Author's note: Hello everyone! This is the third chapter of the story, where I introduce the villain. Be prepared for an unconventional approach. More explanations are given after the end of the chapter. I thank everyone who took the time to review the story so far! I hope you will enjoy the chapter as it took great effort and some research to write.

The Heart Collector

Chapter 3

A horrendous, agonizing cry of pain broke the silence of the night, scaring a night owl away from the tree branch it was roosting on. A body fell on the ground with a thump. Right then shrill, triumphant laughter was heard; it belonged to the half-dressed figure of a woman. She was holding something in her gloved hands, apart from a knife. It was a bleeding heart.

She tilted her head upwards and glanced at the moon that would be full in a couple of days. She laughed again and danced a circle around herself with her arms raised high, while the dead body lay beside her feet. She didn't seem to care, though. Turning to it, she spoke.

"Oh, you look so charming in death, my dearest! I could never imagine death would suit you so much! Look at your eyes, they are almost grey now! And your chest, do you love me better now? Do you love me better without a heart?" she exclaimed with an unnatural joy and laughed again. "Oh, and She will be so pleased… so pleased!" she chuckled and quickly buried the man's heart in the sack she was carrying. Then she wiped away the blood from her knife and tucked it beneath the laces of her bodice. Soon she was done, and it was time she returned to her hide. Quickly she pulled on her dress and fastened the laces, and covered her reddish hair with her veil. Not giving the dead man a second glance, she turned and walked away slowly, making her way proudly among the trees, with her head held high.

A little later she came and stood before a wooden door. Smiling to herself in confidence, she unlocked it with a smooth wave of her hand and gave it a gentle push; it opened with a low creak. Her purple, flimsy veil fell on the dirty floor soundlessly, and she didn't care. She reached beside the door and with another wave of her hand she lit an oil lamp. The dim light produced by it gave some sort of life to the otherwise grim room. It was not small, but the variety of objects and furniture, most of them damaged and useless, made it look particularly cramped and the air close. There was a dusty desk in a corner with a single chair next to it. An ink container and some papers lay on the desk, while numerous candles had forever stained its surface with their melted wax. Opposite the desk and fixed on the stone wall were some wooden shelves, some of which held books and others jars and bottles of various sizes, shapes and colors, as well as content. There was a relatively large closet standing against the other wall opposite the desk's right side. In the other end of the room lay a narrow bed, covered with a holey green blanket. Every corner of the room was a spider's paradise, with their nets expanding unhinderedly in every possible direction.

"Welcome home, Elvira", a low, crispy voice greeted her.

"Ah Cat, there you are. For a moment I thought you were gone", she responded.

"Gone? As if you don't know I'll never be gone, Elvira. However, I still wonder why you call me Cat", the voice commented.

"I don't know. I am a witch, and since you are my companion, it feels right to me that I call you Cat", she tried to justify the irrationality.

"But I am no cat", said Cat remarked, its voice betraying no protest.

"What are you then?" Elvira asked it.

"Don't you know?" the Cat mocked her. It seemed to the witch that it was holding back laughter. "I am Someone and None. I am False and Real. I am Above you and Below you. I am Inside you and Outside you. I Rule you and I Serve you. I am your sole companion, I am Her messenger, I am your guide", the Cat stated in an imposing voice. "What am I?" it demanded.

"You are my sole companion, you are Her messenger, you are my guide", she repeated in a submissive tone.

"That's right, Elvira… But, come tell me now, what do you have there?" the Cat inquired.

"Oh there, there I have another heart! Do you want to see it? Shall I show it to you?" she chimed, her mood having changed completely in a single moment's time, and she buried her hand in the sack that was hanging on her hip only to pull out of it seconds later a human heart. "Do you see? Do you see how beautiful it is? Raw, and still bleeding! Look, the blood is now running down my arm…" she described as she slowly raised her hand. "Oh, look! Scarlet droplets on the floor, on the table… so wonderful!" she sang and danced a circle around herself, holding the heart high.

"You mustn't ruin it", the Cat reprimanded her. "You mustn't disappoint Llorona. She looked after you and taught you her wisdom for a reason. She is your Mistress and She depends on you to awaken her. How many times must I tell you this?" the Cat scolded her.

"Oh yes, yes… I'm so sorry, Cat, you are so right. Llorona is waiting for me, always waiting for me… But how many hearts do we have already? Mmm?" she wondered and turned her gaze to the shelves on the wall, her hands placed on her hips and her head cocked to the left.

"It's ninety-eight with the heart you extracted tonight. Only one more remains. And you cannot fail now. You are so close to success", the Cat said with emphasis. "Did you make sure that no one saw you? That no one followed you? You are so careless and I worry that the Enemies will find you one day! They have spies everywhere!" it hissed.

"Oh Cat, I know the Enemies are hunting me! I have seen them but they haven't seen me! They are like ghosts, they move in the shadows, they think I can't see them, but I know they are there! I know they want me! But they haven't seen me! I escaped!" she claimed.

"Keep your eyes open. They might be just outside the door now and listening to you", the Cat warned her.

"Are they listening to me?" she worried and quickly ran to the door to make sure no one was outside. She opened it and looked around carefully. She was all alone. Somewhat calmed, she went back in.

"No one is here. Good", the Cat said, but then its voice changed into an accusing tone, all of a sudden. "But tell me Elvira, do you ever think about the men you've killed? Do you ever look back at your horrible actions? Do the images of the men you've killed ever return to your mind? Do the scenes of their death replay before your eyes? Do you remember the last look on their faces before they died? Do you?" it attacked the witch with questions.

"Stop it, Cat, stop! What does it matter? I don't care! They are nothing. They had to die. They had what the Mistress wants, they had what She needs. And I have to bring her what she needs! That night, when I saw the shooting star, I knew it was Her calling to me, and my purpose was revealed to me! And you, Cat, you've been here all along, telling me what to do, giving me Her messages! Don't turn on me now!" she said angrily and brought her clenched fist hard against the desk's surface, trying to shut the Cat's voice. A puff of dust rose from it, causing Elvira to cough.

"That's right", it replied rather unaffected by the scene she made. "I've been here all along and passing on to you Llorona's messages. She has just had another one for you. She demands that you stop fooling around and that you take care of the heart. It's time for the ritual. She will be very angry if you ruin it", the Cat told her in an imposing tone.

"Oh yes, yes… Time for the ritual, time to bless the heart, time to curse the heart… Do you remember those nuns, Cat?" her thoughts strayed. "You must remember them. You came to me some time before they sent me away. Foolish nuns! Ignorant nuns! Curse them for they couldn't see my high purpose! I know that they were talking about me in secret! They thought I didn't understand, they thought I was a fool. They were conspiring against me! They hated me! They wanted to kill me! Jealous nuns! Foolish nuns!" the witch hissed, going on with her ranting. "But I got something from them, something useful", she said with a giggle and took an iron cross out of the desk's drawer. It was old and rusty. With the greatest care she placed it in an upside-down position and made sure it was standing still before she reached for the shelves. "Now now… A little of this, and a little of that… hmm… Do I use mandrake too? Oh yes, yes, I do…" she continued talking to herself as she kept choosing which jars and bottles to use for the ritual.

Several minutes later she decided that she had collected everything necessary, so she pushed aside the papers on the desk and placed every chosen object upon it. Then she sat on the chair and looked at them.

"You have everything necessary. Start", the Cat urged her.

"Hmm… yes…" she responded passively, but her attention and her mind seemed to be distracted.

"What are you thinking of, Elvira? Perform the ritual!" the Cat's voice demanded.

"I can't. I don't know how to. I don't… I don't… You're… Not… Who are you? It's not me, it's someone else… When the star fell, I knew it… This voice… this voice… this voice…" she whispered her incoherent thoughts. "Cat…? Where are you? I can't see you. Why do you never stay somewhere where I can see you?" she wondered. But the Cat did not reply. Instead, there was perfect silence inside her head.

Deciding not to worry about the Cat's disappearance, as she was sure it would return when it pleased, she turned her eyes back on the objects on the table. All the jars she had chosen were there, and so was the man's heart. Elvira tried to press her mind to remember how to perform the ritual, but the only thing she could reach inside her head was a meaningless void, as if she was incapable of forming any thought and all she knew had been erased from her memory. She stared at the objects and tried to focus at them, but the more she stared at them, the more futile they seemed to her. An internal emptiness slowly took over her, but it didn't upset her too much; it happened to her often. She was sure that nothing else mattered to her except for her purpose, but even this sometimes felt totally foreign and pointless to her. At times like now, she was unable to connect to it sentimentally. At times like now she knew that she could be vulnerable to those who might seek to terminate her purpose. She would just sit on her chair or lie in her bed for hours and hours, motionless and rigid. Then usually the Cat would talk to her, and even though she would try to ignore it sometimes, she would usually hearken to its words. And this time was no exception.

"Elvira… Elvira… Wake up", suddenly the Cat's voice spoke.

"I am awake", she replied bluntly. "Or am I not?" she wondered.

"What are you doing sitting here? Do you want to fail? Do you want Her to be angry at you? Open the door and look outside! The sun has risen! You had all night to perform the ritual but you didn't, you ignorant, ruthless witch! You aren't worthy of serving Her!" the Cat yelled at her in anger and disdain.

"Stop it! Stop! I'm not listening to you! I'm not listening!" Elvira cried and covered her ears with her hands.

"What are you doing, are you covering your ears?" the Cat mocked her and laughed sarcastically in her head. "Whatever you do, you will always hear me. I am your guide, I am enlightened, I deliver Her messages, and I am inside you!" it declared triumphantly.

"Get out of my head!" Elvira shrieked and shut her eyes close. She was holding her breath, expecting a heavy reprimand, but none came. Slowly she uncovered her ears and looked around. There was silence only disturbed by the morning song of the birds. "Cat…?" she asked weakly. There was no reply. She took a shallow breath and shifted in the chair, casting a glance at the heart and jars on the desk. Then her eyes moved to the closet next to the desk. She slowly walked towards it and opened it. Therein stood ninety-seven jars, on three shelves, with thirty-three jars on each shelf, and again on each shelf the jars were arranged in three rows of eleven jars each. Each jar contained a rotting heart, floating in a mysterious yellowish liquid. The plan was to collect ninety-nine hearts, as Llorona required. There were two places in the front row of the upper shelf waiting for their respective jars, so that the number would be complete. With a sigh followed by a loud laughter Elvira shut the closet's wings close violently, causing the glass jars inside to dance for a second. Then she approached the desk and took the heart in her gloved hand. She eyed it curiously for a moment, and then she smiled. She sat down and took a paper, a pen and ink. She started drawing a careful image of it, paying great attention to every detail, to every artery and vein, the muscle structure and the shading.

It was midday when Elvira was done with the drawing. Feeling tired, she opened the desk's drawer and placed the paper inside. Ninety-seven other pieces of paper lay beneath it, each of them with the image of a heart drawn upon it. She locked the paper inside and then made for her bed. She lifted the corner of the mattress and took out an old notebook with a torn leather cover. She flipped through the yellowish, ink-stained pages until she found what she was looking for. It was an old journal entry, not written by her hand. She read the content with great interest and curiosity, as if she was reading it for the first time. Smiling wickedly, she nodded to herself. Now she knew what she had to do. Whispering thanks to Llorona, she slowly closed the diary and placed it back under the mattress. She might know what to do now, but she had to wait for the nightfall. Feeling a sudden exhaustion taking over her, she let herself collapse on the bed, and didn't bother to pull the blanket over her body. She remained still as if lifeless until sleep closed her eyelids.

Author's note: As you may all have realised, Elvira is not what you'd call a plainly evil character. There's something wrong with her, and it has to do with her sanity. Perhaps some of you understood or suspected it, but I will state it clearly so that no one is confused about her behavior: Elvira is schizophrenic. In a nutshell, and in a rough approach, these are the characteristics:

a) She is having auditory illusions (she hears a voice, the Cat).

b) She has one or more delusional ideas (her purpose and service to Llorona, her belief that the nuns conspired against her, her fear of the Enemies etc).

c) Her main delusion appeared like a revelation to her out of a non-important event (the shooting star and the realization of her purpose).

d) Her process of thought and speech may present anomalies (incoherency, abrupt stop of thought and speech, distraction etc).

e) Her feelings might change abruptly or be totally opposite to the situation, or even be completely absent.

f) She might take uncomfortable physical positions and remain rigid for hours.

g) Numerous minor characteristics.

I thought I should explain these things here so that it will be easier for you to follow on with the story and understand her character better. I will try to not make her personality too disorganized, because then she would be too hard to understand. Also, the nature and origin of her witchcraft are yet to be explored, and so is her past, so be patient please. Last but not least, llorona is a Spanish word and in a free translation it means "a crying woman". It is pronounced yoROna. Do you think Llorona has been a true person? Or do you think she exists only in Elvira's imagination? How do you feel about Van Helsing and Livia being set to kill Elvira? Do you feel any sympathy towards her? Please tell me what you think! Your opinion matters.