Awed gasps sounded throughout the small crowd, and Ursula would have smirked with satisfaction had her mouth not been occupied by her flute. The cobra swayed back and forth in front of her, keeping his gaze fixed upon the end of the flute that swayed in time to the music she played. Several more coins clattered to the ground beside her, and her self-satisfaction grew. Deciding that she had done enough for now, she ceased both the music and the swaying of her flute. The cobra's hood flattened as he retreated to the colourful basket that was his lair. She ignored the now-dispersing crowd in favour of scooping up the coins and placing them in a pouch that hung from her neck.

"It is a rare thing indeed to witness such a performance in this part of the world," said a male voice, and Ursula stiffened. Evidently, not all of her audience was as gone as she had thought. She looked up, and her breath caught in her throat.

A handsome gentleman dressed in fine clothes looked at her contemplatively. Ursula tried to speak, but neither her tongue nor her mouth seemed willing to cooperate. "It seems as though you are finished here," said the gentleman. "May I have the honour of a beautiful lady's company as I see what other sights this carnival has to offer?"

Ursula found herself rising to her feet and nodding before she even realised what she was doing. Oh well; Mr Pillai taught me enough kuttu varisai that this man'll get quite a shock if he tries anything untoward, she thought smugly as she accepted his offered arm.

The day was a dark one thanks to the heavy clouds that formed a veil between the sky and the earth, and the air contained all the energy and anticipation of a brewing storm. All around were colourful tents and various displays, stores and shows from all around the world. Ursula and her escort passed unnoticed through the crowd for the most part, although a few people seemed to draw back unconciously as they passed. "I am Count Dracula," said the gentleman. "May I know your name, fair lady?"

"I'm just a peasant, not really some noble Lady, but… my name is Ursula. It's a pleasure to meet you, Count." And she attempted a clumsy curtsy.

The Count took her hand in his and leant down to kiss her fingertips. "The pleasure is all mine, Ursula," he told her, and she blushed even as she shivered at the corpse-like coldness of his skin. The coldness alarmed her slightly, and she grew all the more alarmed as she noticed the strange pallour of his skin. She was just about to suggest that they build a fire that he might warm up, but he spoke again before she had the chance. "Would you care to tell me, Ursula, how a European woman such as yourself comes to learn the art of snake charming so rarely seen on this continent?"

"Several years ago I became an apprentice of sorts to an Indian traveller called Mr. Pillai. He taught me how to charm snakes and how to defend myself from attackers, among other things. He died not long ago, but he willed his cobra to me. I've always thought the serpent truly magnificent and majestic…" Why am I revealing so much to someone I've only just met? The serpent is not exactly popular. She dared a glance at the nobleman, and saw that he was smiling, and was that approval she glimpsed in his eyes?

"Too few humans truly appreciate the majesty of beasts," he murmured. "It is indeed an honour to have made your aqauaintance, Ursula."

Ursula's heart raced and she gave the Count a genuine smile, sudden joyful hope flaring in her eyes. "So you too respect the untamed glory that is the wilderness?"

"Yes. It just so happens that I am particularly fond of wolves…" A howl rent the air, and Ursula drew close to the Count, eyes wide with sudden fear. She realised with a start that, in her excitement at finding what seemed to be a kindred spirit, she had allowed herself to be lead away from the boundaries of the carnival, away from people…

"Have no fear, Lady Snake-Charmer," said the Count. "The wolves shall not harm you."

"How can you…" And then a great black wolf emerged from the nearby forest, tongue lolling out from between wicked white fangs. Ursula stood frozen as the wolf came closer, and closer, and closer… and then it stopped, only a few feet away, and rolled onto its back, thus leaving its throat and belly exposed. Just as any canine would do to greet its alpha…

Ursula almost stopped breathing right then and there. The Count chuckled. "The wolves shall not harm you," he repeated, and brushed a stray curl behind her ear. "Do you want this power, Ursula? Do you want to become a child of the night?"

"This power? You mean as a lupine alpha?"

"Among other things."

Ursula stayed silent, thinking this over. She felt strangely calm, even though she now suspected the Count of being something inhuman. "Are you a werewolf, Count?"

The Count laughed quietly. "Close, but no. Guess again."

Something similar to a werewolf but not… A suspicion entered her mind, and she placed her hand upon his breast. There was no heartbeat. "Undead. Vampire," she hissed, drawing back in shock. "Drinker of blood. Vampire."

"That is correct." Ursula made to run, but the wolf leapt to block her way, snarling in deadly warning. She was trapped between a vampire and a snarling wolf. Oh, God…

"Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…" she began to mutter, but the count hissed, revealing fangs even deadlier than the wolf's, and she faltered, tears threatening to spill from wide eyes. The Count's expression softened, and he held out a hand to her.

"Will you not come with me, Ursula? I, who dwell in solitude, always alone. Will you not become a companion, a daughter, to ward off this loneliness?"

Ursula hesitantly reached out to place her hand in his. "I don't know why… I mean, I'm not even a Christian. It must be engrained from my childhood. I've been a Hindu since shortly after meeting Mr. Pillai." She smiled. "Very well. I accept your offer, Count. But… just a daughter?" She was teasing now.

The Count's eyes became cold and infathomable. "She is long gone from this world," he growled, clenching his fists. "None can take her place." A single tear of blood spilled from his eye, and then he growled frightfully. "I will make them pay…"

"I-I'm sorry, Count," Ursula whispered, and the wolf whined anxiously. They're gazes met then, human and wolf, in understanding. The Count became still and quite. "How is it done? How does one become a vampire?" she continued with equal measures of fear and excitement. A slow, cold smile formed on Dracula's face. His eyes became red like pools of blood and his fangs extended. She felt pain in her throat, and then she tasted the Count's blood in her mouth, and then she knew only darkness.

She awoke on cold stone in a beautifully decorated yet cavernous room with something of an air of decadance. A whimper met her ears, and she sat up, looking around for the source. She saw with horror that a boy only just on the verge of manhood was bound and gagged nearby, his eyes conveying panic that changed to hope and and pleading as his gaze met hers. She trembled as her gaze travelled upwards, for the Count stood over the boy, still dresed in his fine gentleman's clothes. A cruel sneer was upon his lips, and her beloved cobra seemed to have wrapped himself around the vampire's neck.

Dracula beckoned for Ursula to come to him, and her body obeyed even as her mind screamed at her to stop. "The conversion begun when I took your blood and gave you mine," he said when she came to a halt in front of him and his prisoner. "The transformation will be completed either when you die or when you first partake of living blood."

Ursula's horror grew as she realised what exactly the Count had planned for his young prisoner.

"Now drink, Ursula, my daughter."

The woman knelt before the boy, looked into his terrified eyes, and shook her head. "I-I can't. He's just a boy…"

"You can and you will," the Count snarled furiously, but Ursula's eyes hardened and she continued to shake her head.

With one dagger-like fingernail the Nosferatu created a slash at the base of the boy's throat. A burning hunger rose up within her like some sort of waking beast and her gums itched as fangs pushed their way out. She latched onto the boy's throat, unable to resist the tantalising scent that was his lifeblood. Her heart stopped at the same moment as the boy's, and the main difference between them then was that she continued to move while he did not.

Her cobra was placed over her shoulder, and the serpent made no move to strike. Ursula rose to her feet and met the gaze of the now-smiling Count. She licked the last of the blood from her lips. She knew it was wrong, but she no longer cared.

"I want some more."