by E. A. Haas
Gustav Helsing sat at his desk, pouring over a letter from an old friend. The first page or so was full of ordinary gossip and news, but the second page caught his attention. I have made a very exciting discovery, Gustav read. During my travels in Belgium, I came across a new weapon for our arsenal against vampyres and their kin. I hesitate to write it down, lest this letter somehow fall into the wrong hands. Since I'll be up your way next week, I'd like to stop in and see you so I can explain. I'll call you when I get in. Your friend, John Collins. Gustav frowned. *A new weapon?* He looked back up at the date--Tuesday the third. *Today is the eleventh--he should be calling soon--* Gustav's train of thought was interrupted by the shrilling of the phone next to him. He picked it up.
"This is Gustav."
"Gustav, it's John!"
"John! I was just reading your letter! What did you mean, a new weapon?"
"Not over the phone. You never know who might be listening."
"Can I come by later--say, around four?"
"Of course! You'd be welcome! I'll order schnitzel--it'll be just like old times."
"Fantastic. I'll see you then."
"See you." Gustav hung up the phone, and looked back at his friend's letter. *A new weapon... maybe this will be the key to finally defeating Dracula.*
Alexander Lucard, the man once known as Vlad Dracula, sat at his black desk, deep in thought. He was in the middle of a very important deal with a major corporation, and the CEO was being difficult. A nervous man, Christoph Schreck was at once shrewd and cautious, an excellent pair of qualities in the business world--but also a pair of qualities that made negotiating with him very time-consuming and difficult. More than once, Lucard had been tempted to simply let the deal go, but this was far too important to his company for him to give that option serious consideration. He sighed softly. The corporate world was so much more aggravating than the world he'd begun his adulthood in. With a smile, he recalled impaling thieves outside his Wallachian Castle. *Yes,* he thought, *things were simpler then. But now my genius can be appreciated more fully.*
He leaned forward and punched a button on his phone. "Get me Christoph Schreck."
The young woman got off the airplane, tucking a loose strand of her gold-brown hair behind one ear. *So this is where I'll find him,* she thought, thinking of the man--no, the vampyre--she'd hunted for so long. *If my sources were correct,* she added, remembering how many other towns she'd tried without success, following hunches and rumors. As she waited for the carousel to bring her luggage into view, the woman fingered a heavy gold signet ring on a chain around her neck. *If only mama were here to see me now.* Memories of her mother handing over that ring flashed through her mind. You must find him. You must! This will be your proof when you finally confront him. He cannot deny his own seal. A dying woman, desperately surrendering the only thing she had to lead her child to Dracula. The young woman looked down at the old ring, watching the light play over the tower depicted on it. *I am so close, mama. I will not fail you now. I will not fail us now.* Her bags finally made an appearance, and, heavy though they were, she hefted them with ease, and headed off.
Once she reached the main part of the town, she realized how woefully easy it was to get lost here. She knew the twists and turns of the labyrinthine streets in her home town of Bistrita, but these were far more complex. Although she knew what she was looking for--the headquarters of Lucard Industries--she had no idea how to find it. With a frustrated sigh, she set her bags down and looked around for someone to ask for directions.
Max Townsend sighed. He'd been sent out to pick up a few things from the grocery, and was not at all happy about it. As he walked toward the store, he saw a young woman with two good-sized duffels standing in the middle of the sidewalk and looking lost. With the careful eye for detail of a budding vampyre-hunter, he took in all her details, looking for clues. Loose clothing--a blouse and comfortable jeans; long gold-brown hair braided down her back; dark glasses, which made him wonder if she was a vampyre until he remembered that it was actually very bright out; and fair, almost pale skin. He kept walking as he neared her, and when she saw him, she smiled.
"Excuse me," she said, in a soft, accented voice, "but could you give me directions? I am afraid that I am new to this town and have become rather lost."
Max smiled charmingly, and said in his most mature voice, "but of course. Where to?"
"The headquarters of Lucard Industries."
Max stared at her, his assumed maturity vanishing. "What?!"
"Lucard Industries--I am in the correct town, am I not?"
"Uh, yeah, but... you don't want to go there."
"Trust me. You do not want to see that guy."
"I've been looking for him for years--I can hardly give up now, can I?"
"Whoa. You've been looking for the bloodsucker of the year?"
At that, the young woman's expression changed. "How much do you know about Monsieur Lucard, young man?"
Max was on firmer ground now. "Quite a bit, actually. How much do you know about him?"
"I know a great deal about his past, but very little about his latest identity. He can be a rather difficult... man to trace when he so wishes."
"Okay, so you know Lucard isn't his real name. Do you know who he really is?"
The young woman glanced around the street. While nearly deserted, it did have a few passers-by on it. "Perhaps we should go somewhere else to talk? One can never know who might be listening on a public road."
"True," Max said loftily. "Very true. Hey, why don't you come back to my Uncle's place? We could, you know, swap notes on Drac- I mean, swap notes on Lucard." He grinned.
She smiled and nodded. "That sounds wonderful. It is so pleasant after hunting Lucard for so long to meet someone eager to help. Please, allow me to introduce myself--my name is Ana Jourdan."
Max shook her hand as he replied, "I'm Max, Max Townsend--at your service."
"It's a pleasure, Max. When should I... come over?"
"Uh... when's good for you? I know Uncle Gustav's not doing anything this afternoon..."
"Would it be all right for me to drop off my bags before meeting your Uncle? They are rather heavy."
"Sure! Um... here's my address," he scribbled it down on a gum wrapper in his pocket.
"I shall see you in about an hour, then. Could you tell me how to get to the Swan Inn?"
"No problem. Head down that way, then take a right at the second street. It's on your left. See ya later!"
Max watched her walk down the street, and grinned. *Another vampyre hunter! Wow! I wonder how many she's staked...*
Gustav stared at his nephew. "You didn't pick up the groceries because you ran into a vampyre hunter?"
"Yeah, Uncle Gustav--it was so cool! She asked me directions to Lucard's place, and I asked her why, and she said she'd been hunting him for a long time! We got to talking, and she's gonna come over to meet you--she said she knows a lot about his past, but not much about him since he changed identities."
"Max, Max, you don't even know who she is!"
"Her name's Ana Jourdan, and she seemed really nice. I bet she's a great vampyre hunter."
The front door opened, admitting Chris and Sophie. Chris was saying, "I'm tellin' ya, Soph, you really ought to try going to a rock concert some time. It's much more interesting than that Bach guy."
"Chris--" she stopped when they caught sight of the expressions on Max and Gustav's faces. "What's going on?"
"Max claims to have found a new vampyre hunter in town."
Chris rolled his eyes. "Max, what kind of trouble are you in now?"
"I'm not in trouble, Chris. I found another believer. She's been after Dracula for a long time. She said so!"
"And she's coming over later," Gustav said. "At Max's invitation."
Sophie stared unbelieving at the ten-year-old. "You invited someone you don't even know to come over?"
"Yeah--but not to come in, so it's okay, all right? Jeez, Sophie, calm down."
She just shook her head and went upstairs.
Chris sighed. "You're really something, Max, you know that?"
"What is with you guys? I found us another ally!"
Chris rolled his eyes and followed Sophie up the stairs.
Distressed, Max turned to his Uncle. "Uncle Gustav, I didn't do anything majorly stupid, did I?"
"No, Max, just something risky. What if she's a vampyre? I've warned you about inviting strangers over before."
"I know--but you'll see when you meet her. She'll be over any time now."
Gustav sighed, and went to the cabinet for a flask of Holy Water, just in case.
They didn't have to wait long. All four were downstairs in the family room when the doorbell rang. Max leapt up. "That's gotta be her. I'll get it."
It was indeed Ana. "Good evening, Max. May I come in?"
"Sure! Uncle Gustav's back here." He led her into the den and introduced her to Gustav and the others.
"It's an honor to meet a member of your family, Herr Helsing. Max tells me that you know quite a bit about Alexander Lucard. I am very anxious to learn more about his new identity, for although I know much of his past, I know almost nothing of him lately."
"Really? Please, sit down. Miss Jourdan, may I ask why you've been hunting Lucard?"
She paused, the grief over her mother's death filling her eyes briefly. "It is... a family matter. I would prefer not to discuss it."
"Oh, I'm very sorry. I understand."
"Tell me--what do you know about him?"
"To begin with, his real name is Vlad Tepes, although he is more popularly known as Dracula. He is approximately five hundred years old, and very powerful. I have a list," she pulled a notebook out of her backpack, "of his former identities."
Gustav looked it over. "Even I didn't know about some of these!" He handed it to Sophie, who glanced through it, impressed.
She smiled. "Unfortunately, I did not learn that he was calling himself Alexander Lucard until a few weeks ago. I have been working forward from his early days as Prince of Wallachia, trying to... get to know him."
"I see. Say, I have a friend coming over, a fellow hunter, who says he's found a new weapon against vampyres. Would you like to meet him?"
"I would be honored. Thank you."
"He'll be over in about an hour."
"Marvelous. Tell me, how strong is his financial empire?"
"Extremely. He's got investments in banking, real estate, and chemicals, and is trying to take over the world's financial workings. We've been working to stop him, but it isn't easy--he's got the police under his thumb, along with the politicians."
"I can see that it must be difficult. It is such a pleasure to meet others who believe. I have had so many difficulties..."
"That's not surprising," Chris said, "I mean, being alone and all. At least there are four of us."
The hour went by swiftly as they talked, trading tales and information. When there was a knock on the door, Gustav answered it, and led a man in his mid-fifties into the room. "John, allow me to present Sophie Metternich, Ana Jourdan, and Max and Chris Townsend. Everyone, this is John Collins."
They all sat back down, and Helsing asked, "so, John, what is this new development you told me about?"
"Ah, yes." He drew a small bottle from his pocket and handed it to Helsing. Ana couldn't help but notice the cross etched in the glass.
Helsing turned it in his hands and passed it to the boys. "It looks like Holy Water."
"It is--but with a difference. This water, when it strikes a vampyre or one of their zombies, paralyses them! Try as they might, they can't move. It makes hunting at night much safer."
"Cool!" Max exclaimed, looking at the flask with renewed interest.
"How did you make it?" Sophie asked.
"I had water from a spring in Belgium blessed--I had no idea that it had special properties until I used it against a vampyre. I did a little experimenting--as much as was safe--and discovered that it was the spring-water that made the difference, not who blessed it."
"Fascinating." Sophie had handed the flask to Ana, who was gazed at it intently, holding it as if it might explode. "I assume that you have plans for it, since Dracula is in the area."
"I'm going to kill the bastard," Collins declared. "Helsing, I know you've tracked him... your family has tracked him, for ages. I'd be honored if you'd join me."
"Of course! I wouldn't dream of missing his demise." Helsing chuckled and rubbed his hands together. "But, Ana--she has an interest in this as well."
Collins looked at the young woman, who was still holding the bottle. "Oh?"
"Yes." She handed the water back to him. "I've been... hunting Dracula, or Lucard, as he now calls himself, for a very long time. Would it be asking too much for me to accompany you?"
"I don't see any problem with it." Helsing said. "John?"
"No, not at all. You're welcome to come along. But, if I may ask, what is your interest in him?"
"It is a ... family matter."
"Aah. I understand." he gave her a sympathetic look.
"Uncle Gustav," Max interrupted, "we can come too, right?"
"Well, I don't know if it would be -" Helsing began, but Chris cut him off.
"Come on, Uncle Gustav, we've been with ya all along!"
"Please, Uncle Gustav," Sophie added. "I want to be there."
Helsing sighed. "All right. When do we want to try it?"
"Why not tonight?" Max was all but hovering over the couch cushions in his excitement.
"We'll need time to plan," Ana said mildly.
"Very true." Helsing looked thoughtful. "Today's Wednesday... why not Friday night? It'll be the end of a the work week, and he won't have slept much. In a weakened state, he'll be safer to take on."
"Sounds good." Collins smiled. "Now--let's get to work planning this thing."
Early the next morning, Ana sat at the desk in her hotel room. *Do it,* she told herself, *you've finally found him, now do it!* With a forced calm belied by the way her hands shook, she picked up the phone and dialed the number she'd found in the phone book.
Across town, Alexander Lucard sat in his office, a slightly revised proposal from Christoph Schreck spread across his desk. *These numbers are much more acceptable,* he mused silently. *Obviously, my mentioning Schreck's... indiscretions had the appropriate effect on him. Really, a married man ought to be more careful where he spends his nights.* He chuckled, but was cut off as his intercom buzzed, and his secretary told him that he had a call on line one. A frown settled over his features. "I'm busy."
"I told her that, sir, but she says that it's important."
Lucard glared down at the figures and sighed. "Very well." He picked up the phone, and said rather testily, "This is Alexander Lucard."
"Monsieur Lucard? I have two very important pieces of information for you. The first concerns Gustav Helsing."
The frown left Lucard's face to be replaced by a grim look. "What is it?"
"Is this a secure line?"
"As secure as any phone can be."
"Helsing, his young friends, and a man named John Collins are planning a... visit to your castle this Friday evening. I'm afraid that it is not a friendly one."
"That is not surprising."
"Sir, they have a new sort of water they want to try on you--it is very powerful."
"That is interesting. What are its properties?"
"Very interesting. Thank you. May I ask who you are and why you are telling me all of this?"
"My name is Ana Jourdan, and my reasons relate to the second piece of information, which I must deliver in person."
"In person?" he repeated, his curiosity underlied by suspicion.
Lucard's eyes narrowed in thought. "Very well. Why don't we have dinner at my castle, tonight. You can tell me then."
"Marvelous. I shall see you then. Good bye."
Lucard hung up the phone and leaned back in his chair, fingers templed as he thought. "Interesting."
Ana sagged back in her chair, letting her breath out in a sigh of relief. She'd done it. Now all that remained was to meet with him, and give him the ring. *I wonder how he is going to react when I tell him...*
Later that afternoon, Alexander Lucard got a call from Christoph Schreck. The CEO was as nervous as ever, and eager to please--but wanted to see Lucard in person to iron out the details of the deal. Lucard agreed, and hung up the phone. *Well,* he thought to himself, *Helsing and his young friends will have a fine surprise when they arrive to find me gone.* He indulged in a brief chuckle to himself as he pressed the intercom button to give the orders to his secretary.
Across town, Gustav Helsing sat at his own desk, reading. The phone rang, and he picked it up.
"This is Gustav."
"Gustav, it's John. Lucard must have found out about Friday somehow--he's leaving town."
"What? How do you know?"
"I've been monitoring his company's travel plans so I can keep track of where he is. It's amazing what you can do with the right friends in the computer industry. The point is, we need to move the attack. If he knows, he could have set up an ambush for us."
"True, true. What do you suggest?"
"I say we move it up to tonight, catch the creep while he's on the run."
"Don't you think he might be expecting that?"
"It's a chance we'll have to take. If we leave it until he returns, he'll be doubly prepared to defend himself."
"You're right." Gustav sighed. "I'll call Ana; I have her number at the hotel. Let's meet here... " He looked at his watch, then out the window. "We'll need some time to get things together, but let's all meet here as soon as possible. The sun's starting to go down."
"I'm on my way."
Ana flinched when the phone rang. She'd been lost in thought, trying to decide on an outfit for dinner that evening.
"Ana? This is Gustav."
"Oh, Herr Helsing! What is it? You sound upset."
"Lucard is leaving town tomorrow morning. We've had to move the attack to tonight. How soon can you get over to my house?"
Her mind spinning, Ana looked out the window. "But it's almost sunset!"
"I know--that's why time is of the essence."
"Let me get changed and I'll be right over."
"All right. Goodbye."
"Goodbye." Ana hung the phone up. Her dinner with Lucard! That was out of the question now. She gave herself a mental shake, and lifted the phone, dialing swiftly.
"I need to speak with Monsieur Lucard."
"I'm sorry, Monsieur Lucard is busy now."
"I called earlier, and it's about the same issue. It concerns his life. I must speak with him!" Ana's calm veneer was slipping.
She waited interminable seconds before hearing, "This is Lucard."
"Monsieur Lucard! This is Ana Jourdan."
"What, is something wrong? I hope nothing that will interfere with our dinner this evening."
"Unfortunately, it will. Helsing somehow found out that you're leaving town, and the attack has been moved to tonight."
There was a moment of silence on the other end of the phone. Then, "What?"
"You are leaving for somewhere tomorrow, yes?"
"Helsing knows. He knows you won't be in the castle tomorrow evening, so he's leading the group in tonight."
"Thank you for the warning. That does interfere with our plans for this evening, doesn't it?"
*He's so calm about this!* Ana thought, then said softly, "Yes, it does."
"I am afraid that I do not know when I will be back from this trip, so I will call you later to arrange another time for dinner. Thank you again, Miss Jourdan. Goodbye."
"Goodbye, Monsieur." She hung up, calmed herself, and gathered her things to leave.
The group walked as softly as possible through Lucard's courtyard. Although it was dark and foggy, Helsing knew where he was going. "This way."
They were effectively armed to the teeth--all carried stakes, all but Ana carried crosses, the boys had loaded waterguns with the special Holy Water, and the others had bottles of it ready for splashing.
Out of the fog, a zombie lurched into view in front of them. The group halted as Max fired. With a hiss, the zombie froze, the impact site of the water smoking. Collins staked the creature, which glowed and vanished. "You see?" he said, "like taking candy from a baby."
They continued, reaching the front door--which was unlocked. As they entered cautiously, Helsing frowned. "That's odd... He wouldn't leave it--"
He fell silent as a group of zombies emerged from behind the statues in the lobby. The hunters turned, preparing to go back through the door, and saw that retreat was cut off by a second group of mindless undead. Chris and Sophie froze the inside group as Max pumped up his Supersoaker and doused the group outside. Once frozen, the zombies were disposed of quickly, and the group continued into the castle. "He knew we were coming," Chris said softly, voicing the concerns of the others.
"Where will we find him?" Ana asked softly.
"Let's try the Great Hall," Helsing replied, taking the lead once again.
They met almost no resistance as they made their way through the rest of the castle to the desired room. As they came through the doorway at the top of the stairs leading down into the lofty room, they saw a roaring fire in the fireplace, and a figure seated and reading a book in one of the tall-backed chairs. All six poured into the room and down the stairs as the figure stood to face them . It was Lucard. He viewed the waterguns and crosses with disdain. "What now, Helsing? You're interrupting my reading." He set the book down carefully, and gazed at them, a model of calm collectedness.
"Now, kids!" Helsing cried, and the youngsters unleashed their waterguns as Ana moved over to Lucard. The blond vampyre had just enough time to get his hand up and keep the water from striking his face before he was paralyzed. Helsing stalked towards him. "Now, Dracula, this is the end. After all the years of struggle..." He raised his stake.
Ana put a hand up and stepped in front of Lucard. "No, Helsing."
They all stared at her. "What?"
"I said no. You will not stake him. Once you moved the attack up, I had no way to stop you--but this is as far as I will permit you to go. You shall not kill him."
"But, Ana -" Sophie was stunned. "You said you had hunted him too!"
"Not to kill him, Sophie."
Helsing made a try at getting around her, and Ana hissed at him, revealing a pair of fully extended fangs.
"Go, Helsing," she all but growled at him.
One of the kids fired off a spray of holy water at her, and she flinched, her fangs retracting. A wisp of steam trailed upwards from her shoulder. She shook herself, and smiled.
"I told you that there was much I did not know about Lucard--but there is also much that you do not know about me."
Collins gaped. "How can you still move? You're a vampyre, I saw the fangs!"
"No, I am a dhampyre, the half-breed child of a vampyre and a human." she grimaced. "I am slowed by your special water, but not frozen. And it will be wearing off my--" she stopped herself. "It will be wearing off Dracula shortly, so I suggest that you depart before you have to face both of us."
The entire group gaped at her. "I don't get in," Max said, "you helped us..."
"For my own reasons. Now go!" Lucard's fingers flexed slightly as the water began to wear off, and Ana smiled. She took a step towards them, barely flinching as they brought their crosses up again. "Go!" They ran.
Ana turned back to Lucard. "I am sorry about that, Monsieur. Had I known the moved time of attack sooner, I would have let you know."
His eyes tracked her movements as she walked towards him.
"The water will wear off in a few more moments. I am sure that you ... have many questions for me, as I have questions to ask you."
It didn't take Helsing and the others long to get back to his place. Still stunned at what had happened, they collapsed into the chairs and sofa in the living room.
"I don't get it," Max said again. "She helped us!"
Helsing frowned. "She said she was a dhampyre... but I thought they were just legends! John?"
"I've heard of them as well, Gustav. I've even met people who swore they'd seen one. But if she's a half-breed, why would she be looking for Dracula?"
"Maybe her vampyre parent abandoned her and her mother," Sophie mused. "She could be looking for a teacher." A cloud passed over her face as she recalled the brief time when she had sought Lucard out for the same reason.
Max's eyes widened with inspiration. "Yeah, she'd want Dracula, since he's one of the oldest!"
Chris shook his head, his brow creased with thought. "But she said she'd been trying to get to know him..." The realization hit them all at the same time. "Lucard must be--"
She watched in silence as Lucard fought off the hold the water had put on him. Finally, he stiffly lowered his arms and shook his head in annoyance. "I do indeed have questions for you, Miss Jourdan--please, sit." The anger in his voice was offset by the curiosity in his eyes as he gestured her into the other chair before the fireplace. As he sat back in the chair he'd left, he said, "so, you are a dhampyre. I had not known there were any in existence anymore."
"There are not many of us, but there are a few. It takes a particularly... strong vampyre to father a child."
"Why were you looking for me in particular?" Lucard templed his fingers and leaned back to listen to her.
"Do you remember a small town in Transylvania, near the Borgo pass, called Bistrita?"
Lucard nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, I think I do."
"You passed though there in the winter of 1848, on business, I believe. A group of peasants realized who you were, and attempted to kill you. Although they were unsuccessful, they did injure you severely, and you took refuge in a small house outside of town, with a young widow."
A smile flickered across his lips. "Yyess... I do remember that. An unpleasant episode, though not without its... high points."
"She was loyal to the old monarchy, and took care of you--and fell in love with you."
A shadow passed over Lucard's face. "Yes. Poor Elisabeta."
"After the townspeople realized you were there, they burned the place. You fled, and she was driven from town, nearly killed. It is a miracle that she survived. But she did survive... and she bore a child, Dracula. Your child."
Realization dawned in his face, and he stared at her. "You--?"
"Yes. I have hunted for you since Mama died. She did not even tell me that I was... a dhampyre until I began to show odd powers--night vision, remarkable strength. She did tell me about you. Before she died, Mama gave me the ring you had left her." Ana drew the chain from beneath her blouse, then over her head. As she handed it over to him, she said softly, "I've carried it since she died. She... said that if I ever found you, I should give it to you, that it would show I told the truth."
Lucard gazed at the signet ring, watching the firelight play on the gold, highlighting the tower design.
"I was alone after Mama was gone, there was no one to teach me. I have searched for you for the better part of a century--no vampyre was willing to take on a child of yours for an apprentice, and you are very difficult to find."
Lucard was silent. He stood, and gazed into the fire, the ring on its chain dangling from one hand. "I had no idea that Elisabeta had not been killed... or that you even existed."
"I know. I tried to contact you..."
"But I cover my tracks well."
He turned back to look at her. "I have so much lost time to make up for..."
"Yes, Father," Ana said as she rose and moved to stand next to him, "but you have so much time left as well."
"Yes," he murmured, drawing her into an embrace. "I do have that."