Prologue: Till Death do Us Part.
Exhaustion had befallen Corneliu Galca long ago, yet he kept running through the gloomy woods. Though tattered, his clothes reflected a man of fair wealth in the year of Our Lord sixteen hundred eighty-eight. But it wasn't the fiery razing of Brasov by Austrian soldiers that had spurred Corneliu to flee his estate and homeland without possessions. It was what stalked amid the chaos, unnoticed by conquerors until too late.
"Papa, don't leave us!" Corneliu heard his son and daughter cry out, far behind him.
Their voices invoked terror in him that overrode feeling fatigued, and Corneliu shifted to a staggering sprint. Each misty huff of breathe came with a whimper and the smell of the dinner he'd eaten nine hours ago. Despite a frigid winter's night, his chest, shoulders and legs burned. Many backward glances he cast in fear of what may come from behind.
Neither the soft pounding of dogs' paws nor the hard thump of horse hooves did Corneliu hear. What swished were deft feet lighter and faster than his heavy booted steps. They knew Corneliu had one avenue of escape. He couldn't count on help from fellow Romanians, who dreaded the advancing Austrian banners, nor the aid of the invaders. He had to leave his country behind, if he could.
"Papa, we love you! Help us!" His children's desperate pleas sounded from either side.
"No!" Corneliu's lips trembled as he begged under his heaving breath.
Even with gaps in the forest canopy, Corneliu couldn't be sure in which way he headed. Clouds consumed the starlight, leaving him only to hope he had maintained a roughly north-west heading. Anywhere else meant being boxed in by the Carpathian Mountains.
Nearly falling several times more during his panic-fueled run something caught his next rasp in his throat. He frightfully clutched at a tree. It was sobbing. A woman sounding like her face was covered by her hands and her heart buried by grief. Corneliu knew that wail too well.
Cautious as to avoid making any sound, Corneliu advanced with slow steps, feeling out where to plant each foot. Though his eyes adjusted to dark as best they could, he strained to see the ground under the abyssal nighttime forest. He couldn't risk being found by his children. That would only draw the others who had wrought the disaster in the night.
Yes, he was sure now, it was Alina who wept. Corneliu's beloved wife, whom he thought lost.
"They're dead," she wailed, allowing Corneliu to home in on her. "All dead!"
At last came the relief of light, for Corneliu found Alina kneeling next to a weakly burning torch she'd brought with her. The torch had been stabbed solidly upright into the frozen ground. Alina too had fled, but she couldn't bring herself to run any further, when her grief burst through. She rocked on her knees, her bare feet uncovered by her simple nightgown. Hugging herself against the cruel night's chill, Alina cried alone.
"I can't believe they're dead!" She screamed so loud at the heavens that it gave Corneliu a jolt .
Feeling his own tears well up, Corneliu approached with assuring hushes.
"Dead, dead, dead," Alina sobbed, beating the cold earth.
Corneliu gently gripped her shoulders, which brought no start from his devoted wife.
"Yes, my love, our children are dead. I know," he whispered, giving her a soft shake to bid her stand.
In a furious spin at waist level, Alina flashed her bloodless face and a morbid gaunt grin at him. But it was her eyes that foretold Corneliu's end: opaque grey irises and pupils encroached by inky black at the fringes. In the failing torchlight he saw that Alina too had become a walking plague.
"No," her corpse hissed with in sadistic glee at the ruse. "Me! I'm dead!"
Before he could think to get away, she grabbed Corneliu's head and drew him in. He felt many stabbing pinches, as a mouthful of sharp teeth sank into his neck. In a backward rip of her head, Alina tore away a sheet of skin, a strip of muscle and much of his windpipe, slashing open his artery in the process. Warm blood splashed them both, as his dead wife plunged her face into his gaping flesh.
Unable to help himself, Corneliu tried to scream and thrashed wildly. The only ones to hear didn't come to his aid. No, Corneliu's own children rushed in to have their fill, before Alina drained away all of his living red essence. As with his wife, all seven of his progeny had been slain by vampires. Yet two children had refused to remain in the earth. They had come straight home once risen, and must've bled their mother dry.
So too was Corneliu's fate as his strength evaporated and his body stilled. The horrified expression on his face and filling his eyes remained long after he breathed his last in the dead of night.