Ninjallerina's Note: This marks my first foray into the Van Helsingdom. I appreciate reviews, critiques, and feedback of any sort.
Any readers of "Of Beating, Bleeding, and Broken Hearts" that may have followed me here...I apologize for not updating! This project and a few others have hijacked the scant time I have. Please check my profile for status updates.
Last, but certainly not least, I'd like to deliver a special shout-out of gratitude to my beta, Morvana Du'Miruvor.
In the Serpent's Nest
He appears silently, like an owl swooping down upon a mouse that knows it is in peril, but is unable to pinpoint the direction that the danger stems from. Anna knows that deep in his stronghold that she is in danger. Her allies and friends are far from her and the last of her family is dead. That she has woken in a standing position, clothed in a flattering, if unfamiliar, dress with no memory as to how it came to be on her, screams a warning of her captor's intentions.
He stands before her, cruelly elegant and refined as always. The demon hides within the man.
"Good evening, Anna," he says, mimicking a perfect gentleman. "You look lovely." He takes one gloved hand and kisses it. She tries to snatch it from him, but her arm does not obey. Even through the material, Anna can feel his glacial breath. He rises and takes a step back.
These are the first moments she has been conscious of in far too long. Her last memories consist of a terrifying flight to a palace, Aleera shifting back to a human form, a feeble attempt to fight her, and a flash of black. There is void in her mind after that moment. Her body is not yet obeying her, but she hopes it will shortly follow her mind.
"I apologize for the late nature of this call, but I am sure you will understand that no other time would do," he says in a mockery of courtship ritual.
She is now aware enough to know they are in an elaborately furnished bedchamber. A few torches burn softly in their sconces, making the room's creams and golds almost inviting. Almost. Nothing can make being alone and unarmed in the presence of her sworn enemy a welcome experience. He stands before her, silhouette black in the arch of the midnight blue visible from the nighttime sky. She doesn't like the way his eyes glitter in the flamelight, as if lit by cold fires of their own. They make her feel small, helpless. Like prey.
"You are free to speak now," he says, with only a touch of scorn.
Like a hunted creature, she instinctively seeks avenues of escape. He has already blocked any chance she has of throwing herself through the window. The door must be behind her, but it is unlikely that she could reach it before he recaptures her.
Sensation slinks back to her limbs and still he stands unmoving, watching. She is conscious of her breathing and self conscious of her heartbeat. The thought of herself as defenseless prey has sparked a maelstrom within her, despite encountering him before. There is something to be said for the effect of a dagger to give one confidence in the illusion of a chance at success.
Her carefully regulated breath coalesces in the air before her and Anna realizes the chill she feels is not solely from fear. The room is frigid.
The right side of her body is slightly warmer than her left. She does not risk taking her eyes off of him, but suspicions there is an infant fire in the grate. That surprises her. In her experience, Dracula never concerns himself with the comfort of his prisoners; he enjoys humans dead or bleeding. Unexplained gesture or not, it is insufficient to provide the warmth a human needs. Anna can only guess that he has been undead long enough to have forgotten such trivial matters.
She wants to ask him why he is making this pretense of politeness, but she is shivering and will not afford him the victory of hearing her stutter. Her dignity is all she has now and she will not give that away so carelessly.
He moves towards her, unfastening his coat as he crosses the floor. He possesses the fluid, unhurried grace of a serpent. Stories she has heard of vipers paralyzing their prey come unbidden to mind. Looking into his unwavering eyes, she believes all of them. The coat comes off. The serpent has shed its skin. Her newly awoken mind makes the logical leap.
"I'll never give in to you, Count!" she hisses vehemently. "I'll not become one of your mindless whores!"
"I hope not, Princess." He is close enough that when he draws breath to speak, Anna can see her own frozen breath disappear into his unholy lips. "That's why I've chosen you," he replies mildly. His arms are around her in an inescapable flurry and she cannot even flinch at the unwanted contact. When he pulls away, his coat rests on her quaking shoulders.
This takes her aback for a moment. All her life, she has believed that he wants to kill her based on her blood. All her mature life, she has known turning her would be a lasting insult to her family's mission. With Velken in his thrall, her turning would be the final insult. The last Valerious subjugated to the whims and desires of he who they swore to destroy. Being his flesh slave would be the ultimate humiliation and she would exist forever knowing she was the one to fail her family.
She cannot imagine that her capture would be any other reason.
He is silent for a moment. He looks away. For a split second, he is not directly threatening, but the residual danger of his intentions lingers on the air.
"They weren't always like this," he says quietly. Is that a hint of sadness she detects? "They used to be independent. Assertive. Unique. Intelligent."
"Until you twisted their minds and broke their spirit! I remember what Aleera was like," she spits angrily. Anger fills her, leaving no room for fear. "All kind and full of courage. Vivacious and free thinking! And then you came and took and changed her! She was never the same."
"I know. The woman I courted was gone."
Taking in Anna's horrified countenance, he continues, "I take it you didn't suspicion we were courting."
"You lie! She would never have stood to have you near her."
"Anna," he says with a little shake of his head, a human gesture she has never seen from him before, and likely put on now for her benefit, "is it so hard to believe that she would accept the presence of a handsome creature, like myself?"
"When he is the son of the Devil, yes." But she isn't so sure. Aleera had always been a bit of a coquette when she was human. Anna had wondered why she had stopped flirting in the weeks prior to her abduction, but she had checked it off to Aleera finally maturing. To find out it was because she had fallen in with this monster…
"She trusted you and you changed her!"
"I turned her into something eternal, yes, but it was not I who changed her personality. That was the blood's doing."
He looks at her to see if she understands. "It was the blood's fault. It happened with each of them. They went to death as the selves I had admired, unique personalities intact until their last breath. When they entered undeath, it was without will, save my own." He watches her, perhaps to see if she believes him, perhaps simply to emphasize his interest. "It was childlike, their search for approval. Verona had just recently grown nerve enough to oppose me again." There is a trace of a smile at the memory, but it is gone in an instant. "And then you killed her," he concludes darkly.
Anna doesn't know what to say. She wants to antagonize him, to spur him into killing her completely, to prevent the monstrous parody of life his powers allow him to bestow. This side of him is foreign to her, this monster masquerading feelings to the point that she almost believes that he cared for them. He might even believe himself. If that is the case, there is no telling how he will react. Clearly, he is not happy with the loss of Verona and just as clearly holds her responsible. He has not harmed her yet, which means that his rage is controllable.
"You destroyed decades of unlife, decades of growth, in a moment. But why was that necessary? Why was there a regression of identity to begin with?"
"I have had an abundance of time to ponder this. Why is it three resilient women lost their wills when they made the Change? What did they have in common?"
Despite herself, Anna finds that she, too, is curious. Is there the slightest possibility she might remain herself after he has turned her into a monster? Will she be a Valerious enough to plot against him, to kill him when she is a creature of the night?
"I believe I have an answer; they loved me. Each of them trusted me to guide them through the Change when I easily might have slain them. Whether I am correct remains to be seen." When he smiles, it is full of menace. "You, on the other hand, have no reason to trust me." Anna takes an involuntary step backwards and rejoices in her body's freedom even as she knows there is no escape.
Dracula advances a step, reestablishing their relative positions. "Which brings me to why I have brought you here; you do not love me. I think it fair to say that you hate me, even if you might find my form desirable."
Anna says nothing, captivated in the flow of his words. Oblivion encroaches on her growing terror. He will turn her and she will either become one of his vapid whores or be his successful experiment. It is his victory either way. She's losing herself again. She fights for awareness.
"What if you are right?" she breathes. "What if I retain my hatred of you? I will not rest until you are dead." It is her last feeble attempt to incite a final death.
"Then I will have someone to oppose me," he says with his predatory smile. "It will be entertaining." He steals another step towards her and embraces her, gelid hands snaking under his own jacket. Anna tries to push him away, but already her limbs are growing heavy and her head is becoming foggy. "And I am sure, given time, you will grow to be fond of me," he breathes in her ear.
He pulls away. "As for now, Princess, the masque is to take place in a few short hours and there are some final preparations to be attended to. Once they are complete, I will return for you. For now, my Princess, I take my leave." He vanishes as silently as he appeared.
Anna is too far gone to take notice of his departure or the tears slipping down her cheeks onto the lapels of his coat.