Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
7 October 1999
A crack began at the floor and ran all the way up the white plaster wall to the ceiling, the first thing Adam saw when he opened his eyes. Like a swimmer coming up for air, he fought through the grogginess and the pounding in his head. The smell of musty fabric hung in the air and mingled with the odor of stale cigarette smoke. He struggled to sit up, but froze when he locked eyes with the man from the Special Collections room. Seated in a threadbare chair, he glared at Adam from beneath a mop of dirty blond hair with intense but tired-looking blue eyes. He was slighter than he had seemed in the library, and young, probably in his early twenties.
“Where am I?” Adam asked, his voice like sandpaper.
The man didn’t answer, and Adam didn’t waste his breath asking again.
Glancing around, Adam found himself in the living area of a tiny apartment. The man’s chair was crammed into one corner. His own equally threadbare sofa was crammed into another. A decrepit radiator stood against the wall between them. Above the sputtering radiator threadbare curtains—bedsheets actually—covered the only window. Nearby, a black-and-white television sat on a small table. A newscaster was talking about the ethnic fighting in Kosovo. He spoke Serbian, or possibly Croatian, or maybe even Bosnian. All three languages were essentially the same, except that the speakers of each hated the speakers of the other two.
In the same wall as the giant crack there was a door—the entry, based on the adjacent coat rack. To the right of the door, an opening led into a cramped kitchen. An old gas stove stood in the middle of the room leaving barely enough space for a small dinette set.
Another door in the wall to his left promptly swung open, and a woman emerged from the darkened room on the other side. She wore a pair of faded blue jeans and a T-shirt. Her black hair was pulled back into a ponytail. She could have been a female student in any one of Adam’s freshman Western civilization lectures, except that she seemed to draw all the shadows in the room toward her. Her movements created a slight sense of vertigo. Adam’s heart pounded as he realized what she was.
“Dr. Mire,” she said, “so glad to see you’re finally awake. I trust your trip was a pleasant one?”
“I’d answer, but I’m afraid I don’t remember much of it.” Adam’s hand went to the crucifix around his neck, only to discover it missing. He shoved his other hand into his pocket. His knife was gone as well. He glared at the man seated in the chair, who simply grinned.
“Now, don’t look like that, Dr. Mire,” the woman said. “You’ll get your toys back when you leave.”
“Whether and how I leave is exactly what I’m worried about.”
She smiled. “You needn’t worry.”
He wasn’t sure if her words were meant to comfort him or not.
“Bogdan,” she said to the man in the chair, “would you mind giving us some privacy, just for a few hours?”
Bogdan’s grin melted. He hesitated, as if to ask her if she was certain, before he wordlessly stood and trudged out of the apartment. He slammed the door behind him.
She walked over to the television and turned it off before taking a seat in the dilapidated chair Bogdan had just vacated. Every move she made was deliberate, performed with a fluid grace that contradicted everything about her surroundings. “You’ve been busy, haven’t you, Dr. Mire? Confronting a vampire as formidable as Yasamin. Challenging Süleyman’s Blade. And coming out of the whole affair alive. Quite impressive.”
“Who are you?” Adam asked.
Her mouth twisted into an amused quirk. “My name is Elena.”
“Where am I?”
Adam’s mind went to a day in Prague a few weeks earlier. He was seated in a sidewalk café, drinking his coffee and smoking a cigarette, when his waiter slipped him an envelope. Inside was a clipping from Liberation, Sarajevo’s daily newspaper. It was dated 16 March 1994, during the height of the siege of the city. The article recounted several deaths that could not be explained by the daily bombardment of shells from the Yugoslav army. Among other things, the victims were found completely drained of blood.
The waiter couldn’t remember who handed him the envelope, but Adam knew, even though he caught only a glimpse of her as she walked away, it was Yasamin. And now he found himself speaking with another beguiling, raven-haired vampire. He remembered Stoker’s words from Dracula.
Two were dark, and one was fair …
“Why did you bring me here?” he asked.
“You could thank me for saving your life.”
“Saving my life? How so?”
“Did you honestly think you could keep up the charade of Edvard Novak forever? If I could find you, then others could as well. It was only a matter of time.”
“So I’m supposed to be grateful?”
“I thought you might be.”
“Because I need your help, Dr. Mire.”
Adam barely suppressed a laugh. “My help? Really?”
“You speak nine languages. You’ve published four books. You’re not even forty, and you’re one of the world’s leading experts on Eastern Europe during the Middle Ages … and on artifacts from the time period. Again, quite impressive.”
“What’s your point?”
“During your pas-de-deux with Süleyman’s Blade, you made a show of searching for a medallion depicting a dragon, formed into a circle, with a cross on its back—”
Adam shook his head. “I don’t know where it is. I can’t help you find it.”
Dracula’s medallion, the one he wore as a member of the Order of the Dragon, missing for centuries. In a mad plan to avenge the death of the woman he loved, Adam had used rumors of the medallion’s reappearance to lure the leader of Süleyman’s Blade into the deadly clutches of a vampire, Yasamin, one of Dracula’s legendary Brides.
But the medallion really was out there somewhere. He had almost all the clues to its whereabouts. He had spent much of his time in Prague trying to decipher them, but he always met with dead ends.
Elena cocked an eyebrow. “I’m not asking you to help me find it.”
“There are others who want it, who mustn’t have it.”
“You’re not the first to feed me that line.”
She glanced at the television set. “They say the war in Kosovo is over now. They’ve been saying the same thing for six hundred years. Tell me, Dr. Mire, who do you think won the original Battle of Kosovo all those years ago?”
Adam replied without even thinking. “The Turks. Their victory on Kosovo Field paved the way for Ottoman domination of the Balkans for the next five hundred years.”
“You know the Serbs say they won.”
“I know that nineteenth-century nationalists mythologized the battle to make a claim for the righteousness of the Serbian nation, but that doesn’t change the facts.”
“Doesn’t it, Dr. Mire? Can’t events happening now affect the past, just as the past affects the present? I was there in 1989 at the rally to commemorate the six-hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, along with a million others. There were icons placed around the stage—of Jesus Christ, St. Sava, King Milutin … and Slobodan Milošević. It was as if those intervening years had never occurred. All the speeches I had heard before, in one form or another. I knew that day what was to come, because it had already happened.”
“Given the history of the Balkans, a lot of us felt what happened was inevitable.”
She shook her head. “No, Dr. Mire. You misunderstand. I don’t mean similar events have happened in the past. I mean the same events. Your problem is that despite all the time you’ve spent here among the Byzantines, you still think of time as the path of an arrow—straight and moving in only one direction. You’ve yet to learn that time is a circle. What is happening now has happened before and will happen again. 1389 is 1689 is 1989 is today. The past, the present, and the future are just different names for fate. To understand my story, you have to understand that.”