It starts, as those things usually do, with dead cattle.
“That’s disturbing,” Wilko says when they study the sheep. Perfectly healthy, its owner had proclaimed for all of the village to hear, except for it being stone-cold dead. Not every animal that dies out of the blue is proof of supernatural activity; sometimes a dead sheep is just a dead sheep. But Wilko has seen more than his fair share of dead critters since joining the Night Watch and it’s well worth looking into. So they waited until Cooper inevitably declared that the animal died a completely normal death before sneaking in to take a closer look.
Wilko bends over and pries the sheep's mouth open, revealing pale pink gums. He sniffs. There’s a faint lingering smell of blood in the air, already several hours old, but no blood near the sheep anywhere.
“Where’s the blood?” he asks.
Keelin bends over as well. “What do you mean?”
“It’s barely got any blood left but it didn’t bleed out. There’s no blood anywhere. So where’d it go?”
He and Keelin both look at Vlad. Vlad scoffs.
“Oh sure, just because it’s got no more blood it has to be a vampire? There are dozens of creatures that drink blood. We’ve met some of them!”
“They’re usually messier than this, though,” Keelin points out. Wilko looks closer, lifting the sheep's head and brushing the hairs in its neck out of the way.
“Hah.” He points at the pinprick bites, red against the sheep's pale skin, and grins at Vlad. “Told you.”
“… Wash your hands when we get home, okay?”
They split up to look for it. Vampires are among the more common monsters to show up in Schemermeer — Something about thinking the entire world is theirs, Vega says. So Wilko isn’t all that scared. Sure, they're not harmless, but they already have one vampire in their lives and that one is usually a lot stronger than any of the vampires that enter Schemermeer. It’s still light out and if their vampire were able to withstand sunlight like Vlad is, he wouldn’t have resorted to biting sheep in the middle of the night.
He still hurries; he may not be worried about his own safety but he doesn’t like the idea of any of his friends alone with a monster, let alone the village. Not all vampires can live without human blood. This vampire could be like Vlad. He could also not be.
Wilko has just searched the quarry and the surrounding forest and is heading back towards the village when his phone goes off.
‘Found him,’ Vlad has texted. ‘Old mill.’
He is pacing in front of the mill when Wilko and Keelin get there. He gestures at the door of the building.
“In there. Asleep.”
He looks… Annoyed.
“Is something wrong?” Keelin asks.
“No, just—“ Vlad makes a dismissive gesture. “Nothing. Come on, let’s get this over with.”
Wilko and Keelin exchange a look and Wilko shrugs, following Vlad inside. Usually he’s the one arguing to get rid of all monsters as soon as they can, not Vlad, but he’s not about to complain.
“Um, Vlad?” Keelin says when they enter. Vlad makes an annoyed sound.
“I know. Ignore it.”
“Kinda hard to.” Wilko makes a half-turn. Their vampire has been redecorating. It reminds Wilko of every bad horror movie castle he’s ever seen, with the hanging drapes and the shields on the wall and the random suit of armor propped up in a corner. “History fan?”
“What time period is this from?” Keelin wonders. “Those tapestries are clearly 18th century, but that armor…”
“15th, I know. He’s just throwing together everything to make the place look cool,” Vlad says in clipped tones. Wilko can almost see the air quotes on that last word, were it not that Vlad fancies himself above such things.
“So he’s what, a knight fanboy?”
“Worse,” Vlad says darkly. He pushes open the door to the basement. There’s an honest-to-god coffin in the corner, filled with dirt. Wilko can smell it from all the way up the stairs: old, musty and clearly not from here.
“He’s really going the extra mile, isn’t he?”
He’s never known Vlad to sleep in a coffin. He has a room at the inn just like Keelin and Wilko do. But here this vampire is lying in his coffin for all the world to see, wearing a ridiculously over-the-top red coat that is fur-lined and clearly far too warm for this time of year.
“Do we just send him to the Underworld?” Keelin asks, eyeing the creature.
“Sure,” Wilko says. No point in waiting. They transform and go down to the base of the stairs, just a meter or two from the sleeping vampire. This close, the smell of musty earth is clogging up Wilko’s nostrils. He raises his amulet. Keelin and Vlad do the same.
“You dare disturb the slumber of the voivode?”
The vampire shoots upright. Had he really just been waiting for them to do something? Was this a trap? They back away; Keelin’s hands go to her hair to summon her magic.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Vlad mutters. The vampire leaves his coffin in a flash and immediately zeroes in on him. Wilko growls, taking a step forward.
“You would doubt me? Eu sunt Vlad Țepeș!” [ Translation ]
Vlad closes his eyes, a pained expression crossing his face. “Nu esți.” [ Translation ]
“What’s he saying?”
“He says he’s an idiot.”
The vampire bristles. “A fledgling dares speak like that to me, Vlad Țepeș? I have come all the way from Castelul Bran deep in Transylvania to grace your peasant village with my presence!”
“Fledgling?!” Vlad looks about five seconds away from an aneurysm. Keelin puts a hand on his arm.
“Vlad Tepes, wasn’t that Dracula?” she asks.
“Really?” This whole thing just got about a thousand times more interesting.
“My dear, thank you!” says the other vampire. “I see that my name has preceded me with this young lady.” He makes an exaggerated bow. “You would make a lovely addition to my coven. Come, join me.”
Keelin backs away, hands fizzling with magic. Wilko and Vlad move in front of her.
“Hey, leave her alone!”
“Silence, wolf! You shall obey your betters!”
The vampire makes a sweeping downwards gesture with his arm, as if that’s supposed to do anything to him. Wilko charges at the vampire, but Vlad pulls him back with a hand on his shoulder. Before he was radiating exasperation. Now there’s an icy anger written in every line of his body.
“Are you quite done?” he growls. “You are not Vlad Țepeș. Vlad Țepeș was not a vampire. He didn’t live in Bran and Bran is barely even in Ardeal.”
“You know not what you speak of—“
Vlad explodes. "Tu aduci grea ocară preaiubiților mei, tu îmi ponegrești sângele și tu ai îndrăzneala și obrazul să spui că eu sânt cel care nu își știe cuvântul? Tu, un vampir ce nu are cunoaștere nici măcar de locul prescris? Tăcea-vei și goni-vei departe de acest sat și de aceaștia ce îmi sânt preaiubiți!" [ Translation ]
The vampire goes very quiet. “… What?”
“Thought so,” Vlad says with an almost vicious smile. “You guys ready?”
“Very much so,” Keelin says, throwing the vampire a disgusted look. Wilko bares his teeth at the vampire.
“Wait, what are you—”
“No, wait, I’m—“
They never do find out what exactly the vampire is. He disappears in the familiar flash of light and with him his coffin and all his fancy decorations go as well. Immediately the air clears up somewhat. Wilko feels like he can finally breathe easy again.
“Goodbye,” Vlad says with a small smile. He whirls around, coat swishing, and goes up the stairs. Wilko and Keelin glance back at the spot where the vampire had been standing and exchange a freaked-out look. That guy had been creepy. Vlad possibly even more so.
“What did you say to him?” Wilko shouts after Vlad, taking the stairs two at a time to catch up. Vlad doesn’t turn around but he does slow down.
“I told him to shut up and leave.”
Then he sure used a lot of words for such a short message, but Vlad is still holding himself in that rigid way that tells Wilko he won’t be talking about it any time soon.
“Who was that?” Keelin asks. She comes up behind him as they leave the basement. The armor and the drapes are gone as well.
“Don’t know, don’t care.”
“What was he talking about?”
“He was an idiot who read a book once and probably went to Romania at some point. Visited Bran. There’s a castle there,” Vlad explains. “Supposed to be where Dracula lived.”
“Dracula never existed.”
They emerge to a dark sky, even though it’s still only eight. Vlad stares at the trees, looking wistful.
“Bran castle has the best spots for reading, though,” he tells Keelin. He turns to Wilko. “And the forests. Much bigger than here. You’d both love it.”
“We should go.” Keelin links arms with both of them. “One day.”
They’re all thinking the same thing: as long as they form the Night Watch and as long as monsters keep appearing in Schemermeer, there is no chance of them ever leaving the village, let alone traveling halfway across the continent. But it’s a nice thought. Wilko would like that: seeing the world, just the three of them.
“Yeah, let’s do it.”