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Wrap The Cloak Of Night Around His Shoulders

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The sound of hooves against the ground gradually changed into the clop of cobblestone being struck as the carriage reached its destination. Mina Harker had arrived as Lucy Weston was in need, despite the lateness of the hour. She had felt concern upon overhearing the instructions of earlier to keep her friend’s room closed up. Such a prescription was odd, as had been the words of Dr. John Seward and Professor Abraham Van Helsing.

Mina was required to travel from the asylum, to a nearby hotel so that she might gather certain amenities for her own comfort. She felt that she couldn’t intrude on the hospitality of Mrs. Weston. There were also friends and business associates not within walking distance who needed to be sent word, for they had grown just as concerned as she by Jonathan’s prolonged absence. Now that she knew what had become of him, she could set their minds at ease with the information that he had been ill and shut away for his health.

The truth of his case was not something she wished to trouble those inclined to be loose lipped with. She didn’t crave to be the focus upon which the gossipers whispered. There was no way to make sense of this perceived master who had abandoned the man.

Mina had been surprised when her first hansom cab had left her stranded. A second, far less stern soul had been driving the next. The man had lost his fare when his first passenger rushed away without paying, but he appeared no less charming despite the night’s events. In fact, his civility surprised her.

He was inclined to drive her where she wished, once he understood her circumstances. He himself had only been in town since the start of the year, and knew what it was to be left without transportation or a map when his own had been splattered with mud. This driver could ease a soul’s boredom from a grueling journey with a wealth of tales from travels to exotic locales. He had lived an adventurous life, but he was no braggart. None of the stories were too risqué for polite company, for he was a gentleman. Mina smiled at some stories, and was almost scandalised by the last. A particular breed of bat had feasted on the fresh veins of his last stallion.

His words had briefly taken her away from the thoughts of madness and sickness, which had consumed her of late. Some tales were thought provoking; these stirred a curious fascination.

Such words made her worry as to how her dreams would go when at last her head met the soft pillow. When she murmured such to him, he apologised and Mina graciously accepted. The carriage now drew to a stop. With a tip of his hat, Mr. Quincey Morris swung down and politely opened the door for her. The horses stamped, but didn’t seem to calm.

“Thank you, Mr. Morris,” Mina commented with a small smile as he assisted her down. In the face of her puzzling but sad encounter with Jonathan, this man made her feel like a lady of the upper class.

“It’s not a problem, Mrs. Harker,” he replied. “I’ll wait up there until you’ve gotten safely indoors. Sorry for any bad dreams I might’ve given ya,” he replied. Nobody needed to wander through the dark alone.

The gas lights cast grim shadows across the lawn, and the result did no favours to the hominess of the entrance. It felt as though it was to be a foreboding journey that awaited her, just to make it to the front door. She smiled tightly and nodded to the man. One should never visit deserted streets and secluded houses at the witching hour. It was a superstitious thought, for it was only the trees that separated the house from civilisation, and not a desert.

The lights of the house before her should have comforted her, but she wasn’t there for joyful talks. She was there to visit a sickbed.

She would have paid him a few extra shillings for his solicitousness, but she had so little with her. Mina pulled her cloak tighter; there was a chill in the air tonight. She hastened down the driveway and reached the door, quickly knocking as though something was stalking her. It was silly, but she felt as though she were being watched, and not by the driver. She looked over her shoulder, and true to his word, Mr. Morris kept watch. He seemed as apprehensive as she was.

The horses stamped and snorted. Mina looked where he did, for he now pointed. There was a bat, but it passed above her head, and then his further on, and sailed into the forest. It seemed to return, and sank to hang upside down from the overhang above. Thanks to his warning, she knew to step away. She was uneasy around it. She heard the hoot of an owl, and knocked again. Finally, the maid opened the door; she urged her to come inside.

Mina turned back to Quincey, and waved to signal she was in safe hands. Quincey tipped his hat and called out. “G’night, Mrs. Harker. Let me know if you require my services again, I’m just up the way!” He would have cracked his whip, but the horses were eager to go. One whinnied nervously, and practically leapt forward in its haste to leave. He had to fight to keep from going too fast for the safety of others.

Concerned, Mina kept watch until the carriage stabilised. If she must venture out further, she would indeed seek him out. The maid watched, too, as she stepped forward, but her gaze lingered on something other than Mina and the carriage. Mina wondered what it was as she walked indoors, and passed both her hat and cloak to her. Was it the bat, so small and brown? It was neither that, nor was it the owl.

“That one’s a baby, it is, compared to the other,” Essie muttered.

Mina frowned and glanced outside before the door closed. “How much larger?” Should she worry? She caught sight of something huge, and deemed that it was the one the maid feared. Mina saw a shadow block out the lights near the house. Could it be, or was it the owl returning to find a mouse?

“Large enough,” she replied nervously. “You’ll see it if it’s still out there. I’ll tell Mrs. Weston you’re here. She’s abed upstairs.” With that, Mina was left to her own devices for however long the search would be.

The shadow still wheeled about outside the window; Mina pulled back the lace curtains, and risked a peek, expecting a lost bird drawn by the light. She saw the owl fly by, just as she expected. She wondered if it were headed for the woods, when she lost track of it.

It was replaced by the sudden manifestation of a massive black bat; it possessed such large teeth that Mina thought it couldn’t possibly be benign or even of this world. The two red eyes burned like hot coals in what most certainly had to be reflected light at an inopportune moment…or perhaps they burned with hellfire, her treacherous mind supplied. Mina drew back with a gasp, once she was able to look away, and let the curtain fall back. She heard the sound of wings buffeting the glass; claws scratched it with some dark purpose.

It wanted in! The monstrous countenance caused Mina to wonder how such an animal haunting the grounds could be a normal event. Was Essie wrong? Were there more of this size? While the world sought solace and peaceful dreams inside, did these nocturnal creatures seek an entrance?

It didn’t behave as though it was perplexed by its own reflection, Mina noted as she stepped back. There was a hesitation; there was a terror that stirred in her soul, as though something primal within her had sensed a greater predator, which must be warded off. Mina shuddered and dismissed the thought.

Still, it looked like the devil’s handiwork. She knew how foolish these thoughts were and was just grateful she had not screamed. She was even more grateful she hadn’t encountered this one outside. She was here for a sick friend; she was here for Lucy; she was not here to shriek at shadows. She wasn’t here to start at every noise, no matter how small it was.

Lucy needed her to keep her waits about her. Mina moved to the window again as the sounds persisted, just to be certain it was locked tight. It was. Mina was so focused on the task that when a hand touched her shoulder she spun wide-eyed. It was only Essie, and she was just as shaken by the great size and actions of the animal, for she crossed herself.

“It’s been out there a few nights, Miss; just like I said,” Essie disclosed quietly. Mina nodded with sympathy, realising what a horror it must be. Mrs. Weston, seemingly oblivious of the agitated mood, flitted by. She paid no mind to the squeak from the other pane of glass as the bat chose a second window. Mina couldn’t help but stare at the massive form that caused wild and furtive shadows to creep across both her face, as well as the floor of the room. Its body was merely lit by a lamp, but it still gave her a superstitious shiver. Such a creature must not gain entrance to the house!

She didn’t know what she was waiting for, but was ever so glad when the bat finally moved off. Mina forced herself to relax as Mrs. Weston began to speak. “I was just about to find my key, and take down that odourous garlic,” the older woman sighed. “Don’t you find the smell abhorrent, too? It wasn’t this bad when you were here earlier, you know.” The woman was gone before Mina could answer.

Mina followed close behind as she rushed up the stairs. She didn’t know why Mrs. Weston was discarding the doctor’s orders, when both had agreed as to their necessity and how proper it must be to follow them a few hours prior. The only change was that now it was the night, and not the day. There was nothing else, unless Lucy had weakened further. “Has Lucy’s illness altered, Mrs. Weston?” She asked now that the woman had slowed down. She put a hand on her arm to steady her, now that Mina could reach her.

“No,” Mrs. Weston sighed. The obsessive urgency had lessened in the face of being questioned. “No. Not a bit, child; she’s still in that dreadful coma. I just need to look at her, Mina.” She paused as she tried to find the right key. “Please, dear. If you’re staying for any length of time, you simply must call me by my name. I’ll call you Mina, as I always have, and you’ll just have to call me Helena,” she urged. “We’ll go in together, if you want to look at her, too.”

“Fine,” Mina smiled. “Please give me the key, Helena.” Professor Van Helsing’s instructions were so precise that they must have been as important as they were cryptic. Helena hesitated. “Please. Do not open her door or the sash of the window. Do not even peek. Just place the key in my hand, if you please,” Mina urged with her hand outstretched. “You’ll only ruin their efforts, just as I would by lingering when Jonathan doesn’t recognise me.” That seemed to strike the right chord that brought her around to Mina’s way of thinking. “You could make her illness fatal; we could, just to satisfy our curiosity.”

Mina’s finger touched the ring of keys, as she waited; finally, they were freely given. Mina frowned, wondering why the woman looked as thought a great burden had lifted from her shoulders. Was it just that the keys were out of her hands, or something more?

Helena moved to lounge on the divan, but Mina shook her head. “I’m here to relieve you, Helena. You should get to your own bed, where the light won’t disturb you. I’ll be up for a while.” She could see the desire to pretend good health was in the woman’s eyes, and chose to stop it before an argument could develop. “You’ll only make yourself sicker if you neglect yourself. What am I to tell Lucy, when she wakes up and finds you’ve entered your own sickbed? Or that I’ve entered mine, for worry of you?”

The conflict drained from the older woman, and she nodded. “Of course; you’re right.” She picked up her glass of sherry, and went to the door before turning back. “I’ll have the cook make you breakfast in the morning. You deserve it, coming by so late; unless I’m asleep, and then you must tell Essie to tell her. If I am sleeping, won’t you wake me? Of course you will. This night is just so strange, without Lucy’s voice to revive me,” she muttered as she sashayed away. She returned once for a bit of laudanum and merely smiled and waved as she left one final time.

“Thank you, Helena,” Mina called. She hadn’t had a chance to reply. She suspected it was either Helena’s bad heart or the dose of laudanum she would soon partake of that would lead to such a slumber. Mina sighed, and her eyes went to the key. She replaced it in the drawer, and moved to find a comfortable chair to begin this vigil.

An hour later, Mina rose to her feet upon hearing a clanging sound, but it was only the last of the maids returning downstairs following the end of chores for the night. The woman had dropped a tea tray on the stairs. Fortunately, it was devoid of the tea she had recently delivered to Mina.

As the night wore on, Mina began to be tempted to look in on Lucy herself. Where was the harm in simply walking into that room and getting Lucy a breath of fresh air? Helena was right; there was a musty smell that was quite strong even from this side of the room. Perhaps it was smothering Lucy? Or could she even grow sicker from its presence?

All you have to do is get the key, throw open the door, and discard the garlands wrapped around the handle, was the thought that struck Mina’s mind like lightning. But why were they garlands, and not braids? How did she know, without having laid eyes on the room? Why were they even wrapped around the handle of the door? Mina ignored the confusion for a moment, and simply wondered why the garlic would not be better placed around Lucy’s bed if she must inhale the malodorous aroma.

Mina grew restless with these thoughts, much as Helena had before her. She rose again, and sought to steady her nerves. Thoughts of that bat returned, and for a moment she could only think of its eyes. She began to wonder if there was, in fact, a connection between its appearance and the illness. She found herself at the drawer that contained the key, and put it on the table before her with a sigh.

Yes, Mina realised with a sudden burst of insight. Those terrible fangs, and Mr. Morris’ tales of earlier regarding a fallen steed laid low from an errant bat—well, the possibilities coalesced into the barest chance of a revelation.

Could it be? Could something like that have gained entrance to the house and gone undetected? Was it a carrier bearing some dreadful disease? Mina covered her mouth in horror as the idea it may have come down the chimney forcibly planted itself in her mind. Or could it have come through an open window? Was such a thing loose in the area and harming people?

The certainty it was this should have surprised her, but didn’t. She grabbed a candle instead, and checked the hall for signs of it. Of course she found nothing, and felt foolish despite nobody being in the room she looked in on. It had not entered the room beside her own. She guessed that if it had, it would be in Lucy’s room.

“All you have to do is go inside and verify she’s safe. Nobody will know if you’re careful,” Mina whispered to herself. She found herself with her palm on the door as she wrestled between the orders of the physician and an overwhelming need. A sudden moan startled her from her thoughts, but it was just Lucy, restless and stirring as she did from time to time. She thought comas were supposed to be quieter. As it sounded like her friend calmed and returned to that awful silence, Mina leaned her forehead against the door. She silently chastised herself for behaving in this manner.

She was acting like a child, she chided herself, now that she could think again. A bat would knock things over in its frenzy to escape! One so large as that could not hide like a spirit. Lucy would have screamed the first time she came face to face with a bat. She most certainly would not have slept through it laying on her breast or biting at her.

If such a large thing had entered the premises through other means, a soul would have seen it! The servants would have shrieked or caused a commotion as they tried to murder it with a broom. There were no such things to be found in the corridors.

And why was Mina shivering as though she had caught a chill? The warm tea and the fire had eased her before. Perhaps she had merely frightened herself into hysteria.

Perhaps she hadn’t. As the minutes ticked by, the thoughts of earlier returned, stronger. They were increasing in insistence. Remove the garlic, every fibre of her being screamed. Thoughts that garlic could burn someone’s lungs were summarily dismissed even as worry soared. She took a breath, and resolved to inform John and the Professor—John, primarily, would see reason about the sighting of the bat, and her new belief that garlic would not aid her case.

Mina felt as though her mind was growing foggier despite her best efforts. She heard the sound of wings beating softly against the glass again, and moved to stand away from that spot. She was terrified it would crash through. She yelped, startled, as the two men she had been thinking of barged into the room shouting her name, without taking a pause to knock or warn her. She leaned against the wall as she caught her breath.

“Step away from the door, Mina; for Lucy’s sake,” Seward begged. “I’m terribly sorry for all of this, but not even you can go in. Nobody should open it,” he panted. He leaned over to catch his own breath from rushing madly about first the asylum grounds and then the house and up the stairs without pause. Finally, he moved closer to her and held out his hand. “Give it to me, Mina.”

Mina was confounded until she looked down. Without realising, she had snatched the key and slid it into the lock. If she had turned it and pushed, she might have done something she shouldn’t, based on how they were watching her. She pulled the key out quickly and placed it in Seward’s palm.

“Your hands are freezing, Mina,” Seward remarked in surprise. The room was stifling, but she was cold. That roaring fire made it too warm. He knew she wasn’t ill. He knew she hadn’t been bitten, for she wasn’t weak and pale, and she most certainly wasn’t behaving in the manner her husband did. He looked to the Professor, who nodded. Yes, Dracula had tried to use her through nefarious means, but failed!

Mina was grateful for the company; she was even more thankful when John kindly left her and returned with a brandy. It wasn’t her favoured drink, and so she placed it down as she almost choked. “Thank you, John. What brought you? It’s been so strange tonight.”

Before they began, she saw their hesitation. It was best if she went first, then. She began to tell them, first of what happened as she stopped Helena, and then of her own troubles. Their arrival had given her a reprieve. “It was like I was having my own rather quiet descent into uncertainty and, perhaps, madness,” she opined as she picked up the glass again with shaking hands. “I was obsessed with opening the door despite all evidence dictating against a bat being in the house.”

She shook her head. “Of course he’s not in the house; he’s at the window, just as he was before you came. His red eyes are haunting.” Mina caught the knowing look, which passed between the two. “Or it, I should say. I’m…not certain it’s male, besides a particular impression.” Seward flung open the curtains with desperation, but nothing was there.

“You are closer than you realise,” Van Helsing reluctantly admitted. “And your identification of its gender is correct.”

Mina waited, but they seemed to be unsure of what to divulge. She looked to John. “Please, John. Kindly tell me what you know. Is there a bat loose? Has it spread a plague?” The other man was silent and grim. “If it aids Lucy’s case to tell me the truth, I should like to know. However frightening it is, I am not one of a fainting disposition. I shall not scream with hysteria. I don’t know what else to say. Isn’t there anything I can do to help?” Why was he so secretive? What were they hiding? She needed information, not concealment like a child!

Seward gave her a long look, and finally sighed. She was right. She deserved to know, just as he had argued with Van Helsing earlier. “Doesn’t she deserve to not be left in the dark, Professor? Wouldn’t her knowing enable her to fight? She loves her as I do. She deserves to know what is the matter with Lucy.” Mina was pleased by his defence; they both awaited an answer.

Van Helsing slowly fell into a chair, and looked as though he had both the weight of the world on his shoulders, and would be glad if it were lessened. Mina touched his hand, the offer to help apparent in her eyes. He looked from her to John, and at last realised secrecy would only endanger her further. Poor communication would kill them all. It would only aid Lucy’s case if Mina were brought into their selective circle of knowledge. He patted her hand before withdrawing it.

“Yes,” he stated at last. “You deserve to know all. Your mind resisted him for love of her, all without you knowing. We are the better for it. We will be doubly so if you will listen to all before you judge. Your husband, who currently sits in a cell, is part of his web. This one seeks the death and unholy revival of all you and I and John hold dear.”

Mina leaned forward. “Whose web?” What did that mean? What could possibly be Jonathan’s connection to Lucy’s decline in health? “You make it sound as though a demon is at work among us, and not a simple illness.” So it had felt as she struggled alone; so it had felt as she had begun to feel as though she must surely sink to some base impulse that called out to her.

Seward sat down, and she at last saw how pale he was. His hands subtly shook with exhaustion. “How much of your own blood have you given to Lucy, John? Her mother told me of one operation.”

He smiled kindly at the concern. “There have been two transfusions in as many days,” he admitted. Mina’s shock was apparent. “Her mother doesn’t know. Were it not for you, it may have grown to three. I pray we would have both survived!” The Professor, however, was solemn in that regard. Seward guessed that he feared Lucy would have perished before they could get around to a third procedure. “Van Helsing can explain it all. He noted the signs first, even if I guessed the identity and he thought me jealous,” Seward posited with a look. The other man shrugged. “No matter how fantastical it appears, hear us out; even if we sound mad, you deserve to know the crux of the matter.”

And so Van Helsing explained, with John contributing when it was required. He spoke of Jonathan’s time at the castle and his current possession by the Count’s will. He spoke of what was divined through mesmerism, and pieced together from written accounts, as well as Lucy’s symptoms.

“Dracula admitted he was nocturnal; he lied about the letter sent from Prague, for he likely mailed it himself. Mina, all of this only began to happen in Lucy’s manner and health after his introduction. After we all welcomed him in, she began to grow ill,” John added. His face grew even more worried. “Mina, he spoke through Jonathan tonight, in his own voice. He said his triumph was near, and he presumed you would open the door to him.” He grasped her hand.

“He didn’t count on your own will,” he judged. At her dismay, he continued. “Jonathan is unhurt. We waited long enough to see that he was merely dazed, but…well, I would almost call it sated, if I could be so bold.” He shook his head. “He said once he claimed Lucy’s soul, that yours would surely follow hers to the grave.”

“It was Dracula’s voice alone from his mouth? There is no mistake? It was his accent?” Mina replied in shock. They must be certain of it. “He wasn’t merely imitating him?” Seward’s eyes told her it was the truth. This was awful, but Lucy was still alive. Therefore, she could not be concerned for herself.

“Is there anything of Jonathan left, or has his mind been altered irrevocably at Dracula’s leisure?” Mina wondered. Something almost told her to judge them mad and depart with haste; she might have if love and worry were not stronger than the feeling. The siren’s allure of denial would not help her. With all the evidence before her, she chose to believe. It was the only way to make sense of what she was told, and what she had seen of the poor man.

“We cannot know until Dracula is dead,” Van Helsing admitted. “We have much to do in separating fact from fiction; truth from lore passed down through the centuries.” He was pleased, though he strove to hide it. “With three minds to the task, learning shall not be so daunting a task, perhaps.”

All of this knowledge left Mina adrift in strange and terrible thoughts. She would rather these two were just insane, and leave it at that…but she had seen the marks on Lucy’s throat; she had seen the oddness caused by the garlic and what Helena had almost done. She had heard the moans from Lucy from certain times of the night. Moans that confused and frightened her as they increased in volume; moans that grew in strength before dying out, even as that bat fluttered violently against the glass panes.

Mina well and truly believed their words. “Promise me something? Please. Lucy’s mother came close to removing the garlic you left, Professor. If it is Dracula’s will overlaid upon her own, as he seeks access to Lucy, then you must not accept food or drink from her during the night.”

Van Helsing nodded, pleased for a warning before more could occur. “It could be poisoned, yes?”

“No, not poisoned,” Mina denied. She could never suspect Helena of having the wherewithal of such an act, even under another’s persuasion. She would not kill; she may merely indirectly cause her daughter’s death, but she would not actively do such to another. It was not in her nature. “It could be laced with laudanum,” Mina corrected. “There is some in the house, so that she may rest when she is under too much strain.”

Van Helsing resolved to heed her warnings. “We will make our own tea, and remain gladdened by your thinking so far ahead.”

Mina was relieved. Now she wouldn’t feel as though she had no bearings. She did have further questions. “The bat…was it Dracula, then? You mentioned he could change his shape. The eyes were red to the point that it felt as though my mind was seared. I thought I was being silly. I took it for a trick of the light.”

“But now you are not so sure,” he deduced. “Yes, it was he in another guise. You heard nothing come into her room? All is as it was?”

“No, save for Lucy’s restlessness when it was at the window, shortly before you rushed in. The garlic is untouched,” she promised them.

“You are certain you wish to aid us, no matter the danger?” He wished to say no matter the cost, but feared it would only scare her. Van Helsing would give her one last way out if she had cause to change her mind.

“Yes, I am sure,” She replied after careful consideration. Even if this meant a danger for her life and soul, to do nothing and hide would mean Lucy would change into a creature such as he, and Jonathan—who she already guessed was lost to both her, as well as society—he would be unable to live his own life. Even if that life was apart from her, she wished for him to be able to choose it.

“We will try to mesmerise him again,” Seward added. “After we have learned more. The Professor and I agreed to that on the ride over. Do you…want to be there when we do?” He wanted to gather all they needed first, and research so that nothing untoward occurred again.

“We desire to know his resting place,” Van Helsing explained. Yes, Mina’s presence could very well be the tipping point! “He couldn’t say where it was before. With your presence, perhaps we will learn more. I may have you ask our questions to see if he becomes more receptive. Beneath the layers of control and dark way his mind has been corrupted, perhaps your familiarity could aid our cause. Someone he once felt great feelings for could penetrate the haze of lunacy Dracula has placed on him.” If it didn’t, was there any harm in the attempt?

Mina nodded, resolving to do this. Van Helsing rubbed his hands as he thought of how to proceed. He pulled his medical bag from where he had carelessly dropped it at the door, and withdrew from it a bottle. “And to this end, I arm you with holy water, Mrs. Harker,” he intoned. “I procured it from a church.”

“If holy water works against Dracula,” Mina wondered. “Do we have enough to keep him from his hiding places?”

“Aside from Glebe House, which he purchased but doesn’t appear to occupy,” John pointed out. Before Lucy plunged headlong into this nightmare, he had noted that discrepancy, as well.

“Perhaps,” Van Helsing granted. “The two of you should go to the graveyard by day. And sanctify the unhallowed ground you would be familiar with,” he advised. They knew the cemetery’s inhabitants better than he did, after all. “The grave of a suicide would be fitting in that case.”

This was all so new! Mina gave the bottle all the reverence it was due as she accepted it.

Seward was given his own bottle of holy water. It was noticeably smaller than Mina’s but he could find a larger container for its contents when he had the time, if they had enough to go around.

“If you feel well enough…he found books on the occult just before we went to your husband’s cell, if you’ll be so kind as to accompany us,” Seward requested.

“Of course,” she replied.

“I have discerned more should have arrived by the time we make it back,” Van Helsing added.

Then let it begin. They had another pair of eyes to make the time it took for this chore that much shorter. There was a small ray of hope with one bite thwarted. They must pray for more.
--

The carriage ride back to the asylum was put off until Van Helsing was certain Dracula would use neither Mrs. Weston nor a maid or some other household help to further his agenda. The only way he could do that was wait for dawn, and watch Mina, Seward, as well as himself for signs she or anyone was being influenced.

“You’ll have to forgive the mess,” Seward begged Mina from the hall once they entered the building. Their first stop was his downstairs office, which had somehow become their place to dump all the books Van Helsing scavenged. When he entered, he quickly moved the blanket and empty mug of tea. It had been left there and forgotten in all the chaos of the night.

“Of course,” Mina replied as she entered behind him. She saw that the books were piled on both the table, as well as the floor beside the chairs. She didn’t know what to say. She hadn’t expected so much. What had once been Seward’s private office now contained so many volumes that she wasn’t sure where to start.

Seward sighed as he moved several books from one of the chairs. “He told me he called in a favour to obtain anything that could help us.” He assumed that was how Van Helsing had access to large amounts of holy water. He wondered at what the man had done for a priest that could result in so much assistance. He shouldn’t question it if it aided them in this fight.

Van Helsing at last arrived, having been briefly detained. “I sent two of your orderlies to Weston House, John. It will help if the three of us cannot reach Lucy. He would have more men to contend with, if Mrs. Weston falls to his mind.”

“They won’t wait at her side, will they?” Seward asked. “They’ll sleep down the hall? You’ve given them their proper instructions? Lucy’s mother won’t give them grief that way.” Nor would he go into a tailspin from thoughts of the impropriety.

“No, they will find everything they require,” Van Helsing assured him. “Their instructions are precise. They know not to open the door no matter what they hear or feel or suspect. They know not where the key is.”

Mina had been at loose ends wondering what they could do for Lucy if all three were busy when day turned to night. Now she knew. She smiled when Seward endeavoured to move a small pile, and then stood there helplessly when he had nowhere to place it.

He shook his head ruefully as Mina pointed to the one bare spot in the back near the cabinet. “Good Lord! It feels as though they’re multiplying. I didn’t understand how many friends you had with their feet in the waters of the supernatural, Professor.” He looked around, trying to see where he had put a few files.

They had to go into the cabinet, and he couldn’t lose them. He finally found them at the bottom of the third tower of books on the floor. He moved to Mina’s side, removed several books from a chair, and pulled the chair out for her.

“Father Arminius believes that my interest is in the realm of the scholar when it comes to these occult matters. As I desired to borrow from his vast collection of ‘fairy tales,’ as he put it, I chose not to convince him otherwise. He would not believe as we do. The majority of these come from him; as for the rest, two other friends have a similar interest,” Van Helsing clarified with a mysterious grin.

“Thank you, John,” she replied politely as the other man finished. The Professor’s words made her curious, but she would not be rude if others aided them without their knowing. Mina promptly sat down, and pulled over the first tome she could. They would be at this for hours to come. She quickly became engrossed in the facts of how a vampire was destroyed, and all the myriad ways it could go horribly wrong.

There were so many conflicting accounts, across land and sea and time. “Does immersion in water actually help? Is that why he waited centuries before he travelled by sea?” She wondered aloud.

“I shouldn’t think so,” Van Helsing replied. He didn’t know why it wouldn’t, but it just felt beneath Dracula to be vulnerable to the slack of tide. “He crossed the sea on the Demeter, and wasn’t torn from its bulk by nature. One sailor could believe they are defeating him by overturning his coffin and casting him into the sea in that case, and forget he becomes a bat that resists such a demise.”

An hour into their quest for answers, with the many books at their fingertips, Mina came upon something of note. She spoke up. “I might have located something of interest, Professor,” Mina began. “For what precautionary measures must be used if Dracula’s body is burned,” she finished as calmly as she was able to.

“What does it involve that is not a rudimentary cremation that leaves nothing but ash in its wake?” Van Helsing wondered.

“Oh, it—it is that,” Mina assured him. “But if anything were to flee from the flame’s heat, there is a legend in that regard. There is a chance something could reform into the vampire at a later date, from a bit of an essence that was disregarded as being little more than an insect. You have to watch carefully, no matter how silly it sounds! No matter how long we must stand there.”

“And so we shall,” Van Helsing determined. He noted Seward waiting to deliver yet more news. “Yes, John?”

“I have grimmer tidings,” Seward revealed. He slid the book over to the other man. “Van Helsing, you should—or rather, we should, depending on who is forced to do it—do more than hammer the stake into Dracula’s chest.”

Van Helsing adjusted his glasses, before he finally looked back up. “Yes, so I see. After the stake—and my apologies as I read this aloud, Mina, as it is gruesome. We must next remove and burn the heart which has been penetrated by the wood. Next we cut off the head, and fill that mouth with garlic. At this point, the body is burned as well, so that there is no chance of something going wrong. And that is where your research comes into play, Mina. It is almost overkill, but may be for the older type and not the young ones. We’ll keep it in mind if one single stake is not enough for him.”

As they came to the end of the first phase of their latest research time, Seward spoke up once more. “Recognition, identification, and rejection,” Seward sighed. He glanced over to Mina. “It’s how your husband is at dusk. I have also found the stages of demonic possession, beginning with infestation. It sounds oddly similar to one’s demeanour as a servant to a vampire.” He paused. “Shall I keep this, Professor? Are we that beset from all sides that we could perform a haphazard exorcism on either Lucy or Jonathan?”

“I, for one, am impressed by the depths of your devotion to both Jonathan and Lucy’s recovery. However, I suspect we have plumbed our limits,” she smiled. “We need not exorcise anyone. We need only find answers in regards to our particular vampire.” She stopped and thought again, for she was a novice just as John was. “Do they require exorcisms?”

“No, Mina. You were correct the first time,” Van Helsing observed. “Do not wander so far adrift that you begin to research the wrong creature, John. You will make this more difficult. We do not fight things that haunt and control the living, but things feasting upon the blood of the living as a physical entity. There is a small but subtle dividing line, but it is there.”

He rethought his words. “Make a note of the page, John,” Van Helsing instructed. “And the volume as well, for I may lose track.” Who knew? If it were amended in subtle ways, it could be their holy grail for breaking that spell over Harker.

After another hour, Van Helsing shooed them away so that he could continue while they went to the graveyard.
--

Seward pensively gazed through the churchyard gates, and shook his head. He let go of the bars and determined he didn’t need to force his way in. There was a funeral procession going by where he and Mina should be. This had to be done, for by night Dracula would venture forth from one of these graves.

He was reminded of a passage in Hamlet, and it was hard to shake it off despite the fact it was day. 'Tis now the very witching time of night. When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out contagion to this world.’ They were endeavouring to stop a contagion, and though it was not of natural origin it did feel warranted to call the past Dracula sprang from not so far removed from Hell.

He felt Mina’s hand touch his arm, before it was gone. He was glad that he was not alone in this duty. Once they had joined the procession, they broke away from the group so they would not perform some blasphemy of some kind by their presence. Even if they were on a grim duty to protect, it felt wrong by Seward’s thinking.

They watched the group eventually leave their sight for another part of the cemetery. Seward offered her a drink of brandy from his flask to ward off the encroaching chill, or steel her nerves. Mina shook her head, so he put it back in his pocket. It was there in case of emergencies.

Mina had come up with a suitable ulterior motive, which John wholeheartedly agreed with despite its morbidity. They could claim if anyone asked that they were merely there to visit the grave of Mr. Swales. After which, they planned to see the state of the Weston mausoleum.

People could take it from there and believe it was for Lucy or her mother that they performed this task. They weren’t dead; they were sick to varying degrees, due to both mortal ailments and supernatural. People would talk, and Mina and Seward knew it. However, with this fib they would understand that Mina was merely a supportive friend. It wouldn’t sully her reputation.

There was no need for further subterfuge or a lantern or tools to break into a crypt when one possessed a key. Due to this, they decided to bless it first. The entrance was free of cobwebs, thanks to a normally diligent caretaker who lately proved to be scarcely found. Mina poured water near each casket, and said a prayer for each resident. It had been decided that he would take the other graves outdoors, and conserve his water in here.

Seward spotted wilted flowers, which had gone untended, and moved to clear them away. They were tangled with fresh roses left for someone he had never had the pleasure to know in the short time he had mingled with the Westons. He separated the living from the dead, and moved to put the fresh one back in its proper place. He shouted and scrambled away when, after first hearing a chirp, he saw a bat. It was trying to escape him and just as afraid of him, as he was afraid of it. He almost collapsed when he determined it wasn’t a vampire.

Seward carefully moved a vase back upright. It hadn’t broken. With great dignity, he straightened his suit, and brushed off the dust; he had fallen against the wall. “Where did it come from?” Seward sighed in embarrassment. Mina hadn’t laughed, for which he was grateful. She only watched in stunned disbelief.

“There is a colony in the corner, John. Look above you. I think they came in through the crack in the wall just over there,” Mina urged. “Their eyes are not as his are, so I presume that means he doesn’t control them.” She kept her voice quiet; she didn’t wish to stir them up again. “Have you recovered? I think I have.” She asked as lightheartedly as she dared, even as he put down the flowers before he could tear their delicate petals further.

“Yes,” Seward confirmed. “It isn’t Dracula’s hour; I should have remembered. I think we should go bless the other plots.” They should do that immediately; preferably before there were any other surprises. He perused what lay beyond the door. The funeral for a stranger continued.

She saw where his eyes were directed. “Our unhallowed ground is not near them, John.” It was out of the way. “If it were not, then the Professor never told us we could not mingle among the mourners. He only told us to be back before dark. We will act before we are chased away by anyone confused by what we are doing. How does that sound to you?”

Being stuck in a crypt with a woman should feel scandalous. Instead he was certain that he couldn’t do this without her. Not even by day would he feel at ease here! If he were forced to confront a vampire within these walls, how would he behave? He warily kept an eye on those accursed bats as he neared the door. He was torn between apologising to an animal that couldn’t understand English, and expecting them to try something.

When it seemed as though it wasn’t rude, Mina took his arm. It was under her direction that he found the correct graves. It should worry him that this Mr. Swales knew of such macabre deaths as Mr. George Cannon and had laughingly informed Mina and Lucy. There was one such a grave even he didn’t know of, though, and Seward found it in an overgrown patch of land.

Old Mr. Caleb had perished under tawdry circumstances in the asylum, and hadn’t the funds for a proper burial. Seward performed the honours, just in case it needed to be blessed.

“I looked at the house from a carriage, John,” Mina revealed. “Glebe House was procured by Jonathan, as you know. I also found paperwork before I came, from…from before Jonathan became the way he is. He drew a map of the interior, and drew more copies in case he lost the original. I don’t have them anymore, but I do recall the oddity,” Mina continued with a calm assurance. “There are too many open places where the sun could strike Dracula from upstairs. There wasn’t a feminine touch that I saw.”

Seward understood what she was getting at. “There was no drapery or curtains of any sort over the windows? None at all?” She shook her head and he smiled. “Well done. I don’t suppose we could sanctify the perimeter just in case, though?”

“You’ll have to ask the Professor if that’s wise,” Mina smiled after a moment’s hesitation. “Would Dracula be likely to be here, though, among stone crosses and other holy things? Oh!” She paused to free her dress from the base of a tombstone, for the corner had caught her. Even as Seward moved to her aid, she yanked it loose.

“I hope I don’t fall over one of those,” Seward sighed. With his luck, he would trip and crack his head against the monuments. He could easily picture himself sprawled and wounded, and both of them being attacked by Dracula thanks to his carelessness if it were evening. He would be drawn to them by the scent of blood.

“What should occur if Dracula were to be sleeping here as we did this?” Mina asked as she returned to his side. She would depend on him to warn her of another fall, just as he depended on her to warn him of both that and bats. “Would he revive and be ejected from the earth?”

Seward had the same question. “I don’t know. We should ask the Professor. It might be written in one of those books.” If Dracula rose to greet them, due to the sun hiding in the gloom, Seward would grab Mina and run. He was uneasy at the thought. With an air of concerned protectiveness, he held her hand, and lost his train of thought for soothing words when she patted it with equal emotion.

He was left stammering, before he recovered. “I have a bit left, if you’d care to do the final prayer to that one.” It was just a few drops. “We’ll get back to the asylum.”

Mina sprinkled what remained on some ground where it seemed all the grass and flowers had wilted or turned black. She drew back when it hissed wherever it touched. “He’s been here in the not too distant past?”

Seward nodded slowly. They knew where he had been, but not where he was. Given the lack of an angry and pained scream, he couldn’t be down there. He corked the phial when she returned it to him, and put it into his pocket. With that, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

She was a wonderful distraction from his fears, as they hurried back to the gate. Together, they left the cemetery. They would tell Van Helsing of their results.
--

The time had come to probe Jonathan Harker’s mind once more; this time, Mina would be at their side. They hoped their research had borne fruit.

As they loitered outside the cell, Van Helsing passed a sheet of paper to Mina. She gave him a look as though desiring to know what more he wanted of her. “As I said before, there are certain questions we must put to him. He may speak more freely to the once wife of days gone by whose face he trusts without fully realising. He may speak more freely than he would to the Doctor who holds him in that cell or the Professor who intends to halt his master and refused to obtain for him a puppy.”

Mina almost laughed at the absurdity, despite the grimness of it. Van Helsing sagely nodded in understanding of the oddness, before he continued. “He may trust you, and be receptive. Put these questions to him, while John and I remain out of the way in the corner, so that the two of you have room to breathe.”

It was more of a request than a demand. He must have her acceptance; he wouldn’t fling her in unprepared. “Of course,” Mina resolved. She glanced over the questions. “As he owns Glebe House, would he not be found there?” She and John had wondered.

“It appears untouched and unlived in,” Van Helsing dismissed. “The obvious answer is not how he has avoided being noticed for so many centuries.”

“Aside from the drawing in your papers, which John noticed first,” Mina innocently pointed out. He had confided in her that he saw the resemblance, when Van Helsing overlooked it.

She paid close attention to all she learned, and for that he was thankful. “Aside from that, yes,” he confirmed ruefully. She would not believe the excuse of old eyes. “You sanctified the graves with John. You two blessed the crypt. His potential hiding places dwindle. The circle closes, and we need answers. It cannot be Glebe House, for that is too easy.”

“And what makes you believe he has a second in his power, Professor?” Mina wondered if Jonathan wasn’t enough. “Have you seen others eating flies?”

“While I have seen no other zoophagus inmates, that is likely a rarer occurrence under his control,” Van Helsing grudgingly admitted. “Jonathan is locked up aside from his escapes. He cannot prepare houses or bribe people to look the other way and see not a coffin. He does not make travel plans from inside an asylum, so that his master may venture further beyond the castle with each passing year. Dracula controls his mind too deeply; Jonathan is too disordered, and that is not as useful as the Count predicted. There must be an agent who is not confined, just as there is the devoted disciple in there.”

That was all so very logical, Mina found. “You both stated that he possessed Jonathan last time. Was it quite apparent at once? Would I see the signs prior to the spiritual attack upon him? Does he become agitated or inflamed, even under the mesmerism? You only told me it was Dracula’s voice speaking.”

So many questions, but they did need to be considered. “His eyes are blank when he is under, save when great emotion strikes him and he frets. He stood up and mounted the bed,” Van Helsing replied after casting his mind back. “We saw no signs until then. There is no agitation. He looked down on us as a king would when faced with impudent serfs. The blanket was his cape; the shadow of Dracula was cast before us as he used your husband’s mouth to taunt our methods.”

“Was Jonathan ill after such a thing?” Mina wondered. If such occurred again, should she expect him to suffer unbearable agony? Was learning this worth putting him through that?

“No, no,” he denied. “He seemed to come alive and moaned about the sweetness of his presence seeping into him once Dracula left. I will not describe to you his actions, but there was an ecstasy over his features. Soon, he was bereft for the departure of his master from his body.”

All Mina could think was how terrible it was. They turned as John joined them. “Is he willing?” She knew he was trying to get him into the right mood.

“I think we’ve struck a bargain,” Seward replied with an air of confused wonder. “It was deucedly labourious. He wanted a dog, as you recall, Professor? Mina?” They nodded.

“And so you offered a dog if he would do this,” Van Helsing assumed.

“No. No; not at first I didn’t. I was only trying to convince him that he could have more meat and sugar. He turned it around upon me, until I didn’t know left from right for all his arguing for and against things. He was almost quite clear and sane, were it not for all he inferred.” Seward was astounded. “He’s getting craftier the more we do things like this. I can believe he was the solicitor Mina said he was.”

“What could he have said?” Van Helsing wondered.

“It is to be not flies brought with the sugar and meat, but a puppy. I actually fell into the whole thing, and we bartered; I offered him an English bulldog. He said no, it wasn’t the right sort, and began to turn from me as though I was beneath him. It was a ploy, to induce me to offer a Great Dane. And so I did. And so he accepted.” He looked as though he may wander off to think for a time, and straighten out when it all went wrong.

“He knows our intent,” the other man guessed. He became grim. “Did you see him play coy?”

“He hid it well, but yes,” Seward confirmed. “I think he wants to touch his master one more time, and will use us to further those goals. He said he felt abandoned, when he didn’t feel him.”

“Ulterior motives will either bring our answers to light faster, or cause us grief,” Van Helsing sighed. “I do not like this. He understands our desperation, but is twisted by the maker of our woe. There could be more.”

All was uncertain. “We should do it,” Mina volunteered softly. She was in favour of this idea. “We need to learn who this mysterious other servant could be. If we can learn that or Dracula’s place of rest, should we not try?”

“Yes, I am in favour as well,” Seward replied. “But you will not be left alone with him. Should something occur, Rowse and Jenkins are ready.” He paused and wondered if it might be either of them. From her face, Mina had the same idea. “We will cross that bridge when we come to it,” he commented. “If they are in my employ, they will be fired for it as a result of endangering innocent lives, and—and a severe breach of trust.” He took her hand. “We will be there, should anything occur.”

He wondered about the excerpt of earlier, which he had shown Van Helsing. “Do you know anything which could cast out Dracula, should he try again?”

Van Helsing pulled a second slip of paper from his coat pocket. “I have had the same thought, John. There was an assortment of potential things, which formed into an incoherent whole. I took pieces from each, and amended it for our situation. It is that, or I pour holy water down his throat. Given how his master uses him foully, it would hurt Jonathan. The hearing of this or the sight of my crucifix could eject him from the man’s body.” He hoped that was enough. “Though I have my suspicion of him, I agree, Mina. We shall go through with it, and be on our guard.”

As they entered, Harker grinned, but it didn’t reach his eyes. They were cold. “You will give me that dog; you won’t forget that it’s the Great Dane I need most of all? There’s more blood in them. There’s more life in them.” The façade of innocence was shattered, for it was night.

“We’ll discuss that in greater detail, Jonathan. When we’re alone,” Seward responded as calmly as possible. “But first…do you want a fully grown dog that is past its prime? Or is a puppy best for you? It will grow into a magnificent canine. Give it consideration for later.” This was the bargain, even if he would never follow through on his end of it. If he pretended to give in and allow Harker his animal, then he would accept to be put in a trance.

It still felt too easy.

Jonathan nodded eagerly. He saw what Van Helsing pulled out, and recognised it with a chuckle. It was easy to give in to this; he hurried to his place on the bench and sought to calm down. He was supposed to do this; He had said so.

Mina hoped he could be liberated. This talk of devouring lives was sordid and degrading. She watched as his eyes slowly became blank. Van Helsing used the exhaustion against him and made that aid the trance.

“Relax, and cast your mind backwards, Jonathan. Close your eyes and focus,” Van Helsing whispered. “Answer all of Mina’s questions as honestly as you can.” He nodded to Mina, but kept the object moving. It tended to aid in keeping this man under if he happened to slip away, whereas most people would remain calm and not become unexpectedly violent for a perceived intrusion. Such was the hallmark of the one using Jonathan’s mind. Harker’s breathing was slow and calm, sooner than usual. “Open your eyes, Jonathan. You are in a calm place that has only safety.”

Mina moved to Jonathan’s side and brushed his shoulder. It seemed to be the only way to get him to turn her way, for he seemed so placid. She knelt beside him on the cold floor, eye level with him. “Jonathan? Can you hear me?” He nodded slowly. “Good. Can you tell us the name of your master’s protector? Where is he?”

There was a hint of confusion in his eyes, before it faded. “Me?” Jonathan answered in a small voice. “I am. I’m here. I’m right here. I belong to him; I protect him from prying eyes.”

Mina shook her head, for that wasn’t what she meant. She did surmise where his thoughts must lean. “No, Jonathan. You are not the one we seek. We know where you are. We know that there is another who protects your master. Do you know his name? Do the two of you communicate in any fashion?”

The confusion passed and he nodded as though he was still thinking very carefully about what he was allowed to say, even in the trance. “His name is Arthur.” Seward gasped, and Mina glanced his way before he waved that he would explain later. Jonathan continued as though the interruption had not come. Even in a trance, he was incited to an almost passionate outrage. “He is not as I am. He is not favoured among the chosen few. He was not zoophagus. He fears the Master, and does not love him above all else.”

The jealousy rolled off him to the point it made Mina cringe, but now they knew the first name of the man. “What is his last name, Jonathan? There are many Arthurs in Whitby. Have you two spoken despite the ire it evokes?” She repeated her question of earlier, for he seemed to have lost the thread of their conversation.

“His name…is Arthur Nicolai. Yes…we spoke until I threw my meat and sugar at his head,” Jonathan mournfully replied. Van Helsing smiled at the comment; he would speak with the orderly on duty and see when it occurred. “I don’t know why he hasn’t come back to say where the tunnel goes.”

Seward wondered about the last, even as he chuckled as quietly as possible. That wasn’t the Arthur he knew; he had a brother by the name of Arthur, and had feared he had become caught up in this horror. What tunnel? Could he speak, or would it break the trance, just as it had the last time he intruded on Van Helsing?

Mina wished he hadn’t laughed at Jonathan’s words. It might give him a reluctance to answer, if it broke through the trance. “Does anyone besides Arthur serve his will? Aside from you?”

“No,” Jonathan muttered in a detached manner despite his earlier mood.

“Has your master ever bitten you, Jonathan?” She hoped the answer was no; her heart clenched in sympathy when he whispered ‘yes.’ Was that how Jonathan had become as he was, or was there more to the state he was in? Was it merely an entrance into his mind? “How many times has he bitten you, Jonathan? Was it only in the castle?”

Van Helsing leaned forward, intrigued by this new question. He, too, wondered; he had not thought to write it down.

“I can’t remember,” Jonathan whimpered. He had been silent so long they feared the trance had broken. “I’m not allowed to remember unless I’m basking in his glorious presence. I have to protect him. I—I have to see him. I need him.” He grew distressed, as though from the inability to recall.

“Shh,” Mina shushed. “Don’t think about that. Please don’t focus on that, Jonathan.” She closed her eyes and prayed for strength, before she moved to Van Helsing. “Is there more we need before the last? I never saw wounds on his throat.”

“No,” Van Helsing replied thoughtfully. “You have found more than I dreamed. Pray continue with due caution.” It didn’t matter where the wounds were; it just mattered that they had been caused in the past.

Mina agreed with the sentiment. “Jonathan? Look at me. You can open your eyes again. Don’t keep chasing the last question; you’ll only get nowhere, from how you think,” she advised. When his breathing slowed again after his eyes opened and darted to Van Helsing’s antique as though it was his life preserver, she continued. “Where is the master, Jonathan? What does he do at this hour?”

“He sleeps by day. He is awake at this hour,” Jonathan reluctantly replied. He slowly continued, as though fearful of repercussions even from beneath mesmerism’s cushion. “He walks by night. If it’s night, he flies or he walks and he always, always watches those that are his.”

“That isn’t what I meant, and I think you know that,” Mina kindly replied. The last did give her pause, just as much as it gave her the shivers. “Jonathan. Where is the master? Where is Dracula?”

He looked as though he would answer and reveal all, but then began to shake his head from side to side as though something was hurting him. It seemed as though he actually choked on the words as he began to rock in distress. Van Helsing turned to look at Seward. No, he never did this around him, either.

Jonathan shuddered faintly, and his eyes squeezed shut tightly. It was as though the question physically pained him, and he was being torn in two different directions. He was compelled to answer by the mesmerism, but instructed to not let the mortals get close to the truth. His breathing quickened.

Dracula sensed how close Jonathan was to inadvertently betraying him. It was not his own fault; he could tell. He could feel how determined these people were, and how they had drawn Mina Harker into their clandestine group. They used hypnosis to unlock and access the innermost recesses of the mortal’s mind and thereby strike back against him!

Another tremor fleetingly shook Jonathan’s body. Dracula flowed through the bond with Harker now, just as he had the previous evening. Harker gave way before his strength with no fight. The lack of resistance made the transition smoother. Even if the mesmerism were not keeping Jonathan docile and in a trance, it would still be so.

Just as it should be, for he had been instructed that he should never fight against his will should he feel it scratching and demanding entrance to his mind. Jonathan Harker was his, body and soul. He was his and his alone, and no other should intrude. His servant never dared to disobey such a commandment.

Even conscious, Harker could not—would not—have ever told of his resting place. Dracula had placed blocks against that. Dracula implemented this blockade well, giving it the strength of centuries. It would not be broken.

The madness suited his servant. Your faith will be rewarded when I come for you, he planted in the man’s now sleeping mind. The eyes opened. While his essence was now lodged firmly inside Jonathan, Dracula’s body sat safely in the basement of Glebe House.

Mina backed away, noting the change even as his eyes closed briefly. Still, she spoke again. “Where is the master, Jonathan?” She repeated. “Can you fight to answer us? Can you throw off his yoke?” This time, though, her voice shook.

“Jonathan? You’re safe; you don’t have to reply. You can relax.” Seward shook his head. These were extraordinary circumstances, of course, but Jonathan was still his patient. “Professor, I think we ought to stop,” he pointed out. “This isn’t good for him.” He spun back to the entranced man when he heard a single ‘no’ come from Harker. It was faint, but it was firm.

Through Jonathan’s ears, sound formed and clarified. Mina asked her predictable questions; Seward protested. The Count surged upwards through Jonathan’s mind and controlled every inch of his body in a rush, and not just his ears and mouth. One blink, two blinks of those eyes, and he opened them by his will. His control was absolute. He presumed it could be unbreakable if he desired. “No,” he murmured to Seward once more. They would not stop him.

“Ask again,” Van Helsing urged instead. “We may find your husband’s true self yet,” he guessed, before he grew quiet. He saw the true state of matters. Mina had put her hands over her face in fright he could only guess at. He fell silent, but pulled free the slip of paper as a precaution. Presumably, Harker had been too close to betraying him, so the Count had usurped Jonathan’s mind and body once again. He sent a look to Seward.

Seward tensed. Though the word had emanated from Harker, he was almost positive it was not his voice. It was too much like last time for his liking. He looked in desperation from him to Van Helsing. The other man silently urged him to wait. He didn’t like this, either. In Jonathan’s distress, he must have sought the embrace of his master. Or he was right, and his master had been listening in.

Mina stepped back as he opened his eyes. There was a casual cruelty just in the way he watched her. “Jonathan?” She remembered the words of the Professor; she recalled the description. “No, I misspoke. My apologies. I—I am unused to such occurrences.” As bravely as she could, she began again. “I heard the change just as well as they did. Am I addressing Count Dracula? Am I speaking with the man who…who sought to fool me that Jonathan had safely reached Prague?”

From their descriptions of earlier, she had expected some greater indicator of this malignant force, like fangs forming in Jonathan’s mouth. There was nothing but an almost imperceptible light in his eyes. There was a faint redness in the depths of his pupil; there was a hint of the bat’s fearsome eyes. It vanished seconds later, as though it was only a parlour trick to induce alarm.

Mina moved closer to Van Helsing as Jonathan did no more than smirk and rise to his feet with the air of emperor who found her unworthy of addressing, before his eyes locked on hers. It was just as they had described; it was just as she had sensed as he lied to her about Jonathan’s whereabouts. When he didn’t immediately speak, it became difficult for her to reconcile the face with the inhabitant.

While there was an artificial stiffness to his movements at first, it appeared as though he was no longer as unfamiliar with this man’s body as he once was.

He inclined his head in confirmation, and there was an arrogance about him. He moved until she could back away no further and Van Helsing’s presence could not protect her; for he was shoved aside as though he were no more than a toy. He didn’t run; he stalked his prey. He placed each hand around the sides of her throat, as though to show he had all the power in the room. “So you are the one who would play at regaining my servant’s loyalty,” Dracula observed through Harker. It was indeed his voice.

What should have been Jonathan’s eyes glinted. The Count was taking the measure of each of them, and contemplating the worth of their potential corruption.

A once familiar face was curled in a look of disgust and tempered by evil. The hysteria and pitiful mourning of abandonment was buried by another’s presence. “He was yours once, but now he is mine body and soul, Mrs. Harker. He will be more soon enough, just as dear Lucy shall be…and you in time.” He smirked when she remained silent. “Your husband is lost, Mrs. Harker. Forget him. This man belongs to me. It is night. If I instructed, he would not recoil from the thought of your strangulation. He would not shy away from the planted thought of striking your head against the stones.”

His thumb applied pressure to an artery; she felt dizzy. It was just enough to leave her afraid that he would suffocate her after those words. “You meddle in my affairs, and are not even coerced by these two, Mrs. Harker,” he observed as he continued to speak when none dared to move against him. “You will soon see where it leads. All of you will learn in due course. I will outlive your methods, just as I have slain all the others who have tried to pit their wits against mine.”

She took a shaky breath around that grip. “I would not submit to you so easily. Did you do this to Arthur, too? Do you control his movements?”

"No,” he snarled as he bared Jonathan’s teeth. They, at least, were normal. He was almost amiable in his tone, if not in his actions. “His blood was warm and his will was so much weaker than Jonathan's. I merely required a spy. A second to protect me, whereas Jonathan could go no further than the grounds before his recapture." As she shuddered, he spoke his next words softly into her ear. “The right temptation will make it pleasurable when you fall to it.”

Seward crept forward in a vain effort to help the trapped woman. He wasn’t being ignored, he realised; cold, dark eyes met his own when Harker’s face was abruptly turned his way. “Let Jonathan go,” he weakly urged. He noted that his voice trembled, but didn’t feel shame for it. He had no idea what to do in this matter.

Mina took a shaky breath around the strong grip; her eyes met Seward’s, and begged him to stop where he was. Nobody needed to be hurt. “You might take our bodies in time, Count. Our souls will remain our own after the stake sets us all free,” she managed. She could see her words were ignored, save for the look of distinct calm. It was like he considered them all ants.

“Jonathan is the most devoted acolyte I have ever had, Dr. Seward. I have put such effort into placing him in my power. No, I will not release him,” Dracula replied. Amusement laced through his words, before the darkness seeped back in. “I thought you would have begged for Lucy before the end; you beg for this man. He has no desire for me to ever leave him.” He knew that Jonathan welcomed it, and only dreamed that they could become one.

“Why should I waste my words when I can guess what you will say in reply, Count?” Seward knew what was being done to Lucy. To see Lucy be tormented and dead at Dracula’s hands was his greatest fear. He also had a patient to see to, and an unholy creature from his darkest nightmare to somehow extract from that patient.

“You are wiser than I thought you were after the dinner party. Dear Jonathan sees much in you; he watches per my instructions.” Seward was ignored after that, and Dracula looked into Mina’s eyes. “Mrs. Harker, you will be tasted and wooed in due course,” he whispered in her ear. “Your friend becomes of my kind first. She will visit you after her mortal death, and you will readily give in to me. All I have encountered do in the face of the death of all they hold dear.”

Mina was shaking. She was intent on his releasing her, for the grip changed from nonchalant to threatening if she denied him or angered him in some capacity. She gasped when it instantly loosened enough so that she may speak. Her voice was hoarse as she tried to speak; she coughed and tried again. “I want neither you nor Jonathan; I don’t want that which you have made him into. I don’t desire what you offer. We can’t lose Lucy, too.”

Could they? She knew she wouldn’t give up on her. Jonathan’s touch made her skin crawl, and she suspected it was not merely due to Dracula’s hold over the other man. The grip was gone as swiftly as it had come. Mina almost fell; instead, she managed to stumble to the right and sagged into Seward’s chest. He held her protectively as he hurriedly checked her throat; they watched Van Helsing creep closer to the possessed man.

He saw the cross beneath her collar as she pulled it loose and only smiled coldly. “Puny trinkets such as that do not hurt so badly when I am in this state. Did you seek to separate me from him with that?”

“No,” Mina quietly replied. “The Professor will do so with more than—a trinket.” As she had spoken, and thereby distracted the vampire looking out of those eyes that were once familiar, Van Helsing had neared.

"You have been kind to him. You have been indulgent of his ways. Jonathan trusts you to a fault," Dracula noted. He would direct his temptations to Seward before he bothered with the eldest among the mortals. He felt this man was the weakest of them. He judged that he could dethrone his sense of morality with his promises. It was always the way. "I should have used him to ram a knife through your carotid artery when I last seized him. In lieu of his mourning your loss, I would have used him to lap up the blood which spilled forth."

The vile words were a stark contrast to the genial tone. "You left too soon, to ride to your beloved’s rescue. You did not realise how close to death you truly were. Or what I could do. Now," Dracula smiled politely as he moved closer. "Instead, Dr. Seward, I will make you an offer. For your kindness toward my favoured, for your restraint, you can cast aside your squeamish mortality. If you would join us willingly, you, as a man of science, may find yourself learning matters you could never dream of. You could relish the wonders of a new realm. You could be with your revered fiancée in death."

They were almost nose to borrowed nose. Seward could not help his expression of revulsion at the temptation. Those eyes were magnetic and terrible, but he managed to shake his head. "No, Count," he whispered. "No. Not…not at the cost of three souls."

"Three?" Dracula replied, amused.

"Lucy’s soul. My soul. Jonathan’s soul, in case you forget how you’ve sullied him by your intrusion, Count; perhaps a fourth, if you made good on your desire to harm Mina. I won’t forget her," he quickly amended. He felt her holding his arm; he hoped she was not harmed further. "Professor," he called. "Do as you will."

Dracula observed him with one lip curled in condescending irritation as the elder amongst the humans edged closer. “Will you beg for his soul as well? Your words fall on uncaring ears.” He developed other aims, and smirked. “Your mind could serve me well, Van Helsing. I could offer you knowledge of the dark arts. Knowledge you’ve never dreamed of exists.”

He sought to tempt them; Van Helsing ignored that. He was thrown by how Dracula interacted with them longer than the last time. Granted, a boast had been a shock even then. From the things he had read, the more Jonathan was used in this manner, then the chance that they could save him greatly decreased. “Not all of my words fall flat, Count,” he replied as he held up the page from his pocket.

“Have you ever driven a stake through the heart of one such as me, Professor Van Helsing?” It was said nonchalantly in an effort to frighten him away. It was a challenge. “You are a novice?”

“You are the first we have fought,” Van Helsing confirmed.

“But not the last; is that your belief? So you cast about for pretty words…for answers as a child cries to its mother for the thunder that is greater than they are,” Dracula snarled through Jonathan. “You speak empty words and hope they are enough.”

“We cast about for answers in this changing world, yes. Are our words so hollow as that? No, Count. We learn from the past; we learn from our mistakes.” Van Helsing refused to boast, for this may not work so well as that. “Know that this was the planning of us all through days of rigorous study,” Van Helsing ground out. Dracula only glared from behind Jonathan’s face, expecting a crucifix and words that were useless. “Exorcizamus te Ionathan Harker, omissa sapientia Dracula interdum omnis immundus spiritus omnis satanica potestas, omnis incursio infernalis adversarii tempus!” Van Helsing bellowed as he read.

The thing in Jonathan’s body chuckled calmly at his audacity until the Latin began. From inside Jonathan, the vampire was pained and forced to withdraw. Even if the man welcomed him his invasion, he could not abide the Latin. Jonathan might have joined Dracula as he screamed and clutched his head, but it was the vampire who felt the brunt of the pain. Jonathan jerked violently, and collapsed to the floor as the mighty vampire was temporarily cast out with words.

He continued to read the sacred words upon the paper with speed. He could not hesitate, or all was lost. It was a pity Van Helsing could not observe the vampire’s stolen face as he spoke with passion. Van Helsing only raised his eyes when he heard a wail of pain ripped free from that man’s throat. Dracula sloughed off his stolen body when an exorcism was employed; perhaps, too, when that body was hurt. He knew this now. It soon became Harker alone as the cell’s resident fell dazed to the ground.

Van Helsing cried out in surprise as the paper burst into flames, and fell to the floor as ash. “So, once and no more for that one, is that how it is to be?” Van Helsing asked aloud. He shook his hand, for his fingers were red from the heat. They were not blistered.

Seward shook his head. Was he asking him? How would he know? “What did you say? Is it permanent?” Secretly, he was proud of himself for finding a version of that in the books. He had realised the Professor was conjugating Latin verbs when he desired solitude, but hadn’t dreamed it was so much of an incantation.

“I chose to alter some of what we found,” Van Helsing replied as Jonathan groaned. “I know we cannot keep him at bay forever, so I made a temporary solution. I proclaimed, ‘We exorcise you, Jonathan Harker, to cast off the mind of Dracula, and off every impure spirit, every satanic power, every incursion of the infernal adversary temporarily.’ So it was written. And so it was done by the forces of good. And so we can never do it again, it seems, from the way it burned. I understand that statement. Mina, now we see if he is clear of mind.”

Jonathan shook his head; his mutters were incoherent at first, as he sought to struggle and sit up. He was too stunned to think; nothing made sense to him as everyone talked over each other.

Sprawled across the floor and moaning, they no longer saw a trace of the great vampire lord. Dracula’s one battle had been lost, but they would fight on. Confused eyes looked beseechingly at Van Helsing. There wasn’t any hatred to be found. Could this be the man’s true self? Had the exorcism allowed him to regain his mind?

“Jonathan?” Mina asked. Astonished eyes that were almost lucid met her own. She almost fell over her dress as she sought to meet him when he didn’t seem to wish to move from the ground. If this was indeed her Jonathan, and not that loyal minion…if they had regained him…could he aid them? Could he reveal where his master was? There was alarm and worry in the depths of his eyes, and she wondered if it was at what he was reduced to.

Jonathan reached out to her throat; she flinched, but her fear lessened when she realised his intent. He was absently adjusting the cameo at her throat in his confusion; he needed to focus on something normal as he gathered his thoughts.

Mina gave Van Helsing a warning look, for he wasn’t entirely back. He also wasn’t a threat, she perceived. “Please let me go, Jonathan. Your master wishes to hurt me; he wishes to change me; perhaps he wishes to control me, the same as he does you or more. It is the same fate he desires for Lucy. But…you don’t want such a thing, do you?” She sadly asked.

He mutely shook his head as something of his old self flickered through his eyes.

Alas, Van Helsing knew it was only temporary. In Jonathan’s case, he had been forced to make it so in the Latin. By his determination, something more permanent would have killed the man. He put his hand on Mina’s shoulder even as Jonathan removed his hand from the decorative piece of jewellery. She rose with grace, and returned to stand with John.

“Jonathan Harker, your very soul is in danger!” Van Helsing grumbled as he looked down at the dazed man on the floor. He manoeuvred himself so that he could look him in the eyes. There was still time to reach him. “If you tell us where to find him, we can pierce his heart and set your mind free.”

Jonathan gaped. He looked from Mina to Seward. He pointed at the cameo near her throat when she didn’t approach him again. He was awash in uncertainty; he didn’t know where he was. He recalled leaving his apartments in the castle and wandering and then nothing but a fog broken only by his own screams. He couldn’t think, and so he returned to looking at Mina. “That was your grandmother’s. I remember the funeral. How long ago was it, Mina?” He looked up and saw the bars at the window, and seemed even more confused and frightened.

“It was a few months before we married, and you disappeared,” Mina sighed sadly. She didn’t dare to make another sound, but she froze in shock. He remembered something from the past when it was night! Her pleading eyes turned to Van Helsing. That was almost truly the old him talking to her for the first time in a long time.

Slowly, Jonathan’s memories were returning as the shock eased. He could speak on his own behalf, and not feel like he was a mindless simpleton who didn’t know up from down or left from right or the past from the present. “It wasn’t all his doing. Put the blame on me for giving in. I—I challenged him by wandering the castle,” he begged. “I felt an attraction I had never felt before when he looked into my eyes and looked into the depths of my soul that night…when he saved me from his fellow creatures.”

It sounded so sane that Van Helsing was dumbfounded. “Your soul is in danger,” he repeated. “Despite this knowledge, you would revel in its assured descent into damnation?

“I made my choice for love of his path,” Jonathan returned as a counterargument. “I accepted him. All that I do, I want to do for the sake of him. I would feel his breath on my throat, and yearn and dread for what came next. However I can feel him again, I will do so for the sake of his kindness." The last was said viciously, protectively...but saner than he'd spoken in their viewing before. He rose, and backed into the wall so that he wouldn’t throw anything within reach.

"Inside or outside of an asylum; behind bars or not. Possessed or not. Mad or sane; alive or...dead. Even if I should die for the sake of him, at least I will have been serving him. I threw my lot in with him before I understood what he was. I am thinking clearer now than I have in…m-months, if Mina is right. I will chart my own course and save or damn my own soul with my own choices. Some of the choices were made when I wasn’t myself, but others were!" He hugged himself, rocking as though frightened of himself for his own emotions. He hadn’t realised the depths he felt everything until now, and it didn’t all come from outside his mind.

Seward was on the brink of ushering them out; he stopped Jenkins from intruding, for the man had overheard. “It’s passing. He’s calmer, you can go,” he suggested as Jonathan's state began to become less volatile. Harker looked as though he expected them to strike him down. "Can you speak further?"

“The basement,” Jonathan offered hesitantly. He was answering Van Helsing. “I—I think there’s a basement.” He shook his head, too muddled to continue. “I don’t know. Nothing makes sense in my head when I try to remember it and it hurts. I—I think I want it to hurt less. There’s something there. That’s all I can say. That’s…all I desire to say.”

“Which basement, Jonathan? Can you recall the proper building atop it?” Seward carefully asked.

Harker’s eyes gradually changed and became devious, and the doctor sighed. He knew it was too good to be true. They couldn’t keep him with them; that exorcism had been temporary. He just hadn’t realised it was so temporary as to only gain them a few minutes.

Jonathan felt the beautiful touch of his Master, then. There was a gentle caress that became a waterfall in his mind. It washed back over him and removed all reason. He smiled and hopped back onto the bed. He seemed pale to the onlookers from the shock of the exorcism. “Which basement? What basement? My Master? Oh, he could be there or the attic or the closet or even under your bed,” Jonathan taunted. “He could be hanging from the cliffs in the darkest caverns of the deepest caves, and you will never find him without removing all the other bats!”

His riotous laughter could scarcely be contained. “I will not betray my Master,” he shouted. “No, no. I have felt the sweetness of his presence inside my soul again, before you could rip him from my bosom. You tried to peel my true self back on the bone to see what wriggled beneath. My Master is a comfort, and protected me from you; yes, he did. He has not abandoned me. I remain his faithful servant!”

“If you remain faithful, you will be hurt further,” Mina exploded. The outburst surprised everyone. He became a degenerate under his influence. “He is an older evil than you can understand like this, Jonathan. Surely you can sense that!”

“No, no, no,” he retorted angrily, moving as though he would cover his ears and hide from her words. “You’re not one of the chosen, so you will never know. He can wait centuries until we are dust, and his magnificence carries on…but he is generous! He will not be alone after the taste. My taste, her taste, my drink or not.” He shook his head; his wild hair was in his eyes, but he didn’t care.

“He is mighty,” Jonathan laughed wildly. “You can’t dismiss such a gift if it’s offered. Embrace it. You shouldn’t be found wanting,” he taunted lowly with an air of decadent bliss. “He will only be merciful for so long, Mina. He only provides so many gifts to entice you…the pleasure becomes the pain, and becomes pleasure again; it will consume you if you only say yes! He’ll punish you if you don’t, but it will be beautiful. Lucy will be one of us, just as much as you!” If he changed, and she changed, they would be brother and sister in his warped mind. He would gain a new family; always growing, with every bite.

Mina was concerned by the rambling words, but refused to walk closer to him. Not after Dracula’s demonstration of power; not after Jonathan’s return to an all-encompassing thrall that was more fanatical addict yearning for his next touch of a substance whether it be for pain or for pleasure. It was more that than the rational man he had once been; it was more that than the man they had briefly uncovered.

“What do you mean, Jonathan?” Mina wondered on the verge of tears. “Do you recall when you were bitten? You hinted you could not truly remember unless you were at his side. Or do you speak only of Lucy?” He wasn’t making sense, and would not answer as he moved and smashed a plate against the wall near her with a terrifying intensity. She cried out and moved from his reach.

Instead of hurting her, he quickly gathered what was left, climbed up and threw the shards and leftover chunks of meat covered in sugar out the window one piece at a time. He looked over his shoulder, panting with passion and the glint of some unknown emotion in his eyes.

Jonathan kicked aside the stool near his feet; it was old, and struck the wall with such force that it fell apart with a clatter. Two of the legs rolled their way; Seward knocked them away to the furthest corner, lest they be used to bludgeon someone for some imagined transgression.

“Come, Mina,” Van Helsing urged as he took her by the elbow. Mina watched in horror, until she was reluctantly steered gently away by Van Helsing, and out into the hallway. It was hard to look away from the display. “We will have no more from him while his master consumes his emotions. That was too close.” It was becoming increasingly risky to try such a thing, but what else could they do? “Will you aid me once more? Help me locate more ways to forestall such an outbreak?”

“Yes,” she replied, although she was still keeping a close eye on Jonathan as they left. Van Helsing knew she couldn’t understand what it meant for Jonathan to cast aside something he had been so obsessed with gathering. She didn’t need to witness this, for she might come to harm. As they left, Jonathan continued to speak, but his words had fallen back to the level of constant whispers when he moved to curl into a ball on the bed.

“I am ever faithful,” Jonathan repeated feverishly as he watched the window. “Ever faithful. I am not found wanting. I will not betray you. You will not find me wanting when you come. Thy will be done, my Lord. My faith will be rewarded when you come.”

What were bolts and bars before Dracula? His splendour could cast open all the locks. His nature would make shackles fall off him, if he wore them; if they dared to put them on his wrists, they wouldn’t last.

Jonathan heard the sound of wings beyond the bars of the window. He need not despair; he understood the message. He was coming!
--

Seward joined them as Rowse locked the door. “I’ll try to speak to him again later,” he assured her. There had to be a way to find the man again under the enslaved creature. He had seen a moment of sanity just as Mina had! “But without hypnosis, so he can’t come through.”

“He can’t resist, and doesn’t wish to because of whatever foul thing Dracula did to his mind and soul in the castle,” Mina replied. He denied knowledge of her when the sun went down…but she had only heard about the act of being used as a vessel or receptacle. She hadn’t truly understood until it happened before her very eyes. She hadn’t known until she had heard another’s voice from his lips.

“Do you need anything?” John asked. Did she require a sedative? Van Helsing had chosen to give them a moment alone together. He needed to know how distressed she was, and if she should stay near one of them.

“No,” Mina replied as bravely as she could. That was rude and untrue, and so she corrected herself apologetically. “Yes. Your friendship; I must thank you for almost coming to my defence physically. I saw your eyes. I’m glad you didn’t, for he would have hurt you.”

John smiled. “If I swore that I would not abandon you, I feel that I would be close to a mimicry of him. He believed himself to be abandoned for a time. Until he…touched him through the process in there, it appears.”

“Oh, you don’t sound like him, John,” Mina assured him. Before he could urge her to be careful, she pulled the small gold crucifix out from her collar. He nodded in approval. “It may have helped more if he were here in the flesh. As a spirit, we all saw that it only made him laugh. I’ll remove the jewellery.”

They parted ways, then. Mina to see if Van Helsing had answers to discover in those old pages; Seward to see to Jonathan and the rest of his patients. Seward wondered to himself if placing garlic around Harker’s cell would lessen Dracula’s control. Would a cross at the window’s bars infuriate him, hurt him or bring more of Harker’s buried sanity to the forefront?

This could be the most unique form of therapy he had ever devised for a patient. And he couldn’t tell anyone about it other than Mina or Van Helsing. He would have to place Jonathan in a straitjacket, of course, lest he go into a passionate frenzy and rip it all down.

As he pondered this, he opened the viewing window of Harker’s cell. The man was silent and still; he remained kneeling on the wooden frame of his bed in a pose like he was given a dark matter that needed his attentions. Or he was waiting for something to happen. He began whispering something again that Seward’s ears couldn’t catch no matter how hard he strained. A far more secretive smile than before spread over Harker’s features, and worried Seward; this switching between emotions at such a rapid speed could not be good for him

The exorcism had to have taken a lot out of him. Why wouldn’t the man sleep? Was he too devoted a disciple? He gave up on listening in.

“Yes, Master; yes. I am yours. I will always be yours and yours alone,” Jonathan reiterated quietly. He listened to his Master’s words as they resonated within his mind, backed by the power of centuries. His ears heard the flapping of wings and the squeak of the bat. It seemed to command him to wait. Those who were not chosen would never understand how enlightening it was. He would never tell, and would guard the secret jealously.

Jonathan moved to lean on his knees upon the bed even as he gazed up. “Yes. Please come in again; I need you. Thy will be done,” he breathed. “It will never be undone among your chosen few.” A dark smile spread over his features as his eagerness heightened and could not be fully contained in the presence of his Master forming before him. One form swept in, with the glowing eyes that were his beacon moving into view

A moan of ecstasy escaped him as he heard the plan, but what did it matter to Jonathan? His Master had crafted many ways that would keep them from being detected. Jonathan didn’t doubt him. The bat was now a man that clasped the nape of his servant’s throat. Jonathan eagerly leaned into the cool palm. His bargain—his blessing—the wondrous words filtered through him. He closed his eyes so that he could understand and focus on what the orders were.

Words were finally spoken in his ears, and became louder. His doctor was returned and watching secretly through the window; the fool could not appreciate the darkness, Jonathan thought. Dr. Seward was so near, but Jonathan wasn’t allowed to turn and look at him. These words were for the benefit of him. This was a show, for they need not speak aloud unless it was to lure someone closer. Wasn’t that right? Jonathan understood now.

He could not turn down the offer, not in thought or in deed or in voice. He could not deny him when the sun was down and the dark held sway. Those mental claws seemed to cover an ache in his soul.
--

As he approached Jonathan’s cell again, Seward heard a quiet moan as though something obscene was occurring. Perhaps he should notify Rowse and Jenkins, and instruct them to place Harker in a straitjacket for tonight, while he was so impassioned. Perhaps Seward could also place garlic just out of reach within the cell, too; as a precaution, should anything untoward occur.

Before he could prescribe such a thing, the two came to him and whispered quickly of an uproar in another wing. He was needed. Seward had enough time to hear a mad giggle from Jonathan’s room, and spot an eye quickly removed from the window. He glanced in one last time himself. Harker had returned to the bed; the slow, satisfied smirk wasn’t in keeping with Harker’s normal moods at this hour. He could see him moving his lips, but was unable to catch the spoken words over the din in the hall.

Seward thought he heard a squeak, but was soon distracted by the orderlies in need of him. A sudden din of patients in another wing almost drowned their voices out. There were twelve disturbances in under a minute? Twelve normally quiet inmates who picked now to explode into a sudden whirl of activity.

With a frustrated sigh, Seward went to see what he could do for another ailing soul. He was led to one cell of a woman who was normally so quiet as to be almost catatonic. She was currently so roused and whipped into agitation; so riled, that she was active and shrieking about visions only she could perceive. It was utterly foreign to her case. It didn’t make sense to him! Madness wasn’t contagious, and yet several others were caught up in the tumult as well.

A half hour later, everything reversed to how it normally was. No drug or prescribed therapy had achieved this miracle. “What is this? Black magic?” He wondered. Seward was exhausted from the amount of work, as he had rushed from room to room with overtaxed orderlies.

As he returned from prescribing various therapies with the growing belief that it just wasn’t natural, he stopped. He turned to look at Jonathan’s cell and wondered. Had the Count caused this? He could have, based on how he controlled Jonathan’s actions. Based on how he instilled fear and worry in Mrs. Weston and in Mina, Seward could very well believe it.

Jonathan hadn’t joined in like this. He hadn’t tried to escape. Seward stopped as with that thought the truth came crashing to the forefront of his mind. This was a distraction. Mina had spoken of the changes in mood caused by Dracula’s mental nudges, and he already knew what the nighttime brought for Jonathan. It was similar.

No, it wasn’t just similar. It was exactly the same, and stemmed from the same source! He started from his musings when he heard a moan from Jonathan’s cell as he approached. It was a moan, yes; but it wasn’t one that signaled pain, from what he determined.

The squeak was a bat, he realised even as he heard a second moan emanate from the other side of the door. It must be Dracula in that shape Mina had so helpfully described in great detail. There were no springs in that bed!

Through the door’s observation window, Seward could see Jonathan appearing happy beyond imagination. He glanced to the right, as Dracula smoothly reached the one who dwelled there. Seward tried to open the door, but against all logic, it held fast. It wouldn’t budge, so he was reduced to watching.

It made him wonder if Dracula wanted an audience. He wanted him to watch. Seward couldn’t look away even if he wanted to. Was he controlling him to a lesser degree than Harker? Just as he kept the door closed so, too, did he keep Seward suspended in such fear that his body wouldn’t move aside from clutching the handle of the cell door.

Jonathan had moaned in pleasure for a dream was being fulfilled. It seemed he would no longer be Dracula’s daytime agent; he was biting him. Was he now to be a food source, as they blocked him from Lucy? Those rat-like teeth dug into the man’s neck and stunned Seward. Was this how it was for Lucy? Had she ever even awakened to see such a face preying upon her? Their bodies moved together, and he could see Harker clutching at Dracula’s cape in some kind of rapture as he tried not to fall.

Jonathan’s eyes slowly closed as Dracula’s will began to quickly place him into a trance-like sleep; he would feel nothing but pleasure. As the fangs sank in, he felt far away from his body; there was no pain, but unbridled joy. His hands came up to grasp his Master’s cape as he began to moan. He managed to gasp out words as he briefly came back to himself. “You…you are…mighty, oh, lord.”

He was ready for anything but this. Jonathan’s face was closer, thrown back in ecstasy. His hands were kneading a black cape covering a familiar figure. Seward gasped in horror. As their bodies moved, he could see the rat-like fangs sunk deep into Jonathan’s throat.

Seward pounded at the door once he clearly saw blood dripping down Jonathan’s throat along with a struggle to breathe. And then, something curious happened that he hadn’t read of in the literature; the sight of it made his stomach roil, as he simultaneously broke into a cold sweat incited by the horror. He ignored an orderly speaking to him at first; he felt him approach and look over his shoulder.

A hand fell on Seward’s shoulder; he heard a gasp. It sounded like Rowse. The man swore when he took in the sight that so disturbed Seward. From the descriptive language, he knew it was Rowse. “Find Van Helsing at once; find Mina. They’re in my office,” Seward managed to order, though his voice sounded distant and hoarse. “Go!” He heard the sounds of feet rushing down the hallway and then they pounded up the stairs.

Seward covered his mouth in horror. It was appalling. He was witnessing some kind of depraved ritual! He listened carefully, lest a phrase be required later. Dracula was leaning beside Harker’s ear; at first the words seemed to be private, and for his ears alone. A moment later, it changed; the tone shouldn’t have carried or reverberated, but it did. It was practically filtered straight into his head. Perhaps it was, so he couldn’t misunderstand that which he witnessed.

Seward was nauseous from the sight, but couldn’t look away. He mustn’t! Van Helsing might need to know the details. Mina would wonder if he didn’t tell everything later! He was captivated.

Dracula held out a slashed palm, and put it against Harker’s lips so that the pact may be sealed and a new creature made. He saw the man’s eyes light up in interest and joy.

“As you drink, so shall you become blood of my blood and flesh of my flesh,” Dracula was saying. “We are as one now, more than we previously were, Jonathan Harker,” Dracula whispered. “You will be bound to my will for all time.” He smiled as Jonathan resumed drinking, entranced, exactly as ordered. “Blood of my blood. Kin of my kin, and flesh of my flesh.” Jonathan drank smaller sips, then stronger. The one he was drinking from had more than enough to spare. Dracula touched the nape of the man’s neck in encouragement. “Yes, drink. Drink and be reborn in my image.” Jonathan continued drinking, greedily, as though it was all the inducement he required.

Jonathan sighed in pleasure against him, and so Dracula chuckled. “You will learn to hunt and conquer,” he promised him. “You will look to the throngs of humanity as your prey. Perhaps you, too, will gain a servant to guard you should you leave. Perhaps a pack mate if you so desire…”

“Mina. Or that Professor,” Jonathan hummed as he pulled his mouth back and looked up adoringly. His mouth was still covered in blood as he licked it. He didn’t want it to go to waste.

Jonathan believed that his Master’s spirit could blot out the sun if he so desired. “Blood of my blood,” he repeated aloud in time to his Master’s voice. “Blood of your blood.” Jonathan was entranced as he was moved to stare into Dracula’s eyes again. Something felt wrong about the acceptance of the new life, but it faded as his mind was soothed by knowledge that another guardian would protect him. Protect them. All feeling vanished irrevocably as fangs sank into his throat one final time. All thought was gone, and his body reacted accordingly, until the fangs were withdrawn.

His hands kneaded the man’s cape in a daze Jonathan felt his inhibitions—or what remained in the tattered remnants of his self—fall away like the dead skin of a snake when it had outgrown itself. He whined, not wanting to be parted from his Master’s touch. That unholy kiss on his throat sent fire through his nerves. Weakness grew, as did dizziness and fear began to return. The taste of blood entering his mouth a final time shocked him back to alertness and quelled the fear as it was shaping itself.

“If you like…or John Seward, for it would be intriguing to control one in such a position. You could always claim him,” Dracula suggested with a knowing smile, as his eyes locked with the frightened doctor’s peering through the little window. Jonathan slowly fell to his knees, head bowed from his weakness. He swayed with a moan, clutching first his stomach and then his head.

Seward covered his mouth in horror. His theory was confirmed. Of course he would know he was there! The door swung open with a squeal, now that Dracula was allowing him entrance. He stepped back one step, and another, as he drew the crucifix from his pocket with fumbling fingers. “Mina! Van Helsing! Someone,” he shouted. Where did he send the rest of the staff?! Surely the distraction was at an end.

“Rowse! Jenkins!” Right; Rowse had been watching with him. He was either taking his time in retrieving help, or running from the asylum in mortal terror. Seward stepped forward, cross out…and was met with the sight of this man—this creature—becoming a bat between one pounding beat of his heart and the next. It was as astounding as it was terrifying. His hands were slick with nervous sweat.

The bat flew for him; Seward swatted at it, and was gladdened as he heard the hiss of the cross as it made contact. There was an almighty screech that startled him as it passed like a phantasm through the bars, and disappeared into the night; the night, which would gradually become dawn in the next half hour. Perhaps it was even less than that. Seward stood on the bed, and looked out the window, watching the direction the fiend was headed.

Those eyes had been just as Mina described. He shuddered, before he realised he had a bitten man to see to.

If Dracula sought the grave of a suicide, he would find they were now sanctified and therefore forbidden for his kind. Seward hopped from the bed, and leaned on the wall as he realised what horrors had been wrought. What could he do for Jonathan? Was the exchange like being poisoned? He fell to the man’s side and eased him to the floor as the man began to crumple in his grasp. “Can you hear me, Jonathan?”

This was familiar. This was life. This was rebirth. This was unending joy and the peace of a new life and a brand new way of sensing things. Jonathan had been part of the way before, with one taste or one bite, but never both at once. This was a time of celebration in the time he had left to think. He rejoiced, weak and pallid and tepid though his blood must be now. His heart pounded from the struggle to pump what was left through his veins; he was so cold. He was half slumped against the wall now, but still recalled that he managed to watch in awe as his Master touched his chin so that he could look into his eyes...and left. He had left him there. He had flown away.

Jonathan could feel the cold of approaching death.

Dracula was gone, but Jonathan could find him again. He somehow knew that he could, just as he could always feel him in his mind. There was light coming into the room from the hall as Seward entered, and it hurt Jonathan’s eyes. He moaned and rolled further into the darkness; he rolled into a ball and covered his eyes. “No,” he moaned petulantly. His eyes hurt; his body and head were aching with what felt like the force of a tsunami washing away against each grain of sand on a deserted dune. It eased without warning. The burden of life would soon be lifted from him.

Jonathan felt feverish. He desired a living person to touch him, but he wanted to be alone. He gaped, unable to process the sensations as a hand touched his arm. Everything was so absurdly sensitive and the world looked different as he gazed over his shoulder at Dr. Seward. He looked away. Jonathan heard a familiar voice; for a second, he was too fixated on the texture of the wall to understand the sounds.

Jonathan laughed weakly, before he felt an odd mood steal over him. It was claiming him bit by bit, and he welcomed the newness of it all. He appreciated the ascendance. His body shuddered, and he gasped as something rippled through to his very core. And then everything snapped back into focus, and it was all feeling so much better now.

To Seward, Jonathan appeared dazed as blood trickled sluggishly down his throat. Dazed, but content; he was smiling. The blood he had consumed stained his teeth. He couldn’t fathom what would happen from that consumption.

Jonathan smiled strangely and then stretched languorously. It was as though he didn’t have a care in the world, and hadn’t just been attacked and brought to the brink of death. Seward was nonplussed, and wondered if it was like being drugged…until he saw how dangerous that smile became. He recognised it from times he became aggressive at sunset. Then, Jonathan turned away as a prolonged shudder went through him.

Had this happened before, whenever the orderlies turned their backs? Seward wondered. He’d wondered ever since those words during the mesmerism. Lucy hadn’t behaved this way after the second bite. She had yet to awaken. He looked closely at Jonathan. “Stay with me,” he urged. “You don’t have to die; I could—I could give you a transfusion, too!” He noted a strange smirk was spreading across the man’s face, but he remained steadfast in his silence. “Harker?”

“You wonder why I said yes; why’d I accept, you…you want to ask,” Jonathan began. Though he spoke, everything felt distant and beneath him. “I…was chosen, Dr. Seward. I am his in body and mind and soul and all that comes before and after until the end of everything and everyone. I will…always be his and his alone.” The words were weak at first, but gained in strength. He leaned against Seward; he could sense how frantic the man was. How frightened. Jonathan smiled wickedly as something else changed inside him…something vital. Seward smelled desperate; he didn’t even worry at the fact he could smell the other man. It was normal. "We're inside each other for always. I am not abandoned." Still, he felt strange. Was this how Dracula felt?

“He’s your master at night. I don’t wonder a damn thing about that,” Seward shakily breathed. He could have wept for this man. This man would never be free to think for himself, would he? If it were daylight, though…if Dracula went out in the day, would Harker have said no? From all that he had seen and heard, he couldn’t do anything but submit to the vampire’s will at night.

“Come closer,” Jonathan urged. “You have to know, Dr. Seward. You have to learn.” Jonathan’s mouth hurt now. It was a good ache. He knew what to do; his Master had told him. He was planning to warn Seward of something, before giving in; he fell silent. Still looking away, he grinned viciously as he shook. He curled up on the floor, and glanced back to Seward. A moment later, he became confused and stared back down. He was focused on something internal, before he smiled again.

Seward leaned closer, uncertain and taken aback by the strangeness of the proceedings. “Know what, Jonathan? Did he tell you where he hides?” Perhaps he could save Lucy if Jonathan was willing to see reason before he died! This was all becoming quite incomprehensible, and he was uncertain whether to rouse another orderly from their tasks, or stay with this man.

“Doctor,” Jonathan moaned again. He was begging. He smiled coldly as Seward knelt ever closer beside him. “I need to tell you a secret,” he whispered; the tone was strange, as though he was both pleased and close to laughing. His weakness was fading along with his humanity. Something feral had taken its place, and he was going to follow wherever these feelings took him. Hard eyes locked on Seward’s. “Come to me,” he urged. “You must help me. You need to know the glory of serving Him.”

Seward saw the hardness change. He realised the danger as he suddenly leaned closer, automatically obeying until he caught himself. He shook his head and moved to his feet, clutching the cross in his palm. Harker began a low growl deep in his throat; the man blinked in a surprise that immediately vanished from sight. Seward’s heart pounded, which only seemed to heighten the need in those eyes. Could he hear his heart, he wondered? He inched closer to the door, regretting that he had pushed it half shut.

Seward shook his head, moving to get up when Harker’s eyes shot up. Their appearance froze him. They were changing. They were—God almighty, they were burning red, just as the bat’s had been, even if it was only for several long seconds. He tensed, but Dracula wasn’t controlling this man again. No, the contagion of vampirism had polluted Harker’s blood, and seemingly spread to ravage and alter its host as new life took hold with great speed.

When his hand brushed Harker’s, it felt like he was cooler than he should be. It wasn’t from the loss of blood, but as though he was dead. Or, perhaps, he was just dying, if he was still moving about. The hiss of the changing patient snapped him from his deliberation.

“Jonathan?” Seward warily called. The man didn’t respond to his name anymore. Perhaps he was in too much pain to hear it. Harker’s head jerked, and he seemed to look blindly toward every sound, even staring briefly at the muted ticking of Seward’s pocket watch. His mood seemed to change again and Seward struggled to remain calm. Those eyes were drawn to Seward’s hands, and he realised why.

Blood was on them, for he had reached out to stop the flow of blood from Jonathan’s jugular. He had realised just how little there was, and stopped the effort. The blood was still there, and it had attracted Jonathan’s attention. As he scrutinised the man’s face, Seward noted Harker seemed lost, scared, and very young for an instant before it vanished like it had never been. He wanted to take the man’s hand, but knew it was not wise…especially when the terror passed away and there was a flicker of something else deep in his eyes.

Jonathan felt like he was starving. His fangs were out and scraping his lower lip. It wasn’t that startling a change in his mind, now that things were altered to the point of no return. “Closer…please. I need you,” Jonathan pleaded. Seward rose to his feet, just as Jonathan bared his teeth. Seward was terrified to see fangs that had formed. To his disgust, they were still forming. The process came to a halt, and Seward tried to find space to get away, just as Harker reared up.

Seward had little time, but managed to rise and nearly reach the door; in one swift motion, Jonathan grabbed Seward, sending the crucifix flying from his hand. Harker straddled him, shaking and panting from both the exertion and the change in all his sensations even as he stared at his throat. As he looked down at him, Seward saw the eyes were bright with a feverish, mad intensity. It made him freeze. He didn’t know if it was the fear of a lesser creature before a mighty hunter, or the power Jonathan was learning to hone.

Harker hissed in his ear, for Seward had been able to move his fingers; Seward had tried and failed to reach that crucifix. It turned into a snarl that promised death if he fought back or so much as moved. Seward decided that he would focus on Mina, if these were his final moments. He hoped she could handle this nightmare. He hoped he wouldn’t hurt her if he were turned, too.

Jonathan yearned for real blood; fresh blood; living blood. He needed to slake his thirst with the living veins of this man he was atop. Jonathan hissed and grabbed Seward’s throat as he tried to shove him off. He basked in that fear as he lowered his head. He craned his neck, fangs at the ready; he wanted to prolong this first taste, though. His fangs left indentations in the tender flesh of the throat. He gently scraped them, licking what welled up.

Seward thought of no more, then, as he blacked out from an awful mix of pleasure and fear. He blinked hard and jolted at the presence of Jonathan staring into his eyes, nose to nose, when the world righted itself. Jonathan’s mouth had some blood on it, but it was grinning madly, and almost relieved. There were a whole host of feelings he couldn’t identify and refused to scrutinise as fangs slowly and delicately scraped two long lines down his throat. Jonathan was taking his time.

Before Jonathan bit down, he began to pull away and shake his head. Seward could feel breath tickling his ear. “Can you hear the whispers yet?” Jonathan slowly asked.

Annoyance passed over Jonathan’s face before the smile returned. “It hurts and then it doesn’t. Strain your ears, and you still don’t hear a thing, do you? It will come…it will.” His words were muffled by the presence of those large teeth. “You will someday, before we’re all together, and it will be glorious.” It was said so quietly, so sweetly, so darkly, that it put more fear into Seward’s heart. Which seemed to be the point, really, from the way Harker moaned as he caught wind of his fear.

“Jonathan, for God’s sake, stop this,” Seward managed to utter in a high-pitched voice. He writhed in horror, and hopefully not more than that he prayed as the teeth sank in. It would be best if he didn’t anger it, though, wouldn’t it? Why him? Why not? Did he have enough blood left to satiate this man? Or was he merely an appetiser before Jonathan attacked Mina or Van Helsing? He could hear himself moaning as blood drained from him. It would be embarrassing if he weren’t in a fight for his life.

“You didn’t die. Your blood might have gone cold if you had before I could drink,” Jonathan chided at last. Seward didn’t know how to respond to that accusation. He wasn’t sorry the creature had stopped feeding for the sake of his livelihood. What could he do with this reprieve? The feral violence quickly reclaimed Harker, though, and all the humanity that might have shown dwindled to nothing with the surge of a need to bite the living. Fangs tapped back into his jugular, as Seward moaned. He attempted to stretch to reach the crucifix, and felt Harker’s hand hold his wrist in a painfully strong grasp.

Seward squirmed to shove him off, only to be met with a terrifying hiss as Jonathan forced his throat backwards further. He coughed as the grip tightened. Seward thrashed and cried out, only to still at the rabid growling in his ear. Glancing up, though, he realised Harker wasn’t growling at him, but someone else. He couldn’t crane his neck to see, but he heard footsteps.

He felt as though he would end up unconscious much like Lucy or worse the more he tried to look. Then, he glimpsed a familiar dress from the corner of his vision. He saw her grasp his crucifix. He knew he couldn’t praise her aloud for the courage it took not to run away or faint at the sight of his blood.

There was a broken stool leg nearby; it had been forgotten following the pandemonium of Harker’s earlier tantrum. A familiar hand picked it up, only to be shoved backwards against the wall by a swipe from Jonathan. John’s frantic eyes met hers as she gathered herself and managed to get back up after a moment of struggling with her dress. She gave up on using that piece of wood.

A crucifix was thrust in Jonathan’s face, and Seward winced at the screech in his ear. Then, suddenly, blessedly, he was free. “Mina,” Seward whispered happily. From the strength of his happiness, it was as though an angel had come to save him. She kept the object between them as Jonathan snarled at his food source being forcibly taken from him. He was vicious; Seward saw Harker licking blood from his lips and grew dizzy. That was his blood. He couldn’t faint yet; not again. He had to keep going. Mina salvaged his crucifix, whilst he was too weak to stand yet.

He remained on the floor for a moment, and held his hand over the wound. Would he soon feel a desire to follow where Jonathan led? Heaven Forbid! His eyes turned to Mina. “Well done,” he panted. “I’m…still alive…because he wanted to play,” he revealed with sick disgust. That was two transfusions for dear Lucy, and one bite from Harker. Did he have much left in his veins to give? He couldn’t donate to Lucy again if Dracula succeeded in reaching her.

Mina was understandably terrified and wondering how long this creature—he was no longer her husband; he was no longer mortal; she could see what he was by his actions—would remain at bay. Would he suddenly leap upon her, too? She had a cross in one hand, and John’s fallen crucifix in the other. “Has your master been here?” She softly asked. Of course he had been. It was the only explanation she had for this. The question seemed to give Jonathan pause, before he resumed trying to get around her and reach Seward.

Seward crawled back to her side as he held his throat. Both had realised that Jonathan was slinking towards the open door, but could do nothing.

She wondered if they could lock Jonathan in an interior cell and depart, before she realised how badly it would go for them. No orderly could possibly accomplish such a task without being grievously maimed. Even if they did, she could imagine how much of a beast Jonathan would be, for he would certainly tear at the walls with teeth and nails. And if they left him in this cell, he may tear the bars off the windows and escape. “Go away, Jonathan! If there is any mercy left inside you, I beg you to leave John in peace.” She risked glancing once at the door, for she saw two shadows.

One belonged to Rowse, uncertain and flabbergasted as he wandered to the door with a straitjacket and seemed to guess how futile it would be, before he backed off. The second was Van Helsing, entering the fray with another crucifix brandished before him, with his hands wrapped in a rosary for good measure. He shouted words of a Latin prayer; in response, Harker snarled as though both offended and cruelly injured.

Jonathan’s arm brushed the rosary, and he screamed in pain. As he saw how shaken Van Helsing was by the outburst, he used that against him. He lunged forward and shoved by him into the hall. He would have bitten Rowse next, but then his head tilted. His Master’s voice! He heard his mental call now, entreating him to join him.

On instinct, Jonathan followed. First on two legs, and then loping for speed up the stairs on all fours; he was too new to ascertain how to become a bat or more like his Master. He needed time. He needed space. He needed to escape. The others were close behind as they realised his intent. Jonathan ran, as blood fresh and warm, stolen and beautiful sang through his body.

Van Helsing gave chase as best he could, for he knew not where Harker was headed. It seemed mindless to him, as Mina caught up, with Seward leaning half against her. He noted the other man was pale and shaking his head, presumably to hold back another dizzy spell. “He is not thinking; he is, perhaps, merely answering a summons based on that attitude he struck,” Van Helsing surmised. He glanced back to the others. They moved, following the shouts as people retreated from the man with blood on his face.

“Careful now,” Mina urged as Seward finally let go of her and moved unaided. He didn’t look well, but likely remained standing from willpower. Mina wondered how much blood Jonathan had taken from him. “Where is he going, do you think?” she wondered. He was always just out of reach, turning a corner, a flash of white hair save for when he stopped to listen to something only he could hear, and darted away. She tripped over her own dress and the stairs once, sending a grateful look when Seward managed to steady her and not collapse himself.

“He’s headed for my secondary office,” Seward suddenly shouted. “He knows the way; he’s escaped enough times and been brought to me by the orderlies in the dead of night. It overlooks the grounds, and he could see it all!” He shouted as best he could, to announce that all should stay out of Jonathan’s way.

“And thereby find his master,” Van Helsing finished. “Just as he is commanding him to do.” For they had heard a keening cry as of a lost child once when he had a misstep, before Harker found his way again. They had no time to help the orderlies who scattered in the wake of something they were entirely unprepared for. Jonathan had one purpose, one goal, and so they were ignored. He had fed, but he was still dangerous if his way was barred.

Seward saw Jonathan snarling at one he recalled as being new. He was blocking a door the vampire needed. Christopher Penhaligon, he finally recalled; wisely, the man backed off and locked himself in an unoccupied room until the mayhem passed him by. “There’s another way in,” Seward told them as they took the servants’ entrance. It was faster, and thankfully, it was unlocked.

As they entered, they saw Harker pacing as he determined what to do next. Van Helsing held out an arm so nobody would approach. Harker’s lips curled back in rage as they once more held up their protection so that he could not get any closer unless he risked more pain. Jonathan stared at Seward as though torn, before other things won out. He paid them no more mind as he looked at the window mere feet away, and smiled. He ran through the window, leaping through it with a panther’s grace as though it were nothing to him.

The trio rushed to what was left of it, broken glass crunching beneath their feet. Mina gasped as Jonathan fell through a rose bush and rose up without missing a beat, moving swiftly even as he shook off the glass. They followed his gaze.

Dracula stood tall and proud, with his cape around him; he didn’t move, save to gesture for the mist to part for his chosen.

Jonathan keened, before he stumbled once as he neared him; he was beginning to weaken now that his desperate quest had reached its end. He stretched out a hand, needing to touch him and see that he was real and not a trick, even as he sniffed the air and learned he wasn’t; he was pleased when the hand was grasped tightly in a welcoming manner. His hand slipped out of the grip. He bowed, staggering as he did so, utterly exhausted.

“More?” Jonathan plaintively begged. He tilted his head, obviously wishing for more blood from Dracula’s veins.

Dracula merely stared at the young man, as he determined how his new offspring fared; he was wondering if it was worth the effort to speak to him if he was still in a wild state. He shook his head once, and temporarily peeled back the mental aberration of hysteria, and the newness of mindless hunger that wrapped about Jonathan’s mind like the layers of an onion.

Jonathan began to return to himself slowly, as he felt him in his mind. “You are mighty…thank you for this gift, Master,” he sighed weakly.

Dracula drew him to his side, and placed one hand on his left cheek to determine his wellness; Jonathan mistakenly considered it a sign of permission being granted, and instinctively bit into the palm. Dracula raised a brow, pleased by the action. This one would be strong. “No, Jonathan,” he murmured. “No more tonight. You have had your fill. You are tired.” With the hand that was not being abused, Dracula calmly removed a thorn from Jonathan’s other cheek.

And with that final gentle tug, Jonathan collapsed without seeming to be able to say or do anything else. He landed in Dracula’s arms. He needed to rest, new as he was; he reached up instinctively to touch Dracula’s throat, and was out as though a switch had been thrown. Jonathan’s head fell back, eyes open and mouth agape with fangs too long to be contained. It was too close to sunrise for him to be conscious this early in his new life.

Dracula silently shifted the man in his arms and looked up to the people staring in trepidation from the window. He easily shouldered the burden as though it was a sleeping child and not a recently transformed man. His eyes fell on Seward with unusual interest. He seemed to know what had been done. He smirked once, in acknowledgement at his kin’s activities; he squinted as though to focus on something else, before he was satisfied.

He noted their presence one final time with a stern nod, and then twitched one hand as though dismissing them. The Count turned away; summoned by his will, a fog began to take shape. First, the wispy tendrils barely covered his ankles, before it spread out. It was soon so dense, that not a single shape could be identified within its depths as it rose and enveloped the vampires; and then, it seeped outward ever further, until it blanketed the entirety of the lawn. There was a minute flicker of red for the barest instant in the heart of it as the thick fog swirled.

There was not the slightest trace of the mist left moments later, as it dissipated at an unnatural speed; it was as though it had never even occurred. The night was still.

The lawn was empty.

Mina’s hands covered her mouth, as she was stunned into silence by such a grandiose demonstration of the monster’s control. As she had watched from the window, she had begun to wonder if the funeral rites should be read. Did it count if the death was only temporary? Was it better for it to be read when a man or woman transformed, or when they were staked?

She was trembling. She was finally pulled free from the growing maelstrom of her mind by a sound just to her left. Mina and Van Helsing looked inquisitively at Seward, wondering why he hadn’t moved, but had made a strangely choked sob. Was he ill?

“John?” Mina asked in a worry that had shaken her loose from encroaching hysteria. Her voice sounded strained. He collapsed slowly enough that she could reach him. “Abraham, help me!” she pleaded as he fell upon her. Mina’s quick thinking enabled his head to be cushioned from the floor with the folds of her dress. Van Helsing sought to move them carefully to the floor without causing either further injury.

Mina shifted Seward’s unconscious weight off of her legs, and gently placed a cushion beneath his head. Her dress was in disarray, and she would be sore shortly as she had attempted to keep the swooning man from further injury. She looked urgently in Van Helsing’s direction, and almost laughed at how lost he seemed to be as to how to aid her. “Help me place him someplace softer than the floor,” Mina urged. She heard how calm her voice was, and was dimly surprised at that. However, hysterics would help nobody.

Van Helsing aided the woman in rising without injury. “First you, madam.” He held his tongue when it came to telling her not to do such again, for he knew she had her own mind. He was impressed by how she had assisted in freeing Seward from Jonathan’s fangs. It could have become far bloodier than it was with a vicious newborn vampire in their midst.

Van Helsing waited for her to look at him. “Best leave the gauze for someone in more dire need.” Perhaps something in the saliva prevented the victim from bleeding to death; perhaps Jonathan had been interrupted in his decadent feast in time. Or perhaps there wasn’t much blood to gain from a man who had already donated twice to his ladylove. He took the gauze from Mina’s unresisting grip and put it back into the kit even as she moved John’s head and put it in her lap.

“I am surprised he lasted so long,” Van Helsing admitted quietly as he sat beside her, but on the floor. In truth, he almost didn’t dare to speak after what he had witnessed. He saw Mina felt the same. He wondered if it was a rare thing to see both the transformation, as well as the welcoming to undeath of the vampire that had done the action. “Jonathan’s death throes were energetic, but now he must slumber,” he surmised. “Now we know what to expect if ever it is that quick again.”

Van Helsing’s eyes grimly took in the bite marks on John’s throat. Had it been Dracula’s mind trying something they could not fathom, or the loss of blood, or the exertions, which had caused the spell?

He saw no point in sparing Mina’s feelings. What good would that do? She had seen the supernatural at work tonight, and not broken. She had seen one man fall to this hideous curse. She understood his intent, he knew, despite her pained expression; her worries seemed to only be for John, now that Jonathan was entirely lost to her.

Van Helsing moved to brush broken glass away from the couch with a handkerchief, so that they could move John there. He turned at a noise, and saw a crowd gathering at the door, of both orderlies, as well as a handful of servants. One was kind enough to forego curiosity and bring him a roll of bandages; he tossed it on the table with the unused gauze.

So, the rest wished to know what Harker had done to cause such mayhem? Van Helsing was in no mood to inform them of more than the fact their employer was in safe hands, and alive. He closed and locked both doors, not truly caring that he would be leaving them in suspense. If there were no answers, they may freely gossip. If they believed their own eyes, they would be discounted as the regular mad ravings of an asylum.

How would they make a sinister transformation into something mundane their minds could grasp? Would they? Van Helsing almost wished to hear the rumours when they began to circulate. However, Mina waited. Together, they managed to roll him to the couch, and into a reclining position. As he sagged, Mina moved Seward gently, cradling him so that his head rested in her lap.

Van Helsing moved to the decanter of brandy, and poured them each a small amount for when they were ready. He poured a bit more into Seward’s glass; he would need it upon awakening after all he had been through. He put the glass down just out of reach, and decided he should confirm his suspicions. His eyes turned to Mina, seriously, as he crouched at Seward’s head.

“I must check for signs,” he softly explained. Mina understood; he silently blessed this woman with such a firm head on her shoulders. She may be terrified, but she was not yet reduced to sitting in the corner and shrieking. He hoped she remained unbitten for the rest of her days. He moved to pull back Seward’s lips and looked at the canines closely. He glanced back to see the fear in Mina’s eyes. “There is nothing, but it hasn’t been long since the bite. Be vigilant, for you may see something before me.”

Mina looked down at Seward’s troubled brow. Even in his sleep he fretted. It shouldn’t surprise her, but she hoped he didn’t dream of being bitten. “How did Dracula change him so quickly?” Mina asked. “Jonathan, I mean.” She did wonder if John had been mesmerised at any point.

Van Helsing shook his head. “That is one of my questions as well, Mina. If such is normal, we must be careful. There must be something introduced to Jonathan that was not to Lucy…and, perhaps, not to John.” He sighed. They must be careful not just for John, but best to be wary in case the infection had already spread.

“We are all in muddy waters,” she pointed out. “Legends only say so much.” Mina rearranged the cushion beneath John’s head as he moaned. She gently stroked his brow. He must feel awful. Van Helsing approached with his crucifix, and she deduced his goal. She silently agreed with him, for they must know if he was changing.

“Our next test,” he divulged as he held up the crucifix. He dangled it over Seward’s face, just as he had done with Lucy. Seward only sighed, which could mean anything from revulsion at a holy object to revival to consciousness. “I will try something later,” he told Mina as he saw the man was coming around. Seward’s face rolled away from him, before his eyes opened a slit. Van Helsing waited to see if this would go the way of Jonathan.

“What did I say about your popery?” Seward muttered hoarsely with a wan grin. He sighed, for he was too drained for more.

Van Helsing was not entirely relieved, but did relax at the knowledge that he was not lost to the darkness yet. “That you were fine with it at your Miss Weston’s side. What of your own?” While he seemed faintly disgusted, he nodded in understanding.

Seward glanced up and saw he was in fact in Mina’s lap, and the soothing sensation was her stroking of his brow. It helped ease the headache. “That sorcery there at the end. Did either of you hear Dracula not with your ears, but in your minds? It sounds outlandish, but he sent a message; he said just one word.”

It had felt like a volcano in Seward’s mind as the vampire tore his way in. Lightning quick, one word had seared through his mind. It was a message for them all. ‘Tonight.’ There was no mistaking it for a thought of his own, and he had been too close to passing out to speak of it to the others until now. Moments before he realised he would go down sooner rather than later, he wondered if that witchery—that bright, slashing sensation—was what Harker had been put through prior to going into Dracula’s servitude.

Had Dracula done something close to this to the poor man? Had it been heightened so far that the only respite was that Harker would go mad? All of these musings cascaded through Seward’s mind in the moments before his fingers had slowly had let go of their death grip from the bare wood of the sill. It was the last sensation he recalled before he awakened here.

“Perhaps you were vulnerable through Jonathan’s handiwork,” Van Helsing mused darkly. “No, we heard nothing. What was the word?” If it were attack, then best be prepared.

”Professor, that one word was tonight,” Seward replied. “That was all…but I don’t know what it means! Lucy will be Dracula’s tonight? We will all cross swords again tonight? Jonathan will aid him tonight? I will go to him tonight? The last I’m quite certain I will do all within my power to avoid so long as I am myself.” He sighed, and leaned back against Mina’s lap, still groggy. It felt uncouth to admit to certain feelings being stirred by fangs.

“How did Jonathan turn so quickly from just the one bite?” Van Helsing wondered. “We would have seen it if it were more.” He frowned suspiciously when Seward chuckled. “What is humourous to you?”

“It wasn’t just one bite, or the first exchange,” Seward clarified as he rubbed his face. “Remember his words under mesmerism, when he wasn’t allowed to recollect. That extra would induce it to spur it on, burning through Jonathan’s bloodstream, I would wager.”

“When were the other times?” Van Helsing asked in a strange tone. He knew more than this increment of knowledge could not come from Seward. Had more been planted by Dracula than he realised?

“The first was the castle, and again on the Demeter. A third time following one of Jonathan’s escapes from us, and the fourth time was tonight.” Seward paused, frowning in confusion. He finally realised he shouldn’t have known such things. “He didn’t tell us that. Could it have come directly from Dracula, or was it something from Jonathan?” Seward shuddered at the remembrance of teeth in his neck.

“I don’t know if it could happen from a drop in the wound, but we are still too new in this field to discount it,” Van Helsing slowly replied. “Perhaps between that and the bite, you briefly had access to Harker’s memories at the heights of passion.” He saw Seward’s embarrassment, but didn’t care. “Harker’s saliva, your blood, and perhaps Dracula’s mingled, interacted, and sparked onward by that passionate embrace we interrupted and Harker’s desperation, inadvertently linked you all for so short a time,” he deduced after more thought. He shrugged. “Or Dracula merely informed you in the same way he spoke to you, but while you were unconscious. What does it matter if we know, when he has already won this round?”

He watched as Mina helped Seward sit up, and waited until he was not too dizzy. “Walk to me,” he coldly demanded. Seward looked startled, but did so. “Give me your hands.” Seward stretched them out, befuddled as to the reason behind the order. Slowly, realisation dawned as he began to understand that it was a test. Van Helsing dropped the rosary alone into Seward’s palm, and became solemn when he saw that burn marks seared into his flesh.

Seward’s eyes widened and he gasped in pain; Van Helsing accidentally shifted it to the other hand. Instinctively, Seward knocked it away even as he pulled back and cradled the abused hands to his chest.

“I thought as much,” Van Helsing commented as he bent to retrieve the rosary. “The taint is in your blood, but it appears to have only changed your responses to certain holy items and nothing else at this early stage.”

Mina reached to take Seward’s burnt palms, so that she might see the extent of the injuries. For a moment, he tensed like he was pulling away, untrusting before he forced himself to relax. She could see he also wished to throttle the older man for the pain, and waited for him to calm. After the first burst of fear, she realised he wasn’t about to go for either of their throats. That swipe against the rosary was merely to get something painful away from him, she had decided. “They’re not too deeply burned. I’ll find something to dress them in a minute,” she consoled him. She rubbed his back, seeing how horror-stricken he was.

He shook his head. “No. Leave it, Mina,” Seward stiffly replied. He had read enough of those old books. “I trust you will do all that you can to release me should I turn? From the very moment I become an abomination?” This wasn’t poppycock; this wasn’t superstitious nonsense. He understood that quite clearly.

“Of course, John. Shall I also remove your head from your shoulders, and fill your mouth with garlic, in accordance to the prevalent texts?” It varied from each account, and he wished to know of the man’s wishes while he lived.

Good God! Seward was appalled, but forgiving. “Professor…yes,” he weakly consented with an air of only accepting due to duress. “And I trust you’ll do the same for Lucy, should Dracula win? I don’t want to be undead and watching myself commit atrocities with my teeth!” While he wasn’t pleased by the knowledge that a stake would be driven through his heart, it did leave him grateful that he wouldn’t become like Jonathan.

And if he did, the Professor would be there to see him off this mortal coil, and onward to the hereafter. When he accidentally touched the wounds on his hands against the table, he cried out. “Perhaps it would be best if you did wrap them,” he softly informed Mina.

When Mina left to obtain cool water first to soak the burns in, Seward turned to glare at Van Helsing. He hadn’t wished to speak what he was truly thinking when she was present, for it wasn’t something he wished her to be privy to. It would be held in no longer.

“Enough of this—this necromancy, Professor,” Seward snarled as the worst of the pain slowly passed. It left him sounding stern, and feeling far worse than that if he was honest with himself. “I will follow you, but don’t do such again without warning!” He took a breath, so he wouldn’t shove the other man to the wall. “Lucy, whom I love, is trapped in some accursed comatose state of being from his will, from his methodical visitations…whilst I burn from the touch of things holy. Is this truly how it will be? How soon will it be before she slips away? How soon will it be before it will be me prostrate across that bed?”

“We will not—must not—fail in defeating the Count, John. Should we despair, should we falter, then Dracula and those of his ilk will add your soul as well as hers to their swelling ranks,” Van Helsing explained as his hand carefully reached for Seward’s shoulder. He placed the rosary onto the table first, where Seward would see he was not undergoing another test. A quick smile came and went in the face of this man’s expectation of more pain.

Seward pulled away and glanced at the broken window morosely. Granted, it could still be fixed. It left Van Helsing uncertain of whether his words had reached him. There were other ways to strike the soul beneath the developing curse, though. He deduced that the closer the presence of the vampires, the worse it would be for the man.

“Would you have Mina fall before them and embrace their ways should she be bitten? You will not walk long in his vast shadow, John, or in Jonathan’s newer one,” Van Helsing promised. “You and Lucy shall be freed, but you must fight with us to drive them back and not retreat. You need not walk through the valley of the shadow of death so soon with thoughts of rescue or being a martyr. It is not hopeless. It would not be good; you would return from the grave as one of them. It would only hasten his grip on your eternal soul.”

Seward looked back, suitably mollified. He had considered tracking down Jonathan and Dracula, but the plan ended there. He grasped it could be the siren’s call of the bite luring him to that path. “So we must be vigilant for changes, as you say,” he concluded quietly as Mina returned.

“Yes, John. Yes,” Van Helsing sighed. “We can do no more at this hour, in our present state. We have until night falls to recover and prepare. We know not where they are.” He caught a brief expression of seething rage, which passed over Seward’s face like a cloud and wondered if even Seward had noticed the feeling. Perhaps he would be more receptive to Mina if he expected annoyance to be stirred or cruel regard from Van Helsing.

The woman’s touch was prudent enough to know where and when to press the issue, just as she knew where not to touch the raw sears. Her ideas had aided them. Van Helsing met her eyes as she turned from observing the seriousness of the burns; he judged she had the same thoughts when she looked away.

“You will inform me if his mind should call to yours, John?” Van Helsing keenly requested.

He flinched as Mina touched the most painful spot of all. “Of course, Professor,” he gritted out with a tight smile. He fought the urge to snarl it with all his will, and understood its source. It was difficult. If Lucy were awake—when she had been—had she ever felt like this?

“Mina,” Van Helsing called before she left John’s side. “Please remember your reading. Jonathan is not the man he was when compared to your memory. He is no longer even the man he was in that room, who leapt and pirouetted as he threw plates and caused mayhem after the exorcism.”

He could see Mina beginning to protest, uncertain. He held up his hand when he felt Seward tense in anger at not treating her with kid gloves. She had begged for the truth; he would not go back on his promise now. He stepped closer and took her hands in his own.

“He is neither husband nor friend nor ally nor mortal man,” he reiterated as he felt his way through this delicate conversation. “The barest flicker of his old self came out for us, and that is gone. It was ephemeral. You must remember there is only a foul being that stands near you when next you meet. That thing you see tomorrow night? It is not Jonathan, Mina. Whatever he says now or does or recalls, it is not he; he is a part of the legion of the undead. He is the same as his master; perhaps halved in power for the newness. A newborn cobra is just as deadly as its sire.”

“Professor,” Seward protested brusquely. He didn’t think this needed to be said!

Van Helsing turned to him. “No, John; no! We should all be clear on this before the sun sinks beneath the horizon and he tries pretty words to gain the upper hand; to gain more blood; to gain your mind or hers.”

“I understand,” Mina quietly declared. “I had come to much that conclusion myself.” She let go of the man’s hands, and walked. Mina quietly slid her wedding ring off her finger, and placed it on the desk. She had been reluctant to remove it until she had answers. Now that she did, and John was conscious and mostly himself, she had come to the decision that she had just cause for its removal. The once sweet man had bitten and contaminated John, and with that action he had lost the last shred of her sympathy. “He snapped at me, Professor. What more evidence do I need that he would not be averse to harming me?”

Van Helsing approved of this action, but felt he must press the issue. “Sometimes the heart is blind,” Van Helsing stated. He was relieved she had understood.

“Jonathan attacked us; he ran to proclaim fealty to—to his new lord, as his most favoured,” Mina hesitantly pointed out. “I have my cross.”

“Words can do damage as well, or cause you to think you are in the wrong. Perhaps he has a drop of himself when he does not? In that uncertainty he would be king and make you their spy among us sheep.”

“Is John such?” Mina simply retorted. “His mind remains his own, does it not?” She was curious. Jonathan had been Dracula’s agent and avatar after he was bitten. What was John? Was he a Trojan horse, or was he his own man?

“Jonathan was hungry,” he dismissed. “He doesn’t know what power he wields. I suspect his worst is in words, but be prepared.”

The thought discomfited him. Seward would second-guess his every reaction more than he already had. “I will warn both of you if I feel something. What more can I say?”

“Only that you will resist everything he might imply, or induce, John.” Van Helsing reminded him.

“As much as Mina resists Jonathan,” Seward vowed.

“Good,” Van Helsing conceded. That was all he could ask of them. He had to be absolutely certain these two would not go to that creature when called. John was bitten and had a taint in his soul; Mina was protective of Jonathan when they first reunited, and she was careful about not upsetting him in the cell when she asked the proper questions.

He had to be sure. Van Helsing knew they could stumble along their way. He hoped they could pick themselves up at the end of this trial.
--

Seward sat on the sofa, calmly sipping from his glass of brandy. While he did that, pulling over a chart for Jonathan so that he could figure out what to do with it, Van Helsing pulled Mina aside. The glass was quickly emptied, so Seward set it down.

“If you see anything that should cause concern before tonight, I trust you will tell me,” Van Helsing requested. He knew he couldn’t constantly observe him, but he would remain agreeable to Mina’s continued presence.

“I will,” she promised. With that certainty gained, he could depart. “John,” she called. He looked up, distracted and exhausted. “You need to sleep before tonight, or you’ll be of no use to Lucy,” she softly informed him.

He nodded slowly. “I was just thinking. I will continue to aid the both of you. I will carry a crucifix.” He gave his hands a disgusted look. Before she could protest, he moved to the desk drawer. “I have leather gloves, Mina,” he explained as he located them.

Seward began to pull the gloves on. He flinched at the feeling of leather moving over his fresh burns, but it was a small price to pay. It was better to do this and have three than to have only two rushing about in the dark trying to aid his fiancée, while he hid in the corner and prayed that he would not be bitten again. Or in place of that, perhaps while he gave in for some reason and tried to track down Harker. “Is there still enough holy water?” When she nodded, he was satisfied.

“I should fill my flask with it; for if Jonathan and Dracula choose to rush about tonight…and I’ll leave a notation on the top, so I won’t forget that it isn’t my brandy.” He was scared, but Harker had taken several bites to change.

Mina was amazed. She had expected him to stop for fear of becoming a danger to anyone. She trusted he would know when he couldn’t carry on. “Don’t move too fast,” she advised when he seemed to grow paler. She led him back to a chair. “Why do we need Jonathan’s file out? You aren’t planning to declare him missing or escaped, are you?”

“No,” Seward denied as he took a seat. “Everyone saw him rush through here, and us in hot pursuit. He went out the window, and I’m certain everyone heard of it if they didn’t see him or detect the crash. We can say he died of his injuries following another much more critical breakdown of his faculties. I will then officially close his file, and notify the orderlies to never again put out the plate of meat and sugar.”

“Won’t anyone wonder about the lack of a body?” Mina questioned. She didn’t know much about the doings of death investigations, but she assumed they were prone to asking leading questions when faced with a missing corpse.

“Cremation is the answer,” he replied with certainty. “You were already mourning him,” he pointed out. “I can say that we scattered his ashes in the cemetery, for he was too disfigured by the glass and fall and—and landing in that thorny bush. That is the reason why you do not possess an urn for him. We had it done quickly and quietly.” What would they do if they were asked to know who had done the cremation? Seward could figure that out later.

“That is a story which is closer to the truth than I would have liked,” Mina quietly replied. When he looked up and seemed startled, she shook her head. She hadn’t told him, had she? “I was going to ask you for advice about Jonathan, and how he and I could…move forward with our lives.” It was a delicate question. “When I finally realised how it was…when I held him in the cell…and the two of you were certain Dracula had claimed his soul…I didn’t know anymore.”

She had begun to give him up as lost, perhaps dead, even before she knew his mind was changed drastically. Her healing wound had been torn open and it had briefly bled with his rejection of her upon his reappearance, and his changed state.

Her soul would ache with the ensuing scar whether he continued in his present state or died a final time, but she would live. As his wife and presumed widow, it felt like it was her duty to save him from himself. Her lot was simple and straightforward; Lucy’s would be far crueller if she were abandoned to such a fate all for want of a mind untainted by regret.

“I thought his mind could be found. It was…but with no permanence. He is of Dracula’s creation and lost to me at this crossroads,” Mina confessed. She was close to tears, but was uncertain if it was for Jonathan’s death and resurrection, or the admission of such thoughts. She mourned the death of the man he had been. He had died in that castle.

The man who returned and was placed in a cell was someone else with the same face, but not truly the same mind. His mind had been taken from him. He was only himself twice, before that curtain had fallen and cloaked his mind once again.

Seward’s eyes grew wider as he comprehended how his cruelly words had struck, and the damage wrought by them. He came closer to her side. “Mina,” he shakily began. When she looked at him, he continued. “You shouldn’t have been forced to see your husband like that. Not in madness, and not in ravenous evil.”

Quietly, but with an iron resolve in her voice, she interrupted. “He was no longer my husband, John; my husband never returned from the castle.” She took a calming breath before she continued. “He—I planned to speak with you about helping to dissolve our marriage completely. Jonathan would have understood, but he’s no longer himself. Now, because of the Count, I must wear the role of mourning wife and widow. While…while he thinks nothing more for the next twelve hours. And when he—it—does reawaken, it will be with visions of arteries dancing in his head. No, John; no.”

She hadn’t meant to speak of arteries like sugarplums, but she had been at the precipice of sobs as her emotions became raw, and it was make inane comparisons that amused them both or break down before him.

He wrapped an arm around her to comfort her. She looked at the wounds on his throat, now covered, for John fretted that if it seeped it could become alluring for the undead. Nothing escaped through the gauze. He blushed like a schoolboy at the touch. “I think he truly would have understood and urged you on that course of action were he himself. He wasn’t allowed to be…except for when he screamed for you from the window…and that moment after the exorcism.”

Mina nodded. “I will mourn what he wasn’t allowed to be. I will mourn what he was before he left for his business trip. I will not even mourn that unless he is staked, and then just what will never be.” She bit her lip. “We must save our Lucy! She can’t end up like them, roaming the night and drinking blood of the unwary!” The very thought unsettled her.

“We will,” Seward soothed. “I trust we will.” He shook his head. “I—I wasn’t thinking clearly before. I was burying myself in work and lies that needed to be convincingly told.” Van Helsing had told them to beware of Jonathan’s words, but he had sought to bury himself in his own legal conundrum without thought to how Mina was feeling.

“There was truth in your lies, though. Take comfort in that,” she replied as she briefly laid her face back against his shoulder. She spotted the dried blood on his collar, and drew back. “With all that has happened tonight, is it any wonder you forgot me, John?” He seemed to desire to protest his ineptness, and she shook her head.

“You were attacked,” Mina pointed out rationally. “You were bitten, and he drank from you and yours somehow mingled with a monster’s. You have only just revived from fainting and being scalded, John. Rest after your tale has been crafted to your satisfaction, John. Please.” He noticed where her eyes were fixed, and checked his reflection. His shirt was rumpled; he saw his bloodstained collar; his attire as a whole was dishevelled. With his pallor, John looked ghastly.

At his horror, Mina nodded. “Yes, and you must change your shirt when there is time.” There was reluctance in his eyes, and she at last understood with a certainty that stunned her. “Are you afraid of sleeping? Whatever for? He won’t come back while the sun is out.” Of course, John hadn’t truly allowed himself to look outside, and she suspected he feared to attempt it considering how the rosary burned him.

“I will stay,” Mina offered when he didn’t answer. “While you sleep, I will remain in the chair, or another small such bed someone might bring in.”

“No,” he denied. Seward was appalled at the very suggestion, which seemed to boost Mina’s spirits further. He had to admit that it truly was like him to balk at a suggested appearance of scandal.

“Lucy would be glad you were in my care when she couldn’t see to your health,” Mina added. She hoped it were so. That seemed to stop him in the midst of his admonishment, save for one final try, which seemed to weaken as she watched.

“It is improper, Mina,” he countered with a sigh.

“So is being bitten. So are vampires if we must focus on impropriety, John. Their methods are the greatest intrusion of all.” She shook her head. “Where do you keep the blankets, John?”

“Rowse will direct you to the correct closet,” he explained as he moved to sink down onto the sofa. The air from the broken window was chilly, though. Futilely, he rose and pulled at the curtains. They continued to blow with a soft gust. Thwarted, he reopened them and waved his arm helplessly in that direction. “Ask him to prepare the room next door for us. You won’t catch a chill that way.”

He glanced up, and saw dawn was at last breaking. It had been cloudy until then. It was warm on his face, but it didn’t hurt. He watched as Mina approached and touched his shoulder comfortingly.

“See? There is still hope, John. You aren’t burning. Get some sleep, once I’ve found Rowse,” she urged again. She realised Rowse must be shaken by the night’s calamities; perhaps she would find Jenkins instead. She peeked into the corridor, and caught dear Jenkins; explanations were quickly given, and he promised he would have something set up within ten minutes.

“He said I would hear whispers,” Seward suddenly admitted. Mina looked askance, and he knew how it sounded. “Not Jenkins. Jonathan, when he became more beast than man. I choose to interpret that as him wanting Dracula to hiss through my mind just before my collapse. Perhaps his hearing heightened and he perceived other occupants in the asylum after so many bites. In addition to whatever instructions came to his disordered psyche at night.” That was his final reason for his fear to sleep.

And then, more to himself than to her, he mused on how he would be with this bite. “I wonder if I’ll react terribly to garlic? Will I be compelled to throw it to the ground or scream when the smell becomes overwhelming after one simple bite? I didn’t much care for the scent to begin with!”

“You wouldn’t dare, for you might raise both suspicion and ire from the Professor when he realises where the desire to do such originated.” Mina had no words to console him. She chose to consider his last comment as the joke it was intended. She only knew Jonathan’s memories had been at the surface by day, and he denied her by night with the eyes of a stranger locked on her own…but she had not yet given consideration of the changing of Jonathan’s senses as he became a new being.

As the old him—his ideals, his soul, his reservations and inhibitions were cast off like they were something that brought him shame. She knew his mind had been twisted and warped. She knew his hair had turned white in Dracula’s service, perhaps from the shock, perhaps from how divided he was within his psyche.

She prayed John never sipped from that mythical River of Lethe. He need not forget his profession or morals or friendships or—or Lucy. She almost counted herself among the ones he must never forget, and decided that it was a bit selfish to put herself before Lucy.

If they were vigilant, he need not be stalked through the night by whispers or fears or monsters. He need not be gradually corrupted by a taint in his bloodstream. He need not be driven to that hated seat of madness that had a cacophony of voices or dire threats within their dulcet sounds…or dark creatures from the pit, waiting to rule him.

Seward saw her firm expression; it gave him pause. It had felt the most natural thing to confide his worries to her. Not knowing her concern was for his soul and not memories of Jonathan, he wrapped an arm around her shoulder and led her to the sofa. “Come. Before I attempt that nap, you need a sip.” He needed another if he was being honest. “Don’t say that you’re fine, Mina, because I am a doctor.” He poured a small amount of brandy in a second glass, and put it on the table before her.

“Of the mind,” Mina smiled as she reached for it.

“The mind can still rule the body and reduce one to a mass of quivering nerves after a night of frights that haunt the day,” Seward retorted. “At that point, the body needs refreshing. The shock needs to be eased. Your hands are shaking, just as mine seem to be.” He watched until he was sure she wouldn’t drop it. It was surely costly to replace, even though he knew he didn’t have a head that was meant for dabbling in finances. When she sipped it without a spill, he nodded his approval.

There was a knock. Jenkins had done all she had asked with a speed that astounded them. They gathered what little they must; cushions from the furniture could become pillows. They had need of their brandy; she kept the glass, while he gathered the decanter and travelled with her. Everything was set up perfectly, for the servants had known only that their employer was ill and desired rest. Seward smiled at that, before he locked the door.

They needed rest; therefore, they needed to know they were safe. Nobody was listening.

“Just before,” Seward began and then stopped. Here he was pouring out his thoughts and fears to this wonderful woman without a care. He shook his head in embarrassment and saw her waiting expectantly. “Right. I’d best tell you. Just before Jonathan became…that…after the final blood exchange, he was different. Clearer—saner—the way our treatments never left him.”

He gathered his thoughts with effort. “I thought there was regret, though it was swiftly discarded. It isn’t any consolation, I know, but he seemed to guess the horrid thing he would soon become and mourned the thought even as he loved it. He couldn’t warn me of anything, of course, as the process was too far along. He…didn’t wish to. He wanted me to come closer.” Or perhaps his read of the man was off entirely, and his words were filled with falsities! His offer of solace seemed to have fumbled. Perhaps he shouldn’t have had that first drink after all, if only for the fact he was low on his current blood supply.

“But it is a consolation, to know he was himself for however short a time, and not that man’s marionette to the last. Even for a moment,” Mina argued. She hoped his spirit had safely passed on. She didn’t know how such things worked, and would research that part of the lore when this was done. “That—that is a boon to me. I don’t wish you or Lucy to suffer such a fate. Thank you, John. You—you are a good friend.”

Seward nodded to himself, ignoring the pang of whatever it was that hurt at the use of the term friend. Well, he was more than just her not fully late husband’s doctor. What else could he be? He hoped this didn’t upset her further. She may be a widow, but he was still engaged. He clasped her hand, before he bent and chastely kissed her palm. It was a rarity to have a woman for a friend. He felt awkward and confused and wondered still at the propriety of sleeping beside her.

Even if she was sleeping on a completely different piece of furniture, it still felt wrong. She might very well feel the same, based on how her hand lingered a bit too long on his own, before she retreated and began to fluff cushions.

“This fantastical corridor of superstition was beyond my comprehension when Van Helsing first spoke of it, Mina.” Seward felt lost. “And now in the face of those teeth and all that was stirred by the bite, I find my foundation of science shaken almost irreparably. The old world of superstition and poppycock becomes fact with every step I take, and my reliance on science feels as though I am coddling a farce.”

Seward rubbed his eyes with a deep sigh. Maybe it was just that he was woozy from all that had transpired. When he glanced up again, he accepted the proffered glass with a wan smile. Yes, it was his turn. She was waiting for him to finish, but given what he had been through likely didn’t wish to be rude. How should he put this? “Mina, Dracula’s influence over Lucy is profound. His control over Jonathan was and is absolute. If Jonathan has even a fraction of his power, why—why it will be a fright. He has bitten me, Mina; the beads show the devil’s work in my palms beneath their coverings.” He almost couldn’t finish, but he had to.

Mina waited for him to continue when he was ready. The burns weren’t as deep as they might have been, had the rosary been left in his hands for a few moments longer. The gloves would cover whatever was there; she would ignore the rest as they went about their business. “Go on,” she softly urged.

“If I am called on to aid them, or become enamoured with the compulsion that I must follow them no matter the cost or…or utter words of blasphemous aspersions that I then cast your way, then you must throw some holy symbol at me to deter my obsessive fancy from being fulfilled.” He winced at the thought of holy water splashing him. That must hurt like the dickens when one had been tainted. It had to stop him from stealing a carriage or boat or some other manner of vehicle to reach the fiend.

“If we must obtain chains from an orderly, then so we shall. The Professor could surely chain you better than I. You have access to such things, do you not?” He nodded. “You have resources; you will prevail,” Mina replied with certainty. “We will not lose you, too, John; not in body, and not in soul. Not you.”

They couldn’t. As she sank into a chair to keep watch, he fell backwards onto the cushions and pillow that decorated the waiting bed.

They determined there wasn’t enough space for Van Helsing in their quarters. He could sleep in another nearby cell; it was recently renovated so that there would at least be a reasonably comfortable bed on which he could rest his weary bones.

Mina could stave off the boredom that came with solitude, and from watching an unconscious man, by continuing their research. She quietly explained what John had revealed when Van Helsing visited to see if they were both well. Then, he again took his leave of them.

She looked back at her friend. He had slept through the visit and the dull thud of the door closing. She had prevented Van Helsing from disturbing him, but she still wondered if such a deep sleep was natural, or vampirism taking root further inside him. When she saw the late afternoon sun shining on his bare arm without it doing him any harm, she felt better.

She wished him only the sweetest of dreams.
--

As Seward slept, he felt as though he was being watched. It wasn’t by any living person, so he knew it wasn’t just the sensation felt by Mina keeping true to her word. If he turned quickly enough, he saw dull red eyes; he recognised them from when he was attacked.

As he wandered from room to room, he gradually formed the opinion that Jonathan was just as confused as he was, but open to tempting him.

He would have screamed if he weren’t so tired. He doubted he would remember much when he woke; it couldn’t possibly be reality. It was rather easy to deny and flee those visions of Mina and Lucy as vampires wrapped around each other. They were inviting him to join them. This was not truly tempting save for some cavorting which gradually intrigued him. It brought him up short and made him hope it wasn’t just fantasies bleeding through from Jonathan’s addled mind.

If this originated from him, it was positively indecent, Seward concluded. It made him expect Lucy would rebuke him if she ever revived and learned of it. Oh, how he would enjoy the shocked laughter which would result if they married and he confided this to her. That may have been what Harker desired if he was truly active. Those visions did swirl into absurd parodies of delicate positions, which gave him concern for all involved. It wasn’t focused enough to make out more than fangs and glowing eyes and heaving bosoms at times.

Then, a hint of a wail began; it was so faint that he almost didn’t realise it. The glow of those eyes rippled in and out of his reality, and looked lonely. Lost. They truly looked utterly baffled as to what was going on, before they grew devious and Seward’s trepidation rose. At that point, the images became more sinister than seductive. In the depths of fog, he could see a vampire feasting. The insidious nature made him turn from it, lest he grow ill. He couldn’t block it out.

Seward determined if the volcanic, manic chaos of light and sound and images bleeding into each other came from Harker, then he must pity what had been done to his mind. Dracula, as well as the transformation, must have put too much strain on the man. He pitied, as well as hid his face because he could do no more as everything warped and bled. Whether he covered his ears or closed his eyes made no difference in the wanderings of a dream underway, or the terrors of a nightmare.

He could hear someone—he knew exactly who—begging him to please come to him. Please protect him. The noise grew in volume until it hurt.

He woke with a gasp, and found himself sitting straight up and facing the window. His head swiveled when he caught movement, and feared that a vampire would be in the bedroom. It was only Mina, and she was human. His shaking hands reached to confirm his bite, and be certain he was now awake. Yes, this was all real. He leaned back onto the bed with a sigh, to give himself time to recover.

“You were moaning,” Mina stated with a blush as she neared him. She had put away her book when it grew urgent. She wanted him to fully wake and realise he was safe, but one passage she had read had given her an idea. She sat beside him on the bed. Perspiration was drying on his face. “Where is Jonathan? Don’t stop to think; go with your first impulse, John.” Mina quickly requested.

“The basement,” Seward mumbled. He looked back at her in surprise. While he had felt a pull, he didn’t know where. He ignored the blush elicited by her closeness after some of what he had seen. A snippet had burst forth to annoy him. “I was…dreaming. I don’t recall much until the end,” he commented as he looked away. Mina had a knowing look, but didn’t press further. He was appreciative of her discretion.

“From the sounds you made, I presumed you were distracted enough for him to intrude on your sleep. I—I concluded that if caught unawares at the end, you would know where Jonathan lay,” Mina nervously explained. “Did he desire for you to follow him?”

“He wanted me to protect him, because he’s probably still jealous of Arthur,” Seward sighed. “It was mostly that. Dracula put him where nobody would look for him.”

“Have we the means to dispatch him?” Mina wondered. “The Professor went out to gather more holy water,” she informed him. “He shan’t be back for a time.”

That negated Seward’s next argument, so he nodded. “There should be a skeleton key in my office. He carved several stakes before confiding in me. I…will be your guide to the correct place of the basement.”

“If we can end Jonathan’s suffering, we need only deal with protecting Lucy from Dracula, and not you from Jonathan,” Mina guessed. It was all she could think of to do.

Despite the words, Seward saw the conflict in her eyes. She wasn’t a killer; she hadn’t the heart for such awful work. Neither did he! While he wished to wait for Van Helsing to return, they may not have the time. “How long is it before sunset?” How long had he slept? It had refreshed him.

Mina consulted the clock above him on the wall. “Two and a half hours,” she related with an air of regret. “You were exhausted. I didn’t wish to bother you until you cried out.”

“Don’t blame yourself for my possibly unnatural amount of sleep, Mina,” Seward replied. He resolved she shouldn’t be the one to wield the stake, even if he might weaken at the very idea. As he quickly found his tie, he moved with her to the office.

“What are you looking for?” She asked as he searched the drawers. He had already found the stakes.

“Something to hold Arthur if he is down there, too,” Seward announced. He held up a pair of old manacles he had been reluctant to use because of a missing key. He put them over his shoulder, and located his old lantern with little trouble. “It is far too drafty down there to rely on the light of a candle. We would be taken unawares.”

He looked down at the little gold cross on a chain lying on his desk. He was wearing gloves, but wasn’t sure about touching it. Before Mina could take it, he forced himself to ignore his concern and plucked it up. “I won’t wear it, for I do not trust it to touch my neck; I will use it if need be.” He pondered all that Dracula had done by concealing Jonathan here; the way his thoughts turned made him feel he should be ashamed.

He spotted Mina’s look of worry, and shook his head. “I caught myself admiring the strategy of stowing Jonathan away for safekeeping under my very nose,” he admitted. “I shouldn’t consider a ploy of ‘wolf among the sheep’ admirable.”

“Even if that’s almost how Jonathan was used in the first place?” Mina wondered. He only smiled bleakly in reply. “It was impossible to know the cause of his problems until the Professor’s efforts.”

Seward moved to the stairs first, looking back at Mina. “There is a turn here; take my arm.” She did, lest she lose her footing. Her dress caught once, and he bent down and freed it. To his consternation, it tore on a nail in the process; she didn’t belittle him for it. “It’s dusty, I fear, but you have room to walk.”

He felt distracted, and like he was being led with unerring precision. This couldn’t be how Jonathan found Dracula, now could it? Even this small amount of sense unnerved him. “He should be here! Right here; in this very spot.” He couldn’t be hidden beneath the floorboards like something out of a Poe story, could he? No. It was an impossible squeeze for a vampire, and must be empty save for a small amount of rot from the age of the wood.

He glanced suspiciously at a gurney with a sheet to his immediate right. Mina remained a few steps away, for she knew it was up to him to guide them. He moved to hand her the lantern; she lifted it to give him a brighter view. He removed the sheet; beneath the gurney, beside the wheels, lay Jonathan. Seward’s victory was short-lived, for now they had to deal with him. He shoved the gurney until it was out of the way, and didn’t touch the vampire.

Jonathan remained as still as death. His eyes were open and blank. Seward hoped they remained so until their work finished. Mina sank to her knees beside Seward, not minding the dust clinging to her attire. They looked at each other, equally afraid.

“It—it should be me who sets him free,” Mina pronounced with a shaking voice. “As his wife or widow or former friend…for what we were to each other, I feel that it should be my hand which sends him away from this pitiful state.” He would respect her choice, she believed. “But you are a doctor, John, and I don’t wish to strike the wrong place and rouse him. Please…show me where?”

He passed the stake to her, and held her hand longer than was appropriate. It was just the two of them, though. He hung the cross behind her on a nail, so that it might keep Harker still, no matter the hour. Or so he hoped. He rubbed her shaking hands gently in his gloved ones, and then moved to position the point directly over Jonathan’s heart. “You are certain you do not wish for me to wield the hammer?” He knew he couldn’t.

She didn’t reply as she repositioned the stake when it wavered. Her mistake—their mistake—was looking from there to Jonathan’s eyes. They had been unseeing and blank; now, there was an odd mystification, followed by fear. And then they filled with concentration and victory.

They froze; they both felt as though they were falling or suspended in time. They couldn’t look away from his eyes, and they couldn’t move. It was almost like daydreaming or falling asleep without warning.

Mina blinked hard, struggling to fight. She was overwhelmed. It was difficult to deny the sensation—the idea—that if she just closed her eyes and relaxed, she need never worry about fighting Dracula again. It almost pained her to resist.

She couldn’t forget one vital component: Lucy. If Mina stopped, Lucy would die; if Mina stopped here, Lucy would return from the grave. Perhaps Mina might be forced to do the same. If Mina stopped here, nobody could protect Lucy; Lucy would sip the veins of innocent strangers and friends and loved ones alike.

At last, with a shout of desperation, Mina crawled backwards quickly as she somehow found the presence of will to get away. It wasn’t safe to do this without Van Helsing there to guide them, no matter what she thought.

Mina leaned back and covered her eyes weakly. It took such strength she didn’t know if she could dare do it again. She turned to face John instead, once she had given herself a moment’s reprieve; he was lost and leaning forward to stare into those eyes. She shivered at the small, unknowing smile beginning to twist his lips. Was that him, or a mind more devious than his own calling out? Had she been the same? “John?” Mina whispered insistently. Then, louder, “John!”

Seward’s eyes were still locked on Jonathan’s. Was it from the bite, or due to his exhaustion of earlier leaving him more vulnerable to this state? She couldn’t guess. With shaking hands, she pulled the cross off the nail, and dangled it over Jonathan’s eyes. Seward gasped, and almost returned to himself with the interruption, before he was lost again.

He was oblivious to all but Jonathan. She couldn’t reach him. She grabbed her cross and lowered it closer to Jonathan’s eyes, even as she forcibly made John look at her with her other hand. John’s eyes had a fleeting echo of the anger in Jonathan’s eyes when she glanced down. The vampire’s fangs were out, and she must hope he couldn’t bite in this state.

Mina looked back up. Praying he would forgive her for overstepping her bounds, she pulled her arm back and slapped John across the cheek. His head jerked back; in a daze, he reached up and felt the place she had struck. Awareness returned to his eyes.

That had stung. Seward blinked hard; his eyes gradually refocused on Mina. “Thank you,” he sighed. He felt wretched.

Mina shakily touched the red mark with her thumb, before she looked back to where she held the cross before Jonathan. Mutely, she gestured for John to come with her a few steps away, around him. She took his hand, not caring that it wasn’t decent to cling to him alone in this basement. Together, they watched the shocking reaction of the vampire to both the cross and Mina’s intervention.

Jonathan silently snarled; his eyes were livid; they flashed in anger at being denied. It faded to become a sinister grin, before Mina put the cross ever closer to his eyes. There was pain in their depths, then; it morphed into anguish, and then terror. There was a vulnerability that made Mina want to throw the cross as the expression almost tricked her into believing the real Jonathan was locked in there, and that she was hurting him.

No. This was Jonathan, Mina reminded herself. He had welcomed this new life. He had welcomed those horrid fangs as they sank into his throat. It was his choice in the end. She mustn’t feel compassion. His eyes closed slowly at last, as she reached the limits of her determination; his face resumed the still repose of a semblance of lifelessness. The imitation of death was almost flawless. He looked dead, but they knew it wouldn’t be much longer before he rose again.

Seward put his hand on her shoulder. Yes, he had known her pain; he feared that Lucy would be thus soon. Mina turned and fell into his arms, struggling to breathe through the tears she was holding back. The reaction had struck her as soon as he was freed and both were safe. She had been so afraid, but it wasn’t for Jonathan, he swiftly comprehended. It was for him. He had been in a limbo, feeling what Jonathan felt. As he held Mina, he put his head on top of hers before pulling away. They moved further back from the body.

“This wasn’t what I anticipated,” Mina whispered. She understood his fear, if he felt such from those eyes when he was attacked.

Seward looked around them in case of another threat; his arm wrapped around Mina’s shoulders to steady her. There was still no sign of Arthur lurking about, as Mina leaned over to reclaim the lantern. “Yes. Perhaps it was a mistake not to wait. He may try such again if we move close with the stake. It felt like being pulled under the waves, did it not?” She nodded. He tugged her hand as they moved closer to the stairs.

He almost didn’t dare break the silence that had become nearly a living thing in the aftermath. He pulled his watch free from his waistcoat pocket, and ignored the shaking of his fingers. How long was it that they were enthralled? He must know. He looked back to her, shaken even more. “You said there were two and a half hours before sunset? Did my mind and memories betray me, Mina?”

“No, John; they haven’t.” Mina moved back and waited for him to explain himself. He passed the watch to her, and she felt a wave of horror wash over her. “One hour and ten minutes remain,” she uncertainly whispered. “Even accounting for the minutes coming down here…John, he kept us in his power for so long? I—I felt like I was being wrapped into a blanket or a cocoon, and I shouldn’t seek to resist its embrace lest I…deny myself something I should desire.” It didn’t make sense!

She stared at John. “You felt as he did. I—I saw that much. Could you--?” Had she hurt him, too, when she kept the cross even with Jonathan’s eyes? Were their souls conjoined?

“Could I feel what you did? Did I feel the same drawing me to him like a moth to a flame?” He asked as he guessed what she needed to know. “I suppose it is a rapture that chained me down, the same as you. I—I don’t know, Mina. I suppose I channelled his reactions while I was floating within that purgatory.” His eyes had burned, and he knew it wasn’t for a desire to cry. It had felt as though he was enduring a torment he didn’t fully glean.

She squeezed his hand. She wouldn’t leave him. “Let’s go, John. It was a mistake to come down here,” she begged. She accepted his offered arm as they moved to ascend the stairs. She missed seeing the rusty nail that had snagged her dress earlier in the dimness of the basement; John bent to free the fabric with minimal tear. “Thank you,” she whispered gently. He would always be a gentleman, even as he doubted his own actions.

Seward looked back at the cross in her hand; she had refused to put it down. He was glad he hadn’t taken off his gloves. “I have an idea for that.” He put it on the back of the doorknob as they beat a hasty retreat. “If he wakes, it might delay him. It would hurt him to leave the room for long enough that we may return.”

“He might still become mist like his creator,” Mina reminded him.

“And what if he doesn’t? If he doesn’t, and is in the same state as he oftentimes was in his cell whilst hiding behind the bed, then this is there.” Seward knew how much it might hurt, but the thought lent boldness to his actions.

“It must be instinct,” Mina murmured as they walked quickly.

”For us to run, or for him to do—that?” Seward wondered.

“Both. He’s a predator that wishes us to remain in reach, and needs to protect himself from those who might bring him to harm. And, I suppose, he is voracious. It—it had to be a defence mechanism,” Mina surmised. Her voice shook at how close they had come. “I thought he woke up for a moment. I thought he was himself beneath it all. I thought I saw his old self, but I was mistaken. I know he isn’t. In that moment, I truly feared him, for he can twist our hopes to make us believe he is benevolent. It is just as the Professor said.”

“We must think only of Lucy, or go mad, I fear. We have to consider only her welfare,” Seward agreed. He was terrified of teeth such as those becoming part of Lucy’s mouth. “It was only instinct which ensnared us, as you say; it was his instinct which allowed him to call to me as well, I feel. He isn’t conscious of what he has done.”

They both turned to their shared thought—they must find Van Helsing.

Behind them, as silence returned to the basement, they missed hearing the sounds of wood scraping across the floor, and the thump as of an empty suitcase falling over.
--

Van Helsing was pacing in the office when Mina and John dashed in. “I could find neither of you in all the corridors, nor in the room when I returned with my provisions,” he informed them with little heat. “There was not even a note left. It led me to wonder if he had been called to Jonathan, and you, Mina, could be trapped in the web despite the time for a desire to defend him.”

They were in the wrong place at the wrong time, before they all circled back to where the Professor would return. There were forty-five minutes remaining before sundown.

“When he awoke, I asked him where Jonathan was, and so he knew. He determined without seeing, by his intuitive link,” Mina quickly explained. It was all so strange and new to her. “We found Jonathan in the basement,” she added. “I thought I could give you word that he was at peace following the visitation; I fear we cannot.”

She explained all that had occurred as Van Helsing fixed them with an evaluating glare. She guessed it was to see if either of them had been enticed to forget a vital thing, or bitten once—twice in John’s case. Neither was compromised, further or otherwise.

“Yes,” Van Helsing agreed. “A new vampire would require protection such as that in its first few hours of life, and even when it slumbered by day. It would need such prior to its first stalking of the night, whether or not its thirst had been quenched before the first light of day.” He glanced to John. “Perhaps he is learning to draw in his prey like the Count. What did you do when she wielded the cross? What was your response?”

“I felt what Jonathan was feeling more than my own reaction. The paralysis,” Seward confirmed. “He despised the cross; my complaint wasn’t so extreme save the memory of how cold metal seemed to grow white hot against my flesh.” He shuddered. The beads had felt like molten steel, and not simple coloured beads. He desired to forget this. “Mina pulled me back.” When she smiled almost in embarrassment, he continued. “Now we know he’s due to control the mind when he revives. We didn’t see Arthur.” He dropped the manacles on the table.

Van Helsing looked to the restraints in surprise at the forethought that had gone into their impromptu excursion. He held it in his hands, seeing how strong it was. “Ingenious, if he were found,” he praised. “Come! We shall make haste and put him down. You will stay behind us, John, should we find him prematurely awakened in his nest.” He gathered the stakes, leading them the way back to the basement. “We can’t dawdle with further small talk, or wander aimlessly; the sun shall disappear and leave us helpless,” he irritably muttered.

Van Helsing would have surrounded the perimeter with crosses if they had the time. As they crossed the threshold, he stumbled and would have plummeted down the stairs into the darkness had Seward not grabbed his arm and steadied him. He patted the man’s hand. “I was tripped.” The lantern was lowered; it revealed a cross half buried in the dirt. “Intentionally. Left for Harker, but moved to here?”

With the light, they could see the small window above was shattered. “Arthur has been at work; perhaps he did not wish you much harm after all.”

“What makes you say that?” Mina wondered. She was doubtful they had been in safe hands the whole way.

“He waited for you to go, when he could have implemented this so small gun,” Van Helsing revealed as he moved it away with his foot. “Harker would have lifted up and gone out the window as insubstantial mist or an immaterial bat at the sinking of the sun; there was still time remaining so that could not occur.”

“Glebe House isn’t far,” Seward pointed out. “Arthur could have exited by the servants’ quarters unmolested at this hour, and kicked the window as misdirection. Jonathan wouldn’t have buried the cross; he would have been infuriated by its presence and raged if he were awake. It would have burned him. The tripping was Arthur’s doing as well, so he did mean you harm, Professor.”

“Dracula summoned him to do this task,” Van Helsing speculated. “He used his new daytime agent to move his formerly zoophagus offspring prior to its awakening. He likely sprang into action the instant you left, and placed him comfortably at Dracula’s side.”

Mina stopped suddenly, for that made no sense from all their studying. “Jonathan would have burned no matter the place of the sun in the sky! You’ve stated they can’t tolerate the sun. What of a newborn vampire?”

That was an excellent supposition. “You are correct, Mina. And John, wouldn’t someone have actually seen Arthur as he wandered by that room?” He nodded. “We will search this basement, and see if they had another exit. Neither bat nor mist nor dark of night nor even a sudden eclipse could ease his task when one ray of light brightens the sky.” Van Helsing solemnly looked from one corner to the next. There must have been a secret passageway. “John,” he began. “Which man in your asylum would recognise that which is new to this room?”

Seward pondered that. “I can only think of two. Rowse, and me.”

Van Helsing’s smile was grim, yet satisfied. “In light of what he saw in the cell, I gave him leave to recuperate at his home for two days.”

“He didn’t threaten to quit?” Seward worried he might. He had been adjusting to Jonathan’s odd requests; he had always provided extra meat and sugar to draw more flies for him, no matter how repugnant it was. Granted, Jonathan had escaped after being released from the straitjacket, but that had occurred with other guards, too. He was shrewder than people expected.

“He refused to entertain such a thought; he said he’d like to know what is really happening beneath his nose, but would understand if it’s not meant for his ears,” Van Helsing disclosed. “How much did he see before Harker broke free?”

“As much as I saw,” Seward replied. “The fangs; the blood exchange; he was drawn because of my stillness, and the sound of moaning from within.”

Van Helsing chose not to comment. “Look carefully, John. What should not be?” He raised a second lantern and placed it upon a crate.

Seward paced to an older box, and saw a pile of earth when he crouched to see. He waved Van Helsing over with the light. “Is there a shovel down here? This is fresh.” It boggled the mind, for nobody was working to repair anything down here.

Mina found it, and then bent to touch what was beside it. She drew back and shook her head. “Beside the trunk, with a crowbar and a spade. There are muddy footprints, John, if you’ll come closer.” It was also on the tools.

Seward smiled. “There isn’t a padlock, and the trunk has no dust. I have seen it before, but I have known none it belonged to. It was over there…but now it is here.” There were marks as though it had been moved to conceal something specific. “I doubt someone is hiding within.” He was right. While it was empty of people, it also had no bottom. Where it should be was a board of some kind he hadn’t noticed before. Other clutter had been atop earlier. “Look, Professor; Mina. It’s hollow.”

Van Helsing expected resistance. The side was a façade and gave way easily. Once Seward was out of the way, it was moved with little effort. He waved them closer so that he could have more light.

He was stunned when the board was flipped over. Seward peered into the depths of the hole, and thought he saw a spot to hang a lantern. He gaped, disbelieving what his eyes revealed. “Do we really have a secret passage to a network of tunnels that goes out to Glebe House?!” Seward wondered with mounting confusion. Van Helsing neared, as did a confused Mina.

“Or to some other sanctuary for their kind, where it is dark and silent,” Van Helsing guessed. “That is how Arthur removed our vampire.”

“You don’t mean to venture down there, do you, John?” Mina asked. It looked perilous to descend into such a thing. It looked more like a mineshaft, unstable and insecure. It probably wasn’t safe to venture down there, lest their throats be cut when they first poked their heads out of the hole on the other side.

“There’s a primitive pulley system right here,” Seward noted. “It’s old, but large enough to take a man and go down, before Arthur followed,” he added. He slowly shook his head, distracted as he pieced the order of events together. “What? No, Mina—it isn’t safe and I will never risk you or the Professor or an orderly to its secrets. There might be explosives or traps along the way. It could cave in!” They would not blindly chase vampires down that. He could see her relief.

Seward shrugged helplessly, then. “Who did this? Who put a secret network of tunnels under my asylum, presumably straight to the Count’s lair?” He didn’t know what to do here.

"Perhaps whoever was contracted to build your place before it was an asylum had a need to hide. Another residence had the same cause to escape...perhaps Glebe House. And so you receive a network of presumed tunnels and hiding places that I cannot fathom the brilliance of, John. Perhaps a den of thieves began it; perhaps smugglers ended their reign in this area some decades ago; perhaps it was even for safety, should something untoward occur within the region."

This was all speculation, of course. Seward sighed. He didn’t feel much like being a detective. “It will remain a mystery if it was not in the floor plans. I will do what should have been done had this not been a secret. I’ll find a way to seal it; block it; perhaps the metal could be welded closed, for the wood is just to cover that. Someone could throw a cross down it first.” Mina leaned closer, obviously having seen something. “What is it?” He moved the light so that she might see more.

“It is only cloth,” Mina realised. “A piece of Jonathan’s clothing must have torn as he was manhandled.” It confirmed their theory, if there was any doubt.

Seward had missed it, but now he conceded she was correct. “We should put holy water on the rungs of the ladder. We should bless it. They won’t use it again without pain befalling them.”

Realisation struck, then. “Of course! The basement! It was our basement he spoke of before,” Seward mused further as the other two waited for him to explain himself. “He meant this basement. Jonathan was told of this, but never saw it.” Jonathan would have likely attempted to get down there every single day of his stay at the asylum if he had. He would have been thrilled more than he already was had he known the Count was so easy to find.

Van Helsing concurred. “He was too confused to recall more; perhaps it was a snippet of conversation from Arthur that lifted to the surface in the confused aftermath of the exorcism. He did mention a tunnel.” It made sense.

Mina checked the time. “We haven’t long before sunset. Just a few minutes now.” What could they do? She looked sorrowfully at John’s throat, before she looked away. She looked to Van Helsing for answers. “Dracula has Jonathan, then. Would he head straight for Lucy? Could he not do to the orderlies what he did to me, or more? Or even return to Helena, and make her act for his desires?” At John’s blankly puzzled look, she explained. “Mrs. Weston.” They had lost time between Jonathan’s power display and digging in the dirt.

He knew he should have taken the time to learn the given name of his future mother-in-law, and both cursed and winced at his own insensitivity. Granted, he didn’t feel it was his right to refer to the good lady by anything but Mrs. Weston.

Van Helsing cared not for these trifling matters about a woman’s true name. What mattered right now was their strategy. Yes, time was running out, for Mina was correct. They must also consecrate this hole that had spirited away the new undead. “She is right, John, but so are you. Your suggestion holds merit.”

“It must be you that goes to Weston House, and we shall follow soon, Mina,” Van Helsing urged.

Mina nodded, consenting to this plan as she reclaimed her cloak. She moved through the dirty basement with Van Helsing’s aid, so that she would not tangle her dress or trip on any traps they hadn’t already located.

At last, Van Helsing continued when she had mounted the first of the stairs. “We will catch up to you once this is closed and we have gathered more holy water and stakes; whatever else we can carry. You have your crosses; that shall protect Lucy as you protected John.”

He glanced at Seward and that which he carried. “Perhaps you should not carry the manacles when we follow, John; it is only one more burden to slow us down.”

Lucy’s life was in peril; her soul was in jeopardy. Mina was one of the only three whom understood the scope of what was in store should they fail. Lucy’s soul would not be claimed by the shadows of the night that crept and crawled and grinned wickedly as they seduced their victims into behaving unnaturally.

Lucy would not be further corrupted in such a manner, Mina swore to herself as she hurried outside. She was walking into a confrontation that only God above or the devil below could know the truth of the eventual outcome.

Night had fallen.
--

As they saw to their preparations, a new vampire was awakening, slowly, curled in his Master’s arms. He moaned with the ache of his hunger, fangs unknowingly scraping the throat of the one whom he lay upon.

Dracula stroked Jonathan’s temple to soothe the growing anguish that came with the pangs of hunger, before it could become a raging conflagration that reduced his newest to a mindless creature of little use to him. You needn’t drink from the throats of an entire town at once, Dracula mentally soothed before Jonathan's dormant mind blossomed back into being. He shifted him from his chest, and rose diligently as mist when Jonathan sought to nestle into his chest. Dracula observed as Jonathan twitched, before life rushed back and his eyes shot open.

Jonathan smiled as his Master entered his field of vision. He understood Dracula’s wishes without either speaking, for Jonathan could still hear him in his mind. To Jonathan, it felt cold once the ravages of hunger were eased away. It was not a bitter cold; it was bracing. It was not the cold of a barren wasteland; to him, it was merely the sensation of a refreshing stream, which provided the bounty of everlasting life.

To the younger vampire’s mind, Dracula would wrap the cloak of night around his shoulders. It set him free to be as he thought he was destined to be. It set him free to lay with his Master. He rejoiced in the knowledge that Dracula would remain his Master for however many centuries yet to come.

“I shall not be greedy, Master,” Jonathan breathlessly promised. Dracula took his hand and aided him in his first departure from a coffin. Jonathan glanced lazily at Arthur as he exited the room. Was he covered in mud? He had smelled him guarding him, and sensed his closeness at some point earlier. He had also smelled wet soil. He understood he should not bite him; the man had enabled him the beauty of lying atop his creator for a time before his awakening. Still, he needed to drink deeply from someone.

Others would be his, perhaps; if it was allowed, he could bite Dr. Seward again. Jonathan may be allowed a sip from Mina. His Master had the nameless three of the castle and soon would have the Weston girl. There was plenty of blood for them all to drink. Jonathan need only revel in his Master’s attentions, and he would not be found wanting. His fangs ached with his need.

“Come,” Dracula commanded as he steered him to the door. “I will give you your first lesson in the taking of a life of a forest creature. You can put those skills to use, then, with the throngs of humanity.” He smiled at the eager chuckle of the response. He had a job for this one, as well.

This man was his in death, as he had been in life; he would be so forevermore.
--

This was not the best of plans, Seward had decided. He was trying to point that out. “But Mina,” Seward began. The Professor was explaining the smallest details of John’s lot, for inspiration had struck. Mina had just departed.

It wasn't right to let her venture off like that without having heard.

“You are supernaturally aligned with your attacker, John. You are our best measuring stick for his proximity. You will be our dowsing rod. Mina alone could also lure them. We will follow her when we finish, and protect as best we can.” He saw John’s impatience. “She may be but a mortal woman against the devils of hell, but she has her protection to delay a snap of their teeth.”

“So did I, Professor. I was not taken completely unawares, but dropped my protection,” he pointed out. He pulled down his collar, as though the other man needed a reminder when John did not. He had discarded a bandage in his frustration. The bruised punctures were a vibrant colour against his pale flesh.

There was a very long moment of silence, which stretched out before them as the words at last got through to him. Van Helsing went grey as he realised what he had done. He saw his point, but would not say he was wrong. “Let us arm ourselves. Jenkins can fend for himself here. If you hold to the impressions and go too fast for me, never mind it. I will catch up.” He leaned forward, and gathered more garlic. They only knew Mina’s destination as she ventured into the unknown. She would have taken the path to their left.

“As Mina made you realise you knew the hiding place deep inside your mind, so now will I ask this of you, John.” He waited until he had his attention again. “Do you feel something off-colour? Do you sense a diabolical excitement? Do you have any foreign tastes? Is there a smell you should not perceive?”

Seward sighed. “I feel as though we are stalking Red Riding Hood’s wolf by our wanderings, Professor. That—that ended badly for some.” And he was uncomfortable picking apart Jonathan’s preferences in regard to smell and taste.

“Only in some tales,” Van Helsing replied with a rare streak of wicked humour. “Pretend to be the Huntsman come to free Mina from the wolf’s claws before she is devoured.” Or afterward, unharmed, from its belly. Such was not possible in their case, and Seward was living proof of that.

On this night, the comparison only helped to muddle things for Seward, but still he concentrated. “There is an unhealthy excitement for baser things, yes. It smells—I don’t know, musty like a felled stag on wet moss. That can’t be right.” He frowned; closing his eyes, he saw it was accurate. He suddenly took off in a panic, for he had been allowed a glimpse of what followed that conquest. It flickered and was gone, but still he moved.

He had seen Mina, afraid, and surrounded by mist. He had seen Mina, speaking with Jonathan, and was unable to hear the words. He had felt Jonathan, wanton and dangerous, and realised his desire.

Van Helsing raised a brow as the man left. He sighed, took up the abandoned lantern, and moved onward to follow in Seward’s wake. If he lost sight of him, he could always follow his footprints in the mud, so long as the light of the lantern didn’t go out. This clairvoyance was a fragile element. It was tricky. Van Helsing would have liked to know what he had seen before he bolted.

Seward could see mist in the distance. And through that, beyond before they were swallowed up, he saw two silhouettes.

Mina!
--

Behind Mina, the fog began to coalesce unnaturally. It swirled and thickened, pulsing like a living thing. It stretched out towards her legs like a lover; as she walked away, unknowing, it broke apart. Briefly, so briefly as to be missed had anyone been watching, two pairs of red eyes blazed out of the swirling depths; one was fainter than the other.

Each leaf and flower unlucky enough to touch it withered and died. Each blade of grass turned brown. Then, the occupants of the fog shifted, separating with some other purpose as they passed through the night.

She didn’t see, as she passed from the edge of the property and into the woods. It was faster than the street; it was easier than obtaining a carriage, and zigzagging this way and that to the house when time was of the essence. Still, something deep inside felt it was a mistake. Her way would not be lit by the gas lights that were roadside, but by her own cobalt kerosene lamp, which she had borrowed from the asylum.

She knew that John and Van Helsing would follow once they had given particular instructions to the staff.

She stopped when she heard voices speaking quietly, and the dull thud as of something falling to the ground. There was a cry, and then all was silent. She recognised the voices, for one had once been her husband. The other was Dracula. He seemed amused by Jonathan’s attack on an animal.

Were they coming this way? She hid behind a tree and readied what little protection she had at her disposal. She heard abominable noises and soon guessed that she had stumbled upon the aftermath of a crude hunting expedition. She chose not to look. Mina didn’t wish to commit this to memory, but these days would always remain with her.

As the crescent moon returned from beneath a cloud, she could see her surroundings better. Mina could see Jonathan playfully nestled beneath a tree, before he moved to his knees. He continued watching Dracula with wide eyes. She could understand very little of what passed between them, for most of it was not said with uttered words, but what she presumed were unspoken thoughts to each other. She could hear spoken promises to find him a person to bite.

Mina turned down her lantern’s light to the point it was almost out, so that they would not see her. She placed it near a tree; she could come back for it later. She was determined to learn of their plans, but suddenly lost track of them when she resumed her watch. She feared she couldn’t follow. She was tempted to retrace her steps and return to the asylum. It was a fool’s errand to do more.

Mina wondered where they were, until she heard a serpent’s hiss close to her ear. She spun to face it, and saw it wasn’t a snake slowly uncoiling from a hiding place in a tree. It was Jonathan, with the shock of his white hair so close to her face. He was too close. He watched her so carefully that it was like he was peering into her mind; her thoughts; her very soul, and scanning them all for weaknesses.

Mina drew back in terror and hoped to be able to draw her cross before he could leap upon her. He was smiling, but it was just as manic as it was during his life in the asylum whenever he gushed about the Count. Jonathan grabbed Mina with a dark laugh. “I knew it was you; I told him so,” Jonathan cried. He sounded delighted; she managed to get loose. Perhaps he had let her.

“Mina,” he breathed. “Don’t be afraid,” he added with a throaty chuckle. “Come closer. We need you…your body, your blood, all of you.” When she continued to back away, he found himself closing his eyes so that he could soak in the delicious feeling of her fear. “I serve him, but I’m still Jonathan. You wanted Jonathan back. You said so in my damned cloister of a cell,” he added with a hint of annoyance.

Mina realised that he must not recall what occurred in the basement. That meant he hadn’t been conscious; if he had been, he would have sought retribution for their attempted staking.

“You want me,” he insisted. He wanted to do as Dracula had done. His Master had a claim on Lucy; Jonathan had bitten his Dr. Seward and could call him to them if he wanted once he figured out how. He’d properly adjusted and could revel in his new view on mankind; he wanted Mina in the family.

Jonathan wanted to play with her and bite her and do everything to her that his Master had done to him back in the castle. Well, not everything, he amended. There were some things that would change the way her mind worked and he didn’t want her to be shattered by the experience. His nails sank into the bark of the tree as he watched her and fantasised. “You still know I’m me, don’t you? I’m me, and I belong to him.”

“No, Jonathan; you aren’t my husband,” Mina retorted despite her terror. “You stopped being him somewhere in that castle you were left to suffer who knows what indignities in!” She was backed against a tree, and he was so close there wasn’t room to run. She was terrified; she managed to get an opening when he grew distracted by some sound only he could hear. She stumbled backwards for fear of looking away from him, and nearly fell in wet leaves. It disturbed her how much humour it gave him, for he watched for any weakness in his prey.

That was how much he had changed, if she needed another reason to stay back. There were so many reasons. “Our marriage dissolved before you died.” He wanted to bring her down as he had the deer, didn’t he? Or was he finally sated? The fangs were out of sight, but that didn’t mean she was safe! With each step taken to back away, he was right there.

She wanted to scream; she dared not. If another heard her, it would only bring him another victim.

“I am him,” he insisted with a growl. “I don’t suffer in the night and wrestle with my confusion in the day. I rejoice in my Master’s benevolent will. He was merciful. He rewarded me,” Jonathan moaned. “There is no indignity, there is beauty! Oh, the lives with so much blood in them; so much blood. It’s ambrosia, Mina. I rejoice in my rebirth. I only suffered when I couldn’t feel his glory when the sun was out! He is mighty!”

He was mad, but much more coherent than he was in life. He could feel his eyes burning with the need to attack, but he was also instructed to distract. Distract he would do. Dracula’s will took precedence over his need to play with her until she begged for mercy. It aligned with his purposes. “Join us, Mina. Join us and feel how I do.” He surged forward and grabbed her arms, so she couldn’t run; he unconsciously kneaded the fabric in his enthusiasm. She cried out.

Jonathan leaned close to her ear, and resisted the urge to bite even with hair in the way. He didn’t have much restraint in life, and it was tenuous in death. He reasoned badly that maybe it would be too messy unless she wrapped those arms he was clutching around him.

“Life is pain and slow decay, Mina. It’s all wrapped up together…pain and anguish and madness and pity and confusion piling on top of each other and screaming at you.” He was almost hissing the words in her ear, as she panted and her heart pounded in terror. He put his chin on her shoulder. “Our sort of death is exquisite…enthralling…powerful. It is infinite. Oh, it will fill you up until there’s no way you can look that it doesn’t crawl in and cling to you. No more breathing until it’s needed. No more heart pumping. It’s all quiet in the grave, Mina…it’s all removed, if only you say yes.

“Come with us,” Jonathan urged again when she remained silent. “There is no pain after you become more. There is no sadness or agony or dying moment by moment a piece at a time inside, slowly, for decades.” His voice was hypnotic as he moved closer and shifted until they were eye to eye. “Give Lucy to my Master,” he breathed. “Please, Mina. No more fighting. You don’t want to fight. You don’t need to fight me.”

He pulled back just a bit more, and still stared into her eyes. He saw that fear in her, and that attempt to be brave beneath it slowly being changed into a curiosity that he could soothe into acceptance if he knew how to properly win her over. “Won’t you join us, Mina? Won’t you seek the Master with me? Won’t you beg to feel his fangs sink into your flesh and draw out your blood? You will never know pain again…you won’t bruise so easily when I hold you like this…if only you will submit to my Master’s will!” He heard her whimper.

Was his will covering her own, just as his Master had covered his mind? Was he doing this right?

Mina forced herself to look away from his eyes. He was doing something to her. He suddenly let go and moved back with an almost seductive smile. It left her trembling in her fear, but he must have thought it more. He pirouetted and crouched, waiting for her answer and looking terribly like a child on Christmas morning. She listened as best she could without being drawn in again. She almost went to him, but then she touched the cross hidden beneath her collar, and felt the cool metal against her neck.

There was something about it that made her feel like she could finally breathe again. A cloying grip that had begun to consume her thoughts faded. “You desire me to submit to you so that I might bring Lucy to your master,” she guessed shakily. “Or open the door and remove the garlic? You want me to give in and be cloaked in the darkness you have been consumed and replaced by.” As she spoke, she felt like she knew his true intentions. It wasn’t to seduce; it was to use and manipulate. “You truly are the same as your master, Jonathan,” Mina mused.

The thought brought him joy. The knowledge brought her sadness. Despite the sudden gallant bow, and his outstretched hand, she saw through him. He was transparent in his intentions. Jonathan was playing pretend as a child might. The thought left her cold. “You still want me to take your hand? I never could again. I will not suffer the torments of the damned! Where is your master at this very moment, Jonathan?”

All of her curiosity evaporated; all that remained was repugnance towards what he had become. Jonathan's face grew hateful and petulant; as he moved to do something she knew would leave her bleeding, she pulled a crucifix free from the small pocket of her cloak. It was only slightly larger than the one about her neck, but it would do. She hadn’t been able to reveal it until she had room to pull it out. She saw something pass in his eyes, and he suddenly became joyous again. He wasn’t ready to give up, she suspected.

Mina couldn’t fall into those eyes again. She mustn’t. “Where did your master go? Where is Dracula?” Mina asked again. He had been there before Jonathan had accosted her.

Jonathan ignored the question. His eyes glittered. “Put down the crucifix, Mina. If you came with me, it would be like a fairy tale or a dream. It would be like a chorus that never ends, as it sings in your mind. You would find only the sweetest of notes in each mouthful of blood. I know how much you love sonnets and orchestras, Mina.” Then, he gasped and his wiles changed course yet again.

“The Master has three brides,” he purred with a tiny grin. “I could have three…you could have more. He could worship you if you set him before all the rest. You could have more husbands to replace me. Don’t you want that? Wouldn’t you like it?” His eyes grew honest; for once in this moment, he told her the truth and wasn’t certain if it was the doings of the cross or just something meant to tempt her. “But not me…I wouldn’t. I don’t truly want you, whatever I say. I have all I’ve ever wanted…but I want you to stay and play and writhe and love and scream and howl with everything you feel.” He shook his head.

That acknowledgement was the only part that almost tricked her into believing this was what Jonathan truly believed in life and death. They were together on the fact neither wished to be with the other in intimate ways. Mina knew it wasn’t really Jonathan, though. It was an act. The beatific smile had to be. It was a cheap trick at the behest of his favoured creator.

“No,” Mina denied as she fought the desire to weep. “I do not want that. I don’t.” Even as she stepped back in fear, he stepped forward. So he would hunt her since she had given him her answer? She thrust the crucifix in his face, and as he seemed to slowly recover she used her other hand to pull the one from beneath her collar. He cried out as though he had been maimed. When he looked to her again, his eyes were remote and cruel and his fangs snapped at her before he calmed.

This was such a travesty of what he once was. Mina shook her head. “You are like a vision in the moonlight that is a mockery of the truth. You are like a dream become a nightmare, Jonathan,” she murmured in disbelief. “It’s like you are a demon sent straight from the nethermost pit of hell to torment the living.” If the texts were right, he very well might be one animating dead flesh for its unholy whims. As he swiped at her for her impudence, she quickly backed away.

The cross’ glint kept Jonathan’s attention; he refrained from touching her and she moved quickly away from his reach. It kept him temporarily at bay. She heard him snarling, and then it became a delighted giggle. She soon saw why, for a dense fog was curling around first one tree and then the next, and then swirled around her legs. It moved upward as though to smother her, and touched her hair and clothes before she moved. It stopped close enough to bar her way. Was Jonathan behind this, or was it Dracula?

The atmosphere became oppressive and wrong even as the mist began to creep silently about Mina’s feet. It moved with purpose, undulating and writhing much as a snake would slither. The mist spread without effort to conceal them.

Was Jonathan displaying his newfound talent? This really was a nightmare! She soon had her answer as the thickest of it dissipated; Jonathan looked distant before an evil grin crept over his face. Mina saw his head bow in presumed deference to his master. She realised he was being taught as a thinner fog was conjured. She gripped a branch after almost blindly colliding with it.

It wasn’t small or easy to tear loose, or she may have completed the work of earlier…if he didn’t bite or claw or strangle her. If he didn’t control her into dropping it, she realised she could hurt him. “W-we should have left you to see the new day in your cell.”

“I wouldn’t have stopped. I needed to answer my Master. He would have torn your throat out if you blocked me,” Jonathan smiled. At first her words had baffled him, for his state before had been entirely instinct and nothing more…until he’d felt the tug of thorns. He spread his hands, revealing they were red and raw.

Mina realised that they looked burnt; she hadn’t paid much attention to them before, between the snapping and the fog and the attempted seduction. They were worryingly like how John’s had fared, before she put the pieces together. The reaction was subsiding even as she watched; the flesh was becoming paler; the mark became far less dramatic with a greater speed with every moment, before it finally disappeared from view. He hadn’t held her crucifix. He hadn’t brushed the cross at her throat. She flinched when his eyes flashed with something sick and jubilant. “What did you do?”

“Before you came upon my feast, I took care of a barrier for my Master,” he whispered as he looked at his fingers. He looked back at her, and knew she understood. “Van Helsing put garlic outside the window, too. I removed it; the ones inside can break the rest!” He waved his hands as more mist left, though it was not of his doing. “I did it, Master! She’s yours!” He spread his arms wide, and looked to just barely stop himself from twirling.

Mina presumed Dracula was leaving now that his slave had begun learning for himself. Had he just not informed Dracula of his activities between the order and when they reunited to feed? Was she beneath his notice, and not even worth striking down? Or was it the crosses that prevented him? She saw two glowing red eyes in the mist hovering frightfully close to her face, and scrambled away from them. They were so close. They vanished, and when she looked over her shoulder Jonathan was closer. His fangs were out, and his eyes alight with savage tenacity.

She shouted when Jonathan grabbed for her throat after tearing the cloak away from it. He burned his fingers further, yanked them back, and looked at her pitifully. Jonathan was without his mentor and distracted.

He was staring at his latest burn and whined once, as something about it had snapped him out of anger for just one instant. She felt not one shred of remorse. Mina raised her chin high and prayed she could escape him with her life. “You’ve fallen down such a dark path, which I would never follow in good faith, Jonathan.” Her voice was shaking and hoarse at first. As she continued, it gradually grew stronger. “Lucy will not become like you while I still breathe.”

The fury that met her words scared her. Even as he took a threatening step forward, Mina edged further away. She fell over something large, and yelped. It was another branch, broken free from its mooring on the tree. Was it enough to aid her? As Jonathan lept at her, she held it out before her. He had no time to jerk away. She had no way to properly aim it.

Mina sobbed as it went into Jonathan’s shoulder. He suffered, as he may not have had she been able to release his troubled soul in the basement. He snarled and gnashed his teeth as she crawled away. It didn’t seem to produce the blood it may have were he staked through the heart. It came loose and he almost seemed suitably rebuked, but still vicious. Mist coiled itself around her; perhaps it was his way of killing her privately despite the situation. Just as he moved towards her throat, he stopped and shook his head. Then, he looked around.

Mina wondered at the cause. She heard stumbling footsteps and a muffled thump as of one falling to their knees before moving on. John! He came running with a crucifix out before him in his gloved hands. He looked worried for her and himself, but still he tried. She saw he was unnerved when Jonathan licked his lips, and something passed silently between predator and former prey. Would he do to John what he had attempted to do to her? “Don’t listen to him, John! Whatever he says, whatever he implies, don’t believe him,” Mina desperately shouted. “He’s been hurt; he’s learning to hurt back in new ways.”

John had been bitten before. Would it mean her words were lost on deaf ears?

Seward knew what that meant. If injured, Jonathan would most likely be seeking to replace what had been lost. “Oh, God,” Seward cried out. While the cloth was ripped on Harker’s shoulder, the area beneath was knitting itself back together without the presence of wood. While Jonathan was observing Seward, Mina struggled back to her feet. Even he could see that dress had been torn, stained, and ruined. It was only fit for making rags for the servants.

Seward was proud of her. He was truly amazed by her.

“Have you come to let me finish what we started, Dr. Seward?” Jonathan wanted his fingers to brush Seward’s throat, but held back. He was quivering as he healed. There was a look in the vampire’s eyes that told he wanted the man just as much as he wanted to drink from him earlier. “Join us all, John,” he added with a dark grin. “You treated me well in your asylum. You gave me meat and sugar to lure the flies. You’ve felt some of what it is to be bitten, so you know how wonderful it could be. Come to me, John. Give up their company!”

Seward’s eyes grew glassy; his grip loosened, before he caught himself. “Yes, you’ve shown me,” Seward replied with trepidation. So that was what Mina had meant, he realised. There was the same magnetic pull that he had felt in the basement and in his dream, but he had come prepared. He forced himself to look away, trusting Mina would scream to him if Jonathan tried anything. He really hoped what he did next would work; for if it didn’t, it would simply be ludicrous. In one swift move, he threw a large white object at Jonathan, plucked from the depths of his coat pocket.

Harker yowled in pain and backed away out of range as he stared at the thing with fury in his eyes; Mina was befuddled. “It is a garlic clove,” Seward explained. “We dunked it in holy water. I made certain not to let my skin touch it, and I was quite discomfited by its mere presence. It’s worse for you, isn’t it, Jonathan?” The bared teeth illustrated that it was. They had blessed it right after Mina had departed. They had done this in the moments before realisation struck of their folly.

The crunch of leaves gave away their next visitor before he came charging through the undergrowth. Van Helsing had a lantern in one hand; a cross in the other, and a Bible under his arm. He sat the former heavily on the ground so that he could brandish both. He spotted Harker, and raised the Bible. “Adjuro te in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti!” He glanced once at John. “Holy water is in my pocket, John. Take the Bible,” he commanded. John did, so that the Professor had room to work; Van Helsing produced the bottle and splashed it at Harker while he remained stunned by the words.

Jonathan snarled even as he wailed; he reared back, shaking his head as though physically struck even before the splash, and began to creep away. He snapped his fangs ineffectually at him, before he disappeared into the shadows.

Seward waited for a few moments more, just in case he circled around, but all was still and silence reigned. He hoped the former inmate turned unholy fiend was gone. He passed the Bible back to Van Helsing, and moved to help Mina; he was cautious to avoid her cross when she hugged him; to his relief, his collar blocked it. He looked at the state of her and sighed, before he began to take off his jacket. He offered it to her, so that she might cover herself and prevent the torn dress from being as noticed; that cloak was in ruins.

Mina accepted it with a small smile. It would look worse under the scrutiny of gas lights, so she understood the need. “Dracula is going to Lucy,” Mina warned as she removed her cloak. It couldn’t be worn again in society of any sort. “Her mother may let him in; Professor, Jonathan was induced to break the chain of garlic on the outside of the window,” she informed him as she clutched the jacket. It eased the chill. She was shaking from the reaction of everything catching up with her.

”Go without us, once more. We will do what we can against Jonathan, so that he may not stall your progress,” Van Helsing explained.

Seward reached out a hand to stop her before she could leave again. “Wait, Mina,” he begged before she finished turning away. There was a question in her eyes when she looked back, half buried in the need to save his fiancée. “Here; the left pocket,” he softly said as he tugged at the coat she was covering herself with. He pulled free the flask, which had been buried under the clove and a crucifix before.

He placed it in her hands, and waited for her fingers to curl around it lest she lose it. “You need it more than I. Van Helsing has more water,” he said with nervous humour. “The flask is full.”

“Thank you, John,” Mina whispered as she stroked his arm; she quickly pulled her hand away. He was a good man, and he had to survive. They all had to make it through the night. “Stay safe, John; Abraham.” One last brave yet shaky smile was for his eyes alone. With that, Mina disappeared into the gloom, which concealed almost everything outside the circle of light from the lantern.

They hoped the strength of this woman’s heart could resist Dracula’s will, and thwart a cruel fate from being stamped upon an innocent woman’s immortal soul.

“Come what may, we continue to fight, John,” Van Helsing concluded. “Her mind is stronger than their youngest devil. The youngest vampire is new to spinning his web. Pray she fares so well against the more ancient of vampire kings.”

If Lucy became a vampire, Seward knew he wouldn’t be able to stop crying for days. He didn’t know what he would do if Mina succumbed to the cruel charms of Dracula. It would be more than simple grief. He prayed he wouldn’t have to learn. He glanced at Van Helsing when he tapped his arm and pointed up.

“Harker is up the tree, I perceive,” Van Helsing deduced as quietly as possible. “Do you see the two red eyes?” They disappeared as something shifted above. The two of them watched and waited.

A smaller animal fell from the leaves and scampered away seeming to be in a panic. It was too fast for Seward to guess what it was. It was only for the fact that Van Helsing was so certain that he didn’t mock or turn away from the tree. That, and the growing sense that he could feel Harker’s determination. There was a growl as Van Helsing raised the flask and flicked the water up. There was a hiss and faint wisp of smoke as it connected against undead flesh. So he had circled back and listened in on their plot.

Jonathan Harker fell from the tree, and landed on all fours with a snarl. His eyes were dangerous; he appeared to be becoming more beast than man, as his fangs descended. His nose was becoming the snout of another creature. He turned, eyes vicious as though he couldn’t decide which to attack first.

As his arms spread wide as though he would leap for Van Helsing’s throat, sinew rippled and flesh quickly transformed into wings as he became a smaller bat than Dracula. His growls ceased as he let loose an enraged and vicious sounding screech. The eyes were not as bright as his master’s, but they were red enough to mark him as an unholy being.

Once he was acclimated, he flew straight for Van Helsing’s face, eager to wound him for the burn. Seward sought to aid the older man by covering him with his body as they both ducked low. He almost regretted giving his jacket to Mina, for the extra covering might have helped him right about then. Almost.

Seward lashed out to fend off the wings with one fist. It moved to scratch at them both with its claws. Seward felt a tiny claw slash his cheek, and began to try to slap Jonathan away from them. He grabbed the lantern; before he thrust it upwards he opened the glass. He held it up as Jonathan dove again. It might give them a chance. He hoped it could repel Jonathan. He looked up, just as the flame met the fur above Jonathan’s left wing; it was as though it was magnetically attracted to it. Harker reared back, losing focus on what he was doing as he frantically wheeled about.

Van Helsing raised his crucifix from where he was sprawled in an undignified manner; he was momentarily stunned at the sight as the once orange flame became blue and was snuffed out. The smoke dissipated; the fur grew back; the creature had an understanding that he would not be slain so easily as that, once it was driven back further by their efforts.

Harker circled and remained aloft, but was not so feral as he had been once he was stunned. The eyes grew calculating from what they gleaned of them as he turned away from them and flapped onward into the night. He took another mode of transportation, but he had the same destination as Mina in mind. He sought to be at Dracula’s side in this hour.

Van Helsing quietly made the sign of the cross as he sat up, knowing they had witnessed something truly unholy in that transformation. He leaned against the tree as well, and shoved the crucifix back into his pocket. He was flustered, but he was unharmed. He wiped his face of sweat, once he was certain that was all that was there.

Seward panted, truly tired of this madness. He let loose a moan that was half a sob before he could contain it. He wanted to curl up and stay here the rest of the night while Van Helsing worked, but that would be cowardice. It was Lucy’s soul in danger; perhaps Mina’s at this late juncture, too, just as much as it was his own. He knew he couldn’t stay outside.

He checked his arm; the sleeve was torn, but not the flesh. He felt his face and glanced to the results when he felt something. It was only a bit of blood from those claws. “Professor?” His voice sounded strained. “Are you well?” Seward asked as he relaxed for one blessed instant against the base of the tree they were beneath.

“Quite, John. Thank you for your quick action,” Van Helsing granted. He turned his attention to the direction the bat had taken. He did not normally seek to thank John, but these were extraordinary circumstances. He handed the other man a handkerchief without thought. “You bleed, John. Put pressure and make it stop, lest its flow make them smell our coming.”

"I could use a drink," Seward chuckled, but pressed it to the cut, even as he climbed to his feet. There would be more bruises in the morning, judging by the soreness of his back. He looked to the Professor, and stretched his hand out to give him a tug to his feet. Once they were both up and moving, he leaned down to close the lantern’s shield of glass. It still burned, and he didn’t wish to cause a forest fire to add to their woes. “I hate bats,” he muttered to himself.

“Hold, John,” Van Helsing requested before he could lift it up. He brushed leaves off his own suit. “Leave it for a moment, while I make the metal as much a protection as your flame was against Harker.” He sprinkled holy water in his hand, before he rubbed it along the base and the glass and handle. “It will not quench this flame. You can take it, John. Water that is dripped against the metal will repel the undead just as much as fire.”

Seward was glad he still wore his gloves, for he may have been just as vulnerable to its effects as Harker. “Now what do we do?” Despite the question, he suspected he knew their destination.

“He seeks to warn his master now,” Van Helsing sighed as their eyes went to the sky. “Or join him in the fray.” He began to move to follow. It wasn’t the exact direction Mina had taken. There was always the chance he wouldn’t descend upon her, but wait and accost anyone near where the Count sought to attack. Jonathan was as protective as he was dangerous.

“Come, John!” Van Helsing urged. “Time grows short while we dally here. We travel back to Weston House so that we may stand with Mina and win this night!”

With that, they were off.
--

There was no answer when Mina pounded at the door. Nobody answered her cries or was drawn by the commotion. There was no time for the niceties of manners, as time was of the essence.

Had the Count arrived in the form of a bat or mist, or that of a man? One of them would mean he had beaten her here long before she crossed the threshold. Was she too late? Had Lucy already fallen into death or been changed irrevocably? She managed the door herself, glad that it was unlocked.

She tore leaves from her dress, which didn’t help the state of her attire. She didn’t truly care that she looked a fright under John’s jacket when she caught her reflection in the nearest window. Mina pulled out the flask John had given her, and realised that not even the maid had come in response to her shouts. Where was Essie? For that matter, where was Helena?

She hurried up the staircase, and found the poor maid asleep on the divan. Mina shook her repeatedly, but received no response. What had the literature described about this? The vampire could create a stupor around those on the premises, so that he might do his evil work in private. So Essie was still alive! While she was pale, she hadn’t been bitten.

The orderlies were passed out near a bedroom door and snoring as she moved around them. Moments later, Mina located Helena slumped in a chair, with her arms draped loosely over the back of it. It looked like she had sensed trouble, moved to rise, and collapsed. After a terrible moment of fearing the woman’s heart condition had taken her life, Mina noted the steady rise and fall of her chest. There was a half empty drink on the table; it was only filled with brandy. It didn’t smell of laudanum.

Dracula’s influence was all around her. Where was he? Her heart started pounding when she heard Lucy beginning to moan with a trembling air of wild abandonment. If it were any other time or place and Lucy was conscious of her danger, Mina would take her leave and let her friend indulge in whatever caused that sound.

It wasn’t Lucy’s choice or Lucy’s mistake, though, and that was the horror of it. The door swung open with the barest touch from Mina. She found the monster himself leaning over Lucy as the girl continued to gasp as though she was aching for his touch. Mina shuddered and fought the desire to run. Instead, with her body quivering, she removed the flask’s stopper. It slipped from her fingers. The glass fell unheard and unnoticed to the carpeted floor.

Mina splashed some of it on the back of his neck, before she drew away from him. She gasped as he turned to her suddenly, and she could see those teeth. She couldn’t get used to the sight of it; not on Jonathan, and not on Dracula. “Leave this house and never return,” she nervously commanded.

She flinched when he reached towards her throat; he smiled pleasantly as the teeth retracted. “You must be the one to turn away from here, Mrs. Harker. Keep your own counsel. A new life at Lucy’s side will be your reward,” Dracula promised.

He watched her carefully through hooded eyes, before he continued. “Just as I know Jonathan promised you earlier tonight; yes, as a distraction, but with my permission. I urged you to consider in his cell, another night, through his mouth. So I give you this choice, for the final time…Mina. Come to my side, and you will not grieve for your dear friend’s mortality. Put aside that which you seek to steel yourself against me with.”

Mina shook her head, even as she felt a painful shard of mesmerism steal over her thoughts and seek to make her a willing participant in her own downfall. It was seductive, this talk. It was almost beautiful, if she gave in to the tapestry he was weaving from the shadows in the innermost depths of her soul. He showed an unending bliss to her mind that hurt to deny. She didn’t want this. She didn’t want a world like that. Jonathan could revel in this foul paradise, but she desired to live in sunlight.

The choice was hers. Mina would choose Lucy, even as she struggled against Dracula’s sensations. She couldn’t waver when Lucy was in peril. “N-no. That is my answer, Count. It shall remain such for all time.” As his hand stretched for her throat with rage in his eyes, she flung the last of her holy water in his face, and threw the flask at him as she retreated.

He blocked her only way out of this bedroom once he calmed from the shock and pain of the water. His cheeks were red from the burn. In all the dashing to and fro, she had lost her crucifix. Mina pulled the cross up from the collar of her dress once more with her right hand, holding it in his line of sight by the chain. She backed up to Lucy’s bed, and stayed at her side; she stroked Lucy’s almost warm arm once with her left hand, just to be assured that she was still alive. She couldn’t look away from him. She dared not, lest she not survive this night.

Mina believed in the sanctity and power of this object. By the look of it, Dracula could see and feel that quite clearly. “You will let Lucy go free. You will not defile Lucy’s body or soul further,” she murmured. Not while she lived, Mina dared not say aloud. She could feel him endeavouring to sway her thoughts, much as he must have done to woo Lucy before the bite. It was much as he had done before, to induce her to open this door.

Just take it off and drop it to the ground and let him go about his business in peace. Mina need not fear his wrath. Lucy would pass into a world of longevity and darkness and discovery, and never again know pain or fear or want. She relaxed and began to slip the chain from her neck. Mina gasped at what he was doing…all with a simple and noble air of expectation and dignity. The burns were almost gone even as she watched, and she had no more water! She clutched the metal harder, until it bit into her flesh. The sting of it helped her concentrate on warding him off.

Was this how the captain of the Demeter had felt? Mina wondered. A gnawing fear that she was just as trapped as he had once been began to take shape. It must have been so, even if she wasn’t trapped aboard a ship; even if she had friends that knew the truth.

There was nobody else to spare Lucy’s soul if she let go. John and Abraham were delayed, perhaps due to Jonathan’s machinations; she hadn’t heard their voices downstairs, not yet. Jonathan was of this creature, and therefore lost from the seat of reason. She still had the power of an icon grown hot in her shaking palm. She still had her faith.

Was it enough?

As he curled his lip in a seething fury, she looked to the table. She clambered over the bed, and avoiding rolling on top of Lucy. Her dress was almost trapped in the bed’s sheets, but she managed to pull herself over and free. She glanced away for one moment, and grabbed a Bible, holding that in front of her like a talisman. A cross in one hand, and a Bible in the other; she had nothing else, but still it drove him further back. She didn’t have access to the supernatural as he did.

They were almost at a stalemate, as they watched each other. In the quiet, she heard a door slam downstairs. It was just in time… for in her distraction, she turned, and stopped focusing on faith. In that moment, Dracula reached her side. He tore the cross from her hand by the chain, not daring to touch the rest. She expected death. She closed her eyes tightly and stammered out the Lord’s Prayer.

If she must die, she would endeavour to go boldly and perhaps cause him pain in this method. She hoped she was not changed into his creature. She wouldn’t behave as Jonathan did. She dared open her eyes, and was startled to see that she was being regarded with calculating eyes that seemed to mirror a respect for her, just as she had somehow gained for him. He turned to glance behind her, and snarled quietly at an intrusion.

She could just see a shadowy outline in the doorway with her peripheral vision, but knew better than to turn away again. “Professor?” Mina shakily called. Was he driving him back now? It seemed so.

“John,” Seward corrected. “Van Helsing is close behind.” He held another cross out, and slipped it into her shaking hand when he knew she couldn’t turn. The smile was lovely to see, even under the circumstances.

“How?” Mina wondered. And what was in his other hand? It was just a lantern, wasn’t it? He brandished it as though it would cure all the world’s ills, or at least beat back a monster centuries old. She had forgotten her own lamp among the trees; she could reclaim it when there weren’t far more pressing matters.

“The outside of the lantern—the metal—is now adorned with the water,” Seward explained. Vampires were vulnerable to fire, and that, coupled with holy water being rubbed on the outside, had to make a difference.

He was almost giddy, as it seemed to be working. All they had were a cross, a Bible, a lantern, and words. It had to be enough. “I have several quite uncharitable thoughts regarding you harming my fiancée and seeking to bring harm to my closest friend as well, Dracula.” For whatever else he and Mina were, friendship bound them first and foremost.

And then Van Helsing rounded the corner, brandishing another item from his arsenal guaranteed to cause pain to the vampire. It was a communion wafer, borrowed from a nearby parish. Stolen, actually, for none would have believed his story. To his private amusement, it didn’t tarnish the item’s power in the slightest.

Without another word, cornered as he was before the might of these items borrowed or stolen, Dracula transformed into mist. It trailed backwards unnaturally, seeping out the corners of the door with great speed. Through some supernatural backlash of fury, Seward’s cross grew hot. He quickly dropped it to the floor, and guessed it was Dracula’s doing since it hadn’t burned through his gloves.

As Mina watched almost not daring to breathe, he knelt on the floor and carefully touched it again. There were no screams, or pain. She relaxed. The corruption had not spread to include an inability to touch it even with gloves. For this time, it was only a supernatural anger given form, spreading out from within to unnaturally heat metal.

They quickly pursued him to the next room, and found him seeping out of the house through the window.

Van Helsing neared the window cautiously, in case it should be some trick. He tore open the drapes, and listened carefully. Yes, the garlic both within and without had been removed thanks to the now unconscious Helena Weston and the actions of Jonathan, but he could put up more if it were warranted. “I perceive them speaking. Come! John, can you make out the words with your ever evolving self?”

Seward shook his head, but was not offended. He didn’t have a vampire’s ears. They all heard a louder shout, and he calmly opened the French windows. They could all hear the words now, and Van Helsing smiled. Jonathan was complaining about some action that didn’t sit right with him. “They’re going away? Are they going to somewhere else in Whitby, or to Glebe House to regroup?” Seward wondered.

“They make haste to Dracula’s homeland of Transylvania,” Van Helsing corrected succinctly as they listened further. “They must be fleeing the site of their failed conquest, and know our intentions to end this,” Van Helsing grimly added.

”Can it be?” Mina asked. “The unhallowed ground is barred from them, along with most of the crypts.” She listened to what sounded like Jonathan, outraged and humbled, and almost laughed with delight. She turned back to Van Helsing. “You sprinkled holy water around the grounds of the asylum, did you not? Isn’t that what kept you? Transylvania truly is their only recourse!”

”Yes, it certainly is. I wished to keep them from the basement once more,” he confirmed. “It protects the remaining orderlies from their wrath. There may be traps for the unwary and unwarned in Glebe House; I will check the grounds to be assured of the safety. We go by daylight, if we go at all.”

Mina stopped John with a hand on his arm before he could walk away. She had seen a scratch on his face, but there hadn’t been time to ask. “What happened, John?”

“Jonathan,” Seward revealed quietly. “He…became a bat and attacked even as he took his first flight.” She had fear for him in her eyes, he noted. He wouldn’t lie.

“Get a change of clothing while we determine if they lie or if they do flee,” Van Helsing advised. All of them required such. It was harsh, but it was true. “I don’t trust them not to strike, even though we heard otherwise.”

“The night has been unkind to your dress, I fear,” Seward apologetically added. “I’m certain there is a perfectly lovely dress confiscated from a fashionable patient somewhere in the asylum. Or,” he added as she gave him a worried look. “You could borrow one of Lucy’s gowns. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind.”

“Thank you. It’s just until I can retrieve one of my own, if she asks,” Mina pointed out.

Upon locating one of Lucy’s older dresses and determining it fit, Mina returned. Van Helsing bid her to sit beside him on the divan, now that Helena had sought her own bed. “You have been puttering around the house for clothes as well as rescue. Your mind has had much to process, just as ours had. Now join us. Sit.”

Mina did with little protest; she ached. “Are you certain you wish to go to Glebe House alone?”

“Someone must stay with her. While her mother could watch by day, I,” Van Helsing stopped there, for he heard a sound. His head turned, as he detected an almost imperceptible moan from Lucy’s room. It sounded nothing like what he had previously heard. “God in Heaven, can it be?”

Seward wondered what he meant, but feared Dracula or Jonathan’s return. He checked the window. “I don’t see anyone out there. There is no mist or bats. I see no shape swirling into being.” He realised that he faintly felt something when Harker was near, and not just drawn to him. It was a subtle sensation of an ache or an irritation inside his head. Currently, it had lessened and was almost gone.

“Will she linger by his will, or does she wake?” Mina wondered. She moved quickly to tend to Lucy. She would learn whether her hope was justified or not with her own eyes. As she entered, she sucked in a gasp. Lucy’s eyes were open, but she still seemed weak. Scarcely had she seen it than the eyes closed again.

“She passes into a natural sleep now,” Van Helsing guessed.

“Has the crisis passed?” Mina asked. She was full of wonder.

“Perhaps,” he granted. He saw Mina desired for time alone with Lucy, and left her to her own devices.

Mina sank into a chair beside the bed. She averted her face, exhausted as tears leaked from her eyes in a mix of that and relief. A touch on her shoulder made her turn. It was John, and he squeezed her in support. She put her hand over his.

Seward let her go, and moved another chair from the table closer to her side. His unspoken vow was that they would watch Lucy together. He took one of Mina’s hands, and one of Lucy’s worryingly cold ones. Together, they waited. Only once did he put down Lucy’s hand, and that was so that he could retrieve a handkerchief from his pocket and offer it to Mina. She gave him a small smile of thanks, and he shrugged.

Just after sunrise, Van Helsing was surprised to see that Mina had fallen asleep on John’s shoulder. It looked as though he, too, had passed out at the watch after being certain to put one arm around her. Their necks would hurt, but at least it wasn’t from a vampire. He must wake them, for the patient had revived.

“Oh,” Mina said groggily as she forced herself to wake up. “You woke up and stayed awake, Lucy.” She shook John’s shoulder until he first stared at her in confusion and then saw what was so urgent.

Lucy watched Mina, and then John, and seemed puzzled as she looked at Mina’s neck. “I’m sorry,” she sighed. “I was worried that I wasn’t the only one with something gnawing on their throat. I dreamed of large rats,” were her first whispered words. Her thoughts were scattered, and her throat was parched. She swallowed, and gratefully accepted a glass of water from John, procured and waiting on the bedside table.

“What do you remember, Lucy?” Mina asked.

Lucy shook her head. “What is there to remember?” she wondered. “Only a nightmare…but I was almost certain there was something with red eyes leaning over me. Or maybe over you, and I’ve become mixed up.”

She grew distressed as she thought back. “Am…am I, or was I, bleeding, Mina? Did a rat actually bite me?” Lucy shook her head, where she still lay upon her pillow. What had she missed? “I—I had such torrid and indescribable dreams,” she moaned as she gradually recovered her wits. Her eyelids were heavy, and she just wanted to go back to sleep. She felt as though she could breathe again without pained effort. She did recall snatches of emotion and eyes and confused thoughts, but nothing coalesced into a coherent whole from the time of her illness. She just felt drained.

Lucy looked to Mina for the truth. Her friend could never lead her astray.

“It was a fever dream,” Mina quietly lied after a moment’s hesitation. “John was ill as well. We feared for you, when you never woke.” Did Lucy realise that Mina was lying to her? She gazed into her eyes in such a strange way. “What is it?”

“Nothing,” Lucy replied. “I just wondered why you were so bothered, but you’ve answered it before I could ask. Were you nanny for both of us?” She sank back onto the pillows as John took the empty glass away. “Mina…have you been crying? Have I really been doing that poorly? Why, John looks paler than I could!” Mina leaned forward as Lucy gripped her hand.

“I will explain all to you when you’re strong enough,” Mina replied with a watery laugh. “I love you,” she whispered in Lucy’s ear, as she tenderly kissed her cheek. Van Helsing returned, then, and only entered after knocking at the door and fixing Mina with a piercing look. She waved him in.

“We have worried for you, Miss Weston,” Van Helsing declared to his no longer comatose patient. He regarded her silently. “We’ve worried, but you have passed the peak crisis. You have survived the worst of it,” he continued. He judged she did not have the fangs she might have had if Dracula had fed from her again, or exchanged blood with her. He checked her pulse once for show, nodded as though satisfied and departed. He stopped once as he noted the marks on her neck were miraculously healed. So, she had been discarded? He trusted this was true.

He bid Mina to follow him when she could, so that they could speak in the hall. He watched as Mina gently clasped Lucy’s weak hand and placed it back on the bed, before he closed the door.

When Mina finally joined him in the foyer, it was only because their patient slept. They moved further down the hall, so that none could overhear. “What news have you uncovered?” Mina asked. Lucy wouldn’t be left alone; John would remain with her while he could. They would take turns.

Mina grew nervous, then, and couldn’t contain her next question. “I didn’t see fangs; did you? There was that awful description of a rat worrying at her throat. Could that to be the extent of her memory?”

“Yes, it is a good sign,” Van Helsing replied with certainty. He had taken measures to learn what part was true and what was folklore originating from ignorant peasants. It would not merely be an old man’s hope as he clutched at old tales that were once too incredible to be believed.

Were they truly at peace? Mina couldn’t help but wonder, as she recalled Lucy’s clear eyes. There had been no mesmerism. In the folklore, if one were safe the bite would disappear. It would do the same if they were about to transform. Mina grimly perceived that she would fight to save Lucy’s soul even then. That frightened her.

She loved her. It wasn’t like her love for Jonathan what felt so long ago, at the time of her marriage. This was deeper. Truer. Everlasting. She hoped that in another place, another time, Lucy would have fought to stay with her just as hard. Perhaps this love could transcend the torment of life and the boundaries of the dead. While it was an exquisite notion, it was a folly to ponder such thoughts for too long, Mina judged.

She just hoped that Lucy would never know what she had almost become. She would protect her from some truths.

“I saw that Lucy was drifting in and out of consciousness; before she stayed with us and remained alert, I placed a glass of water on the table,” he revealed. “The water she drank was holy. She did not react. Again, I took her pulse. I did so while wearing a cross, and she does not roll away. The marks are gone. He no longer requires her.” He saw the hope in her eyes. “Remain with them, for I am off to Glebe House.”

“But you already know you may find nothing,” Mina guessed.

“Even so, I will be alert and pour our water on the doors and windows,” Van Helsing decided. “I may be gone for a few hours, for I shall also go off to the shipyards.” It seemed best to inform her, or she would send Seward to track him down, and that man was truly the most exhausted among them outside of Lucy’s sickbed. He turned back once. “Do you mean to tell her?” He had seen her eyes and guessed her to be torn.

“Despite her dreams, she wouldn’t believe me,” Mina replied with certainty. “She knows she felt strange. She has already settled on sickness as the cause.”

“Tell her the Count brought a disease with him on his travels,” Van Helsing calmly offered. “John tells me they already knew he was nocturnal due to the lie of some nondescript malady. Use this. Tell her that her time in the Count’s company made her vulnerable, and so it spread to her. Tell her it spread from her to John in this same manner, and killed Jonathan as it became like a wildfire before the cure was found.”

“And what do I say if she asks how the Count fares? Do I say he is dead?” Mina questioned. “She would want to visit his grave.” The thought of an illness was more in keeping with John’s earlier thought of lying about Jonathan’s false death.

“It is that or Dracula left his abode and returned to the wilds of Transylvania, for he knew not until then of the plague he carried,” Van Helsing continued after a moment’s thought. “Either let her believe him the gallant man he convinced her he was, or let her mourn a vampire who drank from her, without her realising. I will not tell her what she almost became. Will you, Mina?”

“No,” she replied quickly. With that, he left Mina to decide which fiction caused the least amount of pain. Could the truth be told in some small measure and provide comfort?

Sometime around late afternoon, Van Helsing returned to inform John and Mina of how he found the place. “As I arrived, a carriage departed,” Van Helsing revealed. “I could just glimpse one coffin lodged in the back as it passed, and Arthur at the reins; it must be shared. As I swore to, I poured the water and found no traps.”

“What did you find at the shipyards? Were there any leads?” Seward asked.

“A man of Arthur’s description boarded the Czarina Catherine with a large box for cargo not long after he fled,” he revealed. “She set sail for the port of Varna before I arrived. From there, we may deduce they travel to the castle. I will take up the crusade to end this when Lucy is stronger.” However that endgame may be accomplished.

“Please be careful,” Mina urged. She trusted he would be. She didn’t believe she or John would be safe in that place. “We wish to know what becomes of you.”

As time passed, Lucy became stronger. It meant she was safe from the taint of the undead when nothing else occurred to weaken her.

The marks on John’s neck remained. Van Helsing’s work was not yet finished.
--

“Contrary to what John may believe as a result of my access to select books,” Van Helsing was saying. “Mina, I am not in league with the dark arts, nor do I have a grimoire in my possession. I cannot mystically reappear before you when the man is killed.” Van Helsing sighed. He wished he could. This bon voyage could be skipped. “I do not work miracles, but I will do my best. I will notify you of my progress, but do not aim your hopes for impossible goals.”

“Your best is all we ask of you,” Mina answered. His presence had enabled Lucy to remain alive and well. She understood what he meant, but she couldn’t help but be awash in anticipation of him doing exactly what he put his mind to. She only desired that he stay safe as he endeavoured to untangle John’s fate from Jonathan and Dracula.

Seward quickly stepped forward, having been delayed by an absurdly busy street at this time of day. He held a sack, and passed it to Van Helsing. It clanked loudly when the contents shifted. “I think you may need this more than I do.” He had almost urged him not to open it until he was underway, but the sounds were ample signifiers of what it contained.

Van Helsing wondered about the weight, but soon realisation passed over his features. “This will do wonders against Arthur, John.”

“I thought it might,” he replied. They had had no opportunity to bind the man while he was in the employ of that vampire. Should Van Helsing encounter him, he must be prepared.

“Take care of him,” Mina urged. John and Van Helsing turned to see whom she was speaking to. It was merely coachman of the carriage he had requested, as it pulled up closer to them. A few pedestrians had caused him to hold off, for they lingered in his path. At last, they had passed on with their maps. Seward guessed she knew the driver, as the man tipped his cap to them all in respect.

“This is Mr. Quincey Morris,” Mina responded by way of introduction. “One of his horses was bitten by natural vampire bats; he spoke of it as he brought me safely to one place and the next,” she quietly explained under her breath so that the men understood and the driver did not hear. Van Helsing’s curiosity was piqued. Louder, she added, “He was my driver the night we saw that bat.”

“Those were hellish eyes, even from where I sat,” Quincey muttered. He had caught the last. “Don’t suppose we’ll ever forget.”

Van Helsing considered him, but knew he could not tell him the full truth. “It has departed this region thanks to an impromptu intervening of the forces of good,” he divulged. “Mina was useful in this regard.”

Quincey gave his phrasing the weight such a revelation deserved. “I’ll take your word for it, sir. I’m glad you weren’t bitten by it, ma’am. It looked mighty peckish, and possibly diseased.”

“As glad as I am, Mr. Morris, for it was truly a carrier of an illness,” Mina affirmed. She meant it. Returning from the grave was a unique illness, and Dracula had been the carrier. Once she had rested, she had realised just how close she had been to giving in to her tiredness, or going into a trance and falling into the power of those creatures.

Van Helsing placed his satchel, doctor’s bag, and cane in the carriage along with the sack, before he turned back to John. “I trust you will take care of Lucy,” he commented as Mina gave them some privacy.

“She can take care of herself at this juncture, I’ve found; she said as much,” Seward replied as delicately as possible. “We came to the eventual agreement that while it was good that I fought for her soul—without putting it that way, for she doesn’t realise—our paths were beginning to diverge.”

When Van Helsing didn’t interrupt to remonstrate that choice, Seward continued. “We are not a suitable match anymore, as her mother kindly informed me this morning.” He realised it sounded as though he was casting her off now that their troubles were mostly passed. He wasn’t so trite as to do such to such a good woman as Lucy Weston. “We are not fully estranged. We do look kindly upon each other, and I will be there should there be dark times ahead for her, but we will not be joined in matrimony.”

He refused to drag Lucy’s good name through anything untoward like the scandal or bitterness of an annulment or divorce. Neither wished to approach such an act. He knew she wasn’t his to keep despite all he had done for her, and all the blood he had given. She would be free. The wedding was cancelled. The word of their engagement notice’s lack of eventual consummation had gone through the proper channels. Mrs. Weston had taken it harder than Lucy had, but she didn’t collapse from grief. Given her heart, he was thankful for that small reprieve from nature’s woes.

Van Helsing understood. He had witnessed the consolation Mina had provided, but not garnered why John was in such an odd state until now. He removed his hand from the man’s shoulder and entered the carriage in one bound. “I trust you to care for both of them,” he instructed.

His words were not meant for John; they were destined for Mina. She was taken aback at his knowing look at first, before her eyes softened. “I will,” Mina softly confirmed. Van Helsing had noticed the friendship with a potential to become more. He knew Mina would be watchful for signs should John grow worse. Mina stepped forward and lifted up the blessed lantern. It was neglected and forgotten by the man in his hurried packing. Yes, this would most certainly come in handy. He accepted it.

Van Helsing had all that he required. He knocked twice on the ceiling with his cane. It signalled he was ready. Mina and Seward stepped out of their way. “To the docks, if you please, Mr. Morris,” he called out. “I have a ship to catch.”

The returning knock let him know he had been heard. The carriage began to roll away.

The hunt was on.
--

It was a long and arduous ride once Abraham Van Helsing learned exactly where the castle was, and completed the seafaring portion of his journey. He made his way through the Carpathian Mountains.

The wind blew dirt in his face as he rode.

Dracula’s castle wasn’t on any maps; Transylvania was on the borders of Bukovina and Moldavia, and that was all the knowledge he had obtained. The closer he came to his destination rising atop the cliffs near the Borgo Pass, the harder it became to receive reliable directions. The closer he came, though, the more precautions he took. Anyone could be in league with Dracula.

Van Helsing had learned from the locals that the Czarina Catherine was practically a ghost ship when she finally ran ashore. Much like the Demeter had been, save for Jonathan, he had mused. Several weak and placid sailors were left and unloaded one large box in the shape of a coffin at the urging of Arthur.

The state of the people was grotesque, yet unsurprising to him when one knew of the creature’s appetites. There were two vampires aboard, after all. They could only hibernate for so long before their urges grew like a fire in a furnace and bid them drink and make merry. Albeit, do so discretely; he judged that would be the path Dracula was teaching Jonathan.

So he found himself a horse and rode alone. When he must, he exchanged one horse for another so that it would not suddenly fail him if he needed to move quickly. He didn’t need a horse to grow ill.

There was one inn Van Helsing chose to rest at which made him realise he was following the path once trod by Jonathan Harker. Before the man had become a slave; an asylum inmate; a vampire still under Dracula’s tutelage. The innkeeper recalled seeing Jonathan, but was reluctant to elaborate. He would only say he had once been a kind and quiet soul, and mourned when informed he was no more.

Now, Van Helsing privately explained, Jonathan was a nosferatu; a strigoi; a revenant. No matter the terminology or the dialect within the region, they were all different phrases that circled back into the same cursed state.

The innkeeper was distraught when Van Helsing exited the premises with provisions and new information.

Secretive peasants who feared both tooth and claw had mentioned a way into the vampire’s castle that none dared to try. Or, at least, those that had tried had not returned. There were wandering catacombs beneath the castle. He wished to traverse them alone, and make his way from that labyrinth into the castle itself.

Based on the murmurs of others afraid to speak further, they were still in the castle. Van Helsing presumed the three women spoken of in a trance were as well; along with Arthur, if nobody grew too hungry. He knew a vague layout of the place from those sessions. He felt he was prepared.

Hitherto, he had gained the lay of the land. Plumes of smoke rose from the dying embers of Van Helsing’s campfire. He had made his short-lived camp several miles from the castle, in the early morning hours. He had to prepare himself for the macabre sights that awaited him. He had acquired a small repast of bread and cheese to fortify himself, lest hunger dull his senses. What remained was placed in a satchel on his steed’s back.

He heard wolves howling from time to time. He would worry if he hadn’t reached the castle by nightfall. He found a stream first, and allowed the horse to drink. Its name was Strega, for his owner had a diabolical sense of humour. While the horse was occupied, Van Helsing rubbed some holy water on it. He then bathed and rubbed the holy water over every inch of himself. He drank much of what remained in the first canteen, so they would not drink from him without injury to themselves. He had more.

Before the last of that one, he mixed in garlic extract. His breath would be pungent, but he would be safe. If the literature was correct, and it had been in regard to the plant keeping Dracula out, then the odour would keep his sort at bay.

There was the castle looming before him. Even the crumbling turret seemed to warn of dire happenings within its walls. It seemed grim and cruel, just like its master. He followed the rocky path slower, and waited for servants or highwaymen to waylay him.

None appeared.

Van Helsing left his horse out of sight of any windows, and dismounted once more. While it would be safe from vampires, he hoped this wouldn’t take so long as that. The sun still hung in the sky to signal it was afternoon. He crept around the exterior of the castle until he found out the rumours were true.

He crossed himself, and went in. It was dark; he had his lantern. He only knew the passage of time from when he put down the burden he carried, pulled up his pocket watch, and pulled the lantern close. He ignored the occasional skeleton and the sounds of dripping water. He could give these poor souls no burial. There were too many of them for him to bless them with his remaining holy water and continue to be protected should he be required to drink or splash more at a foe. Five vampires must be dealt with.

He prayed he had the fortitude for such carnage.

Those unwary and unknown victims were his guides. Soon, the roughshod landmarks vanished and he saw the natural flaming of a torch hanging from the wall. There was one stone cleaner than the rest, or he would have been devastated to discover this was a dead end. He pushed against it; his expectations were met when it swung partially open. Where was he now? He wondered.

He checked his pockets. There was the communion wafer; the crucifix; the rosary; the cross. The last three he decorated about his person. He had not trusted himself not to lose them in the dark. He pulled the gift of Seward’s manacles free from his bag; he determined that the rattle would attract attention, and he didn’t require them yet. He slipped them back in. He stepped back out of sight when he heard footsteps.

There was Arthur; he was passing from one room to another with some quest in mind only he was privy to. Perhaps he was seeing that all was in order; perhaps, by the inquisitive look, he heard the metal. Van Helsing didn’t care. He followed only after he had pulled a bottle of chloroform from his bag and poured a small dose over a rag. As Arthur began to leave that room, he put the rag over Arthur’s face.

Arthur tried to shove him off, but the struggle soon weakened. His grip became slack, and muffled swears fell into silence. Van Helsing held on until he was certain the man was out cold. He could easily be outmatched by Arthur if not for the wondrous vapour. He held his own breath until he tossed the rag beside Arthur's still form, lest he, too, succumb to its fumes.

There had been no time for him to cry out. He couldn’t warn his master, even if it weren’t daylight. Van Helsing pulled out rope after he slowly and painstakingly dragged Arthur back into what he now knew to be a bedroom. His back would scream later. He left Arthur properly trussed up, and put the manacles on him. The keys were missing, of course, from what he recalled Seward saying. Just the same, as he left he saw a table and pushed it against the door. If Arthur got free despite his precautionary measures, the door would still be blocked.

Van Helsing spotted the full-length mirror Harker had spoken of in his trance; this was the route he had passed when those demonic women had once pursued him. He knew an attack could come by windows in that case, once the sun was down. He soon found that the crypt filled with coffins was beneath the floor that housed that grand mirror. It only took going down another corridor to access it. Luckily, nobody bothered to close lids weighted by lead, or it would have made his job harder. They had no need to, this far away from windows.

He pulled a stake and small hammer from his bag; thankfully, it wasn’t as heavy without the manacles to weigh it down. He peered into the first coffin. This vampire was a blonde woman. Perhaps she was the one who tried to entice and bite Harker in his scattered recollections. As Van Helsing gazed upon her, he felt as though she knew he was there and sought to stop him. As Mina and John had described, he felt a tug against his mind as this one slowly opened her eyes.

He could not look away. He had placed the tip of the stake against her chest before she had done that. He could not tangle with her. He would not risk being bitten and turned into a servant of the devil! He shook his head in a burst of willpower, and turned from her voluptuous form. He wiped his face free of the sweat pouring down his face. He knew she must not do this to him a second time, or he may not leave the castle alive.

Or, perhaps, he would not leave this place as a mortal at any rate. He moved back and only stared down at where the stake was pressed. He blocked all thoughts. He took a breath.

He wrested his will away from the alluring female vampire as she sought to stop him a second time. There was a cloying stench such as was described in folklore, but it wasn’t from rotting flesh. It originated with the old blood likely to be found in her breath, if she still breathed. He was bemused that he could smell it over the garlic. He caught himself on the brink of succumbing and staying in this place. For the sake of ending it, he aimed his stake and stilled the shaking of his hands.

This must be done. He brought down the hammer like a god dispensing justice in olden times. He hardened his heart against the grisly death throes. He sighed when it was ended, and crossed himself. The literature had only hinted at what would happen. It had not fully prepared him. He had sought to block the scream that accompanied her death agonies, but it remained disquieting.

The first was dead. There were four that remained, if he sought to tangle with Dracula. He sighed, and leaned his head against the wall so that he could steel himself for what was to come. His plan was to kill them all, but that may not be possible.

What words should be spoken over the body? He murmured a prayer to see her to her final afterlife. He was bringing them salvation from a despicable life beyond the grave and saving victims of that curse yet to come. John had yet to transform; he had yet to travel on a pilgrimage to this land at the behest of a despised new master. Van Helsing did this for him. He did this for Mina, who fought so valiantly for Lucy.

He wiped away the sweat, and then paused in disbelief. He suddenly noted his sweating could have lost him the water’s protection. His pores might have betrayed him. He reached for the canteen on his hip and drank of it deeply; he splashed more on his face, and rubbed it around his throat.

At least the smell of garlic remained strong. He stepped back to wait for the others to rise, and placed his rosary in plain view. For an academic curiosity, he approached the next coffin, expecting another bride.

In this one, he instead found the taller male form of Jonathan. Even in his false death, he seemed startled by the sounds, for a flicker of emotion passed over his features. Van Helsing looked away and checked his watch. He had no time to stake this one, with approximately one minute or less before they all awakened. He had spent too much time wandering through the castle and almost becoming lost beneath it. He had wasted more time being enamoured and nearly ensnared by that woman’s will.

Well, he had a Plan B. It involved less bloodshed. He had realised there was always the possibility he could not kill them all in the allotted time, and schemed accordingly. He would use words, if reason could be found in the Count following the death of one companion. The wafer could be implemented as a last resort, with all the holiness he possessed at his beck and call.

Van Helsing stalked to the base of the stairs and watched the undead man from a safe distance. With a clinical detachment that belied the terror waiting to consume him at the edges of his thoughts, he waited.

At the precise second, the vampire’s eyes shot open. Jonathan began to snap out of the comatose state, intelligence and something feral returning to his eyes as he lurched back to awareness. Jonathan had heard the screams, but given the time he hadn’t been able to move until then. His eyes darted around as he sniffed the air once to determine the danger before he moved.

There was a familiar scent, but it was muffled and burned Jonathan’s nose. He sat up, turned and beheld Van Helsing’s calm face. An enraged hiss was emitted even as Harker saw him and began to scramble out of his coffin. Jonathan’s fingers were bending like claws as he clutched the sides.

He was only dissuaded from attacking by the presence of something pure. Where was the holy water? It had hurt him in the past, but he didn’t see a bottle. He realised he would burn if he touched this man, once he guessed it was all over him. Distressed that he couldn’t approach, Jonathan paced like a caged animal around him, and snapped in his direction once. He whined, for the desire to bite was incredible.

Jonathan saw the blonde vampire, and reached out to pat her hair, even as he bared his teeth at Van Helsing. She was the Master’s. She was his. She was all of theirs, just as they were all hers. He neared, but even the smell of garlic was awful. “You,” he hissed. “You drove a stake through Marishka!”

He backed up and shielded his face in repulsion at what he sensed, even as he collided with the hopping vampire; she had left her coffin just as quickly. She clung to Jonathan, and yanked him so that he would be forced to follow her away. They needed to be with the Master. The last woman was protective as she wrapped her arms around his back and sank her fingernails into his chest. “Amaya,” he whimpered. He squirmed in her grip in an effort to see her. She was grounding him, and keeping him from the same harm that had taken Marishka.

Before the youngest vampire could scream for his Master, he materialised before them all with a blast of wind that felt cold as the grave itself; his cape billowed out behind him like wings. The oldest vampire was noble in his fury. When Harker neared a pile of weapons, all Dracula had to do was raise a brow when Jonathan looked his way to allow him to realise his potential error. He did not need to be assisted.

All were silent and still as the undead awaited swift vengeance to be laid down against the living man. If it happened, Van Helsing knew it was his own folly; it was his own inexperience, despite how prepared he felt he was.

Jonathan rubbed his face submissively along an outstretched hand, and fell to one knee as he shook in confusion. He was quickly urged to rise; this was an invasion, and not the time for ritual. Dracula’s hand touched the nape of the neck of each of his turned creatures that still survived. He took stock of their safety. He read Jonathan’s thoughts.

Dracula whirled on Van Helsing, a red light in his eyes, before it faded. They were at an impasse, he could see. “That is sacrilege to drink of it, Abraham,” Dracula pointed out with confused outrage.

Van Helsing didn’t show his true feelings, but chose instead to rise from his seat and move to the stairs. While his was the first blow in the castle, Dracula had bitten first in Whitby. He paused in his progress and turned back to them when he was halfway up. “We have negotiations to discuss, Count. Come when you are ready to speak civilly.” The vampire was obviously puzzled and outraged by his gall, in equal measures.

“The water is for my own safety,” he added. “It will be necessary, if I am to survive our talk.” Without another word, Van Helsing moved to ascend the stone stairs. He would wait for them, despite his own accursed fascination with the behaviours and rituals he was witnessing from the creatures.

“We will speak of your terms in this…negotiation, away from the carnage of your work,” Dracula coldly agreed. He was alerted to the loss of one of his own first, but realised his youngest needed to act out the worst of his grief upon the murderer. He only intervened with the revelation it was Van Helsing, and that Jonathan could not touch him. His remaining women petted and soothed Jonathan for that failure before they scattered and hid. He knew they would come with him up the stairs until their need to protect the youngest from their oldest bride’s fate was satisfied.

Jonathan crept forward, confused. “It isn’t Arthur’s fault? He wasn’t here; it’s not like him. He’s regular like the spiders that drop down from the ceiling! It can’t be. He was not found wanting, was he?” He asked his Master.

“What became of Arthur? He was indisposed,” Dracula replied as calmly as possible. Despite his feelings, he must confer with Van Helsing, and determine the sort of audience required before his blood was spilled. Arthur had been drugged; just beneath the stench of garlic and holy water and the saturation of crosses adorning that man, Dracula had smelled a particular odour on Van Helsing’s fingers. As he moved forward, the rest followed cautiously behind him.

Van Helsing waited; his hand casually moved the cross into view.

“Do not worry, Jonathan,” Dracula finally directed over his shoulder. “Arthur’s quality of service was not found wanting.” He fixed his eyes on this man. “Chloroform, was it not, Professor?”

“It was,” Van Helsing confirmed. He watched as the others remained in the shadows, skirting the room for vulnerability. Their baleful eyes glinted red in the dark, both from hunger, as well as hatred. When they sat down near the stairs, he knew they were not docile. They were only waiting for a signal.

The eldest vampire stared in a battle of wills against Van Helsing. Slowly, oh, so slowly, Van Helsing responded to his ministrations, and felt a fog cover his thoughts. The crucifix lowered further, and clattered to the stone floor.

And then, the mortal man smiled against all reason, and raised the rosary, which still remained about his neck. The fog lifted; he reclaimed the crucifix as they glared. “I drank what you termed sacrilegious, if you’ll recall. I have my protections.” When Dracula dared approach, the Professor shouted words of the Latin prayer he had used on Jonathan back in the forest. Both of the women, as well as Jonathan, backed up to the wall and hid their faces. Harker began to keen, and the women snarled in unison at Van Helsing for the pain he was causing them.

Dracula growled at this insolence, and his eyes seemed dangerous and desperate at the sounds. Then, he smirked and began to recover. “This so-called truce may have gone better had you not slain one of my own. I could have offered you knowledge you never dreamed of; both of the dark arts, as well as my kind. You would only reject it once again in your ignorance.”

Van Helsing already knew this. Enough blood had been spilled. He also noted that seemingly to distract the youngest from his woe, the brides were nipping at Harker’s shoulders.

When Dracula saw where the other man’s eyes were drawn, he smirked. Amaya was stroking Harker’s neck, while Mehira had begun to roughly hold him from behind, one cheek on his shoulder. Her fangs nipped first at Jonathan’s shoulder, and then the nape of his neck. They were merely pack mates soothing one of their own, and distracting the youngest from the pain; therefore, Dracula saw no cause for concern. He gestured to the women to imply Harker would be protected with him.

“Go!” Dracula ordered. The women obediently scattered into the shadows. Van Helsing had killed their third, and so Dracula would be heeded for one of the few times in his memory. Jonathan was at a loss without them.

Van Helsing tensed as Dracula stalked closer than the others had dared; he dreaded the thought that a knife could plunge into his heart easier than their efforts to bite him. He walked so closely that Van Helsing determined it was age that leant a certain measure of resistance to the water's effects. He sucked in a breath as Dracula’s fingers stretched out.

There was the sound of the tips of his fingers sizzling. It truly was a thin physical barrier about Van Helsing from all the holy items. The implication was clear as Dracula glanced at him; press this man too far and he could be just as vicious as his progeny, if not more. Just beyond his shoulder, he also noted the excitement in Harker’s eyes.

Yes, Dracula seemed to say. He would be cast to the wolves should his words disappoint. Van Helsing swallowed as he aligned both his words and his pride in accordance with this revelation. Dracula stepped back triumphantly, as though he merely sought to give him space.

The hopping vampire could be heard snarling something unintelligible to Amaya from a nearby corridor. When it rang clearer, Van Helsing deemed that it was a language that he was just not familiar with. He was uncertain what the accompanying scraping sound heralded, but turned to speak to the Count. The fiend had an air of expectation about him.

A stone chair sailing by his head interrupted anything he might have asked; Van Helsing moved away from the path at the last moment. He spun, and watched its progress as it landed with a loud thump near the grand fireplace. It was practically a throne! It came from further down the winding passages, and was only meant for decoration in bygone centuries. If it had been any closer, he would have died. He was shaken; some dismay showed in his face. The woman returned to peek around the corner, grinning around her fangs. Her surviving cohort peeked over her shoulder; she was impressed, by the look of her.

The message was clear. If he didn’t depart tonight, and if Dracula did not slay him, then his blood would be on her hands.

Dracula dismissed Mehira with a courtly gesture, tempered with respect. They heard applause, and Van Helsing dared to glance Jonathan’s way.

“Splendid, Mehira! Brava,” Jonathan called softly after his applause slowed. There was laughter in his voice. What could she possibly do for an encore after such a feat? From the snarling of the other woman, she had contributed a measure of her own strength to further the demonstration. “Well done to you, too, Amaya,” he exclaimed in a gentler, almost teasing tone. He must include both for the fantastically lovely sight, as he temporarily forgot about their missing third.

Van Helsing peered sharply at Harker. That softness of speech and manner, with kindness behind the phrasing, sounded uncannily like the calm and polite gentleman Mina had described once everyone could breathe. Was something of him left? Could he be reached, and should Van Helsing care?

Jonathan’s grin spread further as his eyes slid sideways; he caught the Professor’s interest from some indefinable change in the beating of the heart. He didn’t care about his opinions; he wished to say more before he was silenced. His Master would take care of things, after all. “She might have taken your head off or simply crushed you, you know. It was quite close. They both might have,” he informed the living man in a deceptively sweet tone. “I would have enjoyed seeing that.” It started jovially, before anger began to seep through. “They put me in my place after I arrived, for I was...territorial. Oh, they’ll do so much worse to you, Professor.”

No, Van Helsing realised. It was something far more repellant than it was kind. That cultured gentleman was lost and, perhaps, long gone. Jonathan had freely walked into the shadows. From the little he knew from their sessions, it hadn’t taken much effort to control him. To Van Helsing, the creature before him was but a shell corrupted by the evil of Dracula.

Jonathan had been altered from what he once was in regards to his mental faculties during his first stay at the castle; he was quite definitively possessed in the asylum, but a true victim he was not once he had grasped the severity of his situation. They had spoken with the real man after that exorcism, even if it was temporary. He was a willing servant by the end. Jonathan Harker revelled in this new mode of existence. Van Helsing could see it in his eyes, and would therefore feel no pity moving his soul at the sight of what he had become.

Jonathan was still truly delighted by the display as he darted over to their side. Anaya bit his hand and fled; they were both gone before he could retaliate, and his grin only grew wider. Mehira could have promised him a fight before dawn, or debauchery at his next awakening, and it would have made him just as happy. He moved forlornly toward the hall, and whirled to bare his fangs at Van Helsing when he felt him glaring at his back. He returned to his former place, anticipating what his Master's orders would be.

Dracula calmly righted the chair. It was still suitable for use; the legs were not broken. He gestured vaguely to Van Helsing as he claimed the chair for himself. “Mehira…disapproves of your actions, Professor. Her method achieves far more than any of us could possibly have put into words. As she is now the oldest of the ladies gracing this castle’s grounds, it is only her right to inform me of any disagreeable activities in whatever manner she so desires.” If he treated such actions fondly, his voice didn’t reveal it. He overlooked Jonathan's words to the Professor; he would let him have this amusement at this time.

Van Helsing slowly nodded. “So I see.”

The intruder within the castle would be left standing. “We would have discussed matters in the library like civilised men,” Dracula intoned. “You are not a guest, though; not as Jonathan once was,” Dracula explained. “Come. As you struck the first blow within these walls, tell us your reasoning behind this assault. Tell us your thoughts behind such foolhardiness.”

It was stated calmly, but Van Helsing would swear on all that he possessed that he could see the points of rat-like fangs gradually descending. It was subtle. It was unnatural. It was demonic. He had the estimation of Van Helsing’s situation to know it would spur the man onward, rather than render him a sniveling wreck. It was to be expected. The flames suddenly burst into life in the fireplace; it was another facet of his power within his lair. He sought to keep him off balance.

Van Helsing raised a brow before negotiations could truly begin. He glanced where the hopping one had disappeared into the shadows after nipping Harker. “Does Jiangshi blood rest in Mehira’s veins, or is it all your own?” He murmured.

There was an amused quirk of the vampire’s lips, gone as swiftly as it arrived. “Both,” Dracula replied cryptically. Darkness was behind his words. He was reluctant to reveal this much. “Mishaps do occur in the wild. Those who survive nature’s mistake are stronger for their pained entrance into this world.”

How did one cross lineage in such a way? He surmised no more knowledge would be gathered about her. It was in accordance with his research that Van Helsing had labeled her as kin to the Jiangshi of China.

“My bargain is this,” Van Helsing at last began sternly. He pointed to Jonathan. “Have that one release Dr. John Seward of Whitby from his intrusion. Release him from any potential for control. Free him from the taint he is cursed with in this life, which would follow him into the grave and back out. Free him so that he will not sup on the veins of the living.” His demands were simple. He held the crucifix up for Harker to see when he realised that the vampire was ignoring common sense and gradually becoming a bat.

Jonathan showed his fangs before he calmed; he looked solemn but mostly normal after shaking himself.

“And in return?” Dracula questioned. If he had nothing to offer, his life was forfeit. They would not bargain if Dracula did not have anything to gain.

“If you release him from the bonds of nosferatu?” Van Helsing nodded in contemplation. “When you release him from vampirism’s taint, no matter how minor? When you cause the marks to disappear, and the burns of the rosary to heal? I will leave you in peace. I will leave them alone. I will leave you to your methods and no longer trouble you. I will not return to Transylvania, just as you will not return to the shores of Whitby.”

“And from this informal truce you seek to forge with me…you will not bother to avenge any of the others I should choose to offer eternal life?” Dracula was wise, and knew this would be difficult for the man. “Your truce has already gained one casualty.”

“That is so. Those are my terms, and I will hold myself to them just as ruthlessly,” Van Helsing replied. What choice did he have? He had come for John’s sake, after giving him little thought at the start. He had come for Lucy’s sake as well; he must be certain she had been released, despite all appearances that pointed to such. This devil could have used subterfuge to conceal what may remain tucked away until she was deceased. He was not a professional vampire hunter. “I believe you already let Lucy go free?”

“Yes; I cast her off upon my departure from those shores,” Dracula shrewdly offered. “She should not rise again.”

“Should not is not the same as will not, my dear Count,” Van Helsing pointed out with a cold smile.

There was a long silence, before a stern nod came as he rose from the throne-like chair. “You…are wise. As of this moment, it is will not.” He was obviously inconvenienced. “The most minor of threads remained from my indiscretion; holy water would not have harmed her. You tested her, I presume? She should be suitable to you and yours now; she herself remains oblivious to any intrusion.”

Those eyes let him know he was correct in his supposition. He was being truthful. Van Helsing had not realised just how much he needed that confirmation until it was provided. Whatever tattered remnants of knowledge Dracula had of Lucy’s actions were likely now ashes. “Your ladies with such sharp teeth, and your Jonathan will fall under these terms and conditions as well; after all, I am here for his actions just as much as yours.” He had caught and presumably sealed the loophole in this clause before it could be used against him. Dracula’s progeny could not overrun Whitby.

Dracula’s expression was unreadable. When Harker made a small noise and turned eyes first to him and then to the other with a jolt, Van Helsing realised they were debating as well. Perhaps he blamed him for Van Helsing’s actions; there was no way to know, for he had no access to thought transference. Dracula bid his child to approach.

Jonathan began to kneel before Dracula stopped him with a gesture. He instructed him to remain standing with a mental touch. Jonathan scurried closer after a realisation he was not being sacrificed. “How do I…cast him off? It felt beautiful to sink my teeth into him.” He was disappointed, confused, and sullen by the sound of his words.

“Come,” Dracula implored, with a hand outstretched. The man reached his side in a flash. Dracula laid the hand possessively over Jonathan’s shoulder. “What would you have him do? How much is his freedom to be?” Harker was giving them both petulant looks as a result of Van Helsing’s actions. His eyes became accusatory and vicious, until Dracula tightened his grip. He sensed the other was going to forget his shred of reason and attack. It was a recurring malady just as it was in life; Dracula may have been retraining his mind, but Jonathan would always serve him.

“We do not hypnotise guests, Jonathan,” Dracula added when he caught his intent. “I have already failed in such a task. We especially do not do such things when we are embroiled in negotiations and they have enough holy relics upon them to satisfy an army. We would like his thoughts to remain his own in this regard, would we not, Jonathan?”

Jonathan actually giggled madly at that, despite what appeared to be his best efforts to contain it. Van Helsing waited him out before speaking, uncomfortable with the prevailing mood. “I would have you demonstrate to him how to free John completely. Just as you will trouble us no longer, we shall do you the same…courtesy following this favour,” he promised the vampires.

He returned his attention to Harker, who was nervously listening. “I will show you how,” Dracula soothed. “It does not hurt, but there may be…discomfort when the link snaps back.” He turned his eyes upon Van Helsing. “We will see to it that all is reversed so that he does not walk again after death.” The thought of such an occurrence had intrigued him.

“And then we shall see what comes next. “ The coolness of his measured tone belied that it was a precursor to a rage that was only ceased by the presence of all that Van Helsing wore.

“I was starting to like the way John felt, Master. I liked his dreams,” Jonathan mournfully lamented. “He only felt me a little after I bit him. I never knew I could look out through his eyes until we left. Am I abandoning him if I let go?”

It was said so innocently, but tinged with such an undercurrent of malevolence that Van Helsing was amazed, even if he didn’t show it. His theory was correct, in that case. A connection had been forged out of the frantic hunger and passion of the act, without the young vampire fully understanding or caring for the resulting consequences. How often had Jonathan listened in on what Seward thought when they were trying to protect Lucy?

“No,” Dracula replied simply. That was all it took to remove doubt from his youngest. Harker’s case was not Seward’s. “No, you are merely releasing your prey.” This appeared to be a delicate matter.

“To Mina,” Jonathan smirked as he looked away. “He drifted all over and around and back and forth in his dreams and Lucy left and came back and left again quietly and Mina stayed.” Then, he grew serious and scared. He was trying to focus on the present, and not that link. “I—I couldn’t separate dreams from memories or fantasies of my own or his. Did I speak wrong, Master?”

In this, Van Helsing could be certain that Jonathan was right. From a telegram he received when Mina had somehow tracked him down despite his wandering quest, he knew it was fact. When Dracula glanced his way, he nodded. “There is truth to his scattered findings.”

“Then, no, Jonathan. You have not misspoken; we will have to find you some more succulent morsel you can use as you did him,” Dracula replied calmly. To Van Helsing, he issued a warning laced with dark amusement. “We draw blood for this act so that I may guide him, lest we surprise you.” It was nothing so easy as looking at him or stroking his cheek and ending it.

Van Helsing wondered at the warning, until Dracula moved closer and nipped into Jonathan’s throat roughly, as an alpha wolf would in its pack to show dominance. In response, the younger vampire moaned, and Van Helsing stepped away, glancing about the room for a weapon should this go badly for him.

When Jonathan was at last released, the vampire bit deeply into Dracula’s palm; having been distracted by the previous sight, Van Helsing hadn't realised until then that Jonathan's fangs had once again replaced his regular teeth. Jonathan shook his head once, before settling. Then, they stared deeply into each other’s eyes, and Van Helsing merely felt as though he was an intruder.

Well, of course he was both intruder and the killer of one lady, but this? He was encroaching on things that no mortal should witness. The vampire hunter detected a red gleam that was brightest in the master of Jonathan. They pulled away further, licking their lips.

Dracula turned his focus on aiding Jonathan. Jonathan was completely in his power; so little had to be done to persuade him to open his mind further to his thoughts. Harker listened to his Master’s mental words—the mental, rather than the verbal sparring between mortal enemies. Jonathan closed his eyes, sinking into a trance as he sought a mental connection. There was a whine as he fought to keep it open.

Dracula stroked Jonathan’s brow, to both aid him in tucking away unimportant matters, and in following the link back to its source. Backwards he must travel; backwards to John Seward. Finally, Jonathan opened his eyes and eagerly nodded. He gave one last vicious hiss to Van Helsing. Then, he leaned against Dracula’s chest, seeking the protection of his embrace.

The Count suddenly cuffed the back of Jonathan’s head as though he had spoken out of turn. It was a reprimand for daring such an action in the presence of mortals. Harker was oddly satisfied and mischievous despite all that had transpired. Still, there was an air of loss about him when he crept from his side. “He’s free, Professor Van Helsing,” Jonathan sang out reluctantly.

Jonathan shook his head, and saw the scepticism. He rolled his eyes. “My head’s not so noisy; I can’t see through his eyes. I don’t hear what he hears.” He looked away in the face of such harsh scrutiny, and instead sought Dracula’s gaze.

Van Helsing looked to Dracula. “Are you in agreement with his findings? Does more remain? Perhaps a mild taint that burns with a foulness, such as was found when this one’s blood mixed with your drying blood upon his lips?” That news did not surprise him. The vampire was also struggling to keep his anger in check, but it wasn’t towards Jonathan.

Dracula locked eyes with Jonathan, and calmed his mind of thoughts of retaliation. Harker never fully understood what he had done; he was so young, that he only sought to feed. He sifted through Harker’s madness and blocked out the quiet whispers of Van Helsing’s heart, which the younger easily heard. The skittering claws of the rats and the scents that were driving Harker to distraction were lessened. Finally, Dracula turned away, calmly stroking Harker’s cheek. “I am in agreement,” he confirmed.

Van Helsing found he did not truly wish to know the depths of intimacy he had witnessed. “Thank you, Count,” he grudgingly replied.

When Jonathan said nothing and only touched the marks that rapidly healed on his neck, Dracula glanced at him. The elder vampire turned away before explaining the ending of the procedure to Van Helsing. Harker was just being difficult. “Dr. Seward should feel an echo of its severing shortly. He may find he collapses,” Dracula informed him with a wintry grin. It was not said in jest. He had seen one such collapse thanks to Harker’s mind being so connected to the doctor’s as he had taken Jonathan away by misdirection.

Van Helsing resolved to send a telegram to Mina from Bucharest. There was only a two-hour difference. They need only fret a brief while until it arrived. “It is not a bad trade-off,” he agreed.

Dracula turned quietly and forcibly made Jonathan look at him by gripping his chin, until the belligerent expression faded. He finally had his attention. “All is dark, where once I found your disciple’s light in his mind.” He nodded to Jonathan, praising him for tearing out that last dangling thread without words. He had done well; he sensed Jonathan’s pleasure at the news. Dracula sighed, when it seemed to be tempered by worry for his brethren. “Go see to your fallen playmate, Jonathan. You will know where to place her, for I will guide your movements. I must see to our guest’s departure first.”

Jonathan jerkily nodded, wide-eyed. His face grew solemn. He knew the wrathful expression was not directed towards him. When Dracula let go, he didn’t bolt at once. He began to lunge Van Helsing’s way before he darted back, for the scent of holy water and garlic still caused inordinate distress. He couldn’t contain his hatred, even as he followed his Master’s orders. Then, he fled down the dark and winding staircase, and was gone from their view.

“Forgive his moodiness, but it is your own fault,” Dracula pointed out. The tone was almost pleasant, but his eyes revealed otherwise.

Jonathan would place Marishka in a coffin in the crypt, within deeper catacombs that wound beneath the castle. They burrowed even deeper than the path the Professor had taken. It was reserved for such fallen ones. It was filled with the cobwebs of centuries, and only a vampire could penetrate it without fear of being bitten by spiders. Harker knew the way through Dracula, but he would stand with him and oversee just the same when his foe had departed the premises.

Still, he had more to say and raised his hand lest the mortal turn away too soon. “Go safely, for the next three hours. Leave freely. Take your armour of faith with you.” A grim smile touched his lips before it fled. “My children of the night will watch you for vulnerability as you make your way from the castle. Understand this,” he snarled before his voice grew icy once again. “You will remain unharmed by the creatures under my command outdoors, despite my own yearnings. Cross the border between this land and the next with great haste, and never return. If you should, I will not be as merciful.”

Professor Abraham Van Helsing was a worthy foe with a formidable brain and a will to match. It would be a loss to not change him into one of his own, with such a cunning mind as that. However, he had invaded his home, accosted his servant, and slain one of his chosen few. He had frightened those that remained. He had bargained for the release of those souls who could lead darkly wondrous lives in an eternity after death.

He had not wavered.

He was a worthy foe indeed. “Go,” Dracula repeated as he turned and trickled away as mist. The fastest way…the most efficient way to locate his children was to seep through the cracks of the castle, passing through the stone and mortar like a ghost. The mist became darker, blending with the shadows as Dracula waited to invisibly observe the speedy departure he knew must come. He heard the man’s pulse quicken.

Dracula melted away into the shadows. He was almost invisible, for he knew every secret hiding place and passage in his castle. He began to seep through the cracks of the floor. Before he saw to the expected mourning procedures, he would peer through the eyes of his wolves. What he could not see in flesh, he would in spirit. If the wolves were not available, he would use the owls; the bats; the rats; the meaner things at his command, which walked or crawled by night.

He had a body to place into the earth one last time. There were no tears to be shed, for Marishka was merely the spoil of a war that had grown on him. He must replace her, lest the vacant coffin cause his children turmoil, unrest, and agitation. They could grow reckless without the knowledge there was another to teach in their ways. He could find a suitable woman in a nearby village before taking Jonathan elsewhere in Europe for a retreat and an impromptu hunting expedition.

He watched the man turn and slowly approach the door. His power bid it to open before Van Helsing could do more than brush the wood and metal with outstretched fingers. It pleased him to note they were shaking, but just enough that a mortal would have never detected his true feelings.

The doors slammed closed behind the Professor with a boom like thunder. The wolves lined the path to the gate, he was startled to see; they were growling but coming no closer. His steed was unharmed. The horse whinnied and rolled its eyes in its terror but gradually calmed as he patted its snout. He mounted it swiftly; when it grew calmer but no less frightened, he galloped away.

Dracula knew the man feared what would come next when the door closed behind him. He directed his thoughts to enter Van Helsing’s mind, and cherished the shudder that ran through him. Should you return, you will find it to be a fatal miscalculation. You will be less welcome than you are now. You shall not come freely nor leave safely, then, for you would not be leaving at all!

Van Helsing recognised the truth of these words. It had been in the vampire’s cold, stalking manner and a restrained hint of red in his eyes in spite of all that was protecting the living man from those teeth. If he had asked for more, he knew that he would be dead, just as surely as he would be denied. He silently inclined his head to acknowledge that the mercy provided was something he was not ungrateful to receive.

From the castle and on through the forest, the wolves were standing strangely still as he rode by. They were frozen like a painting was being painted of them in their true nature. Ferocious and unyielding, with fangs bared, they watched him. Van Helsing knew they were awaiting orders from their master; they would attack at his behest. They were waiting for him to slip and have his steed throw a shoe. He didn’t.

The order never came.

The wolves did not follow as he passed. They did not give chase. The wolves would only watch him. They and others would make certain he left Transylvania. He could not trust anything that was nocturnal. The owls, the bats, the rats, and other meaner things would attack when enough time had passed if he were still within proximity of the castle.

John Seward and Lucy Weston would not suffer from the night’s needless cruelties. They would live in the daylight with the rest of mankind. Apart or not was of no concern to Van Helsing right about now. He was more concerned with the wolves.

His mission was at an end. He need only find a place to stop and inform Mina of the good tidings by telegram.

Perhaps she already knew, Van Helsing mused as he hurried onward down the rocky path; John would have felt a change deep within him. John would have healed mysteriously of his wounds by the time word reached them.

Unless he slept, for the hour was late.
--

Once Lucy was fully recovered from a prescribed bed rest, and had a healthy, rosy colour to her complexion, Helena invited Mina to delay leaving longer. It was partially so that Mina could remain near her friend. Mina soon learned that it was also for Helena to be Mina’s de facto chaperone when John visited. Lucy must have talked.

The woman watched the pair’s every move as though she was Mina’s mother, but she needn’t have worried.

Mina and John did have feelings for each other, but nothing untoward would occur. He was too much of a gentleman, even before one tackled the reason for their particular delicacy in these matters. They had admitted their feelings to themselves after Lucy noted Mina’s inordinate worry for John, and his many calls upon her time.

They had realised there would be no secrets between them. They could speak of the macabre past as needed without the worry of being found to be suffering an unsound mind and hidden away in darker corners than Seward’s clean asylum.

Lucy wondered about his newfound affection for gloves, but Mina never betrayed him. The fable she and Van Helsing had agreed on to protect her had quickly become an accepted fact. She claimed that only upon John’s full recovery could they be together; Lucy had no qualms toward the union, and neither did Helena.

John had spoken those very words to her, and they were in agreement. When the Professor succeeded, they could consort further. When Mrs. Weston had moved to the divan one evening with an imagined slight courtesy of Lucy, they had spoken of their plans. Mina had been amused to find that he still refused to call her Helena. And then, he went down on one knee to learn Mina’s answer before that day arrived.

Mina could remember the very second, for Lucy had entered while Mina was speechless, and then gasped before retreating into the nearby bedroom. Lucy listened at the door discretely. His face reddened from being caught; his hands shook. While Lucy had returned the engagement ring, this one was not that one. It was new. He felt it was too shallow to reuse such mementos.

It was just his way of saying their lives were short; if they could conquer this hurdle then so much the better. Would she be his wife? If they heard of Van Helsing’s failure, Seward explained that they would remain close friends, for he refused to hurt her as Jonathan had. If she must grieve for John due to a particular manner of being dispatched, he would not leave her a widow a second time from the same metaphysical intrusion. His words were chosen carefully.

If Lucy overheard, she would only guess the last to be in relation to the illness she never would fully understand. Mina said yes; both had smiled, pleased, although it was tempered by worry. She had finally kissed John for the first official time, then. Not on the cheek in a chaste manner, as had always been their wont before, but in a private manner on the lips, and quickly, once they detected that Lucy had fled to give the news to her mother.

Sometimes discretion could only wait so long.

A knock at the door shook Mina from her reverie. The maids were otherwise detained, so she was the closest to answer. There was a man with an urgent telegram, sent from Bucharest. She gave him his tip, and sent him on his way. Her fingers shook as she opened it, once she saw that it was from the Professor. It had been two months of little missives here and there, followed by silence so that her worry had raged within her.

‘A stalemate was reached following one loss for him. A bargain was struck last night. Matters private. See to John. He should be recovered. Will send post from Prague but do not fret the origin. AVH.’ Her eyes passed over the words once, and then twice more, before she clutched the paper to her chest. “John,” Mina shouted as she rushed up the stairs. She hadn’t seen him this morning; she had assumed he’d chosen to sleep in, as he did on rare occasions.

Abraham had known she would surely panic, for Jonathan’s forged letters from the Count had been postmarked through Prague. She may have paled or descended into mortal terror had she been unprepared. Praise John for telling him. Mina reached the threshold to what had become John’s room, and ran in without a care for either manners or the potential for embarrassment.

John was checking his teeth and throat in the mirror. Mina dared not laugh at him after all they had been through. He saw her reflected behind him and turned to face her. He shook his head and pointed to the telegram. “Was there news?” He asked quietly. He looked as though he bore his own if she did not, but desired her to go first. He opened his arms. “It’s over, isn’t it?”

Mina rushed into those arms, and embraced him. He hugged her as he never had before; it was not as restrained, until he checked himself and withdrew.

“I was getting up in the night to read,” John revealed. For occasionally, after all that had transpired, he couldn’t sleep a wink. He wasn’t becoming nocturnal, he continually insisted to himself. “I swooned into a chair in the dark. Nobody was up and I didn’t wish to frighten you when I revived,” he explained as he pulled her back so that he might look into her eyes. “It wasn’t long. It felt like a dark cloud was lifting from me when I woke; it felt like a subtle change had taken place within me.”

He swallowed. “I was frightened out of my wits, and so I crawled back into bed and pulled up the covers, so that I might wait for morning before I saw what had or had not occurred.” It seemed childish, but he had felt it could be put off. He hadn’t felt brave enough to discover what it was that had struck him until now. He directed her attention to where the marks should be on his neck.

Mina delicately touched his throat, her fingers lingering just above the spot. They weren’t there. “They’re gone. He said a deal was struck, John.” She looked at his gloved hands. “What of those? Take them off, John,” she begged with watery eyes.

In a rush, he ripped them off and flexed them in wonder. They were healed! The outlines of the rosary’s beads were gone. He took Mina’s hands, amused as she felt for herself, and traced remembered red lines that no longer existed. “They tingled last night. I thought perhaps it was a lack of circulation. I didn’t dare to think otherwise.”

“Can you touch a crucifix?” She asked with a minimum of hesitation. She opened a drawer and after rearranging things, at last located his. He wrapped his hands around it. There were no screams; no smoke; no fire; nothing.

There was no sign of the previous vulnerability, which had so ruled their lives for these last few months.

It was glorious. “Whatever magic the Professor worked to persuade the Count…I am in awe that it worked, Mina,” he murmured in wonder. Then, he began to weep in relief as he gently clutched the woman before him, for she was crying, too. He and Lucy were assuredly safe beyond all doubt if the news was true. Mina held out the telegram for him to take; it had been abused since its arrival. He smoothed the wrinkles out after laying it on the table. It had been crushed between them; he ignored the fresh stains caused by their tears.

“We aren’t fit for company,” Mina laughed through her tears. He was the same.

“We will be by the time Lucy sees us,” Seward guessed once he rubbed his eyes vigorously. He was terrified as he gently took her hand. Presently, he rallied. He swallowed; then, he carefully went to one knee. He took her hand. “Will you still agree to be my wife, Mina?”

Was he afraid she might leave him when he no longer required a confidante who understood his need for gloves? What a ridiculous notion. “Yes, John; of course I will. I would gladly become Mrs. Mina Seward and put the past behind us,” Mina replied. It was stated passionately, but with grace.

She accepted this proposal for the second time; this time, though, it was with a far greater enthusiasm now that the constant shroud of Dracula’s influence had been lifted from their lives.

He rose, and reluctantly let go of her hand. She began to leave and noticed his confusion at her sudden departure after so momentous an occasion for them. She returned and put a finger to his lips with a fond smile. “Stay here, John; I will see to asking Lucy if she will be my bridesmaid. She wanted me to ask when you ‘gave in and saw reason.’” She knew he wouldn’t be interested in witnessing such matters.

“I think I’d like the Professor for my best man,” Seward revealed. It was either ask him, or ask Rowse if the Professor turned him down. Male friends were scarce in his life. “I’ll wait until he returns and ask him face-to-face. By telegram feels tawdry.”

A new life could begin for them, as soon as they saw that the Professor was well with their own eyes. Until then, they would worry for any potentially unmentioned developments.

They would think of this academic personage facing off with an ageless vampire in the middle of the night, seeking to craft a treaty after killing one of their number. They would marvel at his success. They would invite him to their wedding, and claim it was for Lucy’s sake if others asked. To everyone else, he was just the man that somehow devised a cure for whatever the disease was that caused her to fall so ill.

Someday, someone must stake the vampire just as St. George slew the dragon. Now was not that time. Seward was not willing to undertake such a task; Mina was not that woman. Van Helsing had done what he set out to do, and freed John’s eternal soul from their vile clutches. His afterlife would be free of their taint. Van Helsing would return to his friends in a fortnight, should the weather hold true.

Even as one relationship’s flames had become naught but cold ash, another was kindled and thrived. Both had realised that there was now a fresh hope for the future; they could have a fresh start. There could be a future for them together, for they had survived their darkest hours. They had survived those terrifying nights.

John and Mina had defended each other as best as they could from a fate worse than death, and seen others revel in their damnation. They hoped to never be so tested again in their lifetime.

They hoped to never again encounter one of the undead.

The two were married in the spring. Van Helsing begged off best man duties, but agreed to give away the bride.

The groom only suffered one attack of lightheadedness at the altar, due to being overwhelmed by all of the planning and the length of the ceremony; Mina was proud of him when he didn’t collapse until they were safely ensconced within the privacy of a carriage.

Mina only remembered to throw the bouquet just before she and John rolled away; Lucy was the lucky one who managed to catch it after rushing forward with awe-inspiring determination.

There was still happiness yet to come...for both the living, as well as for the undead.

The End