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Chapter Two: Butchering In Bucharest


October 15

The lights overhead flickered fervently. Outside the living room window, nature’s debris tumbled helplessly to the wind’s strength, forcing dead leaves to spiral over the patio, violently swiping against the garden statues. Winter was blowing Autumn away, preparing Romania for a very harsh, white landscape; it would be one of the worst seasons in a while.

My intentions had been to rest in the living room to spare my mind from the ever changing voting results posted on the Eléston bulletin. It was the website that only Vampires had access to. Some superb Vampiric hacker created it, so humans could never stumble upon it, according to Drago, who remained the highest official to oversee the election since I was otherwise detained. Unfortunately, watching and even hearing the storm agitated my nerves.

I tried for a deep breath.


Wikson and Báthory are neck to neck.

Fuck. Do not think of it. Just for now, give yourself some peace.

Another inhale.

Everything is about to change. Far worse than it is now.

My exhale sharply escaped, irritated by the thought.

As if all the problems on my plate were not enough, issues in Bucharest rose out of nowhere, and it was enough to cause me harm. Even more daunting, it was enough to cause Julia harm. I did not like keeping secrets from her, and she knew something was wrong; the little fire in her implored me to tell her what it was, but I did not want to worry her if the problems in Bucharest were really just episodes of a psychopath on the loose. Besides, there were more secrets I had yet to share with her.

Mud tossed through the air, THREATening to blindfold our army against the ENEMY. Although midday, the sky billowed grey like the EVIL reaching to take away our land, and the BATTLEfield swarmed with men swelling with PRIDE and POWER as if invencible. A sharp, stabbing PAIN hit my side, and I snarled at the Turk who thrust his sword into my body. The RED glow from my eyes reflected in his, and he paled as HORROR struck him, forcing his lips to part for a cry of DESPAIR, so I grabbed his neck and crushed his jugular. I pulled the sword from my flesh and healed while I continued to fight off the other men advancing me.

“My Lord!” The young man’s cry intrigued me, however I was not yet finished with my foes. When they were struck down, I turned just as a soldier speared a Turk who attempted to take me from behind.

I recognized the young Hungarian man, though I did not know him well. Regardless, I announced, “Thank you, my boy! I will remember you!” Of course, I could not be harmed, but the LOYALty stirred me.

Our ranks pushed the Ottomans back enough to rest for the evening. We set up camp, and I wandered to drink from one of the bodies left behind. When I returned, torches lit the EBONY air enclosing us. The crunch from under my boots barely echoed as the men supped and sang for good morale. Nearing my tent, my peripheral noticed the young man from earlier standing outside the shelter neighboring mine.

When I approached him, he dipped his head. “Count Dracole.”

I must have gained a reputation for him to know me. I told him, “It is me who should be bowing to you and your BRAVEry.” I reciprocated his action and continued, “What is your NAME?”

“Count Ferenc Nadasdy, my lord.”

Little footsteps. Gentle breathing. The scent of her vanilla rose shampoo. She was approaching.

“You look deep in thought,” Julia’s voice pulled me to her attention. Her soft smile greeted me, and for a moment, everything in the world was right. She sauntered over and sat herself beside me, so close that her small body rubbed against the enormousness of my own.

“I am taking a break from work,” I told her as I put my arm around her tiny figure. She rested against my torso.

“I can’t even imagine how stressed you must be,” she responded, her head nestled on my chest. “I’m stressed, but there’s nothing I can do about that. Only you can. That’s too much to put on one person.”

“I can handle it,” I reasoned with her, though despite how manly I portrayed that response, truly I was very honored by her words.

She hugged my waist before murmuring, “I wish I was powerful like you. That way I wouldn’t have to be on the sidelines, completely helpless. I wish I could fight by your side.”

Her words murdered my pride. “Be careful what you wish for, Julia,” I warned. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.”

She sighed. “I know…”

Another set of footsteps. Roland entered the living room, greeting us politely before looking at me.

“I need a word with you, Count.”

I felt Julia’s body tense.

I nodded. “Of course.” I started shifting off the sofa when Julia grasped my arm firmly, in fact I was quite surprised by how strong her grip was for such a little person. Reluctantly, I faced her, knowing what she would say.

She regarded me seriously. “It’s been nearly a week. Please tell me what’s going on.”

I frowned, contemplating a refusal, but she seemed to understand what my brain was configuring because she continued to protest. “I’m going crazy watching you guys seclude yourselves in this private conversation. Even Lelagül seems to know what is going on. It’s time for me to know.”

I cringed inside, recalling that I did tell Lelagül, and no doubt Julia tried to excavate the truth out of her. Her big, blue eyes begged me which violently tugged at my guilt, so I succumbed. “Very well. Roland, take a seat. We will discuss it here.”

Roland sat across from us on a sofa chair, and immediately, I felt a greater uneasiness, and a silence grew. Helplessly, Roland watched me for direction as if unsure if he should start. Julia straightened, though her right leg shook anxiously while her lips pursed, indicating she was chewing the insides of her cheeks. Nervously, I crossed my legs, and in unison, Julia crossed her arms.

She announced, “So maybe start from the beginning?...”

I shared a look with Roland, affirming that it was alright for him to speak. He shifted thoughtfully before starting. “There has been a sudden spike of murders, at an alarming rate, in Bucharest. The killings started a little over a week ago, and what makes them so intriguing to us is the nature of the brutality. All the victims were found with hacked limbs and their torsos impaled by stakes, and they were all left in quite conspicuous areas. Obviously someone is trying to make a scene…” Roland faced me, choosing his words carefully. “Forensics conclude thus far that the cause of death is the impalement, so the arms and legs are cut off afterwards. It’s all a very similar technique to the Count’s, back when he was human…”

“I’m confused,” Julia interjected, which I suspected her to. “I understand the whole Vlad the Impaler thing, but what does that have to do with Vladimir now?”

How she spoke both my names in the span of half a minute made my heart flutter. I decided to explain. “Julia, I do not know if you recall this or not, but I told you once that my legacy is not Bram Stoker’s creation…” She faced me, listening attentively, so I continued. “I briefly elucidated in the past that obscure Romanian people actually do believe in my resurrection. The legend goes that when Romania is in great peril, I will come back from the dead to restore my nation, as I am revered as a war hero rather than a tyrant. Because the murders in Bucharest closely resemble my wartime techniques, those who believe in my return may conclude that I have not come back to help Romania, but to punish it or some sort of righteous tribulation. As a result, these people will turn on me again as they did at the turn of the nineteenth century after the publication of Bram Stoker’s novel.”

Julia’s brow furrowed nervously at me. “Well, then obviously someone is orchestrating this to get you in trouble, right? Because you didn’t kill those people...right?”

The miniscule amount of doubt in her eyes towards me was enough to savagely tear my heart in half. Offended, I replied curtly, “Of course not, Julia.”

She realized she hurt me, and she said softly, “Of course not…” A pause. She added, “I understand the concern, but it all still seems like a stretch to me. I mean, how serious is this obsession with Vlad the Impaler here in Romania?”

“Pretty serious,” Roland explained. “A good example is the late dictator of Romania, Nicolae Ceaușescu, who was a Vlad the Impaler enthusiast. During his rule from the 60s through the 80s, there was a point he was completely convinced that Țepeș, that is the Impaler, would return, so he prepared the country for the special arrival. He created stamps and money with the face of Țepeș. He even attempted to move the capital from Bucharest to Târgoviște as it had been during the time of Țepeș. If an influential person believes, then you can imagine there are others who followed those footsteps.”

Julia sank in her seat, the information evidently disturbing her, though not as much as her words did just a moment ago. What did I do wrong to encourage her uncertainty in me? Perhaps it was all this talk about my human past that regurgitated unruly thoughts. I could not fathom how further displeased she would be to know the rest of the information I withheld from her.

“So why is this happening?” she questioned.

Roland shrugged. “We can only assume two things. Either it is a sadistic serial killer on the loose or someone is doing this to bring trouble to the Count. If that is the case, our most likely candidates are Wikson or Lucianus, or they could even be working together again. There are more that have bad blood with the Count, but none of them would have the resources or the gall to pull off something elaborate like this.”

“So what do we do?” Julia pressed.

“We investigate,” I answered, still distressed by Julia’s earlier comment. “We keep up to date on the murders, read the news, and gather as much intel on the victims. Roland has offered to start that, which was kind of him, considering that I have a pressing matter with Eléston very soon. We will include Xavier Silvers when Roland is certain that he will need help in the examination.”

Roland nodded, affirming my explanation. “Yes. I’ll start on it right away.”

“Is there a way I can help?” Julia inquired. “Maybe I can research the murders here?”

The poor girl just wanted something meaningful to do, but she did not realize that it damaged my ego for her not to allow me to take care of her. However, I submitted. She was studious after all; perhaps she could catch something that we could not.

“Very well. If it pleases you to do so.” She must have heard the glumness in my voice because she turned to me, concerned, almost guilty. I did not want her to feel that way, so I gave her a small smile for reassurance.

She did not buy it, however.

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