Kingdom of Wallachia
a lonely road between Bucharest and Wallachia
The winter wind moaned through the trees, and sent the snow-filled clouds racing across the sky. As night drew on, the shadows deepened and darkened, almost totally obscuring the lone, still figure sprawled on the deserted, muddy highway.
He had not been there for long; fresh hoof prints attested to that fact. Indeed, less than a half-hour before, he had been riding quickly back to his castle with a retinue of his most trusted guards. They had been out on patrol, looking for enemy spies. There had been rumors of infiltration in the towns between Bucharest and Wallachia, and he and his men had gone to see if they were true. When no useful information could be wrested from the town’s inhabitants, he had ordered them killed.
Stupid peasants, he thought as he rode through the dying population, paying little attention to their cries for mercy. They shouldn’t be allowed to breed.
When the storm clouds had blown together late in the afternoon, and the snow had started to come down thick as wool, he had decided they should return to this game on another day. He tired of seeing his men so filthy, with all that peasant gore on their fine uniforms.
Riding home, they had slipped into this copse just as the storm started to abate. Swords drawn and eyes alert, all had kept watch for any signs of encroaching life, be it human or animal. Wolves were known to be quite clever at hunting down men, and his soldiers had positively reeked with that sweet, metallic blood smell he’d grown to love.
But wolves and bears were drawn to it too. Bears weren’t so much of a problem; in fact, they tasted delicious. But those wolves. A real menace! If he didn’t have his barbarian enemies to keep from his borders, he’d hunt down every last one of them and use their hides as rugs throughout his castle.
Suddenly a lone figure had come charging at them from the direction of Wallachia, his horse steaming and gasping under him. The party had peered at him as he drew nearer, unable to get a really good look in the dimming light. But they had been able to make out that he wore the uniform of the Inner Guard.
It must be an urgent message, Tepes had thought. Was the enemy attacking his city while they had been away? He had held up his hand to stay the others from advancing, stopped his own horse, and had let the messenger come. “What news?” he had exclaimed loudly, so as to be heard by the approaching rider.
His answer had been a sword in his chest. He had looked down at it in surprise, then at his men as he slid off his mount and down onto the road.
Eyesight dimming, he still had had enough wits to notice that not a single man pursued his attacker. They had merely turned away and kept on their path back to Wallachia. A couple of men had spat on him as they passed.
Now he lay alone, waiting for death, feeling the occasional snowflake land on him. He wondered if he would be covered in white by morning. The cold felt distant, as did the sounds of the night creatures in the darkness beneath the trees. He hoped one or two would come out and finish him off. If it was time to go to the flames, then let it happen, and quickly. He had a few things he’d like to say to The Old Buzzard, and would be glad to be out of this wet weather.
He closed his eyes for a moment, feeling the life oozing out of him from where the sword was still embedded. Odd—no pain. He wished for it. He’d never really felt alive any time in his life, and wished that, just once, he would be able to feel enough to care about something.
Without knowing how, he suddenly realized that he was not alone. Were his ears going? He hadn’t heard anyone approach, but he was certain someone was standing over him. Making a tremendous effort, he opened his eyes—and was surprised to see, not one, but three figures looking down at him.
Peasants? Not with those clothes. Gypsies? Maybe, but they weren’t stripping him bare for his valuables. Not yet, anyway. There was one who wore a black winter coat with a hood that hid his face. The darkness inside that hood covering was blacker than the most midnight of nightmare shadows. It seemed there was no limit to it; that if he had the energy, he could look at that “face” and see all the way into Hell itself. He wished he could try.
And the other two. They were dressed somewhat more colorfully and expensively, but looked like they’d dressed without much thought as to the current fashions. Even so, they seemed graceful, ageless somehow.
The woman—oh how beautiful! Hair dark and glossy in the pale light, black—black!—eyes, soft red lips…
…that parted in a very bewitching smile. Ah, if he could get up, she would be his.
She laughed, a short little laugh that wasn’t quite a girlish giggle.
The man beside her was glaring at her. Hmmm, jealous. If they were a couple, he’d hack off the man’s head and carry her away, where she would join the rest of his mistresses until he got tired of her. Then—head on a pike. Nothing made him feel more powerful than when he saw them die, most screaming, all horrified. And those last grimaces remained, in frozen death masks. He would often ride by the line of poles, admiring his handiwork. Never two the same.
The woman’s jealous companion turned his scowl toward the dying man, who wondered vaguely if hallucinations were part of the death voyage. For this one’s face kept changing—the bone structure went from fine to thick, the nose pointed and then flattened out. Even the eyes seemed to change, but it was getting too dark to tell for sure.
His thoughts were interrupted by a voice that sounded like a thousand muted funeral bells. It was coming from the hooded figure.
“Well, well, Vlad Tepes. I’ve waited a long time for this moment.”
Tepes blinked. This man knew his true name? Most knew him as Dracul, the surname of his father and his father before him. He groaned and shifted, and a sharp pain ran through him. Ah, pain at last…
Tepes glared at the strangers and said through gritted teeth, “So you know who I am, eh? Well, then be good enough to help me up.”
The hooded one laughed. “None of us here are ‘good’, Tepes. You know that.” He started pacing slowly, in an attitude of deep thought. “But,” he said, stopping and holding up a bony finger, “I think I know of a way to ‘help’ you that would be beneficial to all of us.”
Tepes sighed in exasperation, wincing at the pain. He hated guessing games, and he could see through this man’s schemes so easily. “Go ahead. Take my castle and everything in it. I’ll sign a piece of paper stating your ownership. Then finish the job my so-called ‘trusted’ comrades started.” He indicated the sword hilt.
“Oh, yes, that. It must be very—inconvenient—to you about now. What do you say we remove it?” The dark stranger strode over swiftly, put a boot on Vlad’s chest, and pulled the sword out in one fluid movement. The blood gushed forth anew.
Vlad screamed in agony. But through his pain he saw something that froze him immobile in terror, stopping his howls.
The man and woman were advancing on him. Their eyes glowed red, and their open maws had the sharpest teeth he had ever seen, even sharper than a wolf’s. A cold realization hit him, the terror of it freezing the very marrow in his bones.
Vampires! The talk all over the country, the speculation, all true! Those men who had come to his city—they hadn’t been lying! Heads on pikes…this time he may have acted a little prematurely. Tepes closed his eyes, trembling and gasping in fear, unable to do anything but wait for the demons to finish him off. But—
“Stop, you two!” commanded the dark one. The vampires hissed and glared at their companion, but backed away. The longing in their eyes as the red stream coursed from the wound was almost amusing to the dying man.
The dark one was livid. “Do I have to tie you two to a tree? I don’t know why you can’t control yourselves.”
Then he pointed a finger at Vlad’s chest. Cold blue lightning shot from his fingertip, burning and cauterizing the sword’s damage. Vlad couldn’t believe his eyes. He looked from himself to his benefactor, his mouth gaping wordlessly.
Finally he found his voice. “I’m—I’m healed? You, sir, are a great wizard. Might I know your name? When we get back to Wallachia, I will make you my closest confidante. We will rid my castle of those treacherous fools. But those,” he looked over at the two would-be attackers, “they would have to be destroyed. They are an abomination, a…”
“Enough!” roared the dark one. Then, a little more quietly, “Since you asked, my name is Lucius. The woman is Lilith, and the man is Bes—no, we changed it, didn’t we. His name is Ivan.”
Lilith and Ivan were scenting the air, which reeked of burnt flesh. Their mouths were open, and they were giddy with the smell. Vlad turned his head away in disgust.
“Now, my proposition…” Lucius began.
Tepes tried to sit up, but fell back in surprised pain. “I’m not healed? I can tell; the wound is only healed over the surface. Why just seal it up? Can’t you do more than that?”
Lucius glared at Tepes, a look that could have set the wounded Count on fire if he so chose. Tepes actually felt the heat coming from that dark space within the hood. Terrified, he shrank back into silence. “I do not have that power. It was taken away from me long ago,” Lucius growled. “I stopped the hemorrhage to keep those two from destroying you—for now.
“Now listen, and do not interrupt. My patience has grown shorter over time. First, a question: How would you like to live forever? No pain, no tiredness. No death, at least in mortal terms. Would you like that?”
Tepes looked over at the two undead creatures again, and he understood completely what Lucius was implying. His eyes widened in horror. “What? No! Not like that. Just let me die, and I will go and see the Old Man, and let it be my eternity.”
“Ah, Vlad, you do not know what you’re asking. I’ve been there, and it’s nothing like you are imagining. I’ll tell you a little secret,” he whispered, bending towards the frightened mortal. “None of us ever want to be there.”
The hood had come close enough to Vlad’s face to let him glimpse inside. And one quick look was more than enough. He tried to back away from Lucius, heedless of the pain, but had no energy for it. Gasping and in a cold sweat, he lay staring at Lucius in sheer terror. “You’re…you’re…!”
Lucius nodded once.
“Wh-why me? Go away! Let me die here alone!”
“Oh, no, my boy. We can’t allow that.”
“Why?” Vlad managed to croak out.
“Oh, we’ve been following your career for years now. I must admit, your actions make some of the lesser demons look weak in comparison. My compliments, sir.” Lucius bowed mockingly.
“Now, back to my question. We think you would make a perfect addition to our little family. In fact,” here he pointed a finger to Lilith and Ivan, and flicked it in a silent command, “we insist on it.”
That last was said in a growl so hideous that even the vampires hesitated. Lucius looked up at them, and they came forward again.
Vlad’s heart stopped in horror. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, as, leering, they knelt over him. The last thing Vlad Tepes knew in this life was the pain of needle-sharp teeth in his neck and sword wound, and the dull ache and pressure of his veins as they collapsed from swift loss of blood.
The dead Count’s soul floated above his inert form as the undead killers drained it of its life fluid, and vowed to get even.
Suddenly, Lilith and Ivan fell back with a cry of surprise, and Vlad could see why.
Around his body, erupting like black flumes from the ground, were several dark shapes. Some looked like spiked balls, with dark lightning flashing outward from their centers. There were also shapeless black shadows that accompanied them. They rose toward Vlad’s hovering soul, reaching for him, wanting to drag him to his eternal damnation. He was all too willing to go with them, and was about to do just that, when—
“Stop!” commanded Lucius. “He belongs to us.” The hellhounds retreated, hesitated for a moment, and returned to their abode.
Lucius looked up at Vlad’s shade. “Ivan.” Then he nodded toward the spirit hanging in mid-air. “Take him.”
Ivan looked up, then at Lucius. “No, I think two of us in here is quite enough.”
“Do as you’re told!”
“You don’t own me!” bellowed Ivan.
“I do, and the Dark One does through me. When will you admit it?”
Vlad’s ghost was trying to get away, but since he knew Heaven wouldn’t take him and Hell was denied, he wasn’t able to go anywhere.
Lilith rolled her eyes, disgusted with all of them. Then she opened her mouth, fixing Vlad’s ghost with a stare that would have killed him, had he not already been dead. He struggled, feeling his essence being drawn in, but for all his fighting soon disappeared within her.
Then she yanked Ivan around from the argument he was having with Lucius, forced his mouth open with hers, and deposited Vlad’s soul into the body that housed Cain and Judas.
The body staggered back, and, once again there was internal combat as the three souls fought each other.
Lilith glared at Lucius, then at—whatever this creature would turn out to be this time.
“At least someone did something right,” was all the thanks she would get from her master.
She nudged the Count’s body with her foot. “Couldn’t we use this body? I’m so tired of looking at that one,” she complained, jerking her thumb toward the crowded, embattled figure writhing on the ground.
“Perhaps. Let me…wait!” Lucius listened. “Someone’s coming.”
He disappeared in a flash. Lilith was about to do likewise when she remembered their “beast”. She threw her hands up in frustration, seized one of his legs, and they vanished.
Two men on horseback rode up the road from Bucharest. They spied the body on the roadside, and stopped their horses. Warily, they dismounted and crept carefully to the still figure. Hands on swords, they whispered to each other in a language foreign to these lands.
One bent down and looked closely at the lifeless face while the other stood guard, hand on sword hilt.
The first one yelped in surprise, quickly drew his sword, and decapitated the body. He waved the head by its hair, dancing in exultation and triumph. His companion joined in once he’d figured out why.
The two quickly remounted their horses. With the head of their enemy, Count Vlad Dracul, tied to one of the saddles, they tore back the way they had come. In their joy, they never noticed that no blood spurted from their enemy’s body when the head was separated from it.
The three returned to stand by the headless corpse. Lucius shook his head.
“Disappointing. But maybe it’s better this way. If Vlad’s body was still seen wandering around the countryside, there would be a lot more people talking about the undead.”
Lilith looked like she wanted to cry.
Lucius peered at Ivan, who had calmed down with the emergence of the dominant being within. Vlad’s cruel eyes stared back at him, unafraid. “Still want to die?”
“We are going to get along well, as long as you remember…”
“…that I serve the Dark One.”
Lucius nodded, satisfied. Finally!
A few nights later, after they had fed on a couple of young lovers who had been taking a moonlit stroll, Lucius announced his imminent departure.
“What?” Lilith couldn’t believe her ears. “What will we do without your guidance?” She knew full well what she was going to do, but he didn’t need to know that.
“I’m sure you’ll figure out something. As for me, my part in this little exercise is completed, and the Master wishes me to cause some mischief on the other side of the world. A new continent will be discovered soon, my children, and the seeds of vice, dominance, avarice, and all those other things we hold so dear must be sown in time to wreak havoc on the Creator’s handiwork.
“However—a parting command. I charge the two of you to stay together until such time as you have turned a thousand mortals into your own kind. You know how, and you must roam far and wide so that no one is in another’s territory.”
With that, Lucius disappeared in a vile mix of smoke and brimstone. Lilith and Vlad sat side by side in the moonlight, their victims only a few feet away. They looked at each other in silence.
Vlad leered at Lilith.
Surprised, then pleased, Lilith returned the favor.
Hmm—eternity with this one wasn’t going to be so bad after all…