The Long Game

Clarity and Contrition

Jonathan Harker stirred from his place in the dust. He sat upon slowly, brushing a hand across his bruised face, grimacing and gazing owlishly at the dried blood that flecked off onto his hand. The imprisoned man in the cage watched him with eyes emanating death. And Mina, once his dear Mina, still cleaving herself to the man he had come to think of as a monster.

But the real man, the man he could have become, the man he had wanted to become, rose up from the depths of fetid mire into which Jonathan Harker had immersed himself. He saw, with complete clarity, everything that had happened. And he knew the truth, felt it in every fiber of his being.

And it hurt. Oh, how it did hurt.

To see oneself so clearly is never an easy thing.

Especially for one such as Jonathan Harker.

Jonathan Harker, a hopeful man, who only had wanted to fit into proper society, to be worthy of the radiant woman he loved and felt unworthy to ever have. The woman now sitting on a dank, dim, hay-strewn floor in a cold cell, with a dingy chamber pot in the further corner and spiders clinging to the ceiling. An innocent victim of the madness and cruelty with which he had willfully aligned himself.

Her, her with her tangled, dark hair that he had so loved to touch and smell, her bright blue eyes that had once burst through the dark heavy clouds of grey existence and shone rays of warming light into his yearning heart.

Mina, the woman over whose face he had clamped a damp, chemical-laden cloth, rendering her unconscious while her lover thrashed helplessly upon the brutal currents of electricity ravaging his body. That tragic man, driven to such ghastly measures in a desperate pursuit of humanity and sunlight. Things Jonathan had always had, taken for granted, and now tossed away into a sea of jealousy and self-pity.

And now as he sat upon the cold, hard floor, he spoke to her. To Mina. Forced himself to look directly into her beautiful eyes and speak.

With honesty and sincerity.

"Once upon a time, I loved you. And I still do, with all the pieces of my wasted heart. I am so sorry for everything I have done to hurt you. I should have taken responsibility for my actions instead of blaming everyone else for my failings. One day, maybe you can find it in your heart to forgive my sins against you and live in peace."

He turned to Alexander. The man's hate glowed, pulsated from him and Jonathan took the searing heat because he had earned it, because he deserved it by his devilish actions.

The man had swept into both their lives, it was true. Laid his claws into Jonathan's soul and cleverly directed him wherever he wanted him to go. In pursuit of his lustful revenge and his consuming love. He had completely destroyed Jonathan's ideals using his lofty ambitions and selfish desires against him.

But, in the end, it was Jonathan who had let him. Because he was weak, easily misled. There was no one Jonathan could blame but himself. In the end, he had consciously made every decision and carried out every action by his own leave.

"And you. You manipulated me, used me. And I was weak enough to let you. Because I was envious of you and everything you had. I wanted to be like you. I wanted to be you. I was wrong. I should have listened to my conscious that told me it was wrong. I should have been satisfied with what I had and gotten through life under my own steam. Even if it was harder, less impressive. That was my failing."

Those listening in the cage did not speak. Maybe they could not find the proper words. Maybe they chose not to. But that no longer mattered. He had not spoken so that they might absolve him. There was no absolution for him. He had simply spoken because he must.

And now that was concluded, there was one more thing he must do.

Jonathan Harker nodded decisively, as if to himself, and rose. Without a word, he turned and walked away into the darkness.

They never saw him alive again.

"I am grateful for your Dracula."

He had been thinking of Harker. The easily misled, desperate soul whom he had destroyed. One of many over his long score of years. He had twisted and turned him until the lad had figuratively run himself into a stone wall, dashing himself to bits. All that remained now was a hollow shell of a creature, a man torn apart.

And he had felt no remorse.

A man that had gained clarity and insightfulness in the end. But to what end?

And so Mina's abrupt statement, shocking him out of his reveries, took him by complete surprise. He thought he had heard her wrong. Perhaps she was experiencing hallucinations and wasn't in a true state of mind.

"What? Mina, how could you say such a thing?"

She looked directly at her Alexander and he to her. Her beautiful blue eyes were clear and calm. His were blue-green, nearly iridescent even in this dim light. She was fully aware of her words and the reasoning behind them.

"Yes. I am grateful. If you had simply died on that horrible night so very long ago, you would have been reunited with Ilona in the afterlife."

He listened to her intently, trying to think through the gnashing beast writhing, screaming, inside him.

"That would have been all well and good for you. But I, here in my present form, would never have known your love and acceptance if you had not lived to be here."

He gritted his teeth, nothing but sheer will forcing back the creature that hungered for fresh, succulent, living blood. Her blood.

His voice was rough, naught but a whisper.

"You may feel differently, my love, if we don't escape from this cage quite soon."

A humorless smile ghosted across Mina's face before floating away into the gloom, leaving her grim once more.

"I said I was grateful for your longevity that brought you to me, Alexander. I did not say I wish to be eaten by the parasite that clings to it."

They shared a wan smile between them and resumed their pensive silence.

Abraham van Helsing gathered the items he needed with grim purpose and determination. And while he did so, he ruminated upon the events that had come to pass.

He, it had been he who had traveled tirelessly, searching long years for the monster known as Dracula. It had been he who had found him in 1881 in Romania, unearthed him from his iron prison tomb. Provided Dracula with the resurrecting lifeblood of his traveling companion so that Dracula may rise once again with a vengeful purpose.

And the question remained. If no one had truly wanted Dracula resurrected, why had the sarcophagus contained such a useful opening in the screaming chasm of the statue's mouth? Why not simply bury him so deep that no one would ever find him? Leave no clues which could be used to track him down?

And so van Helsing had resurrected him for his own devices. To bring down the Order of the Dragon. To wreak destruction upon the devil Browning and his ilk.

Fifteen long years, gathering power, gathering wealth. Doing business with those who would do business. Simply taking from those would not. With much labor, strategic planning, and single-mindedness, they had built a strong empire of lies with which they would crush their enemies.

Posing as a medical professor provided van Helsing with an excuse to gather needed supplies for his solar serum experimentation. It also provided him with a certain cloak of low profile respectability that he used to mask his greater purpose.

He had foreseen the success of all their work come to fruition. Only a matter of time until justice would be served. Geo-magnetic technology used to castrate the oil industry, to make poor the Order of the Dragon. A wearing down of fat cats and their bloated power.

And then he, Grayson, had seen her.

And all their plans had begun to unravel. For Mina Murray reawakened Grayson to his past. His yearning for had been and could never be again.

It had been most fortuitous that Mina Murray, a woman, pursued the ridiculous career of physician and taken his classes. After Grayson had become obsessed with her, it had helped van Helsing to keep a watchful eye on her.

As Dracula had proven time and again to be impetuous, impulsive. His wild, rash behavior cracked the solidity of their plan. His undisciplined, rogue actions threatened to bring down the whole house of cards before it had even attained maturity.

It was never supposed to be open warfare. It was supposed to be a vicious under the skin, behind the curtains, moving in the shadows, clandestine war.

There was a difference between vendetta and vengeance. Vendettas are private, quiet wars, with either side striking, but under the table, under the cloak. Vengeance is uncontrolled and bloody battle.

van Helsing understood the strain of such a campaign. He himself was not immune to rage, only in control of it.

Browning. Son of the devil. He had destroyed his life. Burned his wife and children and made him stand witness. And left him to rot in his grief and shame. Browning, who had been viciously made to pay. His own children, turned vampire, drinking their father dry.

He should have known Dracula could never be contained. Not if Vlad Teppis, Alexander Grayson did not wish it to be so.

And Grayson. Grayson, with his boyish face and hypnotizing features. Grayson who charmed the ladies, boldly took a huntress for his lover. Grayson, who never listened, never waited, never considered the consequences.

All because of her. Mina Murray. The proverbial thorn in van Helsing's side. Looking back, he should have killed her that day when he raised his blunt instrument. That one hesitation, that one mercy, had brought about more suffering for him than he could possibly imagine.

And now everything was dust and ashes and failure.

His wife Adalind. Oh the grief, she would have felt at his actions during the past fifteen years. All for naught. He had turned himself into a heartless, wretched creature for nothing.

And she, his beautiful wife, who had been ruthlessly murdered by the Order of the Dragon, who not have understood. His little children, their dreams haunted his sleep as well. They never would have understood either.

Only he. He stood alone and saw what must be done.

So he went back to his beginnings. He hefted the blades of Saint Eliglis, fingering their sharp edges thoughtfully and put them down. Then he picked up the heavy container and took also with him the matches. He was going to kill a vampire. And his bride.

The time had come. If Grayson would not give in to his bloodlust, they would both burn. van Helsing had done it before with Browning's children; he could do it again.

And whatever happened to him after the fact would matter not at all.

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