Gargoyles, co-created by Greg Weisman, is the property of the Walt Disney company. Dracula, created by Bram Stoker, is the property of everyone.
Special thanks, as always, to Gryphinwrym7, Masterdramon, GregX and BookwyrmPendragon13 for providing beta-reading and feedback.
Extra special thanks to BookwyrmPendragon13 for allowing me the use of his OC villain; the diabolical Setebos.
"The Draculas were, says Arminius, a great and noble race, though now and again were scions who were held by their coevals to have had dealings with the Evil One. They learned his secrets in the Scholomance, amongst the mountains over Lake Hermanstadt, where the devil claims the tenth scholar as his due."
~Professor Abraham Van Helsing
Mount Kogaionon, Eastern Carpathians, 1452 A.D.
The ancient gargoyle hunched down by the fire, clad only in dark grey robes, probing the flames absently with the sharpened end of her gnarled ash cane. Her skin was a pale grey, her eyes a milky white, as though the years were slowly leeching the color from her. But her most striking features were by far the flat upturned nose and tall pointed ears that gave her face a distinctly chiropteran cast.
"I had known barely thirty winters when I first sought out the Black Lake," she whispered softly. "I had heard the old tales from my rookery parents but paid them little heed. I was young, curious... and foolish."
She inhaled deeply before continuing. "That was before I saw him, rising from the still ebon waters like some dark archangel. He was unlike any gargoyle of my own clan. His face was more human-like, like your own in fact."
The ancient's "guest" stifled a snarl.
"His green skin glistened in the moonlight, eyes darker and deeper than any lake. He was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen." the ancient continued unfazed. "He walked across the water's surface upon cloven hooves, beckoning me with webbed talons. He whispered promises of knowledge and power, ecstasy and life unending, if I would but join him beneath the dark waters. He vowed to be my slave… if I would but be his."
"Why did you not go?" the stranger asked.
"Something in his eyes," the ancient mused. "Something that… hungered."
"You were a coward, old one!" the stranger spat. She was a seemingly young gargoyle, not of the ancient's clan, with pale blue skin and a wild mane of crimson. "With the power of the Scholomance, you could have lead your clan to victory against the humans instead of skulking in these caves!"
"Perhaps," the ancient opined. "But at what price?"
"Where is it?" the stranger demanded, her eyes flashing scarlet.
"You know not what you ask?"
"Tell me!" the stranger snarled, grabbing the ancient roughly by the shoulders.
The ancient's eyes met the stranger's, refusing to look away. "In the mountains… south of Hermannstadt."
The stranger immediately turned to leave.
"Demona!" the ancient called.
The crimson-maned gargoyle paused for a moment, the ancient had never used her name before.
"If you do this…" The ancient shook her head sadly. "Then you are no longer welcome in our clan."
"It is you and your clan who will be begging for a place by my side before long, old one," Demona spoke imperiously before taking her leave of the ancient.
Demona swiftly strode through the network of icy caves that served as the home of the Carpathian Clan. A few gargoyles stopped to eye her cautiously as she passed. Each shared the distinctive flattened nose and high pointed ears of their elder. Many even sported arms and leather wings fused into a single set of limbs, making them look even more like gigantic bats.
Their ancestors had come to these lands from Gaul centuries ago, in the wake of the Roman conquest of Dacia. Since then they had weathered invasions of Hun, Mongol and Turk by withdrawing further and further into the mountains.
For months, she'd tried to convince them to take back what was rightfully theirs, to stand up and fight. They'd been hiding so long they'd forgotten even how to resist. That would all end once she mastered the secrets of the Scholomance, secrets that rivaled even those written in the Grimorum Arcanorum.
She would make them understand. She would lead them in a great crusade across this land, purging it of Christian and Muslim alike. Then the Carpathians would finally become a true homeland for her kind. She was so lost in her dreams of conquest that she failed to notice the two hatchlings that tumbled across her path, giggling as they wrestled in mock combat.
"Watch your step, whelps!" she snapped unthinkingly.
"Sorry!" one of the hatchlings mewled apologetically, she was a deep midnight-blue, with pale moon-white hair.
Her rookery sister was a mousy brown. She hid shyly behind her night-winged sibling despite being the larger, more physically imposing. "W-we didn't see you."
Demona's anger cooled as she looked down on the hatchlings. They were so young, so innocent. They had no idea their rookery parents were willing to sell their futures for the sake of maintaining a present state of comfort. "It is no matter, little one," she sighed before stepping out of the cave mouth and unfurling her wings.
"Are you leaving?" the night-winged hatchling asked.
"For now," she answered before letting the mountain wind take her.
Demona did not notice the three other hatchlings that watched her depart. They were eerily identical, unnaturally so for three gargoyles supposedly of the same rookery generation. They were distinguishable only by their coloring; silver-white, golden-yellow and raven-black.
The three sisters reached a decision without the need of a single word passing between them, before dissolving into dust motes on the moonlight.
The Weird Sisters re-materialized within an immense cavern that vaguely resembled the interior of a deserted cathedral. Green candles burned with unnatural blue flames, casting shadows that seemed to move with a will of their own. Every inch of the clammy green stone walls was carved with antediluvian murals depicting indecipherable glyphs and anatomically impossible creatures. The only sound was a slow but steady dripping.
The three glided toward the center of the chamber, where ten stone seats stood before an ancient stone lectern seemingly carved for a being far taller than those expected to sit before it.
"Setebos!" Seline called imperiously to the darkness. "We would have words with thee!"
Instantly, a gigantic wall of flame erupted from the lectern, from it emerged an enormous three-headed dragon, vast leathery wings spanning the entire width of the cavern as its serpentine coils undulated obscenely. Its dark-green skin glistened wetly as it stepped forward on two cloven hooves wide as tree trunks.
"WHO DARES INTRUDE UPON MY-" The Dragon's heads roared in unison before glancing down at the intruders. "Oh… it's you three."
The Dragon dissolved into a glowing mist before coalescing once more into the form of a tall man clad in dark princely robes. His face was narrow and angular. His hair black and slicked back, clinging wetly to his scalp. He appeared human in all respects, save for his pointed elven ears, pale green skin, and the cloven hooves he still walked upon.
"Welcome to my school, my dears" He extended a hand in greeting. "Though I'm afraid you may not find the curriculum to your... tastes."
Seline swatted the hand away. "We did not come to prattle with you, Setebos-"
"Prince Setebos," he hissed. "Whatever else I may be, I am still the son of a Queen."
"Prince Setebos," Luna interjected. "This 'school' of yours directly contravenes Lord Oberon's edict of non-interference in mortal affairs."
"I have never interfered with any mortal," Setebos recoiled in feigned indignation. "If they choose to seek me out of their own free will, well then… they have only themselves to blame."
"Perhaps we should summon Lord Oberon," Luna suggested. "To see if He agrees with your interpretation of His Law?"
"By all means," Setebos answered. "I'm sure he'll also be interested in hearing why you three are not guarding the gates of Avalon, or… why you're so interested in a single Scottish gargoyle?"
The Sisters fell silent.
"Oh… you thought I didn't know about her?" Setebos grinned wickedly. "I think our business here is concluded. You'll forgive me if I don't see you out?"
Phoebe, silent until now, broke ranks with her sisters to block Setebos' way.
"We will fight you for her," the golden-haired sister spoke softly. It was not a threat or a warning. It was a simple statement of fact.
The Prince of the Third Race seemed momentarily taken aback before the realization hit him.
"Fate, Vengeance…" He surveyed Luna and Seline for but a moment before turning his full attention back on Phoebe. "And you."
Phoebe met the fiend's gaze without so much as blinking.
"The gargoyle is no mere pawn in destiny's grand design, no simple weapon of retribution against your enemies. She means something… more to you than that." He leaned down, whispering so only Phoebe could hear. "Surely you realize that only makes her even more tempting a prize?"
Luna interposed herself between her sister and the Exiled Prince. "Perhaps Prince Setebos would be amenable to… a bargain?"
"The rules of the Scholomance are simple," spoke Setebos. "Ten scholars enter, nine leave. The gargoyle would be a rare catch but... if I was provided with something, someone, more enticing then I might be willing to overlook her."
"You have but to speak a name," Luna whispered.
He was not alone. Pure white moonlight illuminated the bedchambers. Dust motes seemed to glide down the silver-beams, dancing before him. Slowly, languidly, they resolved into lithe, gossamer clad shapes.
The three women moved towards the bed, towards him, with a slow predatory grace. The Sisters where identical save for the color of their hair. They cast no shadow upon the floor as they drew tantalizingly close. The raven-haired sister licked her blood-red lips, revealing pearl-white teeth that glinted in the moonlight like cut diamonds.
"Go on," the silver-haired girl whispered to her sister. "He is yours by right, begin and we will follow."
She bent over him with deliberate voluptuousness, allowing her cold weight to press down on him. His nostrils were suddenly filled with her breath, a rancid almost metallic stench.
"Do you seek vengeance, my prince?" she whispered softly in his ear.
"Yes..." he heard his own voice murmur weakly.
"Do you want the power to punish those who stole your homeland, your father's life, and your brother's soul?"
"Yes!" he growled as he strained under her weight, paralyzed by her presence.
"Then seek the Black Lake, there you shall find the power you crave..." Her lips grazed his bare throat. He felt the faintest pinprick of her white diamond-like teeth and then...
His eyes snapped open, taking in the cold, dark and conspicuously empty bed chamber. The first pale light of dawn filtered through the thin slit-like windows, making everything seem dim and paradoxically less solid than his dream.
He leapt from his bed like a wolf that had just caught the scent of blood on the wind, lighting the lone candle resting upon his desk before hungrily sifting through a small pile of Latin grimoires and Arabic alchemical texts. The dream was already fast fading from his conscious mind, leaving only three words burning themselves into his thoughts like a branding iron.
"The Black Lake," he whispered to himself as his fingers lightly traced over a crudely drawn map of the mountains south of Hermannstadt.
Within moments, he was striding imperiously through the castle halls, clad in his riding gear. His eye caught sight of three servant girls already scrubbing the stone floors.
"You girl!" he barked.
"Y-yes, my Lord," one of the girls cringed, a raven-haired serf.
"Inform friend Alexăndrel of my gratitude for his hospitality, but that urgent business carries me elsewhere," he spoke curtly before striding off into the morning sun.
"As you command..." The raven-haired girl kept her gaze downcast, where only her two sisters could see the faint smile playing about her face. "Prince Vlad."
South of Hermannstadt, Walpurgisnacht
Almost four years had past since Prince Vlad had been betrayed by the Turks and driven from his homeland, less than a month after ascending his father's throne. Since then, he'd been forced to shuffle between the courts of half a dozen different distant relations and supposed allies like some sort of vagabond. Now he found himself riding through the black woods that practically carpeted the slopes of the Southern Carpathians, seeking the power to reclaim what was rightfully his.
Unfortunately, that was easier said than done. He'd been wandering the weed choked mountain paths for days with no sign of his true goal. Already, the blood-red sky above was giving way to purple twilight. He'd been on the verge of turning back towards Hermannstadt when something caught his eye. A strange bluish light that flickered from somewhere deeper in the foreboding woods.
It appeared to be a ball of azure flame, hovering in mid-air among the trees. It zipped back and forth conspicuously, as though trying to attract his attention, before withdrawing further into the darkness.
Vlad had heard stories of such things since he was a child, phantom lights that lured travelers to their dooms. Some said they were the souls of unbaptized infants flitting between Heaven and Hell. Others claimed they were elven sprites who guarded long forgotten treasures. All agreed that only a fool or a madman would willingly follow them.
Especially on this of all nights...
Vlad drove his coal-black mount through the ancient Stygian forests. All the while, the will-o-the-wisp danced ever out of reach, taunting him, mocking him. He pushed the beast faster and faster, til at last the sprite was practically at his fingertips. He reached out, almost grasping the wisp, just as it blinked out of existence like a candle being snuffed.
At the same moment, his mount's hoof was caught by a stray root, sending the Prince hurtling into the mud beneath. He painfully staggered to his knees as the horse's frantic hoof-beats faded into the distance.
He howled at the sky above as his fist struck the ground in impotent fury. He cursed his father for selling him into bondage. He cursed his brother for allowing himself to be seduced by the Sultan's decadence. Finally he cursed the God who repaid his faith with naught but inscrutable silence. A lifetime of rage and fear suddenly boiled up in a seemingly endless torrent of blasphemous indictments against Heaven itself.
"Are you quite done, lad?"
Vlad looked up to see two figures looking down on him. He immediately recoiled, hand reaching for the hilt of his blade; a curved Turkic saber.
"Calm yourself, lad," the first figure spoke softly in an accent Vlad did not recognize. He was clad in little save twig sandals, a long dark green skirt knitted from foliage, and a ragged brown open vest. A golden sickle and oak-wood wand hung from the twine that served him for a belt. The lines of his elderly skin were whorled and bark-like, his beard the color and texture of dried straw.
"Stop making idle chatter with the boy, FitzGerald!" the second figure snapped in what Vlad did recognize as French. His blue robes were no doubt rich and fine once, but now they hung from his gaunt frame in dirty tatters. His blue-black beard was caked with filth. His wide unblinking eyes locked on Vlad like a nocturnal animal. "We should spill his bowels here and now!"
"You're welcome to try, fool!" Vlad snarled drawing his blade.
The one called FitzGerald stepped between Vlad and the madman. "Please don't heed Gilles, lad. I'm afraid his mind hasn't been quite right since 1431. Besides..." He eyed his companion meaningfully. "You're a bit old for his... proclivities."
Vlad kept his sword level with the lunatic's throat. "If you desire my friendship, then first declare yourselves!"
"Gerald FitzGerald, 3rd Earl of Desmond in fair Éire, at your service." The Gael bowed before gesturing to his companion. "And my charming friend is Gilles de Montmorency-Lava; Baron de Rais in Brittany, easily the foulest degenerate I have ever met. But he's killed Englishmen by the hundreds, so he can't be all bad."
"Gilles de Rais..." Vlad paused, lowering his blade. "Hero of the Siege of Orléans? I thought you were dead?"
"So did I for a moment there," the Breton tittered darkly, as though at some private joke.
"Is it true you fought alongside-" Vlad began before...
"NO!" de Rais snapped. "You mustn't mention Her name! Not here! Not yet!"
"Easy, Gilles," FitzGerald whispered soothingly as he restrained the Breton. "The lad meant no harm."
"We have to be careful... Can't risk drawing any attention... Even He can't possibly look everywhere at once..." de Rais muttered, unblinking eyes darting in every direction, as though the black woods were alive with hidden spies.
"Of course He can't, Gilles," FitzGerald whispered, softly patting the broken creature's back. "Well, lad. We've told you our names?"
"I am Prince Vlad Dracula, Son of the Dragon and rightful Voivode of Wallachia!" he decreed imperiously before sheathing his blade with a dramatic flourish.
FitzGerald and de Rais exchanged a brief bemused look. "Never heard of you."
Vlad followed the two indigents through the trees until they came to a clearing, revealing a vast ebon lake whose still waters reflected the moon above as perfectly as a mirror of polished obsidian.
"The Black Lake..." he whispered.
"Come lad, I'll introduce you to the rest of our little community." FitzGerald placed a hand on the young prince's shoulder, leading him down to the gravel strewn shore line. Almost a dozen tents stood rippling softly in the cold night wind. Some were elegant and opulent; cut from rich purple, green and scarlet silk trimmed in gold while others were little better than a beggar's hovel.
Around a dimly glowing fire sat six shadowy figures. One was a snow-haired girl, clad in a hood of samite and a silver ring inset with a shimmering blue-crystal. Next to her sat a grim-faced impossibly aged Slav who stole the occasional lusting glance at the girl.
But it was the next two figures sitting by the fire that caused Vlad to once more draw his blade with a wolfish snarl. "What is this... filth doing here?"
Two dark-skinned travelers, unmistakably Moors, regarded Vlad's blade with cool indifference. One was a gaunt elderly man clad in scarlet robes, a coal-black raven perched on his shoulder. At his side sat a young girl wearing little but white furs, her shimmering eyes contrasting her dark copper skin.
"I see you've found another stray dog, FitzGerald?" the elderly Moor drawled as he offered his raven a scrap of charred meat.
"Now now, lad..." FitzGerald gently placed a hand on Vlad's sword-arm. "Mustapha and Sycorax are merely fellow seekers of knowledge."
"You willingly consort with these Godless heathens?" Vlad hissed.
"Godless heathens..." FitzGerald chuckled. "Where exactly do you think you are, lad? We're practically standing at the Gates of Hades."
"Then these vermin won't have far to travel!" Vlad howled, shaking off FitzGerald's grip as he prepared to pounce on the Moors.
Before Vlad could strike, a blood-curdling inhuman wail pierced the night, a black-winged shadow swooping past the silver moon. He shielded his face as something landed before the fire. His eyes widened in terror and awe as he lowered his hand.
She was like some pagan angel, her skin a deathly blue, wild mane like living flame. She cloaked her devil wings about her, moving with all the infernal grace of a queen of Hell.
All thoughts of the Moors fled from Vlad's mind as he gaped mutely.
"Demona!" FitzGerald beamed, spreading his arms warmly. "I really don't understand why you don't sleep here during the day. I'm beginning to think you don't trust us?"
"FitzGerald, I trust you not to shatter me in my sleep about as much as I trust myself not to tear out your prattling tongue in yours," the she-demon drawled. Her cold gaze turned on the young prince. "Is this the tenth?"
"Demona, allow me to introduce Prince Vlad of Wallachia," FitzGerald lowered his head to whisper in the Prince's ear. "Stop staring, lad. You'd think you'd never seen a gargoyle before."
"I did not ask the whelp's name," Demona snapped. "I asked if he's here to attend the Scholomance?"
"Of course he is!" FitzGerald squeezed the Prince's shoulders reassuringly. "Isn't that right, lad?"
"Good, then make the preparations. Midnight fast approaches and I have no intention of waiting for next Walpurgisnacht." The demon spun imperiously on her heels, tearing a charred limb from the deer roasting over the fire before striding off into the darkness.
"What did she mean?" Vlad asked.
"Do you want the power to reclaim your throne, lad?" FitzGerald asked.
"Yes!" Vlad answered emphatically.
"Even at the risk of your immortal soul?" FitzGerald prompted.
"To free my homeland... I would damn myself a thousand times over." Vlad answered coldly.
"No need to be dramatic, lad," FitzGerald leered crookedly "Just the once should suffice."
"Sint mihi dei Acherontis propitii! Valeat numen triplex Jehovoe! Ignei, aerii, aquatani spiritus, salvete!" FitzGerald chanted as he drew the iron blade across the palm of his hand, allowing the smallest trickle of precious crimson to fall within the ritual circle inscribed about the small fire.
The druid handed the ritual dagger to Vlad, who followed his example. He offered the dagger to the gargoyle, who took it without even sparing the prince a glance.
"Orientis princeps Belzebub, inferni ardentis monarcha, et Demogorgon, propitiamus vos, ut appareat et surgat Mephistophilis, quod tumeraris..." FitzGerald continued to chant.
To each of the ten the blade passed in turn, until it finally came to de Rais. The Breton handled the iron dagger gingerly, as though it was a live serpent that might strike him at any moment.
"Per Jehovam, Gehennam, et consecratam aquam quam nunc spargo, signumque crucis quod nunc facio, et per vota nostra, ipse nunc surgat nobis dicatus..." FitzGerald's incantation finally climaxed as he cried out the final Infernal Name. "Mephistophilis!"
The moment stretched out into a silent eternity.
"Nothing happened!" Demona snarled, wheeling on the druid. "Your ridiculous ritual failed, FitzGerald!"
"Did the ritual fail, I wonder..." de Rais mused, stroking his filth-matted beard. "Or is it simply... incomplete?"
"What are you babbling about now, lunatic?" Demona drawled.
"Faith, if it hath not works, is dead," the Breton spoke, slowly circling the other nine. "Our Father Below is not propitiated with empty ceremony and hollow incantations but with blood and... torment!"
Vlad cocked an eyebrow. "What are you suggesting, fo..." Before the prince could utter another word, de Rais grasped him from behind.
"The legends do say the Tenth Scholar must be offered in sacrifice to the Scholomance!" de Rais tittered as he held the iron dagger to the Prince's throat.
Vlad's eyes surveyed the other eight assembled about the summoning circle. None of which made any move to intervene.
FitzGerald shrugged. "Couldn't hurt, I suppose."
"You'd be surprised," Vlad snarled before ramming the back of his skull into de Rais' nose. The prince spun around, grasping the hilt of his own blade as the Breton reeled back.
"Insolent ungrateful whelp!" de Rais' wild unblinking eyes locked on the young Prince. He licked the crimson rivulets seeping into his blue-black beard. "I'm going to savor making you scream Our Father Below's name, boy. Even Judas will pity you!"
"You wish to meet Satan, wretch?" Vlad snarled, drawing his sword. "He can come collect your rotted soul once I've cut it from your flesh!"
Both combatants, as well as the eight spectators suddenly froze. Vlad's eyes darted about, seeking the source of the unearthly voice. All he saw was empty darkness, the still waters of the Black Lake and... eleven shadows flickering in the firelight.
Your mortal antics are... amusing, but unnecessary. All that was required to draw me into your presence was a simple invitation.
The ten watched in cold dread as the eleventh shadow slowly circled the fire.
I know each of your most secret desires... power, enlightenment, vengeance, pleasure, to turn back death itself. All these I offer you... and more.
"And in exchange?" Demona scowled.
You all know my price. Otherwise you would not be here.
"And who are you exactly?" Sycorax interjected, it was the first time Vlad had heard the Moorish girl speak.
Men have called me many names, my dear; Iblis, Ahriman, Chernobog, Barron, Mephistopheles...
"What do you call yourself?" the Moor asked.
The shadow seemed to pause for a moment, as though surprised by the question.
For now, think of me simply as your... School Master.
The still waters of the Black Lake slowly parted in a blasphemous parody of the Exodus, revealing broad slime-slicked stone steps that led from the shore down into a shadowed pit.
If any of you wish to walk away, this is your last chance.
The ten stood staring into the watery abyss, none seemed willing to make the first move.
"Typical human cowardice," Demona snorted as she stepped forward, descending the antediluvian steps.
Vlad could not help but admire her boldness as she strode into the darkness below, betraying not a twinge of fear. Sycorax was next, followed swiftly by FitzGerald and de Rais. One by one the other nine vanished into the depths, leaving only Vlad himself standing by the shore.
Second thoughts, my Prince? I thought you said you would damn yourself a thousand times over to reclaim your throne?
Vlad glared at the shadow. "How long have you been listening, devil?"
Long enough... It is not an easy thing, to be betrayed by your own brother. Cast out from your homeland, with only your hate to keep you warm at night.
Vlad couldn't help but bristle at the demon's words. "God will punish those who have wronged me, in His own time."
Perhaps, but would you truly find that satisfying?
Vlad stared into the watery abyss. He thought of the other nine. They only sought the power of the Scholomance for their own base desires. They were petty and selfish, unlike him. Only Vlad was truly righteous. Only his heart was pure enough to wield the weapons of Hell against the enemies of Heaven.
Vlad took his first step down the stone step, then another, until he was lost in the Stygian black. The waters closed over his head, leaving only the still ebon surface of the Black Lake.
To be Continued...