A/N: Okay, I know I promised I'd have this up between the last chapter I published of Intrusive Dusk and New Years. And it's now February and I'm just getting it up. Bite me. I did get around to it, at the very least.
Thank you to SpeedDemon315 and GuenVanHelsing for reviewing the last chapter of Intrusive Dusk-you guys are great!
Disclaimer: Don't own Van Helsing. Own...everyone else. Wait, except Carl. Still don't own that peculiar little friar.
Chapter One: Falling Embers
The hooves of the horse thundered against the worn dirt path snaking through the trees, a sound as steady as a war drum but at twice the pace.
Her heart was beating just that fast, if not faster, as she urged the horse onward, towards her destination. The wind tore her hood from her head, whipped at the loose tunic and breeches that were several sizes too large for her. But still, she pressed onward, a spark of determination in her sapphire eyes.
At long last, the trees thinned, then disappeared completely, the forest becoming a vast plain instead. Not too far down the road stood a barn, with a small hut was nestled next to it. The wind, which had died to a breeze, rustled stalks of grain that grew in the field. Cows lazily munched on grass in a nearby pasture, completing the picturesque scene.
Another surge of adrenaline shot through her, pumping giddiness and recklessness into her veins. She urged her horse faster, towards the barn. On a nice day such as this one, she knew he would be out there, tending to the usual chores of the farm-and waiting for her.
At the barn door, she gave the reigns a sharp tug, bringing the stallion to a halt with a snort of protest. Stroking the charger's mane, she slid her feet out of the stirrups and swung one leg over the animal's back, placing her in a proper sidesaddle position. But her intent was not to stay that way-she slid to the ground, and as soon as her boots hit the dirt, she sprinted into the barn, stopping at the door. Taking a deep breath, she caught the scent of fresh hay, and couldn't help but grin at the man she found in there, hefting bales of hay up into the hayloft.
A man in the height of his prime, with a mane of black hair bound in tight curls. He wore a loose linen shirt, sleeves torn off to keep him cool, but also to expose muscles hardened from years of manual labor. His breeches hugged his strong legs, tucked into a pair of boots that came halfway up his calves.
She placed her hands on her hips and glanced up, grinning. "Well, are you going to stay up there all day or are you going to come down and greet me?"
Tipping backwards on the ladder, he glanced down and grinned back, his emerald eyes sparkling as they rested on her. "Forgive me, where are my manners?"
"That's better." She chuckled as he clambered down from the upper reaches of the barn, then took her in a strong-armed embrace. After a moment, she stretched up on her tiptoes, until she could brush her lips against his. He tasted of the salty sweat of a hard day's labor, of Romanian spring sunshine and fresh hay. She loved it.
"I take it you missed me, my little cat?" he inquired.
"Has that suddenly become a crime?" she retorted. "I miss you when I don't see you."
He brushed a wayward tendril of hair from her eyes. "I miss you too, Cătălina."
"How have things been going?"
"Quite well-I was just tidying up the barn a bit. Some spots need full-out repairs, but certainly nothing I cannot handle. And you?"
"Things have been well-very well." She grinned triumphantly. "I took down a full-grown werewolf last week."
"On your own?"
"Well, I'll be damned!" he exclaimed. "Very impressive! I'll bet that's gotten the message of 'don't trifle with Cătălina Van Helsing' out to the world loud and clear."
"At least amongst the werewolf community!" she agreed, plopping down on a bale of hay. Alexandru joined her, tilting his head back and watching dust motes float in the air, trapped in beams of sunlight that streamed through gaps in the barn's roof.
"Sure is lovely today," he commented.
"It really is," Cătălina agreed, leaning over and placing her head on his shoulder. "Spring in Romania is lovely, is it not?"
"Quite." He glanced to her. "Where else have you been in the spring?"
"I was once in Germany in the spring, when I was a young girl. It was a bit chilly, because we were farther north, but it was also very lovely. Father and Gabriel have been all the way out to England in the spring before!"
She nodded. "Indeed-they say it's quite chilly and wet there, particularly in the capital city, London."
Both of them chuckled softly, their eyes on the ceiling and watching particles of dust float about in the sun. After a while, their chuckles died out into silence, and, after a while longer, Cătălina turned her head to look at Alexandru.
"I have a request," she murmured.
"You do? What is it?"
"Can you…you know"-She paused.-"Do it?"
"It?" He mused for a moment, then, it hit him. "Oh! It!"
"Please?" she begged, folding her hands together. She widened her sapphire eyes, batting her lashes at him, looking to be the absolute picture of adorable innocence. A chuckle bubbled out of him.
"Of course." He raised his hand, murmuring a few words under his breath. A bluish flash of light glowed in his palm, which he tossed up into the air. It soared high into the rafters of the barn with a whistling noise, then exploded in a shower of sparks. More followed, until embers of light were practically raining from the ceiling. Cătălina laughed merrily, her eyes alight.
"It looks so lovely in here now-doesn't it?" she inquired, catching one of the falling sparks.
Alexandru nodded. "It certainly does."
She leaned in, placing a hand on his cheek before pressing her lips against his in a sweet kiss. He gently cradled the back of her head in his hands, nibbling lightly at her bottom lip, imploring for access to the inside of her mouth. She complied after a moment, and the passion of the kiss doubled as their tongues sought each other out. One of his hands slid down her back, coming to rest at the base of her spine; he used this to support her as he gently lowered her onto the bale of hay, hovering over her, bodies brushing against each other.
But that shared moment of passion came to an abrupt end as hands tore them apart, pulling Alexandru off from on top of her, as angry, terrified cries filled the air around them. Hands restrained Cătălina while others tied Alexandru's wrists tightly behind his back. Hands that had no qualms about slapping either of them if they struggled.
"Demon! Devil!" the townspeople cried, as they started fighting their way towards Alexandru, to abuse him somehow, whether by words or by physical blows. "Warlock! Incubus!"
"What's the meaning of this?!" Cătălina hollered, fighting against the hands older her, getting her hair pulled and her clothes ripped slightly for her troubles. "Let him go!"
"See? Already, he's bewitched this girl!" The crowd parted enough to allow a priest from the local church to squeeze through. The man's face and beefy neck were flushed a splotchy-shade of reddish-purple, and he clutched a rather thick Bible in one hand, waving it slightly as he spoke. "Do you want him to ensnare your daughters the way he's ensnared Domnişoară Van Helsing?"
"I'm not ensnared! I'm not bewitched!" she protested, squirming and writhing against the peasants that held her. A strong hand came down on her shoulder, holding her hard and fast, stilling most of her movements. Anger starting to rise, she turned to fight against her captor, only to find herself face-to-face with her elder brother, Gabriel. His handsome face was stoic, impassive, his hazel eyes serious as the grave.
"I think we should leave," he informed her. "Both of us. Now."
"I won't leave him here, at their mercy," she hissed.
His grip tightened on her shoulder. "I said now."
"And I said no!"
Before she could get another word in edgewise in, Gabriel removed his hand from her shoulder, grasped her waist, and hoisted her up over his shoulder like a sack of wheat. It was in this fashion that he started towards her the door of the barn; he hardly needed to push or shove through the crowds, he looked imposing enough that most people simply got out of his way. Cătălina pounded her fists against his back as he carried her out of the barn.
"Let me down! I said put me down! Damn it, Gabriel, put me down this instant!"
"No!" he finally snarled. "If you go back in there, they'll take you too; do horrible things to you to exorcise the demons they think possess you."
"So what am I supposed to do? Leave Alexandru to the mercy of the crowd and pray they don't rip him limb from limb?"
Gabriel didn't meet her eyes as he threw her across the back of his horse (her own horse was nowhere to be seen, probably had fled back to the family home in fright). Once she was on and had clambered halfway into a seated position, Gabriel mounted the horse, settling behind her.
The sacrifice poles hadn't been touched in nearly half a century now; the surge in both vampiric and lycanthropic populations had finally died off, and with the Van Helsing family living in the woods right outside the hamlet, as well as them actively patrolling and guarding the tiny village after dark, no creatures dared to come close to it.
But today, the poles would see action once more.
Still jeering, the unruly mob hauled Alexandru through the village, to the poles, which were just beyond the last hut. Five burly men stood there, four with ropes, the fifth bearing a lit torch. The torch-bearer hoisted the flaming light source in the air with a chilling cry.
"To the fire!"
"To the fire!" the crowd echoed, continuing to drag him towards the post. When they had finally backed him up against the sacrifice posts, the four men rushed him, hoisting him up over the logs that people had stacked at the base of the post to fuel the flames, wrapping the ropes around him until he could barely move. A man from the mob darted forward, dumping the contents of a bottle of whiskey over the wood and dead grass at the base of the post, providing the accelerant that would make the fire burn hotter-and higher, and splashing about half of it on the victim slated to die. The man with the torch approached, ready to set the flames to the wood and do the deed.
The cry was loud enough to carry over the mob, drawing their attention, quieting their cries. A few protested and shouted in brief pain as Cătălina charged through the crowd, using her elbows to part the mob and clamber her way towards her lover. Tears streaked down her face, following the tracks of old tears and making some new ones.
"Alexandru! No, please, don't do it!" she pleaded, shoving her way to the front of the crowd. "Please, I beg you-he's never done anything wrong!"
"You see?" the priest called, pointing to her, his eyes alight with righteous fire. "He still calls to her! We must burn this demon! Send him down to Hell and save this poor girl's soul!"
"No, you've got this all wrong!" she argued, as people from the mob grabbed her wrists, held her back. A few grabbed her head, holding it still and towards the sacrifice post so she would be forced to witness the entire macabre spectacle. "I'm not possessed! He's not a demon! Please, stop all this!"
"TO THE FIRE!" the priest roared. With a satisfied smirk, the torch-bearer set the flames to the alcohol-soaked timber and dried grass at the bottom of the post. Fire quickly consumed the fuel it had been provided, burning a powerful, blazing orange color. The inferno began to race up the sacrifice post, attacking the whiskey that had splashed on his clothes, setting them ablaze. With horror-stricken eyes, he looked up, at the crowds, his emerald eyes finding his lover. They were haunting eyes, eyes of a man knowing he was doomed.
Screaming protests and swearing a few rather nasty oaths, Cătălina continued to try to fight off those holding her back. It wasn't until a strong pair of arms closed around her midsection, clutching her tightly.
"Cătălina, stop fighting," Gabriel muttered, his voice grave, with traces of sorrow, remorse-pity, even. "There's nothing you can do-he's gone."
And indeed, he was gone-the flames had risen so high that they'd completely obscured Alexandru. The inferno burned hot enough that, even standing ten yards back, she could feel the scorching heat as if she'd been thrust into it herself. It was impossible for him to still be alive in there.
He was truly gone, lost to blind beliefs and rash judgment. Her head drooped, the tears coming in earnest now, choked sobs escaping her.
*takes a seat in the author's chair* Been a while since I sat here. I rather missed it.
Van Helsing: *looks around* Where's the sofa?
Downstairs. Remember, we moved-I no longer write in the living room, I write in my loft.
Van Helsing: Couldn't you have put some chairs out here? *takes seat on the floor*
Don't be such a weenie. There's a chair in my bedroom if you really want it.
Van Helsing: Sounds good! *starts to get up*
It's bright pink.
Van Helsing: *sits back down* Never mind.
Catherine: *wanders in* I concur.
Hey, good to see you, hon. Need a tissue?
Catherine: *shakes head* I'm good.
Van Helsing: What's wrong, Catherine?
Catherine: Didn't you read the chapter?
Van Helsing: ...Wait, that was you in there?
Yes, Gabriel, that was her. Cătălina is Romanian for Catherine.
Catherine: *facepalm* Way to fail, Gabriel, way to fail.
Van Helsing: Shut up.
Hey, let's not start the story out bickering, you too. You've got twenty-four more author's notes to duke it out in, let's try to start this off pleasantly, shall we?