"Fear for me! Why for me? None safer in all the world from them than me." – Dracula
When she stepped across the line, they were there to welcome her.
Their arms were cold as the snow beneath her feet, but soft, and yielding as a woman's flesh should be, as they embraced her, each in their turn. "Oh, sister," said the blonde one – Ecaterina, Mina knew suddenly – as she stroked Mina's dark hair, tangled from days of not caring, "why did you run for so long? It hurts so much, to deny your own nature, and we'll take care of you."
"We'll always take care of our sisters," said Adriana, the one with the long dark hair, reaching out to touch Mina's arm almost hesitantly.
"Of our own," added Ileana, with the red hair, her hand around Mina's wrist, not holding it there, just reassuring Mina of her presence.
From behind her, she could hear the Professor crying out for her ever more frantically, unwilling to leave his small circle of protection, but his voice seemed so distant, as though he was in another time and place altogether.
"You're safe now," Ecaterina told her, her cold fingers gentle as the wind on Mina's cheek, "you never need to be afraid again."
Mina spoke, her voice hoarse, "Not of…"
"Not of choices you should make," Ileana interrupted, "not of impulses you cannot control."
"Not of hurting those you love," Adriana practically whispered, "not of them hurting you."
"You're safe now," Ecaterina repeated.
And, with that, Adriana took one of her arms, Ileana took the other, and Ecaterina stood in front, guiding her, and together they led Mina way from the light of the campfire, into the darkness of the wood and toward the black shadow of the castle.
And she was not afraid.
She was not afraid even when they reached the front door of the castle and Ecaterina pushed the door open, not afraid when she was led through countless dark hallways, not afraid even when she felt that a presence she recognized all too well was growing nearer and nearer…
She was not afraid until Ecaterina pushed open a door along one of the countless hallways, and Ileana's grip on her wrist turned painful as she pulled her into the room, calling out, "We have her!"
And, at those words, the Count put down his book and stood. "You have done well," he said.
With that, all the trust, all the relief, all the comfort that had filled her since the three women embraced her suddenly evaporated. "You…you betrayed me!" she cried, knowing that her voice sounded as much like a wild shriek of any of theirs. "You told me that I was safe, and then you brought me to him!"
Ileana laughed. "You are safe here."
Ecaterina nodded. "This is where you should be. It will be easier for you here."
Wildly, Mina shook her head, the emotions that she had held back for weeks pouring out. "No. No, no, it won't, I don't believe it."
The Count took a few steps forward and placed a hand upon her shoulder. She stilled immediately, like a small animal hiding from a predator, her heartbeat seeming unimaginably loud in that room where it was the only sound. "They are correct. You may find it…difficult, here, at first," he moved his hand to her neck, reaching his thumb up to stroke the line of her jawbone, "but you will soon become adjusted to it. You do not need to fear what I shall do to you." Reaching the center of her jaw, he lifted his hand to touch her lips.
"I'll kill you," she whispered, her words a mere exhale, "I'll find some way. You'll let your guard down for an instant and I'll find some jagged piece of wood to stab through your heart."
He laughed. "Then I'll have to not let my guard down, won't I?" But he removed his hand and addressed the others. "Since you have aided me so much by bringing Mina to me, I shall allow the three of you do what you wish with her now, aside from turning her into one of our kind."
It took several minutes for Mina to understand quite what he meant, but then her mind was filled of visions of three sets of fangs scraping against her skin, and she winced. But…surely she should not be so afraid of them, even though they had betrayed her. They would do nothing too awful to her, surely, and she could manage the blood loss, as horrible as it might be.
"You are too kind, Vlad," Ecaterina said, practically grinning, her long white fangs fully visible.
And the Count kissed her, a hand tangling in the pale waves of her hair as if he had done so thousands of times before. "I reward obedience and success, Ecaterina. You know that well."
"Thank you," Ileana said to the Count, her eyes on Mina, running her tongue over her teeth.
Adriana wordlessly sunk into a deep curtsey, head bowed, and the Count laughed almost gently, helping her up as though careful that she didn't accidentally fall over.
"May we leave now?" Ecaterina asked the Count, and he nodded, immediately sitting back down and picking his book up again.
That was all they needed. Ecaterina took Mina's hand, entwining Mina's fingers with her own, and began to lead her out of the room. The others followed.
Mina went with Ecaterina, because it was far better than remaining alone with the Count. And she still could not bring herself to be afraid of the three of them, however much she might be terribly angry with them. They were still her sisters, weren't they? Betraying sisters, who cared more about themselves than about her, but there wasn't much they could do to hurt her.
The room that Ecaterina brought her to was a bedroom, with a large four poster bed in the center of the room, the sheets and blankets all white, with gauzy white fabric hanging from the top. There was also a dresser there, with none of the drawers quite closing properly.
"He doesn't use this room often," said Ileana, wandering toward the center of the room and wrapping her hand around one of the posts of the bed, "so Ecaterina's taken it over, pretty much. You can tell because she's the only one who uses all these horrid light colors."
Ecaterina gave her a glare, but didn't reply, turning instead to Mina. "Sit on the bed," she told her. Her tone was friendly, but it was clearly a command.
Cautiously, Mina looked at the three women. They all seemed calm, at ease, but she could see the fangs in each of their mouths. Eventually, she decided that it wasn't worth refusing something so harmless. Slowly, she walked to the bed and sat down on the side of it, folding her hands in her lap.
It only took Ileana a few steps before she was standing right in front of Mina, and, leaning over slightly, she quickly, almost violently, grabbed Mina's skirts and pulled them up to her thighs, too suddenly for Mina to react.
"She has pretty legs," Ileana said, her tone slightly admiring, slightly disdainful. Mina didn't quite understand what was happening, but had the idea that they might be assessing her body parts in relation to their own. She didn't like the idea.
"Would you not touch me, please?" Her tone was firm, though it took some effort to make it so.
Then all three of them were laughing, the sound like the tinkling of water glasses of three different pitches. "Of course we're going to touch you," said Ecaterina, as if any other suggestion was ridiculous, "but you'll like it, I promise."
The implications of that were obvious, but Mina refused to even think that. It was impossible, surely?
Adriana moved to sit next to Mina on the bed, her eyes fixated a little too closely on Mina's. Mina looked away.
Meanwhile, Ecaterina was looking through the drawers in the dresser. "Hold her wrists, Ileana," she called, apparently finding what she was looking for. Wordlessly, Ileana held Mina's wrists crossed together in front of her as Ecaterina approached, holding a string of pearls.
"This is just to make sure that you don't struggle too much," Ecaterina told her, as Ileana shifted the placement of her hands and Ecaterina expertly wrapped the pearls around Mina's crossed wrists, knotting them in ways that Mina couldn't even manage to keep track of.
"You don't need to do that," Mina said, her voice quiet, "it's all right, I won't fight you."
"Yes, you will," said Ileana with a laugh, "that's just the sort you are. I can tell. I'm that sort too, or I was at first. Adriana, here, she wasn't. She went limp the first time she felt him grab her wrist. But you're the fighting sort."
"And you make things hard for yourself," Adriana added quietly, "it would be much nicer for you if you didn't fight."
"No," Mina protested, "I fight him. I won't fight you, despite the fact that you betrayed me. I won't."
Ecaterina smiled. "We'll see about that." And she leaned in close to Mina, so that her round, pale blue eyes were startlingly fixating, and then, slowly and gently, pressed her lips against Mina's.
Startled, Mina pulled back, images of Lucy filling her mind. "What did you –" she began, but Ileana interrupted her.
"See? You're the fighting sort. It's my turn next," she told Ecaterina, "you'll need to hold her for me."
Mina found herself struggling against the cord of pearls that bound her wrists. It was entirely immovable. "You can't just give each other turns. I'm not a toy for you to pass around between you –"
"But you are, darling," said Ecaterina, pushing a strand of hair away from Mina's face, "he said we could do whatever we wanted with you. So you are a toy for use to pass around, at least for tonight."
And, all of a sudden, Mina was sobbing, helplessly, though she didn't want to show that lack of dignity to them, or to anyone in that castle. "It all comes back to him, doesn't it? I'm not his, either, I don't belong to him, or to anyone, and he can't do that to me, can't give me to anyone else because I wasn't his to begin with…"
Ileana's voice was mocking, "So naïve."
Ecaterina was chiding slightly, but not much. "We all were like that at first."
Adriana smiled. "We learn better."
Ileana frowned. "No, if she keeps talking like that, she'll make things awful for herself. We never talked quite like that – no, none of us. And she needs to learn better now, before he starts torturing her for things like that." She climbed over Mina, wrapping her hand around Mina's throat. No one stopped her. "Anyone inside these walls belongs to him, and especially us because all of us – including you, Mrs. Harker – have his blood in our veins. And there's only one reason why he would do that, and that's because he wants us. And so he took us. That's what he does. And so you listen to him, you do whatever he tells you to do, and you don't complain. And so, if he says that we can do anything to you, than you let us do whatever we want to you."
She leaned in even closer to Mina, so that her fangs nearly brushed against Mina's cheek. "Do you know what he'll do to you? He'll carve designs into your skin just to see your blood in pretty patterns on your skin. He'll whip you till your spine shows through your tattered skin. And that's just on a normal night, not even when he's angry. So you better get used to what we're going to do to you, because this is nothing."
Then, Ileana let Mina go, and got off the bed. There was a second of silence. Mina was the first one to speak, her voice wavering, "Perhaps. But he'll have to do a lot to me till any of that becomes true."
Adriana's smile was sad. "That's silly of you."
And Mina laughed, wildly, hysterically, irrationally. "Probably."
Ecaterina seemed tired of that topic of conversation. "Let's get this dress off of her. It's ugly, and she won't need that one anymore."
"But I was going to kiss her next," Ileana complained.
"Kiss her while I get her dress off," Ecaterina said dismissively, "I'll make sure she holds still."
"Let me undress myself, please," Mina hated how much her voice sounded like begging, but it felt unavoidable. She felt resigned to the fact that she would end up naked at some time during this, but being spared the indignity of having the three of them undress her would bee a great blessing.
Ecaterina shook her head, "This is more fun." And, with more grace than should be possible in such a movement, she climbed on the bed and moved to sit behind Mina, her gentle, careful fingers beginning to unbutton the back of her dress.
At the same moment, Ileana leaned in and kissed her, her kiss far more violent than Ecaterina's had been, especially as she forced her tongue between Mina's lips, pushing them open unwillingly, which was a less unpleasant sensation than Mina would have expected in a kiss with another woman, especially this one.
As Mina tried to remain still and not react to Ileana's kiss, she heard Ecaterina say, "Oh, I won't be able to get this off without untying her hands. Adria, bring me my knife."
Mina couldn't move her head and didn't bother opening her eyes, which had closed at some point after Ileana's kiss had gotten quite a good deal deeper, but she heard Adriana getting up off the bed and walking to the dresser, then a drawer opening, and Adriana walking back.
"Thank you," Ecaterina said, and Mina felt the pressure of a sharp object through the fabric of her clothing as Ecaterina sliced through the sides of Mina's dress, carefully and cautiously, all the way down both sides of the dress, until it fell apart in two pieces around her. Mina shuddered, and Ileana finally pulled away.
As Adriana tossed aside the tattered remainders of Mina's dress, all three of the other women watched Mina carefully, and she felt terribly exposed. She hadn't bothered, when traveling with Professor Van Helsing, to wear all the multitude of layers that were proper for a woman of her class, so she had no corset, and only a few petticoats.
And the petticoats were the first things to be stripped from her, when Ileana pulled them off of Mina's body, and Mina, startled, pulled her knees up to her chest protectively. "Please –" she began, and, embarrassed by the fact that she was indisputably begging, let her sentence trail off. Ecaterina placed a hand gently on her shoulder.
"He bought clothes for you, clothes from your time. You don't need to wear your old, ugly things anymore." To Adriana, "Could you get Mina's clothes? They're in the box marked with her name on it."
Mina looked at Adriana, who nodded. She gave Mina a quick, chaste kiss on the lips, practically blushed, and then left.
Ecaterina began to stroke Mina's hair, just as she had when Mina first stepped over the protected line, and, irrationally, Mina felt calmed by that gesture. "I'm not going to hurt you, I promise. I'm good at all this. I'm the oldest of us – Ileana and Adria both know that I'm good at this." She smiled reassuringly.
Suddenly, Mina thought of Jonathan. She thought of him alone in the endless, dark castle, or menaced by these three women, terrified of them. She thought of him, with Arthur and John and Quincey, all coming quick as they could to the very castle where she was now a prisoner (was she a prisoner? She had assumed so) to destroy the Count, to save her. And she was comforted.
She was comforted even as Ecaterina pushed up the fabric of Mina's chemise and eased the cotton of her drawers over her hips and knees and ankles, till they fell to the ground. She was comforted as Ileana cut her chemise from her body, leaving the air cold upon her exposed skin.
Adriana returned, carrying a pile of clothing in her arms, which she placed upon the bed. All four of the women there turned to look at it. Every there seemed to be either black or red, and Mina hoped that perhaps the three other women would think it merely enough to dress her in all this clothing. But that seemed unlikely.
Adriana picked up a corset, red with black laces. "This clothing is all so odd," she said, examining it, "I think this one has metal in it."
Ileana took it from her, and almost immediately laughed. "Do you actually wear these things?" she asked Mina.
Mina couldn't help smiling. She nodded.
"I want to see what it looks like," Adriana said, taking the corset back from Ileana.
Ecaterina nodded, and took it from Adriana, carefully placing it on Mina's body. "Is this right?" she asked Mina, who nodded, and might have spoken, except that Ecaterina began fastening the laces then, and pulling them tighter than Mina had ever done or had done. So tightly that the metal (it did have metal boning, which was utterly insane, in Mina's opinion) pressed against both her ribs and waist, so tightly that by the time Ecaterina was done, Mina was gasping for breath.
"It's pretty enough, I suppose," said Ecaterina, "Though I don't quite understand the point of it."
Mina, who couldn't breath very well, didn't respond.
Wordlessly, Adriana got a hairbrush from Ecaterina's dresser and began to brush Mina's hair, which Mina was almost glad for, as she hadn't had a chance to really brush it in days. When she was done, Adriana pinned it up in complex ways that Mina would never have done her hair one her own.
And, again without any discussion (no doubt the three of them were all speaking mentally, for otherwise much of the sequence of events didn't make sense), they seemed to have decided that they were done dressing Mina, because Ileana pushed the rest of the clothing off of the bed.
"Lie down," Ecaterina told her, and guided her to do so. Mina closed her eyes for an instant. The bed was soft under her, and it was slightly easier to breath lying down. That was all tolerable.
And then, before she even had time to think about it, Ileana was pushing her legs upon and she was losing herself in sensation, being touched every where, and she really didn't mind because it felt good, better than even her best dreams of what things would eventually be like with Jonathan, and she was safe with them, wasn't she? Her sisters, weren't they, and besides, Jonathan would come eventually, and all the others, to save her before it all got too intolerable, too awful…And then she felt teeth at her neck, at her wrist, at her shoulder, and she was being bitten everywhere, and it hurt, it hurt so much and she was losing so much blood and she was too weak, far too weak…
"That's enough," she heard Ecaterina say from a distant universe, "anymore and we'll kill her. He won't be happy about that."
And, suddenly, all physical contact was gone, and she looked around her and the air was full of mist. She coughed (difficult in the corset, which was still as tight as ever), and managed to push herself to sitting despite the weakness of blood loss and the fact that her hands were still bound. She looked relatively uninjured, aside from the six sets of bite marks scattered across her body and a few very small, very minor bruises. It could have been worse. And she was alone now. Perhaps the others, Jonathan and Arthur and John and Quincey, would arrive soon. It couldn't take them that long, could it?
The mist, however, didn't disappear; in fact, it seemed to be increasing. She realized exactly what that meant only a second before the Count arrived.
He laughed at seeing her in the state she was in, and then immediately went to sit next to her. "I trust they didn't do anything too awful to you."
She shook her head, fighting the urge to move away from him as Ileana's words echoed in her mind. She could do this for a little while – not fighting him, that was. She could manage long enough to avoid any major injury, and then she would be gone, and it would be all right.
But he heard her thoughts, and as he began taking the pins out of her hair, he said, "My dear, you will never leave this place again, you know that." He laid the pins aside and began unknotting the cord of pearls. "If you like, you can continue to dream that you shall, if it comforts you," he began to unlace her corset, as easily as if he had done this a thousand times (perhaps he had. She did not like to think about what may have happened between him and Lucy), "but it is in the end a hopeless dream."
He finished unlacing her corset and unpeeled it from her skin. "You're not flinching from me anymore. Why?" He paused, as if hearing something. "Ah. Don't listen to Ileana, Mina. I'll be the one to teach you such things. She is different from you, and thus I deal with her differently than I shall with you."
She nodded. That made sense, somehow. Finally, she managed to speak. "Will I ever see Jonathan again?"
There was no pause, no hesitation before he spoke. "No, my dear, you will not."
Again, she nodded. Wordlessly, he picked her up, as one might a small child, and carried her out of the room, down several hallways, and into another bedroom, with black sheets and blankets. He laid her down on the bed, and leaned over her body, kissing her. His kiss seemed a combination of Ecaterina, Ileana, and Adriana's, and she opened her mouth without hesitation.
Jonathan would come, she still believed that. But if, by some horrible chance, he did not, she had to be prepared.