Welcome Home, Brother: Episode 3 - By Howard Schneider

Episode Three 

Exhausted by the difficult journey, confused by discovering a twin brother, and shocked by learning what he was, I desperately needed time to come to terms with my predicament—to figure out how to escape the clutches of this evil family and return to my simple life as a journalist in Bucharest. I rose from the chair again and said, " It's late and I need sleep. We'll have to continue this conversation tomorrow. I must bid you good night." The dog-beast half-hidden behind Dragos followed my every move with his glowing eyes. 

"Stay," Dragos said in a quiet voice, glancing at the dog. Then he called back the servant. "Darko, show Stefan to his room," he instructed the expressionless old man who'd slipped past the doorway curtain and stepped around the two men still blocking my way out. 

The stone-walled room Darko led me to had a single small window overlooking a courtyard thirty feet below and provided no possibility for escape. For now, I was trapped, although still determined to find a way to get away. I couldn't let myself become ensnared by what must be the work of the devil himself. 

When I glanced around the spacious room, I saw a large oil painting of four men of varying ages gathered around an ancient headstone. The writing etched into the weathered surface was still clearly visible: 

Vasilios Lupo 

1258 - 1327 

The following words were incised below the dates: 

Family Power Revenge 

In Life And In Death 

When I approached the painting closer, I recognized one of the two younger men as Dragos. The other one appeared to be slightly older, a little heavier, and darker-complected: a thick black beard obscured the lower half of his face. The two older men bore strong family resemblances, one looking to be in his middle years, the other much advanced in age. Who were they? My father? My Grandfather? 

But my conjecturing quickly gave way to the exhaustion I'd felt earlier, and I turned toward the bed. But then I heard soft scratching at the door. "Who's there?" I queried hesitantly. 

For a few seconds there was no answer, but then more scratching. Unable to stifle my curiosity, I opened the door a small crack, positioning my foot to prevent it from being pushed open further. "Who's there?" I repeated, peering through the narrow opening. 

I saw no one, and there was no response to my probing. But then, like an blast of dynamite, the door knocked me aside and the black beast charged into the room. It quickly scanned the room, then leaped onto a large wingback chair next to the window. As I rose from the stone floor to where I'd been thrown, I was stunned to see the beast transforming into a full-grown man. His black pelt was turning into dark-complexioned skin, his facial features were becoming human, his long, hair-covered dog legs were changing into normal arms and legs. Within a single minute, he was fully human, although unclothed. From the intensity of his yellow-tinged eyes and the extent and color of his facial hair, I knew at once he was the young  man in the oil painting with the thick black beard. 

Before I had my wits about me and able to say anything, he said, "There's a robe in that wardrobe cabinet over there. Please be so kind as to bring it to me. I wouldn't want my au natural condition to impose on upon your modesty. Unfortunately, this transformation process, even as physiologically efficient as it is, is still sufficiently primitive in that it is unable to accommodate clothing, not even a simple undergarment. But I have taken the precaution to have stored appropriate attire in every room in this monstrous castles—there's just no way to know for sure where I might emerge from a shedding." 

My shock must have been obvious to the man, sitting calmly in the chair and watching me scramble to my feet. He smiled and said, "You have nothing to worry about, no harm will come to you. Please, sit down, there." He pointed toward another chair, then continued. "I have much to tell you, brother. And yes, as I assume you have now surmised, I am your other brother, older by two years." 

Finally, I recovered enough to speak. "What are you? I don't understand what's going on." 

He nodded his head as if letting me know he understood my confusion and panic, then said, "No. I wouldn't expect you to. After all, most people don't encounter a vampire twin brother and an older brother who's a lycanthrope every day, do they." 

"A what?" I exclaimed. 

"A wolfen," Stefan, "You know, a werewolf." 

'Oh my god," I cried. I'd heard his words but was having difficulty comprehending their meaning. "How can this be? It's impossible." 

"Calm yourself, Stefan, and I'll make clear how it's not only possible, but how you too can live, even thrive, in two completely different worlds. And I'm sure you'll be happy to know that you will be able to decide which of these two alternate universe you prefer—to be like Dragos . . . or like me."

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