Chapter 18


Let’s turn back the clock for a moment…


It’s a while, yet, before Tess is supposed to fully turn Lucy.

And since it’s good cover for establishing a relationship with the locals, she’s been working at this little pub for the past few weeks.

Imagine our surprise, then, when we spot Abraham Van Helsing, of all people, arguing with the cook. We knew he was coming at some point, but, once again, Xihrae had “accidentally” neglected the details.
Despite the short time to prepare, Tess isn’t thrown off, thinking only, < … Well, now’s as good a time as any, I suppose. >

Once they’ve finished, Tess asks the cook what the argument was about. That answered, she grabs and scarfs down her own food — and waits for the perfect time to make her entrance.

“I didn’t realize the pub offered breakfast this late,” Tess says, her tone light-hearted yet accusatory.
In the middle of taking a bite, he looks up at her (Tess’s eyes just barely above his own) and spills a bit of egg from his mouth. She’s not yet donned her uniform, so any attempt at intimidation via authority is pointless. And yet…

He swallows and, stoic, mutters, “Not my first choice.”
Not to be denied, Tess tries again, “Oh yeah? What would be?” She puts a hand on her hip and tilts her head down at him. “Because I hear the chef takes requests now.”

He flinches.
< There we go. At least he has the decency to look guilty. >
“I… suppose I could have handled that better.”
“A bit.”
He regains his bluster, “-But in my defense, my first choice would have been a proper amount of sleep.” His face scrunches in disgust (< He looks like an angry bulldog, haha! >), “No rest for the wicked, I suppose.”

“…” Tess pulls the stool out from the other side of the small table and plops down. “Why the lack of rest? What are you doing that’s so ‘wicked’ — if I may ask?”

His mouth thins, and he looks away. “Such things are no concern of a young woman.”

And then, the door opens-
-and HE comes in.

Thankfully, HIS presence here is a detail Xihrae did not “accidentally” leave out. If he had, this game of hi-… of ours would have been over the very first moment Tess and I met… “Jacob.” Nonetheless, I still have to push down the touch of panic that “Jacob” causes every time I see him.

Tess waves to “Jacob,” tonight’s waiter, as he passes us, continuing her conversation with Helsing, “And I suppose there’s nothing I could do to change your mind?”
“Hmf!” I can’t tell whether that was a laugh or a scoff, but his next words are… gentle, “…This really isn’t something you ought to concern yourself with. It’s too much for the weak-willed, best left for a man.”

< … >
< Tess. Control yourself. >
< … I will choose to ignore the last part. >

“‘Not for the weak-willed,'” Tess thinks for a moment — then grins, “…Alright, then.”
She clicks her tongue twice.
It takes only a couple seconds — the puppy (now about three-fourths grown and considerably larger than most dogs) opens the door with his paws, enters, and comes directly to the table. She snaps her fingers. The pup obeys, sitting beside her.
The wolf stares Helsing in the eyes for a couple seconds, before looking back at its master. With the obedient beast beside her, and Tess still dressed in her usual, flowing black dress… Images I’d caught from mirrors in the castle’s halls surface at the thought.

And I wonder — how ethereal must Tess look to him in this moment?

After a couple pats, Tess orders the pup, “Open.”
It opens its mouth, and Tess places her arm inside the wolf’s jaws. Understanding seems to dawn in Helsing’s mind a moment too late, “Now, hold on a moment-!”
“Snap!” Tess yells.

Helsing lets out a guttural yelp, preparing to leap across the table, as the wolf’s jaws SLAM down on Tess’s arm-
-and stop precisely as its teeth meet her flesh, without so much as a single droplet of blood.

Helsing drops his fork, his eyes wide and mouth agape like a stranded fish. Tess removes her arm, pets the pup, snaps her fingers, and points at the ground. The pup obeys, circling a couple times before lying down facing the door.
Since he’s still busy gaping, Tess takes the opportunity to add, “I work the night-shift here a few times a week — just me and my dog. What were you saying about being weak-willed?”

“Why…!” If possible, his eyes have gone even wider. “You really trained this beast? And- and work in a pub while-”
“-I RUN the pub. Alone. At night.”
< Now that was a laugh! >
Helsing sits back down. He’s returning Tess’s grin, and his shoulders are back and head raised. “My apologies, miss…?”
“Ciestess. You can call me ‘Tess,’ if you like.”
“Miss Ciestess, you may be one of the bravest women I’ve ever met.”
“Then I’m afraid you haven’t met many women.”
“Ha!” He picks his fork back up.

“So,” Tess leans forward and rests her arms on the table, “Why are you in here eating breakfast for your dinner?”

“Ah, well, that…” He pokes at a piece of meat, but doesn’t stab it. His eyes flit between her and his food as he answers, “I’m a doctor, you see. And a patient of mine is suffering from a rather unusual condition. Extremely rare. It requires I look after her throughout the night hours.”

“Hm…” Tess feigns worry — eyebrows raised and pulled together, “What condition? Is it contagious?”

He looks up at her again. “Oh! No, no-ah… Mm, well… Yes, but…” Breaking eye contact, he searches for his knife. Grabbing it, he stabs the meat and cuts it — with more force than strictly necessary — into bite-sized pieces. “… It’s… It’s rather difficult to-… Well, you’re unlikely to believe it…”

Tess sits up straight again. “You’re a doctor, aren’t you? What reason would I have to doubt you?”

“It…” He pauses his cutting, but still doesn’t look at her. “Well, I suppose… working throughout the night… you’d be in more danger NOT knowing…”
His knife moves again. He’s silent until he finishes cutting up the meat.
“… Very well. I’ll tell you, but you mustn’t let word spread, you understand? The truth is…” He looks up again. “She was attacked, you see. By… By a vampire.”

“A vampi-oh!” Tess says, then whispers, “A vampire? You’re serious?”
“I warned you-”
“-No no, I believe you, it’s just… surprising, to say the least! How do you know that’s what happened?”

“She’s suffering from a form of anemia — she doesn’t have nearly as much blood as she ought to… As though she’s been bleeding from an open wound,” He stabs a piece of meat with his fork. “But the only marks on her are some rather distinct bite marks on her arms and neck. And new ones appear every few nights.”

Tess mumbles, “So you’ve been guarding her…”

“Yes, but it doesn’t seem to be working. All I can do is try and set up as many obstacles between her and her attacker as possible.”

We’re interrupted by “Jacob.” He sets a glass down in front of Tess: A sweet tea, with no ice.
Tess looks at him, genuinely surprised, “You didn’t have to-“
“I figured you could use a cup of tea. This is still your favorite, right?”
< … Jeez, that smile. How am I supposed to say no? >
< Why should you? > I counter, doing my best to act as I normally would — instead of shouting at her to remain cautious, don’t trust him, trust anyone BUT him, and whatever you do, don’t drink that-!
< … Good point! >
Tess smiles back at him, “Thank you.”

“Jacob” returns to his table. Tess sips at the sweet tea.
< A little too much sugar, but not bad. >
“If you don’t mind my asking,” she mutters, “How did you come to learn so much about vampires? Do they teach all doctors about them?”

Helsing had returned to eating in the brief silence. It takes him a moment to answer. “No, I’m an unusual case in that regard. I… Well, it’s a bit of a personal story…”
“I don’t-“
“-Oh, don’t apologize, miss. It’s actually rather refreshing to be able to talk like this. As some say, the only people you can truly be honest with are complete strangers.”

They share laughter for a moment. Helsing’s face becomes solemn, his mouth turning down slightly and his brow furrowed.
He takes another bite of his eggs, then starts his story.
“… I was still new to being a doctor, at the time. I was working with a friend to cure his brother, who was suffering from, what I learned quickly was, an incurable disease.”
Helsing takes another bite. His food is almost gone.
He’s staring at the table.

“The night we expected him to die, my friend requested I leave them alone together. So I did. When I returned the next morning, it was to find them both dead-” His nose wrinkles up, and his lip curls. “-my friend lying next to his brother on the bed, a bite on his neck, and his blood on his brother’s mouth.”
He snatches his cup and guzzles it.

He returns it to the table with a clunk — but continues clutching it.
“I was in shock. Confused. But I’d heard of vampires, of course. I could hardly believe it, but the more I studied the scene, the more certain I became that I wasn’t mistaken.”

He lifts the cup again, but doesn’t drink. He’s staring at it, instead of the table, now.
“So, perhaps a bit mad in my grief, I admit, I took revenge upon my friend’s brother’s corpse.”
His voice has gone monotone and, aside from his furrowed eyebrows, his face wears a neutral expression.
“I broke the leg off a wooden chair in the corner of the room and stabbed it through the heart. When I did…” His eyes widen slightly, and his words come more slowly. “Those screams will haunt me to the day I die.”

He’s stopped talking.
< What can I say to that? Should I say anything yet? >
< … No. We need to stick to the plan- > Musn’t give in to the guilt…! < –Xihrae’s plan. >

Thankfully, he continues. He hasn’t moved even a little during the silence.
His voice seems stronger now.
“Suspicions confirmed beyond any doubt, I waited for my friend to wake. I suppose I hoped… I’m not sure WHAT I hoped.”
He finally looks up from the cup. His pupils have dilated, and the area around his eyes is tense.
“That he’d be human? That I could cure him? … No. I suppose… The truth is that I needed to see his inhumanity with my own eyes before I could bring myself to do it. To kill him-

“-No,” His eyes widen — the haunted look in them replaced by madness. “No, to SAVE him! A creature like that…” His lip curls and nose wrinkles again.

He growls, “The only salvation left for them- is death!”

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