He woke cold and empty. The background murmur of his Brides, which ran a constant and comforting background in his life, was silent. The joy he had taken in his newest fledgling, the pride and anticipation, were ashes. And his Mina, oh, his Mina, that betrayal broke what was left of his heart into jagged glass to pierce his soul.
He was dimly aware of his surroundings but they were meaningless to the great loss that was his existence. There was earth, and blood (blood? His? Whose?), and the sharp tang of broken wood. The sun burned him, but the heat and pain were a background to the agony inside. Alone, alone, alone again, with no anchor, no guide, and the weight of centuries warping and twisting his mind. Had it been minutes, hours, decades of this? The pain was unending, unlimited, unmarked, meaningless, and his mind struggled to stay afloat in a vast, swelling sea of torment that pulled him down, tempting him into the peace of utter madness.
The pain of the sun eased and ceased, the tiniest respite against the pure hell of his existence, and in that easement he pulled himself together to the very limited edges of his ability. Awareness beckoned, and, confused, he lay quietly, fighting to determine what had triggered this struggle to painful bleak waking.
Smoke. The scent of smoke upon the air, and the rumble of men's voices. His eyes shot open, seeing trampled earth (his earth? His coffin?) and a field of stars, and…and no one. But not alone. Men were near, salvation, food and comfort and an end to the consuming bitter loneliness that nibbled at the edges of his sanity, that waited eagerly to take him entirely in one great destroying gulp.
His body jerked, a head-to-toe attempt to fling himself towards the voices, and he forced calm upon himself. It would not do to waste what little energy he had to reach the men (the MEN!!!) and find himself too exhausted to move after futile struggling! Patience, patience hard-earned over centuries, forced him into stillness as he fought to master the urge to fling himself bodily towards the voices. First and foremost, what condition was he in?
Memories flooded him. The knives, flashing red already in the fire of the setting sun and then falling out of sight as they fell into him. The vision dissolved into grey fog, what had happened? The pain had ended, his corporeal form too damaged to keep his soul attached and aware, he must have drifted asleep as it reformed. How had he been so damaged? Memories flooded him, but this time, the flood was a raging torrent that grasped his mind and tumbled him mercilessly, slamming him into visions of a maddened Lucy lost in Hunger, the cold betraying stare of Mina, the mercifully brief screams of panic and utter shock as his Brides, his family, perished, and the men flinging themselves upon him like maddened dogs upon a cat, with their flashing red blades. And he knew, painfully, whose voices those were. The murderers of his family, the ones that stripped Mina from him, the ones that had thrown him into the maelstrom of loss and madness, waited nearby.
The drive to discover his condition became a desperate race, for although they had missed his reformation sometime in the day, this would not, could not, continue indefinitely. Pain raced along his arms, but they moved, they twitched, the ash that had come to make his body had made his arms whole. Weak, so weak, unable to do more than twitch, but oh, they moved! His legs? Had fate seen fit to restore function to them?
Shifting his right leg gave him the immediate answer to that. The pain shot up, racing from his shin and joining with the pain of his soul in an almost overwhelming shock that threatened to force him into madness as relief. Men, men, men were nearby, and the knowledge gave him the ability to cling tenaciously to his self and sanity. The loneliness, the pain, it could end, but he had to reach the men! He could seen, hear, smell, his senses undamaged, he had two working arms, and while his right leg was clearly damaged (in his mind, the coffin lid slid treacherously and ponderously from the tipped coffin, breaking free and tumbling, arching towards his leg as the knives arched in synchrony to take him).
Rolling to his stomach, yes, he could crawl to them, his arms could pull him along (how? He shook with hunger, with weakness, but the NEED was so great!) and he shifted to roll. The pain burst up from his chest, throwing him into a sea of red agony, flashes screaming in front of his eyes. He gasped, or tried, and the pain consumed him, flinging him into nothingness no matter how he flailed to stay, to remain.
His eyes opened again. It was still night, although the moon (had he seen the moon before? He must have.) had shifted, had continued its relentless course as he found his body, refused the insanity, kept his hope. But the voices, no matter how he tried, the voices were gone. Insanity clambered gleefully towards his mind but his own voice shouted them down, declaring that it was night, that men slept, that sleeping men did not talk, and that hope remained.
Men that he could not reach, but that did not cause despair to take him, their presence was hope and hope transformed to determination to make that possibility into his reality. Movement, walking or crawling to them, was not possible, no. The leg would have slowed him down, but clearly there was some immense injury in his chest stopping him entirely. His body had reformed as it could, but not all injuries could be smoothed away. Perhaps the knife was still there, or the injuries simply too severe, but the end result was that his body was anchored to the ground as unrelentingly as the mountains.
An attempt to cry out, to call to the men, to call Dr. Hellsing by name, call with his characteristic smooth and cultured voice and lure the doctor to his side, to the place of his despair and hope, was thwarted. Thwarted by another round of ripping pain that protested the movement of crushed ribs and the sliding of torn muscles in his attempt to call out. His proud, calm summons came out a twisted dim whimper and even that left him staring blankly at the sky.
Abraham was restless, and had volunteered for the first watch. Their great adversary might have been defeated, but a more mundane band of bandits or pack of wolves was perfectly capable of defeating a handful of exhausted men and a woman. One day of rest did not cure exhaustion and assorted sprains and cuts, although poor Quincy was long past caring. Wolf packs had cried in the distance and the horses shifted nervously in response, an owl had hooted, and small animals with their nocturnal bustlings had broken the cold winter stillness at random moments. But this sound was none of the above. It was perhaps the cry of a small dying animal, but in it was also the whimpering of a wolf pup.
And it came from the direction of the wrecked wagon.
The sound might be nothing but shifting metal cooling in the night air, or it might be the only warning that the unusually brave wolf packs of the mountain were hunting his small party. Not taking his eyes from the wagon, Abraham moved quietly to Seward's side, gently shaking him awake. Seward woke instantly, only to find Abraham's hand covering his mouth and to see Abraham staring fixedly at the wreckage. When living on the edge of danger for so long, there comes a time when communication is instantaneous and wordless, and such a moment occurred as Seward checked his pistol and took over guarding the camp so that Abraham's inspection of the wreck did not leave his companions unguarded and asleep.
Abraham watched the wagon closely, expecting to see a gray shape slinking behind it, perhaps the brief gleam of green eyes hungrily watching the sleeping men, to see nothing. Only the wagon, tipped on its side, wheels motionless in the moonlight, harness traces lying like limp snakes sprawled impotently across the trampled snow. Whatever made the sound was concealed behind the wagon, perhaps waiting for the camp to return to slumber before striking. Caution decreed that a direct route to the wagon should be avoided, and Abraham set out to circle about the wagon, trusting in the alertness and sense of Seward to stop attacks from the sides.
Nothing was moving, nothing was stirring, no gray shapes, no tiny plumes of frozen breath from panting red jaws. Circling behind the wagon showed nothing. Only the sprawl of boxes and belongings from the wagon bed, clear and crisp in the night air. The great coffin itself, fallen to the ground, the massive lid tumbled to the ground beside it, and lying in a dark spread under the moonlight, the dry black earth the coffin had contained. Its dark expanse was broken by the shining white countenance of the Count himself.
The shock of seeing his adversary returned held Abraham rooted to the ground for a minute, and the look on his face brought Seward to his side. Both stared silently at the scene. Clearly, the Count was the worse for his experiences. Bone shone whitely through the torn remnants of his once-fine pants and the odd lumpiness of his chest bespoke shattered bones and crushed viscerae. His face alone seemed undamaged, with the same fine sharp planes and somehow delicately rough features, but Abraham noticed with a jarring revelation that the gleaming red eyes of the Count remained open, staring in sightless shock at the stars above.
He had been watching the Count, in shock and fear and rage, and all the long heartbeats he stood, the Count had not moved. And the sound, the cry he had heard, had it been the Count stirring? Or had the Count already taken some small creature as his victim, had preyed already that night? This vicious, unkillable beast that had taken the life of Lucy, nearly destroyed the sanity of both Harkers, and had hunted and preyed its vicious way across Europe to England lay before him, lay in an obscene refusal to die, to begone, to fall to Man. It was with a bleak sort of grief that Abraham realized that it was entirely possible that the sound he heard was simply the Count's beginning of a new game, a new torture for them, and was meant to pull them out and place them at a disadvantage. The child-mind of the Count would find them a delicious game and at the end a delicious meal, were this the case. And the monster lay sprawled only a handful of steps beyond where he and Seward stood staring.