Welcome Home, Brother: Episode 2 - By Howard Schneider

The cold meats and hard cheese brought by a servant restored my strength, the roaring fire warmed me, and the smooth red wine he poured calmed my mood. But these offerings did nothing to clear the confusion clouding my mind, and the man sitting across from me, watching my every move, likewise provided nothing in the way of clarification—just  silence as he watched my every move. But then, after the servant took away the trolly, again with no obvious order from the man, he finally spoke. 

"Welcome, brother. We have waited long for this moment. Even though we believed you would eventually come to us by your own accord, our patience ran thin, so we took action to bring you home. Back into the fold of your family." 

What he was saying was complete nonsense to me, but at the same time I was shocked by his words—and by what I saw. The horror of it, the truth of what I beheld—longish canine teeth that glistened between his full reddish lips as he uttered the words telling me who I was. The staggering realization that he was a vampire, and that he claimed to be my brother. 

Before I could overcome my disbelief and gather my senses to respond, he forged ahead. "Obviously, this revelation is difficult for you to comprehend since you have no idea of what I speak. But listen to what I have to say before you draw conclusions." 

Interrupting his words, I sprang from the chair and turned toward the curtain-covered doorway, determined to escape this chamber of horror. 

"Sit down!" he screamed with an authority that froze me in place. In that same instant a huge, black wolf-like dog vaulted forward from where it had been concealed behind the man's chair. Shaken by the power of the man's declaration and the ferocity of the snarling beast, I submitted to his command. When I sat back down, the man who looked like me resumed his calm narrative. "We are identical twins, me older by only a few minutes. I was also more vigorous and larger than you were. According to family tradition, a weaker twin must be drowned in the Black River, allowing the survivor a greater chance to thrive and carry forward the family name. But our mother, being a woman of strong character but with little respect for tradition, family or otherwise, defied that custom and instructed her chambermaid to take you to a safe place. The maid took you to her elder brother in the village to raise you as his own. Years later, when our father died, possibly poisoned by his self-willed wife, and as I was approaching early manhood, she told me I had a twin brother and that one day we must be united—that you must return to our family to assume your rightful place as a Lupo, and that it was my responsibility to see that accomplished. So, brother, that is why you are here. It was through my influence, albeit several steps removed 

I was dumbfounded by this revelation, shaken to my core. For this was a tale I would be incapable of believing were it not for our identical appearances—when I looked at him, I saw myself—although that resemblance quickly vanished when he spoke and revealed his two grotesque teeth. I shuddered when the cause of their reddish stain dawned on me. Remaining silent for a long moment in response to this sinister tale of family intrigue, I gradually came to comprehend the dreadfulness of the situation I had been cast into. I accepted that the monster sitting across from me—my twin brother—was a vampire, one of the dreaded Dracula clan. Monsters of mythic folk tales no sensible person claimed to believe, although deep in their being knew the truth of their existence. After all, this was Romania. But more than that, we were in a special part of Romania, in the much-feared and mysterious Carpathian Mountains, a place unlike any other in the entire world. 

Finally, I recovered my wits sufficiently to reply. "What do you want from me? Why am I here?" 

"I understand your distress, dear brother. No doubt this revelation is a great shock to you. But with time, you will see it was the right thing for me to do. But before I proceed, let me formally introduce myself. I am Dragos Lupo, not only your twin brother, one of three sons of Harnag Lupo, but one of only three living members of your immediate family. Our mother died shortly after giving birth to the two of us, and father, two years ago. But father's younger brother, our uncle Erik, occasionally visits this castle since it is officially listed as his primary residence. But it's far easier for him to control his vast world of criminal business and corrupt politics from his estate in Bucharest. As you have obviously noted, I myself am a vampire, following in the proud tradition of our esteemed cousin, Count Vlad Dracula. Uncle Erik chose not to follow in his path, in my opinion, much to his loss. The powers to be gained from vampirism are well worth the minor inconveniences to which we must adjust. You will meet our older brother in due time." 

"You must be insane," I cried, jumping up from the chair. "I want out of  here. I don't care who you are, brother or not. I don't want anything to do with you or another brother, or Uncle Erik Lupo or, either. I'm leaving now." I started toward the exit to the hall but stopped short when two men stepped from behind the black curtain draping the doorway to block my way. To my surprise, they were none other than the two reporters originally dispatched by my editor to investigate the Lupo empire. Their arms hung motionless at their sides, their faces were devoid of expression, and they said nothing. They stared at me with cold eyes as if I were a perfect stranger. 

"Brother!" Dragos shouted, then, cajolingly and softly, said, "Stefan, as you were christened by the villager who raised you. Come. Sit. Hear me out." 

Having no choice, I returned to the chair and the black beast returned to its spot behind Dragos. 

After the silent servant refilled my glass, Dragos continued. "As to why I brought you here, the answer is straight forward. You will join our elite family, enjoy the benefits of Dracula's magnificent transformation, and help me dethrone Uncle Erik and assume control of his vast criminal empire—an empire which against family tradition he seized upon our father's death—the empire which should be mine since the eldest son, our older brother, is in no way capable of controlling." 

I was astounded by his plan and overwhelmed by the preposterousness of the situation I'd found myself in. I was also confused and unsure as how to respond. After a moment, I said, "You said say there is a third son? That we have another brother? And if he's older, shouldn't he be the inheritor of the empire of which you speak?" 

Dragos was silent for a while, then said, "Yes. Our older brother, Lupus. Lupus Lupo, the rightful heir to the Lupu empire. He is a very special kind of man, although one not one  inclined to assume oversee all that should be ours. As I said before, you will meet him when the time is right."

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