The Long Game

There in the Gloom

She drifted in haze and shadow. Darkness and light. In and out of worlds. Murmurings, barely audible, floated through the gloom, echoing in the fog. The words, at first unintelligible, but soothing, with an undercurrent of worry and deep emotion, soon gained clarity to her wavering senses.

". . . are important things, I believe. In my first life, my father named me 'Vlad'. It meant 'glorious rule'. And he expected as much. I never really gave the significance of it much thought. It was just there, like the sun or the rain. As it should be."

Her lower half lay on a cold, hard, unforgiving surface. But her upper half was held in a warm, strong embrace. A gentle hand cupped her face, stroking the flesh tenderly. The rich resonations that followed her through the murky ether were familiar, yet unfamiliar. A voice of old.

"Ilona. It means 'light' in Hungarian. And Greek. And she was, she was my light and I loved her. Though she, like the sun, was always there. And I never truly realized the crushing magnitude of an existence without her until they burned her before my very eyes."

A pause. She silently bade the voice, this voice that touched her soul, to speak again. Guide her back to its source, even if that place was cold and dark. Because in that place, he was there. As she began to despair that the voice she longed for was gone, it reached out and found her again.

"When I was resurrected, I chose the name 'Alexander' because it means 'warrior'. I imagined I would be a dark warrior against my enemies. To finally avenge her, my Ilona, to pay my terrible debt once and for all."

Yes, he would, this mysterious disembodied voice, he would understand the significance of names. And he would understand how to use them well.

"And you. Your name 'Mina', it means 'love'. And you are, Mina. You are my love. To everything and everyone you touch, you give more than was first had. You are my light and my love in the darkness. Please, Mina, please come back to me."

Mina Murray opened her eyes blearily. The immediate space surrounding her was dimly lit by a few flickering flames that pressed back the thick, heavy shadows and their creeping, cold fingers. The air felt and smelled musty and stale.

But he, he was there. In the gloom with her. He had found her and brought her to him once more.

His face wet with tears, hovered close to hers. His remarkable eyes travelling her face, looking, searching for signs of life. And when his green eyes met her blue ones, waves of relief flooded out of him, bathing her in oceans of love. His voice was a sigh of gratitude.

"Mina."

"Alexander."

He kissed her brow tenderly and she drew strength from his gentle touch. Accompanying his slight movements she heard a rattling sound she could not immediately identify.

Moving gingerly, Mina tried to sit up. Alexander supported her tentative rise but the dim space lurched as a powerful bout of vertigo overwhelmed her. Without warning, her head throbbed, stomach rolled nauseatingly. Mina turned away, groaning, and retched up thin streams of bile onto the hay strewn floor. Alexander held her tangled, dark hair away from her face without speaking until she lay back against him weakly. He wrapped her in his strong arms once more and held her close.

"Alexander?" she whispered tremulously.

"I'm here," he whispered. "I'm right here."

She lay still, cradled against him, her eyes owlishly blinking through the slowly dissipating fog of her dampened senses.

"I . . . I think they . . . drugged me. I remember a . . . moist cloth and . . ."

She sighed, her eyes slipping closed. Then she opened them again, searching the cell in vain.

"Where is Renfield? Did they . . . kill him?"

Alexander's brow furrowed at the dark thought.

"I don't know. If he were alive and able, he would already be here, tearing down the walls and razing the place to the ground."

He paused a moment. Then, inhaling slow and deep, spoke again.

"But it would seem we have a visitor that most likely can tell us."

Without looking away from the woman enfolded tenderly in his arms, he spoke quiet, harsh words into the waiting darkness.

"Come on out, sir. I know you are there. I can smell the stench of your madness."

Alexander's gaze shifted and cut like a finely honed dagger through the gloom as a figure emerged from the inky shadows. A calm, cool gaze fell like a suffocating blanket of death upon their faces.

Mina looked and saw someone she did not expect.

"Professor van Helsing!"

She began to rise from her supine position but another wave of dizziness laid her low and she sagged back against Alexander once more.

Van Helsing shook his head.

"No, not 'professor'. Not any longer. I was, before the Order murdered my family and destroyed my life."

Alexander watched him intently and with dread, wondering how much of the sordid tale van Helsing would reveal. What damage that information would inflict upon Mina and how far away it would drive her from him.

"It was I who exhumed your Alexander to take the vengeance that I could not against the Order."

van Helsing's eyes glittered, demonically calm, within his well-groomed face as he spoke to the dark beauty wrapped protectively in the arms of his imprisoned enemy.

"Fifteen years we labored together, plotted, schemed to bring down the Order of the Dragon. To punish them for their crimes against those we had loved. And it was all progressing so smoothly. Until he saw you."

The hate with which the older man gazed at her chilled Mina more than the cold concrete floor upon which she lay. He seemed unable to speak through his detestation of her. He swallowed, composing himself, and continued.

"You, my dear, have caused the ruin of all my most carefully laid plans. The one you call 'Alexander' abandoned our objective and commenced to chasing you like a . . . dog in heat."

Mina felt Alexander's muscles clench even further at van Helsing's uncouth words. It seemed impossible this once dignified university professor could be the twisted, sick malefactor that stood before them now.

Alexander spoke. His voice cut through the darkness, low and deadly.

"And now that your history lesson is concluded, tell us why we are imprisoned in this cage."

van Helsing took another deep breath and let it out slowly. When he spoke, his casual tone betrayed none of the murderous intent sucking at the withered soul within him.

"You are here, Vlad Teppis, because the Order took away that which I loved most. You failed me in my quest for vengeance. And so I will now take from you that which you love most."

A cloying dread filled the deafening silence in their ears left by the cessation of van Helsing's dark ministrations.

"You."

He spoke the single word to Mina, his dark eyes boring into her head. Then he pointed to Alexander.

"And I am going to make him do it."

Alexander very nearly growled his words.

"Neither you nor any other man alive will make me harm a single hair on her head!"

van Helsing nodded in casual agreement.

"Oh, but there is one who can. And, eventually, will."

Mina knew his answer before he spoke it.

"Dracula."

Mina's heart stammered within her as thick terror squeezed the laboring organ within her fearful chest.

"The process was interrupted, you see. Alexander's need remains within him. Though he tries to hide it from you . . ."

van Helsing paused, his eyes travelling to Alexander's knowingly.

". . . his need is great even now. And growing stronger with every passing moment he does not take living blood into himself."

Alexander's shame and rage radiated so thickly from him that Mina could almost taste the ashen bitterness upon her dry tongue.

"Abraham, this is madness!"

Alexander fumed, holding her so tightly it hurt.

The brown bearded man ignored him and continued on, exposing the cruel nature of his plan.

"And so I will leave you in this cage together. And eventually, no matter how valiantly he fights it, his thirst will take hold of him and he will drink you dry."

Mina spoke, her voice trembling.

"Professor, please, you must not do this!"

van Helsing smiled, his countenance grim.

"Oh, but I must. And I will. But I do not act alone. Come forth, sir, and show yourself to our guests."

Another figure appeared slowly, reluctantly, out of the gloom. Its tall, hunched stature fractured apart in Mina's eyes as tears sprang unbidden at sudden betrayal. She spoke in a hushed whisper.

"Jonathan?"

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