Cristiãn / Page 14 of 14

It's not the blood that excites the vampire, it's the container.

Cristiãn

Chapter 1/Exposition

The raid had been calculated to commenced when the sun was directly overhead—and so it began. One-hundred and twenty-three horsemen descended upon a village that consisted of 129 dwellings and structures. Many of the raiders wore the various emblems of seven distant Lords with fiefdoms adjacent to this outlying, unbounded and largely lawless territory. With more than two dozen hounds racing under foot of their steeds, the raiders fanned out and steered themselves towards the dwellings at the broad front of the village along the nearest perimeter. Inhabitants within the fields adjacent to the village began screaming out the alarm of the raiders approach as they fled toward the believed security of the village center.

Screams, shouts and barking was soon heard throughout the community as raiders and dogs savagely tore through the village. Five-hundred and seventeen hapless inhabitants were surprised by the sudden appearance of the raiders. Most of the villagers put up no resistance, and in return were not immediately targeted. Those inhabitants that took up arms were quickly killed without pity. The raiders routinely ran into the homes of the villagers and herded out all inhabitants found within, and without exception, tore apart the interior of the dwelling as they searched for hidden spaces. After completing a search, the building was torched as they left.

Outside of the desecrated dwellings, horrified villagers were herded together and examined, one after the other. Torches were held close to their faces for several seconds. The hounds that came with the raiders assessed their scent. Cuts were slashed across their cheeks or foreheads. When the reaction they were looking for from the villagers failed to occur, the captive was released. Frightened villagers that passed these tests fled the village with the raucous encouragement of the raiders.

At one dwelling, a violent scuffle erupted and a large, male raider tumbled out of the front doorway. Seconds later, another raider came flying out of the open doorway and fell to the ground dead. Immediately, a young female villager raced out of the clay and straw dwelling screaming with rage, her face contorted into a fearsome scowl. With the beginnings of fangs and elongated fingernails clearly visible, she turned away from the destruction happening in the village and took off at a sprint. Her pace was far beyond that of any normal human. A raider on horseback attempted to stop her, but she evaded him with a sudden zigzag maneuver. With her escape route unblocked by men on horseback, she was promptly encumbered by a nearby hound. The animal slammed into the young female and gripped into her gown which did nothing more than break her stride. She grabbed the hound by the skin of its neck and tossed it into the air with a flick of her wrist. A second and third hound caught up to her and bit into her arm and gown.

In the time it took this physically abnormal female villager to dislodge herself from the two hounds, a raider on horseback raced up and threw a net over her. As soon as she turned her attention to this new impediment, an arrow from a crossbow thump into her back. She showed no sign of injury. As she continued to struggle with the netting, a second and third arrow punctured her side and shoulder without impeding her efforts to flee. While she struggled with the net and arrows, the three hounds reinitiated their attacks. The abnormal female growled with rage at the nuisance the animals presented. She knew the netting would be little trouble if only the hounds would leave her be. As she struggled with the netting, a mounted raider raced in, reached down and grabbed the net. He urged his horse into a gallop, pulling the young female villager off her feet and then dragging her along behind his horse.

As the abnormal female was being dragged away, a middle-aged man and woman begged a nearby raider to spare their daughter's life. They insisted that she had done no harm to anyone and that she was a kindhearted girl, but their pleas were given no heed. The raider turned his horse about to better observe the battle with the young woman. Several minutes later, exhausted by her struggle in the noon day sun, the abnormal young woman went limp. Moments later her head was severed from her body by a single stroke from a broad sword. Her remains were then tossed into a dwelling that had yet to be put to the torch.

Armed with swords, daggers, war hammers, maces, pikes, axes, nets and crossbows the raiders fought with four additional abnormal humans within the village. All four were subdued after an exhausting fight. Nine raiders were killed for the effort. While these battles were happening, seven villagers were found in hidden compartments inside two dwellings and three sheds. In all appearances, these villagers looked to be dead and were not wakened by the disturbances going on around them. The raiders did not stop to examine them. The sleepers were staked through their hearts moments after they were found and beheaded shortly after that. Their remains were dumped in the same structure as the young abnormal female beheaded earlier. When the last of the searching and fighting within the village was over, the last structure with the beheaded corpses inside was set ablaze.

The surviving inhabitants of the village, without exception, fled the carnage. The bulk of them hurried down the one road that led away from the community. Carrying what little belongings they could gather, and leading what livestock they could prevail to follow them, the villagers trekked down the road in a long line. Not far beyond the outskirts of the village, 27 raiders and 5 hounds waited as the procession of villagers passed by. Those villagers that did not have a cut across their face or arm and had a suspicious look about them were pulled out of line by the raiders for closer examination. All were found to be of no interest to them. On the other side of the village, more than a dozen abnormal residents of both sexes secretly streaked away from the battle. There were no raiders in this area to catch sight of their passing.

Shortly after the last dwelling was put to the torch, more than a dozen hounds picked up the scent of abnormal inhabitants leading away from the village in the opposite direction from the main road. With the encouragement of the raiders, the hounds took up the chase. In staggered groups, and on horseback, the raiders followed the sound of the barking hounds. Their trek led them across an open field and into the forest beyond. After a pursuit lasting more than ten minutes, two hounds came upon an exhausted abnormal male villager. They pounced upon him without hesitation. Temporarily energized by the attack of the hounds, the villager bashed the animals against a nearby tree, one after another. The hounds released their grips on the villager and fell to the ground writhing and whimpering in pain. A second later, three more hounds came into view, racing toward the villager with snarls and growls just ahead of four raiders in full gallop. The villager sprang up into a tree just in time to evade the angry hounds.

With the speed and agility of a cat, the villager climbed midway to the top of the tree in an effort to remain out of reach of the raiders. Shortly, the four raiders were beneath him. They quickly shouldered their crossbows and began targeting the villager with their arrows. The abnormal villager began leaping from branch to branch to evade their attacks. His efforts in the mid-day sun exhausted him. He was shortly pierced by an arrow, then a second and later a third. The wounds the arrows caused were not lethal to him; they only added to the continuous drain on his stamina from the sun.

Three more raiders and two more hounds joined in the attack. Shortly after their arrival, a fourth arrow caught the villager at mid-leap from one limb to another. The abnormal villager reached out and grabbed a limb, but the strength in his wrist and hand failed him under the sudden strain of his body's weight. Unable to maintain his grip, he fell. The hounds were upon him a second after his impact with the ground. Exhausted, he put up a weak fight. But despite his exhaustion, he managed to toss the animals aside. In the space of a few time that it took for him to dispense with the dogs, he was impaled with five more arrows. He stumbled back to the ground and the hounds were on him again. Exhausted beyond the ability to free himself from their attacks, the villager did little more than writhe under their assault. Convinced that the villager had nothing more to give to the fight, two of the raiders dismounted from their horses. After calling off the hounds, one of the raiders held the villager down with one foot on his chest and the second proceeded to sever his head from his torso with his broad sword. Elsewhere in the forest, two more abnormal villagers were being run to ground. They too met the same end.

Further along in the hunt, 37 mounted raiders and 4 hounds gave chase to 19 abnormal villagers stretched out in a long line. Many of these abnormal villagers were too far back to see the person ahead of them. Despite this impediment, they all seemed to know where this run was going. The last abnormal villager was beyond the visual range of his pursuers, but the sound of the hounds could be heard in the distance. The abnormal villagers raced on at a speed slightly slower than the horses and hounds closing in on them. The direction of their flight gradually turned into an uphill run. The thickness of the forest trees nearly obscured from sight the range of mountains that loomed high above the treetops.

For the abnormal villagers, this place where they hoped to find safety from the raiders would have only taken them little more than two minutes to reach during a midnight run, but under the noon day sun, it was taking them more than ten minutes. Exhaustion shortly turned their run into a stagger. By the time they arrived at their destination, they could barely stand up to walk. In ones and twos, they crawled up a mound of boulders before descending into a large crack in the side of the mountain. When the last abnormal villager reached the opening, the raiders were just close enough to launch arrows at him. Out of desperation, he launched himself over the mound before tumbling down the steep slope beyond the mouth of the cave. The descent continued for more than 30 yards before leveling off into a large cavern with a wide pool of water in a depression on the far-right side. Three corridors that disappeared deeper into the mountain were on the far-left side. But none of this would have been visible to the normal eye. The cavern was darker than the black of night.

The raiders raced up to the cave opening and stopped even though four of their hounds continued their pursuit headlong into the cave. Their barking could be heard echoing back through the cave opening. Shortly, the barking changed into a chorus of growls and snarls. At that moment, it was clear to the raiders that the hounds were engaged with the abnormal villagers. The growls and snarls shortly transitioned into high pitched yelps of pain—and then there was silence.

The absence of light inside the confined space of the cave and the need to dismount from their horses in order to follow the abnormal villagers made the raiders reluctant to advance any farther. When the whole raiding force collected outside of the cave, the leaders agreed that the perpetual darkness inside was too much of a detriment for them to take. They also determined that their presence outside of the cave at night fall would also be dangerous to them should the abnormal villagers choose to come back out. Despite their concerns, the leaders of the raid did not want to leave with any of the abnormal villagers free to ever come out again. A solution for this dilemma was soon found and shortly executed.

It took much of the remaining daylight for 18 men to scale halfway up the side of the mountain above the cave, and with every tool in their possession, chisel free a massive boulder and send it crashing down before the mouth of the cave. The resulting avalanche broke rock and earth free from the mountainside that was thousands of times greater in weight than the initial boulder. When the mountain calmed and the dust and debris settled enough for eyes to peer through, it was clear to see that the slope at the base of the mountain extended out more than five times its original area, and that the cave opening had been buried beneath it.

The year is 817 A.D. The location is a valley at the base of a mountain within the Carpathian Range. The dark ages are in the midst of its existence. Wars and plagues are commonplace scourges across the landscape of Europe. This was no less true in the region that was known as Dacia when it was under the rule of the Roman Empire. In the early to mid-1960s it is and has been known as Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Ukraine, Moldova and Romania.

LINE BREAK

"Hey, in here…," Grigore called out in his native Romanian language.

Grigore Stefanescu was one of two civil engineers and three construction workers who were investigating the subsurface area along a proposed section of a highway route. A superficial examination of the area gave Grigore's employer reason to believe that there might be a need for retaining structures for a highway in this area. It was their job to discover exactly what was going on underneath the slope at the base of this particular mountain. It took them two days to conclude that runoff from the mountain was flowing into a cavern beneath the slope they were exploring and draining out from there some place further down the mountainside. Their concern was for the size and structural stability of the cavern. It took them another three days to dig out the opening of the cave that the water was draining into. Three of them had been exploring the cave for little more than a quarter of an hour when Grigore shouted his summons.

"What is it?" Petre Vasile asked with a huff.

Petre was the other engineer on the team. He was also senior to Grigore. Jogging a little, he reached Grigore in short-order. His arrival was hampered by the lack of lamplight in the cave.

"Look," Grigore returned as he panned his flashlight down a long section of the small cavity in front of them.

Petre had no idea what he was looking for. He suspected Grigore had only seen a rodent as he kept his light pointed at the ground. Petre followed Grigore's light with his own flashlight but could see nothing moving. He was all the more confused by Grigore's slow pan forward and back along the length of the cavity. He was still trying to make sense of what he was looking for when Serghei came up behind them.

"Did you find something?" Serghei asked as he tossed his light around the room.

"Don't you see it?" Grigore challenged as he brought his cone of light to a spot on the floor that was less than ten feet away from them.

Petre and Serghei gave the area several seconds of intense study. Their first impression was that they were looking at the cave floor. Then they thought the stone floor was overly crumpled and even had folds in it.

"What is that?" Serghei questioned himself, mostly.

Petre stepped closer and stooped so that he could give it a closer examination. He soon noticed hair and then the emaciated head attached to it.

"Is that a body?" Petre asked with surprise.

Shortly behind his question, Petre used his flashlight to follow the row of bodies laid out in front of him. Serghei did the same along the opposite side. It took only a few seconds for them to understand that the side of the cavity they were in was lined with the remains of more than a dozen bodies. As this reality dawned on them, they began moving further down into that section of the cave for a closer examination of each cadaver.

"Look at this," Serghei called out a minute later.

Grigore and Petre moved to Serghei's side and directed their flashlights at the same section of the cave wall.

"What language is that?" Petre asked with a frown.

"Latin," Grigore answered in a word.

Petre was awed by that report. Serghei was confused by it.

"When did anyone speak Latin in Romania?" Serghei wondered out loud.

"During the reign of the Roman Empire," Grigore explained at a volume just above a whisper.

Petre concluded that this find was beyond his pay grade and did not wish to disturb it without orders from someone higher up. He, Grigore and Serghei spent another twenty minutes examining the remains and searching for anything else to be found there. Concluding that they had seen it all, they moved on to recording their find into transportable data. They spent the next hour photographing everything within that section of the cave.

The survey location was fairly remote by twentieth century Romanian standards. To avoid the two-hour commute to and from the site, it had been decided that the team would stay in campers to hasten the multi-day dig. Because of the late hour of the day, Petre thought it wiser to wait for the midday courier tomorrow rather than drive to the nearest telephone to report their findings. He knew no one would be in the office by the time he got to a telephone.

Petre and his team used the last of the daylight hours to string up lights in the cave. In the cavity where the bodies were located, he positioned two flood lamps attached to adjustable tripods. By the time they were done, the sun had disappeared below the horizon by two hours, and Petre and his team had just settled down inside their camper-trailer for the night.

LINE BREAK

The consciousness of nineteen abnormal villagers began to stir more than five hours after the sun disappeared below the horizon. The sounds of voices and footsteps were the first things to disrupt their dreams. Even though the sounds and activities registered in their growing consciousness, their bodies continued to display death. Their eyes did not move. Their muscles did not twitch. There was no involuntary movement anywhere. There were no indications of circulatory or respiratory functions, and yet despite these seemingly nonexistent living indicators, the mental processes occurring in their heads gradually stimulated their consciousness. Sounds that would have awakened a normal human within minutes were still coalescing in the minds of the abnormal villagers several hours later.

The sounds that registered within their minds blurred together across a wide space of time which gradually transitioned into their next sensation: heat. Physical sensations and the intensity of those feelings were also slow to enter their awareness. Because of the slow progression to awareness, sensations never generated concern or alarm ahead of an abnormal villagers' awakening consciousness. It was this slow coalescence of cognitive awareness while the changes in sensations were happening that ultimately convinced them to push their minds toward full consciousness. Awakening was always a gradual process, and all the abnormal villagers came to the end of this particular awakening within the same 3-minute time frame.

The floor of the cave began to come alive. Everywhere along the sides of the cave there was movement. Shortly, a lone figure began to crawl away from the two lamps at the entrance to the cavity that were flooding light into the entire area. Slowly, one-by-one, all 19 figures crawled then, gaining their footing, stumbled and staggered away from the glaring floodlights while shielding their eyes. It took a little more than ten minutes for the emaciated forms to make their way to the wall of the cavity that was farthest from the lamps. Instinctively, they huddled together against that far wall with their backs to the light.

The abnormal villagers huddled together like that for several minutes before one of their number began to move backward toward the lamps. The gaunt and almost skeletal figure, completely unrecognizable as a man, slowly and cautiously continued toward the lamps while favoring the left side of the cave. He did all he could to keep his head and eyes shielded beneath his hunched over back and shoulders. He stooped down onto his knees when he came within a few feet of the lamp to the left of the entrance. Taking a moment to refortify his resolve, he began to inch back closer to the lamp. He shielded his eyes from the light with his right hand as he peeked back at the lamp. He stopped when he was close enough to reach out and touch the lamp. Then, after a few seconds of deliberation and second thoughts, he brought his left arm up to shield his eyes and swung back violently with his right, striking the lamp halfway up its stem. He quickly ducked his head beneath his arms in a protective huddle as the lamp crashed to the ground; the light instantly went out. The abnormal male waited a moment to make sure that some secondary event would not happen. His fear was that the strange light might somehow set him on fire. He shortly became convinced that nothing more was going to happen, so now encouraged, he began moving backward across the cavity's entrance toward the second lamp. As soon as he was close enough, he struck the second lamp with the same ferocity and was rewarded with the same result.

The sudden darkness that enveloped the cavity caused the abnormal humans to visibly relax. Slowly, the other 18 abnormal humans turned about to examine the cavity they were in. The soft glow of the light coming from the outer corridor produced a dim illumination. It also had the effect of causing their eyes to glint. It looked like 18 pairs of cat eyes reflecting the diffuse light coming in from the cavity opening. Slowly and quietly these eyes began to move forward. After a brief time, the remaining abnormal humans joined the lone figure standing at the entrance to the cavity. Together, slowly and cautiously, they moved out into the corridor, each with a hand shielding their eyes from the light coming off the lamps strung about the ceiling of the main cavern.

LINE BREAK

Petre, Grigore and Serghei were in varied stages of sleep in their bunk beds at the front of the camper-trailer when a disturbance outside aroused them. The sound of something falling to the ground was just loud enough to be heard over the constant hum of the portable generator in the distance. Grigore and Serghei took note of it and looked towards the window the sound came through. Petre was too deep into his sleep to hear anything. Serghei, more so than Grigore, was concerned that something had happened to some piece of equipment out there. The resulting silence behind the disturbance led them believe that some small animal was moving about in the camp. Shortly, they gave it no further thought and went back to the task of trying to fall asleep.

In the back half of the camper, Andrei Dobrescu and Mihal Parasca were playing cards at the table there. Their conversation and the soft music playing on the radio drowned out the sound of the first disturbance. This was not true of the second disturbance that occurred a few minutes later.

"What was that?" Mihal asked with a curious look toward the camper door.

Andrei's response came as he moved to the window on the opposite side from where he was sitting.

"I don't know. It sounds like something fell."

Andrei began examining the area that he could see outside the window when Serghei opened the bedroom cabin door and hurried into the galley area with his pants in his hand.

"What's going on with the lights?" Serghei inquired while climbing into his pants.

Grigore and Petre were slow to follow Serghei into the galley. Their hands were empty; their expressions were confused; and they were still in their underwear. Despite their appearance, they were just as curious about the disturbances. The silence and the darkness in the bedroom cabin enhanced the sound of the disturbance outside. The sound of something crashing and the sudden loss of light from one of the flood lamps near the camper was unmistakable within the darkened room.

"Two of the lamps are down, and it looks like the lights in the cave are out." Andrei reported as he continued to look out the window. "There's someone out there," he continued a moment later with a lack of confidence.

"I bet it's some kids," Mihal responded just before pushing aside the curtains on the opposite side of the window from Andrei.

"What would kids be doing way up here," Grigore pondered out loud.

"It doesn't matter who it is," Serghei angrily growled while fastening his pants. "I'm not letting anything happen to that equipment."

Serghei turned about, pushed past Petre and Grigore and went back into the bedroom cabin. Shortly after he disappeared into the room, there was third crash, and the light that had been blazing through the camper window from outside went out.

"Damn them, they busted the last lamp," Mihal announced with frustration.

In total, they had five flood lamps attached to adjustable tripod fixtures. Two of these lamps were put in the cave along with a string of work lights. The loss of the last flood lamp limited all outside illumination to the light coming from the camper.

"Did you see who did it?" Petre asked as he moved to look out the window.

"It's too dark now," Mihal returned as he continued straining to see out the window.

"I think there's more than one person out there," Andrei suggested as he cupped his hands up to the window and looked out between them.

"Come-on," Serghei commanded as he pushed back into the galley now dressed and with a two-foot long metal pipe in one hand and a flashlight in the other.

Mihal and Andrei were quick to react to this command. Mihal turned to a cabinet, removed a couple flashlights from a drawer and followed Serghei and Andrei out the camper door. Petre and Grigore's reaction to this turn of events was to hurry back into the bedroom cabin to get dressed. They were interrupted by a prolonged scream of pain and terror from outside. It was clear that it was a man. Petre and Grigore raced to the open door of the camper, half dressed, and stopped to peer into the blackness. The screaming stopped shortly after they reached the doorway, but two flashlights could be seen bobbing about in the distance. They could hear Mihal shouting out, "Serghei! Serghei!" in the distance. His last call stopped abruptly. After a brief silence, there was another terrifying scream of pain. This had a different pitch than the first. The light of a second flashlight disappeared into the darkness. Again, there was silence for a brief time and then another scream mixed with a call for help. Petre and Grigore continued to look out from the door of the camper.

"Get a flashlight," Petre urged with a glance toward Grigore.

Grigore raced to the same cabinet where Mihal got his flashlights and hurriedly searched inside the first two drawers he opened. He was shortly stopped by the sound of someone outside shouting for help.

"This way, hurry," Petre called out into the darkness while stepping onto the top step of the camper.

Petre was watching the last flashlight swing up and down as it came quickly towards him. Twice more he called out to the person carrying the light to hurry. Shortly after the second call, the flashlight flew up into the air then fell to the ground while a prolonged scream blared out then quickly trailed away. Moments later, all was silent. Petre froze, then turned to Grigore with a shocked expression.

"Flashlight!" Petre shouted with a stunned look on his face.

Grigore turned, pulled open another cabinet door and briefly searched it before finding a large heavy flashlight. After taking it into hand and turning it on, he raced back towards Petre.

"Here," Grigore called out as he extended the flashlight to Petre.

Petre reached for the flashlight, but before he could take it, he was snatched off his feet and up onto the roof of the camper. Grigore was shocked by speed of his disappearance. He jumped back and looked up to the ceiling in response to the sound of struggling and growling on the roof. Suddenly, a figure appeared at the door of the camper. Its form was gaunt and skeletal. Its clothing and flesh were dirty. Its skin and muscles looked stretched and paper thin. Its eyes were wide open with shimmering silver pupils and blood shot whites. Instinctively, Grigore directed the flashlight at it. When the light struck the figure, it screeched and brought its arms up to shield its eyes and then cringed to the floor. Grigore suddenly became flooded with terror. He fell backward, and instinctively reached for the floor to break his fall. The flashlight, still gripped in his hand, threw its light across the floor as he stumbled. Freed from the direct glare of the flashlight, the figure turned its head to look at Grigore again from beneath the shelter of its arms. The overhead lights continued to bother the ragged figure, but despite the light, it started to crawl toward Grigore determined to reach him. The figure extended its hand toward Grigore. In a desperate effort to stay out of reach, Grigore scurried back away from it and then directed the flashlight's full glare into its face. The figure screeched in pain once again, turned away and brought its arms back to its head to shield its eyes. Grigore used the time this created to push himself further away from the figure. Seconds later, a second gaunt skeletal form appeared in the doorway. Grigore noted that the second figure was equally distressed by the light inside the camper and chose not to come inside. With its hands held up in front of its face, the figure peered into the camper through the slits between its fingers. The sight of the second ragged figure brought Grigore's terror to new heights. He began to scramble further back into the camper. Relieved from the glare of the flashlight, the first figure renewed its pursuit of Grigore. His hand came within a few inches of catching his foot. While trying to keep the flashlight focused on the first figure, Grigore pushed himself to the far end of the camper. In that same moment, he heard an angry growl from the second figure at the doorway. The distorted sound was raspy and guttural. Despite its outburst, the second figure was still reluctant to dare the lights in the camper, but the first figure still tried to get its hands on its prey. Grigore quickly reached up, grabbed the lamp attached to the drafting table next to him, pulled it down into his lap and switched it on. He extended the lamp's light out away from him and into the face of the figure scrambling toward him. The figure screamed with pain, pushed away from it and turned its head away from the light. A second later, the first figure got up and bolted away from the lights inside the camper and back out into the pitch-black night. The second figure followed the lead of the first and scurried back into the darkness. For the next few seconds, Grigore listened to the sound of movement on the roof; and then it stopped. For several seconds more, he listened to intermittent cries of pain in the distance; and then it stopped. For the next several hours, he listened to silence. When the sun rose over the eastern horizon the next day, Grigore was still on the floor of the camper. The dimming flashlight was in one hand; the desk lamp was in the other.