The Living Days

During the 15th century, there lived a man named Vladimir Tepes. Upon his birth in the year 1431, in the fortress of Sighisoara, there was the very idea, conceived by the priests, of a possiblity that Vlad could indeed be a messiah that would one day lead Wallachia (present-day Romania) to prosperity. His father, Vlad Dracul, was a member of the Order of the Dragon, and, near the time of his son's birth, Dracul had been appointed the military governor of Transylvania. He ruled as such for six years. Vladimir Tepes served under this regime until he and his younger brother, Radu, were seized by Sultan Murad II and held captive in Turkey until released in 1448, at which point they were notified that their father had been assassinated, buried alive by Vladislav II and a group of his followers--this for his religious stance, which decreed that members of the Order of the Dragon must preserve Catholicism and crusade against the Muslim Turks at all times. As reader Wolfgang Brewmeister reports: "Vlad Dracul was indeed a Wallachian 'voivode' (a noble for life) who was a member of the Order of the Dragon, a collection of European princes and barons, both Catholic and Orthodox, throughout East-Central Europe who collectively sought to resist the encroaching power of the Ottoman Turks."

Upon his father's death, Vladimir (or "Vlad" for short), alone and embittered, was unable to inherit his father's position of power as rightful ruler of Wallachia. Backed by a Turkish cavalry, Vlad was only able to temporarily take control of Wallachia until he was forced to surrender the position; he was eventually driven out of power by a Danesti claimant (the clan that serves as inspiration for Dracula's Curse's own Grant Danasty). His brother Radu became ruler of Wallachia thereafter but only as an acting figurehead for an Ottoman sultan. Despite this passiveness, Radu was ordered to be killed by the sultan; he was rendered blind when they pressed red-hot pokers into his eyes, and he was then buried alive. After Radu's death, Basarab the Old, a member of the Danesti clan, was appointed the new ruler.

Realizing that he'd be unable to gain possession of the throne through legal means, Vlad earned Hungarian support and again took control of Wallachia for another six-year period by dethroning Basarab and eliminating the interim nobility that had claimed the power as their own. The vacillating situation of Wallachia and its people saw him retake this power without much in the way of politics. One of his first acts was the arrest of the boyar families, who he blamed for his father's death; he gathered them together under the guise of a "celebration" and then made clear his intentions: He ordered them to march fifty miles to the town of Poenari, where they were forced to labor to build what would become known as Castle Dracul. He then completed the revenge act by impaling every single one of them, man and woman alike. Now again at a position of power, Vlad was cold and ruthless in the name of justice toward all those who supported the previous nobility and those who stood in the way of Wallachia's growth. Vlad, who had become a true tyrant through paranoia, and his army terrorized and pillaged villages, towns and any obstacles that stood in the way of his monotheistic rages. He became fond of not only conquering new land in the name of God and causing misery to his foes but of torture. He would regularly order that lawbreakers be skinned, boiled, decapitated, blinded, strangled, hanged and, horribly, much more. But his most favorite torture was impalement, as the eldest boyar family members learned. He subsequently became known to his enemies as "Vlad the Impaler."

The people of Wallachia, consternated by his method of rule, praised him like a hero--this, a man who was said to have eaten bread dipped in the blood of his victims. He had given them their freedom and hope in the name of fear. His reputation truly proceeded him, as word of his methods of instilling fear in aggressors reached far across the land. His devious acts, even as a knight of the church, earned him the name "Dracula," which translated into "son of the dragon" (as in his father, who was a member of the Order of the Dragon) or "son of the devil." Despite any character flaws, he managed to stay in good favor with the Pope, who didn't approve of his methods but accepted that Vlad's reign was key in holding back the Muslim Turks' expansion. Thereby, Vlad ruled for a six-year period, his enemies unable to vanquish him. Thousands of enemies and innocents died by his hands in what he truly believed was justice.

Eventually, Vlad was driven out of power by Sultan Mehmed II and his far more powerful Turkish army. In response to Mehmed's hostile takeover, Vlad burned his own villages and poisoned the wells so that the villages would be uninhabitable. He fled to Hungary where he was imprisoned by the new Hungarian king, Matthius Corvinus (Lament's Mathias Cronqvist inspiration), for some time until falling back into favor. It's said that this is where Vlad met his wife, Elisabetha, and thus converted to Catholicism at her behest; more of a factor in his conversion was a deal with Matthius, who was under pressure from the Pope and the other Catholic leaders who realized Vlad's importance as a leader; under this condition, he was released from his imprisonment. When Vlad was finally freed, a small army of loyal Wallachians; Moldavians (afforded to him by his cousin Stephen the Great); and some Translyvanians under the order of their prince, Stephen Bathory (as in the ilk of Elizabeth Bathory), helped him to again force his way into total power of Wallachia.

To be exact, most of his escapades were considered to be a part of the continuing Christian Crusades. One particularly bloody battle during this time led to rumors that Vlad had perished. Elisabetha, believing this to be true, committed suicide when overcome by anguish. When Vlad learned of this, his problems began to spiral: His wife's untimely death destroyed his spirit, his army continued to dissipate, and he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for his devious acts. He thus went mad, and his hunger for blood saw him become even more insane. Shortly after the most devastating counterattack by the Turks, his waning spirits began to affect his health, and he became deathly ill. His pain ended in the winter months of 1476 when he was finally assassinated, but it remains unclear whom was responsible for his death. Some say the Boyard families got their revenge, and others believe that it was the Turks who finally got their man.

Vlad was buried somewhere near the Snagov Monastery, as per his request, but even in death there was a price on his head. His enemies offered rewards to any of those who could bring the body of Vlad to them (perhaps to behead his corpse and hold it as a symbol) and thus prove his death to be anything but another rumor. It was in actuality the Turks who decapitated Vlad's corpse and sent his head to Constantinople, where the sultan displayed it as proof of the tyrant's death. Strangely, thereafter, the body could not be found, as no one could locate the precise point of burial.

Finally, around three years after his death, the very coffin that once housed the corpse of Vlad Tepes was found. It was empty, not a trace of his decapitated body ever having been there. Because of the eerie similarity to that of the disappearance of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion, the Catholic Church believed that Vlad somehow escaped death. Months before his demise, as mentioned, Vlad perpetrated a vengeful assault on the Turks, which was an emotional response to the loss of his wife. When it seemed that his illness finally got the best of him, his company thought him to be deceased. When he mysteriously awakened days later, members of his army were actually convinced that their ruler had somehow risen from the dead. This knowledge led to further speculation that he had done it again in the case of his Snagov burial in Bucharest. Whether or not they were correct, his undiagnosed condition could very well have played a crucial hand in his unholy rebirth. (As a side note: In the 1930's, when an excavation was led to find Vlad's remains, the tomb was empty and only animal bones were found in its place, which adds fuel to the lore of his re-rising. Thanks to the following sources for some of this information: Ray Porter [The Dragon] and Wolfgang Brewmeister.)

The Devil's Purchase

It was all true: Vlad rose from his grave not soon after his death; undead, he found that he had gained an insatiable urge for human blood, and he could only escape insanity and live on by sinking his teeth into a living being and sucking away. Thus, several victims were found with teeth marks in their necks as rumors of his unholy rebirth continued to spread like wildfire. The rumors reached as far as the Transylvanian border. Some people went as far as to say that Vlad made a deal with the devil after his wife's suicide that allowed him to return to this world after his death. A deal was unwittingly made, yes--and the catch was that Vlad would be the king of the dead and cursed with eternal life. Vlad did indeed denounce God, who he blamed for his wife's death, and he would thus gain revenge by defying limited life and waiting, patiently, for his wife to be reborn so that they could be together again.

After a centuries-long search, Vlad eventually found the woman he believed to be the reincarnation of his wife--a woman named Lisa. Lisa was a kind medicine woman who had always sacrificed her time to help others in need. Even though his appearance had more than diminished by this time, and even though she knew he was inhuman, she loved him more than anything in the world, and she knew that he would never do anything to hurt her. The two had a child who would later have a significant impact on his father's life. One day, the priests were informed about mysterious happenings in Lisa's vicinity, and Vlad was forced to flee. Lisa was taken from her home and executed, her expertise in medicine mistaken as "witchcraft"--this heinous act enraged Vlad beyond belief. Hurt deeply, he vowed to make everyone pay once he mastered the use of the unlimited power he now had. His son, Adrian, who was only a child at this point, was by Lisa's side at the time of her death. Looking over her shoulder, she whispered to her son that should he ever see his father again to tell him that she holds no grudge over the humans and that he should not expel his rage unto them; she also wanted him to deliver a message to his father--that she would love him forever.

The truth was, as the prophecies predicted, that Dracula's soul was doomed the moment he was excommunicated by the Catholic Church after he made a pact with and embraced Satan--gone, too, was his ability to love anything but the memory of his wife. Likewise, he was cut off, even, by the Orthodox Church. As Wolfgang Brewmeister tells us: "He is not recognized in the Romanian Orthodox Church as anything more than a medieval prince because of his (Catholic) conversion." The consequence was that his soul could not enter heaven, and it would be forever trapped within this Earthly realm. His eternal rebirth via that pact with the other side had him transform into a blood-seeking monster--a vampire (derived from the real-life version's eating bread dipped in foes' blood). Vlad, now calling himself solely "Dracula," would take his new vendetta out on all of God's creations. In time, and after terrorizing Transylvania, he drove out the people and their leaders and turned Castle Dracul into Castle Dracula (or Castlevania, as it became known). His next goal: Total world dominance. There was no way, now, that the people would accept or support Dracula in his vampiric state, so he would have to create a new army to his cause--the army of the undead!

Dracula was now truly the king of the dead; he had supernatural powers that allowed him to beckon and control all of nature's dark forces. His most feared abilities included his penchant for transforming into a vampire bat, translucent mist or a grisly werewolf. He was also a master of black magic and the deadly spells this power afforded him. His immortality didn't come without weaknesses, though: He was weak against the power of holy water, garlic and religious symbols, especially crosses. He cast no reflection or shadow and could not venture outside during the daytime, lest the light of day would burn his skin; he instead had to spend the daytime hours in the basement of his castle, in a dark, dreary coffin. Plus the hunger for human blood would gnaw at him at all times. So he would have to compensate.

In time, he managed to raise from the depths a whole army of the undead--zombies, skeletons, ghosts, and other horrible apparitions. He enlisted the services of other vile, nocturnal-practicing beings like the Grim Reaper, the Monster (Frankenstein), Medusa and many others who saw Dracula as the perfect leader and ally. Terrible creatures that weren't even known to exist grabbed the opportunity to come out from their hiding and join in this new rebellion, for evil finally had an Earthly leader under whom they could thrive. With this powerful army, Dracula's goal of world domination looked to be very realistic. The world had no hope. Or did it?

Seeds of War

Somewhere in Transylvania, in a small town in Wallachia dubbed "Warakiya," lived a woman named Sonia Belmont. Sonia, a strong-minded young woman, was shaped into a warrior by her uncle, who trained her to sense evil and battle against it. After her seventeenth birthday, Sonia met and had an affair with Alucard, the estranged and now forgotten son of Dracula. Alucard had refused to serve under his father's rule, and he grew tired of Dracula's stubbornness and devious actions. As much as it pained him, his mission in life was to bring down his own dad. Alucard embodied the gentleness of his mother, and--despite his father's hatred for them and on his mother's last dying request--he held no grudge against the humans. Sonia learned that Alucard was a half-breed--a half-human, half vampire born from Dracula's bond with Lisa, a human woman. But even with this internal struggle, he was strong-minded in his predicament, and his relationship with Sonia strengthened them both. When Alucard explained to Sonia his plan to forcibly remove Dracula from his position of power, she showed a vested interest. Sensing her interest, he revealed to her this plan even though he didn't want her to be dragged into what he knew was a mad quest. Regardless, she had every intention of becoming part of it. How would she do it?

Sonia was especially trained with a whip, one that had been passed down into her family for centuries. This whip was named the "Vampire Killer." It possessed supernatural power that would allow her to battle and defeat both the undead and even the most divine beings. Its origin can be traced back to the eleventh century when a man named Rinaldo Gandolfi, a master alchemist, entrusted a Whip of Alchemy to her ancestor Leon Belmont. The whip's alchemy-based property allowed for Leon to transform it into a divine tool of destruction by striking down Sara Trantoul (his betrothed who had been vampirized by Walter Bernhard), which collected and combined her infected soul with his hatred. To supplement this weapon of divine power, Leon also found five items along the way--an axe, a dagger, holy water, a cross and a crystal--that he further enchanted with powerful magic and tempered into mystic weapons. By the time Sonia was born, only the whip remained. The mystic weapons were gone, perhaps lost during the Belmonts' brutal and painstaking quests.

During her journey, on the way to Castlevania, Sonia recovered four of the weapons--the axe, the dagger, holy water and the boomerang-like cross--and discovered a strange new type of stopwatch, which became her own personal entry into the mystic arsenal and a weapon that would one day afford the family the power to stop time. (Sonia's wind-soul power was perhaps its force energy.) For these were the weapons that future generations of Belmonts would use to hunt and destroy Dracula.

With her whip and her wits, Sonia was able to fight past a wave of Dracula's forces and later confront him in the heart of his castle. Beforehand, she caught up with Alucard, who had already reached the castle keep in search of the Dark Lord; shocked at her defiance, he tested her in battle. The result: He was impressed with her skills and decided that it would be best if he were to help in the vanquishing of his own bloodline by placing himself in a state of rest. He did, however, vow to rise again should his father ever threaten to return. The two bid each other farewell and sadly parted. Sonia would proceed on, alone, to battle the Count. And after a long, hard battle, Sonia and her mighty whip prevailed--Dracula and his army were finally put to rest. It wasn't that easy, though, for Dracula could never truly be defeated; he could only be put to rest for however long evil remained dormant. Dracula boasted of this impending return, belittling Sonia's efforts to fight an eternal battle; Sonia scoffed, promising that someone with a good heart would always be there to answer the challenge.

Advantage: Dracula

Dracula was correct in his assumption, however, because he was truly immortal. While he could be killed, the death would only serve to be temporary. Within that death, his powers would be submerged to wherever it was they were gained (perhaps from Hell or some other vile realm), leaving only a corpse. The corpse would remain dormant until the powers themselves restored to their fullest, wherein they'd return to him as means for his full resurrection, which, unfortunately for Dracula, would take an estimated century. This event would usually coincide with evil spread throughout the world growing to its absolute peak. At this point, deviants of all kind would begin to crave an unholy ruler, and with rituals, sacrifices and other destructive incantations, they would complete the circle and allow for Dracula's evil supernatural powers to return to his body. (It's worth noting that Dracula has been risen many times--sometimes too early, in which case he was more vulnerable than usual to hasty to defeat.)

Due to his immortality, Dracula found that he had a special bond with his own castle--Castlevania, the former Castle Dracul. (This may also be the castle from where Walter Bernhard lived and ruled during the 11th century before losing it to Mathias Cronqvist.) With the temporary banishment of its ruler, Lord Dracula, the castle itself would also submerge. It would only rise out from the rubble when that very evil began to grow strong, in turn beckoning the return of Dracula. In time, the rising of Castlevania would be a stern warning that the ruler of evil was about to return to this world. Though Dracula was powerful, he was well aware that others like the Belmonts could be a threat; therefore, it was necessary that Castlevania retain itself as a creature of chaos, always changing form, with it the unexplainable appearance of all types of twisted, vile creatures--this way, it could not be mapped out so that any would-be hero could find his or her way through. The always-changing selection of demons were found to be an extension of Dracula himself, for he had come to have a strange symbiotic ownership over them that became the beacon of their continued existence. In addition, his castle could manage to emerge from the depths in any number of locations so that no army could prepare an ambush. One thing would always remain the same, however: Dracula would wait in his Castle Keep, hoping to dine on the warm blood of a worn-down hero.

Meanwhile: Sonia had a son who she named Trevor. It's widely believed, by those close to the family, that Alucard was indeed the father. Because of Sonia's relationship with Alucard, Trevor's bloodline was even stronger than the last, and it would continue to grow, for Trevor was truly supreme amongst vampire hunters at even an early age. Sonia trained him accordingly, in kind shaping him into a warrior. The Belmont's power, not unlike Dracula's, were not without their price: In time, the people of Warakiya started to fear the Belmonts and their supernatural powers. They demanded that the Belmonts leave Warakiya and never return. But something happened soon after: Dracula rose--again. The dead started to come alive; rumors of Dracula's return were rampant; the people fled as armies of zombies started marching through the towns and villages. It was time for Trevor Belmont to grab his mighty whip and defend the people who had ousted he and his family. It was time for a battle for all time--Dracula versus the Belmonts!

Demise of the Soul

It seems almost inevitable that the corrupted being known as Count Dracula would one day see his untimely end. For after five-plus centuries spent battling the Belmont clan and its determined allies, his reign was thwarted in a most spectacular yet unexpected way. It was Julius Belmont and a band of vampire hunters who in 1999 defeated the Dark Lord, as the family and its allies always had, and with the help of the priests capitalized on a coincidentally-occurring celestial event by sealing within the darkness of a solar eclipse Dracula's spirit along with his demon-filled castle. Thus, because of the nature of the seal, Dracula was separated from his very own soul and unceremoniously vanquished for good.

Though, this is not to say that the battle was over or that the supernatural forces of darkness had breathed their last breath. After all: For nature to truly retain its balance, there must be an ultimate evil to counter ultimate good. So while there was surely no more "Dracula," what remained of his embodiment, his very feared powers, lay resting somewhere within that eclipse-based seal. And something had to give. What was extraordinary about this event was that the vampire Dracula's final death was predicted by a one Nostradamus over four hundred years before; more disturbing was the second part of his prophecy: "In the year 2035, a new master will come to the castle, and he will inherit all of Dracula's powers." Surely, Dracula's power would begin to leak out. Hopeful of this, members of the underground kept alive and held close this prophecy because they knew well that the year 2035 happened to be the date of the planet's next solar eclipse. It was then, they felt, that the Dark Lord would somehow return and lead them in victory.

There were others who knew too well of a possible leak. For one, Genya Arikado (a disguised Alucard working for a top-secret Japanese agency) understood better than anyone the true nature of Dracula's now-orphan powers. If someone of potential were to discover the true link between the eclipse and the Hakuba Shrine, from where the priests helped construct the seal, he or she could in 2035 stumble into the castle and inherit Dracula's powers to become the very reincarnation of the Dark Lord. There were many suitors--like the missionary Graham Jones, the fire-manipulating Dario Bossi, and the magic-duplicating Dmitrii Blinov--all of whom had some connection to the fateful day in 1999, be it a concurrent birth or an unexplained power potency boost. The key was that these individuals held power that was "one in the same" as Dracula's, which made them potential hosts.

It was Arikado, along with acquaintance Yoko Belnades, who formulated a plan to foil any such threat. They would carefully select a subject whose spirit was pure but whose powers were "one in the same" with Dracula's; the target was the seemingly ordinary Soma Cruz, friend of Mina Hakuba, whose father was the current owner of the Hakuba Shrine. On that day in 2035, Soma was against his will transported by Arikado into the eclipse-held castle, and he until the end remained oblivious as to his purpose. Over the course of the day, he was introduced to his unknown-to-himself soul-stealing power and, after he absorbed most all of the castle spirits and essences, eventually informed by his new "friends" that he was a potential successor to the Dark Lord. Soma feared the worst, that he actually was Dracula, but this, he learned, would hardly be the case if he were to remain strong.

Instead, it was Arikado's plan at work: If Soma were to absorb all of the castle souls, he could undoubtedly fool the forces of chaos into thinking that this were their Dark Lord. Therein, Soma could slip into the chaotic realm ("where only Dracula could go"), the source of the seal, destroy any leaks, and reconstruct the seal as it was. The planned worked thanks to Soma's determination to harness well his allies' pleas. But there was a cold truth: Though he was of good heart, somewhere deep within Soma lay sleeping Dracula's powers, and they would be his to either (a) suppress or (b) let loose and truly become the Dark Lord incarnate. Too, he would always be a target of those who wished to revive the most ultimate of evil.

Dracula was dead, yes, but his spirit would always remain. It would be up to the suitor to decide what, exactly, that meant.