Not sure how I feel about this chapter, yet. I've rewritten it three times now and spent the last two hours or so on edits - can't seem to figure out what's rubbing me wrong. Maybe I'm just over-thinking it? There are some bits of this that I really like, but then there's others where I know what I want to say or what I want to do and I just can't get it the way I have it in my head. Curse this rustiness of mine!
Ugh! I don't want to post this yet! Curse my over-thinking! Screw it. I'm committing. You're getting this now.
Forgive any grammatical errors or sentence fragments. I did my best to catch them all - may have missed a few. Oh well.
Please let me know your thoughts! Your reviews/opinions are always appreciated. Enjoy!
Chapter 3: Rules of the Hunt
Afina pulled on a corseted underbust waistcoat vest, securing it over a black blouse made of a light but strong material with sleeves that stopped at the elbow. Her dexterous fingers made quick-work of the laces, tucking away the excess before fastening the the small belts. She smiled slightly to herself. This would suit her just fine and it was infinitely better than the dress she had worn last week.
She was just finishing up as Vlad entered the cave. It was still strange to her how she could sense his presence even before he had crossed the threshold, as if from his very person emanated an authority that even nature had to bend a knee to. She was fascinated by the power and mystery he shrouded himself in. She had been under his stewardship for over a month now, and she still knew so little about him.
She also knew little about herself, she quickly noted in silence. Everything about her person seemed so new to her, even without the recollection of her history. She felt as though she were being molded into something by his very careful hands – what that was, she couldn't be certain. But there was one thing she was absolutely sure of – he knew more than he was letting on. Instinct and the way he occasionally looked at her, how at times he seemed to be holding himself back when he spoke to her was evidence enough. But if Afina had acquired anything in the last few weeks, it was a resilient sense of patience. Their hunting excursions had only fine-tuned that ability. She watched as he glanced at her for a single moment before looking away.
"Black suits you better than those rags you were wearing," he commented, taking a seat in the chair in the corner and removing the leather-bound notebook from his pocket, idly scanning over its pages, trying to look busy. She often wondered what was in that notebook of his, what he wrote in it, why he always kept it so close to his person. "And the pants will be easier to maneuver in than those dresses you've been wearing the last few weeks."
"I agree." She pulled the laces of her leather wrist cuffs nice and tight, before masterfully tying them off with a single hand.
"You certainly clean up nice."
"Thank you," she replied with a slightly shy smile, somewhat taken aback with how warm and agreeable he was being. "It feels nice to be in normal clothes and less exposed."
She missed his bemused grin – her flesh may have been better covered, but her new clothing, from the corset, down to the pants, even the thigh-length boots, hugged every inch and curve.
"I'm glad you feel more comfortable," he concluded, watching as she pulled her thick curls back and tied them out of her face.
"So what is that notebook for, anyway?" she asked, making her way over to him after she finished dressing. "Is it a diary?" she teased, trying to catch a glimpse at its pages before he snapped the book shut.
"I don't think you're ready yet," was his answer as he secured the book in his pocket.
"What? You don't think I can handle it? Is it really so scandalous?"
He smirked, amused at how playful she was behaving. He leaned back in his chair, deciding to play along.
"Quite scandalous," he crooned.
"Really?" She sat on the edge of the table in front of him, her legs crossed, resting her chin in her hand as she leaned forward, pretending to be engrossed. "Is it filled with the sordid details of your conquests? The names of all the women you've seduced? The men you've killed?"
"I could stock an entire library with books filled with the names of those I've charmed, the ones I've lulled into a false sense of security…" His voice was a dark purr, his clandestine expression pulling her in so much so that she couldn't have prepared herself for his sudden attack. He leapt from the chair with inhuman speed and pinned her back to the table, pressing the tip of a jagged stake between her breasts.
"What is the first rule of the hunt?" he asked, with a tone of admonition.
"To always be aware of your surroundings," she recited indignantly.
"And the second?"
"Always have the upper hand."
Satisfied by her answer, he released her and took a step back, allowing her to sit upright again.
"Vampires are born predators, Afina," he explained, twirling the stake between his fingers. "Everything about us draws in our prey – from our appearance, our aura, our scent, the sound of your voice – and not all vampires will welcome you into their covens with open arms. They are the most cunning and the most traitorous species. They will turn on their own kind without a single thought of allegiance if it means saving their own skin. They will gain your trust, exploit it, get what they want from you…" He threw the stake right for her heart and she caught it just before the tip could touch the skin. He didn't smile, but she could see the approval in his eyes. "… and they will kill you if they view you as a threat. Remember that. You want as many allies as you can, but you must never trust any of them."
She nodded, watching as he moved with an unnatural grace toward the exit.
"So I shouldn't trust you, then?" she asked him. He paused for a moment before looking back at her.
"Me especially," he replied. "I'm notorious for exploiting the weaknesses of my prey in order to get what I want."
The sexual undertone of his warning made Afina's skin crawl. His honesty drew her in more, but also unsettled her slightly. Had he just confessed something? Was he exploiting her inexperience and her trust for his own gain? But she didn't have much time to ponder the feeling.
"It's time to hunt." He motioned for her to follow.
"I was thinking," she began, following him out of the cave, "could we forgo the hunting of animals tonight? I want to try humans again. I'm tired of picking the hair out of my mouth."
He laughed. "After what just happened? No, you're not ready. Besides, I thought you preferred the hunting of animals versus the slaughtering of 'innocent' humans," he pointed out with a coy smile.
"Well, I can't live off of bears and wolves in these mountains forever. And you yourself said that human blood is the most sustaining. I have to learn eventually. Maybe you can teach me how to feed without killing?"
"Easier said than done."
"But it can be done."
"Of course it can."
"Then I want to learn. Besides, death is a natural part of the life-cycle. As vampires we just, sort of, help it along."
"Look who's rationalizing now," he teased. She went to smack his arm, but he caught her hand in mid-flight and sent her a look. She pulled her hand away.
"It's basic evolution," she continued. "Survival of the fittest. I'm just trying to survive."
"You were doing a superb job back there," he replied sarcastically.
"I wasn't anticipating that. It won't happen again."
"And what if you kill again? Hmm? Can your conscience handle more blood on your hands?"
She paused for a moment as the very real prospect entered her mind.
"We'll have to cross that bridge when we get to it," she concluded.
"Not 'we,'" he corrected, as they stepped out into the night. "'You.' You will have to cross that bridge. I've made my peace with my conscience when it comes to killing. You must do the same. All vampires must."
Afina noted her raggedy, torn dress still outside of the cave beside the small pond where she had left it almost a month ago – the dress she had been turned in. The blood stains had darkened by now into an almost reddish brown color. "What should I do with this?" She picked it up.
"Burn it, or leave it. I could care less."
Afina began to ball up the dress when she caught wind of a strange smell coming from the rags. She brought the fabric to her nose and inhaled deeply.
"What is it?" he asked.
"I smell something… familiar."
"Probably the blood of the fifty or so villagers you killed last month," he said dismissively.
"No, not that…"
"Then maybe it's the blood of your late husband? Or your own, for that matter…"
"No this…" she inhaled deeply once again. Along one of the claw marks on the front of her dress where her stomach was, was a small splatter of blood that hadn't gone brown. It was still a deep red. She tore the fabric into a long strip before tossing the remnants of the dress aside. Having separated the stained material from the rest of the dress, she breathed it in once again. "I've smelled this before."
The way she said that caught Vlad's attention and he made his way over to her. She handed him the strip of fabric and watched him closely as he examined it. After smelling it once, he handed it back to her.
"Vampire blood," he explained. "It would appear you managed to harm your attacker the night you died."
"But I thought you said you were the last of your kind?"
"Of my line."
"Not now. Come. The night is waning."
"Do you at least recognize the scent?" she asked him hopefully.
He didn't answer and instead began to walk away.
"I know you heard me."
"Do you want to be nothing but ash when the sun rises?" he asked her impatiently. She quickly caught up with him.
"Well, can we talk and hunt at the same time?"
She wanted more than anything to argue with him, but decided against it, gingerly folding the strip of fabric and tucking it into her pocket as she followed his lead.
The two of them moved about in the forest for some time in complete silence. The snow was beginning to disappear the farther they moved down the mountain, with winter melting into spring. After a while, Vlad finally broke the silence.
"Hunting humans is slightly trickier than hunting animals," he began. "The concept is fairly similar – you select your prey, become acquainted with their surroundings, look for weaknesses, and when the moment is right you can either strike, using the element of surprise, or you can enter their mind, hijack their consciousness, and then attack. With humans, especially if you want to keep them alive, the latter is the wisest route. They struggle less and it's easier to wipe the even from their minds when you finish. But a human's mind is more difficult to penetrate versus a wolf or a bear. Mortals may have stronger minds, but their blood is more sustaining, making the effort worth-while."
She nodded her understanding, suddenly becoming aware of an array of heartbeats a couple of miles ahead of them. They were nearing a village. Those drums danced in her head and before the sound could bother her, she followed advice he had given some weeks ago on blocking the noise out. It had gotten infinitely easier to do and was now almost second nature. He noticed and though is face remained stoic, his eyes were filled with approval.
They situated themselves on the outskirts of the town, hidden in the darkness. Most of the village was asleep, but there was still some activity in the tavern.
As they waited for some time, Afina couldn't suppress her burning curiosity. She knew by now that he wasn't keen on her asking him dozens of questions at once, but she had also learned that any questions she did have he would answer – but in his own time. Figuring that now was a decent opportunity to see if he was open for a discussion, she glanced down at his right hand, noting a barely visible tan line where a ring would have been.
"So who took your ring?" she asked him, motioning to his hand.
"An old friend," he answered.
"Why'd he take it?"
"As evidence to his superiors that he had successfully murdered me," he replied stoically, with just a slight underlining of malice that unnerved her a bit.
"Your best friend murdered you?"
"And slept with my wife, then pushed her out a window when he found out she was carrying his child, and then he proceeded to slaughter my children, turn my entire country against me, as well as the church, and then he quite literally stabbed me in the back and I lost my head." He made a movement with his hand that suggested he had lost it literally.
Her expression was priceless, and although he would have preferred to stay in character by appearing serious, he couldn't help but laugh.
"It was a long time ago," he assured her. "Over four hundred years ago. I'm more concerned with what he did to me recently."
"He's still alive? Is he a vampire as well?"
"Quite the opposite. He's an archangel – the left hand of God."
All of this was sounding vaguely familiar, as if they had had this conversation before.
"Gabriel Van Helsing," she finished for him, her voice hushed. The name was so familiar to her, and so was the memory of the face attached to it. "I know that name," she explained when he looked at her knowingly. "How do I know that name?"
"On rare occasions, when a fledgling's death is particularly traumatic, they lose their memories for a spell. I was wondering when you'd start to get yours back."
"Wait, you knew I had lost my memory?"
"When you didn't recognize me the night you were turned, I was certain you had, yes."
"I knew you before?"
"We were… acquainted."
She wasn't sure how she felt about the way he said that word. He was holding something back again. She could feel it.
"Did I know you were a vampire?"
She thought on it a bit more, struggling to unlock the memories that insisted on staying forgotten. Although it caused a slight ache in her head, she managed to unveil a couple of memories. He was right – they had met, just a couple of nights before she had died.
"We were guests in your house, my husband and I," she recalled.
"So why have we been living in a cave for the last month and a half?"
"The worst place for a newborn vampire to live is in the middle of a small town," he explained. "It was the safest alternative – for everyone."
"Why didn't you kill Henric and I when we came to you?"
"I had no need to. You were no real threat – at least you weren't. And your husband did not believe who your superiors said I was."
"The Order of the Vatican."
"Who did they believe you were?"
"A member of the House of Drăculești, a branch of the House of Basarab, but I am more commonly known by my patronymic name…"
"Dracula," she whispered. That name sounded even more familiar than Van Helsing's. "You're Count Dracula."
It was starting to come back to her.
"But… but you died almost five years ago. Van Helsing – he had killed you. I remember that."
"Had being the operative word," the Count explained. "I hadn't anticipated him learning my secret, managing to get himself turned into a werewolf. Fortunately though, I suppose, I'm too damned for Heaven, and Hell was in no rush to take me."
"So that's why you came back?"
"Partially. It helps to have a cult following that worships and fears you enough to know how to bring you back," he said with an ironic smile.
"So that's why Henric and I were sent here. To confirm the rumors of your return."
"And when you had, you were attacked."
"Did you send our attackers after us?"
"No. Not after you, anyway."
She sent him an incredulous look.
"You mean you sent them after my husband?"
"I didn't say that. Stop jumping to conclusions."
"But you just said…"
"When I found out they were after you, I told them that you were to remain unharmed. At that point, I didn't really care what happened to him."
He realized immediately that he had said too much and he mentally kicked himself for doing so. Giving her that kind of information would only make her more curious and he lacked the patience to deal with that at the moment. Not that it mattered. Afina was without words. His comment had at least a dozen potential explanations and she wasn't sure she liked any of them.
But it didn't matter what she thought. Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of a drunk man being shoved violently out of the tavern and into the mud. The drunk was dressed in riding chops and a thick coat, his face unshaved and rugged, his black hair tangled and long, pulled into a low ponytail. She would have dismissed him, except she noticed a thick scar running up his cheek and right next to his eye on the left side of his face. She knew that scar, knew that man. He was a vampire hunter, a member of the Order of the Vatican – just like Van Helsing, just as she and Henric had been. But that wasn't all – she could smell Henric's blood on this man. Although the three-claw knuckle dagger on his hip had been wiped clean, she could still smell the blood. She recalled the wound on Henric that had triggered her blood lust the night of her transition.
This man had been responsible for that wound.
The Count noticed the hardened expression on Afina's face, the look of revenge in her eyes as they followed the man, taking in every step he took.
"I suppose there's no use in saying that going after a vampire hunter as your first true kill is unwise?"
"No use, whatsoever."
"Then I'd at least recommend waiting until he's asleep before attacking," he suggested.
"But the night will be gone in just a few hours," she insisted.
"It's a risk we're going to have to take."
She opened her mouth to protest, but the look in his eyes was firm and so she relented, albeit begrudgingly.
Afina and Vlad watched as the vampire hunter – Raphael was his name – staggered drunkenly over to the stables, hearing him collapse in the hay, singing an old Spanish tune that Afina recognized.
"I always hated that song," she grumbled. The Count chuckled quietly, clearly enjoying her anger as they waited for the man to fall asleep.
By the time he fell asleep, it was roughly an hour till sunrise. The Count had suggested several times that feeding elsewhere and coming back for Raphael would be prudent, but Afina wouldn't hear it. She didn't want anyone else's blood but the vampire hunter's, and if it meant risking exposure to the sun or getting staked through the heart, by God, she'd do it.
At long last, they made their way out of the forest and down to the village, their movements inaudible as they snuck into the stables, shutting the doors behind them in case the sun rose. Afina found Raphael out cold on his back in the corner. She crept toward him, practically gliding across the floor before kneeling down beside the slumbering hunter. She could hear the steady beating of his heart enveloping her senses, could almost smell the fresh blood pumping through his veins. Flashes of memories passed over her eyes of her past interactions with this man. She had never liked him. Afina would feel no remorse over his death. She bent over him carefully, going in for his neck when she heard the Count shout her name behind her rather suddenly just as she felt something cold and metal pierce her flesh. It felt like ice tearing through her as Raphael shoved a silver stake straight through her heart.
She heard the Count make a move to help her but was thwarted by a lithe figure dressed in brown and black leather, her hair equally as raven as Raphael's. She, too, staked the Count where he stood, only to be met with a powerful shove that sent her flying across the stable and through the wall, outside into the early morning.
The sun was beginning to rise.
Afina managed to sit back as she watched Raphael sit up beside her, his hand still gripping the stake. He twisted it violently and Afina gave a sharp gasp, feeling the small spikes that decorated the stake tear her heart to ribbons.
"You," she whispered; her voice positively deadly.
She gave out a ferocious roar and grabbed Raphael by the neck, lifting him with surprising ease as she stood. She looked down at the stake sticking out of her chest in wonder. She should be dead – really dead. Everyone knew that a silver stake could kill a vampire. Still holding Raphael by the throat, she used her other hand to pull the stake out of her chest and she and Raphael watched in amazement as the gory wound between her breasts healed right before their eyes.
"It's impossible," Raphael choked in astonishment. "You – you should be…" but before he could finish, the Count had arrived by her side, practically tearing the hunter from Afina's grip and sending him violently into the ground. He violently tore the stake from his own chest and threw it directly at the hunter. Raphael moved just in time for the stake to miss his heart, but it landed soundly in his left shoulder. He let out an angry cry of pain and fell to the ground. Momentarily satisfied, the Count quickly turned over to Afina, holding her shoulders in his hands and looking at her with astonishment.
"You're not dead."
"No, I'm not," she confirmed, equally as surprised as he. The Count looked down at her chest where the stake had been and gingerly moved back the torn fabric, careful not to touch her skin. She was completely healed.
"It can't be."
They were suddenly interrupted by a loud crash of the stable doors as Raphael, mounted on a horse, made a run for it. The morning sun filled the stable in a matter of seconds, bathing both of them in light. Afina braced herself for a painful destruction as the Count struggled to shield her from the light, but nothing happened.
Both remained unharmed as the glorious morning washed over them and they looked at one another in wonder.
"Well, this is most convenient," Vlad replied, with a smile that seemed to suggest a suspicion of his had just been confirmed.
"You seriously have a lot of explaining to do."
"A conversation for another time?" he offered, motioning with his eyes to the open door.
As if she had read his mind, she nodded and the two dashed out of the stables, shifting into their hell-beast forms, taking to flight just as the villagers began to stir from all the commotion.
So there's chapter 3. Sorry it took a week to get it up. That wasn't the plan. Was in kind of a funk earlier last week and when I was writing, I wasn't satisfied. I feel better about this chapter, but it's still not "perfect." Oh well! No use in agonizing over something that is supposed to be for fun. Time to move on.
Notes for the Reader:
Item 1: I did make some minor changes to the earlier chapters to help with the consistency of future ones. Also received some critiques - did my best to implement those suggestions without altering the integrity of the story or wasting absurd amounts of time to get it "perfect", because perfection is subjective and I can't please everyone - as much as I'd like to. Besides, it doesn't need to be perfect. This is FanFiction for crying out loud! And I'm rusty at this, nor am I the best, so there! I'm just going to let go and play.
Item 2: I removed the links for the musical influences from my profile. I will still continue to include the names of the songs that inspired or set the mood for each chapter, in case anyone cares to look them up. Personally, I always love finding new music. Hopefully someone out there feels the same.
A HUGE thanks to all those that took the time to review - namely Kalika Barlow, invisible reader, ForeverACharmedOne, Danielle, the excellent Riona Winters, and the ever-lovely Roux Barcelone who offered critiques and feedback offsite.
 Dead Sister by Brian Reitzell & Alex Heffes, "Red Riding Hood" OST
 As Wings Blot Out the Sun by City of the Fallen, "Divinus"