The professor ran off, and for a brief moment, the vampires were certain that their prey were as good as theirs. Then he'd come back, another candle stick clutched in his hands, and together with his young assistant, contructed a barrier that had them hissing in pain.
The count was shouting. There was screaming all around. Koukol. Take it down. Get Sarah.
Herbert stood his ground, his vision of the holy symbol shielded by his arm. He watched the human men grab Sarah and run. She was looking back at them. Yearning. She didn't want to go.
Herbert's chest felt tight. His head lulled downward, and he gave a small groan of pain. He couldn't allow it. His father had supposedly cared for his happiness, but he'd ordered Sarah's return, not Alfred's.
His father didn't like him leaving the castle. He didn't want him to spread his own wings. He wanted him to stay here. He wanted Sarah back.
Herbert couldn't care less for the little wench. What about Alfred?
Growling lowly, Herbert raised his arm a sliver. The discomfort caused by the object before him intensified. Herbert ignored it. The room was nearly empty now. Koukol was hobbling toward the thing, readying to take it down. His father was looking the other way.
So Herbert gritted his teeth, shielded his eyes with both arms, and bolted forward. The pain intensified as he drew nearer, until it was at a peak, and he lashed out with his right arm as he went, violently knocking the candles apart and vanquishing the power they'd held over him and his brethren.
Koukol was bewildered. The count turned his gaze toward the noise just a moment too late. He never realized his son had given chase. The ballroom was empty. The candles burned against the tiled floor. Koukol ran toward the doors. Raced to the exit. The count remained, chest heaving. Angry. Unaware.
Though they'd stayed two nights at Castle von Krolock, the castle's layout was still quite foreign to the professor and his assistant, and even as they attempted to flee, they found it difficult to navigate the corridors, especially with the fear of being caught just around any corner very real in their minds.
Herbert didn't need to see where they were going to track them down. He could smell them. He could smell Alfred. The man's scent had been unforgetable after their little tumble. It was something he would probably never forget, and it helped him to bypass certain detours the other men had taken. It allowed him to catch up.
Which was good, because if he hadn't known Alfred's scent so well, he might have gone to the front entry, assuming they would be running back to the village. Herbert was bewildered to find they weren't going that way at all, but another way, a far more dangerous way. Suddenly the greed and longing in his heart was replaced with something else. He didn't want to let Alfred run off like this, true, but it was even worse that they were heading out into the cursed forest. Alfred would be killed for certain if Herbert didn't do something!
So Herbert ran faster, as fast as his legs would take him, until he saw the trio at the side gate, fumbling with the door. They opened it up and spilled out into the fierce out doors. There were wintery conditions. It was snowing again, thick flakes floating down from high in the sky, blanketing the land with a fresh coat of the blinding white blanketing material.
"Hurry, hurry young man!"
Professor Abronsius did not look back to Alfred even as he urged the man along. Sarah's hand was in his own, and he was hurrying along with a surprising spry to his step for such an old man. Alfred, however, was not faring so well. Being the nervous, clumsy man that he was, the snow was bogging him down, and he was slipping as he ran along, small little gasps of surprise rising from his throat with each near fall.
That is, until someone from behind called his name, a bellowing, "Alfred, not that way," echoing against the forest and causing the jittery hunter's assistant to at last loose his footing and collapse into a mound of snow beneath him.
Professor Abronsius continued along. Sarah looked back. Not to Alfred. To Herbert, who was now making his way to the fallen man. Her gaze shifted to the castle. She wanted to go back. But the professor dragged her into the forest.
Alfred whimpered into the snow. Not all of it had been fresh, and when he'd fallen, his clothes had been grated against hard, icy material beneath the newer blanket. He moaned out in pain. Fresh, red blood began to color the snow by his shins and the side of his right arm where it had scraped against the hidden dangers.
Herbert swallowed hard as the smell greeted his flared nostrils. It was sweet, tantalizing, and however little had been shed, a great temptation. Perhaps it was for the best that he was as exhausted as he was from running. The fatigue helped to keep his mind straight, helped to keep from throwing himself at the trembling young man on the ground by his feet.
Alfred could sense him there. He trembled violently, his eyes squeezed shut, very much expecting the worst. Herbert kneeled beside him, breaths heavy, willing himself to extend his hand slowly so that he wouldn't do anything stupid like he very nearly had last night. That hadn't worked. He would need to be more subtle. More alluring. That was how his father had won Sarah.
His hand touched upon Alfred's shoulder. Alfred jerked beneath his touch and released a pitiful whimper. Herbert's fangs grazed his own lips as he gazed upon the frightened man. He closed his eyes and heaved a quiet sigh.
"Where did you think you were going?"
Herbert's voice was surprisingly soft. Weak, almost. It gave Alfred a shred of hope that he could get away.
"F-far away from here!" he cried, attempting to draw himself up and away from the vampire behind him, but he only slid back to the snow, slumping into it hopelessly thereafter.
Herbert licked his lips and applied pressure to the hand he'd placed on Alfred's shoulder. Slowly he turned the man over so that they were eye to eye. Alfred's wide, brown orbs gazing back into his apathetic, gray irises.
"This place is full of vampires," Alfred murmured, trying not to stare at Herbert's mouth and trying not to think of what was inside. "Th-they tried to kill us . . . they tried to kill Sarah. You . . . you tried to kill me. You would have bitten me. Made me like you!"
Alfred was being surprisingly bold. Perhaps kneeling on Death's door did that to people. He had no hope of escape, after all. The professor had abandoned him. Sarah was long gone. Koukol went passed them while Alfred was struggling in the snow. No one could rescue him, so why not talk back to his captor? It wasn't going to make his situation any better, but if he was already doomed, it couldn't possibly make anything worse.
"I know," Herbert said thinly, his voice low, still soft.
Alfred only had the faintest ideas of what he'd intended to do to him when he was pinned down there on the floor. If the professor hadn't come along and put an end to it . . . No, he wouldn't think about that. This was a time for more pressing matters. Like the fact that Alfred and his cohorts had been heading into a cursed forest.
"But that doesn't matter now," Herbert insisted. "Do you have any idea where you were heading? The village is the other way. That's dangerous territory out there!"
"Dangerous . . ." Herbert's words weren't quite registering with Alfred. He was cold, and scared, and Sarah was out there with the professor. "Dangerous!" he shrieked. It had hit him. "But, but Sarah, she's-"
"She's a vampire, Alfred!"
"But I must protect her!"
Herbert's hand tightened on Alfred's shoulder. "Listen to me, boy. Sarah does not love you. Her fate was in her own hands. Father . . ." Herbert paused, his voice taking on a harsher tone, "was pretty clear about what would happen to her. He invited her to the ball and she accepted. No one dragged her or forced her. She came on her own. You're too blinded by your infatuation with her to see what it is either you truly desires!"
"But I do desire her," Alfred whined, slumping back into the snow. "She told me that she liked me."
"What you felt was physical attraction and nothing more. . . . Tell me, what is it you see in your head when you think of her? Tell me!"
Alfred stared back at Herbert as a faint blush nestled itself into his cheeks. "The bath . . ."
"Exactly." The harshness was gone. Herbert was soft once more.
For a few brief moments no words were spoken. The only sounds came from Alfred's erratic breaths and his rare movement in the snow, an uncontrollable effect of his shivering.
"I doubt your professor will make it out of there alive. The village is the other way. These woods here are beyond our territory. The creatures that live there are worse than vampires. Alfred, what would you have done if you ran into a werewolf? Even a pup can rip a person apart."
"W-werewolf?" Alfred's face had gone paler yet as he sat himself up a little and glanced into the depths of the forest with weary eyes.
But Alfred was given no time to dwell on the thought. Herbert had come closer to him, and wrapped his arms around his back. Alfred's heart beat quickened, especially when Herbert rested his head against Alfred's shoulder. That mouth was far too close to his neck for his liking.
"Please come back to the castle," Herbert pleaded. "Please, Alfred, I beg of you."
"I . . . but . . . Sarah!"
Herbert rolled his eyes. "Would you quit worrying about that stupid girl?" He pulled his head away from Alfred's body and gazed into his eyes. "Her transformation may not be complete yet, but the wolves seem to dislike my kind. They'll smell Father on her and leave her alone. Then she'll come back, because she wants to be here, and no one can take that away from her."
"There's . . . nothing that can be done then?" Alfred murmured, dejected. "A transfusion couldn't save her?"
Herbert was fed up with these questions about Sarah. He kept his lips firmly shut, merely narrowing his gaze at the man still entrapped in his arms.
"If . . . if I go with you . . . if I stay at the castle tonight . . . will I see Sarah again?" Alfred forced his fears to subside and for the first time quite willingly looked into the depths of his captor's eyes. "Will you promise me that I will see her?"
Herbert pulled away, but left his hands on Alfred's shoulders. Slowly he eased himself to be standing. Alfred was pulled up along with him. The blood on his clothes sent whiffs of aroma up into the air with each movement. Herbert wrinkled his nose a little and bit back the urge to have a taste off of the man's sleeve.
"You'll see her," Herbert said, shifting his gaze from Alfred out to the forest, where he let them linger, searching for any traces of movement. There were none, but he was still certain she would be back.
Alfred let out a long held breath and slackened a little where he was stood. Herbert shifted one arm and snaked it around Alfred's back, supporting him as he began to walk the boy back to the castle.
"Keep quiet," Herbert advised as they tread carefully beneath the blanket of snow clouds. "Father doesn't know I came out here. We'll need to sneak back in. We'll use my room to hide you until tomorrow night. You'll be safe there, Alfred. I promise. I'll protect you from him. From all of them."