It was her dear friend Helen, ignoring the enraged shouts that followed her as she charged headlong through even the smallest, most precarious gaps between carriages. The slightly younger girl skipped to a stop in front of her, head bowed. "I'm so sorry I wasn't able to come to the funeral."
Wil accepted her friend's apology in silence, her expression solemn. Soon enough, her melancholy slid away as water would from a roof, and she laughed merrily as she placed a hand upon Helen's shoulder. "Lets not talk about that today, darling. All this grief is very wearisome, don't you think? I miss Mother terribly, of course, but it would surely make her miserable to look down from heaven only to see me wasting away. Her soul is with God, not in that cold corpse that rots beneath the ground, a fine meal for worms… Oh! That's simply terrible. Let's not speak or even think of it, dear Helen. Pray do tell, what is it I've been hearing about a young gentleman from France?"
Helen shook her head, her expression exasperated. "I should have expected something like this… Very well; his name's Nicolas and I met him at one of Father's dinner parties. He was perfectly charming, so when he invited me to dinner in the city I accepted right away. We've been out together several times since, and I hope very much that he will propose to me. I'll make you my maid of honour, of course, if you'll accept."
"Of course I will! I hope it goes well for you. You know, something quite extraordinary happened to me yesterday."
"Oh? And what was that?"
"I met Father! At last, after so many years…"
"Oh Wil, that's wonderful! Tell me all about it."
And Wil did just that, although she omitted the parts about vampires. Even if it was not dismissed as the ranting of a madman, she was sure that Father would not want her to jeopardise Mina in such a way. Mina… Wil froze as she remembered that that had been the name of the woman in her dream.
She obstinately banished all such thoughts, however, and the two of them laughed as they stepped through a shop door. The bell tinkled, mirroring the gaiety of their demeanours as Helen teased Wil good-naturedly about the flock of men who seemed to have their eyes on her. "I'm sure you'll get many, many proposals all at once, any day now," the younger woman giggled.
Wil involuntarily shuddered. For some reason, she never seemed quite able to trust the idea of either a fiancé or a husband. Perhaps she had been betrayed by her betrothed in a past life, she thought jestingly. Perhaps he had even killed her.
She greeted Father cheerfully when she returned to the house. He seemed surprised by her mood, but she waved it away, saying that she was quite done with dwelling in the past when the future was so precious and all-to-short. This sentiment evidently pleased him, for a certain spark of liveliness appeared that had been previously absent, and they chattered frivolously for several hours hence. Then Wil said casually, "I would very much like to see a picture of Mina, if you have one."
He did have one – a faded photograph in a small oval frame. Wil stepped back upon seeing it, for it was the exact image, down to the last detail, of the woman from her dream.
"Wil? Are you alright?"
"Y-yes. It's just… nothing."
Father frowned. "It's not nothing," he said with certainty. "I've told you my story. Will you not tell me this one thing?"
"I saw her in a dream," she muttered, looking down with a blush. "Only last night, and I'd most certainly never seen her or her image before then. I just thought it odd, that's all."
Father frowned in a way that made Wil grateful that she had not disclosed the peculiar nature of her dream. The moment passed, and he laughed as a good-natured smile formed on his face. "It seems, darling, that you are full of mysteries. I must remember in my old age that that's not necessarily a bad thing. The devil has plagued me but that doesn't mean that angels do not walk among us also."
She smiled insecurely and decided that she would not mention the vision she had received of Wil Harker the vampire. "I want to go to Romania," she said compulsively, and did not back down when Father gave her a look of surprise and disapproval. It was just as he himself had said – she was full of mysteries, and she somehow felt that answers awaited her in the Carpathians. "I've heard that it's very picturesque," she told him plaintively. "Please don't begrudge me this."
"Well, it isn't ugly, but there are many places prettier," he said, not quite meeting her gaze. "Why not go to Italy? There is a city there where instead of carriages and roads one travels on boats in canals. And Rome is truly majestic…"
"No," Wil interrupted with a vehement shake of her head. "It has to be Romania. It just has to be."
Father raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips, his countenance one of suspicion.
"The… mountains," Wil hastily continued. "Yes, the mountains. Italy doesn't have mountains like Romania's. I must see those beautiful, wild mountains."
"The Alps are just as fine…"
"That's not the same. The Carpathians contain such unstained wilderness. It has to be them."
"They're not unstained, Wilhelmina. Far from it."
"You know what I mean. And don't call me Wilhelmina!"
At the end of an ongoing, weeklong argument, it was decided that Wil would go to Romania, but not alone. She had mixed feelings about the latter. The extra time to bond with Father would be nice, but she did hope that the trip would not be ruined by his extreme wariness bordering on paranoia.
"You're going to Romania?" Helen pouted when she heard the news. "But why? It's so far away. If you go running off to strange, far-away places like this you'll never be home in time for my wedding."
"You're not even engaged yet," Wil protested, laughing. "I'm not making a career of travelling. I'll be back before you know it."
She dreamed again the night before her departure. This time she was an aristocrat in a lavish parlour where she flitted among a flock of suitors; three good, handsome men. Far from her customary revulsion and vague, inexplicable fear at such a situation, she flirted shamelessly with every one of them. But her eyes were not for them, not really. She smiled cheekily and winked at the gorgeous brunette standing in the corner of the room. The brunette smiled back, and then schooled her expression into one of stern disapproval. But the aristocrat could see the laughter that lingered in the other's eyes, and it made her happy. She would marry one of these manly suitors as was expected, and her friend would marry her own fiancé, but they would always place the most value upon each other.
Everything changed. Now she lay helpless in her resting place, her… coffin? Her chosen fiancé placed the tip of a wooden stake over her heart, and then down swung the hammer.
She awoke with a scream and the brunette's face in her mind, a last comfort. Several seconds passed before she remembered who and where she was, and one of her first thoughts, before I'm grateful I'm not dead after all, was; Mina again.
Why did a woman she had never met keep on appearing in her dreams? At least I wasn't kissing her this time. Why did that make her feel… disappointed?
Helen was there to see her off at the harbour with a young gentleman garbed in Parisian fashion by her side. "Wil, this is Nicolas. Nicolas, Wil."
Nicolas took Wil's hand in his and brushed his lips against her fingertips. "It's an honour, Miss Harker. I've heard quite a bit about you from Helen."
"I've… heard a bit about you as well," she replied, fidgeting somewhat uncomfortably. She was not sure why, but something about this man induced wary caution within her.
"Good things, I hope," he said with a charming smile.
"Yes… very good."
Helen blushed. Wil excused herself as soon as she was able, hurrying to join Father on the ship. She waved to Helen and Nicolas as the ship departed, desisting only when they had become mere dots on the horizon. To think, I'm actually going to Romania. I wonder if I'll meet Mina there. A small thrill tingled down her spine at the thought, and she determined that she would not mention any such thoughts to Father.
A mere day later, that was the last thing on her mind. They had been caught in a storm that sent waves broiling and clashing beneath them, tossing the boat this way and that in a manner significantly more unpredictable than a seesaw. Nausea resulted; she lay staring blankly at the ceiling, trembling and gritting her teeth with pause only to vomit over the side of her bed. To further complicate matters, she developed a minor fever shortly thereafter.
The fever was running the late stages of its course by the time she gained enough of a sailor's sea-legs to walk shakily about the dock as the ship cut through now-calm waters, and to think of anything beyond the overwhelming urge to empty her stomach of every last nutrient contained therein. She soon found this to be more a curse than a blessing, however, for the reality of Mother's demise finally caught up with her.
Mother was dead, gone forever. Wil would never be able to talk to her again. Mother was never, ever coming back.
She had known this, of course, but it had never really sunken in until now. She had been in shock, in denial, without ever realising it, and now she was paying the price for ever believing that she simply had a gracious, accepting attitude towards the Grim Reaper's embrace. Father noticed that something was wrong, and like a good parent expressed concern and tried to help, but she found herself unable to respond favourably. She fended him off with cruel, cutting comments. "Stop acting like my Father when you've never been there before," she screamed. She knew that he had never wanted to be parted from her, but she could not help herself. She found herself unable to really care when she saw his involuntary tears before he turned away, and she loathed herself for it.
Worse than any of this, however, was when she realised that she was unable to cry. Miserable, full of emptiness and unpredictable emotions both at once, her eyes remained as dry as the Sahara. It was as though her tear ducts had been emptied during the time she spent observing the unstoppable decay of Mother's health. The tears had disappeared sometime during Mother's bed bound last months, she realised, when she had blinked them away and put on a brave face for the by-then emaciated woman.
She had recovered somewhat by the time they walked once again on land, the overwhelming grief mellowing into an ever-present yet dull ache. A certain, slightly cold distance was maintained between father and daughter nonetheless. That first evening on the train Wil watched the sunset through a window, and basked under its crimson glow that made her and the world appear stained by blood. She could not suppress a smile at the irony.
It was not so funny the following morning, when a powder-pale corpse was discovered a few compartments down. The man had, a travelling doctor concluded, been drained of his blood. A rigorous search upturned not one spilt drop.
The same thing happened the next morning, and the next, and the next. The train did not stop, not even where it was scheduled. The conductor's compartment was bolted and locked. Several attempted to force the door, but to no avail.
The irony of that evening sky increased one hundred fold but Wil did not smile. Nothing was funny when stuck in a mobile death trap.