It's a testament to the all consuming power of his sorrow, how it fills all his thoughts and consumes his every waking moment, that Dracula doesn't notice that he is no longer alone in his castle until it's been a few days. The castle halls echo empty with distant footsteps and they're not his own – they're too quiet, too faint, had he been human he wouldn't have even heard them.
Somewhere in his castle, in his home, there is someone. There is an intruder.
And even that barely stirs Dracula. His heart is weary and his mind fickle – he swings from all consuming fury to complete void of emotion and currently all he feels is alone and tired and dead. There is nothing but emptiness in his castle and even the intruder barely concerns him. He had moved the castle, he'd set it on a mountain top, no one should be there to disturb his grief, and yet, and yet…
He feels the places his wife no longer occupies and tries to muster the black hatred that had vowed to slay the world and yet he can barely gather enough strength of will to lift his head. There is someone there, a vampire or a fiend, intruding upon his house, and he cares not.
She is dead, she is dead, she is dead, like ticking of a clock, like beat of his heart, she is dead and he cares nor at all because she is dead…
And then a stray bit of draft carries a scent to him and like spark thrown into oiled hay, he's aflame and alive with fury.
It's a human. There is a human man in his castle!
Like the ones that killed her!
The chair he has sat upon – for hours, days, has it been weeks now – is thrown back as Dracula flies to his feet, tearing out of the chambers where they'd worked together, where he'd taught her. Outside the halls are empty and cold, all light and warmth having gone out of the castle with her, and the fact that the intruder had not lit the place infuriates him more for robbing him of the cause for further outrage.
The intruder is difficult to trace – Dracula can sense his lingering scent, but there's no visible signs of his passing, no mark laid upon the dust, no footprints on the floors or stairs. The intruder had moved about extensively, and he never knew – even now Dracula can barely sense him, and then he cannot sense the intruder at all, the hint of a presence fading into the shadows.
"Come out, Hunter!" Dracula roars at the castle. "Come out and face me if you dare! I have cut down thousands of your kind, you won't be any different!"
The words echo restlessly of the walls and fade like the footsteps had.
"If you think alone you may quell my revenge upon your wretched species, you are mistaken!" Dracula calls. "But why should I be surprised by this? I give you mercy, I give you time to repent and for this crime of kindness you turn your blades on me! One year I gave you, and mere two months in you spent your chances? How utterly typical of humans."
No answer, while he scans the walls and expands his senses. The lingering scent is all there is, and with a snarl Dracula turns to follow it, trace it through the corridors the intruder had passed through and back to its source, calling all the while, hoping to catch a breath, a scrape of boot sole on floor tiles, any sound of alarm that might give the intruder away. However distant it would be, inside his castle he would hear it. Only there is nothing, even his promises to tear the lifeblood out of the man's writhing body gives him no reaction.
Either the intruder is very good, the best of hunters, one bar the level of a Belmont... or he's no longer in the castle at all.
Gripping the edges of his cape in ever growing frustration, Dracula turns to the balconies, and steps out.
Outside the wind tears at him harsh enough to nearly cut.
He'd thrown his castle far, in his anger and sorrow, so far and so remote that even the most curious vampire could not get to it to disturb his mourning. On the highest peak of the mountains of Făgăraș, it's as inhospitable a place as could be found in the region, and the fact that any Hunter could not only find it but reach it is almost impressive. Dracula almost has to commend the man on it.
He'd preserve the Hunter's body once he was done with him – should his plans of recruiting Forge Masters come to fruition, perhaps they could make something useful with the man's wretched corpse.
He only needs to find the damned Hunter first.
Swiftly moving over the balconies and ledges of his castle, Dracula tracks the wind and the shift of ice crystals, until he finds the one wind break which doesn't belong. There, on one of the lower balconies, a sliver of human warmth in the icy waste.
Landing behind him silently, Dracula prepares to cut the man down, spill his blood on the virgin snow and forever mark this mountain with the man's death… but first he wants to see what kind of mortal would scale frozen mountains just to kill him.
The human is… quite obviously not a hunter. He bears none of the tools or armour of one, and Dracula can't sense so much as a cross on him. No Holy water, no salt, no garlic, nothing. Most this man has is a knife strapped to his waist – not silver – and some hidden weapon at his wrist – which also does not feel like silver. He isn't even dressed for the weather – the man doesn't even have a proper coat, just a hooded tunic, too thin to block out the wind. At these temperatures he should be freezing.
The human man mutters something in a language Dracula can't immediately place. English – spoken loosely in a strange accent. "Well, shit. That's a no on walking out of here, then."
He's not talking to Dracula – he does not even know he has a vampire looming behind him. Dracula could kill him with one blow, but the man is only scanning the mountains, not making any violent moves, only sighing and leaning onto the snow covered baluster, eyeing the scenery.
"Well, at least it's pretty," the man muses to himself.
How defenceless and calm the man is makes Dracula hesitate, for reasons he can't quite articulate. This human, whoever he is and however he got here, bears no ill intent that Dracula can sense – he only seems a little resigned and ultimately calm in the face of the frozen landscape.
It makes Dracula think of time when he and his wife travelled together in a cart with a horse, and had gotten stuck in a bog. The horse had almost drowned and all their clothes had been soiled, the whole experience had been miserable… And then Lisa had stood on the cart and looked over the wretched swamp and laughed.
"Well, at least it's a lovely spot of land we got ourselves stuck in."
Dracula hadn't been able to see anything lovely about the place, not until she pointed him the swamp flowers and all the birds and animals that lived there, and they spent the time waiting for the horse to recover to gather herbs. They'd eaten their dinner with their boots waterlogged with swamp muck, and she's tasted like wilderness when she'd kissed him. He'd still not seen how it was lovely – but she had been.
Now he can't see anything pretty about the desolate mountain range, all it is is cold and windy and lifeless… And yet the human man sighs wistfully, like it's something to be taken in and enjoyed, staring at the jagged peaks like he's trying to memorise the sight.
Dracula's hand lowers – and when the cold finally becomes too much for the human man and he turns to return to the castle, the vampire is gone, hidden among the castle spires – watching warily as the man heads back into his castle and meticulously closes the balcony doors behind him.
The human had came through a portal. Dracula finds it while the human wanders around his halls, lost in the maze that is Dracula's Castle. Now that Dracula knows he's there, he can keep an eye on the man through his mirrors – he's surprised to find that the man neither seeks to do any damage to his home, nor does he attempt to steal anything. While the human searches for whatever it is he's searching, Dracula examines the portal.
It had left marks upon its opening but the signs are quick to fade away. An one-way sending, or perhaps a banishment, to his castle from parts unknown. Had it been an accident, an attack launched too soon, or had someone sent the man intentionally to his doom? Whichever it is doesn't matter now – out there, there is someone with the power to open portals to his normally sealed castle.
The human doesn't act like he's expecting company – or a rescue. And yet he didn't behave like a man doomed either – though his wandering is slow, it's determined also – the man is searching for something.
A pantry, it turns out.
"Oh, hell, yes," the man sighs, breaking into the kitchen and then the food stores. They've been sitting abandoned for some time now - like the castle itself. For years now the castle has been vacant, as Dracula had chased the mirage of living the life of a man and a husband - rather than a vampire lord. Still, there are some things which have kept in sealed containers, which the human intruder is quick to find among those which had not kept.
Watching through his mirrors, Dracula hums a the man makes a meal of it, firing up the ovens, grabbing the skillets and pans and seeing to his own meal. It's interesting, the small things he does that give him away.
The human is not surprised by the sink with its running water and sophisticated drain – in fact, he uses it without a second thought to wash his hands, as if expecting running water as a natural part of a castle such as this - rather than the wonder of engineering it is. He doesn't seem to have any issues with it. Even the gas canister beneath the stove gives him little trouble – he figures out the valves quickly and seems only satisfied when he manages to light the stove. Not much after that, he has rice boiling away on the top.
He knows the sciences of the immortals – he has used such tools before. Yet he does not act as though a servant from one of the great houses – and who would keep a human servant anyway, among their kind? Who but him – for Lisa and for Alucard he'd sought a human cook, now a lifetime ago…
This man was never in his employ though. And he cooks and eats the food as though he owns it – not as though he's making it for his lord and then stealing from him. Peculiar.
He's clean, for a human. Neat. His hair is cut short and his cheeks were probably shaven before he was stranded. He eats well with utensils and makes no mess – and after his meal he washes the dishes and pots he used and puts them away, leaving the kitchen slightly cleaner than he found it. He washes his hands again, practiced and thorough and completely thoughtless.
Lisa, when he'd taught her of bacteria and what causes infections, begun to wash her hands more often. Already a neat and clean woman, she made washing her hands something of a ceremony, doing it with care and attention, making it a point to teach the practice to others. What this man does is completely the opposite – he doesn't think about it at all, doesn't for a moment stop to consider if he should, if he wanted to, if he needed to. Rather he does it as if it's a habit, an unconscious tick. Touch water: rinse your hands.
Like Alucard, raised on the habit, taught to be careful with his hygiene from before he could even speak.
Grim and unsettled and curious, Dracula waits and watches, waiting to see if other portals would be opened – but there are none. The signs of the one that brought him his unexpected guest fades, and after his meal the human wanders on again, setting out as if to map out the castle. That, Dracula thinks, is too much.
Time to put an end to this.
His melancholia rearing again, Dracula approaches his intruder not with rage or fury, but by quietly walking over to him. He catches the human while the man is sitting by some windows, staring outside with a bottle of wine in hand. Here, it seems, is the man's humanity with all of it's lack of grace showing itself – he drinks from the bottle, like a common ruffian. Decent table manners or not, he's certainly no nobility.
"Not only did you raid my pantry, but my wine cellar too?" Dracula asks, and feels a fading spark of amusement as the human flails and almost drops the bottle. "You have no decency, do you?"
"Shit, I thought I was alone here," the man says, starting at him as if he had materialised from thin air – perhaps from his perspective, Dracula had. He stands up. "Is this your place?"
"My rightful place, yes," Dracula agrees, considering him. No fear, no recognition. Hmm. "Who are you? How did you get into this castle?"
"Uh," the human answers, eloquent. "Well. My name is Desmond Miles and I'm not really… sure? Um, sorry about raiding your pantry – I was about to keel over in hunger."
Keel over – like a boat? "And where do you come from, Desmond Miles?"
The human man is looking a little uncomfortable now, considering him in turn, lowering the bottle he's holding to the table. "Okay, listen – I don't want any trouble, I didn't mean to break in, and if this castle wasn't like on the top of the freaking Himalayas, I would've already left. And I wouldn't have stolen your food, except I was about to start starving."
Humans. Always with the excuses. "I see," Dracula says. "You didn't answer my question. Where do you come from?"
The man eyes him early. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you. I don't even know where we are, for that matter. Where are we?"
Dracula narrows his eyes. "We are in the mountains of Făgăraș," he says.
Desmond Miles considers that for a moment. "Yeah, I have no idea where that is," he says then.
Dracula's brow arches. "Carpathian mountains then?"
The man frowns. "Okay that one is vaguely familiar. Um. That's somewhere in Romania, right?"
Dracula pauses at that curiously, taking another, closer look at him. "Wallachia."
"The land you are in is known as Wallachia," Dracula says and steps closer. "I believe it will not be called Romania in quite some time. Are you a scryer, Desmond Miles?"
The man eyes him dubiously. "A what?"
"A seer, an oracle – a fortune teller." It might explain the man's knowledge of the technology of the immortals – like them, he'd divined the knowledge from behind the veil. Or else, his master did. "You seem to have knowledge of things that have not yet come to pass."
For a moment Desmond Miles says nothing, taking him in with greater interest now, obviously trying to make sense of things. "You seem to know something yourself," he says then slowly. "And don't think I didn't notice you not introducing yourself."
"You invited yourself into my presence of your own volition, I was under the impression you already knew who I am."
The man gives him a look, and feeling the corner of his mouth curl – and his teeth ache – Dracula makes a sarcastic bow at him. "You are in the castle of Vlad Dracula Ţepeş – in the presence of its lord and master. I am Count Dracula."
The human makes a slight noise at that and Dracula looks up to see his shock or horror or whatever else he might feel before trying to hide it. Which it would be might tell something of his origins – and his expectations.
He doesn't expect arched brows or the laughter. Especially not this kind of laughter – incredulous little burst followed by a bad attempt at seriousness – which is then followed by another snort of badly smothered amusement. Dracula straightens again, glowering at him. The man is actually giggling in the face of an immortal vampire lord.
"What is so amusing?" Dracula demands, as his ire begins to quickly build again.
"Oh my god, you're actually serious," the man snorts and then tries to pull himself together. "Sorry, sorry – I mean it's just that – ahem. Never mind."
Dracula narrows his eyes. "Are you mocking me?" he demands.
"No, no, no, I'm – no," the man says quickly – but the amusement is still there, he cannot stifle it. "No mockery intended – I'm sorry –"
"You have heard of my name before – and not in a genteel company," Dracula says slowly, taking a threatening step closer. "No, I expect there was ridicule, when my name was brought up. Tell me, what sort of fun was made of me and my name, what sort of jokes have you heard?"
Desmond Miles has a sense of self preservation, if nothing else – he knows he is not in a joking sort of company now, and the humour is quickly replaced with readiness, as his eyes grow wary and his knees bend ever so slightly, ready for movement – for flight. "No jokes," he says. "Just some very popular stories – great ones, I swear. People love you."
"People love me?!"
It's as if there is a hurricane inside him, all of a sudden, made of blades and pain and heat – the word echoes in the hollow where Lisa used to be, where her love was supposed to be, and it sounds like the cackling of crows and vultures circling over a corpse, love, love, love –
Only one had ever loved him – he had only ever loved one, only ever loved once, there is no more of that, never more, not for him, and not for this world that stripped that precious joyful thing away from him – there will be no more kindness, no more joy and happiness there will be nothing but void and darkness and death –
The attack is premeditated – Dracula means to kill the man, just for that painful reminder. For a moment he had been distracted, for a moment he had forgotten – and he thinks he is more angry at Desmond for having distracted him at all, for having made him even for a second forget his pain, than he is of the reminder. Still, as much as he wants and intends to kill the man, the moment he delivers the blow he already regrets it – it all happens so fast, too fast for any human to fight back.
The blow lands, but not on Desmond Miles' neck like intended, not across his chest, no flesh is torn. The blow lands instead against metal under the man's white sleeve, Dracula's claws tearing the fabric asunder, screeching against the bracer the human is wearing. Through the red haze Dracula sees a glint of a blade, sees Desmond Miles' eyes over the tearing sleeve and then the man is knocked down by the force of the blow.
He goes down lower than he needs to, under the blow, onto his knees – there he shifts, bracing his weight on his hands and kicking. It's a fast, fluid attack, it would have knocked a man's feet from under him, but Dracula needs only to jump back and he's out of its reach.
Then Desmond Miles is holding a dagger in his left hand, and has a slender blade extruding from under the wrist of his right hand, and he might not wear the armour and gear of a Vampire Hunter, but every muscle of his body gives away what he is. Perhaps not a Vampire Hunter – but definitely a trained killer.
"What the hell, man?" the human demands. "It was a compliment, and also –" he stops there, taking in Dracula's face and then going fully alert.
The vampire can feel the snarl on his face – can feel the trails of blood, streaking down from his no doubt rage-red eyes. Everything is red and every breath hurts – the loss is a living thing inside him again, and every inhale reminds him that Lisa is gone. The castle doesn't even smell like her anymore – more than anything, he smells Desmond Miles, and who is he to be here, in the place of Dracula's mourning, in the place which had been hers –
"How dare you," the vampire demands. "You steal from me, laugh at me, mock me -"
"Okay, this is some kind of misunderstanding, seriously," Desmond Miles says quickly.
"Don't interrupt me, human!" Dracula snarls and lifts his hands, spreading out his claws. "In my own house! You are an intruder, a would-be-hunter, mortal, wretched human! How dare you be here!"
The man in front of him doesn't answer, and the heel of his shoe makes a sound as he shifts his footing. "I'd love to be elsewhere, honest," he says tightly. "Except you're apparently in the middle of a mountain range or whatever, and I forgot to bring my climbing gear –"
"I will send you elsewhere," Dracula wows and sets forward. "I will send you to hell."
"Yeah, okay, why not," Desmond Miles says, blowing out a breath as his eyes flash with sudden, murderous intent. "The architecture here sucks anyway. Ever heard of laws of gravity?"
Dracula snarls and launches into an attack.