Countess Dracula

Dracula, The Countess
Part 1: Jonathan
A Smuthunter Syndicated Story

 

            “You shouldn’t be here Englishman, this is not a place for your civilized kind,“ the Inn Keeper spat the word civilized out as though it had some other meaning, but whatever it was meant to mean, Jonathan Harker didn’t know.

            The young Englishman had traveled by ship, train, and then carriage to reach this town out at the edge of the west and east, and he was certain if he tried to speak its name aloud he’d both embarrass himself and offend its people.

            “But alas that I am, though it is a lovely land,” his mind wandered from Munich to Vienna, then to Budapest, and to the sense of weight and age that seemed to grow in the trees and the sky as he made his way east. This township was neatly hemmed in by dark trees whose greens were rich, and by hills that crested into mountains, not as fierce as the alps, but foreboding in both their shape and in the shadow they cast on his eyes.

            It was a lovely place, but it was a fell beauty, and reminded him of dower Germanic folk tales of wolves walking on two legs and feasting on foolish children in candy houses.

            “Here,” Jonathan placed a small stack of coins on the counter and nudged them to the Inn Keeper, “I am told that on the morrow a carriage leaves here for the mountains and I…”

            The Inn Keeper spat, “Just like the last one, you must know him, the small English with the spectacles. He came and he left, he should have returned to you with bitter warnings and sharper fears, but here you are.”

            “Ah, that is, yes, well,” Jonathan brushed his thick brown hair from his face, it was an unfortunate business what had befallen Mr. Renfield, he was not a man with the constitution for travel, “be that as it may, you see I must, as I am…”

            “Come noon the carriage leaves, and there is an old stop, not up the mountain, but at its base, and as you pay, so you’ll go, you’ll be taken there. Maybe you walk through the woods and the hills through the night, maybe you’re fetched, who knows, but you’ll be carried no further up that accursed road, not from anyone here you won’t.”

            “Hmm, well then, I see,” his bright blue eyes stood out against the dark eyed people of the village, swarthy men and women, one and all with a tempered disposition, hard workers as he had seen in the countryside at home, but different in the way that no two men were truly the same.

            Jonathan was not a small man, and he was not struck with the effete nature of so many other barristers, men of a certain kind of luxury, but he was as markedly refined as any of his peers, though he lacked the same fortunes as many of them.

            It was why he was here, the Harkers had in early times much to distance themselves from others, but those were indeed other times, and now Jonathan was in a position to renew his family’s flagging fortunes. It was not only his purse from the firm, but the stipend for travel that he’d been paid, and the bonus that the estate he was visiting provided.

            A rise in fortune would not come from pinching pennies, but it would come from this, seemingly insistent, relationship. Jonathan would, if he were successful here, make a profit on each action that his client would take in establishing himself in or outside of London, including those Jonathan had already taken on his client’s behalf/

            “Father, be kind, “ the Inn Keeper’s daughter who looked something like a girl but was a woman grown, spoke something sharp to the man, then gave Jonathan a small smile, “Take this, please. We know you English, with your own church and your own ways, have strayed from God and the true church, but the symbol of our lord holds power here.”

            She forced a small crucifix on a leather cord into his hand. “Your industry and your progress will not help you here, wear it, wear it now and at all times. Wear it and beware the moon’s light and the night’s shadow.”

            Her dark eyes were near damp with concern and the promise of tears, and her father spoke their language in a hushed tone, then with a hand on her shoulder looked up at Jonathon, “Wear it if you wish to sleep in my bed and eat my food, and show some kindness to my daughter.”

            He tied it on and smiled at her, “Your friend, the first one of you to come here, he was too clever to be as wise as that.” Her voice was faint, touched by some itch of fear, or sorrow, but as she led him to his room, her joy and composure returned to her.

            “Return here as the sun sets, it is an ill timed night for your arrival. The wood is thick with wolves this night, and they do not fear the meager night fires.”

            That was a thought, wolves traipsing through the town at their leisure. It was enough to make him smile, but his manners were enough to keep him from laughing at the girl’s sincerity.

            With that, she left and Jonathan made himself familiar with the room. It was a close space, but it was warm and homely, with a window facing the east. After setting his things down, he began a short missive.

Dearest Mina,

            I write to you from a township near the Count’s Castle, and while this town is much like one we would find in England, and its people not unfamiliar in their manner as to our own, I have already been accosted by a very superstitious girl, and veritably growled at by the Inn Keeper. This will likely be the last you hear of me before I make my return, and make good on all that I have promised you.

            I will, of course, write you more and with great haste if I am delayed, and will find something of some kind of charm here to send with this post, and all that I have written between Budapest and this quaint, if not ominous hamlet. Truly, there is some menace to it, at least to the people who, being Eastern Orthodox, have more in keeping with Papists than you or I.

            Mina, my love, I do so miss you and cherish you perhaps overmuch whenever I have a free and private moment.

 

Yours,

Jonathan Harker

 

  1. I was told that tonight is a night they fear the local wolves rise up and prowl the lands. It was conveyed with some sort of brigand-like sentiment. Can you imagine it, wolves in the streets! Their sincerity was charming, and I hope a hound does not accost me for my loose pennies.

            With that, Jonathan left the inn and walked the town, no more than a village that happened to have a train station, and he visited much of the small commercial district as it was what surrounded the station and the inn. After acquiring a few charming souvenirs and knickknacks that he was certain would please Mina, he put together a parcel of small gifts and his collected correspondence, then visited the post office attached to the station, and found himself yet again with a surplus of time on his hands.

            There was still enough summer in the air to make his wanderings pleasant, if not occasionally brisk, and he saw more of the hard eyed people of the town out and about, some stringing up lines of herbs over the doors and meeting his gaze with accusing eyes, while others seemed to just go about their business.

            “Night of Wolves, it’s not…” Jonathan heard the jagged English come from the doorway of a dilapidated cottage, and he realized he’d walked far to the edge of the town. “Wolves are just dogs…” the voice hiccupped, and a haggard man with wine stained eyes made his way almost into the light, “…and dogs always do for their master. You’ll meet the master soon, like the one before you, Or you take the evening train back… BACK if you know what’s good for you.”

            Loose tongues tended to be more forthcoming that cryptic bar men, so Jonathan thought he’d try his luck, “That’s what the Inn Keeper said, what’s so bad about this Co…”

            “NO!” there was another hiccup, “you don’t speak the name, of a thing you wish to keep away. The castle over the pass, the place you go, nothing but old evil and blood death there. It’s a vile place for wickedness not befitting God’s…” the man, who did not seem as old as his drink beleaguered visage presented, muttered out something that sounded like “God’s Mercy” but it was more of a rattle in the throat than actual words.

            So it was that Jonathan decided there was probably some old folk tale, or grudge against the old aristocracy, and he wouldn’t pay it any more mind. Though, that night he did hear the howl of wolves, and awoke with a start to the sounds of snarling and barking from outside his window, but fell back into a deep slumber and was not bothered again until morning’s light.

            There had been a small celebration before sunset that eve, and he’d had much more to drink than he’d meant to, and much more to eat as well, but all gathered seemed to do that as well, and as dusk started to settle there had been dancing and song in the streets until the sun passed some unknown threshold to him, and then doors were barred and windows were shuttered.

            It, like the town as a whole, had been a strange and charming night, and by noon when he was on the carriage, he was glad to be gone.

            The driven and his man gave Jonathan a hard, sad look when he told them, doing a poor job with the place name, where he was going, but they nodded and took his coin. The other passengers, a married couple, and two well-dressed men, did not speak English, and looked through him as though he were a ghost, muttering to each other things he did not understand.

            When he offered to share some bits of sweats he had brought for the journey, they all refused, and the wife made the sign of the cross for him. It was a long three hours, and not particularly comfortable either.

            When he departed with his bag and his trunk, the driver handed him a folded paper. “It is for you, picked up from here on our way into town this morning.”

Dear Mr. Harker, Esq.

 

It is a very long walk to the castle, and the road is neither straight nor kind. My driver will recover you from the station near dusk, and I apologize for the wait you must endure. Do not fear to rest, as a guest, you are under my protection and no harm shall befall you in my lands, not from man or beast.

 

Best regards,

Dracula

            When Jonathan took the letter from the driver, it was like a fog passed before the man’s eyes, “We can take you on. There is an easy way to get to the next train west.”

            Jonathan shook his head, but thanked him and offered him another few coins for his consideration, then he was alone on the side of the road sitting under a wooden awning in the middle of the Transylvanian wilderness. He read for a time, had a small meal, and found himself dosing as the sun traveled lower.

            “Mister Harker?”

            A rough voice took him from his slumber, and he was surprised by the dark that had settled around him. The sun was near gone, and there was a heavy chill in the air. The man who fetched him was a of a particularly tall and broad shouldered stock, and wore a tall black hat long out of fashion, and a thick scarf around his face, as well as a heavy black coat.

            “Oh, um, yes, indeed that is me, are you…”

            The driver did not answer, and only offered his hand to pull Jonathan to his feet, and then to quickly load the trunk, and Jonathan himself into the coach.

            “Have some brandy if you wish, there is a bottle there for you, and a plate of victuals, though try not to spill.”

            The coach was a sumptuous affair, with thick velvet cushions and too much space for one person to feel wholly comfortable, but it was more pleasant than most of his travels to this point had been. The meat was tender, but cold, and the brandy was strong, and then the carriage started to pick up its pace.

            Outside the window, under the sharp light of the moon and the stars, the world rushed by. The road they were on climbed, but was narrow, perilously so, and fear took Jonathan. It seemed unwise to fly with such haste in the dark, and then it became unnerving.

            “I, I say, could we…”

            But his words were lost in the rumble, so he settled for looking out the window, sitting on the verge of terror, and then after a time he cared not to measure, the vehicle stopped, and the large man was helping him down to the ground in the castle’s courtyard.

The castle seemed to be a part of the mountain itself. It had no outer wall, at least it no longer did, and while there was a fierce river that flowed near it, it came out of the mountain and away from the fortification.

            But looking at the imposing fortification with its pointed towers, the narrow path to it, and its commanding view, Jonathan had to wonder if a wall would have served any real purpose.

            They approached the gate to the hall, and a smaller door within the massive one opened, “Greetings Mr. Harker, welcome to my home, I am the Countess Dracula, I trust you are well?”

            “Oh um, Countess, yes, well, hello, I am and…”

            The woman before him had angular and distinguished features, and her long hair hung down over a shoulder of her red and gold robe in a loose silver and gray braid. She was of an average height, but imposing, and the age she wore in her face seemed distinct from the light in her soft brown eyes, eyes that seemed to see the confusion in his own.

            She looked something like the townsfolk he’d seen, but the shape of her nose was smaller and sharper, and her skin carried a different shade to it, a darker, warmer olive tone.

            “I welcome you inside, pay no mind to my servant, he will take your things to the chamber that is prepared for you.”

            With that, she turned, and he felt compelled to follow her out of the dark and cold of the night, and into the slightly warmer and brighter hall.

            “As you can see,” her voice had a thick accent to it, but her English was sharp and clear, “this place is of ill use, and little value now. What good is a castle on a mountain pass in this day and age, no? And so, too few people call it home, and too little love is kept for the house of Dracula in the hearts of the people it once shielded. And so, you are here to help me finally leave this place, and for that I thank you and your firm.”

            The halls were not dusty, or ill used, but simply unused, and as Jonathan followed the Countess, he found himself standing in front of a large, elaborate portrait across from a mantel in a sizable dining room.

            The portrait was of a man with a stern continence, and long black hair. He was clean-shaven and handsome by any accounting, with the same complexion as the town’s folk. Though, his dress and manner seemed not at all of this time.

            “That is my departed husband, the Count Dracula, whose birthright these lands and castle were. Sit and eat though, and have some wine while I undo this confusion.”

            There was warm meat and bread waiting for him, as well as a soup and a salad. “Could I perhaps pour you a glass of wine as well Countess?”

            She had been staring at the painting, and turned to him when he asked, “Oh, if only I could, wine… disagrees with me these days and so I never drink it. But please, have your fill. I will send as much back with you as you can bear in thanks, as it has little use here.”

            She smiled, and he wondered at what a beauty she must have been in her younger days. Hey eyes shone in the dime light, dark and beautiful, a rich brown that seemed close to gray, or purple, he could not tell. No, there was a flickering to them, an ever changing beauty, a soft rose red hue that…

            “I would have thought your man Renfield would have spoken to you of my circumstances and the need for obfuscation…” The sound of her voice shook the glamour from her eyes and they were brown again, and Jonathan realized they had always been so, with those other colors nothing more than a trick of the light

            While she paused her eye continued to hold his. Jonathan felt very small in that moment, as thought something much larger and more terrible were examining him, but the sensation passed as he took a drink.

“But, “ she continued “as I have heard it, he took some ill and lost his sensibilities. I apologize, how careless of me to speak of your peer. He did a quite admirable job of addressing the needs of my house, and I trust that you will as well.”

She smiled at him, and her lips were pale pink; she did not show her teeth when she did so. “Now I will leave you to your meal, and see that a bath is drawn for you.”

When the Countess left, Jonathan felt an immense relief he could not describe. It was, he thought, akin to the passing of a thunder storm when the air is free from the tension, but it also felt like closing a book and snuffing out a candle when the mind was too tired to read any longer.

It was a relief that she was gone, yet he felt himself longing after her, considering what it would cost to endure that pressure just to stay near her, to listen longer to her voice and hear all that she would say. But that battle lost to his hunger and he continued his meal, thinking of how he would describe this Countess to Mina.

Oh Mina, his North Star, his strength, it was for her that he endured this strange land, and he ached for her, daring to imagine her body and her lips, the softness of her skin and the way she would be his in every way once they were wed.

He was broken from his reverie by the heavily accented voice of a familiar looking woman. She was dark haired and eyed and wore a simple white gown with a red apron near the same color as the Countess’s robe, and both the apron and the dress seemed to hang too low from her neck for proper modesty, showing the sight of cleavage he’d only seen from lasciviously German bar maids.

“If you would follow me Mr. Harker, your bath is ready.”

He smiled at her and saw her bashful smile in return, there was a shape to her face and a set to her eyes, “Excuse me, but… do you have a sister, a cousin perhaps that…”

The serving woman’s hand fell to her chest and her fingertips brushed against a small red jewel that was not befitting a servant at all in its size and luster. It was brilliant in its cut and shape, and his eyes were pulled to it now, such that Jonathan forget much of this woman’s other features, or what he was saying. The jewel was warm and bright, it was full of its own beguiling familiarity, and he could not help but think of and feel his beloved Mina so close at hand. She was so near him, if only he could pierce this wall, this unknown force that kept him from the jewel and his beloved…

“Yes, my father and my sister have an inn at the town you must have passed through and stayed in. I have not seen them in a very long time. It is a difficult trip up and down the mountain, and there is always something keeping me here.”

Her smile turned ever so slightly and her voice lowered, “You have seen my sister, has she grown into her womanhood?”

“Why, well, um, yes, indeed. She is a fine and beautiful girl, though I suppose a woman, but not so yet, not as… well, I say, not as you are.”

It was not meant to be a comment about this serving woman’s figure, but he feared that with his fascination with that beautiful red gem, she would think it as such, seeing him as some lout or scoundrel, which he dared not think himself to be, or act in any such manner.

“I,” the serving woman brushed at her necklace, and she left her hand covering it, “I thank you for bringing me news of them. Now please, follow me.”

Tired from his travels, and finally full of both food and drink, his mind was clouded and his heart was suddenly heavy, a bath sounded heavenly.

“Please Mr. Harker, allow me,” the serving woman’s hand fell away, and the gem fascinated him again as he glanced upon it.

The woman’s hands worked his vest from him, and he felt dulled, “You… I should, well, I don’t think this is… could you perhaps leave me to…”

The bathing chamber was steaming and a large proper tub sat in the middle of its stone floor. The room was adorned with towels and shelves and rugs for one to stand and dry themselves, as well as a roaring fire and several kettle full of steaming hot water to be used as needed.

“You must understand the Countess was insistent that I see to you,” her hand was too familiar as it brushed his loose hair from his face, “and you are so tired now Jonathan, so very tired.”

He was, in his body and bones, in his mind and behind his eyes. It felt good, it felt kind of her, and he wanted to welcome her in, to welcome the force of her sweetness, and to wave away his doubts and fears of impropriety by thinking it only a difference in custom.

That same hand that touched his, trailed back to her chest, and his eye followed it to her red gem, sparkling in the firelight and glowing in the steam filled air, “You want me to help you.”

“I want you to help me.” He did. He was flattered and smitten with this serving woman, and as she un-tucked his shirt from his trousers, he thought of his dear Mina and how splendid it would be to have her attend him as such. He thought of her hands on his chest, unbuttoning his shirt as an excuse to touch him, her eyes were looking into his, he knew they were blue, but had they always been brown and deep. It was wonderful that she could have made this journey with him. She could be there with him now if only this thin pane of glass, this…

“Oh,” the serving woman’s voice carried a shock to it, and she stepped away from him. “I know this crucifix! Did my sister give it to you?”

His shirt was half open and it was Jonathan’s turn to hear surprise in his own voice as he tried to act as though nothing had been about to happen, clinging to the sudden interruption of his own delusional fantasizing. “Why, well, um, yes, she did. She is quite kind, and… um…”

Jonathan’s stammer was largely thought to be a charming affectation, and being a handsome and well mannered man, no one was put off by it or him as they would were he a bore, a lout, or plain, but it did tend to get more pronounced the more unnerved or anxious he became.

The serving woman reached out towards the crucifix with one hand, but stopped just a hair’s breadth from it before pulling her hand back and turning away, “Do not take it off while you remain here, not now, not ever.”

With that, she fled, and with that, he undressed and sank into the tub, the fear on the serving woman’s voice echoing in his head.

The bath was pleasant enough, and when he finished, he felt both refreshed and exhausted. The Countess greeted him in the hall, rising from a plush chair at its end, “I thought it would be best for us to speak again before the morning, as I have some duties of my estate to attend to through he day and will not be able to avail myself to our business until after supper. But please, I have seen to your chambers, follow me.”

They walked down a long hall and up a flight of stairs, and it was hard for him to know if this was the same path that had taken before. “The east wing of the castle is not in the best repair and has been empty since the death of my husband. I would ask that you stay away from it, and confine yourself to the west wing. There are many locked and sealed doors here as well, because there is much in this castle that ought to remain private or kept away. My library will be open to you, and my servants will see to your needs. I also must warn you that the grounds are not safe and I have no one to spare in showing you about, so please stay inside tomorrow.”

She did not look at him as she spoke, instead she moved with a firm pace and spoke with an even former tone. Jonathan had known severe and authoritative women, but had never heard one speak with such firm command as the Countess.

“Here shall be your chambers, and I’ve seen to a small provision if you are still hungry or thirsty. All you need is within, and I must bid you goodnight Mr. Harker.”

She smiled at him and looked deep into his eyes, “I look forward to our business tomorrow, and I hope you do sleep well.”

For the briefest of moments he saw her eyes share the same brilliant and beguiling red as the gem the serving woman wore, the same illusion her eyes had played on him earlier, but as with all things since he had arrived here, it was a blur of feeble exhaustion and pressing mental fatigue.

Jonathan was a barely changed to his bedclothes before he was asleep.

Dawn came and Jonathan rose shortly thereafter, his mind clear and his body rested. He opened the heavy blinds to his chamber window and looked out across the countryside. It was a morning of bright color and warmth, and even the heaviness of the land as he had seen it felt lighter.

The view from his window showed him that a river ran away form the castle and down the sloping forested hills. The river was close too, and from his height it looked both fast and cold. Jonathan wondered how this place had been a true fortification without an outer wall, and considered that maybe the river blocked the approach its builders were most concerned about.

He saw to himself, dressed, and walked out into the hall to explore the parts of the wing he permitted access to. In the dawn light it was a different place, less dire and heavy, and more pleasant, but it held old, older still as the light shone in and as Jonathan made his way to the sitting room they had shared the night before, there was a sense of cold to those halls, like the light had been robbed of its warmth upon entering.

A filling breakfast awaited him under a covered tray, and Jonathan found himself famished. He ate warm bread and cold boiled eggs, as well as a thick slice of pork, a small bowl of berries, and a pot of tea. There was a note folded by his plate with his name on it.

Dear Mr. Harker, Esq.

 

I trust you are well rested and well served by my hospitality.

Please avail yourself this evening after supper to discuss in detail the properties your firm has selected for me, and all that such selections would entail.

I find myself looking forward to spending more time in you acquaintance.

-D

 P.S. Do not concern yourself with the dishes, my servants are quite diligent, and if you find yourself needing anything, simply ring the bell on this table and you will be attended to.

            The mention of servants led him to recall the night’s encounter with the buxom serving woman and the bath. He felt ashamed of himself, and more so, utterly confused by the delusions that seemed to have come over him. It was unfathomable to confuse that woman with his beloved Mina, and yet, in the steam and dark, he could have sworn she had been there.

            But, and Jonathan considered all of this as he walked the castle’s halls, what good was such shame in this moment. He would thank the Countess for her consideration, and would not dishonor the serving woman or imply anything to the Countess that could be misconstrued, because the day’s events had likely led him to simply misunderstanding all that had, and had not occurred.

            Jonathan walked from door to door, discovering empty bedchambers, storage of all manner of things including old suits of armor and rolled up rugs and tapestries, and one room that was just full of chairs. What he did not find was a stairwell down, or up, though when he did find the library he was thrilled by its vastness, and by its elegant upper level. There was even an attached reading room as well, and a bottle of wine and a glass left on its table with a note that simply read “enjoy”.

            Jonathan made a morning of walking about the level of the wing he had access to, and saw no sign of any servants. He committed the path from his chambers, which he came to realize were more opulent than he’d taken in the night before, to the dinning room which was more of a study, and also the library. By noon, as he hunger set in, he rang the bell that was left for him and picked up his work bag.

            There was a curt wrap at his door and a sharply dressed young man, younger than Jonathan by a handful of years stepped into his chamber. The younger man was pale and his features were drawn, but he stood bolt upright and seemed more hale than his pallor would suggest.

            “Good day sir, how may I serve you?” His English was clear, though his accent was thicker than anyone Jonathan had spoken to, included the Inn Keeper.

            “I was… well, my name is Jonathan Harker and, you see, it is… that is… I’m making my way to the library, and was wondering, do you suppose, I’m sorry… is it possible to take my meal there… of perhaps, anywhere?”

            The boy nodded, “Yes sir, it would be fine, I was told to care for your needs and wishes. If you would wish to dine in the reading room, I will bring you your meal shortly. And please, take the bell with you wherever you go.”

            “This is, well, I apologize if this isn’t done, but I’d like to know your name, it seems wrong to… well, at the very least rude to not know it.”

            The young man’s face twisted for a second as though a fishhook were caught in his cheek, “I am… Adrian, it is kind of you to ask.”

            “Well, Adrian… how did you hear me, where did you come out from?”

            The servant shook his head, “There are passages for us to use to stay invisible and we’ve been about all morning.”

            Jonathan’s eyes lit up, “Ah, so you say there are secret passages abound here then?”

            The younger man’s face darkened, “Yes, but do not look for them, and do not try doors that are shut to you. This is… not a safe place.”

            Jonathan nodded to the severe words, “Ah yes, old walls and odd smells, I see. No, I won’t, thank you for warning me. But tell me, Adrian, I saw a serving woman last evening. She had dark brown curls and wore a bright red jewel on a golden chain. She was very kind to me, do you know her… of course you do.”

            “She is Ingrid, and she is greatly favored by the Countess. I will tell her that you asked after her and complimented her kindness. We so rarely see others save the Countess and each other. You are a kind man Mr. Harker. I will fetch your food now.”

            With that, Adrian was gone.

            Jonathan took his things and the bell, and made his way back to the library’s reading room, where he made himself comfortable and started to review the maps, deeds, and documentation for the lands his firm had acquired for the Dracula estate.

            A short time later, as he read, Adrian arrived with a covered tray of food. It was more of what he’d had the previous evening, warm and fresh, and welcoming. Adrian gave him a curt nod and asked if there was anything else he could do, and Jonathan dismissed him. Before the servant departed he gave a sidelong look at Jonathan.

            “Ingrid thanks you for your kindness and bade me tell you to heed her words from when last you spoke. She will not likely see you before you depart, but asked that you pass her regards to her sister and father when you pass that way again. Also, I will return here in a short time to clean, you need not summon me unless you need something more.”

            Jonathan smiled and thanked him, then set himself back to work for a time before turning his attention to the expansive collection of books. Many were old, but a great number of them near the reading room were new, and on a wide range of thoroughly modern subjects ranging from different sciences to works on such odd subjects as psychology. There were even cheap and lurid adventure stories from America about cowboys and criminals.

            Adrian came and went with hardly a word, and Jonathan did his best to follow the young man out into he hall, and watched as he stepped into a room that Jonathan was certain had been locked. He waited for a time then stepped into the room, which was in fact open, and saw that there was a door, one that was easily missed as it was discretely built in a very plane chamber. It wasn’t quite a secret door, but it was close enough to inspire a smile from Jonathan.

            He returned to the library, felt a lethargy pass over him, and slept in the chair for short time. The sun beamed in on him from an open blind, and in his repose he felt a deep sense of wonder, as though something were speaking to him from far away, and when he woke, it was with a start. The sun was setting and his skin felt cold. His breath seemed choked, and he knew that, somehow, in some animalistic way, feral eyes were upon him.

            The library’s walls seemed closer, and he felt confined, as though he’d suddenly become too big for the cage he had found himself in. Because what else would you call an endless circle of locked doors that kept him in. But fear did not take him, there was a voice, a deep sense of calm and truth in his mind, and it told him to flee come the morning. That all his business must be settled this evening, and then he would depart for home.

            Jonathan roused himself, took his things back to his room, and realized supper would be soon, and so would his final duty here. A pitcher of water was in his chambers and a small fire was burring in his hearth, so he warmed the water and used it to shave. It was there, with the razor to his neck that he felt a cold wind pass through his room, and as he turned around, he felt the blade bite into his flesh.

            It was a slight wound, but he knew it drew blood.

            Jonathan let out a sharp curse as he turned, but the word died on his lips as he gazed upon some specter of his own imagination. There stood a woman that looked remarkably like the Countess Dracula, but younger, and in the full flush of her beauty. This vision before him looked to be no more than a half score of years older than Jonathan, and her ruby red lips twisted into a smile even as her dark eyes looked to his hand on his neck.

            “Oh no, Jonathan, have you cut yourself. Here.”

            She moved forward a step then stopped when he moved his hand from his neck and looked at the blood on his finger, “I’m… well… I do apologize for my language, but, pray tell… who might you be? The Countess did not mention a daughter.”

            “My dear Mr. Harker, your English wit is so dry. Do you not recognize me?” She smiled at him, and he saw no trace of the lines that had marked her face the night before. Her pale lips were full now, and her hair was thicker and darker, but her eyes were the same. Deep and dark they stared at him and into him. Deep and dark the colors shifted and sank, like the tide rolling back onto itself. Brown became a blur of red, and he stared. But as a shiver washed over him, he shook his gaze from her and felt his hand fall to the crucifix around his neck.

            “This is… I’m sorry, I can’t… well, how do I… last night you seemed…”

            She stepped closer to him, but it was as though something was between them, as thought something filled the space and kept her from closing the gap.

            “You’ve had a very long journey. You were very tired. Even now your mind is still weary, exhausted from the distance you’ve traveled, and worn down from a day of reading, your mind pondering, constantly active, always thinking. It’s been such a long distance, don’t you feel it Mr. Harker, the weight, the strain, your mind is full of such much, and you have been longing to rest, to relax, and simply come to a stop, a real stop Mr. Harker. Stop fretting, stop thinking, sit for a moment. There, yes, you’re still so tired. Whatever you saw was just a trick of the light wasn’t it?”

            Jonathan had felt himself blinking as she spoke, rubbing his eyes as he felt the chaos of the different places, all of the train stops, the languages, the different foods, and the time spent on boat, and train, and carriage, and he wished he was home. He wished so badly to be done with everything. Sitting at that moment, as the Countess suggested it, felt necessary. His head was spinning with everything, and yes, obviously it had been a trick of the light, and obviously he had misunderstood Ingrid’s assistance in the bath, and yes, the Countess was right, the cord of his crucifix was uncomfortable, but…

            “… it is to say… um, well… yes it is not ideal, but I feel the need, you see, to wear it, as it was a gift from your serving woman’s little sister. It seems rude to take off a favor from a lady, well any lady really, but I hope, you see Countess, well… does it bother you?”

            Jonathan heard himself speaking, but it seemed like he’d begun saying something moments before the words caught up to his own ears. He also couldn’t recall what the Countess had said exactly, but he knew she had truly lovely eyes. She was, and he knew he was staring at her, a remarkably beautiful women.

            Her robe of red and gold was the same the night previous, but it was belted in such a way that it flattered her in every way. She was lithe and pale as snow, and as she spoke, her body shifted in a subtle catlike way. “I find the people of the town to be simple and dull. Their superstition is one of many reasons I wish to leave this place, and what they keep faith in, I find… unwelcoming.”

            Jonathan felt a tug to move towards her, but it was like a strand of a spider’s web; one could feel it, but it would break so easily against the size of a person, and so the sticky pull snapped away and he did not. Instead, Jonathan wondered about this woman and what she had said. He considered asking her if she was an atheist, but he had no idea if such an idea had made it this far to the east.

            “I find the trapping’s of God to be a trap for the flesh, you see. I find the laws of God as assumed by men to be a vile thing that does no honor to him, but only to them, and were I to wish to honor God, who needs no such honor from me, it would not be in such a thing as that. But you wear it, please, and try not to notice how uncomfortable the cord becomes, or how heavy a burden such grandeur can be about your neck.”

            The cord was getting more abrasive, and suddenly it did feel as though the cross were made of lead and not iron.

            Her smile was pointed as she nodded her head to him slightly, dark eyes meeting his as she continued to speak. “But you are quite hungry aren’t you, and while this is my home and my domain it is still, how would you phrase it, unseemly?”

            She looked away then, and it was at that moment Jonathan became aware of the heat of her stare. Its absence made him shudder, and it seemed that she might have been blushing. The reality of him standing shirtless before a truly beautiful woman replaced the chill of the room with his own flush of heat, and he wiped away another dab of blood.

            “I have already eaten, but,” she clapped her hands, and at that sudden loud sound Jonathan felt a moment of dizziness as though he’d fallen half into slumber  and was finally waking, “dress and please bring your work to where we spoke last evening.”

            She looked back at him, her black hair cascading over her shoulder, “do tend to your cut.” Then, she was gone and Jonathan was left to wonder if even his dearest Mina had ever captured and inspired such simple lust as he felt from that final look.

Jonathan finished shaving, tended to the small cut on his neck, dressed, gathered his maps, deeds, and documents, then made his way to what he thought was more of a lounge than a dining hall.

The Countess was waiting for him, leaning against the mantel. Her robe was opened more than it had been before, and there was a hint of her cleavage showing. It was an alluring site, that hint of pale skin set against the red and gold of her clothing, the flicker of flames, and her long, loose black hair.

He felt an uncomfortable itch from the cord around his neck and became aware of how heavy that little cross was, but as he tugged on it, the Countess smiled and bid him sit. She sat with him and they spoke of small things while he ate, and she asked him an endless string of questions each tangled to the one before, until Jonathan felt like he was in a web of curiosity.

His food was delicious, the wine was potent, and her company was truly charming. She told him how she’d longed to practice her English with a real speaker, and did her best to learn his colloquialisms and turns of phrase.

She smiled constantly and laughed in such a way that it was all Jonathan wanted to hear. He felt a need as they spoke, a subtle and desperate need to please her that he chalked up to finally speaking to her as a representative of the firm. He knew that he had to satisfy her needs, and more so, he felt a deep desire to see her smile. Jonathan knew he was being seduced, but he also knew that he was in love with the woman he planned to marry.

The confusion of the night before, the trick of the light that made him think the Countess was noticeably older, and even the encounter with Ingrid the serving woman seemed like they had happened to someone else. Now, as he discussed the various properties that she had purchased, either at the recommendation of Reinfield on his visit, or at Jonathan’s discretion, he felt whole and normal, and not like a stranger in a strange land.

“This one, the one you selected, this Carfax Abbey, you say it was a nunnery once? However did you find it?” She waved her hand at a photograph of it, and Jonathan noticed her long nails and wondered what it would be like to hold that soft hand and feel those long fingers in his.

“My finance, my Mina… her best friend, almost a sister really… Lucy, her family owns lands very near to there and… Well it’s something you know, there is also an institution very near, dedicated to the health of the mind, and it is where poor Renfield was taken because one of Lucy’s suitors is a doctor there, and while visiting Lucy, and the good Doctor Seward, and my poor friend, I saw the property, and it was… well… as you see, um, it has much, if not all that you have asked for and is in remarkably good repair, and it being a holding of some value, only to increase…”

She reached out across the table and held her fingertip near his lips, “Hush. You’ve done well.”

Her finger started to wag back and forth in front of his eyes, “You’re quite nervous and polite, I like this, but I want you to relax with me Jonathan, can you relax with me and be my friend. Can you, simply be here and speak to me as you do, not thinking, not being concerned with doing some unknown wrong. Just, relaxing now, forgetting to be so concerned. Yes… I see it in your eyes, you can relax Jonathan, close your eyes now and relax.”

With those last few words her finger moved towards his nose and then down, and Jonathan found his eyes closing at her behest.  “There my English friend, is that not easy, easy to close your eyes and breathe, to settle in to the sound of my voice now and just be here, listening to me now?”

He felt a warmth from inside and sank into his chair, “Yes, this is nice.”

It was as though the wine had also caught up to him, but softer and easier, and her heard her gentle laughter.

“Tell me Jonathan, do you like being here? Answer me truly, you want to answer me as truly as your heart can speak, because I am your friend now, and your client. Be honest with me now.”

“You um…” he felt his eyes flickering open, “you’re quite charming and this castle is interesting, but…”

She waved her hand down in front of his face, “Close your eyes my friend, let the words come.”

His eyes closed again and he felt a weight across his mind like it was overburdened and wanted to rest, “But I miss Mina, and I want to return so I can marry her and start our life together.”

“And you will do that with what I am paying you, yes? You need my wealth to begin that life? You do all of this for her?”

Jonathan felt himself smile as thoughts of Mina played at his mind, “Yes, I do everything for her.”

There was a wistful lilt in her voice as she continued on, “Would you tell me about her, this woman you love so dearly you would travel so far for?”

“I do not know where to begin,” with his mind calm, and his thoughts quiet it was easy for him to speak without his stammer. “How do you sum up the whole of a person?’

“Good, sweet Jonathan,” the Countess gave a soft laugh, “start from the outside and wok your way in. See her, remember her, and tell me what you see now. You’ll find the more you conjure her imagine in your mind, the more full she will become. You can do this for me, you can share this great love for me.”

Jonathan started to speak then, first describing Mina’s long and light brown curls, and her round, expressive doe eyes. He spoke of her fair skin that only ever seemed to glow when it was touched by the sun, or when some joyous exertion took her. Then, at a subtle nudge from the Countess, Jonathan began to speak of her lips, and the feel of Mina’s hand in his. He spoke of her form and the way all fashion seemed to serve her, that she was surpassingly beautiful, far more beautiful than he believed he deserved.

The words came easier and easier to him, and he spoke of Mina’s charm and her wit, and that she had as a full an education as any could hope for. Jonathan told the Countess of how she could dance well, but was not a gifted singer despite her glee in it, and that her family was of a better position than his, but that she was the youngest of many children.

He went on for a time after that, responding to more of her gentle nudging, and as Jonathan spoke, he found himself feeling closer to the Countess. As he sat almost impossibly still in the chair, warmed by the fire, Jonathan shared his deepest and most intimate desires, and in so doing it felt as though a bridge was forming between them.

“Jonathan, it’s very late, I think I’ve kept you past your constitution. I should see you to bed, you’re half asleep already.” Her voice was firmer than it had been, but it urged him to open his eyes and he saw how low the fire had burned.

“But we’ve… we’ve hardly spoke of your…” He felt cold and thirsty, and when he blinked it was as though a dark fog was settling on him and he wanted to let his eyes stay closed.

“Oh my poor Jonathan, of course we have. You were very insistent that you thought Carfax Abby would be the most hospitable for me. You said so much of your beloved Mina and her dear friend Lucy, and how you would make arrangements for a proper introduction once I am arrived. You are so tired now, your mind is a fog, it would be better for you to listen to me and trust me Jonathan. You have said so much, we have discussed so much. Tell me, you have not forgotten about the letters you agreed to write have you?”

At the press of her questions and the sound of her concern, mingled with her accent and her manner, it felt truly commanding and caring. Jonathan felt disoriented and tried to search the mist of his recent memory, “I um… what was it then that I… well… what letters were they Countess…”

“Tasha, you may call me Tasha Mr. Harker, at least while no others are about. You agreed to stay with me another month, to instruct me in English custom, and to consider the best ways to use the lands and homes you have helped me acquire across the greater stretch of southern England. We spoke of your need for my wealth and my willingness to reward your services to me in a manner that commends your kindness and skill.”

Her dark eyes pieced the fog as her ruby red lips turned to a sharp and inviting smile, “Remember this for me now my dear Jonathan. Remember for me and be as you have agreed, and said you would.”

“I would… I, it seems, well, yes that does… I would… I mean to say yes Tasha, of course. You do me a great honor, and I am certain Mina will understand as well.”

“Wonderful,” she rose and bid him do the same, “I will walk you to your chamber, as you seem so tired I’m sure I will have to speak of you of all of this tomorrow. You are a sweet man Jonathan, and you and I shall always share this evening together, as sharing a great love as you have for Mina cannot help but bind those who share it. But come, you must sleep now, you are very tired, too tired to go on, and I do hope that leather cord around your neck isn’t rubbing your skin too raw. It is uncomfortable, I know, give it to one of my servants and I’m sure we can find you a chain if it continues to grow more uncomfortable for you now.”

She said most of this as they walked down the hall to his chamber, and as they stood outside his door, she offered him another smile, and he found himself rubbing his neck, feeling the course leather on his skin and the strange weight of the crucifix on his neck.

“Sleep well my dear Mr. Harker, I will visit you again on the evening.”

Jonathan felt a twinge of hunger and confusion as he walked into his chamber and shiu the door. He thought there ought to be more for him to do, maybe gather his work and try and organize his thoughts, but sleep was taking him, and as he tried to push against it, he found it growing heavier. He also found he barely had the strength to undress.

It wasn’t only his exhaustion that weighed on him, his crucifix had become a burden, and the thong felt like it was rubbing his neck raw. He hardly gave it, or anything a thought as he took it off and set it on his nightstand. When he closed his eyes he felt a moment of profound relief before the night took him into a peaceful oblivion.

When he woke the next morning, the crucifix was gone, and for a brief moment Jonathan Harker felt a chill in his heart, and his spine. It felt not that he was cold, but that there had been a warmth and strength that he had taken for granted and now it was now gone. But this disquiet passed as quickly as it came, replaced by the needs of the morning and the fog of the previous evening.

It was later in the day than he had expected it to be, and once he was presentable, after having eater the fair breakfast that had been left in his antechamber, Jonathan made his way out into the castle’s halls again. There was no one present, and for the first time he felt the closeness of the place. He made a point to visit and revisit the few doors that were closed and locked to him, and in the rooms he could enter he started to search for more passages, but found only the one Adrian had shown him. He tried it, and it opened into a narrow stairwell down, though, Jonathan thought better of breaking the Countess’s trust.

Instead, he made his way to the library and found all of his papers, including his personal correspondence and his journal gathered in the reading room. He could not recall what he had left there from the day before, or what had been left in the dinning chamber from the night before, but all was here, and organized.

Jonathan sat and closed his eyes for a moment. He was trying to organize the oddity of the evening and his late morning, and his mind found itself needing to untangle what had come before that.

It seemed more than passingly odd that the Countess, Tasha as she said he could refer to her, had seemed a wholly different woman on that first night. She had then carried herself with a bearing that could not be explained by a trick of the light. She had not been a beautiful young woman near his age.

But it was a trick of the light, what else could explain it?

And the air from the bath chamber had been so hot and he was so tired that the lascivious serving girl and his tired mind had formed a tapestry of confused desires; he was lucky to have not broken his faith with Mina then.

But he could not explain why he could not hold on to his memories of the night before. They were sand in his hands, moments that did not hold. He had agreed to stay here a month, for pay, but he could not recall being asked or saying yes. He had agreed to write two letters, one to Mina, one to his employers, stating that he would stay here for that time longer, but he could not recall the conversation around them.

All he could feel, or remember with any clarity was that his client, the Countess had become somehow dear to him in a way that made him uncertain of his own intentions. She was, even now, a shadow of beauty on his mind, a figure that seemed to walk hand in hand with Mina, and the two danced through his imagination as he felt himself near a deep slumber, lost on the edge of a dream. But he did not stay in that moment and instead opened his eyes and set to writing.

His letter to Mina was short, but not without warmth. He shared the bountiful promises of the Countess, or as he said, his client, and his desire to come back to her. He felt odd as he wrote it though. It was not only the pragmatism of protecting his client, but the sense that he should not or could not bring himself to tell Mina about this woman.

His letter to his firm was much longer, and contained many hours of detailed labor discussing the Dracula Estate’s confirmation of Carfax Abby, as well as the desire to begin establishment of the properties purchased nearest to and within London. Notes were also included to begin renting one of the two country estates that the firm had purchased at Dracula’s behest, with instructions that the other be prepared to receive a large shipment of goods from the continent within the month. All told the Countess now owned six properties in England, including Carfax.

Without a second thought, Jonathan rang the bell on his table and shortly thereafter Adrian entered the room, “Hello Mr. Harker, how may I serve you?”

The lad, who was really only a few years younger than Jonathan, seemed more drawn than he had been the previous day. There was a shallowness to his eyes, as though they saw less than they should, and his body seemed sunken in, almost concave, but in a subtle way, as though the geometry of his body were now wrong, but not in a way that was immediately obvious to the naked eye.

“I say… well… Adrian, you… are you… are you well?”

The servant’s mouth twitched and he looked as though he wanted to speak, but his head only nodded. It looked like a poorly trained puppeteer was responsible for the motion.

“You are kind to ask… I am, well. I have heard you’re to stay here another month. I wish you could return home sooner. There is nothing here worth so much of your time Mr. Harker.”

Those words were more solemn than he’d expected, “Ah, well, you see, I’m in need of the boon that the Countess has offered me, and what are a few more weeks, if the wealth… that is to say, her promised pay, is what it is.”

“I am a simple man from a simple village Mr. Harker, but I’ve come to learn the hard lesson that one’s days cannot be counted in coin. One’s life cannot be put on a scale. You should leave now, today, this very afternoon. I can speak to the coachman, and if he will not take you, I can gather all you’ll need to walk to town. Your work is done.”

“This is not becoming of you Adrian,” Jonathan looked at his eyes, they bore some semblance to being touched with fever, and he saw the way the veins in the young man’s face and neck seemed more pronounced. “But you do not seem well.”

“I will fetch you your lunch. Take care not to leave this floor, especially after sunset.” Adrian left without another word and came back shortly with Jonathan’s victuals.

Before he left, he turned back to face the Englishman, “It is growing late in the day and the dark will come sooner than you’d like. If by tomorrow you are ready to leave, hopefully we will both be able to see you go. You have been kind in these last days Mr. Harker.”

By some unknown instinct Jonathan reached to his neck where the crucifix had been, and when his hand found nothing the ominous words of the younger man became like lead in Jonathan’s gut.

The Countess visited him later that evening and brought him his supper when she did. They looked over his work, and she took his letters from him with the promise her man would take them to town in the morning. She did not stay long, but she thanked him for his efforts and said she would make more time for him tomorrow, but that her day had been long and there was much to do as she could finally prepare to leave this place behind.

Jonathan felt a bolt of regret and formless jealousy strike his heart as she felt. The Countess’s manner had been colder, or so it felt to him, and he wondered if he had slighted her in some way. Jonathan felt the bitter grasp of rejection take his heart, but shook it from his mind as he read by candlelight and fell into a deep sleep long after he’d meant to retire.

The next several days were much like that one. Jonathan found himself alone throughout the day, and his nights grew longer. The Countess paid him little attention, and vacillated from cool for most of their short time to warm enough to be smothering in her departure. Each time she left in those days, she would look deep into his eyes and tell him how happy she was to have him, and that tomorrow would be better.

He would feel a moment of serenity when she would do that. His mind would feel calm and placid as still water, and he would feel those words as truth until the sun started to set the next say. As the heavy dark would start to reach across the countryside, the discontent and weariness would return.

It was in those days that Jonathan realized Adrian was gone, so too was his bell. Jonathan’s food was waiting for him in the morning, and in his lunch was delivered to his chambers or the reading room, never when he was there, and the Countess would always bring him his supper, short as their meetings may be.

Then, after a week, the Countess did not visit him, and instead he saw Ingrid the serving woman, or at least a hint of her as she crossed the hall and into the room with the servant’s passage. He called out to her, but she did not stop are turn about, so, feeling both curious and lonely, and more than a bit trapped by his circumstances, he followed after her.

He made his way to the passage, opened it, and went down the narrow stairs. There was no sign of the servant or anyone else for that matter, and despite himself, Jonathan began to wander and explore. This floor was in poor repair compared to his, and many doors hung open and loose. He found himself at the foot of a stairwell leading up, and as he began to climb, he saw a out a window a very different view of the lands outside of the castle.

Outside of its front gate Jonathan saw a gathering of wagons, and campfires. Rough looking men with swords at their hips and rifles slung over the shoulders ate and drank, and spat, while others of their ilk carried out large crates and sacks to the wagons. It was easy to explain their presence, they must be moving the Countess’s valuables, but there was an air of malice to their looks, and Jonathan hoped he would not have to treat with them.

He passed a locked door that he knew to be to his floor, then up to another, and here the door seemed to open of its own accord for him. This floor was sparse, free of decoration and accommodation, he walked about it and found nothing of interest save the steps to one of the castle’s towers. He climbed it with some giddiness, and as he reached the top floor, the night had grown into itself and moonlight shined down into the unexpectedly ornate and decorated chamber.

There was a large canopy bed in the middle of the room, and every surface of the walls was covered in thick hangings. The floor was carpeted and covered in furs, and there was a small hearth as well, but no wood for it. Musical instruments were scattered about, as were books and on one of the many small tables in the chamber there was a fine display of jewelry.

Jonathan felt he had discovered some mysterious princess’s chambers, or opulent tower prison, but it was the windows of the circular room that drew him. Each one had heavy shudders but no glass, and all were open, causing a slight chill to fill the room. He looked out and felt true fresh air fill his lungs for the first time since he had arrived at the castle.

Had he, Jonathan thought, been subtly trapped here?

Had he been imprisoned for some reason he could not fathom? What was this place? Not this room, but this castle? How was the Countess so deft and able to keep him calm and cooperative? He would demand to leave when… next…

The window he looked out gave him a clear view across to the other tower, and there, climbing from its topmost floor, down its side like a spider, was a creature garbed in red and gold, whose long black hair fell downwards as it climbed down head first.

It was the Countess, and Jonathan stepped away from the window with a  start, “Oh dear god.”

His oath slipped his lips, and he turned from the tower to flee this place, and maybe to run out into the night headlong into the wild dark and the fearsome men in the courtyard, but he stopped.

The moonlight was a silver blue radiance, and it was shining down on a woman. “God has no place in my bed chamber, and neither do you Jonathan.”

The woman was pale white, as white as the moon, and her long blond hair fell down across her shoulders in a cascade of platinum. She wore a white nightgown of gauze that hung from her bare shoulders, and did little to conceal her magnificent breasts. She was statuesque, but only if a statue could be made of light, or fire, and as she took a step towards him, Jonathan stood spellbound by the moonlight.

“Who… are you?” He blinked and found himself walking towards her.

“I am the Goddess of the Moon Jonathan, you may call me Luna, and I am happy to meet you, though I do not like people coming to see me uninvited. But, I forgive you, especially because I thought you would have come to me sooner.”

Her eyes were pale blue, so pale that they were almost without color, and as she looked into Jonathan’s eyes he felt a sudden dizziness wash over him. His manhood had become engorged, suddenly swollen and uncomfortable rigid, and it felt as the blood therein had been drained from his head.

“Who… but… who…” He wanted to step backwards, compelled by surprise to keep her away from him, but his legs did not obey, and instead took him a step closers.

“I told you, I am the Goddess of the Moon. Don’t you feel it Jonathan, don’t you feel my pull on you as the moon controls the tide? Do you not feel it now, like you are lost in the ocean, one small man in the endless sea? Do you not feel my power under you? All around you?”

The light grew brighter, and Jonathan felt himself awash with warmth in the white blue glow of the room. He found himself very small then, small and weak as this beautiful stranger started to overwhelm him.

“What is it like to be one man rowing a boat against the tide? Swimming alone against the current, surrounded by the sea? What is it Jonathan, to be so alone and powerless, because that is what you are, that is all you have ever been isn’t it?”

He stood there, swaying on the waves of her voice, and he watched as her gown fell away, revealing her divine perfection. She put a hand to one large breast, the largest he had ever seen, and her pale lips were pursed in a sympathetic smile.

Jonathan’s body moved to her, the tide was going out and he was pulled along with it. He was nothing, just a man lost at sea, and he was all alone… except for her.

The woman’s pale arms wrapped around him, “I have you now, I have you, rest now.”

She cradled his head to her breast and swayed with him, “You cannot resist the tide, you are just water, you are just blood, beholden to me, a slave to the moon. You are nothing, and everything you keep inside is mine. Give yourself to the moon, mind and body, memory and blood, it is all you can do. Give yourself to me, or drown.”

“Please…” his voice was muffled by her breast, and he did not know what he was asking, but he was asking her, no begging her for something.  She was the light in the darkness, she was the force that moved the world around him, she was everything, and he was nothing in her arms. Desperately he said the word again, pleading, begging for her to take him, to keep him from being pulled under.

He did not want to drown, to sink, to be lost, he wanted to stay in her light and her beauty. He wanted to be loved by her, to give himself to her. In thoughts and memories, in flesh and blood, he wanted to be inside her, and as she pulled him backwards towards the bed, he stumbled, tripping into her as she pulled down his pants and ripped away his shirt as it was nothing.

Then, he was on top of her, her hand guiding him in, her eyes holding him still, and the warmth of the eerie, impossible moonlight became a blanket of ecstasy and all he could do was push himself into her over an dover until he…

“No my love, this one is not to be ours yet, release him now, please.”

The Countess’s voice cur through the glow, and the room became as it was. Her hands were on him, strong and easy, pulling him off of the pale woman. When Jonathan looked up at her, he stared out into oblivion.

The Countess was the night sky, her eyes burned red as flaming stars and the moon was but a small pretty thing in her infinite expanse. “What will I tell our dear Mina Mister Harker, this is very unbecoming of both of us?”

She touched his face, it was the first time the Countess had laid a hand on him, and those eyes burned thought and will and memory away from him, “Sleep now, sleep and forget.”

In the distance, the almost psychic periphery of the human mind that hears a noise while sleeping, Jonathan became aware of the sounds of two bodies entwined in passion and love. He smelled the sweet, stickiness of sex in the air and heard voices echo pleasure to one another while he lay unmoving and enspelled on the bed. He dreamed of them together, touched by their minds and their wills in different ways, and awoke in his own chambers, his bed soiled with the fanciful release of such dreams.

Jonathan Harker had no memory of what had befallen him, but his mind with its probing and curious nature found itself pressing against the strange and impenetrable darkness he found within. He knew it didn’t come from drink, nor could it have come from some drug, as he felt no lasting effects of either, and while he had no great experience with any kind of narcotic he assumed that they would linger in their own way, as even sleeping aids left the user in a certain state come morning.

What could it have been, what potent force could have split his memory from his recall? Jonathan dressed and found himself missing a shirt, but no other clothing was gone. Was this lost garment a clue? What was this light that seemed to shine so brilliantly in the night of his mind? What was this glowing dream he could not recall in whole, or in any sensible parts?

His food was waiting for him in the antechamber, and the smell of it revealed how ravenous he was. It felt as though it had been a day since he’d last eaten, and once he finished his meal, he returned to his bed chamber and searched again for his missing shirt.

It was during that rummaging when Jonathan found the envelope. It was small, and sat with one of its corners protruding from under a ledger that Jonathan realized was terribly out of place and sorts, but would only seem so to his eye.

Do not take this off again, for any reason, it is your only hope.

Fasten it around your neck and flee this place.

Do not let what befell Renfield or myself happen to you.

Whatever you do, keep away from all of them, trust no one, not even Ingrid.

God could not save me, but he is your only hope for survival now.

-A

            Also within the envelope was the small iron crucifix, but now it hung from a fine silver chain that Jonathan realized he had seen worn by Adrian on their first meeting. Shaken by this discovery, he placed the necklace in his pocket, and took the note with him to his fireplace, where he burned it with a match.

            He made his way to the library then, and as he did, he remembered the servants passage, and thought of Ingrid. Had he seen her yesterday? Had he tried to follow her? How could he keep away from her if she could come and go as she pleased, and who were the “them” he referred to? Maybe he was drugged? Maybe the Countess had drugged him, and also drugged Renfield while he was here.

            But what good could a piece of iron do against that? Why were these easterners so superstitious? Did they really think…

            Jonathan’s mind wandered as he sat in the reading room chair, his eyes unfocused and his mind slow. A spider was descending down from the ceiling in the corner…

            He stood bolt upright, struck by a force of recall he had not thought possible.

            The Countess had climbed down the side of the far tower. She had climbed down the tower in the east wing head first.

            She was not human.

            He fumbled with the crucifix, his fingers clumsy as he worked the clasp of the chain, but when it found its way around his neck Jonathan felt a deep sense of relief… and something else…

            There was something else in his mind that sat on the edge of his memory, some piece of what had befallen him that he could not find the size or shape of.

It was something he felt he wanted to remember, but that he knew he ought to forget. It was a spider web of its own, thin and sticky, and he couldn’t untangle it, or himself from it, and when the frustration grew too great, Jonathan closed his eyes and let himself sleep in the chair.

            In his dream he saw a woman, pale as snow, her hair was platinum white and her lips were pink. Her naked body was flawless and surpassingly shapely. She was calling to him, summoning him, and he needed to go to her. She was more than a woman, more than human, she was flawless and divine, and her skin glowed in a silver blue radiance of pure moonlight.

            But two red eyes in the endless black of night stared down on him and kept Jonathan from going to her, going to this sacred and glorious perfection. These piercing red orbs wanted to deny him, and more so, wanted to deny this goddess her newest devoted worshiper.

            He heard her calling to him, telling him to come to her, that no one else needed to know. Come to me when the sun first sets and I will open the way. Come back to me when the sun first sets and we will be together.

            He woke with a start, and found himself alone in the reading room, but the voice was still there. It was lower and softer than a quiet rain, and more subtle than the most delicate stroke of a harp string, but he could hear it calling to him, telling him to come when the sun first sets.

            His heart swelled with love and desire, it pulsed with romantic fascination, and try as he might, the thought of Mina could not chase this pale phantasm out of his mind. Was this mysterious woman, this apparition of beauty a prisoner in the Countess’s castle? And what was the Countess? Did she wield some power over him, a power she shared with Ingrid the serving woman… whose necklace was the same color as those red eyes in the night sky of his dream?

            What could he do?

            How could he escape?

            How could he dare to escape instead of going back to the… the tower, the other tower… and leave her behind?

            What had befallen Adrian?

            What had befallen Renfield when he was here?

            Jonathan wanted to utter a prayer to God, but his heart could not find itself into his words. His heart was entangled in thoughts of the moonlight woman, battling itself for not simply dwelling as it should, as he knew it should, on his sweet Mina.

            How could he treat her so? How could he become so enamored with… whatever was pulling on him, reaching out to him and…

            Jonathan was on his feet, his legs carrying him to the hall, and then to the servant’s passage. Down he went, doubting if other affairs kept the Countess from him during the day… oh the Countess, sweet as she was, an image of perfect romance, but turned now to a grotesque and ungodly thing. Perhaps she slept in the day, fearing God’s good light.

            Down he went, guided by the voice, but when he came to the stairs that would take him back up, he forced himself away from them, grasping the crucifix and begging for strength. If she slept during the day, if this monster whom he had so willingly helped to find purchase in his homeland could be stopped, then he would have to do so… somehow.

            First, he would have to find his way to her.

            Why would she live in a tower, a place closer to the sun? He knew he was assuming much, but he trusted himself in a way he had never felt before. There was a strength in his thoughts that he could not describe as wholly his own, but with that strength there was still the voice calling to him.

            Down Jonathan went, down into the depths of the castle, wandering the empty halls until he found the basement, where before entering he took a sconce of candles from the wall, lit them with another match, and made his way into the depths.

Even then, in the bowels of the castles, he searched, for there was little here save provisions and wine, but in time he found a passage, a cavern of unworked stone leading down into a deeper and more ominous darkness.

Slowly he crept through this tunnel, following its winding descent, and here in the dark the voice that called him was silent, but a new sound called out to him. He heard the panting of breath and the low ecstatic sighs of passion, then as he turned a corner, he saw the fingers of firelight stretching from a half shut heavy door.

Slowly, holding his own light away, he crept to it, and peered in through the cracks, then caught his breath.

There on a stone alter, naked was Adrian, his body drawn thin and emaciated, his eyes shut and the skin on his face tight, dark hair turned not to gray but to white, and on top of him, taking him in unrelenting carnality was Ingrid, herself naked and vibrant, glowing with sexual beauty and power.

He blinked as he watched her, one hand on his chest, the other caressing her breasts and occasionally grabbing the amulet around her neck. Her moans grew loader and stronger and her pace exceedingly vigorous as she took him, and as titillating a sight as it was for Jonathan to see, himself having not shared such carnalities with Mina, or any other woman, it did in fact look like the serving woman was taking something from him.

Something… some… visions of the moonlight apparition came into his mind, her body under his, her warmth and the ocean of her being pulling him in, making him lose himself in a sea of pleasure…

Jonathan stumbled back, what had he done?

What was this place, and who were these sirens, each one sharing some darkness that he… no, the moonlight woman was light, so lovely and pure and…

He returned to his spying, and saw Adrian’s lips part, but he heard no sound of pleasure, only a long gasp of air, followed shortly by Ingrid dismounting.

“Mistress, I am yours.”

 She spoke the words to the dark, and from a door on the other side of the alter, the Countess emerged. She too was naked, her long black hair falling over her own pale, beautiful form, and Jonathan felt himself falling away from sense and reason, pulled into her. He stood, paralyzed, fascinated with lust and fear, and could not find the sense to move.

The Countess, Tasha, raised a hand and passed it across Ingrid’s face, waving it to and fro, causing the serving woman to follow it, and slowly start to sway, her head eventually tilting towards her right shoulder, then falling into the Countess’s arms. Jonathan stared into the fire lit chamber, this alter of darkness, and watched the Countess bare her teeth, revealing fangs that sank deep into Ingrid’s neck.

Tasha held her servant there, gently caressing her hair as one hand slid between the woman’s legs. Ingrid’s body shivered and convulsed as moans of pleasure and primal ecstasy that humbled her earlier exclamations of bliss escaped her lips.

For a time Ingrid’s hands groped and caressed the Countess, squeezing her breasts and fondling the dark haired demon-witch between the legs, but the serving woman’s arms lost their purpose and came to hand down by her sides for a time.

Then it was done, and the two women kissed long and passionately, each one’s hands became a gentle caress of the other, the true touch of lovers long familiar with each other’s needs, turning the monstrous into something almost beautiful.

“That was the last of poor Adrian, he made you taste so sweet.” When the Countess spoke, she reached out and wiped away a steak of blood, Ingrid’s own blood, from her lips.

Ingrid looked over at the table, “I will miss him too, he was… delicate when I first seduced him. Delicate and skilled. I do not think that Jonathan will be…”

“He will be something else for you my love, so you’ll only need to suffer his clumsiness once or twice, I promise. But he is… sweet in his own ways. His heart is full, or it was before he stumbled like an ass into her chambers. But you will find what I want you to take from him still there, and still strong, provided she doesn’t ruin him. I don’t think he’ll be strong enough to resist her. I would go to him tonight and subdue him, but not even I can erase her once anyone has succumbed to her spell. You saw what happened to that Renfield fool. She breaks my tools far too readily, confusing them for toys.”

“But…” Ingrid’s voice was sympathetic, and marked by its own fears, “will I become like her when the time comes? Will I lose myself as she did, and will you tire of me?”

The Countess had turned away from her, but then turned back, “Oh my love, my sweet good love, you will be as you are. Her turning was poorly done by me, and in my heart I still cherish her, but she is… I fear to leave her behind, otherwise I would let her stay here to prey on this countryside, but I love her still, as I love you, and you accept this love, knowing your place Ingrid, knowing what you are to me.”

Jonathan watched the serving woman’s eyes become glassy and empty as the Countess spoke, and heard the shallowness of Ingrid’s words as she replied, “I love you my mistress, I am yours in the true surrender of love.”

With that, the Countess took her by the hand and the passed through the far door. After a time, Jonathan regained his wits and slowly made his way into the alter room. Torches lined the walls, and a circle of red surround the alter on the cavern floor. Words were carved into what Jonathan realized was a slab of onyx, and he recognized them as Latin, but could not translate them.

He took all of it in passing as he leaned in close to Adrian, “Adrian?”

There was no response.

“Adrian, are you…” Jonathan’s whisper was horse.

The young man’s lips parted, but no sound came out.

Jonathan leaned in closer.

“Run.”

The word was the serving man’s last,

Jonathan fled the chamber and did not stop running until he was out of the basement. He blew out the candles, put the sconce back in its place, and started to retrace his steps.

Unfortunately, he had become lost, and did not realize how turned around he was until he found himself at the base of the stairwell to the other tower. Perhaps if the Countess, the blood sucking demon she had revealed herself to be, did not sleep there, then it might hold some answers as to what she was.

Half way up, the stairs came to a stop. Instead of continuing to spiral up, they ended at a middle floor and there was nothing above him, not even a trap door in the ceiling.

 But, surprisingly to Jonathan he was struck by both courage and inspiration. The floor had large shuttered windows, and he opened the ones that would let him look out to the other tower. This spot was where the Countess had entered back into the castle the previous night, and when Jonathan looked up, he saw pronounced hand and foot holds leading up to a very small balcony.

He looked down at that moment, and while he saw handholds leading down, he also saw the terror of falling to his death from this foolishness. Alas, what was the fear of a pure and simple mortal end compared to the horror of what he had witnessed below.

So it was that Jonathan Harker scaled the remaining height of the tower and made his way in to the secret chamber at its top.

There was little within, but all of it was of great importance to him.

There was a writing desk, and on it there was a series of letters in unsealed envelopes, each one baring his hand, addressed to Mina, and to his firm. There were the ones he knew he had written, telling of his decision to stay longer at her urging and his opportunity, but there were ones that looked to be his own work, but that he had no recollection of.

Dearest Mina,

 

            I write to you now to say I’ve taken ill. I do not know the nature of this disease, but it is taxing and I am not well enough to travel. It uses much of my strength even now to write to you.

            I fear that perhaps I shall not return to you, and if these are to be my final words, know that I love you dearly. Do not fear for my care here, the Countess has left me in the care of her trusted servants.

            I hope and pray that this ill shall pass and that we will be reunited soon.

 

Your Beloved,

Jonathan Harker

            It looked like his hand and sounded like him, but it was dated two weeks from the present.

            It was accompanied by a very formal letter dated a week later, and addressed to his firm, stating that he had passed of a grave sickness… and Jonathan could read no more.

            He looked about the room and saw that on its lone bookshelf there were Renfield’s assumed to be lost ledgers, and when Jonathan looked inside, opening one near to the end of one, the phrase, “I am a prisoner of the moon, lost on love’s ocean” written in a wild and shaking hand over and over again.

            Earlier accountings in it told of the aged Countess and her charming manner, but also of a great unrest in his heart. Then he wrote of moonlight dancing into his window, and swallowing him beneath the tide.

            His account took on a lyrical nature at first, but descended into vulgar accounts of carnal familiarity, before becoming the maddening phrase that went on and on.

            There were other books on the shelf, old and thick, bound in dark leather, and filled with Greek, but in the middle of the room there was a trap door with a large circular ring. Jonathan almost pulled it open, but something out of the corner of his eye stopped him, the sun was setting.

            So, he steeled himself again, and climbed back out the window and down to the floor below. Sweat made his clothing cling to him, and fear hummed in his body. There would be no nave within these Godless halls, and there was nowhere he could go where he thought himself safe and fortified, so he pulled his crucifix out from under his shirt, wore it proudly, and started to recite all the prayers he could recall.

            Not being Catholic, and despite being a lawyer more than familiar with the language, he could not offer any of them in Latin, but not being Catholic, he didn’t think it mattered.

            Eventually he found his way back to his chambers, and found his food waiting for him. It sickened him to eat, knowing that Ingrid had brought his meal here before she had…

            He needed his strength, so he pushed the though from his head and ate. Jonathan was not a man of action. He was not a decisive and gallant figure, but faced with the promise of his own death, and of unrelenting evil, circumstance had made him one, and would keep him so for as long as he could muster the strength.

            Jonathan had to make assumptions.

            They had ways of watching him that he was not aware of, and might have known that he was gone snooping about.

            The Countess, maybe all of them, wielded some power over the mind, and he assumed he had been afflicted by it at least once.

            The crucifix held some power to protect him and to ward them away, or ward off their powers, and had served him before he knew the danger he was in.

            Adrian had retained some will, and some strength to return the crucifix to him along with the note.

            The moon woman was one of them, and she had driven Renfield mad.

            Ingrid drained Adrian with sex, and the Countess drained her blood, and he had no idea what the moon woman feasted on, and it seemed as though Ingrid was not yet what the Countess was, so likely the moon woman also drank blood.

            Unfortunately, every time he thought of her, he became aware of that low, haunting voice, and it was calling to him. Where are you? Why didn’t you come to me? Where are you? Why didn’t you come to me?

            His hand to the cross, Jonathan tried to pray, but he stumbled on his words and her voice grew stronger. Her eyes fixed themselves in his memory, and he saw their deep softness. She had condescended to him, allowing him to take her hand and not drown beneath the waves. She had blessed him, allowing him to…

            To…

            To…

            “Oh dear God, what have I done?”

            His voice cracked as he remembered the infinite softness of her body beneath him, the warmth of her carnal embrace, and the need to lose himself inside her, to give her everything he was, to give her everything she had asked for.

The Goddess of the Moon had allowed herself to be his Goddess and…

Pale strands of moonlight shone through his window, glimmering blue white in the near dark, shimmering and twisting like dancers, stealing the light from the fire, spreading darkness where the fading sun no longer touched.

            Jonathan forced himself to look away, to close his eyes and think of Mina. He apologized to her in his mind. He had broken faith with her, bewitched or not, he was tainted, and as hard as he tried to summon her image and his love, the stronger the presence of the Moon Goddess shone in his mind, the more aroused by her memory his body became.

            He had run his fingers through her silky platinum hair, and felt the smoothness of her skin as well as the sizable shape of her breasts. He had kissed her lips and sucked on her nipples, his fingers and mouth desperate for every part of her divinity, all while thrusting himself inside of her, showing her what kind of artless low animal he was.

            That had been what he was in her presence, a beast, a simple stupid creature with one purpose, and she had been radiant, brilliant…

Jonathan lost himself in his memory, and felt the strands of moonlight wrapping around him. He wanted to give himself to her, but the Countess would not let him. The fiery red eyes in the infinite black had pulled him away. Tasha, who had so beguiled him, who had opened his heart and made her way into it in more subtle ways, had denied him his need, his purpose, to give himself to his Goddess…

…all because he was…

…he…

“Surely you would have come to me if you could, but I felt you call to me, inviting me into your heart, so I am here.”

Jonathan opened his eyes and saw her there, a pale glimmer of light shrouded by a darkness that radiated from her, masking firelight and dulling all else that was not her glory.

“No… um… I… no, in God’s name, no!”

It took him a moment, but his hand found his cross, and his fear found his will, allowing his memories of the evils he had seen to give him strength.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before Me,” she smiled as she spoke the words of the second commandment, “but God’s love is a covenant, and he is a jealous god. He will not abide you as you have broken your faith with him in my flesh already. The others can be kept at bay by your symbols, they still fear Him, but I can fear none who have given themselves to me in the manner you have. I am your God now, I am the Goddess of the Moon.”

“What are you… you… you monster… stay away.” He backed away from her and knew there was nowhere for him to go, and no one he could call for help. Maybe, maybe the Countess would appear again to stop this, but there would be no good end there. Maybe Ingrid would enter and, and maybe the cross would keep him safe from either of them, but…

“Men have always called me a monster, even before my…” she looked wistful in that moment, her eyes broke from his and she became very human. “No, a Goddess is not a monster, and love is not evil. Men locked me away with the brides of Christ and took me away from her, but I was not a monster, we were not monsters then. But oh how she became one, a monster for love, for justice, and for revenge. But what love is not terrible Jonathan? They sent her away too, married away to a grim and dark man in this far away castle, but true love cannot be stopped, because love is terrible, and love is vengeful. If God is love, then he is a vengeful god, but I am avenged against him now, and my love is terrible too, because my love is limitless, and it is not jealous. Love me Jonathan, love your new Goddess.”

The power of her enchantment of the light only made her more human in those moments, and her words, tender, and sorrowful as any he had ever heard, entangled his senses. He saw in her eyes a different time and place, where the sun shone bright and Tasha’s skin was radiant in the mid day heat. He saw her, the Countess as she had been, warm and human, and felt her touch. He remembered the moment of that first kiss, of feeling something new, and right. He felt these memories, and he felt the fear and the hate when they were pulled apart.

But these were not his memories, they were hers, and they filled the space between them like a fog, clouding Jonathan with times past.

“Love me Jonathan,” she touched his face and stared into his soul, “share all of your love, share your memories of my beloved Tasha and her beauty, let me see her through your eyes, and let your heart bleed the love you keep so close. Love me Jonathan, and give yourself to me.”

He swayed with her as she stroked his face and his hair, her eyes pulling him inward, ever inward into the endless depths. He was small again, caught in the tide and he felt so… “weak and powerless, caught in the waves, lost in the ocean of love, lost in the ocean of lust, and the moon controls all tides, every tide that pulls you, pulls you to me, and I will not let your drown.”

Slowly this time she pulled his shirt over his head, and then unfastened his pants and pulled them down before letting her gown fall away as she pulled him close to her. But, as her gaze broke from his, with his head against his breast and her hands stroking his head, Jonathan found himself free of her spell.

“No,” he tried to shove himself away from her, but her hands, strong and unyielding as steel closed on his wrists, and pulled them to her breasts.

“Yes, yes you will love me. Yes you will give yourself to me, sacrificing for love, and with love, all that you are. But Jonathan, why do you fight? What shore will you find yourself on? Where will you go, when you are lost in the ocean of desire for me?”

He closed his eyes to keep out her gaze, but his hands could not help to grasp her breasts under the force of her touch, and with his eyes closed, he saw a different light shining through his eyelids. His hands felt the heft of her chest, and they were cool to the touch, smooth and soft as silk sheets, and the full moon shone through his eyelids, brilliant and silver white while he felt her voice inside his mind.

It was the hum that was always there, and she did not speak to him with her mouth or tongue now. Instead, he stood there in the silent room as she devoured him from within, their bodies still as statues as seconds stretched on for eternity.

Jonathan fought against her, he pushed back with all he had, but his will became his hands, finding only inviting softness and heaviness, only an irresistible weight smothering him, and her thoughts, her siren’s song washed over him until he was drowning in her dream world.

His eyes opened and stared into hers, and never had he felt so small and weak, never had he felt so helpless and powerless before. His body went limp, and he knew not what kept him standing.

“Love me, open your heart to me, and worship me with all of your love. Open your mind to me and sacrifice all of your pitiful and beautiful joys to your goddess.

She let go of his hands, but they remained where they were, fondling her as she pulled him close to kiss him. He could not resist, he could not think, or move, or hazard to understand what was happening, She was beyond his simple reasoning, then her hand was between his legs, as cool and soft as her breasts, tugging him gently, “What will you offer your Goddess now?”

Silver blue light filled the dark, and he was submerged, but she shone above him, her hand out to him, “I will not let you drown, but you must sacrifice for me, you must offer me what I desire. Let me love you Jonathan, let me save you.”

Her lips were on his, then kissing his neck while her hand worked him slowly, “Do not make me take it from you, give your heart to me, give your mind to me, give your soul to me, and you will not drown. Worship your Goddess as she demands, be devote, be pious, be what I desire, and require. Love me as I love you.”

She pushed him to the floor with those words, and took him inside her. Slowly her hips rolled and her breasts heaved. From under her, lost between her legs, Jonathan could not understand what he saw. In one moment her breasts were like two full moons, filling his eyes as night descended, and around his cock he felt an ocean of pleasure, like a tide pulling him deeper in, but when he saw her eyes he saw two blue stars, dead and cold and empty, shimmering not with their own life, but his, and he felt his mind being leached of its reason, its sense and its strength as something insidious pulled on him.

He was nothing, a speck, a small, mortal, fallible beast, and he could not bear it any longer. Who was Jonathan Harker to deny The Goddess Of The Moon.

“Yes.”

The word escaped his lips, and the pleasure he felt in his cock swallowed his body whole. It was then that he saw her truly. She was not the beautiful woman he had seen and felt in her memories or those brief moments just minutes before, nor was she the radiant goddess that he had seen her as. She was none of those things, and both, and she was more and less.

Memories of Tasha, the clear vision of her on that first night, aged, different, and not who she would appear to be came and went, as did memories of the Countess in the days and nights since, and even the vision of her red eyes in the dark. Jonathan felt the woman’s body thrill and shiver, especially as a dreamy half aware vision of Tasha and the woman together in lust as a sleeping Jonathan’s eyes opened for only a second came to his mind, and in that moment he realized as fleeting as it was, he had seen this woman’s true form before.

Her hair and skin were white, and her proportions were the same, but her body was covered in tattoos, marked by an ancient language he did not know, though it looked close to Greek, and adorned by powerful images, but none stood out more clearly than a snake that wrapped around her and seemed to writhe across her flesh.

“Now my love, open your deepest soul,” as she spoke, the head of the snake traveled down her arm, and to her hand that pressed flat on his chest. She held him there, riding him harder and faster, and as the moment came, as bliss doubled and redoubled in his body, causing his eyes to close as his mind to collapse in on itself, he felt a sting in his heart, and memories of Mina flood out of him and into her.

His climax was endless, and he became as boundless as her. His body shuddered end echoed with sexual bliss, humming and throbbing like a note plucked o a harp, and he could not make sense of himself, of where he ended and she began. Seconds and breaths became en eternity of ecstasy, and with every gushing thunderous release into her, Jonathan let, felt, and needed more of himself to spill into her.

Then, as his body became his, and the dream became reality, he looked into her pale, empty eyes and found himself frozen, paralyzed by her gaze and unable to resist as slowly, gently, she dismounted him. Her tattoos were gone, the snake was nowhere to be seen, but she no longer glowed.

Instead, her eyes flickered with frozen blue heat and as she passed a hand across his face, Jonathan’s eyes closed and darkness swallowed him. He felt her nuzzle her cheek to his before turning his head, and he felt her lips kissing his neck. He knew what was coming, he knew what she was going to do, and he wanted it, he wanted to give more of himself, all of himself to her.

The pain was exquisite and became a new ecstasy, and then there was only the deep dark of night and dreamless slumber.

And then dawn came, and Jonathan woke in his bed, empty and alone. He was keenly aware, more aware than he had ever been of how deeply alone he was. There was an emptiness inside him, a heartsickness that belonged in a love-struck boy and not a man, but as he sough out its source, he found only a confused fog of memories and images. There was a name, but was it Mina, or Tasha, or some dream woman, shapeless as the night and white as the moon.

Where indeed was he?

The bed seemed to pull on him, drawing him back into sleep, and as his eyes closed again, blocking out the sharp and hateful rays of the bright morning sun, he wondered if today was the day he would tell the Countess, ah Tasha, his hostess, the beguiling and beautiful woman who had… captured his dreams perhaps… that he… no… he did not love her, that was not it. Yes, he was charmed by her, who wouldn’t be, but… there was… a sweet and gentle darkness washed over him, and it took some time in his dreams for him to remember Mina, but there was less substance to her now, and less fire in his desire for her.

In the merciful shadows of dusk, when he opened his eyes again, Jonathan wrapped his arms around himself and felt hollow. He felt thin both inside and out, and more so, he felt even less himself within the scope and shape of his own mind.

But, he was not allowed to live with that feeling or that moment long enough to feel or explore it, as the inner door to his bed chamber opened. There, framed by the firelight from the hall stood Ingrid, but not as he had last seen her.

She was dressed in a sweeping red gown with a deep neck line and daggered sleeves and her hair was down. She wore no shoes, nor did she wear any jewelry, not even the red necklace that he had been accustomed to seeing her wear. Her skin was white, pale and ghostly as… his mind wandered to Her, and the memory of the Goddess of the Moon gleamed in his mind, silver blue moonlight embraced him… but there was no…

“Poor Jonathan, your Goddess has forsaken you,” Ingrid’s voice was soft, but heavy with pity. “Be glad that she has only broken your heart, and not your mind. That Renfield, it is so sad, the Countess told her to stay away from him, and I also warned him as I tried to warn you, but when she called upon him, he fought, and he fought, and like an unyielding branch in a storm, he broke. For a time the Countess kept him together, but her power over the mind, works best when it is whole, and alas, what is broken by Luna’s touch can never be whole again.”

Ingrid walked to his bedside, but seemed to glide to him, so smooth was her motion.

“Still, the Countess should thank you, the affection you felt for her, succumbing to her charms as you did, gave Luna no small amount of joy. Both would thank you, if they saw you as worth thanking, or if they were here, but the Countess has affairs to see to before the departure, and Luna is already… well, let us say she is no longer your concern, and shortly, neither shall I be. In fact, it is only I that shall remain here, and then, only for a short time longer, but we will spend it together, you and I.”

Jonathan forced himself to sit up, and weakness came over him in a flood. His bones felt as though they’d been turned to mush and his muscles were without purpose or condition, but he managed to move, and this made Ingrid smile.

Her eyes were not hard, not did they sparkle or glow with the same beguiling light that the eyes of the others had so enchanted him with time and again. “You are, well as you are, and as you shall remain, lost, but you will not be alone. You will be mine Jonathan, as you should have been from our first meeting. It was what you were supposed to be, and it is what you are now.”

She had leaned forward, closer to him, and his eyes found her full breasts near spilling from her gown. He felt drawn into her, much as he had when first they met, but it was more akin to the Countess’s magnetism than his Goddess’s. She put a finger below his chin and tilted his eyes to meet hers, and there they remained, staring into a deepening red, pale as rose at first, only to shine as rubies made of blood catching the fire light.

She brushed her cool fingers across his brow and down his face, then kissed him, and it was slower and sweeter than any kiss he had known. It felt primal, as though the idea of a kiss was hers and hers alone, and it was a secret she just now shared with him. He could not speak, his stammering words were pulled from his lips, and from his mind, and he fell out of reason and into her thrall.

Jonathan did not realize that his hand had moved between his legs, and by the time Ingrid broke her kiss with him, he was already near completion. He did not know how he had the strength to pump so feverishly, or how his body could maintain such a thing, but it had occurred.

Ingrid leaned into closer, pressing her breasts into his face as she whispered in his ear, “Stop that you poor dear. You don’t have much of yourself left to spend after last night, you should really rest, and eat something. I’ll have the new serving girl bring something up. But for now,” she kissed his neck, and he felt an ache where Luna’s fangs had punctured him, “look into my eyes.”

He could not help himself, and he could not resist the force of her voice, but he found the resolve and wits to guide a feeble hand from his manhood up to his neck where he  reached for…

“Elaina is a selfish woman, that is Luna’s real name. She was, they both were Macedonian noblewomen until their affair was discovered, and Tasha was sent here, while Elaina was sent to a nunnery. But Tasha called on one of her people’s old gods, Hecate the Goddess of Witchcraft and the Moon and begged for the power to take vengeance for and out of love, and… oh, you’re too weak for such a story, all you need to know is that Luna is not inconsiderate. Your crucifix is likely with her now, or up in her chambers. Maybe you can find the strength to make your way back there and search it. Perhaps it could be a game for you Jonathan, when your strength is up. If you find it, and you repent hard enough, perhaps God will forgive you and grant you his protection again and you can try to escape. Otherwise…”

As he stared into her eyes they took on their irresistible mystical red and he found himself lost in awe of her beauty and her voice once more, “You will simply remain here until… I will not say. But until then, you don’t want me to tire of you, or discarded do you? No, you wish to love me, love me now my brave Mister Harker. Love me now, and fall into a deep slumber.”

He fell into a deep sleep and when he woke there was a great deal of food waiting for him. He ate, and then slept again. He awoke in the dark, called from his slumber by Ingrid’s voice.

 As his eyes opened he saw nothing in the ark save her welcoming, beguiling red eyes, eyes that captivated him and turned his waking into a dream unto itself. So broken was he by Luna that he could not resist Ingrid’s charms at all. His mind was blank and open, and while there were words on the pages, they were lost under the spill of red ink that was her gaze.

“Come to me and follow me now.”

He rose, his body moving at her command, and he followed her out of the room, and out into the hall, then up and up until they stood in Luna’s empty room. There was no trance of her, nor was there anything left of her collected odds and ends, there was only the cool night air and Ingrid, who was naked and radiant in her own dark beauty.

“Come to me Jonathan.”

He walked to her and fell into her embrace, limp as a ragdoll, nothing existed before this moment, and nothing of his will, his resolve, or memory moved within his mind. He was cowed and dominated by her, and when she took his manhood in her hand and mounted herself on it, he felt nothing, until he felt everything.

In the moment before his release, he felt her fangs pierce his neck, much as Luna had taken him, but this time there was only agony and only pain. Still, his body obey her, and she drained him of his seed and drank deeply from his neck.

He shuddered and tried to cry out, but his emotions and his voice were gone, lost to her eyes, and when she pulled him to his feet, he stood drooling and vacant, even as she kissed him.

“Goodbye and Godspeed Mister Harker, I am sorry I could not spare you, and I am sorry I could not save you, but before I join the others, I give you this,”

He flew from the window, thrown by her with a great enough force that his body reached the river.  Bereft of blood, or will, broken in body and mind, he ought to have simply fallen into the icy current, but the cold woke something deep inside of him. The cold clear water bathed him and broke the spell that he was under, for running water does not abide enchantment, and Jonathan woke, near dead, and alone, miles from the castle, and washed up near the door to a nunnery…

End of Part 1