Author's Disclaimer: The character of Lucard and Lucard Industries are the intellectual property of the creator(s) of Dracula: The Series and are used without permission and in appreciation of the series. The name Schweizerische Bankgesellschaft is the name of an actual bank in Zurich, also used without permission, of which I have no personal knowledge -- I just liked the name. Unless I'm psychic without knowing it, it is nothing like what my story suggests. Charles Gounod's opera Faust is substantially as described, and la Carrefour des Morts is one of the catacombs of Paris. Any other resemblance to persons or places real or imagined, living, dead, or undead is purely coincidental.
Author's Disclaimer 2: This fanfic contains adult themes. Nothing very graphic, but it's intended for a more mature audience than the series was and there is an off-screen nonconsensual sex scene. I'd rate it PG-13 or so. If you think you might be offended, please don't read any further.
Sometime around 1970...
Lucard wearily dropped the signed contract on the small table beside his chair and replaced it with the brandy snifter. Raising the delicate glass to his lips, filled with the thick red darkness of blood rather than his usual amber-coloured nightcap of Napoleon, he was shocked to observe a tremor in the liquid that betrayed a momentary weakness in his hand. Grimly putting the glass down after a long pull, he let his head fall back to rest against the high back of his chair. "Varney would never let me hear the end of this," he said aloud, refusing his own mute suggestion to consult the doctor.
He had gone for three weeks without hunting, the bloodthirst digging its claws deeper into his gut every day, demanding sustenance beyond the few meager sips he'd allowed himself each day from the one bottle that was all he'd dared to risk bringing. But -- and his eyes, glinting, rested briefly on the thick stack of parchment with the ink of his name barely dry -- the effort of such discipline had paid off, and Lucard Industries would break the billion-dollar mark five years ahead of his personal schedule, and grow twice as fast as he'd previously planned after that.
He had maneuvered for months to get this deal with the Schweizerische Bankgesellschaft -- one of the most powerful banks in the world... and one of the most conservative. A relative newcomer like his own company would ordinarily have had no chance of obtaining credit from them of such extent and with such low rates. And none of his peculiar advantages had helped him much in this endeavor. He had not dared to convert any of the bank officers -- they were all sober family men with large personal networks of colleagues and friends who would notice any odd changes in their habits such as inevitably accompanied the changeover. In a way, he decided, smiling slightly, that fact made his triumph all the more satisfying. Especially since being a vampire made this more difficult, if anything, he mused.
He had woven a tangled net of connections, pulling every string he could just to get the name "Lucard Industries" dropped in the ear of the directors as a reputable company, worth taking a risk on. After laying the groundwork over six months, he had taken a trip to Switzerland personally and contrived an introduction to one of the more liberal directors -- a man who occasionally loosened his tie a few millimeters at 6:30pm on Friday night -- and exerted every ounce of his considerable personal charm to wrangle an invitation to lunch with him and his colleagues the next day. At lunch, he had performed before the knowing and jaded eyes of half a dozen officers with decades of experience at hearing sales pitches -- and by the end of the meal, he'd struck a faint spark of interest in those bored eyes.
After that, things had gone smoothly. The only hitch had been when he was invited to the bank's private retreat, a small chalet nestled in the Alps where the overworked officers could supposedly take time off from work. The invitation was clearly not just a friendly gesture, but a near command that he drop everything else to come and spend however long the bank directors wanted him to, answering their questions and convincing them to take Lucard Industries on as a major client. They were effectively offering him the chance to have them as a captive audience, and he knew that refusing such an incredible concession would be tantamount to breaking off the negotiations.
So, of course, he had gone, packing one discreet bottle intended to sustain him for the journey there and back, expecting that there would be a few anonymous servants around so he could obtain a quiet midnight snack now and then. Foolish of me, he thought, not to have gotten a report on the place beforehand. For the retreat turned out to be more of a high-security, ultra-confidential conference center than a vacation spot, and every single servant in the place was in fact a bank employee with a file an inch thick assuring their confidentiality and reliability. The disappearance of even one would have been cause for extreme alarm and extensive investigation.
He had been very nearly desperate by the end of the first week, lying awake at night and trembling with the savage urges, vowing that he would rule his thirst and not be ruled by it. The bottle, half-drunk on his way up, tormented him as much as sustaining him, each tiny sip only leading to a craving to pour the rest of the bottle down his throat. But he did not know when his stay would end, and he could not risk not having any blood at all -- he knew that would drive him to true, uncontrolled savagery.
By day, it had been a little easier -- the thin sunlight forced his vampire nature into some semblance of quiescence. But by day, he had been surrounded with mortals -- conferences with the bankers every day, the scent of their blood maddening him while all the while he forced his voice to continue on its modulated, controlled path... interminable dinners surrounded by the bankers and servants, forced to make clever conversation... and most agonizingly, the long massages under the hands of some delectable beauty, lying next to this director or that and casually chatting about his plans after a vigorous swim or trip down the ski slopes had gotten his skin tingling.
The second week had begun badly -- he'd come to himself outside a window in a shock of pain as the woman inside the room beyond got up and moved aside from the bedside table to reveal a crucifix at which she had been praying. He had fled quickly a little distance into the mountains and then stood, panting, every muscle tensed and quivering with the urge to shimmer, change, melt into wolf or bat or air and find something alive with hot blood rushing through its veins, drain it to the dregs, savour every last drop of life to sate the searing pain of hunger. Only a vow, I will stay in control, had burned in his mind for hours and kept him from breaking as he stood there until the first thin gleam of sunrise had broken the stalemate between him and his thirst in his favor.
The next night, he had slipped away just before dark and remained outside in the cold, feeling it a little in his weakened state, but welcoming the bite of that pain as a useful distraction from that of the thirst. The hours of darkness, usually his solace and shelter, had become instead a battlefield where he struggled against his own body and found himself the most difficult opponent he had ever faced. But it had been easier than the night before, and the dark, thirsty urges had broken a full hour before dawn. By the third week, the thirst was under his control, and though he'd been unable to keep mortal food down by the end of his stay, he had managed to remain in control and keep his facade intact to the very end -- a triumphant end, with an exceptionally generous bank offer for him to take home.
He drained the glass to the dregs and poured another. Still too thirsty to risk a hunt, he judged himself critically. He did not intend to flirt with discovery by going hunting while half-starved and risking a loss of control. No, he would drink bottled blood in moderation tonight, then hunt tomorrow, and with any luck would be back to enjoying his chef's cooking in a couple of days.
More importantly, he thought, eyes drifting up to the painting above the fireplace, I am in control. I will always be in control. His gaze rested on the tomb in the painting. You taught me that well, chere Marguerite. He leaned back into the comforting richness of the red upholstery, eyes dropping to the dancing flames and unfocusing a little in that reflected light as his mind drifted back to that exceptionally dark year...
Europe was burning. Or that was how it seemed to him, scenting the acrid taste of smoke and gas fumes borne from the trenches nearby. Curious to witness the new style of warfare, he had flown to the Western Front the previous night from Paris to watch from a hidden vantage point today, and already felt sickened to the marrow. This is no way for men to fight and die, he thought in disgust, observing the soldiers huddled in the filthy trenches, taking turns charging forward to die under a hail of bullets before getting anywhere near their enemies. Even their blood smells of poison.
Unable to bear another moment of this perversion of war, he slipped down from the tree where he'd been watching and walked away from the barbed-wire-strewn battlefield. A few bullets whizzed past, one going right through his left shoulder. He scowled down at the messy hole in his clothing and glared back towards the trenches, then quickened his pace to take him away faster. No point in even trying to obtain satisfaction for the attempt to shoot him -- his attacker was as faceless as any of the corpses littering the ground. Better by far to just get away from this idiotic waste of lives. "And these people call the time *I* lived in the Dark Ages," he said to the leaden grey sky, irony sharpening his tone. "What fools these mortals be." Looking around the dreary countryside, he sighed. "I'll be damned if I'm going to wait around here for nightfall. Better just to start walking."
A few miles of sodden, mucky ground later, his elegant boots soaked through and the sounds and scents of battle faded in the distance, he was reconsidering. Pausing and taking stock of the surrounding countryside, he caught sight of a small building in the distance, huddled on the side of a rocky cliff that was undoubtedly why it hadn't been razed to the ground by soldiers from one side or another yet. "Even if there's no one there, I can at least take a nap until sundown," he muttered, and strode towards the appealing building.
Unfortunately, it lost its appeal on closer inspection. More a shack than a cottage, there were cracks in the roof and walls, and the whole thing looked decidedly rickety. Any port in a storm, Dracula thought as he pushed open the door to receive his first pleasant surprise in quite a while. Lying peacefully asleep on a small but clean cot in the corner of the shack were two adorable children, a boy and a girl, both with shining golden curls. A small table with a rock under one leg to keep it balanced stood in the other corner, with a pair of mostly broken stools beside it. The entire interior was as neat and cozy as hard work could have accomplished with such meager means. There were even curtains, apparently made out of burlap, but even so astonishing. A warm, pleasant sort of smell hung in the air, unidentifiable except for traces of... orange blossoms?
He paused on the threshold, eyeing the room for any signs of unpleasant decorations such as a crucifix, then stepped inside and walked over to the cot. "Well," he said aloud, "I wonder who's been looking after you two." He smiled down at the children in anticipation.
And then the world exploded into darkness.
"What was the noise..."
"Go back to sleep Marie. There's nothing, you don't need to worry."
"But Marguerite, there's a man on the floor!"
"Marie, I said..."
"Oh no -- Jean, you go back to sleep too."
"Who is he, Marguerite?"
"Is that Papa?"
"No, it's not Papa! It's a strange man. And I just told you two to--"
"He's a very pretty man."
"Will he be staying?"
"No! Now BACK TO SLEEP!"
The high-pitched voices faded, querulously, as he was rolled over onto his stomach, arms unceremoniously pulled backwards. His head was swimming, throbbing pain all over the back of his neck and skull, and he couldn't manage more than a low groan as a rough cord was tied tightly with more will than skill around his wrists and ankles. Then he was being rolled over again, and opened his dazed eyes to look up at an angel of God. His eyes widened in panic, and he instinctively tried to scrabble backwards for a good, long moment before he realized that he was looking only at an unusually beautiful young woman, and the halo was the product of his unfocused vision, not the blessing of the Almighty. As his sight cleared, he saw the reason for his pain and disorientation -- a thick wooden club, propped against the wall.
Catching his breath, he addressed the angel in conversational tones, "Do you always greet your callers this way, or am I particularly fortunate?"
The girl, who had backed warily away from him when he jerked away, started at the sound of his exquisitely cultured French. His sharp eyes caught her minute relaxation, unsurprised -- he cultivated a sophisticate's tone partly because people didn't imagine that someone who sounded that civilized could do anything violent. It had often provided him with a useful edge in some situations, and it appeared that this would be one of them. A quick glance out the window noted that the sun was still well above the horizon, and although he was ordinarily strong enough even in daylight to break most bonds, he was not feeling well enough to exert himself except for an emergency. It would be more comfortable by far to keep the girl from going after him with that club again by charming her... at least until the sun went down.
Evidently recovered from her surprise and believing herself in control of the situation, the girl replied with spirit, in surprisingly cultured French, "Do you always barge into people's homes without invitation, or are we particularly fortunate?"
He emitted a small groan and shifted his weight to pull himself into a sitting position. "Touche, madame--"
He smiled inwardly and inclined his head slightly. "Mademoiselle. My intrusion was unpardonable. I was not expecting to find anyone here, merely a few hours' shelter before I continue on my way to Paris."
She sat down on the stool. "Paris? Isn't Paris still under seige?"
"Marguerite," she automatically finished.
"...Marguerite. The seige was lifted many months ago." Seeing her eyes widen hopefully, he asked casually, "Did you flee Paris during the German advance?"
"In a way, we..." she paused, looking at him uncertainly. "Are you all right?" she asked, interrupting herself. "I hit you harder than I meant to, but you see," she hesitated and excused herself, "there are so many rough men about. I must protect the children -- I'm all they have."
"They are lovely children. Your brother and sister?"
"No -- my neice and nephew. My sister was killed by soldiers when the Germans came through our town, just outside of Paris. They... " she gulped, turning a little pale, and shook her head to cast off the memory. "I was out in the fields with the children, picking berries. When I heard the screams, I knew I had to keep them safe, so we hid until dark. Then I crept back and saw..." She bit her lip, eyes shining with tears of horror.
Dracula felt a decided stirring as he observed that exquisite face, the tears gracefully welling up in the dark blue eyes, making them even more brilliant. He thought ruefully to himself that there were women in Paris who spent hours practicing to try and cry that beautifully, yet this girl clearly had no artifice to her at all and equally clearly put all their efforts to shame. As exquisite as any woman I have seen in my entire life. At the startled blush that spread over her cheeks, he realized that he had spoken aloud, and cursed himself mentally while watching her carefully for her reaction. The girl would likely be frightened off by flattery, and at this point he was starting to be more interested in keeping her around until nightfall and not merely avoiding any further injury.
In an uncertain tone, she said, "You are very kind to say so, Monsieur..."
He urbanely responded, "de Touraine. Victor de Touraine." He had been using the alias for a couple of decades or so -- that was about as long as they could last before people would start wondering why he didn't look any older -- but he did have a few years left in it. She continued to look nervous, so he let his body sag backwards against the wall with a bit of a groan.
She immediately rushed forward and propped him up, her body pressing against his delightfully. He quite deliberately drooped over her, letting his head fall on her shoulder so her exquisite, creamy-skinned neck was mere inches from his lips. The scent of her blood sang in his nostrils mixed with a faint fragrance that again he could not quite identify, a delicious torment full of the pleasure of anticipation. She struggled to push him up, her hands warm against his chest through the thin cambric of his shirt. "Monsieur de Touraine? Oh dear, what have I done... please don't be badly hurt..." she plaintively said, her hands anxiously stroking over him as she adjusted his position. In her innocence, she didn't pay attention to just where she was touching him, and Dracula found himself in a rather pleasurable state of excitement before she finally resettled him to her satisfaction.
He opened his eyes when she pulled away, looking up with a deliberately glazed expression into her eyes. "Pardon me, Marguerite," he said in low tones. "I did not mean to inconvenience you."
"Oh no, Monsieur, this is all my fault," she said, wringing her hands. She snatched up a knife from the table and came back to him, then proceeded to cut the bonds around his wrists. He noticed that prudently, however, she left his ankles tied. He brought his arms forward and rubbed the wrists briefly before capturing her hands in his own.
"Marguerite, you cannot remain here with them," he said softly, tilting his head in the direction of the children and stroking the ball of his thumb over her palms while she stared down at the movement in fascination. "The battle is raging close by -- soldiers will find this place sooner or later, and all of you will be..." he paused, "undoubtedly killed." In her widened eyes he read understanding that their fate would be far worse than mere death in that event.
She swallowed and said in a small voice, "Monsieur, I want to take the children back to Paris if the siege is lifted -- but it is a long way from here, and I am just a woman alone." She looked up at him with those deep, exquisite eyes, and he smiled softly.
"Marguerite, I would be honored if you would accept my escort back to Paris," he assured her, lifting her hands to his lips.
She blushed and looked hopefully at him. "Do you really think that we will be able to get there?" she said, her fingers tightening on his.
With a tender caress of her cheek, he answered, "Marguerite, I promise you -- in my company, you shall reach Paris unharmed."
She looked back at the two still-sleeping children on the cot. "And the babies too?"
With a little mental sigh, Dracula dropped his half-hearted thoughts of a midnight snack. "Yes, the children as well." He mentally excused his indulgence of the woman by reminding himself that the children would undoubtedly be as exquisite as she was by the time they grew up -- and that would be well worth waiting for. I will spend a while with her, he decided, not really noticing that he had dropped all thoughts of just biting her, to make certain that she is really as perfect as she seems. She may be worth taking as a companion for a time. He eyed the perfection of her face and form once again. Truly... she is enchanting...
Lucard came to himself with a start, wondering why he had permitted his mind to drift to such unpleasant memories when the present gleamed before him with one tremendous triumph and the promise of further conquests to come. He drained the second glass and set it on the table firmly, resolved not to think any longer about Marguerite. "We all make mistakes," he said aloud. "I have made worse." But not many, an internal voice taunted mockingly. And none so irreversible.
Frowning as he took up a candle, he bent down to light it at the fire, then strolled through the castle to his chambers, the thin flame casting twisted shadows on the walls. He pushed aside the heavy curtain that covered the entryway to his rooms, relaxing as he stepped into the warmth shed by the roaring fire he had ordered set in his private chambers. Lighting several rows of candles to increase the warm atmosphere, he set down the one he had brought upstairs and disrobed in front of the fire, tossing his clothes over a chair with fine disregard for his valet's nerves. The shimmer of heat in front of the fire was a caress on his bare skin as he stripped down to his red silk boxers. He tilted his head back and just soaked up the warmth for several long minutes before he selected the most sensuously luxuriant of his dressing gowns, a thick black silk velvet both inside and out, to draw on.
He settled into a richly upholstered chair after putting Gounod's Faust on, with a copy of the libretto. But as the opera wound on, and Faust began his seduction of the innocent soprano Marguerite, he let the book droop down onto his lap, staring into the fire again, his expressive mouth twisting slightly with self-mockery. Nothing is served by dwelling on it, he thought angrily. She is dead and thoroughly buried to boot.
But he knew better. Investing too much emotion into events was dangerous for his kind, who had to learn to let the world they knew die over and over again while they went on. Yet a life lived merely to survive was anathema to him. He could not, as so many of the older vampires did, simply find some quiet, dark corner of the world to moulder away in and watch the mortal world go by. He lived his undead, eternal life with the same intensity he had brought to his mortal existence, and had sustained the feverish pace without too much difficulty long beyond the time when most elder vampires were slowing down.
But such a life was not without its risks, and he bore scars from it as deep as any he'd earned on battlefields in mortal life. But few of them went as deep as those caused by his all-too-brief dalliance with her. I have loved many women, but very few with whom I truly felt I could spend eternity, he thought to himself gloomily. The room seemed somehow chill again, despite the quiet crackling of the blaze and the warmth of his robe. Angry with himself, he recognized the stirrings of faint depression, blaming them on his fatigue. He tried to force his mind into a different path, but tired as he was, he could not concentrate on the libretto or on work. He felt as though he would almost welcome an attack by one of his enemies right now; anything to push away those memories that lingered despite his best efforts to forget. But Ah, je ris began to play, and the innocent rejoicing of the girl in the music, laughing over a chest of jewels from her suitor, rang in his ears like a lingering echo from the past, leading his mind inexorably down the path into his memories...
As he had promised, he had brought them back to Paris, and installed Marguerite and the children in his home, against her few half-hearted protests. To placate her and avoid comment, he had brought in a chaperone, an apparently stern old lady who was in fact merely one of his zombie servants and no more effective at actually keeping Marguerite safe from him than a lock on her door would be. The children grew happy and well-fed under the tender ministrations of his cook, while Marguerite continued to charm him with her artless grace and delicate beauty.
Dracula found the days passing in a sort of vague haze. He occasionally paused to wonder that he had not yet grown bored with Marguerite -- the simple type had their appeal, of course, but he had never been one to enjoy unsophisticated women for very long. Nor did Marguerite betray any signs of succumbing to his gentle and cautious seduction, and he felt a curious reluctance to simply take her over. In a sort of odd jealousy, he wanted her to throw off her principles for his sake and choose to give herself to him. Yet despite her recalcitrance and his usual tastes, he remained entranced by her and thought nothing of casting off his previous entertainments to squire her about Paris society, which went on despite the war, albeit in subdued fashion.
And then one day he returned home unexpectedly early from hunting, annoyed at having been interrupted from a fully satisfying feeding by the approach of a city watchman. Frustrated, he decided suddenly that he was not going to wait any longer for Marguerite to come to him on her own. Mounting the stairs, he pushed open her chamber door and came on her seated cross-legged in a circle of pink candles, faintly scented with that same unidentifiable odor from the shack, crushing something with a mortar and pestle and humming a little chant over it.
He stood in shocked silence for several moments, staring at her. She paled, then stood up and pushed away her hair with the back of one hand. Lifting her chin, she stared back at him proudly, not saying a word.
"A spell. You've been casting a spell on me all this time," he marveled in sudden comprehension. "I didn't know that was possible."
She swallowed and answered him in slightly unsteady tones, "It's not a very strong spell."
He stepped into the room and paced towards her, circling around her. She turned to follow him with her eyes, unsure what to make of his oddly calm reaction. "When did you start doing this?" he demanded.
"It's my perfume... I thought you looked like a gentleman in the cottage, after I hit you, so I put it on. I hoped that it would make you help us."
"As long as that." He suddenly burst out laughing. "And to think, all this time I've been thinking you a helpless little innocent without the sophistication of a newborn chick!"
She looked offended. "I am a..." she began, then stopped. "Well, I am innocent," she protested, excusing her actions. "You did like me anyway, because the spell wouldn't work if you didn't. It just... helped things along. And I didn't know what else to do -- there was no food left for the children, and the battle was getting closer..."
He shook his head, still laughing quietly, and approached her. He took the small mortar and pestle out of her hands and carried it over to the washbasin, dumping the mixture out. He turned back to her, eyes gleaming. "No more spells, Marguerite. I enjoy being charmed by a beautiful woman, but not by," he smiled, "artificial means. You will have to find other ways of... keeping me intrigued."
She backed away slightly, eyes widening. "What do you mean?" she quavered a little. "You aren't going to throw us out?"
He approached her deliberately. "Oh no, cherie." He was in arm's length of her now. Pulling off his elegant white glove, he reached out to caress her cheek slowly, tracing a finger over her high cheekbones, down the side of her face, and ending below her chin, which he tilted up a little towards him. "I have no intention of losing you, my lovely enchantress."
Relief brought an attractive flush to her cheeks, and she reached up to clasp his hand. "Oh, Victor, I am sorry for casting the spell on you. I can never thank you enough for being so kind..."
He smiled. "On the contrary, my dear. You can thank me very adequately indeed." He lowered his lips to hers, which were slightly parted in surprise, and pulled her into his arms. Despite her faint protests, he swept her up into his arms and carried her into the bedroom...
A faint smile lingered on Lucard's lips at the sweet memory of lying with Marguerite. Oh, she had resisted at first, but his skillful seduction had brought her into acquiescence, and once he had overcome her initial reluctance she had proved to be as enthusiastic a lover as any he'd ever had. Delighted by the discovery of these previously unexpected depths to her, he had turned her into a vampire -- a woman who dared to ensorcel him was a worthy companion to keep by his side.
His smile faded as the music turned grim with the death of Valentine at Faust's hands and Marguerite's descent into madness at her dying brother's final curse upon her. I don't want to remember, a corner of his mind protested. "Let me not think on't," he whispered to himself, but the quotation failed to distract...
The months passed swiftly with her by his side, and soon it was summer in Paris once again. Even the war could not keep the trees from blooming, and he cared nothing for the travails of the soldiers with Marguerite by his side. She delighted in her new life, wasting no time in regrets of her vampire nature, yet remained as charming as in mortal life, unlike many who lost themselves in the change. With her love, he knew a contentment beyond anything he could remember -- he had known many pleasures in his life, but rarely had he been content. Unfortunately, with contentment came some measure of complacency. At peace with the world, it seemed somehow unlikely that anything would disrupt his peace.
And then he came home one sunny morning from the store, carrying a package of brioches to assuage her sweet tooth, to find a message in fresh blood he recognized as hers scrawled upon the wall.
In one hour, alone, at la Carrefour des Morts, or she dies.
It was a measure of the strength of his emotion for her that he did not even hesitate. He recognized immediately that he had left himself and her vulnerable, and that his enemies would not have set such an obvious trap without being well-prepared to deal with him. Yet he was prepared to run that risk in order to save her life, knowing that his enemies would have no reason to harm her if he fell into their hands.
And so, a little less than an hour later, he stood in the thin sunlight outside the entrance to the old quarry, the musty smell of corruption and decay rising to his nose. Grimly setting his jaw, he slipped inside, waiting just inside the entrance for the few seconds while his eyesight adjusted to the darkness within. The corridor to follow was clearly marked -- to a vampire, at any rate -- with small spots of blood. His nostrils flared with growing anger as he followed the trail through twists and turns to a heavy iron door deep within the quarry.
He paused outside, eyes bleak and steel-grey. But he had never been a coward even when an easy-to-kill mortal, and the pause was merely for reflection, not out of fear. He seized the heavy handle and pulled the door open, stepping inside and letting it close behind him with an ominous, grinding clang against the stone of the corridor.
As the door shut behind him, a low laugh echoed through the chamber. As if that were some sort of signal, several torches were suddenly lit. His gut tightened as he saw a group of six vampires seated in a semicircle before him. He'd expected perhaps one or two of his bitterest enemies to be behind this -- but vampires were by nature a prickly and mostly solitary lot, not inclined to cooperate with each other for any length of time. Evidently animosity towards him -- and, he thought wryly, fear of him -- had proven adequate provocation for them to overcome those innate tendencies. He surveyed his opponents, assessing them quickly. Marcus Dubronik, Karl Lagen, Richard D'Alloigne -- those three were little more than fledglings, no match for him on their own. Weaker Parisian vampires, they were undoubtedly here simply for the chance to increase their own territories by getting rid of him. But the other three were far more dangerous, and had each at one time or another come close to achieving his death.
Determined not to give them the satisfaction of seeing him afraid, Dracula leaned nonchalantly against the door, crossing his arms over his chest. "Only six of you?" he sneered, in his most supercilious tones. "I would have thought that none of you had the nerve to venture a move against me with less than ten allies to stiffen your spines."
The only woman of the group rose gracefully from her seat. Although in no mood to find Andrea attractive now, Dracula could objectively not deny that she was as beautiful as she had been during the three years they had kept company, before the clash of their violent tempers had turned mutual attraction into mutual loathing. She had never forgiven him for his humiliating and public final parting, and he, for his part, had long hunted her after she paid mortals to stake him in one of the nearest attempts that had ever been made on his life.
"What, Vlad, no warm hello for an old friend?" she inquired nastily, her eyes gleaming with vindictive satisfaction. "Not even a kiss for old times' sake?"
He looked down at her with fine disdain. "I never settle for second best, Andrea, and with a woman like Marguerite around, that is certainly what you would be." He swept his gaze around the others imperiously. "I want her back, now," he announced shortly. "If you cowards hand her over immediately, I might be persuaded not to destroy the lot of you."
"I see your bravado is as intact as ever, Dracula," hissed Cormanoc nasally. The pale-skinned vampire's face was still blotchy and twisted from their last encounter of the previous year, when Dracula had immersed him in a vat of holy water. Only the ancient vampire's nine centuries of stored power and several zombie companions had kept him from complete destruction -- the zombies had dragged him out while Dracula staggered away to deal with his own injuries, and his age had allowed him to survive despite the horrible damage.
"That's all to the good," answered the dark-haired vampire in the chair to the far left. "It will make it all the more satisfying when we see that bravado broken." He stared at Dracula hungrily, licking his lips in a feral gesture strangely incongrouous with his handsome face and dapper appearance.
"You lot of fools could not break me if you had a century to do it in, Maroc," he answered contemptuously. Hearing footsteps behind him, he turned to see a group of roughly-dressed mortal workmen, carrying with them heavy chains with manacles made of what looked like petrified wood and reinforced with steel banding. He grimly acknowledged to himself that those chains would keep him nicely helpless while the sun was up.
The men approached him at Andrea's beckoning gesture. "A moment, if you please," he said silkily, reaching forward to seize her seemingly delicate wrist in his own. "Marguerite," he repeated. "Release her now. Or I will resist, and I daresay that I can manage to take more than half of you with me -- not to mention that you will have to kill me to stop me, and that would deprive you of whatever entertainment you have planned." He met Andrea's glare with one of his own.
"I heard that you were besotted with the girl, Vlad," she hissed, "but I didn't think you'd fallen quite so low."
Stephen Maroc buffed his nails against his satin waistcoat and inspected them with a yawn. "Oh, let's not be tiresome. Vlad, I'm terribly afraid that the young lady's presence here while we mete out your... punishment... is a quite necessary part of our entertainment. However, I do give you my word -- when this is over, we will release her unharmed." He smiled dazzlingly. "You know that it's rather a point of pride with me to keep my word," he added. "As none of the others care two pins what happens to the girl, you can rely that it will be kept -- provided you cooperate."
Dracula had rather thought that they would make such an offer after seeing Maroc there. And indeed, the elegant vampire had made a strong habit of keeping his word. But Vlad had also known that he needed to get that word given properly to secure Marguerite's safety. Having accomplished that, he nodded curtly, mouth set in a thin line, and offered no resistance as the men rather nervously stepped forward and clasped the heavy chains on his wrists and ankles. His jaw tightened a little as the bonds were secured, a familiar burning pain at his wrists informing him that they bore a priest's blessing -- undoubtedly why the others had involved mortals in putting them upon him. After he was securely bound, Andrea tossed a heavy purse to one of the men and motioned them out. Touching the rim of his grey cap, the man hurried out, followed by his nervous-looking companions.
Vlad Dracula stood proudly in front of them, despite the chains that held him helpless. With a vicious grin, Karl stood and walked into the darkness at the back of the room, coming back with the bound form of Marguerite. He propped her up and removed the gag and blindfold. Marguerite cried out in protest at seeing Dracula in front of her, trying to lunge forward towards him. "No! Victor -- you shouldn't have come!"
Karl lifted a hand to cuff her into silence. "Please, no, old man," Maroc said languidly. "I have given my word."
"Of course," Karl said in somewhat surly tones, regarding Marguerite's form with a leer. He shook her roughly instead. "You keep quiet, wench," he snarled at her.
She looked at Dracula tearfully, and he shook his head slightly to keep her quiet. He surmised that they intended some sort of humiliating torture before killing him. Fine, he thought, coldly calculating. If they want to break me, with any luck they'll hold off on killing me until they do. So long as they don't get bored, they will continue for hours... and then I shall have a chance.
And then Andrea was approaching him, a thin silver blade held in her hand. "It's quite warm in here," she cooed in dulcet tones. "Here, Vlad... let me take some of that off you." She proceeded to run the blade along the seams of his garments, letting them drop to the stone floor until he stood completely naked before them. Sheathing the little blade, she paced around him, running a finger around his shoulders. "I understand you were a hostage in the court of the Turks while a young mortal," she said in conversational tones.
Marcus and Richard were bringing forward a heavy stone table. Cormanoc, grinning like a death's-head, seized the iron chains attached to his manacles and yanked them forward, pulling his torso forward over the table. The cold stone was a shock against his skin, the rasp of the chains as they bound them to a heavy ring in the floor setting dusty echoes ringing through the chamber.
His face remained cold and impassive as Andrea continued, "I'm sure that this will bring back many fond memories of that time. You must have been a beautiful boy. They must have missed you terribly when you escaped."
As he realized what she was implying, he couldn't restrain a sudden stiffening. They wouldn't dare, he thought incredulously.
Maroc's voice came from behind him, tight with suppressed triumph, "Do feel free to scream if this hurts, Vlad." He saw Marguerite's eyes go dark with horror in front of him and steeled himself as she tried to turn away, only to be forced to watch by Cormanoc's steely hand.
Hours passed, each humiliating pain driving him further and further into a numb, cold rage. His jaw was locked -- not one sound or cry had yet escaped his lips, to the extreme dissatisfaction of his enemies. As far as torturers go, they are rank amateurs, he thought remotely, distancing himself from the pain with relative ease. But while he had suffered far worse tortures in his life, he had to acknowledge that they had certainly achieved the worst humiliation he had ever been subject to, with Marguerite there as a helpless witness to everything. So he choked down every snarl of rage and cry of pain and focused on imagining various unpleasant ways for them to die, to deny them the pleasure of thinking him broken.
"We should just kill him and be done with it," Richard said in disgruntled tones after another round had once again failed to draw any cry of pain from him.
"What's the matter, D'Alloigne, tired already?" jeered Karl. "He'll break sooner or later."
Richard shot back, "In case you've forgotten, we need to kill him before sundown, or he'll escape."
"Well--" Karl began to respond, when a quiet knock sounded on the iron door. All of them turned to stare at the portal. "Who in hell..."
"It may be an ally of his," Andrea snapped sharply.
"I doubt that an ally of his would have waited so long to arrive, my dear," Cormanoc stated. "Richard, open the door and let us see who has come to visit."
The door swung wide to reveal an exquisitely handsome young man, dark-haired and dark-eyed, dressed to the nines and leaning on a heavy wooden walking stick. He bowed elegantly. "Do pardon the intrusion," he said in unaccented French, stepping in to raise Andrea's hand to his lips. "But I heard that you had a bit of entertainment planned for this evening that I couldn't bear to miss. Has the guest of honor showed up?"
"Who the hell are you?" Karl demanded suspiciously.
Andrea, flushed slightly, answered him, "This is Michel D'Antoine, an... acquaintance of mine." She looked at the man. "I didn't know that you had cause to dislike Vlad Dracula, Michel, or I would have asked you to join me," she smiled and gestured towards the table where he lay bound. "As it is, you are fortunately not too late to partake of our... revenge... if you desire."
Dracula had tensed the moment he heard the voice of Michel, feeling the dreadful rage mount higher and higher. It seemed to him that he must fly apart with the fury, burning with the need to strike out and kill for what had been done to him. As the footsteps approached him, he quivered slightly again, the chains growing taut around his wrists.
Michel touched his back with one hand, bending low to inspect the manacles. "What are these?" he inquired of Andrea, pointing at them. "Petrified wood mixed with some wood from an old cross that once hung in Notre Dame," she answered, smirking. She took a key out of her pocket and walked forward to dangle it before Dracula's eyes. "And you will die wearing them, Vlad," she hissed at him in hatred.
Michel reached out and took the key, inspecting it and the manacles further. "Not if I can help it," he muttered quietly, and unlocked the chains with startling speed.
"WHAT?!" screamed Andrea in shock as Dracula flung off the chains and stood, eyes bloodshot with berserk rage.
"Sorry it took me so long, Vlad," Michel said as Dracula rose from the table. "I left as soon as I got your message."
"Shut up and give me something to kill with, NOW, Radu," he managed to spit out through waves of red anger.
Michel, or rather Radu, glanced askance at the maddened Dracula. "Anything you say, Vlad," he said in a dubious tone, offering him the top of his walking stick. Vlad took hold and pulled out a gleaming blade made of wood, the edges covered with steel to go in easily.
"Radu? Michel, what are you doing?" gasped Andrea, backing away from the insane rage in Dracula's eyes.
"Vlad is occasionally infuriating at times, Andrea, but he is still my brother -- and my master," he responded. "It has been a pleasure knowing all of you, but I'm afraid that our acquaintance is about to end." He backed away from Vlad, who had just finished tugging the sword loose.
Dracula looked up, the heavy blade in his hands, and grinned at the six vampires with the same expression that had frightened the Ottomans into surrendering to him without a fight. He deliberately threw off every vestige of control, let himself descend into savage bestial rage, and flung himself at them.
Some time passed in a red haze, filled with the dark sweetness of the blood of his enemies, hearing their screams and pleas for mercy ringing in his ears, as sweet as a chorus, until the thick cocoon of protective fury was shattered by their silence and Radu pinning his arms from behind and screaming his name.
The torches were almost all out, and he was soaked with blood. Three inches of the blade were broken off at the top, he stung with scratches and bites all over, and his legs were weak on the slippery floor. He slowly turned to look at Radu, whose face was pale and a bit green-looking. "Are they all dead?" he grated.
In hollow tones, Radu answered, "Yes... they are all dead."
Uncomprehendingly, Vlad stared at him, confused by the emphasis. Then he paused and listened to the silence with his vampire senses, which were awakening with the fall of the sun. Two heartbeats pulsed in the chamber... only two. Choking in a breath, he seized a torch and lifted it higher... and the flame reflected on golden hair. He stumbled forward to the still form of Marguerite, crumpling to the ground beside her with a low cry of anguish. She lay on top of Karl, the gaping stab wound through both of their hearts, her body a living shield that the other vampire had seized in panic... and which had not saved him from Vlad's fury. A sob thickening his throat, Dracula lifted her body up in his arms, the torch rolling away to drown in the blood pooled upon the floor... leaving the entire room in darkness.
With an inarticulate cry of denial, Lucard stood and hurled the libretto into the fire. The pages curled and blackened to chars and ash in the flicker of an eye, while suddenly around him triumphant music soared as Marguerite called to the heavens and angels came down to bear her to the skies, lifting her beyond the reach of the damned Faust, who was condemned to eternal torment at the hands of the capering Mephistopheles. With a final crash, the music ended, leaving him in heavy, dusty silence, alone with dying flames in an empty house.
Final Note: Marguerite's behavior in this story is unacceptable by the standards of any reputable witch. Any sort of attempt to coerce or influence another against their will is extremely unethical and against the tenets of Wicca. Please forgive the creative license, and please do not try this sort of thing at home.
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