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the dragon's apostle

It was a public execution in the little Romanian town of Trigoviste and this aroused the usual excitement, so it was unlikely that any of the towns folk would have heard the mournful 'vamping' sound which now echoed around the dark mountains. Indeed, if heard, this sound would probably have been taken as the roar of some awful demon, for the people of the period were terribly superstitious.

However, the sound, as you have guessed, was not that of a supernatural entity, although its true origin was no less fantastic. This was a sound which had been heard before on many worlds, and in many pasts and futures; on each occasion, it heralded the arrival of the TARDIS - a time-space vehicle of alien manufacture. And, now that the sound had died away, the TARDIS stood - in a guise of a tall, proud Police Box - strangely, almost at home, by a mountain pass overlooking Trigoviste.

Within the machine, two figures hovered about a brightly lit instrument panel at the heart of the TARDIS control room, although the 'pilot', so to speak, would probably have used the term 'control' very loosely. He was a tall and strikingly elegant man -dynamic; his companion, an attractive girl in her twenties, was more appealingly pretty than beautiful.

‘Mmm. We appear to have landed in the year 1457, Jo!’ said the Doctor in his uniquely crisp tones, as he studied the array of knobs and switches and dials before him.

‘Earth...?’ she asked, hopefully. Jo Grant had not seen her native planet since the god-like Time Lords had restored the ability of the TARDIS to escape the co-ordinates of twentieth-century England, and the Doctor, to compensate for lost time, had at once whisked her off with him through the galaxies and eons. It was alright for him - he felt at home anywhere!

‘Earth,’ he replied with a smile. Right then, Jo would have been satisfied with Earth in any century - just so long as she could look up into a big blue, or rainy grey sky. Hurriedly, she followed the Doctor through the TARDIS doorway into the open.

~~~

Janos Volta, a Captain in the Wallachia Army, led his men on horseback through the dark and lonely Alps towards Trigoviste. The soldiers had heard the demonic groaning sound, even if the villagers had not. Volta had assured the men that it had been nothing but the wind, but they, like he, were a little frightened, nonetheless; tales were told that their lord and master was in league with the devil. Certainly, his punishment of Turkish captives, and anyone else who dared to step out of line, was 'nasty' to say the least.

But this was war, and Volta had himself witnessed the treatment of his own people by the Sultan's men. Just the same, that dreadful groaning sound filled his mind was a foul mist rolled off the mountain sides and swirled about them.

The Doctor was peering through a tiny pair of binoculars at the town just below them. Jo stood next to him, shivering. So much for blue skies! How she wished that the Doctor would just go back to the TARDIS, and that they could take off and try somewhere else.

‘Ye gods!’ the Doctor exclaimed. Through his glasses, he had just caught sight of a big castle beyond a forest, and around which stood rows of blood-stained stakes. He at once realised when and where they had arrived, he felt it unwise to recall the scene to Jo, but they would have to leave at once...

‘Hold there!’ boomed a voice from about one hundred yards along the way.

‘Come on, Jo!’ the Doctor shouted, grabbing the girl's arm and whisking the TARDIS keys from his jacket. As they darted for the safety of their ship, a fleet of arrows sped just past their heads, chipping lumps from some big rocks nearby; as chance would have it, one of these stony splinters flew and caught the Doctor just above his right eye. He sank to his knees. Momentarily dazed, he got to his feet again and ushered his young companion onwards to meet the advancing soldiers who, if they were to come much nearer, would undoubtedly see the TARDIS which was hidden, at present, behind some boulders.

‘Excellent!’ grinned Volta, noting the couple's odd attire, ’A Turkish officer and his wench. Take them!’

‘Now, wait one moment!’ snapped the Doctor, ‘Tell me, if I were a Turkish officer, what would we two be doing walking around in the Carpathians by ourselves?’


That made sense. But then, who were they?


‘As it happens,’ continued the Doctor, ‘I am an officer - in the Wallachian army! I am Count Doctor, and this my young niece. We were captured by Turks near Giurgiu, and managed to escape with the help of one of your spies who advised us to come north to Trigoviste for safety and assistance.’



So the Sultan's men had crossed the Danube? Volta eyed the pair up and down. They did not resemble Turks. The girl was very fair. Germans, perhaps? Volta remained suspicious - in all of Romania, he had never heard of 'Count Doctor' before.

‘I will take you to my Lord and Master. He will decide,’ he said, ushering a soldier to help the 'Count' and his niece onto a horse.


~~~

Within a short while, they were riding through the town towards the dark castle that dominated the landscape.

‘Doctor...?’ asked Jo timidly; she was aware of the stares from the townsfolk, and that she had not understood a word that the Doctor had said to the Captain.


‘Where are we? What's going to happen to us?’



‘I'm sorry, Jo. Let me explain,’ he replied over his shoulder, ‘I've managed to persuade them that we are not their enemy…’ (Jo could have been forgiven for thinking otherwise), ‘...in fact, I've told them we are of noble blood. They're taking us to see the local Count-fellow now.’

‘Oh great! He won't recognise us and then we'll be in even deeper trouble,’ she moaned, her face a pretty tale of woe.


‘Actually, I don't want to worry you, Jo…’ (which probably meant that he was about to), ‘...but, if my history is correct, then the local Count should go by the title Vlad Tepees of Wallachia!’


‘Oh yes? And who would he be then?’ Jo was puzzled - she had never heard the name in her history books at school, although...the Doctor seemed to think it quite important’

‘Vlad, the Impaler Jo!’ he replied, turning to look kindly into his bemused assistant's face, ‘Count Dracula’ He allowed the sinister name to roll majestically from his tongue. Fear washed through Jo as she recalled the connotations which that name had held in the twentieth-century, and the ugly black bulk of a castle loomed ever nearer.

‘But I thought that was only in films?’ she protested.

‘Well, old 'fang-face' wasn't really a vampire, Jo. But there was an element of the horrific in his treatment of prisoners-his nickname, 'the Impaler', tells us that. But look, don't worry, Jo, I'll get us out of this. We always manage. In fact, I'm rather looking forward to meeting him at last!’

The Doctor's smile was wasted as the sinking sun, pierced by the craggy mountain-peaks, dripped blood-red on the horizon.

Very soon, Volta was leading them by torch along a long, dark corridor in the castle. When the reached a tall and heavy wooden door, they stopped. About to knock, Volta was silenced by a calm and regal voice from within.

‘Bid my friends enter, and be you gone,’ said the voice.

The heavy door swung silently open, and the time-travellers walked through, before them sat a domineering figure, clad in strangely rich garments. His eyes glinted and sparkled as he sipped from a chalice of wine. A cruel grin formed; his teeth clenched; a greying beard completing the 
sinister picture.

‘Oohh,’ sighed Jo, relieved to see a familiar face, ‘I think I preferred Bella Lugosi!’

‘No,’ chuckled the Doctor, ‘Not exactly Peter Cushing, is he Jo?’

‘And neither are you, Doctor...anymore,’ The Master smiled with a sardonic air.

‘You will join me in a toast, my friends?’ He rose from his throne.

‘No really, old chap. We must be of to Metebelis Three, and you know I don't drink and drive’ The Doctor nodded to his old enemy, and motioned to Jo to go ahead of him as he walked towards the door.

‘No, no, my friends,’ said the Master, ‘You must stay and help me to celebrate my future greatness. You see before you the future ruler - nay, God! - of this planet!’

‘Oh dear me, here we go again,’ sighed the Doctor, ‘You know, you really are very boring. I mean, can't you at least try to come up with something original? You know, you try too hard, that's your trouble!’

The Master ignored the Doctor's raillery - the latter knew too well that his opponent had a brilliant mind which he often found difficult to match.

~~~

One of the castle guards had kindly escorted the couple to their 'room' - a dark and dank cell in the castle bowels.

‘So,’ said Jo, shivering, ‘Count Dracula was really the Master all along.’

‘I don't think so, Jo,’ the Doctor replied, ‘old Vlad's either fled, or is dead. But I'm not so much worried about him as I am about the Master has in store for this planet!’

Suddenly, the sensation of touch, made the more strange because she could see nothing at all in the darkness, took Jo by surprise. She froze. It felt like a hand...on her shoulder!

Seconds crept like hours and she longed for the Doctor's voice just to know that he was still there. She tried to scream - partly in fear, and partly to break the terrible silence - but all she managed was a tiny squeak which, at least, snapped her out of her terror-induced paralysis. Then there was a deep groan.

‘Who's there? Jo?!’ called the Doctor, leaping into the blackness and feeling for his young friend...and for whatever had made that noise.

Volta descended the narrow winding steps to the prisoners' cell, a flaming torch in his strong right hand. There was a storm threatening that night. Many of the villagers were restless, and saying that it was a warning from God and that they must at last overthrow the Master. Many of Volta's men felt the same, and how could he blame them? He could not, for they had all heard the cry of the devil that evening in the mountains. And now, on this night of celestial violence, there was to be an impaling. It was execution day, but excitement had turned to fear, for the Master had ordered the execution of...

Volta ran to the side of the guard who was lying outside the open door of the cell, sobbing and burying his hands in his hot eyes.

‘What's happened?’ asked Volta, ‘Has he escaped?’

‘Captain…’ moaned the dazed guard, ‘they all have. The tall one...he has the power of the Master...he worked the evil magic of the yes on me.’

Jo stared at their new companion: a tragic figure, lean and bent in stature, with beady green eyes, a long nose, slightly protruding teeth, and a haggard face descending to a little black tuft of bristles on his pointed chin. This was their cell-mate, hard to imagine just how this strange little man could inspire such horror and romance in the twentieth-century, some 500 years later. He was standing rather timidly at the Doctor's side. They had evaded the guards and were now in the Master's chambers.

Vlad had told the time-travellers all about how the Master had arrived a few years earlier, an angel from hell, and had taken the soldiers and villagers into his power with all kinds of magic. Now, the Doctor stood musing over some pieces of scientific equipment.

‘I had most of these as a child,’ he commented, ‘these are just scraps - the instruments of the Master's 'magic', no doubt! No...whatever that jackanapes is up to, he'll have the really important stuff in the TARDIS.’

‘Couldn't you break in?’ asked Jo, ‘I mean, I've seen you do it before.’

‘No problem,’ said the Doctor in reply, ‘but, with a fully functioning chameleon-circuit, I'm afraid the Master's TARDIS shall prove pretty difficult to find in this castle, Jo.’

Disappointed that her suggestion had not been of much help, Jo wondered over to another table and pondered over some diagrams that were lying there, as the Doctor stood brooding.

‘Doctor...?’ she called, ‘Come and look at these, I think they're star-maps.’

The Doctor, lifting a candle-holder, crossed the room to join her. As the thunder began to blast outside, Dracula, now left alone in the dark, followed hurriedly.