A/N: Oh dear. Once again, I'm terribly, terribly late with my updates. Heh, sorry guys. I've been trying to write as often as I can, but college life has kept me a bit busier than I expected to be. So you'll have to forgive me for that.
So this has been gathering virtual dust on my hard drive for...ages now, it feels like. I'd been waiting to publish it until I found the perfect song for it, and finally, at long last, I have the perfect song to go along with this chapter! I know this chapter, and probably the next chapter or so, may seem a bit slow, but don't worry, the action is most certainly picking up!
Thanks to SpeedDemon315 for her review! Hope the rest of you haven't given up hope on me!
Disclaimer: Don't own Underworld. Don't have nearly enough cash to buy the rights to it.
"It is your new best friend, new eye in your private den
And you can find the world inside it every day
They know what you did today, hear everything you say
And when they send you mail,
they know where you will go sometime next day
They know your life, they have a file about you
They built your life, so they...
Know what you like and know what you yearn
but they don't know a thing about me
I'm not that easy, I'm blank file in their memory."
-"Blank File" by Sonata Arctica
Chapter Thirteen: The Foreign Correspondent
With a tender smile, Adalaida laid the golden-haired toddler, now sleeping peacefully, in the crib that had been provided for him, pulling up the blanket and tucking it under his chin.
"There. Nice and cozy," she whispered.
Though she certainly did enjoy watching over the boy while his parents had been busy during the ceremony, and was grateful he hadn't put up much fuss at being put to bed, she couldn't help but sigh. There was a party going on downstairs, and she was missing it!
But she didn't dare leave her post. Mr. and Mrs. Van Helsing had been very specific that she was to stay with Michael until they returned.
Just then, her friend and fellow maid, Ilona, poked her head into the open doorway. Her twinkling eyes and merry expression suggested she was in a very good mood, while slightly flushed cheeks and the strands of raven hair escaping the bun her hair was piled in suggested some indulgence on her behalf.
"What are you doing skulking around up here?" she asked with a giggle. "Josef found some peasant men sneaking about the manor, invited them in, and gave them plenty of wine." She licked her lips with a loud slurping noise. "Their blood is most delicious!"
Adalaida frowned. "I thought Lord Viktor forbade us from drinking human blood."
Ilona brushed aside her friend's concerns with a wave of her hand. "What he don't know won't hurt him. Those boys are far too drunk to remember any of this, and none of us are going to say anything."
"I can't. I have to watch the Van Helsings' son."
The maid stumbled in, peering into Michael's crib, observing the sleeping boy for a moment. "Awww, he's sound asleep—he's not going to miss you!"
Ilona grinned deviously. "Dmitri's there, too!"
The maid perked instantly. "Dmitri? Really?"
"And he wants to see you!"
The blonde maid paused, weighing her options carefully. She'd had her eyes on Dmitri, the newly-turned night stableman, for nearly three months now, but for the most part, he didn't appear to even know she existed. Now, he was asking to see her—it was an opportunity not to be passed up!
But at the same time, the Van Helsings had made her promise that she wouldn't leave Michael unsupervised. And she hadn't cared much for the dark gleam in Mr. Van Helsing's eyes when he warned her that there would be severe repercussions if he heard she had shirked her duties.
If I'm only gone for a few minutes, though, she reasoned inwardly, nothing will happen. I'll come back and he'll still be asleep! No one will know! It's only for a bit.
"All right," she agreed. "I'll pop down for a moment or two."
Tucked in the shadows that shrouded the narrow side hallway, Kraven watched as both maids scurried out of the room occupied by the Van Helsing family, giggling and chatting as they did. With a sly smile, he made his way out into the hall, casting a glance over his shoulder and making sure no one had followed him, before disappearing into their room.
As with all the other guest rooms (particularly the ones for important guests, such as dignitaries from other covens, or human nobles) it was richly furnished; the rich mahogany that made up the four-poster bed alone would have cost a small fortune. The bed covers were made of silk, while rich damask hangings covered the windows and surrounded the bed.
What struck the regent was how clean it was. Both their trunks sat in a corner, perfectly out of the way; not a single article of clothing littered the floor, or hung out of a dresser drawer. There was a small stack of papers on the desk, but they were tidily stacked, with a quill resting in an inkwell next to them, and a fresh tallow candle in a holder on the corner. The covers on the bed had been pulled back up, the pillows tidily arranged. In fact, if not for the trunks in the corner, and the crib at the foot of the bed, no one would have been able to tell that anyone was occupying the room.
He closed the door behind him, wincing at the slight thud as the door shut, and the click of the latch, half-wondering if someone was going to suddenly burst out of some hiding spot and catch him in the act of snooping. But after a moment passed, and no one jumped out from anywhere, he released the breath he had unintentionally been holding, ready to get to work. Lucian had demanded answers about the peculiar family, and to Kraven, this seemed as good a way as any to get information about them.
After all, he mused, what better way to learn about a person than by the state and content of their belongings?
He peered warily into the crib, finding Michael fast asleep within it, a wooden soldier clutched loosely against his chest, his thumb in his mouth. This made the regent grimace—he had hoped to be completely alone, and not have to worry about waking the child up.
"I guess beggars can't be choosers," he groused softly, storming away from the crib in order to start his search. "That brat best stay asleep."
He opened the door to the wardrobe, finding a few nice dresses hung up in the space, all of them in darker, more sophisticated colors: burgundy, hunter green, sapphire blue, and black. There were also several nice tunics and breeches that clearly belonged to Edward. It didn't tell him anything he hadn't already figured out, however—clearly, the Van Helsings were socialites that traveled quite a bit, and weren't wanting for money.
What he found in the drawers of the dressers surprised him a bit, though. They were packed full of tunics and breeches, but of a courser quality than the ones in the wardrobe. They were also very small, far too small to possibly fit Edward. This left Kraven puzzled; when he stumbled across no dresses, but several corsets and bodices of tooled black leather, the pieces finally fit together in his mind. Apparently, when Catherine did not have to dress up, she preferred to wear pants, like a man.
"Hm," he mused to himself, placing the corset he had picked up back into the drawer, closing it, and opening another…
…Only to find this one hiding several silken pieces of clothing, in the same colors as the dresses in the wardrobe. He picked one up, and as he did, the wadded material, propelled by gravity, smoothed out, revealing itself to be an extremely short dress, scarlet in color and trimmed with black lace.
Kraven knew exactly what purpose this dress served. In his mortal lifetime, all those years ago, he had found himself stationed in the East, near the Holy Lands, trying to reclaim those sacred places for the Christians during the great Crusades. But, when not fighting, a few of his fellow soldiers had introduced him to the pleasures that could be found in the harems: The dozens of women, clad in scandalous dresses, their dark hair left wild and unbound, golden bands wound around their caramel limbs.
And now, staring at the little dress and imagining the fierce little firebrand that was Catherine in it, Kraven found himself overcome with the same lust he had felt while in the harems of the Eastern lands.
Focus. We have a plan we're trying to accomplish here. Please, let your brain be the organ in charge.
It was Lucian's exasperated comment from their last meeting ringing in his skull that brought him out of his reverie. With a sigh, he dropped the dress back into the drawer and closed it. Ten minutes later, he had searched the rest of the room—but there was nothing that could give him any hints as to the personal lives of Edward and Catherine Van Helsing (except for the drawer of scanty dresses). With a frustrated sigh, he sat down heavily on the bed.
Something crinkled when he did.
Confused—and curious—Kraven immediately stood up and knelt next to the bed, lifting the thick duvet and digging his hand under the mattress. His fingers found sheets of parchment tucked down there, along with what felt like several envelopes. Realizing he may have struck gold, he lifted the mattress and pulled out the pile of papers he found, before standing up, clutching them tightly to his chest.
The pile of papers appeared to be comprised of two things: notes, which were gathered in one bundle, and letters, most of which were haphazardly stuffed into their envelopes. The papers were filled with a crowded, slightly untidy handwriting, all numbered and dated—a series of notes, much like the ones he'd seen Tanis take at meetings and other significant events. On the letters, he found handwriting as fluid and smooth as silk, along with a strange emblem: a crucifix, with two swords crossed before it. The cross itself was flanked by a pair of black wings. Now highly intrigued, Kraven pulled a letter out of an envelope and began to read.
Mrs. Van Helsing,
We beg your indulgence—we're aware you just returned from a dangerous assignment, and we promised you a rest period, with which you could spend time with your husband and son. We need you, however, to complete another assignment for us.
There is a shadow war raging in the Carpathian regions of Hungary and Romania, between the Ordoghaz vampire coven, headed by Lord Viktor of Moldova, and a pack of lycans over the Romanian border, lead by an unknown alpha male. There are humans involved on both sides, and more humans in that area are starting to become aware of this struggle.
We have arranged records naming yourself and your husband as prominent vampiric figures in Western Europe, and Lord Viktor has expressed an interest in having you two as diplomats for his coven. He wishes to bring you to his coven's location, outside of the cities of Buda-Pest. While you are there, look into this war, particularly its causes. If at all possible, find a way to end it. If too many humans learn of this war, it could spell the end of us all.
Kraven lowered the letter, frowning, practically bubbling over with suspicion. Catherine and Edward weren't the prominent, albeit coven-less and slightly rogue, vampires Viktor thought them to be.
Hell, they may not even be vampires! He mused. This Malachi fellow makes them sound as if they're not vampires at all!
What exactly did this Malachi send into our coven?
He folded the letter, before tucking it into the folds of the sash, studded with various metals praising his deeds, slung across his chest. He then turned his attention to the bundle of loose papers that appeared to be notes, picking them up and beginning to rifle through them.
The notes were disjointed, mostly quick, scribbled thoughts and observations. Sometimes, even smaller notes were jotted in the margins, and they weren't always in a language he could understand. Whoever wrote the notes was clearly very skilled with languages—he picked up on four or five different ones in there; he recognized the segments in English, Hungarian, and Latin, but the other ones he saw, he couldn't distinguish.
Well, one thing's true, at least—one or both of them travels often.
As Kraven scanned through the notes, he spotted many familiar names: Viktor, Tanis, Selene, Kahn, and even Lucian. But when he spotted his own name (misspelled as 'Craven') in a report dated only a few weeks back, he stopped browsing and started reading:
Found book in library about L. Pages missing. Passages inked over. Passages smeared beyond reading.
Someone is hiding something.
Spoke to T about rise and fall of L. Asked about L's death. T's answer doesn't match Craven's (or is it Kraven?)
One is hiding something.
Barely suppressing a hiss, Kraven's fists tightened, crumpling the parchment in his hands. Tanis! I knew that sniveling weasel would run his mouth! I told Viktor that he would put everything in jeopardy! If he doesn't want all his carefully-laid deceptions ruined, he needs to throw that conniving little bastard out!
The regent stiffened at the sound of the voice, quickly ducking down next to the bed, spilling Catherine's papers all over the floor as he did. He wasn't sure how, but somehow, Michael had woken up. He knew that meant it was time to leave.
Peering around the bed, he spotted the blonde toddled standing in the middle of the room, peering about as though searching for someone. The wooden soldier was clutching tightly against his chest, and his messy hair was even more tousled from sleep.
Before he could duck back behind the bed, Michael turned around, and his large sapphire eyes fell on Kraven. At first, his expression was joyful, but after a moment, his smile faded, and he frowned.
"You no Tati!" he declared, pointing on small finger at the vampire.
"Ssh!" he hissed furiously.
"I want Tati!"
"Hush, you mewling brat!"
Michael's little face screwed up, turning bright red. "I…want…Tati!"
He opened his mouth, as if he was going to scream, and Kraven, fearing he would, sprinted out of the room. As soon as he was gone, the young boy closed his mouth, his face untwisting into a pleased expression. He even clapped his hands.
"Bad man go bye-bye!" he cooed, before plopping down in the middle of the floor, content to play with his soldier.
He had only been playing for a few minutes when Adalaida stumbled back in, the bun her hair was piled in mussed, mild panic on her face. That melted away when she spotted Michael sitting on the floor, playing quietly.
"Now, how did you get out of your crib?" she asked, shaking her head. She made her way towards the boy, who held out his arms to her; she lifted him up, settling him on her hip.
"I thought he was asleep."
The maid spun around, clutching the boy close to her chest, fangs bared in her startled state. Much to her relief, however, it was only Catherine who stood in the doorway. Her husband stood behind her, arms crossed over his chest.
"He was, Mr. Van Helsing," she replied, a bit nervous, hoping she wouldn't be caught in a lie. "But he woke up a few minutes ago."
Catherine shook her head, grinning indulgently at her son. "That's my boy—doesn't want to sleep, always has to be up and involved. Isn't that right, Michael?"
He nodded, giggling softly, before reaching for his mother. She approached Adalaida and took her son into her arms.
"Thank you for watching him. We really appreciate it."
"It was no trouble," she insisted, inching towards the door. "Good day to you both. Rest well!"
She quickly slipped out of the room, thankful that neither of them had questioned her nervous manner nor her disheveled appearance. Edward shook his head at her odd behavior, before closing the door to their room.
"That was a nice little party, wasn't it?" Catherine asked, setting Michael down on the bed and making her way towards her trunk.
"It was," Edward agreed, lifting the sash he wore from around his neck. "What made it better was the fact that Kraven wasn't around."
Catherine laughed at her husband's statement. "I couldn't agree—"
She stopped short, however, when she rounded the corner of the bed. The floor before her was littered with papers—papers she knew had been carefully tucked away before she left.
"Gel?" Edward asked, pausing in the process of removing his tunic. "What's wrong?"
"My notes…they're all over…and my letters…they're gone…" She turned her head, looking at Michael, who peered back at her with wide eyes. "Michael, did you move Mamica's papers?"
He shook his head. "Nuh-uh! I no touch, Mamica! I pwomise!"
"I didn't think so." She knelt, beginning to gather the papers, shaking her head. "Adalaida might have found them, but why would she scatter them all over the place?"
She picked up another piece of paper, but as she did so, she caught a scent—a familiar scent, one that spoke of overindulgence in blood and a taste for expensive cologne, likely imported all the way from France.
"Are you on to something?" Edward asked, kneeling next to her.
"I think I know why Kraven wasn't at the party."
A/N: As a note to anyone who's wondering, tati is a Romanian word that translates to "papa" or "daddy". Mamica, you can probably figure out...