Dracula adopts a small child as his sister in the French Loire Valley.
She becomes more precious to him than anything in the world but he must remain ever the wolf in sheep's clothing, watching her grow and blossom into an amazing young woman.
When she returns from years abroad and encounters one Van Helsing in her travels, will he save her from her evil "brother" or will she be lost in the inevitable battle between good and evil?
On the eve of the Great War, with the world poised for a battle bigger than their own, who's to say that "good" and "evil" are what they seem?
For, what neither Dracula nor Van Helsing account for, is what Ilona wants...
A dark figure stood in the cold, lightless husk of a building. It had once been a great castle; it had once held his dreams, his future. But it was gone. They had all been killed, taken from him before he ever really had them. He himself had perished in the struggle, but the legends had lied. Nothing could kill him, not permanently. His body could burn to ash and yet there was always enough of a spark for his rebirth, like some dark immortal phoenix.
He would simply have to start anew. He had done it before, he would simply have to do it again. Maybe this time he would leave his home country; venture out and see more of the world. All this place held for him was death and loss and hatred. And memories. He could still smell the blood, still hear the Monster's screams, feel the static electricity vibrate in the air. He could recall the final battle blow for blow, feel the life ripped out of him with razor-like teeth. He could imagine her lying there, lifeless, content to meet her family in the afterlife.
He was done with this life. At least for a while. No brides, no werewolves, no minions. He would take a portion of his sizable wealth and go away for a few decades to live a little more simply. He was too heartbroken and world weary to try again anytime soon. All he wanted was a family, but God still sought to deny him this one earthly joy. He would return someday, he knew. This was his homeland, his people. He had been a hero once and vowed he would be again. But not now, not for many years. He would wait for a few generations to turn memory into myth and forget the terror he had wreaked. He could afford to wait, he couldn't die after all.
He had been in France for a few months now. He had bought a sizable chateau in the Loire, not far from Nantes, and had a regular staff to come maintain the estate and surrounding grounds. He tried not to stir up any trouble in the local village, but a wealthy recluse seen only at night gives rise to rumors, no matter how well behaved and careful he may be. And, for him, he was being very well behaved. He killed few and those whose lives he did take were not missed.
He spent most of his time reading or walking along the river. He was just a few hours ride from Paris, a city he had always wanted to visit, and had enjoyed the City of Lights and its new Tour Eiffel which stretched so high into the sky as to be impossible. It had proven to him, once again, that the world was not a stagnant place and that humanity continued to change and evolve while he remained, ever, the same. He did not spend many days in the great city for fear of drawing attention to himself. No doubt a certain Holy Order had spread renderings of his image to all of its operatives—he had no desire to alert them of his continued existence.
It was on a sweltering July evening in 1889 when he was surprised to hear a frantic knocking on his front door. He ignored it as he could not imagine who could be seeking him out in the middle of the evening and he kept no butler or other staff at night. Yet the pounding continued and he felt somehow compelled to put down his tome and walk the long marbled halls of his house to see his surprise guest. As he opened the door, cold sneer in place, he was astonished by what he found.
A young woman, not much older than 20 was leaning heavily against his door frame. Her face glistened with sweat and her breathing was obviously labored. She clutched a bundle to her chest and struggled to stand when he gave her a pointed look.
"S'il vous plait, Monsieur, I am in dire need of your help." He could tell immediately that she was beyond help. She was rank with the smell of sweat and feces. Her face was flushed with fever and he could hear the too-slow rhythm of her heart, feebly attempting to keep her alive, despite the Typhoid. There had already been one or two cases in the village that summer; obviously it had found its latest victim.
"I cannot help you." He said definitively and turned to walk back inside. He had no fear of the disease but this woman could gain no salvation from him. From the looks of her, she probably wouldn't last the night.
"Non, attendez!" She yelled after him, clutching at his sleeve. He could have ripped her hand form her arm had he so desired. But he merely grimaced and looked at her over his shoulder. She sank to the ground, no longer able to support herself, one hand still clutching a pile of rags to her bosom. "I know I am beyond help. I will soon join my husband in Heaven." Her words were slurred and obviously cost her much effort. "But I have no other family and no one in the village will take her for fear of the fever." Her hand slipped from his sleeve as he turned to face her fully. It was then that she finally pulled the bundle from her chest.
Inside was a sleeping child.
"Please, take my daughter. Keep her safe, I beg of you." He stood in mute shock; the situation utterly shocking and foreign to him. A woman voluntarily offering for him to take her child? He almost laughed at the notion.
"Madame, I am no keeper of children. You must go elsewher—"
"NON, vous ne comprenez pas! I have already tried, Monsieur, you are my last hope." He admired her determination despite the obvious pain she was in and the hints of delusion induced by the disease. She held up the child to him, pressing it into his arms. "Please, she is all I have." She whispered, her breaths coming in short, rattling puffs of moist air.
He had never held such a small child. He looked down at the sleeping face, the most innocent and pure of all things. He felt the corners of his mouth begin to turn up into a smile and felt his body begin to sway in a rocking motion he had never performed in his life. He considered it for a moment; a child, what he had always wanted. And not the undead spawn of his demonic brides, but a human child.
No. He could not take it. He would not taint something so pure. He motioned to give the child back when he saw the woman had collapsed, her hands stretched out to him, her cheek laying against the cold stone of his front step.
"Merci, Monsieur. Merci" She whispered.
"But I—" but he could hear her already weakened heart slow and sputter to a stop, her labored breaths going still in the hot night. She must have used up what little energy she had left to try and save her child, and was released from her suffering when she accomplished her last act on earth.
He stood in the doorway, babe in arm, dead woman at his feet and he took a moment to think. The babe shifted in his arms, a small hand freeing itself from the blankets, tiny fingers clutching at air. He instinctively put out a cold finger which the baby gladly took hold of. "Well, Draga, what shall I do with you?"
"Ina! Ina!" He called up the grand stairs. He could hear the approaching patter of small footsteps on the floor above.
"Oui, frate mia mare, I'm coming!" She appeared at the top of the stairs, and he could not help but smile up at her as she concentrated on walking down the stairs. Her small hand could just barely reach the banister and she had to put both little feet firmly on each step before proceeding to the next one.
How she had grown in five years, he thought. Her hair was a warm brown, her eyes a light sage green, her skin creamy but not pale. He let her spend too much time in the garden, her governess admonished him, but she so loved the flowers, she told him, and she had made friends with a family of pixies by one of the great willow trees along the river. Who was he to deny her the pleasure of a beautiful spring day? And through her, he felt as though he could see the sunlight glinting off the flowing waters as a warm breeze rustled the swaying boughs above her and her imaginary friends. Every night she would sit in his lap and describe the wild adventures she had had that day. He would listen with rapt attention before in turn telling her a story about the river or the gardens or his own homeland. She loved the ones about the forests of the Carpathian Mountains the best. He would tell her innocent tales of half truths, just enough to make her sparkling eyes open wide in childish wonder and fear. But he would finish the story and tickle her sides and her trance would end in fits of laughter. He had never known such contentment.
She finished coming down the stairs and ran to him, jumping into his waiting arms. "Thank you for the dress, frate." She said, blushing, as he carried her towards the dining hall.
"Well my little draga must always look her best, especially on her birthday!" He, of course, had not known her true birthday, but had decided to make it the beginning of June, as she so reminded him of the days he could faintly remember from his youth, when spring would begin to bloom into summer. She was like the sun, rising in his life to banish dark, hollow memories and wicked desires. His world revolved around her, making her happy, educating her in his native tongue, French, English, Latin, Maths, Biology, Botany, History, Literature, Music, Art, and all things a proper young lady should know. They would spend hours every evening after dinner at lessons. While she would soon have tutors come to formally teach her during the day, he loved to see her work though problems or ask insightful questions.
"I want to be beautiful for frate." She said, her little arms clasped around his neck. She leaned forwards and placed a kiss on his cheek. He let out a chuckle before setting her down at her place for dinner.
"You are the most beautiful creature I have ever laid eyes upon, my little Ilona." He said, truthfully. He crossed to the other end of the table and sat. A footman put food in front of each of them and he watched her over his steepled fingers as her little hands did their best to eat like a lady with the ornate silverware.
He ate only enough of the food served to him to continue to pass for human. He had told no one his true nature, not even his Ilona, but had instead striven to appear mortal, if a little bizarre. He had acquired a number of businesses with his almost inexhaustible funds and spent an hour or so a day reading and writing letters for his managers, expanding trade and beginning new projects. He pleaded a rare medical condition of sever sensitivity to sunlight to explain his absence during the day. His study was a windowless room in the center of the house with warm wood panels and rich fabrics, shelves of books, and a large heavy desk where he would write letters and keep track of his expenses. This room was attached the master bedroom where he made sure to rumple the sheets every night as though he had slept there when the maids came in the morning to remake it. The study also held a secret passageway to an underground stone room of decent size where he kept his coffin. This room was the only one in house the staff and Ilona knew nothing about, and he would do everything in his power to keep it that way.
After dinner they spent an hour or two at lessons. She always gave him her full attention, a difficult feet for a five-year-old, as though she were mesmerized. But he knew this was through no force or supernatural coercion. He would throw himself into the sunlight before he used her in such a way. No, she listened of her own free will and it made his cruel smirk turn into a genuine smile as years went on. As he began to see her eyelids droop, he ordered her to bed.
"I'm not tired," she argued; one small fist rubbed at her eye as he scooped her into his arms and carried her upstairs.
"Ah, but if you do not go to bed, I cannot give you your other present," he bribed. Her eyes it up and she clapped her hands.
"Another present! Yes please!" He set her down at the top of the stair and she ran down the hall to her room. He turned and went to his office to fetch the sketchpad and charcoals he had bought her the last time he'd been in Nantes. As he entered her bedroom he held her gifts behind his back and watched as she jumped onto her bed having changed out of hew new dress and put on her simple white nightgown. He sat down on the edge of the bed, pulling the covers up and placing the gifts on her lap. She squealed in delight and threw her arms around his chest. He laughed and petted her head.
"Merci beaucoup, frate!" He stroked her hair for a moment before she peeled away, her face contorting into a yawn.
"Alright, now to bed with you, Ina." He put the papers and charcoals on her writing desk and turned down the light. He bent over and kissed her on the forehead but, as he turned to leave, one of her hands snuck out and grabbed at his sleeve. He had a sudden vision of five years previous, a dying woman begging her to care for this same child, and he was reminded of her fragility.
"Frate, stay here." She commanded and he obeyed. He lay on top of the rich fabrics and she curled into his chest as she did every night, her little fingers reaching out to twist a loose strand of his raven hair as was her habit. Before long, her breaths had evened out and her closed eyelids began to flutter gently. He hoped she dreamt of bright and innocent things and never of the cold darkness that hid in his soul.
After some time, he disentangled himself from her sweet embrace and crept from her room as he did every night. This was the most painful part of their atypical family life style; he would find himself alone in the house, waiting through the wee hours of the night for the welcoming embrace of the oblivion he found during the daylight hours. He decided to go to his office and get to that letter to one of his shippers in Paris he'd been putting off for a few days. He would not let the melancholy of his past life interfere with the magic of his current one. He was the sole caregiver of a blossoming young woman, and she was the first to see his soul.
He could tell there was something wrong as soon as he woke. As he made his way out of the secret passage into his study, there was a knock on the door. He crossed the room and opened the door to find Ilona's handmaid waiting anxiously for his answer.
"Monsieur, thank God you're here. I was worried you might be in town."
"What is wrong, Jeanne?" She began quickly walking down the hall. Towards Ilona's room. His senses went on full alert and it took all his patience not to flash past the maid and rush to her side. He could smell sweat and vomit and a million fears flew through his mind.
"We called for le docteur, Monsieur, he will be here any moment." He almost tore down the door to get into her room and raced to her side where she lay in bed. "I found her like this a few moments ago when I came up to get her ready for dinner."
He sat on the edge of the bed and bent over her, a comforting smile forced on his face despite his fear. "Hello," she croaked, a genuine smile on her flushed face. She was covered in sweat and her hair was splayed out on the pillow behind her. Had he not had more on his mind, he would have loved to run a strand of it through his fingers as he so rarely saw her with it down anymore. A few years previously she had started to wear it in the tight, elaborate coiffures that were fashionable in Paris when he'd taken her when she was ten. She had marveled at the city, her hands grasping onto his arm, tugging him along to see the bridges and the Tower and to walk the boulevards and soak up the vibrancy of the great city. He could hardly believe it had already been four years since then, but now was not the time to dwell on happy memories.
"Draga, what is wrong?" He put an icy hand on her wet forehead and her eyes rolled back at the welcomed change in temperature. He could hear her labored breaths and saw that her hair and nightdress were soaked with sweat. The heat rolled off of her like she was a furnace. Her usually smiling soft lips were white and chapped, her cheeks an unhealthy red, and her eyes sunken dark.
"I'm sorry, frate, it's my fault," she whispered, fumbling slightly as she laid a fevered hand against his knee.
"She wanted to go into the village, Monsieur, we saw no harm in it." The handmaid said softly behind him, her voice reigning in grief at her young mistress' misfortune.
He spun around and would have leapt from the bed if Ilona's hand wasn't so hotly felt against his knee. "No harm! What do you call this?" He had to keep control of the sudden vicious urge to rip her head off and drain her dry for putting his Ina in danger. The maid finally broke down in tears and left the room, just as the village doctor came in.
"Don't be angry with her, frate, I wanted to get you un cadeau de Noel." She let out a terrible cough and gagged from the force, but her stomach had already been emptied, he could smell the acrid scent coming from her bedpan. It had snowed the day before and Ilona had convinced him to come out and play with her, though she was getting to be too old for such childish things. He could never deny her, however, and she new that he would relent if cajoled. So they had thrown balls of the frozen stuff at each other, her face flushed from activity, despite the cold, and he had laughed as though there was nothing better on earth. And, to him, nothing was.
The doctor approached the other side of the bed and bent over the patient. He took her pulse and listened to her breathing. He measured her temperature and asked her a few hushed questions. When the doctor had finished, he pulled him aside.
"Comte, I believe she is suffering from influenza. There have been a number of cases in the village already this winter and her symptoms fit. She is a bit old for the nausea, but it is not unheard of in a child of her age."
"What can I do for her, Docteur?" He pleaded. He had gone centuries being untouched by illness and now it threatened to steal everything from him.
"Give her plenty of fluids, for starters. But our main concern is the fever. If it gets much higher, it will be dangerous. Concentrate on lowering her body temperature and try to get her to drink; fruit juice, if you have it. I'll come back in the morning to check on her." With that, he tipped his hat and grabbed his bag. He thanked the doctor and told him a maid would pay him and show him the way out.
He crossed back to the bed and considered his options. First thing, he pulled back the heavy blankets covering her still form and opened the window to let in the cold winter air. He poured a glass of water from the pitcher on her nightstand and tipped some into her mouth. He instructed the distraught maid to go into town and buy some fruit to squeeze and then re-entered the sick-room. He bent over her to smooth the hair from her forehead and she turned her head into his hand and let out a soft moan, having been swept into unconsciousness while he conversed with the doctor.
His mind raced with what he more he could do for her. The cool air was slowly filling the room, but he feared it would take too long. She lay exposed on the bed, her thin white nightdress plastered to her fevered body. The flimsy material clung to her maturing form, showing the slight curve of her hips and the small mounds of her breasts, but he saw none of that. Rather, he saw the most precious thing in the world to him in pain, possibly leaving him, and his heart was gripped with fear.
He couldn't loose her. Not after fourteen years of watching her grow and learn and blossom. The hours he spent with her were the happiest he'd ever known in over 400 years. He would not let her be taken from him. But what, then, could he do? For the first time, surprisingly, he thought of the only thing he could do to save her when all else failed. He could turn her. Almost as soon as he had the thought, he felt his heart break. Could he condemn her to this dark, immortal fate? Curse her with the sadistic urges and inhuman powers of the beast that he was? She did not know he wasn't even human. Oh, how she would hate him and mourn her unfinished life. She would never bloom into a woman, never know the passionate touch of a lover, never have children to raise and love as he had done for her.
He could not do that to her and, selfishly, he could not bare the thought of her hating him when she discovered his evil secret. But then, did that mean he could part from her? He knew that she was everything he cherished in this world. He knew he would not survive loosing her.
He was torn from his dark thoughts by her soft moan. His hand lay against her cheek and she tried to seek out more of his cool and soothing touch in her delirium. That was it. He knew of nothing colder, save for placing her out in the thin snow lying on the frozen ground outside. So he quickly unbuttoned his dark coat and threw off his black shirt, exposing his marble chest. He climbed onto the bed beside her and pulled her snugly against him. She let out a sigh as her feverish flesh met his icy skin. If anything good were to come from his curse, let it be to save her life, he thought. He held her to him as though she might float away, and placed his chin on the top of her head, feeling her hands balled between their chests.
They stayed that way for hours, him soaking in the poisonous heat from her skin, her small body cocooned in his embrace as they had done years ago when she was smaller. He had not climbed into her bed for many years, despite her pleas and begging; it was inappropriate for a young woman, even if everyone believed them to be siblings. He took in the smell of her, under the unpleasant scents of sickness, and closed his eyes, praying to God that he would be merciful this one time. After a while, he drifted off into some semblance of human sleep, the rhythm of her heartbeat a reassuring lullaby.
He woke an hour or so before the dawn, the graying skies alerting his senses in warning. He was relieved to feel a steady heartbeat against his chest and looked down at the slumbering girl in his arms. Her head rested on his shoulder, the tip of her nose just brushing against his turned chin. Her left arm lay across his chest, the fingers having found a piece of his hair to twist and entwine themselves in. Her body was pressed against his side and he could tell her fever had broken. Indeed, if he didn't close the window and re-cover her soon, she would likely start to shiver. This motivated him to gently pull himself away and tuck her into bed. He closed the window and relit the fire in the grate so the room would be warmed by the time the doctor revisited in a few hours. Satisfied that she was now sleeping peacefully and was no longer in mortal danger, he was able to dress and slip out of her room and into his own to escape the encroaching dawn. She would be sore and tired for a few days, but he knew she would be alright. He now could turn his attention to the future and worry about the next time her life came under threat. He had been spared from making the decision he feared most, and he remained unsure if his heart could bear to part with her.
He had to come up with a solution.
It was a few hours before dawn and he stood in the great hall of his chateaux, trying to keep himself composed. There was a flurry of activity around him as the maids and footmen, who had arrived early on this special occasion, bustled about the house, trying to get everything ready and packed in the car. It was still dark out and the night was silent as the nocturnal beasts turned in for the day but the song birds had yet to awaken. The night air carried the crisp promise of winter as the last of the leaves were turning russet colors of amber and ruby. Soon the trees would be barren and the ground would freeze solid like rock. But not yet, the days still were warm enough to enjoy a nice pick nick or stroll through the gardens. At least, that is what Ilona told him.
The young lady in question was, herself, flying about the house, directing the maids on what things to pack and what things to leave. She smiled at him every time she passed him by in the hall and he smiled back, but as soon as she was gone his smile fell. It was his own fault, really. He had wanted her to be a proper lady, befitting her rank. He wanted her to get out of the village and beyond Nantes even. He thought she might spend a few years in Paris where he could visit her once in a while. He had not expected her to go all the way to Rome. It was his own fault because he had been the one to teach her Latin and Italian, he was the one to give her books filled with pictures of Renaissance art and Roman architecture, he was the one who'd given her that bloody sketchpad and charcoals. He had lit a passion for art and man-made beauty in her quite by accident and now she wished to go to Rome and Florence and Venice to see the chefs-d'oeuvre by the Masters there. He had told here there were few cities on earth more versed in classic art than Paris, but she had said she'd seen Paris and would see Paris again, but when would she visit Rome if not now? Besides, she wished to learn more of science and history and, while Paris was second to none in culture and art, it was a city of romance and lights. Italy held its newest inventions on pillars next to its ancient ruins. The history was more vibrant and pronounced; the culture and peoples a new and foreign thing for her.
So he had rented a townhouse for her and hired staff to keep her comfortable and safe. She would attend classes and study art and architecture and satiate all of her desires that would go unfulfilled in the French countryside. She would spend the next four or five years learning everything she could and then return home to share her marvelous adventures with him. It was his own fault, really, because she had even begged and pleaded with him to come with her so as not to be left alone. But he blamed his businesses and his condition for not going with her and she had begrudgingly agreed to go out on her own, without him. The truth was much more selfish. Rome held too may painful memories for him and too many Knights who might recognize him. He could not afford to be discovered after working so hard to make a happy life for himself and for Ilona, away from the Holy Order's harsh judgment.
Thus, he was to stay in France and it was all his fault. He could not blame her for being the vivacious and brilliant young woman he had striven to raise her to be. So he smiled and waited patiently for her to finish her last-minute packing.
"I believe that is everything!" She said from behind him. He turned to face the young woman who called him brother. But, oh, was she beautiful. Her straight brown hair was pulled back and up off of her face in a chignon under the new hat he had bought her for the journey. She sported a cream silk blouse and black skirt that reached just shy of the floor. Her shoes were sturdy for the journey, but shined to perfection. She was the epitome of a fashionable young Parisian save for her sun-kissed skin. She still loved to sit outside for hours, sketching, paying no attention to the light her skin was exposed to. He thought the warm honey color was perfect and accentuated her light green eyes and delicate lips. He could never help but smile when he saw her beautiful smile.
"Not, quite." He pulled out a dark blue box from his inner pocket. Her face lit up as she opened it and she flashed him a quick look of admonishment as he took the necklace out and motioned to place it around her neck.
"Vlad, you know you spoil me too much." She looked down at the string of pearls and he merely laughed.
"It is purely selfish, draga, for your joy is my joy. I simply wanted you to have something to remember me by."
"Oh, silly, it's not as though you won't survive without me. Besides, I'll write every week and you have your work to keep you busy. I'll be back before you know it." She placed her hands against his chest and placed a kiss on the corner of his mouth. "Thank you for the necklace, it's beautiful. I'll wear it everyday and think of you, da?" She slipped her arms around his broad shoulders and embraced him. His arms naturally wrapped her up and he closed his eyes as he breathed in her scent one last time and listened to the familiar beat of her heart. He was reluctant to let her go, she was safe in his arms; protected from the harsh world that had shown him such pain and hatred. But he knew he must let her go.
She was soon to be of marrying age and she needed to see more of the world than their monthly trip to Nantes and a handful of visits to Paris. His fathering instincts wanted to protect her but let her grow and not be limited by his inhumanity. But there was a more visceral desire in the pit of his stomach that wanted to keep her all to himself. He blamed the later on the evilness in his heart and would not let it dictate her life. So, he held out his arm to her and walked her down the front steps to the waiting car that would take her to Nantes where she would take a train to Paris and then on to Rome. He helped her step into the leather seat as the last of her bags was tied onto the rack. The sky was starting to show hints of dawn and he new he could not linger long to watch her drive off into her new life.
"Be safe, draga, and try to not get into too much trouble." He said to her, taking her hand in his and kissing the back.
"Yes, frate, but I go safely in the knowledge that you would fly to my side if ever I needed you." She squeezed his hand in hers and gave him a last smile. "Try not to miss me too much. I love you." She placed a last kiss on his cheek and he nodded to the driver. As they pulled away and her hand slipped from his, he smiled and waved to her retreating form and she blew him a kiss.
Ah, his little Ina. If only she knew how true her words were.
He tried desperately to not think that his sole joy of the last 18 years was leaving him alone again. But she would return, someday, and as changed woman. In a few more years, he knew he would no longer be able to keep up the pretense of being human, especially in the small village where rumors changed lives. He would get her back just in time to turn her away, for no sooner could he reveal his true form to her than he could watch her age and deteriorate and be taken from him. Better to set her up with a husband and a family; a family that he could think of as his own lineage, a link to the human world that would grow beyond himself, diluting his own wickedness.
Yet, his dead heart still lurched in his chest at the thought of giving her up. If he didn't know any better, he would have said he loved her. But he was a beast of darkness and was incapable of such things, but if he were ever to love anyone, it would be her. He would do anything, be anything, to stay with her even just one more year, one more night.
As he turned to go back to his study and finally wallow in the self pity he had been warding off for weeks, he was struck with a sudden thought.
Yes, that might just be possible.
He would need time and resources to even begin to test if it was conceivable, but he was a very wealthy man and, with Ilona gone, he had nothing but time left. He crawled into his coffin as the sun peaked over the horizon and swore to turn his encroaching loneliness into productivity.
Perhaps the return of his Ilona would see him a changed man.
Draga is Romanian for "my dear" and frate is Romanian for "brother"
Most other words in this story are either French or Italian and are either recognizable or infer-able from the context.
(please forgive me if I've used any languages incorrectly, including English!)
I'm always happy to answer any questions, so long as they don't give spoilers.