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The Mist and the Dragon

The Mist and the Dragon

Everybody knows that Dracula is a medieval Romanian prince who has become a vampire after his death… Well, are you sure? But what if the prince and the vampire are two different persons, actually?

The 15th century. The Prince of Wallachia Vlad, also known as Dracula, is badly wounded in battle. Having come to his senses, he finds himself in England, at the end of the 19th century. Besides, the prince learns that his name and reputation is encroached on by 2 persons: a vampire from Transylvania named count Dracula and an Irishman Stoker.

To understand, where is the truth and where is the lie, Vlad must meet the vampire…

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Count Dracula was getting ready to sleep. The dawn was already reaching London and its suburbs, making no exception for Purfleet. The sun insistently tried to break through the fog. It was clearly making some progress: the sky on the east was gradually turning gray.

The count looked over the hall with satisfaction. The atmosphere was peaceful and relaxing: thick dust on the floor, rust on the ironclad door, laces of cobwebs, almost exactly like at his Transylvanian castle. Even the spiders looked just as fat. The spirit of neglect and decay, so familiar and luscious, gave the sense of security. He was so smart to have picked Carfax as his residence!

Dracula yawned with gusto, threw his black cloak on the shabby dusty chair, blew out the candle, and stretched in the coffin, crackling his joints. A thought flashed that he should clean his frock coat before the next visit to Lucy. A dreamy smile touched the vampire’s lips. Lu-cy… Lucy, he said in his mind, feeling pleasant warmth surge through his body from the sound of that name. The blood of the pretty Lucy Westenra was a truly exquisite dish; it even seemed to have some intoxicating effect. Dracula once again praised himself for the brilliant idea to move to Britain—where else would he have found such delicacy? Surely, most English young ladies were just as excellent to the taste… in all senses. They were so innocent, so sweet…

The vampire smiled even wider—Miss Westenra pleased him not only from the gastronomical point of view. Last night, when the count had once again visited her boudoir, the maiden was absorbed in some eastern book with rather spicy pictures… One Thousand and One Nights he thought it was. The count practically didn’t need to entrance the Englishwoman—either thanks to the abovementioned pictures or because he had induced romantic feelings in her (and the count sensed such things from afar), but Lucy simply burst forth with happiness as she saw him. When he, surrounded by shimmering fog, stately and elegant as always in his black cloak, soared majestically through the window into Lucy’s room, she nearly jumped out of her dress, eating the count with adoring eyes. Lucy Westenra’s cheeks turned rosy, her breast heaving, the luxurious red curls tousled. The young woman reached out her hands to him, smiling invitingly…

No, this way I won’t fall asleep until noon, the count stopped himself. He sighed again and licked his lips. All kinds of memories, pleasant but not sleep-inducing, crowded in his head; the count tossed and turned. He should think about something relaxing… count black sheep or coffins, for example. He could also estimate the month’s expenses—although, that would most likely spoil his mood. The sheep would probably be better.

He squeezed his eyes shut and began to count with diligence: One black sheep, two black sheep, three black sheep, trying to imagine the curly, bleating animals on a meadow. For quite a long time, it wasn’t working: at first, instead of black sheep Miss Lucy’s snow-white neck would appear before his eyes, together with just as snow-white shoulders and… well, everything else located below; then the pictures from the Arabian book that, it had to be admitted, had made him, Count Dracula, blush... However, the long-awaited sheep showed up at last, accompanied with spiders, followed by the face of a London notary who was for some reason shearing the sheep… In short, the count was already beginning to sink into sleep when something seemed to kick him from the inside: with every cell of his being the vampire sensed danger, and very close, right under his nose. He flung his eyes open. That proved to be very timely, for there was a mustached man standing over him, with a stake in his hand and with rather unambiguous intentions.

The count intercepted the stranger’s raised arm. And here something strange began.

Usually—for the count wasn’t finding himself in such a situation for the first time—usually at this point the intruders would start screaming in horror, try to break free, or faint, and it would end with the count snacking on the unfortunate killer. Or simply breaking their neck.

But this stake-bearer wasn’t getting scared. He only made a displeased grimace and said through his teeth in Hungarian, “How dare you! Let me go this minute! One broken arm is quite enough for me!”

“Wha-a-at?” The count was dumbfounded. “How dare you! You broke into my house, wanted to kill me, and you are telling me off?”

The stranger gave a sharp, scornful laugh in response. Surprised, the count released his arm.

“If this house is just as yours as the name you call yourself, then it doesn’t belong to you, either,” the stranger declared, throwing aside the stake and rubbing the arm where white marks were left by the vampire’s iron fingers.

Dracula jerked himself upright in the coffin. I must be having a nightmare, he supposed. But he didn’t believe his own supposition. The “nightmare” scornfully gazing at him from under thick black eyebrows looked too real, too fleshly. The stranger was not tall, but well built; the features of the swarthy face were sharp, eyes round, brownish-green. Under the hawkish nose he sported a luxurious black mustache; dark wavy hair fell down to the shoulders. The uninvited guest clearly wasn’t British. Further still, he was no commoner, either, judging by the imperiousness that shone through his every feature. The thwarted vampire killer, whoever he was, was clearly accustomed to rule. He was dressed as an ordinary middle class Londoner, but the gray tweed suit looked out of place on him. Above the collar one would expect to see a normal, plain, snub-nosed and gray-eyed English face, not this haughty black-browed countenance. The right arm was in a cast, hanging in a sling; the stranger must have been recently wounded.

“Who are you, for crying out loud?”

The answer was rather unexpected. “Prince Vlad Basarab, gospodar of Wallachia,” the stranger stated with defiance. “I am also called Dracula.” Having announced that, he sat down on the only chair in the room, right on the count’s coat.

“Who-o? Dr…Dra-acula?” the stunned vampire drawled, nearly blurting out, Then who do you think I am?

“Actually, I am Dracula,” he said instead. “I am Count Dracula.” The count wanted to stand up, but he thought it wouldn’t look good—the impertinent stranger was sitting and he, the master of the house, would be standing before him; so he remained sitting in the coffin.

The stranger claiming the count’s name let out a snide laugh. “Dracula… Of course. In that case, I’m the Pope!”

“What?” The vampire was at a complete loss, but then he realized he was simply being mocked. He jumped to his feet.

“Listen, you!” he snapped. “I don’t know what your real name is, but I won’t allow you to make fun of me! Answer me now, who are you and how did you get into my house? Otherwise…”

“Otherwise?” Dracula #2 arched an eyebrow, still smiling ironically.

“Otherwise you will die a painful death!” the count roared in fury.

The visitor leapt to his feet as well, clutching the stake. “Only try touching me, you devil’s seed, I dare you!”

Dracula let out a vicious hiss, looking at the vampire-fighting weapon. Somehow, he didn’t want to have it tested on himself. The dawn was breaking, and he felt a little tired. There was no telling how a fight with the armed stranger could end; the man seemed strong enough and, most importantly, confident. Besides, the count had to find out what all this cabaret with the mixed up names meant.

He drew in a deep breath, trying to calm down, and continued in a more peaceful tone, “Wait a minute. Let’s try to sort it all out. So you claim that you are Dracula.”

“Oh yes. That’s right.”

“But you are mistaken, because I am Dracula, and I’ve always been.”

The uninvited guest narrowed his eyes. “Are you sure? Did you receive this name by the right of birth, because your father bore it? Or were you nicknamed so for some sort of deeds? What deeds and when?”

The count was slightly taken aback. The fact was that he had no memory of his father, mother or other relatives, although, logically, he was supposed to have them at some point. He didn’t recall doing any special deeds, either—it was unlikely that drinking blood could count as such. He did not even remember how he had actually become a nosferatu. He’d just always been himself—Dracula the vampire, and that’s the end of it. The count squared his shoulders and assumed as haughty an expression as he could muster.

“I am the last of an ancient line that traces its roots to Attila himself. Many, many centuries I have spent at my castle on the Borgo Pass. Many, many centuries the people of Transylvania trembled at the sound of my name,” he began in a dark and solemn tone.

Usually, it made an imperishable impression upon listeners. But it didn’t seem to work on Vlad.

“I don’t recall a family in Transylvania that would bear the name of Dracula. My father had been nicknamed ‘Dracul’ because he had entered the Order of the Dragon, to protect Christians from Muslim dogs. I was called ‘Draculea,’ which means ‘son of Dracul.’ Perhaps you do trace your line to Attila, but you aren’t my brother, so you can’t be Dracula.”

The insult, and the impossibility of what was taking place, made the count sick to the stomach. “How dare you!”

“I have told you about my father; now you tell me about yours,” Vlad asked with a Jesuit smile.

The count felt that he was losing ground. The situation could be saved only by confidence, and a counter-attack.

“Why am I supposed to do as you say and tell you anything? Even if you really are a prince, I am not your subject!” he thundered.

The eyes of the second Dracula flared up with anger. “I really am a prince. The question is, who are you? It seems to me that you simply can’t share anything about your family, because a devil’s seed like yourself can’t have a family or a name.”

Dracula rose to throw himself at the offender and tear him to pieces but stopped. The saddest thing was that the visitor who called himself Vlad was right: the count didn’t have a family. He realized it with clarity. He never had one. And about Attila he spoke out of habit, to make an impression. The only part of it that was true was that before moving to England he did live in a castle on the Borgo Pass, in Transylvania, for many centuries. What was before that, Dracula didn’t remember. He couldn’t even remember who lived in the castle before him, if anyone did at all.

The count saddened. The visitor kept looking at him expectantly, and there wasn’t a drop of fear in that look, which made the vampire’s mood drop several more degrees.

He wearily lowered himself back in the coffin.

“What do you want from me?” he asked in a quiet voice. “To kill me? You don’t look like a vampire hunter. They don’t ask about genealogy, they just try to do their job.”

“What do I want? I want to restore justice. The name of Dracula must speak of military glory, of fighting for the prosperity of the country, not of hellish scheming of the undead. And one more thing—I just wish to see the one I’ve been told so much about, and figure out what they want from me in this city. Then we’ll see.”

“Wait, wait,” the count said, getting interested. “How do you know about me to begin with? Who told you, and what did they say?”

Vlad spread his hands. “I know very little about them myself. On one hand, they saved my live, so it’s unlikely they are my enemies—or at least so I thought at first. They said that my name,” (here the count once again felt the urge to tear the impertinent guest to small pieces) “has been stolen by a servant of Lucifer, a vampire, and I must destroy him. They also kept talking about some devilish book that’s being written by a certain… uh… Abraham Stoker. Lord, these barbarian names are so hard to remember!”

“What book? Could you tell me more about it?”

“The book? Ah, yes… that’s the main point. It tells about a vampire who bears the name of Dracula, describing the ungodly deeds of that nosferatu…”

“That is, myself?” the count pointed out. “You mean that this book is my—how do I put it—my life story?”

“That’s right,” Vlad nodded. “And if it’s allowed to reach the public, the name of Dracula will be forever tainted.”

“I never ordered my biography to anyone,” Dracula said, his face darkening. “I have absolutely no need in extra popularity. The more people know about you, the more vulnerable you are. Wait a minute, did you get my address from them as well?”

“Exactly so.”

Dracula frowned. “That’s bad. And you have come to kill me?”

Vlad only gave a wide smile in response.

“Listen, dear prince,” Dracula began suavely. “Have you not thought of trying to investigate the matter? Who are these people? Why did they save you?”

“I have. I don’t trust them. The more I watch these people, the less I like them. They have drowned in lies. Perhaps they are not plotting against me, but they’re clearly lying to me. I don’t know whether it’s all lies… and, most importantly, why are they doing it? Until I figure it out, I’m not going back to them.”

“Very wise. In fact, I think we should join our efforts. If the book you have mentioned sees the light of day, it will complicate life for us both. See for yourself: you can’t stand the thought of the name ‘Dracula’ being connected to a vampire, that is, myself, do I understand it correctly? And to me, notoriety would be rather damaging. I might have to relocate again, I’m afraid, which I really wouldn’t want to do. So we’d better deal with this… Stoker, either force him to rewrite his book or destroy it altogether. And I would be very curious to take a look at those people who try to use you, the Wallachian prince, for their purposes,” the count added with a dark smile.

The vampire touched the right chord: the prince frowned.

“Use me? Gracious heaven! I wish I knew what purposes… It’s all right, I’ll call their bluff! You are offering an alliance? Very well. I never dreamed I’d take an undead as an ally, but so be it! But don’t you think you will get away with possessing the name of Dracula; I’ll take care of that later. And don’t try to offer me to join the devil’s servants!”

“All right, all right. Don’t worry, dear prince; I have no intention of encroaching on your faith or your property!” Whew, it seemed to work. No one was going to wave a stake at him today. “Let’s think of what to do next.”

“Hmm… Well, going back to those… tricksters wouldn’t do for me, as I’ve already said,” Vlad thoughtfully replied. “Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll live here for a while. Your house is dirty but big; there’s enough room for two. I am unpretentious.”

“Uh… well…” the count said, caught off guard. “Certainly, stay here. Be my guest.”

The prince rose from the chair and took a few steps around the room, wincing in disgust. He sneezed a couple of times. “It’s sure dusty in here!”

“Suits me.” The count pursed his lips.

“Do you have water?” Vlad asked.

“Uh… Actually, no. I have no use for it.”

The prince made a face. “Fine. I should have known—why would you have water, you’re a vampire.” He made a show of picking up a cobweb with his finger and shook it off with revulsion. “I’m not even going to ask about food. It doesn’t look like you’re going to offer me any roast meat or garlic sausage or wine…”

The count couldn’t take it any longer. “Listen, prince! Why do you always try to insult me? Yes, I don’t need water and human food; yes, like all vampires, I love desolation and sleep among dust and cobwebs! In a coffin, mind you! My home isn’t suited for visitors—human visitors, that is. I could turn you into a nosferatu—then you’d be comfortable! Speaking of food, I think I am getting hungry…” The count bared his teeth, assuming the scariest look he could come up with.

The prince automatically made a gesture as if to grab his sword, but since he didn’t have one he just slammed his fist on the table. “Dare to say it once more, and I’ll send you back to hell!”

“Yeah, right, and then you’ll chase Stoker all by yourself! Run after him all over London!” Count Dracula parried. “By the way, you’ve made me dig out some information from the depths of my memory… Do you happen to be that Wallachian prince who ruled in the XV century and was nicknamed ‘Tepes’ for his methods?”

Judging by how the face of the second Dracula changed, Dracula the first hit the bull’s eye.

“Enemies gave me that nickname,” reluctantly and after a pause replied Tepes (well, perhaps he can be called so, for a change). “I’ve always been harsh with them. But to my own people I have been beneficent.”

The count laughed with pleasure. “I think the people should be asked about that. Judging by the tales the Romanians who live in my area still tell, they are not inclined to praise your benefactions. Instead, they keep recalling how you impaled folks for the slightest misdeed…”

“Nonsense! Slander! Actually, what are you trying to imply by that?”

“Nothing, absolutely nothing,” the count said in a reconciling tone. Having spoiled the impertinent visitor’s mood, he restored his own peace of mind and soul—regardless of what theology says about vampires having or not having souls. “We have no need to squabble, dear prince, you must agree. I suggest that we get some rest and then, with our strength refreshed, put together a plan of action.”

“Very well,” Tepes muttered. “A reasonable suggestion.”

The count looked around, searching for a suitable bed for the guest. That promised complications as well, since he could only offer the prince to sleep: a) on the table—but the table was too small; b) in one of the wooden boxes with soil, but most likely the prince wouldn’t agree to that; and c) on the floor.

The count chose the last option.

“I suppose you could settle on the floor, dear prince. I don’t have a bed, sorry,” he informed the guest. “And tomorrow we’ll think of something.”

Tepes once again looked over the room.

“Thank you, Count, I appreciate your hospitality,” he grumbled and, without pausing to think, spread the count’s cloak on the floor and stretched on it, carefully positioning the arm in the cast. The count opened his mouth to protest but then closed it. He was very sleepy. To hell with the cloak, he mentally waved it off. I’ll buy a new one. He lied down in the coffin and closed his eyes.

The overcast morning at last fully established its rule over Carfax Abbey.

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