A/N: Hello, my lovelies! I hope I haven't kept you all waiting too long for this chapter-I didn't mean to, I was busy early on this summer, working as a waitress at a local restaurant (at least, until I got fired, but that's a completely different story that I don't wish to go into). Lately, I've been trying to get some business in line for my next semester at college and trying to find another job. Finally, however, I sat down and got some fucking work done! Aren't you proud of me?
Thanks to Mickey Caresen, fantasylover53, GuenVanHelsing, Snips95, Illuminati, and my most loyal fan SpeedDemon315 for the reviews!
Disclaimer: I don't own Van Helsing, Carl, Dracula, Anna, Cardinal Jinette, or any other Van Helsing characters. I wish I did, because clearly, Stephen Sommer is doing absolutely nothing with them. Also, I don't own a certain character that some of you who are familiar with the works of SpeedDemon315 might recognize...
"Grant me a wish, my Master
Take heed of me
I have been loyal servant, heartfelt, humble
Gave up what belongs to me
Gave up my greed
My self-examination made me see, to be me
I am now like Judas, done
Ashamed of what I've become
Fear for life I wear as a ring
To bask in your favor, I will kill the king
You say I am unbreakable
I cannot die,
I know, but anyway
The words, they maim me
Grant me a wish, my Master
I'd like to be a human
...Maybe one day
I am now like Judas, done
Ashamed of what I've become
Fear for like I wear as a ring
To bask in your favor, I will kill the king
Let me go, Master I hate you so
How can I live my life when my whole being cries?"
-"Wolf and Raven" by Sonata Arctica
Chapter Five: An Errand for the Master
Van Helsing shivered at the feeling of having a bucket of freezing water thrown over him. Slowly, he came out of his memory-induced trance, back into the harsh, cold reality of Dracula's dungeon. He was lying spread-eagled on the floor, staring up at the ceiling; after a long minute of staring upwards at the stark stones in the ceiling, a pale, smirking face drifted into his line of sight.
"Did you enjoy that?" Dracula asked, his voice carrying a mocking lilt.
He moved to sit up, suppressing a groan as he did. "How long was I..?"
"About a day." Dracula knelt before him, still smirking in an infuriating manner. "And there's more where that came from—all in due time, of course."
As soon as the hunter had sat up, Dracula's cold hand seized his shoulder, snapping him up and dragging him towards the door. He stumbled along behind the vampire, expecting the chain around his ankle to stop him any moment. But when he made it all the way to the door without being stopped, he glanced down, finding the chain that had bound him gone.
"Yes, Gabriel, I've removed your shackles. For now."
"Why?" he croaked, realizing for the first time just how thirsty he was.
"I have a little job for you—well, more like an errand." The count gave a dark chuckle, before leading him up a half-crumbling flight of stairs and out of the dungeon.
"Do I want to know what this errand is?"
"All in due time, Gabriel. All in due time."
"You know," Van Helsing began, as he was lead up another flight of stairs, one that disappeared upwards into darkness. "You keep saying that, Dracula—you keep telling me everything will be 'all in due time'. I'm beginning to think you have no plans whatsoever, and you're just telling me that to keep me in line."
"Gabriel, Gabriel," Dracula chuckled, shaking his head. "Do you really think I would be so foolish as to not make plans well in advance? The only reason I have told you that everything will be in due time is that my plans are not of your concern for now."
They continued to climb higher and move deeper into the castle, ascending winding staircases and following twisted corridors in a random fashion. To Van Helsing's dismay, all the staircases and corridors looked alike, had nothing to distinguish them from one another. There was no distinguishing feature anywhere that he could use as a reference point, that he could try to plan an escape route using.
The castle had once been grand, he could tell by the upholstered furniture, the fierce suits of armor, the rich tapestries. But the furniture was faded and dusty, the armor was rusting, and the tapestries had been eaten away by moths and rats. The stones in the floor were uneven, and some were loose, which did not bode well for his somewhat-shaky legs. The combination left him stumbling behind Dracula, trying not to fall flat on his face.
After nearly a quarter of an hour walking, Dracula stopped at a perfectly ordinary door at the end of a hall. A large window marked the hall's end, just as it had been in every other hall he had seen so far. And just like every other hall he had seen so far, this hall's window was smeared with an unidentifiable substance, obscuring any possible view of the outdoors. Van Helsing speculated that hiding what may have been a picturesque view was not Dracula's reason for covering the windows—if anything, he wanted to keep the sun out.
The count produced a key from within his cloak, using it to unlock the door. When opened, a blast of musty air escaped, suggesting the room had not been aired out in years, if not decades. The room itself was mostly bare, with unadorned stone walls and a window smeared over to block out the light. There was a single piece of furniture, a large wardrobe shoved against a far wall. It was half-draped with an old sheet, and coated in a thick layer of dust. Dracula dragged his captive over to the wardrobe, tossing the sheet aside and opening the doors with noticeable flourish.
Much to Van Helsing's surprise, the wardrobe was filled with crisp shirts, pressed trousers, even formal tailcoats, all in astonishingly good condition for a wardrobe that looked as though no one had touched it in years, if not decades. Frowning, the hunter eyed Dracula closely, trying to find something in the vampire's expression that would allow him to glean the count's intentions. But there was nothing but that infuriating little smirk.
"You don't trust me, do you, Gabriel?"
"I believe I have plenty of reasons not to."
"What reasons could I have possibly given you not to trust me?"
Van Helsing just barely contained a derisive snort. "Oh, where to begin?"
"Gabriel, you wound me with your words." Dracula removed a shirt and a waistcoat from a hanger, tossing them both to the hunter, before locating a pair of trousers and throwing them to him, too. "Have I not proven myself to be a man of my word?"
He stayed silent, not wanting to cede to Dracula that he was, in fact, right. He wouldn't give the vampire that particular victory. Dracula, however, seemed to realize that Van Helsing couldn't refute his argument. He gave a little chuckle.
"That's what I thought. Now, put those on. I'll not send you out looking like a savage."
"Send me out where?"
"On your errand, of course."
"And what's the nature of this errand?"
Dracula turned away from Van Helsing, pacing up the room a few strides before turning back to face his longtime foe. "There is a small city, only a mile from here. And in this city, there is a woman, the daughter of a rather prominent vampire hunter. She was betrothed to none other than your sweet Anna's brother, Velkan." He gave a cold, cruel smile. "I want you to bring her here."
Van Helsing frowned, suspicious. "Why?"
"As you might recall, Gabriel, you murdered two of my brides, and your precious Gypsy princess killed my last bride. This, I simply cannot allow. After all, my young need a mother's care."
"Why this girl?"
"As I said, she was betrothed to Velkan. They were seeking to ally their two families in order to raise another generation of vampire hunters, to rid the world of my kind. This, obviously, I cannot allow."
"And you think that bringing this girl here would somehow stop her family's quest to get rid of vampires?" Gabriel raised a disbelieving brow.
"Not initially, of course. They'll try to hunt me down, kill me and everyone who serves me, and take their daughter back. But once their daughter has chosen to be mine, they won't exactly have much a choice. They will either have to let me have her, kill me and risk her wrath, or kill her and have to live with the knowledge that they've killed their own daughter. Either way one looks at it, it is a victory for me and a defeat for them."
"So let me get this straight," Van Helsing began. "You want me to go to this girl, tell her I'm Velkan Valerious, and bring her back here so you can marry her instead?"
"You're smarter than you look. I made a good choice in choosing to keep you alive."
Van Helsing grunted, looking down at the clothes he had been handed. From what he had seen in the photographs the Vatican provided, and from what he had found with a little searching around Valerious Manor, these looked similar to the clothes Velkan wore. As he stared, a thought occurred to him.
"She'll know I'm not Velkan."
"Pardon?" Dracula asked.
"The girl will know I'm not Velkan Valerious. We hardly look alike, even if I'm dressed like him."
"Do you think I hadn't thought of that?" Dracula seemed amused by his statement. "Rest assured, Gabriel, she'll think you to be our dearly departed Gypsy prince."
"What makes you say that?"
"The girl is blind."
Van Helsing blinked, taken aback. "Blind?"
"She lost her sight from a childhood illness. She's never seen Velkan, only heard his voice, and even still, it's been years. Doubtless, she'll have forgotten what it sounds like."
"What of her parents? Surely, they've seen Velkan. They'll know I'm not him."
"You worry far too much, Gabriel." Dracula shook his head. "Her parents haven't seen Velkan since he was twelve, when the betrothal was arranged. The Velkan Valerious they remember was a scrawny boy in desperate need of a haircut. They'll be just as fooled as their sightless little girl."
"You're despicable," the hunter spat. "Tricking a blind girl so you can have a bride? I thought even you were above that."
"All is fair in love and war. And this, Gabriel, is war. Now, if you're done with your heroics, I'll leave you to get dressed. I trust you can make yourself presentable without me needing to supervise you." Straightening his coat, the Count strolled towards the door. "A carriage will escort you to the girl's home. I do hope your Romanian is decent, I don't want you sounding stupid in front of the girl's parents."
Van Helsing gave an annoyed grunt, watching the vampire's retreating back. As soon as he's gone, he thought. As soon as he's gone, I can try to get out. I can break the window, climb out. Once I figure out where I am, I can strike out for Vaseria. Or I can wait until I get to that carriage, dispose of the driver, and make off with the carriage. I can find Anna, tell her where he is, and we can come back and end this once and for all.
"Oh, and Gabriel?" Dracula had paused at the door, looking back over his shoulder at his captive.
"If you even think about escaping, I will suck your precious Anna dry."
"So good of you to join me."
Cardinal Jinette took a seat at his desk, folding his hands in his lap, his steely eyes studying the person before him. His visitor was garbed in a loose-fitting white shirt and dark gray pants, the ends of which were tucked into ebony riding boots. Over all this was a duster of tough black leather; the grip and guard of an epee poked out from the openings of the coat. A wide-brimmed fedora was tilted forward, casting shadows over his guest's face. This brought the smallest of grins to the old cardinal's lips.
"Still keeping up the pretense, I see?"
"It works for me."
"You're quite convincing, I must say. But here, there's no need for you to hide. Please, take off your hat. I wish to look upon your face."
His guest seized the brim of the fedora and whisked it off. A cascade of golden hair, which had been twisted into a messy bun and concealed under the hat, tumbled down, falling in loose curls to his visitor's shoulder blades. Sea-green eyes studied Jinette with cool detachment.
"Your Eminence," she replied in a crisp, professional manner. "Why have you called me here?"
"Direct as always. You haven't changed a bit, Gabriele. How long has it been now?"
"Since my last visit?" She raised a brow. "It hasn't been that long."
"No, not since then. Since you and your friend brought him to us. What was that boy's name again, that friend of yours?"
"Ariel," she replied promptly, though sounding less cold and professional than she had only a few minutes before. "Almost eight years now."
"Eight years of knowing you and you still do not beat around the bush."
"And in eight years, you've never been one to beat around the bush, Your Eminence. What's made you start now?"
Jinette sighed. Astute as ever. I should have known she would pick up on that.
Her sea-green eyes widened. "What do you mean 'missing'?"
"We sent him to Transylvania, to aid the Valerious family. We received a cable from the friar Carl about ten days ago. He was taken captive by Dracula."
Her brow furrowed, lips turning down in a frown. "Dracula? As in Count Vladislaus Dracula?"
"You know him?" Jinette raised a brow.
"We've met." The cardinal opened his mouth, but Gabriele silenced him with a hand. "I know what's on your mind, but now is not the time, Your Eminence. We need to focus on the task at hand."
He nodded. "Right."
"Do you know where he was taken from?"
"Carl reported that he was taken captive when he and the Valerious princess invaded Castle Dracula."
Gabriele nodded. "Have they searched the castle for him?"
"Carl mentioned the castle being inaccessible. Some nonsense about a door in a mirror that used to be a map."
Again, a nod from the blonde woman. "Interesting. Any news on Dracula's activity?"
"The last report we have is Carl's telegram the night of the siege. They haven't heard anything suspicious since, and haven't been able to access Castle Dracula."
She sighed. "You're not giving me much to work with."
"It is all I know, Gabriele."
She stood up, straightening her long coat. "Where is the Valerious family home located?"
"Transylvania. A small town called Vaseria. It's about a day's ride or so from Sighişoara."
"All right." She glanced out the window, seeing the gray sky lightening to a pale purple. "I should set off. The sooner I leave here, the sooner I'll get there."
She turned, heading for the door to the cardinal's office. Before she could leave, Jinette stood, his face serious and his eyes on her.
"Will you be able to find him?"
She stopped, her lips curling into a smile. "With all due respect, Your Eminence, if his own daughter can't find him, no one can."
And without another word, she was gone.
A/N: *dramatic music* I'll bet you didn't see that coming (unless you've read "Son of the Devil, Meet the Daughter of Your Enemies", then you probably knew exactly who Gabriele was). Once again, Gabriele belongs to SpeedDemon315, not me, so thank her for this lovely little inclusion.
I hope you all enjoyed the chapter, I promise that chapter six will not take me forever to write! Please feel free to review, favorite, or subscribe!