“Strigoi in Romanian mythology are troubled spirits that are said to have risen from the grave. They are attributed with the abilities to transform into an animal, become invisible, and to gain vitality from the blood of their victims.

“The man who believes that the secrets of the world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear. Superstition will drag him down. The rain will erode the deeds of his life. But that man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.” — Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

The Carpathian Mountains, 14th Century

The blood moon cast its eerie maddening spell over the soaring dark bastions of stone and shimmering on their crowns of snow in spectral majesty.

Its apparitional spotlight illuminated the gaunt sentinel of a monastery….

Like a gaunt lonely sentinel, the monastery overlooked the chasmous vale,seemingly afloat on the wreath of clouds on the dark heights.

There it stood in brooding vigil, the chasmous depths from where it was enshrined precariously on a jutting crag. It was seemingly perpetually in the shadow of the mountain ‘til the spectral glow cast it in resplendence…a remote ruin amid the high passes of the Carpathians.

An order of monks dedicated to the herders and of the far reaches of the dark austere range. The hour was later; a young monk toiled over his scrolls and scribic pen, painstakingly transcribing the chronicles. The steeple bells tolled, their resonant echoes sonorous amid the depths and heights. He suppressed an unbecoming yawn. The candle had dwindled and he raised his fingers to extinguish the flame when his hand faltered at a jarring pounding at the door of the monastery…

There was a dire urgency to it. He sighed deeply and rose, the tread of his sandaled feet drowned out by the knocking as he descended the stairs by the light of a candelabrum. Novice monks had gathered curiously at the threshold, parting ways before him. A mob had gathered before the monastery gates with some urgent tidings or purpose.

When the door groaned open, they expected the reassuring burly and charismatic figure of Father Demetrius to outline the doorway to inspire and redress their concern….instead, the awkward bookish youth shuffled blinkingly into the torchlight….his boyish face befuddled and flustered….

“Is aught amiss, good people? Father Tobias at your service. Father Demetrios is at pilgrimage. I am his surrogate…”

There was a collective moan of disappointment.

“Can he be summoned?”

“Alas, no…he is in Rome on pilgrimage. Fear not. I am at your service, good people…”

He heard the word then, traded between them like a dark rumour….


“Are you familiar, Father, with such a creature?” he was pressed.

“Alas, no. I must confess my ignorance in that regard. Perhaps consulting my scrolls will enlighten me…”

“As I thought….come, there is naught more…” the village elder sighed.

“Wait, my good people! I am sworn to your service. Pray allow me to help thee.”

“If you knew of this scourge, you’d return to your books and pen…” he was admonished.

“Explain then…”

“Very well…you know of the reign of the Blood Countess, centuries ago…”

“Of course.”

He crossed himself at the infamous name…

“And you know that she was entombed in a high necropolis near the tallest summit and her sarcophagus was chained shut…and of her reign….”

“Those were dark times. Of what account is it now?”

“We thought nothing. We believed that her shadow and name were banished from these lands. Then the killings started…a lone dark she-wolf, a gigantic monster of a beast, hunting herd and shepherd. First our animals disappeared…then children…then our women…not just feeding on them, but seemingly hunting them for mere sport. Huntsmen tracked the beast higher and higher, pursuing it relentlessly with hounds, spears, and crossbows. They trailed it to the very necropolis we spoke of….straying into its dark depths…”

“And? Was this beast apprehended…”

“We found the sarcophagus. Her tomb. The chains had been broken…perhaps by looters seeking the treasures she was entombed with. The sarcophagus was filled with many bones, but not hers. She’s risen and she is thirsty.”

Brother Tobias was gifted with an encyclopedic knowledge of the chronicles…his mind raced over his readings…That enigmatic word vexing him…strigoi…his lips shaped it soundlessly, eyes closed…delving into his memory….

Strigoi…strigoi…nosferatu…the undead….vampyre…

“I see….perhaps prayer will remedy this….”

“Come,” he was urged.

He reluctantly followed their torchlit procession. He struggled to keep pace with his hobble that prevented knighthood, exiled him to a monastic life…

“The monster’s been cornered! Come!”

A sharpened wooden stake was pressed into his hand.

“This ends tonight….”

They approached a forbidding castle ruin by the pellucid moonbeams and perched malevolently among dark rock formations. It was besieged by a ring of torches. The crowd parted before him, the torchlight illuminating grim faces. He shuffled forward towards the eerie shadow-contoured ruin.

He found himself gripping the stake in two trembling fists, poising it like a sacrificial dagger over a dark gowned figure lying in a sarcophagus. Then her eyes opened and their arachnid hold staid his hands. Her beauteous face was framed majestically with cascading, luxuriant raven hair. She smiled seductively…beckoning him closer with a radiant smile. She embraced him, her nails caressing her his back, like the petals of a carnivorous plant opening to snare its quarry. She all but kissed him…then her lips strayed to his neck…pearly teeth elongating to fangs and her nails to talons.

He closed his eyes in intoxicated expectation. Suddenly, she cast him aside dismissively with a shrill cry like a vulture deprived of carrion. A young monk had stepped in, brandishing a crucifix. He was shoved roughly outside, his arms flailing for her embrace, till he beheld in sickening horror the silhouette of the monk being disarmed from the stake as he tried to finish it, only for the vampiress to impale him on it.

She withdrew the stake and licked the blood from it, baring her fangs like a wolf over her kill. Her eyes smoldered crimson in reply to the flames. The crowd stepped in with a collective roar and cast their torches on the ruin, till it was enveloped in fire.

“Surely that is her end….” Tobias hoped.

They lingered before the pyre, hoping desperately it had consumed her. Then they recoiled as a shape arose in winged metamorphosis from the ruins, scattering burning debris. She was silhouetted, harpy-like against the cyclopean orb of the moon before dematerialising before their fire arrows.

“Emissaries have been sent to our liege lord, the Voivode. We beseeched him for men at arms to aid us….”

“And…” the monk asked.

“We are alone is this. This is beyond you; isn’t it, monk? Can you truly do nothing?”

“No…but perhaps I know someone that can…Wait for me…I will return before sunset…”

Part II: The Black Samaritan

“Night, the beloved. Night, when words fade and things come alive. When the destructive analysis of day is done, and all that is truly important becomes whole and sound again. When man reassembles his fragmentary self and grows with the calm of a tree.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The black wolf’s jaws bared its fangs in eternal rage among the other mounted heads of boars and stags as a dark-cloaked figure appeared at the threshold against a background of rain and took his place without word in the enclave of the tavern. He remained aloof from the raucous patrons, the flagon of ale hovered waveringly at his lips untouched and likewise the mutton and bread.

A dark pilgrim’s cowl was pulled low over his face, masking his eyes, ignoring the flirtations of ample-bosomed barmaids. He brooded darkly, his eyes distant and haunted as he gazed into the red depths of the hearth flame in cold detached silence as if haunted by a pyromancer’s visions.

“Brother Torun…” a voice almost squeaked….

His hand strayed towards the hilt of his sword instinctively, then fell at the sight of the haggard unassuming young monk that stumbled in. Only one pale milky sightless eye confronted him beneath the cowl’s rim, while the other studied him with mild interest, in the way a lordly diner might at a jester’s entrance and the prospect of fleeting amusement.

“Oh, what do we have here!” a barmaid crowd.

“What’s the matter, love? Haven’t seen a woman before?”

“Well, I’m a monk…”

“Leave him be. Well then, good brother…do you intend to hover then like a cur begging for scraps?” the gentleman in black asked. He indicated a chair.

“Alas, I’ve no time for pleasantries. My errand is of grave urgency…I’ve need of your facility with arms. You’ve some prowess at swordplay…”

“You want me to kill someone for you, then…”

“No. Our nemesis is already deceased,” the monk answered cryptically.

“Mildly intrigued. Explain your errand, then…”

“We need you to slay a vampyre.”

His laughter was a choked, strained, sardonic mutter….

“A vampyre is it? You have lived a sheltered, cloistered life. I’m a monk of a different colour entirely. I’ve seen the lands beyond the mountains and horizons. I’ve seen what men become when castle walls are breached and citadels are stormed. Men are their own monsters…”

“Brother Torun…”

“Well met.”

“The warrior pilgrim who aimlessly followed the pilgrim’s road…seeking elusive solace in the remote heights from what haunts him…You deride me, yet you know of what I speak…you’ve seen her before…”

“For a wayward delirious waif of a monk that I took you for, you seem to know me well…there’s a heretic bounty on my head…if you’ve come for it, draw your sword…”

“No, brother. I only sought to remind you of your vow to battle the enemies of the cross to your last breath…”

“Perhaps you’d care for mutton…”

“Too sumptuous fare for a monk…vow of poverty and all.”

“If your errand is as dire as the haggard state of you suggests, then you’ll need your strength. You’d best indulge…”

“And why have you not touched it?”

“Are you monk or inquisitor? Your probings are more than I can stomach…this night especially…”

“Yes, I know…”

“Do you? And you know me by name and have taken some pains and distance to find me, it would appear. You’ve heard too much of the mountain people’s legends….”

“Are they just that?”

Brother Torun closed his eyes then. The red visions of his recurring nightmare that haunted him was always the same…he awoke with a gasp amid the slain of battle’s aftermath, the groan of the mortally wounded. Surreally, he walked the dreamscape of the red field.

He staggered over the corpses of his brethren and carcasses of their horses, cut down by scimitar and arrows….sickening sounds of the wounded being finished off, run through and their bodies being looted. Ravens erupted from the corpses of warriors and carcasses of horses; raven feathers fell like dark tears hailing him. It seemed a great dark wolf fed on the corpse…yet when its face lifted, it was a woman’s. Her lips leered a crimson smile from her kill.

“Time for a sojourn, then…very well monk, lead the way.”

That eve at the monastery, the knight looked in darkly, his face lit in crimson intervals by smith’s hammerfalls as they forged weapons of silver to wield against the undead.

“We’ll muster the villagers. We must arm them for the war with undead,” the monk said.

“It will take far more than that to prevail…”

“We’ve taken a captive; one of her servants. Perhaps he can shed some light on this darkness,” the village elder declared.

They passed two burly guardsmen and descended into the monastery’s crypt. A captive vampyre paced the confines of his cage like a beast in a menagerie. His eyes gleamed crimson in reply to the torchlight, like nocturnal scavengers.

“Vampyre slayer!” he hissed, lunging at them.

Yet he recoiled from the touch of the silver-forged and spiked bars, his palms sizzling.

And you, monk…I smell your fear…and your humble blood is beneath my refined taste.”

“Speak, lackey, of your mistress’s designs….”

“Payment first,” the vampyre rasped.

The monk nodded reluctantly. A saucer of blood from the butcher’s was passed to him. He leered in anticipation….

“Speak first…”

Very well….” the vampyre growled with feral rage…

My Lady plots to capture and raise you mortals as livestock, harvest you for your blood, and gather strength. She has usurped the mountain lord’s throne…she has a slave army…with it, she will march from these mountains under red banners and conquer the world.”

“She’s taken the voivode’s keep then?”

Yes…and she even has ladies in waiting to serve her their blood…”

“The women who have disappeared…we have to save them…”

Now…the blood…you swore,” the vampyre hissed.

Like beasts in a menagerie, the other caged vampyres let out excited, cringingly shrill, unearthly cries at the aroma and sight of the blood.

“Very well…”

He sniffed the saucer…

“It’s stale!” he hissed derisively.

“Prisoner fare…”

The monk turned away, nauseated by the sickening sound of his feeding. Suddenly, the vampyre’s arm shot out and grasped the monk by the throat, pulling him to the bars to wrest the keys from his belt…he knight’s sword struck through the bars, running him through. The vampyre shrieked and fell back, disintegrating in fast forward. The monk slumped against the wall, panting.

“Come then, brother,” the black knight bade. “We ride for the dark keep.”

The moonless night fell as dark as dreamless sleep over the dreamscape of snow-shimmering summits. Racing the fall of night, they drew reign before the township of the voivode’s vassals. The dark keep, with its formidable turreted walls and brooding parapets, seemed to crown the tor in austere malevolence. A realistic life-sized statue of a crucified figure in the town square caught the monk’s eye and he ventured closer, as if drawn. Suddenly, the statues sagging head raised, meeting his eyes

“Run!” he urged.

It was a captured monk, bound nude to the cross.

“Run! They are coming…”

As he screamed, the townspeople closed in, gathering around with knives and goblets to feed.

“The whole town is infected. They are all vampyres.”

“We must hasten. Tidings of our presence will reach the ears of the lord of the dark keep. Our quest has been betrayed.”

“Into the cathedral! Hasten. There is a way into the castle through the crypt…”

“How do you know?”

“I read,” the monk replied.

“She has seduced the Voivode and enslaved his army as her own. The undead will march on your monastery as a ravenous army. Night falls and the dead rise. Armour-clad men at arms, armed with spear, sword and crossbow and endowed with supernatural strength muster. Remember…we are in the vampyre’s domain. Their strength speed and predatory senses surpass ours by far.”

“As their enemies….”

“We aren’t. We’re quarry turning on their predators and yet that may suffice to retake the night.”

They ventured into the labyrinthine depths of the keep’s bowels, lit by the crimson dance of torch flames on the walls. By that wavering light they proceeded, shimmering eerily in crimson interplay on bejeweled corpses of lordly patrons enthroned in the crypt.

They advanced through the dark shield-lined halls and corridors, the shredded banners like eviscerated ghosts. And there by torchlight and shadow they found them.

The women were bound to the catacomb’s pillars and slowly bled into gold goblets and chalices, harvested for their blood to rejuvenate the Blood Countess.

“Careful with them; they are frail from their ordeal. Guide them to the horses and ride,” the black knight urged.

“What of you?”

“I will remain to keep the undead at bay. Hasten! They approach. Go, brother. Do not linger nor await me…If I do not return ere long, unseal the scrolls I entrusted with you. Do not look back. Trust to my sword to hinder them.”

“Come, child…” the monk gently coaxed as he supported an unchained woman from falling. The black knight lingered as the footfalls diminished and only the ghost whisper of

the flames could be heard in the dungeon’s oppressive confines. The Countess rose before him then, from where she was submerged in a luxuriant blood-filled porcelain bath…graceful, lissome, and nude….crimson streaming down her statuesque form…rejuvenated…

“Where are my handmaidens?” she demanded.

Their eyes met then. Her gaze was like dark oubliettes seeking to draw him into the oblivion of their dark depths. The blood streamed down her statuesque body in serpentine rivulets the red caress. Her red lips were like reopening wounds as she spoke. Her voice like venomed honey.

“Behold what I can offer thee. Rule the night by my side.”

Her eyes were unnervingly soulless as a porcelain doll’s. She fixed him with her hypnotic stare yet he seemed strangely immune….

“Perhaps shed that unsightly cross-emblazoned surcoat and join me. We will bathe and dine together. You can be my prince…” she beckoned.

“Let’s finish our dance then, monster.”

“Monster, is it? Your sword has tasted more blood than I ever have.”

“This is not a moral contest. It’s an assassination attempt. Tell it to Saint Peter and the devil.”

“Can you not envision yourself enthroned by my side? Together, we will rule the world…”

“Condescend to get more refined hygienic habits and mayhap it would be tempting….perhaps a towel. You are dripping blood on your fine floor….”

“You have a sense of humour, then…I have one, too. You will discover from a tour of my new torture chamber. Guards!”

He drew the blade with a silvery flourish. The consecrated blade seemed to ignite, shimmering in reply to an unhallowed presence.

“Hold!” a voice accustomed to command broke in.

The haughty figure of the voivode appeared, attired in a lavish scarlet robe.

“Do not ogle the mortal, my lady!”

She hissed, baring her fangs, and he recoiled submissively. She turned at the sound of the knight’s escape. He kicked over the braziers in succession, enveloping the foremost of his pursuers; the others recoiled. He turned for a fleeting moment, looking at her in cold defiance behind a wall of flame, before his war stallion’s iron shod hooves struck spark from the flagstones of the causeway. He burst from the castle’s gates, astride a swift and powerful Andalusian warhorse.

He reared his stallion gamely as the lone figure of the voivode confronted him.

“You will not thwart me again, mortal. There is but one lord of darkness and I…”

The words were never spoken as his form disintegrated to ash, leaving his dark diadem crown, collapsed robes, and crimsoned stake that impaled him like a javelin. His horse reared again at the spectral figure of the countess facing him. Her pale arm beckoned gracefully as if inviting him onto a dancefloor for a danse macabre. Gowned in black frills and silk, trailing across the flagstones as she seemed to glide rather than stride.

At a snap of her fingers, torches lining the causeway were ignited, spanning the chasm.

Her army was massed behind her waiting to be unleashed.

“More vampyres?”

“Blind cave-dwellers that venture forth only to scavenge the aftermath of battles drawn by carnage, then return with the dawn. They subsist on cannibalism, it is said. Mindless feeders.”

Like gargoylian hunting hounds straining against the tether of their mistress’ bidding, the vampyres of the caverns clawed the Earth in predacious anticipation. They chattered hyena-like to each other and bared slavering, serrated fangs, straining against the tether of their lordly bidding. They scented the air, their sightless eyes lightless as their world and with echolocative cries. They lurched forth at her command with an awkward simian-gait, their limbs disproportionate to their supernatural speed. Their ravenous onslaught was a force of nature like the tempest itself. Yet she demurred.

“I want that one taken alive…”

At a cry to the night, wolves answered in eerie choir, like dark hounds rallied to the chase by a huntress. He strode across the causeway spanning the vast causeway, astride his dark warhorse. A graceful dark gowned figure beckoned an army at her back. She raised a palm of restraint. He wrenched a chain and a dislodged boulder, shattering a section of the causeway behind him. He was isolated now from his brother monk and the arrival of his followers.

“I do this alone.”

“Die well, vampyre slayer,” the monk sobbed.

He was flanked by armour-clad mastiffs that reached his side before the section of causeway fell. She seemed to glide rather than stride as she advanced.

She caught a cast stake, clapping it between her palms deftly before snapping it.

The mastiffs charged at her, yet the lumbering beasts were cast aside dismissively…

“Let’s finish our dance then, monster.”

He shifted into fighting stance and swung his sword. Catching his blade, she gripped him with inexorable strength, forcing him gradually over the brink. Gloating laughter turned to an agonised shriek as a silver crossbow bolt struck her. He turned to see the monk balanced on the cliff raise the crossbow in salute from afar. He returned it as he raised his gauntleted hand.

Her grip released him and he struck with a silver dagger. A vial of holy water shattered on her and sizzled acidically. She writhed and tore herself free. She reeled back before pivoting and lunging at him again, morphing in midstride to a massive dark wolf. She launched at him claws puncturing his armour and his sword shimmered in reply as he drove it with grim finality to the hilt. She writhed and limbs flailed spasmodically, like a cold-blooded thing trying to slay her assailant in her death throes…

“Come back to the light…depart her body, oh darkness…”

The breaking dawn cascaded down the mountain sides like a waterfall of flame.

“Come back to the light,” he chanted as he drove the blade in again with grim finality to the hilt. With a final wild effort, she pulled her body free of the blade and leaped at him. Yet as she ran, her body was enveloped in flames by the dawn. The monk looked on aghast as she charged at the black knight like a screaming ghost. He gripped his sword in two gauntleted fists as he ran to meet her. Its consecrated steel shimmered in reply to the unhallowed presence.

The blade struck once and she fell from the causeway, disintegrating in a hail of red debris. Dimly, he heard the monk cry out his name as he staggered towards the keep. His dark cloak was shredded bloodied and torn, his wounds tended by holy water. Hours later, a solitary figure clad in black looked down from the ruined tower of the dark keep at the figure of the monk who at last turned to go….

“Poor fool, did you not see me for what I was? There can be only one lord of darkness.”

The cry of wolves rose in eerie choir to the dark bastion, as if hailing him.