“An unapologetic and haunting tale of power, vengeance, betrayal and the eternal quality of love.”
Faced with an insurmountable enemy and betrayed by those he once trusted, Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia and Duke of Amlas and Fagaras, will stop at nothing to defend his throne and his country against the superior Ottoman might.
Determined to destroy Sultan Mehmed, the man who was once his closest friend and who now threatens to destroy his people, the Prince willingly descends into the realms of hell, giving up his very soul in return for victory and revenge.
Tempted by power and blinded by his burning need for vengeance, the Prince devices a diabolical plan which will have devastating consequences for both the innocent and the guilty.
But when this terrible, merciless tyrant sets eyes on the innocent girl he has chosen as the unwitting instrument of his vengeance, he will finally learn what it means to love. Torn between power, vengeance and love, he will drag her into his world, driven to possess her heart and soul.
The night was quiet. High above him, the snow-capped spires and rooftops of Bran Castle glistened faintly in the moonlight - the harsh, threatening appearance of the colossal citadel strangely softened by the frosty shroud of snow.
Perched high atop a rugged cliff, the ancient stronghold overlooked the hostile mountains and fertile valleys of his kingdom. For centuries, this fortress had served as a sanctuary to the pious, God-fearing kings who had born the Wallachian crown before him.
It was ironic that now, it was he who followed in their footsteps.
Tearing his eyes away from the ancient monument, the Prince continued along the ornately balustraded walkway, descending a sprawling flight of stairs to the vast platform that overlooked the castle’s formal gardens - Gardens that had been built on his command and which served only one purpose: To entrap those that he brought here to die.
Placing his hand on the snow-covered balustrade, he lowered his gaze to the maze that sat at the centre of the castle’s grounds. For the briefest of moments, his eyes lingered on the neatly cut hedges of the labyrinth, marvelling at their perfect symmetry, then they moved to the solitary figure of a woman that strolled along the gravel path.
Unaware of his presence, the blond beauty sauntered along the outer hedge of the maze, her green skirts billowing in the cold breeze. Idly, he studied her. She truly was a beauty, with skin so pale that it seemed almost translucent.
“You could show her mercy, allow her to live...” A voice said softly behind him.
“Clemency is God’s domain, not mine.” He remarked, not bothering to turn around to his visitor. “But I am sure you have not come here to lecture your Prince on morality Ștefan.”
"No your Grace, I have not." His guest replied, lowering his dark hood to reveal his short blond hair and icy blue eyes. “I have come here for another reason: Sultan Mehmed is preparing for war. He intends to punish you for your refusal to honour your allegiance to the Ottoman crown. We have months, maybe only weeks before his troops set foot on Wallachian soil.”
“Then the time has finally come.” The Prince said softly, his green eyes strangely inhuman as he stared into the night.
“Are you truly prepared to do this Vlad?” Ștefan asked. “Are you truly willing to imperil your crown, your kingdom, all we ever fought for, to fight a war you cannot win?”
The Prince moved ever so slightly and for a moment, the signet ring on his left glistened faintly in the moonlight. He looked down at it, his eyes tracing over the curling Ouroboros that adorned his crest – the sign of his power and his service to the Wallachian people.
“A monarch that bows to another, is not a king, but a pawn.” He replied, finally turning to his guest. “I will not subject my people to the Ottoman yoke, or let them die in Mehmed’s futile wars.”
“This is utter madness Vlad, this is not a game.”
The Prince chuckled mirthlessly. “I intend to turn it into one Ștefan: A magnificent game of power and revenge. I will tear down all that is precious to him and burn it in the fires of hell.”
The Prince studied his general for a moment, and there, lingering in the depts of his blue eyes, he could see what he was trying to hide: Fear, terror and revulsion. Soon, he would give him true reasons to fear him.
“You know what needs to be done. See to it that all is prepared.” The Prince said, his tone bearing the unmistakable air of command, making it clear that his decision was final. “You may leave.”
“Your Grace.” Ștefan bowed swiftly, taking two steps backwards, away from the Prince and then he turned, leaving his master to his gruesome business.
As his General strode away, Vlad directed his gaze back at his guest, watching her idly for a moment. She was dressed in a flimsy gown, her neckline cut so low that it left little doubt as to either her charms or her intentions. Even from a distance, he could see the gentle swell of her breast and the faint heaving of her chest against her corset. She was nervous, doubtlessly wondering whether the rumours she had dismissed so lightly could be true. Soon, she would learn that they merely scratched on the surface of the truth.
A cruel smile lingered in the corner of his mouth as he descended the stairs into the gardens. She did not hear him approach, only taking notice of his presence as he stepped into the faint moonlight. As she beheld him, she sank into a deep, reverent bow.
He stepped closer, the hem of his crimson cloak trailing over the snow as he walked. Wordlessly, he offered her his hand. She grasped it without hesitation. Her hand was cold, but not as cold as his.
"I see that you are enjoying my gardens, Madame." He said, studying her intently, his green eyes resting on her.
"They are beautiful, almost unworldly." She replied, her eyes returning to the pale, snow-covered roses that were in full bloom in spite of the bitter cold - as if for some inexplicable reason, the seasons had no effect on them.
He chuckled softly, letting go of her hand and reaching out to pluck one of the roses from the hedge.
"Unworldly..." Vlad echoed, drawing out the word, letting it roll off his tongue as he held up the rose, studying it closely for a moment.
"I have never seen anything to compare. It is almost like magic." She whispered, stepping closer to him, transfixed by the sight of the flower.
He chuckled softly, handing her the rose. "Illusions are by their nature sweet."
Mesmerised, she stared at the flower, finally lifting her hand to brush the snow from its powdery white petals.
"Yes, they are." She whispered.
He circled her, studying her silently, like a predator its prey. For a moment, his eyes lingered on the back of her neck and the throbbing vein that was visible just behind her ear, then he stepped closer to her, so close that he could feel the heat that radiated from her body.
Bending down, he traced his lips over the pulsing vein on her neck, his fingertips trailing gently along her arm until his hand closed around hers.
"But illusions fade, and when they do, we are inevitably faced with the harrowing truth that hides behind the mirage." He murmured, closing his hand around hers, watching as the flower withered under his touch - its colourful beauty reduced to nothing but wilted, black leaves.
Terrified, she struggled against him, and he let her go, watching calmly as she staggered away from him. He could have made this easy for her, but he preferred the elaborate chase to the artless kill - it was so much more exhilarating.
"Go on, run." He whispered, his eyes flashing red for the briefest of moments.
In utter terror, she stumbled away from him and then she turned, running into the maze in mindless panic. He smirked. She had already lost.
Waiting for the briefest of moments, he allowed her to venture deeper into the labyrinth. And then, slowly, he moved forward, stepping into the darkness - becoming one with it.
His keen senses felt her fear as she fled through the maze, heedless that her desperate escape was precisely what he wanted.
Following her, he strode through the darkness, idly passing the stone-carved effigies of winged demons and dragons that lined the maze. Stretching out his hand, he traced his fingertips over the pristine white marble of a statue and for a moment, it seemed as if the creature was coming to life under his touch, its lifeless body coiling and rippling faintly. Then he withdrew his hand, and the illusion was gone.
Closing his eyes, he listened to her ragged breathing and faith sobs as she fled through the maze, desperate to find a way out. But there would be no escape. Behind each turn, there would be just another alley, lined with snow-white marble statues and surrounded by impossibly tall hedges that trapped her inside the labyrinth.
He felt her racing heart, and her breathing that grew ever more laboured. The chase exhausted her. And then finally, she stopped, desperate to catch her breath.
He waited a moment, watching her idly and then he moved, allowing her to hear him.
In utter terror, she fled again, stumbling through the maze in mindless terror - her long, blond hair catching in the branches, while the thorny bushes tore her expensive gown to shreds. And then, suddenly, she came to a dead end, the impenetrable hedge blocking her way, trapping her.
She wanted to turn back but stopped as she glimpsed him in the shadows. He waited, drawing out the moment, enjoying her fear. And then he moved, stepping out of the darkness, materialising like a spectre out of thin air.
And as he stepped from the shadows, he gave up every last pretence of humanity. The intense viridian colour of his eyes seemed suddenly unnatural, his skin was no longer pale, but deathly white and the sharp, regal features of his face seemed no longer hard but cruel and inhuman.
He felt her fear – the deep primal fear that every living thing felt in the presence of death. And yet, she did not run, simply staring at him as if mesmerised by his presence. For the briefest of moments, everything was still, as if time and space were suspended in a void – as if nature itself was waiting for the inevitable in agonised suspense.
And then, the illusion shattered and her breathless awe gave way to utter terror. She staggered away from him, pressing herself against the hedge, desperate tears running down her face.
"Shh, you must not cry Countess." He murmured, stepping closer to her. "Not yet."
In terror, she pressed herself against the thicket, heedless of the thorns that scratched over her skin, tearing her dress and drawing blood. He closed the distance between them, his tall form towering over her small frame. Gently, he placed a finger under her chin, forcing her to lift her head. Terrified she shut her eyes, unable to meet his gaze.
"Look at me." He commanded, his voice soft and alluring, tempting her to follow his command.
Unable to resist, she looked up at him, her blue eyes meeting his. Slowly, deliberately, he allowed his thumb to trail along the line of her sensual lips and down her neck, and then the gentle touch of his fingertip was replaced by something infinitely more terrifying – the merciless scrape of a claw. It lingered briefly on her skin, tracing over it in an almost loving gesture before it cut into her pale flesh, drawing her blood.
With the strength born of despair, she struggled against him, and he let her go with a smirk, watching as she stumbled away from him, her hand pressed against the bleeding wound on her neck. He followed her with slow, measured steps, his cold gaze fixed on her. He did not need to rush. She could not escape him.
Her heel caught in her dress and she stumbled, falling hard onto the floor. Frantically, she scrambled away from him.
"Please, have mercy." She whispered, her voice shaking in terror.
He smiled, revealing his horrifyingly sharp canine teeth. "It is too late for that I am afraid."
She screamed, her fear turning to utter, mindless terror. Her fingers clawed at the snow-covered ground as she scrambled away from him, in a futile attempt to escape the monster that was about to kill her. He followed her at an almost leisurely pace, only watching as she crawled into the corner, the sound of his footsteps muffled by the snow.
He closed the distance between them with slow, measured steps, like a predator, stalking its prey. She stilled as if she suddenly had understood the futility of her struggle.
Slowly, he lowered himself to one knee at her side, staring down at her, his viridian eyes fixed on the throbbing vein on her neck. Smiling faintly, he lifted his hand, brushing a stray lock from her face. She trembled violently under his touch, her body shaking like a leaf, her teeth rattling. Soothingly, he allowed his hand to slide into her hair, pulling her closer gently, as if to kiss her and then he descended on her with the speed of a viper, his teeth sinking into the soft, white flesh of her neck, tearing open a gaping wound. She screamed and flailed, but he held her close, almost like a lover, until she had stilled against his chest.