I am the corner of all rooms
I am the shadows of all trees…
I am the nightmare of all fathers.
-Rammstein, Mann gegen Mann
In the year 1864, on a blustery morning in late March, there was a great stir in the small Romanian town of Vaseria. Boris Valerious, king of the gypsies, and his wife Isabel of Moldavia, had become the proud parents of their first child, Prince Velkan Alexandru. It was an especially joyous occasion, for the king and queen had been trying for a baby several years now, only to be met with disappointment and, in one unfortunate circumstance, a miscarriage. King Boris had begun to doubt his ability to provide an heir to the Valerious throne, and the demand of a son was great—the child was not only to carry the bloodline of his ancestors, but also the hope of salvation for his entire family.
For nearly four centuries his progenitors had sworn an oath to God not to rest in Heaven’s eternal peace until the evil engendered by Valerious the Elder had been destroyed. That evil, known to all Romanians as Vladislaus Dragulia, had been as feared in death as he had been in life; the former monarch of the Wallachian kingdom had been a sadistic madman—bloodthirsty, merciless and cruel. He inspired a reign of violence and terror across eastern Europe, and it wasn’t until his murder in 1462 that the terror-stricken people of Romania could at last breathe their first sighs of freedom in almost twenty years. But their relief would be short-lived, for Vladislaus returned to life, undead, with the promise of destroying every soul upon the Earth in the name of vengeance and his Infernal Master.
Even though his son was the epitome of wickedness, Valerious the Elder could not bear to kill him, even for the sake of the world. Instead, he had Vladislaus exiled to a cold and icy realm where he would remain a prisoner for the rest of his immortal life. But upon the death of the Elder, the Devil gave to Vladislaus flight, and means of escaping from his frozen place of banishment, leaving the world at the mercy of Count Dracula, Emissary of Evil.
The Valerious family had grown smaller over the years, killed by Dracula and his spreading legion of followers, until only King Boris remained. If he failed to provide an heir who could take up the sword before he passed into death, then the hundreds of souls who had fought and given their lives so valiantly would never know the realm of God’s everlasting Kingdom.
But surely now this lamentable fate would not be so, for at last a child had been blessed to the king and queen, a beautiful baby boy who held the hope of generations in his crystal blue eyes.
The gypsy king had announced the birth of his son to the residents of Vaseria from the balcony of Valerious Manor. A great cheer had gone up and the people began rejoicing, grateful that their lord’s protective lineage would continue to serve them as it had in the past. Boris arranged for a grand ball to take place that night in honour of the newborn prince, and everyone in town was invited to attend.
Such revelry had not been seen in Transylvania for centuries; spirits were merry, wine flowed like water, and the festivities carried on for three whole days, during which Isabel and the infant Velkan made brief appearances. Each time they did, cups and goblets were raised in toast, and songs of freedom and God’s victory over evil were sung with rapturous abandon, carrying loudly through the halls and corridors of the Valerious estate.
The gaiety and liveliness emanating from Vaseria was so great that its music travelled through ice and snow and reached the ears of Count Vladislaus Dracula, rousing him from his slumber in his arctic coffin.
“What noise is this?” he muttered, striding across the room to gaze out the narrow window. Through the falling snow and across the jagged horizon of mountains, Dracula stood poised, listening intently to the distant sounds of laughter and singing coming from a realm that was closer than one might believe.
“What reason do they have to be joyous?” the dark-haired man said to himself. “Have my brides not been driving fear enough into their frail mortal hearts? Have they lost their minds and are offering themselves to my mercy?”
The Count pondered in silence, listening to the mirth carried on the bitter wind and growing ever more curious. “Perhaps I shall pay the good citizens a visit,” he murmured, “and see for myself the cause for this revolting cacophony.”
Bothering not to wake his sleeping brides, Dracula grew his wings and flew into the frosty night.
Cloaked in an inconspicuous guise befitting the typical Vaserian townsman, Vladislaus Dracula wound his way through the dancing, carousing throng of people gathered in the great hall of Valerious Manor. He saw that fool of a king standing at the head of the room, laughing and singing in a rich voice with a choir of his fellow huntsmen. The Count was confused, for it seemed that Boris were acting as if he had vanquished his foe once and for all—it made no sense.
Dracula resisted the urge to reveal himself in all his vampiric, unholy wrath and throw horror into the jubilant gathering, scattering them like frightened mice. While it would be an infinite source of satisfaction, he would eventually be forced to retreat without ever having the mystery of this celebration solved, and he had not come here to start a riot. It was his own curiosity that helped him control his demonic whims.
The Count’s attention was diverted from an appetising morsel of a maiden to Boris, who was proclaiming in a proud, regal voice, “Hail! For here comes my beloved queen!”
A hearty chorus of ‘hail the queen’ was raised as the lovely, dark-haired wife of the gypsy king stepped onto the dais and stood beside her husband.
Smiling broadly, Boris put his arm about her and raised his goblet aloft, declaring, “To Isabel! My beautiful wife and an amazing woman! And to Velkan, my son! Our hope for the future!”
When the queen lifted the infant for all to see, Dracula stood riveted in shock while the people around him exploded into wild cheers. Valerious—the blundering, incompetent human—had created a child, a son, a warrior to fight against the Count. An instant enemy, simply by birth. Dracula’s rage would have been unparalleled if the pale blue of the prince’s eyes had not set themselves directly upon him, as if the child had been born with the instinct to see through whatever mask that evil wore.
Vladislaus was so perturbed by these sudden events that he immediately turned on his heel and left the ball, his mind consumed in a maelstrom of burning questions.
That night, when the party had quieted itself in the wee hours due to exhaustion and overindulgence in wine, a shadow crept soundlessly past the sleeping sentries and across the hall like water, flowing up the winding staircase, down the broad corridor, and into the king’s bedchamber. Boris lay with his wife against his breast; both were sound asleep. The shadow snaked across the floor like a serpent and to the bassinet not far from the royal bed. The darkness lifted itself from the floor and slowly took shape, and soon Count Dracula was standing above the infant prince.
With his eyes on the parents, watching for any signs of wakefulness, Dracula reached into the cradle and took baby Velkan from its safety, holding him gently so as not to make him cry. And then, with the helpless prince in his arms, the Count slipped out of the window and began to walk down the sheer stone wall as easily as if it were level ground.
“You would have been safe had you been the son of any other man,” he murmured dispassionately, stepping down from the wall and striding into the small, overgrown courtyard. “But you were born the son of my enemy, and so you are my enemy as well.”
He gazed down at the bundle in his arms, and the infant’s sleepy eyes fluttered open; he made small gurgles and mumbles, but did not cry. Dracula could not help but to admire his perfection: rosy cheeks, bright blue eyes, the thin veil of soft, dark hair upon his small head.
“One day, little prince,” said Vladislaus, “you will grow to become the man who might find the way to finish me once and for all. I am afraid I must kill you now while I have the chance, for I have children of my own who are depending on me . . .”
The Count’s sentence trailed as his thoughts wandered and something like sadness took hold of him. His own children were lifeless, dead at birth, hanging in their putrid cocoons like foul meat in a butcher’s shop, lining the dungeons and halls of his castle prison and waiting for life to be given to them. The part of Dracula that had once been human knew that his offspring were ugly, gross abominations of nature itself. They would never be as beautiful as this newborn prince which he now held, nor as intelligent—they were mere beasts in comparison, driven only by the urge to feed like savages and breed like wild animals.
Dracula had wanted children, not mindless pets. However, this did not alter his value for them, for if his brood were brought to life, their greatest strength would lie in their sheer numbers. They would help him to conquer this wretched world and every soul that dwelt in it . . . but still he desired to father children as only humans can.
Dracula was capable of doing everything a mortal man could do—and even more—with ten times the strength; but for all his powers, he fell short when called to create life anew. His very seed had been cursed so that no living mother should bear his iniquitous young, and yet the three undead women whom he had taken to be his brides bore to him nothing but abhorrent corpses. But in his arms he held a miracle, the miracle, and God’s most powerful gift to mankind: the human form of immortality.
“How I despise you,” Dracula uttered, staring down at the infant but not addressing him. “You who condemned me and abandoned me, you who smote me and ripped my heart from my breast, and stole from me no strength save the one that matters most.”
Cradling baby Velkan in one arm, Vladislaus held his hand before the infant’s face and allowed him to grasp a pale, cold finger in his warm and tiny hand. The Count smiled at such receptiveness, and then his brow furrowed when he detected that the child lacked the Mark of God upon his soul.
“You are yet to be christened, aren’t you, little one?” he said softly. “You have yet to be branded like the rest of the cattle, to become the property of a lord through no consent of your own . . . I wonder, if you were offered the choice, would you not accept me as your father? O, what glorious vengeance that would make!”
Vladislaus lifted his dark eyes to the cloudy, starless sky. “Such as you have stolen from me, so shall I steal from you, God of Worthlessness—this child will not be yours!”
With sudden violence, Dracula brought his wrist to his mouth and laid open his veins with a single sharp bite. Then, holding his wound above Velkan’s head, he allowed his blood to drip onto the infant’s fair crown in a hellish baptism.
“The king may have given you life,” said the Count through clenched teeth as he endured the pain, “but I can make it eternal. By the powers of His Infernal Malevolence, henceforth until death, its severance, I bind your soul in service to me . . . Velkan Dragulia.”
With the sacrilegious task completed, Dracula crept back into the royal bedchamber and returned the baby Velkan to his bassinet, taking care to make certain that the blood on the child’s forehead was concealed and that he was properly wrapped; human beings were so frail that even a little thing like coldness could kill them.
But not you, Velkan, my beautiful boy, thought the Count as he stroked the prince’s pudgy cheek and smiled. Very soon you will rule at my side, and help me bring life to my children. Your mothers shall love you as they love me, and your brothers and sisters shall adore and obey you. Your kingdom awaits you… soon. Very soon.
Sinking once more into the shadows, Dracula silently flowed out the window and melted into the darkness of the night.
A few days later at the prince’s christening, while Velkan wailed continuously and writhed in his swaddling, the crucifix hanging about the priest’s neck abruptly fell to the floor and shattered like a stained glass window.
Natural Born Killer Rated: T Speirs doesn't wear a soldier's mask--he simply takes his human one off. Prompt: mask.
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