Alfred thought he was following the Professor, hoping the old man would know a way to get them out of here safely. He had had just enough of von Krolock's labyrinth now. He wanted to get Sarah, get out, and say goodbye to this world of night before it would consume them all.
In this dark, twisting corridor leading away from the battlements he was beginning to doubt everything. He doubted himself - which was nothing new - he doubted the Professor, and somewhere in a closed, far-off corner of his mind he was beginning to ask himself…
No. He would not.
He stumbled on in the darkness, trying to find the Professor again and shake off the treacherous thoughts creeping into his mind. After a while he realized that he couldn't find the Professor, and couldn't even hear him.
He was lost, with the danger-filled night creeping over von Krolock's castle, and he was alone.
That was when he began to get frightened. That is, he would have if he hadn't been frightened all day long. Now he simply became paralyzed with fear.
The stone corridor he was in smelled damp. He thought he heard something, but realized it was only a rat scurrying away behind the next turn. He wondered how big the rats here were. Maybe they couldn't get so big in the cold Transylvanian winters. Or maybe they had to be really big to survive here at all.
He listened carefully, trying to hear anything that wasn't just the icy winter wind blowing in the towers of the castle or the hum of the dark hillside forest through which he and the Professor had come last night, through which Sarah had travelled at the threat of her life for reasons which he couldn't comprehend…
He started. Hadn't he just heard his name called? There was movement in the corridor, not far.
"Professor!" he called out, and rushed onwards. "I'm here!"
He hurried on, trying to catch sight of the familiar white-haired, top-hatted form in the flickering torchlight. His hurry was so great that he didn't notice the looming dark shadow on his way until he bumped into a real, firm chest and felt velvet enveloping him.
He gasped and tried to flee, but strong arms held him now.
"I thought you are a grown-up enough boy, Alfred, that you don't need to run after the Professor anymore," whispered a low, silky voice. The Count.
Alfred tried to pull himself free, but couldn't, and then he didn't even try. A sensation came over him as though he wouldn't be able to resist, not ever, it was useless, and why should he even want to?
…He remembered, and struggled.
"Now, this is not seemly for a well-behaved young man like you", Von Krolock purred, his voice a mockery of those dry-faced teachers who had said such words to him when he was still at school. "I only want to talk to you, Alfred, not harm you."
"Really?" Alfred whimpered.
"Of course. Do you not think I could have done anything I wanted to you already? Nothing will happen to you… except what you want to happen."
Suddenly Alfred didn't feel afraid, only annoyed. Well, both afraid and annoyed, but at least that meant he wasn't only afraid. "All I want is to be able to take Sarah with me and return to the village, and then go away with her to a world where she's not threatened by any dark vampire lords. Why isn’t that happening?"
Krolock chucked. "Sweet, I knew you'd have spirit. You have a point there, but the thing is, that one's up to more than just what you want."
"Are you saying Sarah doesn't want it? That she wants to stay here in the darkness where you plan to destroy and devour her?" Alfred didn't know how he even had the guts to say this much to Krolock. He only knew he was getting fed up with everything, and also that if he at least kept on talking, maybe some miracle could save him before…
"What do you think? What did it look like when you talked to her in the bathroom?" Krolock's voice was soft.
"I thought she just didn't understand the danger she was in…" Alfred stopped when he realized what Krolock's words meant. "Do you say you know everything that happens in this castle?"
"Eventually. I have servants everywhere, the walls report to me what happens inside them." Alfred wondered what that meant when the only servant he had seen was the hunchbacked Koukol. He suddenly began to feel very suspicious of the bats. Krolock went on. "My dear, sweet boy, it's you who don't realize what's happening. To you it may look like I plan to destroy and devour her… But what I will give her, and what she is after, is freedom. And not only that, but passion, love, life -"
"Death," Alfred whispered. "You plan to give her death, not life."
"It is a death that leads to life. You know it, Alfred. You know it in your heart already. Remember your dream. Didn't you feel it last night? That surge of power, life, passion that rushed through you when you just gave in?"
Krolock's voice had gradually become more mesmerizing, almost like an incantation, and Alfred realized he had stilled, almost leaning against the vampire's chest as those arms encircled him. And now he felt the touch of long-nailed fingers against the tender skin of his neck. It pulled him out of the spell Krolock's voice was weaving and made him understand the words.
"You can't know my dreams!" Alfred protested. He jerked his head to the side to escape the touch and tried to sprint free. He made it two steps away before von Krolock was on him again, catching him by the shoulders, forcing him to stop, spinning him around and pressing him back against the wall. Suddenly the man was very, very close, and by the flickering light Alfred could see the dangerous glimmer in his dark eyes. He tried to scream, but a hand pressed on his mouth before he could try. It pressed only softly on his lips, but the look in the Count's eyes made him feel he would be wiser to stay quiet. He swallowed, but it didn't make his mouth feel any less dry.
"I know everything about you," von Krolock said softly.
"I know enough. I know your desires, dreams and longings…" The hand moved on his lips, and Alfred shivered suddenly. He jerked back his head to pull it away from the touch of that hand, but it only exposed his neck more fully to the vampire, who laughed low in his throat. "You see?" The hand landed on the soft skin right under his chin. Alfred shuddered.
"You remember… How sweet it was to give in… And to feel. To experience. That moment where you gave your life away was the moment when you lived more than ever before. And that moment when you tasted her blood…"
"No!" Alfred tried to shout, but it came out as only a whisper. The Count's hand moved down on this neck. Alfred's heart beat in terror, blood pulsing underneath his skin where the Count touched him, sending alarms everywhere.
"I will not do that," Alfred whispered. "Never."
"But she wants you to."
Alfred swallowed. He remembered, in his dreams, how Sarah's body had writhed underneath him, suddenly not from pain but from enjoyment… A frightening heat surged through him. "No."
"Yes. Oh, poor Alfred, it's not that she doesn't want you… She would gladly have you. Who wouldn't, a good, sweet, pretty boy like you? But you are lost and confused as she. Which of you will be the guide? She needs someone to lead her to the end of her desires, someone who already knows…" The Count's hand moved on his neck again, and Alfred became very still. He also became very aware of how close the Count's body was to his.
The Count's hand reached Alfred's bowtie, and as Alfred's heart beat frantically against his chest, the Count pulled on one end of it so that it began to come undone. "On the other hand, if you knew…"
"What?" Alfred asked, suddenly forgetting to be afraid, his skin bristling with curiosity as the cloth of his tie moved slightly against his neck. Then it lay there only in a simple knot that could come away with the lightest pull of the Count's hand.
"You want to know. Just like she, you are…" The Count pulled the tie away and suddenly dipped down his head to press his mouth against the bared hollow of Alfred's throat. "…dying to know."
Alfred tried to scream, but no sound came out.
He felt the bare fangs against his throat, the indescribable terror, he tried to thrash against von Krolock's hold but in vain, and didn't dare to struggle much lest the fangs pierce his skin immediately. Yet von Krolock didn't bite - not yet. Alfred felt his breath heavy against his own skin, guessed that he was smelling his prey, nonsensically wondered if he smelled good to a vampire - what kind of smell did they like? And would Sarah also have liked to press her mouth down there, just like that, and what would it have felt like if he didn't have to fear he was going to die now… And would she then have moved her lips against his throat like the Count did now, and what would that have felt like, or would she have touched the tenderest of his tender skin with her tongue like that.
Alfred was panting, now, and forgot to struggle, and he realized with lurching terror that the burning in his body was no longer panic but… something else. And he remembered the dream vividly, he remembered the moment when the Count in his dream had come on him and taken everything, and how good it had felt, and how sweet it had been to not resist, not be able to, to say that it was not his doing, that he been forcibly taken, yet somewhere he knew he had surrendered willingly…
He whined in terror and thrashed wildly against the Count, not caring if it would make the fangs pierce his skin, only knowing that he didn't want to be this weak, this easy.
And suddenly the Count stopped, stood up straight and let go of his arms, and Alfred felt perplexed and inexplicably disappointed.
The Count chuckled. "You want it. You know it, and that's why you fear. You are mine already."
"No", Alfred whispered, and knew that if he stayed under the power of that mesmerizing voice and those hypnotizing eyes any longer, he would not be able to resist. He turned and fled.
He was sure he heard the Count laugh, a booming laughter that rang back from the walls, that seemed to shake the castle and the mountains around. But the Count did not follow, or Alfred was able to outrun him, he didn't know which.
He ran until his lungs felt on the verge of breaking, and didn't know where he was when he stopped running. He was well inside the castle now, because there hadn't been anywhere to run which would not be guarded by the Count. There was no Professor in sight, but at least there was no Count either. He would just have to catch his breath and his thoughts, and then he could try to figure out how to find the Professor. And Sarah.
He didn't feel comfortable in the dark corridor. There were disturbing paintings where pale, sneering figures looked down upon him, there were eerie cries that might have been just echoes of birds' calls, or might have been something else entirely. He also felt uneasy about going into any of the rooms - who knew what horrors they hid? But there seemed to be few alternatives, so after listening for a moment to make sure he heard no-one, he carefully pushed open the nearest door.
It led to an ordinary-looking guest room, occupied by a four-poster bed much like the one he had slept in last night, though with less gruesome decorations. The room smelled musty, like nobody had been in it in a long time, and it glowed with a faint light that Alfred hoped was coming from the moonlit snow outside rather than any supernatural sources. It was quiet, very quiet, and his breathing, still heavy and hot, seemed to fill the room with its raging.
He closed the door, making sure he didn't accidentally lock it while doing so, and crossed to the window and looked out. He saw the snowy slopes which descended into the deep, dark forest through which they had come, somewhere in its depths the road and the village - Sarah's village, if it was hers anymore now that she had left it to come here. Far beyond the forest the majestically rising mountains. Everything looked cold, snow glistening hard under the light of the moon and the stars. Tree branches were covered in white frost, they looked like they had been cut out of precious lace, Alfred remembered how the sight had taken his breath away when he had first seen it. It was a wonderland, a land of fairytales. But wonders were not always benign, and fairytales could kill you.
Alfred pressed his forehead against the cool window pane, hoping the draughts through the window would cool down his pounding blood. The window became steamy from his breath. There seemed to be fire in him, everywhere. Was that why they all suddenly wanted to eat him? Because his blood could be hot, so much hotter than he could have imagined?
He shivered. He wanted to find Sarah and leave with her, be gone from this castle. Before its dark lord would swallow them both and they would descend into an eternal night.
He wanted it even more than before, because he feared what would happen if he met the Count again.
That realization burned in his mind and he wished he could make it disappear. He peered resolutely into the dark sky hanging above the frozen fairytale world, trying to make out the constellations so he would know the directions and know which way to go if they would manage to escape. When they would escape. He'd have to take Sarah to safety, someplace inhabited, somewhere where he would be able to give her everything she needed…
Then came that knowledge that though he had heard nobody enter, he was not alone.
He turned fearfully, heart pounding, expecting to see the Count's dark shape behind him again. He started when he saw it was not the Count but his son. Herbert gave him a wide smile that made the sharpness of his fangs all the more obvious.
"Well, hello, darling!"
Alfred stood frozen into spot as Herbert took two brisk steps towards him. Then his wits momentarily returned to him. He yelped, hit the vampire in the face with his bag, and ran for the door.
"Hey!" Herbert shouted, annoyed, but Alfred struggled frantically with the door handle. The door, which he knew he had not locked, would not open.
"Don't bother about it", Herbert said smugly behind him. "Don't you think I can come in without closing the door behind me?"
And before Alfred had time to come up with an alternate plan Herbert advanced upon him and grabbed him firmly by the waist. Alfred shrieked, feeling the vampire's hands quickly slipped underneath his coat and feel for his body, only the thin shirt between. Herbert whirled him around so that Alfred had to face him. And he pulled Alfred close. Very close. Alfred tried to struggle, but Herbert's grip was firm.
"Finally we're together alone again", Herbert purred near his mouth. "With no pesky professors coming to interrupt our private moment."
Alfred would have liked to protest that he hadn't been all that keen on such a private moment, but his mouth wasn't free, as Herbert now smothered it with a kiss. A very intense, very wet kiss. For a moment Alfred forgot to struggle as he tried to wrap his mind around the fact that he was having his first kiss, but not with Sarah or any other girl, instead with a male vampire who wanted to drink his blood, and do goodness knew what else to him.
Somewhere in him, a voice was saying: So this is what kissing feels like! I always wanted to know.
And another voice pointed out: I'm sure it would be nicer with someone I love.
But it's still something, isn't it?
"No!" he yelled as soon as Herbert liberated his mouth.
"Yes", Herbert purred, and let his hand snake up Alfred's body, caressing his back through his shirt, feeling for the skin underneath. The hand descended again, playing with the fastenings of his braces, but not undoing them yet, instead going further down… Alfred swallowed when he felt that indecent caress.
"My sweetie, what an exquisite little thing you are!" Herbert murmured. "I've never seen a lovelier boy than you."
What an irony it was, Alfred thought, that he heard such words from someone whom he didn't want, yet Sarah… Then he didn't think anymore, as Herbert's hand found a spot to caress that made an unexpected wave of dirty, unwanted pleasure shoot through him. He gasped. Herbert laughed, and before Alfred had a chance to protest, Herbert started to drag him to the bed. He screamed and struggled, but Herbert was stronger than him and he soon found himself flat on his back on the bed, with Herbert straddling him and pinning his arms to the mattress.
"Don't you look lovely there", the vampire cooed.
"Please let me go."
"Ever such lovely manners! My dear, how much I love a well-bred boy like you."
"Let me go!"
"Getting fiercer, are we? I like that. Oh, why would I let you go? You want this, sweetheart."
Herbert bent closer to him. "Oh, you do. I can see it, I can smell it. You want me, darling, you're hot all over…" Herbert slid one hand over Alfred's neck, then stopped and looked at the base of his neck. First Alfred's insides curled up in fear as he thought the vampire was looking for a spot to bite, but then Herbert said: "What's happened to your bowtie, dear? It looked so pretty on you. Like you were a gift, all wrapped up for me."
"He did this on purpose." Alfred said it quietly as it dawned to him.
"Who? What?" Herbert seemed more interested in fingering Alfred's neck. Alfred tried to beat the hand away, but it returned immediately.
"Your father. He let me run away so that you'd find me." Somehow, it disappointed and angered him. He didn't know why. He was just… tired of being secondary to everyone. Except to Herbert, apparently, and he wasn't sure if that was any better.
Herbert pouted. "Father? He tried to do something to you, pet?"
"Father tried to open my gift?" Herbert sounded almost hurt.
"I'm not your gift."
Herbert leaned closer to him again. "But you're what I've always wanted."
When Alfred didn't say anything, Herbert began to stroke his neck again. "So that's what you like after all…" The vampire clucked with his tongue. "Oh, oh, the good little boy is naughtier than he thought. Who'd have guessed that you'd also succumb to Father's charms?"
"I didn't succumb."
"Oh, but you did. I feel it." Herbert suddenly bent low and dropped a kiss on Alfred's neck. "You burn, dearest."
"I don't!" Alfred tried to resist the shiver that the kiss sent through him, and the memories they stirred of the Count's mouth on his neck. He struggled wildly, but he was firmly locked under Herbert. Herbert laughed.
"Oh, do that, darling, you know how I like it… What an exquisite little vampire you will make. Such spirit, such ardour!"
"I don't want to be a vampire!"
"Oh, I should have known," Herbert muttered, oblivious to his protests. "It's always the sweet, quiet ones. Oh, don't worry at all, darling. I'm going to give you all you've ever wanted… And you're not second to anyone for me."
"I want Sarah," Alfred whispered as Herbert's fingers travelled underneath his shirt.
"But you can't have her. She's Dad's. You can have me." Alfred was going to protest that Sarah wasn't anyone's, she was her own person, but Herbert rolled his hips against Alfred's, and one of those heated sensations went through him even as he felt horrified at the same time.
"What do you want from me?" he whispered.
Herbert's hands started undoing his shirt buttons. Alfred struggled and tried to beat back his hands.
"Everything? Does that mean…?
"Your heart, soul and body, of course, my dear." Herbert kissed the base of his neck.
"And my blood?" Alfred asked, his breath seeming to stick into his throat.
"It's in your body, isn't it, sweetie?" The mouth travelled up and down his neck and below his collarbone.
"Why do you all do this? Why do you want to… eat me and destroy me?"
Herbert chuckled low in his throat and sat up to unfasten Alfred's braces. Alfred's continued protests and struggling didn't seem to slow down the business of undressing him.
"So pretty," Herbert sighed and looked at him. "So pure. Unsullied. Uncorrupted. And absolutely irresistible." He bent down low to kiss Alfred on the mouth again. Alfred felt the vampire's tongue and wondered how many other young men's blood it had tasted.
When Herbert freed his mouth again, he asked: "If you want me because I'm uncorrupted, why do you want to corrupt me, then?"
"But that's just the thing! That's why Dad wants your silly little Sarah, and why I want you. It has to be. The innocent have to be corrupted. They yearn for it, and those of us who tread in the darkness yearn for them, to be the ones who lead them down our road." Herbert continued to undo Alfred's shirt buttons more vigorously, beating back Alfred's hands that tried to interrupt him. "And I'm going to be the one to corrupt you."
As Alfred felt Herbert's hands caressing his pale skin, and shuddered at the dark imaginings it roused in him, he knew Herbert was not going to get his wish. If Alfred was going to be corrupted, it had already been begun, and not by Herbert.
And when Herbert's hands proceeded down to the fabric of his trousers and felt for the body underneath, such deliciously forbidden touch that promised to teach him what raised such curiosity and such fear in him, Alfred found himself fleetingly thinking that he might as well. There was no way out, he would die anyway, at least he would get to experience… Even if it wasn't with whom he most wanted, he would still get to feel…
The moment he thought this, he knew it was already over. The fall had begun. But it was too late now, wasn't it? Perhaps it had been too late ever since he had entered von Krolock's castle.
He stopped resisting.
While allowing Herbert to finish undressing him, Alfred prayed God to pardon him the sin he was committing, and that He would grant a way for Alfred to save himself and Sarah. And then he didn't think anymore, because Herbert's mouth was caressing his neck in such a way that he gladly forgot everything, and just felt and imagined who else could kiss his neck like that and how it would feel.
Herbert undressed them both, commenting on how glad he was that Alfred had understood what he really wanted, and bent down to caress and kiss his body all over. Blood was coursing faster through Alfred's veins each minute, and he knew he was very bad, so bad that there would be no pardoning him, but the thrill was growing greater and greater - and curiosity being satisfied. Sometimes Alfred felt sharp fangs against his skin, but they didn't bite. Maybe Herbert had taken a leaf from his father's book. Or maybe… He didn't know, he couldn't think, not with those hands and lips caressing his body like that. Alfred imagined Sarah touching him like that, imagined how it would have been if he hadn't run away from the Count, and he burned.
He wondered, in between thrilling discoveries of enjoyment, whether Herbert realized that though he was getting exactly what he want, Alfred wasn't truly succumbing to his charms, or overpowered by him. He allowed this… for his own ends. For once he wasn't the only one being used. It pleased him.
The realization gave him such guilt that he almost kissed Herbert.
When they were both naked, and Herbert towered over him and pried his legs apart, for a moment Alfred felt fear. Now he tried to force his legs back together, but Herbert held his thighs at place with his own legs while letting his hands wander, caressing Alfred in indecent ways that made him afraid to try praying anymore, and made him burn with such desire that he stopped resisting. He wanted to know, so he would. He let Herbert do everything he did, and when Herbert finally laid down and thrust into him, Alfred only cried out in the sudden pain, but didn't protest.
It was painful in a way he had never felt before, and first he couldn't breathe when Herbert moved inside him, over him, panting and moaning in eager pleasure. Then his breathing returned in sharp heaves, and his body shook in simultaneous pain and pleasure, wrong yet delicious. He heard himself whine and moan, cry out no and please and yes, and he thought it wasn't possible to be like this, be so close to someone, be so afraid yet seduced, willing to give in to this power, yet retaining some morsel of himself to himself, even as Herbert came apart with pleasure crying out his name.
And then it was somehow over, Herbert sighed deeply and kissed his mouth, almost breaking the insides of his lips with those fangs, but not quite, threw himself into the kiss like he was trying to suck Alfred's soul out of his mouth and Alfred wondered if it might succeed, and then Herbert rolled off him and laid down next to him.
"Wasn't that sweet?" Herbert whispered after a while. "Doesn't it feel wonderful? And now…" Herbert laid his head at the base of Alfred's neck, and Alfred thought he was now going to get bitten and felt his blood pound in frantic fear. But instead Herbert's hands travelled down and he resumed his sinful caresses, and Alfred tried to resist but it felt too good, he knew how very bad he was but he enjoyed it, and he let Herbert continue, imagining all sorts of things, burning hotter and hotter all the time until the vampire's skillful touch made him burst into bright flame that for a moment consumed everything except feeling.
And then it subsided, and Alfred laid down, strange warm pleasure mingling with terrifying shame and fear. He had been taken and had allowed it, and he had liked it, and he didn't know what was the worst thing. He wished it had been Sarah, whom he loved, and not Herbert who brought this, yet there was a corner in him that was delighted that however it had happened, it had happened. And another yet more hidden corner that found exquisite pleasure in the fact that he had done something so very wrong, and wished to do so again.
Herbert was saying all sorts of senseless things that Alfred didn't care to listen to. He just waited until Herbert kissed him again, and then he arched his neck for more kisses, and only then he realized he had bared his throat to a vampire who had just had everything else he wanted from him. In midst of those caresses he felt Herbert's mouth open wider, felt those fangs sharp against his skin, and knew he was going to die.
Herbert froze, everything around them seemed to stand still as if spellbound. When Alfred could move, he turned his head and saw the Count standing in the now open doorway, looking straight at him and smiling darkly with triumph and something else Alfred didn't dare to name.
"Not now, Herbert," the Count said. He seemed untroubled by the sight of his son naked in bed with a young man, and had fixed all his attention on Alfred. Alfred felt waves of shame and something else wash through him, but he couldn't move. "The timing has to be perfect."
"You and your timing," Herbert complained, but sat up. "He's all willing. Why don't I bite him now?"
"Because it will be better later. You'll see. There's no hurry. He's all ours." The Count had let his eyes flicker to Herbert for a moment, but now fixed his gaze on Alfred again and smiled a wide, fanged smile. "Aren't you, Alfred?"
Alfred didn't answer, but the Count's mesmerizing dark eyes held him captive and seemed to pull the answer out of his mind. There was a strange satisfaction in it. He watched, unable to let go, and thought he saw something flicker in the Count's eyes. Some kind of recognition. It thrilled and scared him.
Then the Count made a waving movement with his hand, and said: "See you at the ball, Alfred." And suddenly both the Count and Herbert had disappeared, and Alfred was lying on the bed alone, naked and ashamed, his body weak of satisfaction and pain, in his mind the flurry of a thousand questions.
The first question that he could make out was: What now?
He didn't know the answer.
He sat up, discovered his body still obeyed his orders, and began to scramble for his clothes. With every piece of clothing his sense of shame grew. Yet there was another feeling he couldn't name, some sense of standing on the brink of a dangerous yet fascinating new thing. A sense of knowing.
"Dear God," he whispered when he tried to get his clothes on. "Please let there be a way to find Sarah and save her. Get us out of here before we fall into this darkness forever. Please let there be a way to save both of us. From them. From ourselves."
His footsteps echoed in the empty hallway as he set out of the room onto his search that might never end, or that might already be over.