Author's note: Hello everyone! This is a new story by me, and it's going to be centered on Van Helsing and some OCs. It is post-movie and the year is 1890. All in all, it will be an adventure, there will be some secrets, some drama, some violence, and maybe some romance. I have the basic outline in my head and I'll decide about the details in the process. I don't know how long I'll make it, but it's probably not going to be too long. I came up with the idea months ago, and I had actually written a draft of the first two chapters long ago, but I never came to work on it seriously. But now I did and the first chapter is here! You know, or you don't, how it is with me and the updates, so I will ask for your patience once more. Thanks for reading, and I'd appreciate it a lot if you reviewed!

Disclaimer: I don't own anything that you recognize; everything else is mine. Also, the title of the story is a song by Nevermore, and it served as the source of my inspiration.

The Heart Collector

Chapter 1

Van Helsing stormed out of the confessionary and down the flight of stair that led into the peculiar large room that served as the Holy Order's chemistry lab and armory. Cardinal Jinette had just announced to him his new assignment, and the hunter was irritated by the unexpected change of rules. The Cardinal followed him non-hurriedly; he knew that as soon as the hunter heard the details of the mission, he would have no choice but to compromise.

"I don't need a partner!" Van Helsing fumed.

"This is going to be different", Jinette argued. "You will need a certain partner for the assignment. Why don't you just calm your fury and listen to me?" he called to Van Helsing, who came to a stop and turned to the older man with furrowed eyebrows.

"How is it going to be different? It's just another witch. Witches, gargoyles, warlocks… they are all the same-"

"I know how you view your enemies", he interrupted him. "Killing them is not what we seek, and we are not pleased with your methods", he told him sharply and eyed him hard. Van Helsing returned the gaze. Then the Cardinal turned his back to the hunter. "However, I will not speak about this matter now", he said and placed his hands on a table, bowing his head thoughtfully. Van Helsing stood there, staring at him with hard eyes.

"You said it's going to be different. How?" he inquired, trying to speak in a bit more conciliatory manner.

"The story begins eight years ago, in northern Spain… Are you familiar with the Cantabrian Mountains?" Jinette asked him without really expecting an answer. He turned and nodded to a monk to start the projector. The picture of a map of northern Spain was projected on the wall. "The witch dwells deep in the foggy forests of this mountain range... Her human name is Elvira, but for the local people she is the Heart Collector", he said with emphasis and turned his eyes to Van Helsing.

"The Heart Collector?" the hunter wondered and narrowed his eyes.

"Yes… this name is given to her because of her despicable acts. She literally collects hearts of men. However, we don't know for what purpose."

"Regardless of her purpose, I can handle this myself. I don't need a partner. And I don't like working with others", Van Helsing growled, bringing the subject back to where it began.

"My good son, there is no doubt that you are by far the best of our agents", the Cardinal started in a softer tone, trying to coax him, "and this is why the Order trusts you to carry out this mission. But the problem in this case is… that you are a man", he concluded. Van Helsing raised an eyebrow in surprise and disbelief.

"How is that a problem?" he demanded.

"The Heart Collector's victims are exclusively men… Every man that has fallen prey to her has been discovered dead, with a horrid hole on the left side of their chest…" Cardinal Jinette said and there was uneasiness in his voice. Pictures of some of the victims were projected and both the men looked at them with aversion. "We do not know her methods, because no one that ever got close to her lived to tell the tale. However, it is quite obvious that she uses her witchcraft to achieve her goals…" he explained.

"How do we know that she is a witch in the first place?" the hunter wondered.

"For this we are certain. There are registrations about her in our archives, starting about ten years ago. Some sources mention that she grew up as an orphan, others that her husband abandoned her, and others that she killed her own parents as a child, but none of these is confirmed… The local church tried to do something for this unfortunate soul, so she was taken in by the nuns," Jinette narrated. "There are various accusatory reports by the nuns, but the most serious one comes from the abbess herself. She accuses Elvira of godlessness and witchcraft, and she also mentions having found evidence of her unholy actions. Witchcraft is the official reason she was expelled from the nunnery and exiled from the local community", he stated. "Deep in the Cantabrian Mountains is where she found refuge, and soon after she was exiled she became known as the Heart Collector", the Cardinal concluded.

Right then a picture of Elvira was projected on the wall. She was portrayed in her mid twenties, probably some time before she was exiled, as a voluptuous woman with thick long tresses and large, intense eyes. Van Helsing stared at the picture and narrowed his eyes.

"So this is the so-called Heart Collector… I can now guess what kind of methods she uses to approach her victims, other than her witchcraft…" he commented in a low voice. Then he turned to Jinette. "As much as her story is interesting and her actions evil, it still doesn't explain the necessity of a partner you claimed. And I don't see how some of those braggarts will make a difference. How will it be different if it's two men instead of one?" the hunter voiced his objections.

"It will be different, because it is not going to be two men. Your partner, Van Helsing, will be a woman", the Cardinal said seriously and looked Van Helsing in the eye.

"What? A woman?"

"Yes, a woman. You might be our most competent agent, but you are a man. And you already guessed Elvira's methods, like you said", he spat with some hint of sarcasm. "We cannot risk failure of the assignment if she uses her methods on you. You are too valuable to go wasted like that," Jinette said and his words earned him a stern look by Van Helsing, which he ignored. "The only way to ensure the success of the mission would be to assign it to a woman, but it is too dangerous for a woman alone. This is why you are going with her."

"Who is it then?" the hunter asked in concealed frustration.

"Her name is Livia D'Angelo-"

"D'Angelo?" the hunter interrupted the Cardinal as the name ringed familiar to his ears.

"Yes… She is the sister of Enrico D'Angelo, an agent of ours, who went missing three years ago, while on an assignment in Poland. Livia took his place in the Order shortly after his disappearance. She is one of the few female agents we have, and, I assure you, the best of them", Jinette explained briefly.

"I've never met any of the female agents, neither have I known of their existence. I see secrecy is where you excel, Cardinal, even if it's about the members of the Order", Van Helsing commented with a raised eyebrow and palpable sarcasm in his tone.

"I do not need to explain my decisions to you", the older man replied sharply and turned his back to the hunter. "And now I suggest that you meet with your partner and start getting ready for the mission. She is already informed about it and waiting for you in the library. You are leaving tomorrow morning", Jinette concluded and walked away from the hunter. Van Helsing snorted in irritation and then headed for the library.

x x x

Livia D'Angelo was sitting on a wooden stool in a corner of the large library's hall, far from the monks that were totally absorbed in their reading of various books. She didn't seem to pay any attention to them at all. Instead, her eyes were fixed on a dagger she was holding in her hands, and her eyebrows were furrowed; she was trying to fix something in its handle. She looked to be totally concentrated on what she was doing, as her deep green eyes were focused on the dagger, but in fact her senses were alert.

A few minutes later footsteps were heard along the corridor that led into the library's main room. Livia noticed that it wasn't the soft steps of a monk, but heavy, steady steps that could belong only to a man wearing boots.

As soon as he entered the room, she lifted her eyes and looked towards the person that had just entered. She eyed him curiously. She hadn't seen him before, but she wasn't surprised by the fact; the quarters of male and female agents were in different places, they were usually assigned different kinds of missions, they rarely met, and most didn't even know the existence of the rest. It all served the Order's line of secrecy that Cardinal Jinette fought so hard to preserve.

Livia's eyes traveled over the man's figure. He was exceptionally tall and imposing, clad in a black leather coat and holding a wide-brimmed black fedora in his hand. His brown hair came in untamed waves to his shoulders, and his features seemed hard, but at the same time gentle. He wasn't looking in her direction, but he was apparently searching for someone.

Livia smiled to herself and slowly stood up, picking up her hat that was resting on her knee. True enough, he made some impression on her, but she was not a woman to be easily affected by what she saw. She walked steadily towards the man, coming to stand a couple of meters from him.

"Looking for someone?" she asked him with a smile, arms crossed across her stomach and her weight resting on her left hip.

Van Helsing turned to the direction of the female voice. It belonged to a young woman, probably in her middle twenties, who was looking at him with interest and with a smile on her face. She was rather tall, and her dark wavy hair was gathered back loosely, while her olive green eyes were staring at him with interest. She was wearing a sand-colored short dress over dark brown riding breeches that disappeared into her knee-high brown boots. A dark brown leather corset and a jacket that reached just above her waist and was of the same color and material as her corset completed her apparel. In her right hand she was holding a brownish fedora that resembled his own. A long saber was hanging from her belt, while a revolver was holstered against her other hip.

"You must be Livia D'Angelo", he acknowledged her in a firm tone.

"I am", she confirmed with a nod of her head, and with a swift move she tucked the dagger she was earlier trying to fix under the laces of her boot. "And you must be Van Helsing", she presumed. He nodded.

"Cardinal Jinette informed me that we are going to be partners for the Heart Collector assignment. I'm not used to working with others, but I hope we will cooperate. The last thing I need is Jinette's scorn about disobedience", he told her rather grudgingly, trying to hide his discomfort.

"Hmm... I see the Cardinal has been quite insistent", she commented and flashed him a brief smile. "Well, I'm not used to working with a partner either. But we'll work on it", she said and flashed him another smile full of confidence. Van Helsing had already started to dislike this woman's air of arrogance, but he had no choice but to cope with her for the sake of the mission's success.

"He told you about our target, didn't he? Are you sure you can do this? It's not going to be easy", he warned her.

"I'm not scared, if that's what you are implying. And if you are concerned about your own safety, given the peculiarity of the case, don't worry. I will protect you", she replied with a chuckle. Van Helsing clenched his jaw muscles and gave her a hard look, but he didn't comment on her words. Instead he chose to change the subject.

"Jinette demands that we leave tomorrow morning. Have you picked your weapons yet?" he asked her.

"Oh yes, I'm almost done. Just a few additions remaining", she answered him.

"Alright. Let's go and finish then", he suggested and both of them made for the armory.

For the next few hours they were examining and choosing what weapons they considered more suitable for being used against their specific target. Carl handed them a couple of newly-invented weapons that might come in handy, and wished them good luck, feeling more than relieved that he didn't have to take part in another outrageous mission. After the two hunters were ready they retired to their quarters and arranged to meet in the stables at first light of the following day.