This man… The Count had already drawn out whatever worth the mortal possessed- whatever the miserable coward could offer him, so the man cowering in the filth, sickly hands gripping the iron bars of his dungeon door and hacking out what could be his final breaths- this pathetic man was worthless now. However, the Count possessed no bloodlust that night - an obscure miracle that would permit the sickly being to wallow in the filth of the deceased victims that had visited Dracula before, for another night.
The tower imprisoned the human as the demon descended into the darker confines of the labyrinth beneath his castle. Wolves, whose loyalty had been sworn to the vampire, were equally tame. They did not sing to the moon, and feasted quietly after a silent kill. Dawn rose over the horizon, an edge of pink that fanned out into the expanse of the sky as the sun awoke and cloaked the presence of the moon with raw light.
However, down below in the nearest town, where people had dared to live despite the knowledge that filled their bones with the natural dread for a wicked, evil creature – the one who was called Count, and who lived on their flesh and blood, the flesh and blood of any human throat the demon could tear – from one uncovered window the face of a woman stared coldly at the sunrise, finding no beauty in it while the foulest darkness rested just beneath it. This hatred seethed in her blood while the steady pumping of her heart flooded her body with the ache it experienced, the throb that made her lips twinge and her eyes suddenly catch fire, burning with tears held back by her will, as she desired the liberation of her beloved parent - her aged and faded father who now shook with cold in the corner of a stone cell, up in a tower where the wind flew through the empty windows to howl and torture him as it starved his body of warmth.
Black hair shone with resilience, remaining dark and in grief despite the spirited morning of a sky content and without such worries as hers. Dark eyes were even stronger as they took in the world and consumed it, adding depth to the gaze that would not be overwhelmed despite the salt water that glistened on its edge. She was alone in the room she had been raised in – alone in the town she had always dwelled in. Her isolation was defined by the wills of the people she had once looked upon fondly. They did not care. They knew of the fate that had most likely claimed her father's life. He had been called away to the castle days and days ago, many sleepless nights ago for Stefania, daughter of Lucian, the man who had once taken the role and responsibility to guide the people of this town. Yes, the people who now forgot his existence, killing it, offering it as a sacrifice to the dark prince of the dead.
Selfish and cowardly, were these people. Stefania could only glare at them and feel her resentment boil in her chest as their shapes emerged and grew in number as the sun rose higher and higher and the danger presented by the monster that hunted them, was diminished.
Cowards! These men with arms bearing the strength and power of their youth; these men who would not approach the castle to rescue the aged man who had spent the majority of his own strength and power protecting and aiding them - who had spent his life and now was losing it all for their sake. They, these people, these vermin… They did not deserve her father's sacrifice! They did not deserve to touch the earth they walked upon!
The black eyes caught on a face, growing, drying as a snarl lifted Stefania's lip, her neck twisting as her vision brought an expression of antipathy to her fine features while a woman in the street below smiled and playfully tugged on the sleeve of one of the cowardly youthful men who had deserted her father. A whore of a woman! A whore! How dare she! How dare any of these filthy creatures call themselves men and women, the creatures of God? How dare they! They are the men and women who would have watched and done nothing as the Lord's very Son was nailed to a cross and slowly died to erase their sins!
She could scream with the rage that let her claws dent the wooden frame of her window. Air brushed her burning cheeks and pushed her mane of midnight hair back and away to reveal the full blunt of mortal passion when it is turned to loathing. Her eyes glared and her teeth were barred in the snarl, the resentment that refused to release her lips. A hand struck the marked wooden frame, a bit of her fury expelled in a violent blow that numbed her skin. The snarl was crushed by the teeth that clamped down as shoulders hunched and a mind dove into hot desperation.
The fools could forsake her father, but she knew the value of one who had given her life. She would not turn her back on the man, now that he was dead or if he was still living. Her soul would not carry the burden of betrayal. Judas would not be her name.
Just as the Count had descended into darkness, she descended into sunlight. The beating hooves that threw clouds of dust to linger in their wake, attracted many eyes that would fill with surprise and then empty, tipping to view the ground as shame bent their faces, unworthy of the basking glory of a star as valiant as the one that climbed over the mountains and flooded their gloomy houses with light.
The castle had no gate to protect it, for none dared to stand before it while bearing the knowledge of its contents. Nothing forbade Stefania from entering the stone castle other than the locked doors. The sharp glint of her angered determination found the window that reflected the daylight now towering in the center of the sky. The woman ran in directions, searching the ground for a stone large enough to shatter the glass.
One was lifted by her hands and carried to the window, where her anger was reflected for an instant before the crash, the rain of sharp slabs that fell and broke into smaller fragments. More stones were hurled at the ill-fated window, shattering what they hit before clamoring against the marble tiles within the castle. Echoes swelled in the great hall as raw light shone through the growing hole. The noise traveled deep into the corridors and other empty veins, even breaching doors that had not contained such sound since the layers of dust that covered the contents of the rooms they hid had been merely the width of a letter. Now inches of grey particles blanketed furniture and trinkets alike.
The booming roar of the woman's wrath beat with the drum and clash of destruction. The window gaped before her and showed her a realm much darker than any she had been accustomed to before her father had been taken. Now though, she neither feared the darkness nor found it unfamiliar. She had been living in a perpetual moonless night for what felt like ages, in a realm without the father she so dearly cherished.
Hands did not fear the shards that left shallow cuts. She brushed away the glass and then hoisted herself up and maneuvered through the window where she left faint marks of her blood behind. In the great hall where echoes were just dimming, her pants rung softly, as if the stones were fondly supporting the woman's essence, her life and strength and her emotion. Her head turned and she saw many paths that she could take. Her feet ran across the marble and to her left, the footsteps quickening and stopping at intervals as her search brought her to rising levels of confusion. Stefania's mind did not possess the fear of becoming lost. She pushed onwards and often upwards, climbing stairs and rattling doors that were locked, on which she would pound and call for her father to reply before moving on. For the doors that opened, her intrusions were short as she rushed to determine that they held nothing.
Her rage became more frantic as her breath became heavier and heavier and sweat dampened her brow and clothes. Her pace became slow as she continued, but used her strength more wisely, able to grasp reason beyond her fury when it wavered. The woman's search dragged on and on after it became silent and ceased to disturb and rile the air. No demon had come for her. No demon would come for her until sunset, she determined, working through hours that lowered the star above her.
The rooms seemed endless, and as their number grew with the number of her disappointments, the doubt of her father's continued existence increased. Was it really as hopeless as it all felt? Should she turn back, go home, and spare her own life?
No. She feared the weight of the betrayal more than she feared any death the vampire might bring her. She was prepared to die, and this kept her hands steady and her legs strong as door after door was opened, and hallway after hallway was explored. The castle did not defend itself against this dissection.
Hunger stuck blades through her middle, and weakness ate at her limbs, but no end was possible until she could find her father's body, warm or cold. It is in times like these that questions can be pondered, such as the puzzling mystery of how human beings could survive for millennia with a nature as self-destructive as this. Man is a conundrum, as the same passion that kills him may also lead him to live out a successful existence, lasting long and adding life to this Earth, the beastly purpose.
The sky grew crimson and still she walked and her footsteps clacked softly against the stones. With each step, she believed she drew closer to her death. Her hope faded with the sunlight, but her strength was internal and so could not be touched by the outside world.
The sky was still red and the tip of the nearest star was still above the lowest land, but a soundless presence that belonged to the night began to stalk the woman who had broken into the castle like a rampant marauder. The presence that was also the lengthening shadows of the castle walls knew that the old man lay in his eastern tower. Curiosity could allow no anger, though it was difficult to anger one so old, a being whose existence lived off of the patience to endure eternity. The woman strode from room to room on the western side of the castle, where her scent filled the corridors and marked many tested brass handles. Her clothes were distinctly perfumed with the scent of her hours of fruitless toil. It would take her the endurance of the night to find the man she sought, but the shadows did not wish to wait. As soon as darkness dominated the interior of his castle, the Count removed himself from obscurity.
A torch on the wall suddenly lit itself, a flame that worked as well as ice to chill the human halted by fright. The fear entered her scent, growing more pungent when stiff shoulders, holding back a shiver, turned to allow round black eyes to gaze back at the pale face of one living but dead. Stefania did not face the monster, but she watched him with her body forward and prepared to run, to resist the attack when it commenced.
She suddenly wished, with stomach curdling horror, that she had never come to the castle. But as her initial terror wore off as moments of silence lengthened with seconds, her regret became a reflection on the different weapons she had spotted in various rooms and failed to take with her, such as a poker from one of the fireplaces. Now, her best defense was distance…and the demon Count stood only a few steps away.
Crimson eyes…the eyes of a demon observed her, the pale face around it, expressionless. Dracula took in the woman's full reaction before permitting a slim grin, smug in some sense, to lift the edges of his lips. The change jolted the woman who jerked forward, prepared to flee.
Her face had drained of color and was only a few shades livelier than the monster's. This white face twitched, eyes staring wider when a voice emerged from the deceptive smile, grazing the amusement lingering on his lips. "Welcome, my uninvited guest."
Fangs were visible, sharp tips over the ridge of the gracefully formed words. Chills were causing Stefania's body to break out in cold sweat, her heart fluttering and growing wilder as she stood before the creature. Her father… She had come for her father… She should not forget her father… And she had failed him… As soon as these thoughts entered her mind and she acknowledged her fate, the panic became blunted, but it remained just as strong. No living body wishes to die, despite what the mind tells it.
Her eyes did not wish to blink, so strong was their fear, and water began to make them damp. They were forced to blink, and each time look desperately for any signs of the vampire approaching for the kill.
Dracula's smile remained, fixed like stone. His eyes could watch forever without interruption. And now he spoke again as the woman failed to respond. "You risk much to be a visitor in these halls. Clouds are numerous and reaching tonight… Soon the castle will be too dark for your weak eyes. You will be blind, but will you still wander?"
Stefania could say nothing. She could only stare and breathe, which was quite a feat for one so defenseless. She had not been toppled by her despair.
The vampire's smile grew wider by a fraction that only fear-sharpened senses could detect. He was taunting her…the beast was going to torture her, tear her apart mentally, break her down, and then assault her neck. Stories told her of the ways this vampire fed, ripping, slashing, tearing, holding the body in a constrictive grip like a snake, breaking bones to squeeze the very last drop of blood from the smallest vein. Then the demon would most likely tear open her chest and feast upon her shriveled organs. Or perhaps he would leave enough blood to keep them plump and moist.
But time would give her answers. It was eminent, the death that awaited her.
Her tongue moved as her lips twitched. She swallowed. And the vampire saw this, for he was always watching. Her every movement, noted. Dracula's patience was taking its toll on the mortal sufferer beneath his gaze.
Black eyes darted forward into the dark hall, and then flew back to the vampire with her heart racing with the fear that he might have come closer or chosen to kill her in the moment her eyes had moved away. Her chest heaved, a deep gasp as a hand stretched towards her. She could only stare at the vampire while his hand gestured to the darkness. "You may enter it if you wish, but then you will be blind. You will lose sight of me. You will not know where I am…beside you, in front of you, following your slender, unprotected back… When would I grab you? Or would I? I might simply catch your neck in my teeth…suddenly…unexpectantly…and then the shock will flood your veins with the most delicious fear." Amusement marked the corners of Dracula's eyes when the woman's chest filled with a single, drawn out breath, so much like a slow gasp…
He could eat her now…but he preferred entertainment to any meal at the moment. He possessed two bodies filled with blood on which he could dine whenever it pleased him to. The old man in the tower…and the delicious maiden who would be a rich feast, a very rich feast…at any time. The Count's eyes moved as the woman took a step away from him, adding to the distance between them. He knew this did not matter. At this point she was clearly his.
"Does the old man interest you at all, my dear? Or have you come to see me alone? Your entrance was so aggressive - something must have possessed you to trespass here. …You are welcomed to speak. Silence will tell me to assume my own answer and then do as I wish after."
A flare brightened the rim of the demon's irises as the woman's back straightened slightly and movement worked her mouth, loosening it as the vampire waited. "My father…" Stefania spoke clearly in a voice whose tone only dimly showed her state. A change came over her face, as if it was warming, bringing back a little color into her cheeks and relaxing her eyes. There was still fear, though. This did not surprise the Count who found all of it to possess a very weak charm. His interest was fading, but nothing was exposed by his stagnant features. The smile was still a smile with a touch of amusement and smugness.
The woman found strength in her throat and spoke once more, her tone improving - as was often the case when humans fell into the delusion that they were safe at any moment in the presence of the vampire. "Where is my father? If you have not killed him, I will take him with me. I have a horse ready outside."
Shock strummed the nerves extending from the mortal's brain when the dead being's head tilted to the side. The expression had not shifted. Nothing but the position of the head had changed. However, the movement, the pale ghost-like radiance in the dark, with the flame of the torch a moving light source, the motion was hauntingly unnatural.
Stefania felt her shoulders tremble, and her jaw tightened. "Will you let me take my father home? He does not belong with you in your castle. He is not yours, despite what you believe. …He is mine." The talk of possession had not been intentional, but wandering thoughts had allowed the outrage she felt in some region of her mind to surface. How the Count treated humans, taking and keeping them without any mind for the relatives or others who needed them. Despicable beast. Her expression had hardened as these thoughts continued after she had fallen silent, her eyes actually forming a glare while her mouth frowned. She was showing the vampire the anger that presently masked her fear.
The Count paused to appreciate the look, and then his head straightened and the still lips stretched. Dead steps, softly letting the demon's boots make sound against the stone tiles, approached Stefania, striking the anger from her face with the return of desperate reality. She became anxious and edged away, her knees weakened by the surprise. The vampire stopped before reaching her, she remained untouched, but now he stood much closer to her than he had before. He loomed with his superior height. A fang filled grin leaned over her. The woman, by recoiling, was brought to cower before the great monster.
"'Yours' and 'mine', what does is mean when you pull its limbs apart and inspect its parts? 'Yours' is anything you have the power to make your own." The face moved closer to Stefania's. She shrunk as her lips parted to allow deeper breaths to feed her rapid heartbeat. She was pale. "Are you claiming that you can overpower me, my dear one? You who is built with matter I could rend and shatter –it wouldn't take much of my time, pulling you to pieces. An arm, a leg, your head – oh, but you are so sweet to suggest this. You do this because you love your father, hm? Does this make you a good daughter? Well, it is a testament of your loyalty, your stubbornness, your foolishness – Yes, foolishness…yours does resemble that of the grey old man. But yours is much stronger. Much stronger."
The smile turned as different feelings swam through the woman's dark eyes. The Count kept his fangs visible now, just to torment her further - so when he was not smiling, the pointed ivory daggers pressed on the outside of his bottom lip.
Anger revisited the human, a creature of wanton passions. "Do demons see Men as fools then, when they show bravery? You who are all cowards, hiding in the dark, coming for the defenseless and young, or taking the old? But my father came to you. You did not snatch him like prey. He came to you as a man. But you see no threats around you. You fear nothing, do you?" She slid out partially from beneath the watching, unflinching features, staring into the red eyes that pulsed…like flames of a candle swallowing mouthfuls of fuel instead of burning steadily. Stefania had moved closer to the wall and could feel the heat the torch emitted behind her back, hottest near her wrist.
The expression still did not change on the vampire's face as Stefania did all of this. She swallowed uneasily. "You are never called to be brave, where you swoop like owls and we scurry about like mice. Your hunt is easy and simple. Hide in the darkness and strike them from behind."
"Are you blaming me for your specie's weaknesses?"
The voice was not as complacent as before, but it genuinely possessed a questioning tone. But it was a question of her logic, not of any greater matter. Stefania was forced to hesitate as the vampire's words rattled both her resolve and her pride. "I am calling you a coward."
"Because you are weak and useless?"
The immediate reply had not been expected to contain so little emotion. Instead, the one who became heated was the woman as her muscles flexed with indignation. "No." She scowled at the insult, her foot slipping back a degree. "You are a coward because you never have an honorable fight!" The volume of the last word rose as she grabbed at the torch, first with one hand and then both. But her spirit was jarred as her hands continued to tug and the torch remained stationary. Desperation yanked and pulled, but only the flame moved.
Terror-stricken eyes, expecting an immediate attack, turned to the Count to find that the light of the fire showed no expression on his face. The smile was gone; his features were flat and stony with an unwavering gaze just as strong as it had ever been. He had been watching her quietly and made no move as her fear remained connected to his face while her hands pulled blindly at the torch, the effort becoming meek. Her chest rose and fell quickly, all thoughts deadened within her mind. Her voice was airy as fragmented, shallow thoughts came from her mouth. "You're keeping it there. You won't let this be fair - you won't let me defend myself. You're a coward-" Fear fluttered in her heart and her eyes grew more round. "A coward." She stated again, her hands motionless though they still held on to the edge of the torch.
A violent cringe lowered Stefania as her head ducked away from movement, her eyes shutting as she braced herself. Her breaths came rough and hard for a moment before she peered up at the vampire's inflexible stare, and then let her gaze travel down the reaching arm that touched the metal that was fused to the wall and equally attached to the torch. It was immovable by design.
Horror crept over the woman's flesh with shivers sneaking into the muscles of her neck and shoulders.
She could make out the claws that extended the creature's fingers, and the pale, colorless skin that resembled that of a corpse. Beyond the cuff of the Count's black sleeve, white extended to the very tips of his nails. With sudden intention, the hand released the torch and moved up to the wood near the flame. There was a splintering sound as the dead grip clamped down, which agitated Stefania's nerves. She retreated away when a great crunching snap beheaded the torch. Then the head carrying the flame was offered to her.
Light illuminated her awe. She was mute and did not accept it.
"This is the weapon you desired. See if you can kill me with it. Turn me to ash. Then take your father away. Make him yours if you want him."
Reason suddenly made the fire meaningless, as Stefania viewed the torch currently held in the demon's hand. It would do nothing. …If she was holding it right at this moment, what would she do? Throw it at him the same way she had thrown the stones to break the window? No, that could never work. The vampire would move. A vampire could not be so weak. She could lunge and attempt to catch his clothing on fire, or singe his hair…it was that pathetic now that she considered the torch with a steady mind. It was all useless.
Her eyes blinked when the torch was drawn away and held closer to the vampire. Her eyes met the Count's tireless stare. "Now you won't take it. I would give it to you, but you no longer want it… Here-" The Count's left hand lifted to his chest, presented together with the torch held in his right hand so that the woman might watch. "We shall see what this weapon can do against me."
A shallow gasp slipped through Stefania's lips as her own hand recoiled in pain and her knuckles moved to her mouth. Fire bathed the bottom of the demonic hand, darkening and burning it. The smell of burning flesh clouded the hall with black streaming smoke. Dracula wore no expression and showed no response as he scorched the bottom of his hand until it was black. Then he moved the flame just far away enough to allow human eyes to inspect the gruesome scene…and then widen with shock and repulsion as the flesh bubbled and then smoothed. The burnt blackness of the skin quickly faded to grey and then back to the perfect white once more.
Stefania said nothing, her sight becoming unfocused, concentrating on nothing. Her eyes shut and her body coiled, arms coming to her chest while she tucked her neck down when the torch was extinguished by the grip of the mended fist. Darkness enveloped the mortal and the beast of the night.
Shivers were impossible to restrain when the woman recoiled from the touch of a dead hand grasping her shoulder. Next, icy breath filled her ear and spilled over her face and down her neck when close, intimate jaws spoke. "It was a good try, my sweet one. But now this has become dull." She waited for the strike of the dagger fangs. She waited for the violence. But the face pulled away and the grip gently coaxed her to take a step, a turn, and then another step and another. Useless eyes blinked at the pitch darkness as the woman was guided. "Let's go elsewhere. To the tower, perhaps? You might enjoy visiting the old man. Yes? Would you?" Nothing came. The dead hand squeezed the living shoulder. "My dear, you need to tell me if you would like to see your father. I will decide something else for you if you pretend to be deaf and dumb."
"Yes!" Came a weak gasp. "P-please. Yes, I would…like to see my father."
A purr rumbled smoothly from above. "Good girl."
The pace was not hurried, intending to make the journey more comfortable for the woman as they moved through darkness. When windows were passed, which happened rarely, they glowed like silver ghosts that chose not to follow them, remaining obediently still.
A door was opened, and Stefania found herself at the bottom of a tower with spiraling stairs ascending through a moonlit space. With the return of some of her sight, her eyes glanced at the vampire. The Count's impassive expression changed when red noticed her attention. An amused smirk appeared, while ivory fangs remained hidden.
As if mocking the role of a gentleman pleased him, Dracula took her arm into his own and led the woman up the stairs.