“So, Doctor van Helsing, we meet at last,” said the Count.

van Helsing turned slowly. The castle library was lit in patches by the bright moonlight spilling through the windows, and otherwise only in a circle of yellow gold by the Dutchman’s candle. He had never even heard the door open or a hint of a footfall; and yet there Count Dracula was, less than twenty feet from him, a cadaverous shadow in the dim light.

“You have the advantage of me, sir,” said van Helsing; but Count Dracula laughed softly, intermittent hiccoughs of mirthless humour.

“Oh no, Doctor, you know well enough who I am, and what I am — just as I know that you have come here to make an end of me. And how fitting that we meet here, in my own library.” He took a step forward into the moonlight, casting no shadow. “Here where I keep the instruments of my own destruction!”

van Helsing was unable to keep from starting.

“Oh yes,” the vampire went on, “as the endless years drift by, I visit here regularly, to temper my hubris with the reminder that my own cessation is at no further remove than eight inches of sharpened blackthorn. Drive only that through my heart, and I am no more! And by keeping such tools so close at hand, I remind myself to stay alert, aware, and suspicious, my good Doctor.”

Despite himself, van Helsing started to inspect the library shelves as covertly as he could manage; but he heard the faintest rustle, and saw that the shadowless Count was already closer by the interval between two patches of moonlight, and he froze.

“They are to your left,” said the Count, “on the top shelf. An agile man might make a leap for the kick-stool, another leap, snatch at the shelf and be rewarded with the tools that can defeat undeath! Will you try, Doctor — will you gamble that you can reach the shelf before I can reach you?”

van Helsing considered for a long moment, then slumped slightly. “No,” he said, “it is a poor gamble…”

“and…”

“the stakes are too high”.

submitted by /u/Gil-Gandel
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