a roar, he charged it, chair legs extended, ramming them into the beast's hollow stomach and shoving with all his strength. It fell back against the window and then slid out, falling from view.
Groaning, Carl dropped the chair as he staggered over to the window. Gasping for breath, he braced himself against the stone sill and leaned out, only to fall out of the window himself as two large hands caught at his wrists and yanked.
His fall was immediately arrested by the beast as it clutched him firmly around the ribs, its beating wings raising a wind that made his hair fly out around his head in a nimbus. He could feel the thing's hot breath on his skin as its drool saturated his robe at the back of his neck.
"You will commme nnnnnow," the monster hissed with unmistakable warning.
Carl threw back his head, attempting to strike the monster's muzzle but only succeeded in almost braining himself against its rock-hard ribs. Its hissing, spluttering laughter made his hackles rise and his temper flare. With an oath, he struggled in its hold, writhing and twisting so that it wobbled dangerously in the air.
Its sweeping wings had carried them away from the window out over the gardens. Carl grimly recognized the area and knew that they would be shortly passing over the Borgia Tower. If Gabriel didn't see him in the thing's arms, he'd shoot the monster down. If he did... Carl didn't want Van Helsing to have to live with that nightmare. Still writhing, he turned in the monster's arms until he faced it. Steeling himself, he grabbed at its face, forcing himself to attack its eyes.
The monster shrieked even as Carl heard another voice, calling his name. He knew the voice and was fully prepared to do whatever was necessary to reach it. Viciously, he tore at the bulging eyes and when the arms about him loosened, he was ready. Shoving away, he grasped the hands at his back, groping for and seizing the long thumbs and yanked outwards.
Suddenly, he was falling. Falling out of the sky and toward the ground. He snatched at the dangling leathery feet of the monster and swung on them as hard as he could, letting go as he felt the monster falter and fall. His own falling trajectory carried him straight at the tower and he reached blindly for it, crying out as a hand seized his flailing right wrist and held tight.
He heard the sound of the crossbow firing, heard the monster's dying scream and, a scant second later, its abrupt collision with the Pope's rose garden.
Hanging from Van Helsing's arm, twisting slowly in the air, Carl closed his eyes and let his head fall forward against the mortared stone wall. A guttural sigh of relief stirred the dirt and detritus of generations from the chinks between the stones sending them swirling out to settle on his robe and face. He didn't mind. It felt like heaven to still be alive to feel it.
He dimly registered Van Helsing laboriously hauling him up and he made an effort to help, his feet scrabbled for toe holds. As he found them, he pushed himself up with each purchase until he felt the hunter's arm circle his ribs and haul him up and over the low wall.
They both fell to the tiled floor, Carl held in a strong unbreakable grip that crushed him to Van Helsing's chest.
They lay on the cold tiles for some time, silent, each holding the other tightly and breathing in the scent of their sweat and fear and love. The sun was almost set now, its red haze faded slowly be replaced by the misty blue of twilight.
When Van Helsing stirred, Carl clutched at him and the hunter patted him, his arms tightening as he leaned down to press his mouth to Carl's ear.
"I can't leave you alone for five minutes, can I?" he murmured and smiled when he heard the friar's indignant snort.
"Is it my fault that monsters take a fancy to me?" Carl growled and shifted irritably to push away from the warm chest that he would rather have spent the next 50 years snuggled up against. Van Helsing let him draw away enough to be able to raise his head to meet the hunter's gaze, but his arms tightened and locked after that, refusing any further distance. Carl was happy to oblige.
"Are you all right?" the hunter asked, his eyes moving restlessly over Carl's face and body, his hands stroking now, rubbing Carl's back in firm strokes.
"For a man who's just taken an unexpected aerial tour of the gardens, I'm surprisingly well," Carl sighed and smiled lopsidedly. "Must have been a nasty shock for you, though?"
"'Nasty shock'?" Van Helsing's quiet deep voice was thoughtful, considering. "No...somehow, not really. I think I'm getting used to your escapades, actually."
"Hmph, no need to get pissy about it," Carl sniffed.
"I could argue that point, but I'm more interested in exactly how it happened." Van Helsing shifted, sitting up and pulling Carl with him so that he leaned back against the wall and held Carl against his chest, one arm about the friar's ribs and the other hand buried in his hair.
The friar considered a token show of independence but then decided they had both been through more than enough and gratefully subsided against Van Helsing, his arms encircling the other man to hug his warmth close. He closed his eyes and seriously considered going to sleep when he heard the interrogatory rumble in Van Helsing's chest and remembered the hunter's question.
"Ah...well it came to my room, through the window. I beat it off with a chair but then it yanked me out of the window and...well, you saw most of the rest of what happened."
"It came to your room?" Van Helsing asked, his dark brows drawing down as he considered the fair head snuggled against his chest. His long fingers tightened in the silky hair as he shook his head "I don't understand. Why did it come after you? Why did it try to take you?"
"It said...its...'master' wanted me," Carl murmured hesitantly and winced as he heard the deep vicious growl vibrating in Van Helsing's chest. The arm about his ribs tightened to the point of pain and the hand in his hair clenched. He lay still, rubbing the hunter's back, feeling the body beneath his own tremble with anger. He had never seen Van Helsing this way before, it both frightened and worried him. He could think of nothing else to do but attempt to soothe the anger away and hope that it would pass quickly.
Van Helsing struggled to control the wave of rage that swamped his mind until only a tiny pinpoint of rationality still remained. He was aware of Carl in his arms and that kept the beast baying for blood in check–Carl was his. He was the only family, the only mate Van Helsing had ever had or would ever have.
"Gabriel?" Carl ventured, stirring only to have his breath squeezed out of him as the arms about him tightened and a surly snarl that sounded suspiciously like 'Mine' came to his ears. Wheezing, Carl shook his head and pinched the firm waist under his fingers. "Why don't you just piss on me and have done?"
He could feel the man above him pause, then a gust of warm breath stirred Carl's hair as Van Helsing chuckled and relaxed.
"What are you talking about?" he asked, ruffling the friar's hair.
"Well that's what wolves do to mark their territory, don't they?"
"I wouldn't know, I've never watched that closely. I doubt if they piss on their mates, though."
"I should hope not! You try that on me and I'll smack you on the nose with a rolled up paper!"
"I'll try to remember."
"Carl, don't push it."
"Yes, Gabriel," Carl smiled and rubbed his face against Van Helsing's chest with purring pleasure.
Van Helsing stirred irritably as he looked out of the window of Carl's chamber into the cold mid-afternoon sun. A full twenty-four hours had passed since the attempted abduction of the friar–Carl was asleep and they were alone for the first time that day. He should have been happy to be with Carl, but all he could feel was an almost overwhelming urge for mayhem. He was angry and felt the need to take out his aggressions somewhere, anywhere, and that bothered and worried him. The hunter had always remembered a sense of dissatisfaction with the way things were in his life, but he had never felt the violence clawing at his mind and body that he felt now.
The only thing that calmed the beast-like anger raging within him was being with Carl. When he was in the friar's company, the urgency for blood drained from him, becoming troublesome, but not consuming. He could spend time with Carl, speaking with him, touching him, and feel a calmness and satisfaction with the man that he could find no where else. Now that Carl was asleep, Van Helsing was left to his own devices and the never-ending-struggle to retain a semblance of peace within himself.
The heavy wooden door to Carl's plain chamber opened to allow Gretchen to enter with an apologetic smile for the hunter. She made no attempt to speak with him or to do anything else but sit at Carl's side to watch him sleep. Her presence, too, seemed like a balm to the hunter and he turned willingly from the window to face her.
"You haven't slept, Gretchen. Shouldn't you be in bed? I'll keep watch on Carl."
The German girl smiled and shrugged as she pushed a hand through her heavy black hair, shoving it away from her face. It was down, out of the thick braids she normally wore, and it covered her shoulders in a mantle of darkness. She was an attractive girl and while not beautiful, her smile was genuine and heartwarming.
"Ja, I should, but I just wanted to look in on him before going. I also wanted...to look..in on you."
"Me? I'm fine, Gretchen."
She smiled but shook her head, negating his reassurance. "No..I can see that you do not feel well...in here," she touched the bodice of her plain dark gown with one finger, over the heart. "I can feel worry and anger in you. It takes much of your strength to resist it, doesn't it?"
Van Helsing sighed as he leaned back against the white-washed wall, folding his arms over his chest as he did so. He could feel the anger she spoke of, curling and twisting beneath his imprisoning arms, but he only smiled at her. "I think we're all worried these days."
Gretchen shook her head again, but made no further comment. Standing, she nodded to Van Helsing and quietly left the chamber, closing the door behind her. He moved to take her vacated seat, his hand automatically moving to Carl's and taking it into his own. Stroking the friar's fingers, the hunter smiled at the sleeping man as peace came to him with the simple act.
The angling beams of sunlight streaming through the colored glass of the Palace library set the worn tiles and dark oak tables and chairs aglow with a rainbow of colors. Dust motes danced a swirling ballet through the dusky air heavy with the scents of old parchment, mellow rich inks and thick aging leather. Seated at one of the massive wooden tables, Mavis was all but invisible behind dozens of heavy leather-bound tomes. She had found the library early on and had been almost inseparable from it since. Gretchen smiled at her aunt's bowed head as she approached the table, her smile growing larger as Mavis' querulous voice acknowledged her presence though the older witch hadn't looked up yet.
"So, you're back. You've seen the friar and the troublesome hunter? Both are well?"
"Yes. Carl sleeps well, and he has color now. He will be able to stay up for longer periods very soon now." Gretchen seated herself at the table, across from her aunt, her voice grew soft as she continued. "Gabriel..."
Mavis raised her head at that, her dark eyes narrowing slightly as her brows descended. "'Gabriel', is it?"
Gretchen sighed as her thin calloused fingers stroking the dark leather bindings of the books piled about them.
"Hmph," Mavis nodded and leaned back in her chair, making the worn joints squeak. She crossed her arms over her chest and nodded with a sigh. "Go ahead, tell me then."
Gretchen shrugged, a frown playing about her lips. "He worries me, aunt. I feel such rage in him, it's dark and violent, it claws to get out."
"The beasts within him are strong, Gretchen. If he had never made use of their gifts, it would have been better. But in this place, where the door to Hell has been opened, they have grown much stronger than before. At this point, he is more beast than man, I think."
"Isn't there anything we can do?" Gretchen asked, her gaze on the older woman was pleading and the other witch's frown deepened.
"You care a great deal about this man's well-being, child..."
"As do you," the girl protested, but fell silent as her aunt's eyebrows rose in sardonic arches.
"Don't play coy with me, girl. You feel things for this man that have nothing to do with his well-being as the Left Hand of God. You see him as a man, not a weapon."
"He is a man! Why should he be called a weapon, as if he has no feelings, no worth outside of being a tool for his God?"
"No one ever said he had no worth, don't put words into my mouth, Gretchen. But these feelings that you are allowing yourself are not good. They will not bring you happiness nor will they please him. His heart is already taken by another."
Gretchen winced at her aunt's admission, her dark head hung low as if each word were a physical blow that broke her spirit and body.
"I'm sorry for being such a little girl," she murmured. "I couldn't help feeling for him, he has such pain, I wish I could take it from him."
"Hmph. Your kindness does you credit, Gretchen. And I'm certain that it is appreciated; though he does not feel love for you, I believe you have his friendship and I don't think that is given often or lightly. Will it be enough?"
Gretchen's smile, though small, was heartfelt. "I suppose it will have to be."
Mavis rose from her seat, coming around the table to Gretchen's side to give her niece's shoulder a comforting squeeze. "Then we should return to the friar's chamber. There is a meeting that needs to take place, to decide what needs to be done, and as the friar cannot come to us yet we will need to go to him. You are ready?"
"Ja," Gretchen stood, her arm slipping about Mavis' waist. "Thank you, aunt, for listening. I'll try to remember what you've said."
As they walked arm-in-arm from the chamber, Mavis chuckled as she shook her head. "I know how difficult it is, girl. The Mother knows that I fell in love often when I was your age. This one too, I think, I would have felt something for. He is a handsome beast, isn't he?"
"Mavis!" Gretchen exclaimed in mock horror, then butted her aunt's hip with her own making the older woman's laughter ring out in the quiet chamber, bringing quite a few quelling looks their way from the monks at the various tables.
As they slipped through the double doors that lead to the outer corridors, Mavis leaned in to whisper into Gretchen's ear, "Gretchen I'm older than you, but I'm not dead! I can appreciate a fine stallion when I see him as well as you can."
Gretchen made no reply; instead, blushing, she shoved her aunt hurriedly out the door and followed, pulling it firmly to behind them.
Jinette stalked through the corridors of the Palace with a grim air. He was on his way to Carl's chamber with the intent of forming a plan for dealing with the current situation. He had a fair idea of what had transpired within the lab between the man they had known as Friar Paul and Van Helsing. Knowing now that the former friar had, in actuality, been a cambion and had actively sought to bring down the Order from within made Jinette feel sick. For centuries, the Order had existed as a dark, silent society, working out-of-sight to rid the world of evil. Now evil sought them out, burrowing into their midst like maggots to corrupt from within. He shouldn't be surprised, but the prelate could not help feeling the loss of security the closed Order had always instilled within him. He wondered if they would be able to recover that precious peace of mind, or was it now gone forever, a victim of this new war?
Behind Jinette, Brother Benerd trudged quietly. He was unused to being in the thick of the action and he sorely missed his quiet lab and formerly serene lifestyle wherein the only excitement came on a petri dish from the handlers. When had he gone from scholar to hunter? He supposed it had happened when Van Helsing and Carl had first entered his lab, but he couldn't find it within himself to blame either man. In fact, he found himself liking their company and would feel sorry to lose it now. Still, their company hardly seemed a fair trade for his former lifestyle. He was spending entirely too much time up on roofs or, worse, in the presence of the Cardinal–both situations promised unpleasant consequences for the unwary.
Van Helsing looked up from his seat beside Carl, releasing the friar's hand as a knock on the chamber door roused him. The wobbly planed door shuddered open to admit Mavis and Gretchen, both of whom moved to Carl's bedside to check on him. The hunter allowed a fond smile to touch his lips as the friar's eyes opened with their ministrations and a fuzzy, sleepy smile ghosted over his open face.
"Hello," he said, blue eyes moving about to take in his three visitors. "I seem to have drifted off."
"You needed the sleep," Mavis assured him as Gretchen slid another pillow beneath his head. This new pillow was plump and soft and Carl's dreamy, appreciative smile and raised blissful eyebrows made his visitors chuckle.
"If this is the spoils of getting hurt, I might not mind it so much," the friar sighed, snuggling back into the softness.
"There are easier ways to get a new pillow," Van Helsing objected and was mollified by the friar's grimace of contrition. They hadn't come to an agreement yet about Carl's more active participation in battles, he wanted to keep the friar safely tucked away but now, with the infiltration of the Order, it was becoming unpleasantly clear that there was no such thing as a 'safe' place. At least if he kept Carl with him, he could...
The chamber door opened again, their new visitor making no attempt to announce his presence first with a polite knock. It didn't surprise the people in the chamber to see Jinette appear followed by Benerd. The Cardinal, however, seemed displeased to find the group awaiting him, his eyes immediately flying to Van Helsing as if to blame him for the crowd now filling the small room. The hunter sternly reined down the urge to grin in the face of Jinette's displeasure; instead, he rose from the bedside chair and moved to take a seat on the foot of Carl's bed, leaving the vacant seat to Jinette. The witches had settled onto the other chair by the clothes press and on the window sill, leaving Benerd to prop himself up against the wall to the Cardinal's left.
Eyeing the assemblage before him, Jinette sniffed before turning to Carl. His stern expression mellowed somewhat as he looked at the friar's wide blue eyes–when he spoke, his voice was low and almost soothing.
"So Carl, you have survived another adventure. You're feeling better?"
"Yes, your Grace," Carl nodded, a small smile appearing fleetingly about his lips before running for its life.
Jinette either didn't notice or chose not to comment on Carl's discomfiture. Another small smile for the friar appeared on his thin lips before he turned to the waiting hunter. No smile appeared for the man before him; instead, Jinette raised his eyebrow at Van Helsing's rumpled state and insouciant ease as he reclined on one elbow across the foot of Carl's bed, his long legs tucked up neatly. Van Helsing's obvious lack of concern for Jinette's authority never failed to rankle the prelate. At times he played with the mental picture of wiping that smile off the hunter's face but the means of doing so always eluded him. Not even the Inquisitors seemed to put a dent in that irascible facade. The fact that he had, upon occasion, actually felt some sort of humorous affection for the hunter seemed a far gone and regrettable mental lapse now.
To soothe his ruffled feathers, Jinette indulged in the pastime that brought him some semblance of peace. It was rapidly becoming his favorite pastime–hunter baiting.
"So, you lounge here, keeping Carl awake, while there are monsters attacking the Palace from within and without? It's good to see your priorities are straight. Perhaps if we could arrange to have Carl carried up to the roof more often, you might deign to put in an appearance there as well?"
Van Helsing shrugged, his lips quirking up at the corners as he met Jinette's eyes with patent enjoyment. "You could try it, I suppose." He had been up to the roof, almost constantly since he had recovered from his fight with the cambion, but with Carl's attempted abduction, he now spent his time safeguarding the friar. He was well aware that Jinette knew the need for this and recognized the groundless accusation as the opening move of a game he was quite familiar with.
"If I thought it would shame you, I would," Jinette sniffed. "As it is, I begin to despair that short of dynamite, very little will stir you."
"So you came here, with Benerd, to order me to the roof? It seems a long distance to walk for such a menial task. Or did you come to visit Carl as well?"
"I came to plan a course of action, Van Helsing! Someone must take charge of the situation and, as we are regrettably short of fighters, it must be sooner rather than later."
To this, Van Helsing gave a grudging nod of agreement. It was high time, actually, that they came up with a plan, instead of merely reacting to the increasingly devastating attacks upon the See. Though he would never admit it aloud, Van Helsing realized that Jinette had his hands well and truly full just shoring up existing defenses and making sure that they could withstand a long siege. The fact that he was here now had to mean that those defenses, while adequate for the moment, would prove woefully weak over the long run. Van Helsing had never had any doubt what must, ultimately, be done and looking into the Prelate's snapping eyes, he knew that Jinette realized he had already agreed to do what was necessary, despite the certainty that he would not survive it. All that remained to be agreed upon were the details.
"Someone will have to enter the doorway to Hell that has been opened to find and destroy the cambion," Jinette's voice was stiff and metered as he held Van Helsing's eyes. The hazel eyes held his own thoughtfully for a moment, then dropped in acquiescence. Jinette felt his own shoulders drop as he drew in a deep breath and settled against the chair back.
Mavis stirred then, leaning forward to sharply eye the two men. "Ah, so that's how it is, eh? You realize that anyone who goes into the mouth of Hell will most certainly not come back?"
"It must be done," Van Helsing murmured, wincing when he heard the same words emerge from Jinette's mouth. He wondered how it had happened that he and the prelate had come to know one another so well that they hardly needed words any longer. He also found himself wondering if Jinette regretted the need to send the man who made his life so difficult into a situation that would, in all likelihood, result in his death. Would Jinette feel grief when his recalcitrant and sarcastic weapon was no long around to make his life difficult? It hardly seemed likely.
The prelate frowned as he bit down on the words that mirrored Van Helsing's. The witch eyeing him now seemed to think he had not realized what he was asking. Didn't she realize that he was asking no more than he had always asked of Van Helsing? Each mission had a good chance of killing the man, and he had never shirked from meeting the hunter's eyes when he asked it of him. Of course he knew, and of course he regretted it profoundly. Van Helsing was a thorn in his side, but he had grown used to the irritation–he wondered, when it was gone, how badly he would miss it. Tearing himself away from such profitless thoughts, he turned his attention instead to the irate woman breathing steam and smoke at him from across the small chamber. She wasn't a large woman, by any means, but she seemed quite formidable in her ire now.
"Madam, I am well aware of what I'm asking. If you know of any other way to stop these attacks, to stop the cambion, please..do share it with us."
Mavis' dark eyes never left Jinette's, it seemed as if she were using the link between him to dip into his mind, into his soul, to discover who he was and what he felt. He found it impossible to hold her gaze for long and finally dropped his eyes with a frown. He heard her sigh then and the chair shift as she settled back.
"No, I know of no other way," she admitted quietly. "But you should be aware of what you are asking. The doorway that the cambion has opened is the true doorway to Hell and all of the creatures that are consigned there. That means that all of the monsters that have ever fought the Order or that your hunter here has fought will be there. They will all know that he is there. Dracula, himself, will be there this time. Not the wraith made in his image. It will be est Blut War, the Blood War. All of the darkness and evil that dwells within the blood will arise so that he will have to fight the beasts within as well as without. You are aware of this?"
Jinette nodded. "I am aware." He raised his eyes to Van Helsing, noting the hunter's eyes were still downcast in thought. "If there were any other way, I wouldn't ask this of you."
A small smile pulled at Van Helsing's mouth. "I know."
Carl's wide-eyed gaze flew from one to the other, his mouth opening and closing with protests that were half spoken then pulled back as he realized nothing he could say would change the two men's minds. Finally, when all else failed, he spoke the only words that remained unanswerable in his own mind. "I'll go too."
"Carl," Van Helsing rubbed a hand over his face, his voice was heavy and resigned. "Is there any point in saying 'no'?"
"Not really. I mean, you could say 'no' and then I'd have to say 'yes' and after a great deal of back and forth haggling, I'd still be going so why not just accept it and get on with the planning?"
Van Helsing sighed as he dropped back onto the bed, his gaze on the water-stained white ceiling above them as he chuckled softly. "I see what you mean. Hardly seems worth the effort, does it."
"Not worth it at all," Carl agreed firmly. Leaning down and patting Van Helsing's shoulder, the friar then turned his gaze to the witches next. "So, we'll see all of our old friends in Hell, eh? Will we be able to beat them again?"
Mavis shook her head, raising her eyes to heaven as though praying for strength. When she lowered them to Carl's again, she shrugged in answer. "Since I have never been to Hell, how would I know? We'll just have to see when we get there."
"We!" Both Carl and Van Helsing exclaimed, the hunter sitting bolt upright to pin the witch with a quelling glower only to be met with a raised chin and a firm return glare that brooked no arguments.
"Ja, 'we'. You would not last an hour without my help so be thankful that I'm offering it." Behind the older witch, Gretchen stirred and Mavis turned about quickly, catching hold of the girl's hands within her own calloused fingers. "Nein, Gretchen. You will not come with us. The war will go on here and they need someone who actually knows how to heal the wounded instead of treating them as a side of meat."
"Ahem!" Jinette growled, but said nothing further, his gaze instead flying to Van Helsing who only shrugged in defeat.
"Is there room for one more?" Benerd's soft, hesitant voice brought all eyes to the monk standing quietly against the wall. He winced at the combined stare that judged and was obviously finding him wanting, but he pushed away from the wall and met each gaze directly before finally settling on Carl's. "I did well enough on the roof and in the catacombs. I think I'd be of some help where you're going as well."
"This isn't the same thing as picking off harpies from the roof," Van Helsing reminded the monk, his voice gentle despite the harsh words. Benerd only shrugged.
"I know. But I've spent my life studying the creatures of darkness. This just seems the natural progression of things. So, if it's all the same to you...I'll be going too."
"Benerd," Carl began, then sighed as the monk raised a stubborn eyebrow at him. "Well, at least you have a decent gun–I'll carry the flame gun, you can carry the tojo gun."
"You'll probably want to make another tojo gun for Mavis," Van Helsing said and eyed the witch with disfavor. She seemed to enjoy the glower, smiling prettily in a manner that made Gretchen giggle and Van Helsing growl again.
"Your wolf does not frighten me, Herr Hunter," Mavis asserted firmly, dark eyebrows ascending as she fixed Van Helsing with a pointed stare.
"Hmph," Van Helsing snorted, a smile twitching at his lips. "Maybe it's a good thing I'm going to Hell after all. Fighting Dracula will be a pleasant change to arguing with you and Carl."
"Practically a holiday," Carl agreed, smiling pleasantly at Mavis who had the temerity to laugh outright.
It was settled then. They would descend to the catacombs and enter the gate to Hell. The Blood Wars had begun.