Mina didn't look him directly in the eye, but refused to look downwards either. He circled her, his footsteps quiet but seeming to echo in the silent room.
"You have defied me for very long after all, my dear, and I see no reason to be at all merciful. With you, you see, the one great limitation of all torturers in erased; I do intend to kill you, eventually. You must die, after all, to become one of my kind, and death holds such…potential. I don't intend to waste yours. There will be plenty of time afterwards for me to use more merciful, slower tortures upon you. The sort you will eventually grow to enjoy. For now, I must be allowed some indulgences. Your death will not be anywhere near painless, nor will it be dignified. You have given me too much trouble for that."
She did not speak. What could she say? He had won more completely than she had ever dared to imagine even in her worst nightmares. The bodies of the others lay outside the castle gates; the Professor, his own stake through his heart, Jack, Arthur and Quincey killed by the Count's brides, and Jonathan drained completely of blood, his face as pale as his hair. And here she stood now, dragged sobbing from Jonathan's body, completely at the Count's mercy.
As though he was reading her thoughts (which he very well could have been), the Count continued, "I wasted the deaths of the others, your friends. Especially that of Jonathan. He suffered so beautifully, Mina."
She spat out her words as though they choked her. "I thank god that you can harm him no longer. I would rather die a thousand deaths than see you hurt him again."
Cold laughter, a sharp nail against her cheek. "You may very well have a chance to make good that promise."
She flinched, not at the words, but at the contact.
Roughly, he entwined his fingers with hers, though her own remained slack and unyielding against his. "Come, downstairs."
There was indeed a flight of stairs from the room downwards. It was winding, and the room below looked like nothing more than a pit of darkness. She followed him as he led her into it.
When they reached the bottom of the staircase, he told her not to move, and she obeyed, because in the darkness it would have been impossible for her to even attempt to flee, even if such a goal had been at all possible. He led go of her hand them, and walked away from her. She heard the striking of a match, and a candle was lit, illuminating the small room.
It was circular, as the room above it had been, and that some how made it feel even more enclosed and claustrophobic. Of course, that feeling was not aided by the fact that, all about the room, on shelves and tables, there were metal instruments clearly used for nothing but torture, some gleaming and new, others rusted, perhaps hundreds of years old. Knives, of course, too; rows of them, of different lengths, with different types of blades. She shuddered, and bit her lip to keep from reacting further.
"Have you used all of this?" she was unable to stop herself from asking.
"Most," he replied, seeming almost curious at the question, "I generally prefer to do most of my torture only with knives; it can cause just as much pain, while requiring more skill and presenting more of a challenge. But my Maker –" somehow she managed to notice that it was the first time she had heard him mention the vampire who had made him what he was – "preferred the machines, and I must admit that they have their place. Now, for instance. I intend this coming torture to be psychological as well as physical, and that is difficult to manage with only a knife until one knows their victim quite well."
Mina looked at the jagged edges and twisted forms of the instruments on the shelves and again shuddered. It was easy to say that one is willing to endure pain, but pain can be so difficult to imagine, even when one remembers the feeling of fangs buried deep in the veins of their neck.
The Count carried the candle to the table nearest where Mina stood, and she watched the flame, thinking to herself, This can kill him, this is my means of escape. But yet, with Jonathan dead outside, food for the wolves, she could not bring herself to move.
The area in which they stood now lit by an oddly warm and comforting circle of golden light, the Count stepped towards Mina, looking so directly into her eyes that she could no longer avoid his gaze. "Remove your clothing now, please. I prefer to be able to see the parts of the body on which I work."
Mina found herself resisting wild, hysterical laughter. "Work? Is this a job to you? Do you consider yourself a torturer? Ah, perhaps you took work as that back in the Middle Ages, tormenting heretics being punished for refusing to worship a god whose holy objects burned your skin. Or perhaps this is art to you as well, perhaps you consider yourself to be fulfilling some higher fantasy than satisfying your own sadistic desires –"
He placed a finger, cold as ice, against her lips. "There's no need to get yourself into such a state, dear."
She pulled away from his touch, nearly violently. "Oh, of course not. Of course, when you've killed everyone I care about and are declaring your intentions to torture me to death before making me your slave for eternity, I shouldn't get myself into a state." The sarcasm in her words was desperate, frantic, a last defense before she collapsed into sobs.
It was as though her anger did nothing to him, affected him not at all. "I tire of this. Remove your clothing, Mina, or I will do so for you."
Trying not to cry, she obeyed, dropping layer after layer of sensible clothing onto the floor, along with her boots, stained with mud from long traveling into Transylvania, and her stockings. When it was over, she shivered in the cold of the unheated stone room in November.
He looked at her carefully, and she thought that she would never hate him more than she did at that moment, as he watched her, so calm in the face of her vulnerability. And he took the final step towards her, reaching to her hair, removing the pins from her dark hair so that it fell down over the angular, visible bones of her shoulders, reaching down to the small of her back. At that, he smiled. "Beautiful," he said too softly for her comfort, lifting her chin so that he again could meet her eyes.
And, again, she pulled away, though this time she had no angry retorts. Even Jonathan hadn't, in the brief months of their marriage, since her this way. It was obscene, inexcusable, that the Count should be the first to do so.
His next words were thoughtful, "Every torture, even those done purely for pleasure, must have some sort of goal to them. Some sort of request made of the victim, some agency that they are given in their own torment." He paused, considering. "I believe, with you, Mina, we may make the agreement that, if you, at any point during this, tell me that you love me and let it be the truth, I shall be merciful to you."
She had thought minutes before that she could have hated him no more than she did then, but , at that, this earlier feeling was made a lie. Hatred filled her then as she had thought hatred never could, rising up within her like a great wave, briefly annihilating even fear. "I will never –"
"We shall see," he said, firmly cutting her off, "After all, a relationship with a torturer is much like a relationship with a lover."
She wanted to scream, but couldn't bring herself to. In the pause, the Count picked up a small key from the table and wrapped his other hand around her wrist, leading her to the nearest wall, where hung sets of shackle. "Lift your arms, please," he instructed. When she refused, he lifted the arm whose wrist he already held, more quickly than she could have imagined fastening it securely in one of the shackles and locking it tightly. She had only just begun to struggle as he did the same to the other. And then, again quickly and efficiently, he knelt down and attached her ankles to the shackles near the floor.
The metal against her skin was as cold as the Count's touch, and the shackles were so tightly fastened that she couldn't even manage to twist her wrists and ankles at all. And, the more she struggled, the further the metal cut into her skin painfully. Perhaps it would even draw blood, eventually.
She did struggle, though she knew somewhere that it was illogical. The feeling of being restrained, and especially of having it done so quickly and easily, gave her a terrible feeling of sickness in the pit of her stomach. Especially while naked, every vulnerable nerve displayed.
And he watched her, too, his eyes slowly turning to red as she struggled. Finally, she opened her mouth to speak, not knowing what she would say but knowing that they would be words of hatred, but he interrupted before she could say anything. "You're intelligent, Mina. You think critically, logically. I am not going to attempt to destroy that in you – it would make you dreadfully uninteresting to me, as you would be unable to hold a real conversation – but I am going to force you to feel. Pain is perhaps the strongest feeling in the world, and there is nothing one can do to surrender to it." He took a few more steps toward her, so close that his body was nearly against hers. "You need to learn how to surrender."
"I don't need to –" she began, intending to yell but speaking in a whisper, but he was already turning away from her, walking to one of the shelves on the far side of the room, picking up a long length of cloth that she did not immediately understand the purpose of.
"I don't want you speak anymore for a little while," he said, calmly balling up the fabric, "so, open your mouth now."
She clenched her teeth together.
"Mina," he insisted, his tone commanding. Logically, she knew that he obviously couldn't punish her more for this than what he intended to do to her already, but she found herself opening her mouth anyway. Carefully, he placed the balled up cloth in it, partly underneath her tongue, and she found that it was an effective if uncomfortable gag, as the amount and placement of the cloth prevented her either from spitting it out or closing her mouth.
Why was she afraid? She wondered suddenly, the images of the bodies of Jonathan and the others filling her mind. It wasn't as though she had much to lose. Her dignity had been effectively lost already, and there was no one left to care if she lost the remnants of it. Being afraid of pain was…childish, really, after everything. Let the Count destroy her body! What could she possibly care?
But she did care, despite herself. She was alive still, breathing, thinking. And though the Count would forever end her breath soon, from thought and memory and the Count's touch upon her skin she would have no escape. The Count was right; he could kill her over a thousand times now, as long as none of those methods involved driving a stake through her heart or burning her alive.
But the Count hadn't given her much time, only enough for him to use the candle flame to light a brazier of hot coals (such an antiquated device, for either light or heat). "I don't do this often," he told her, "as burning isn't a type of pain that I find particularly interesting. But I know you well enough to realize that something like this is likely to have quite an effect on you, and scars to the same purpose would take far too long."
She had no idea what he could be talking about, even when he carefully heated a piece of metal in the coals. It was only when he came back to her side and she noticed that the tip of the metal was formed in the shape of an all too familiar set of initials that she understood the purpose, and tried to draw away, though the shackles and the wall behind her made that impossible. He's going to brand me, she thought in panic, just like some slave of his.
"As I said already," he said, half in response to her thoughts, "burning really doesn't interest me. But I knew this would bother you enough for it to be worth it."
And, before she could struggle or try to scream around her gag, he pressed the metal against the flesh of her left shoulder. It burned, the way it does when one accidentally touches a too-hot pan, except that this time there was no instinctive drawing away possible. She had to watch in silence as her flesh seared and darkened in the image of the Count's initials.
After what was probably only a minute or two but felt far longer, the Count removed the metal, touching the burn beneath it gently. His cold touch felt almost soothing as that moment, much as it felt humiliating to admit that to herself.
The Count seemed to consider for a moment, and then put down the metal on the nearest table and removed the cloth from Mina's mouth. "It's tiresome not to be able to speak to you during this," he told her, and she didn't know whether or not to feel complimented.
But she said nothing. What could she say?
Then, he unlocked the shackle on her right wrist, spreading the fingers of that hand wide. She had a terrible, sickening feeling that she might know what he was going to do next, which was only confirmed as he spoke. "This is simple, but it is often the first thing to elicit screams from a victim."
And, with a terrible crack, he broke the finger on which her wedding ring lay.
Mina didn't scream. She bit her tongue so hard that she tasted blood.
Gently, too gently, the Count entwined the other hand (apparently, he only needed one to break her fingers) in her hair, as though he was attempting to comfort her as he broke a second finger.
And a third, and a fourth, and finally a fifth. On the third, she gasped, and, on the fourth, she finally screamed. At the fifth, she dared glance into the Count's eyes; he seemed fixated, fascinated. He loves doing this, she realized, though she had, logically, known this a good deal earlier, it's his nature. Somehow, that didn't make her hate him more. Perhaps because there were few ways she could have hated him more.
When he had finished with that, she looked down at the broken fingers of her hand, and realized with a jolt that, like that, she couldn't write. Somehow, that simple fact brought tears finally to her eyes, after resisting crying for what felt like so long. She thought of Jonathan teaching her shorthand, of typing out her own and Jack's diary entries out on the typewriter, of Lucy's letters in her pretty, girlish handwriting. She thought of her fingers entwined with Jonathan's as he proposed to her, or Lucy's as they sat together in the graveyard at Whitby, or Arthur's as she comforted him after Lucy's death.
And the Count fastened her wrist back in the shackle, her broken fingers dangling limply from it.
He stroked her hair a final time. This time, she flinched.
Then, he stepped away from her, walking to one of the shelves and picking up a rather small metal device, rounded at one end. "This," he told her, his tone conversational, "was, at one point, called the Pear of Anguish. I thought it was quite a ridiculous name, as were most of the names for torture instruments at the time, but it's a lovely device. Now, open your mouth again."
She recognized the name of the thing, but had no idea where she'd heard it. Something to do with the Spanish Inquisition, possibly. But she opened her mouth, closing her eyes in exhaustion as she did so.
The Count placed the thing, whatever it was, in her mouth, and slowly began to twist a screw in one end. It separated into four parts, metal and jagged at the edges, which slowly began to expand, and, with a jolt, Mina remembered what this particular torture instrument was supposed to do.
It was terrible, terrible pain, ripping at the soft skin inside her mouth till there seemed to be nothing but blood there, and pushing her jaw open so far that she thought it would become dislocated. She couldn't either scream or bite her tongue, and her eyes were watering terribly with the pain of it, pain that she was sure she was not able to bear, it had to stop or else she would probably lose consciousness or some such thing, she couldn't just stand there, chained to the wall, through all this…
Desperately, she reached out mentally to the Count's presence in her mind, for the first time. Please, she begged him, ashamed of herself even as she first formed the words in her mind, stop this, please.
He replied the same way she had spoken to him. I told you the conditions under which I would spare you. I don't believe you are quite at that point yet. Are you?
Her eyes flew open, meeting his, which were far too red. No.
This time, his reply was verbal. "Then we shall leave you like this for a little while."
She wanted to scream in frustration and anguish, thoughts of Jonathan suddenly, shamefully gone. But, instead, she had to listen to the Count as he spoke to her, of history, of politics in the Roman Empire, things that would have interested her if she had not had metal sinking deeper into the roof of her mouth as she heard them. She didn't even bother trying to pay attention.
It could have been minutes or hours till he slowly began to twist the screw in the device the other way, till it could be removed from her mouth entirely. She barely had an instant or reprieve, however, as he suddenly, without warning, kissed her, forcing her mouth open with his tongue, the blood filling her mouth from the cuts flowing into his.
It was a long kiss, and one that she couldn't even try to pull away from, as he held the back of her head firmly. She was reminded of that awful night a month before, her face against his chest, the taste of blood everywhere, and she felt sick.
Finally, he pulled away from the kiss. "I have wasted too much time tonight," he said, "I only have time for one more thing before the sun rises. We will finish tomorrow night." And, with that, he began unlocking the shackles around both her wrists and ankles. "Sit down," he told her then, and she did, leaning against the stone wall as she did so.
But the instrument that he carried over then seemed the most frightful yet, a monster of wood and spiked metal. He placed it on the floor in front of her, and sat beside her, again stroking her hair in a way that was anything but actually comforting.
"Now, I'm going to use this on both your legs, my dear. Please place your left leg here, now," he said, indicating the mouth of the thing, in between the two jagged metal blades.
No, she would not willingly do that, not obey him in something like that, she wouldn't, she wouldn't –
But she did, tentatively placing her leg where he told her to and letting him adjust the thing so that the jaws of the machine fit directly over her knee.
Then, as he continued to stroke her hair, he turned the handle on the machine, bringing the jaws of it together, crushing her knee between them, hundreds of bones breaking with such a terrible crack, flesh yielding beneath the metal, blood spurting out –
She screamed then, and wasn't even aware that she was doing so until she noticed how painfully raw her throat was getting. The pain was excruciating, running all through her, like a blazing hot fire beginning at her knee, too much for her to withstand without some agonizing sound exploding from her throat.
Calmly, as if he had done this a thousand times before, the Count removed her knee from the thing, and said, "Next leg, please."
And she did as she asked. She placed her right leg between the two jagged blades, even as she sobbed from the ache of her left one. And he brought the blades together on that too, and the pain was just as terrible – more so, perhaps, for her left leg still hurt so terribly.
It was over quickly, the actual operation itself, though that made little difference, for her broken kneecaps hurt almost as terribly as they had while they were being broken. The Count put the machine – "It's sometimes, crudely, called a Knee Splitter, for obvious reasons", he informed her – back on one of the shelves as she tried in vain to get to her feet while her legs collapsed beneath her.
"Don't try that," he told her when he returned to where she attempted to stand, "you won't be able to manage it, and I believe you do not relish humiliation."
She obeyed that, too, as it's easy to obey commands that are for your own good when you've obeyed one to place your legs between two metal blades. The Count took, from her pile of removed clothing from an eternity ago, her chemise, and helped her put it on. Then he picked her up, being none too careful with her broken legs, and carried her out of the claustrophobic room.
He took her through a long, rectangular room filled with coffins, and into what seemed to be a cell in the dungeons. He put her down, and put shackles around her ankles – she didn't struggle; it would have been pointless – and then kissed her, almost gently. "Good morning, Mina," he told her, and left, closing the door behind him.
The room was completely dark with the door closed. She fell asleep easily, despite the pain from her legs and hand and mouth. She dreamed of eternity.