It is the era of steam and science, but in their midst superstition and real witchcraft also thrive.
Ignatius is a fallen inquisitor on the run—but at least he's on the run with the man he loves. When they find themselves in the middle of the Carpathian Mountains, they take shelter in a village. But the village proves to be plagued by vampires, a complication they don't need on top of their fragile relationship and the struggle to simply survive.
The wailing cries of a single voice were piercing, horrible and incessant.
Otherwise the village was deadly silent. Ignatius listened for a while. Then he simply knocked loudly on the door behind which the laments could be heard. The voice fell quiet.
Ignatius knocked again. Again without answer.
Nikola, who had followed him until now without protest or question, shook his head. “Perhaps we should leave,” he whispered.
But Ignatius seemed not to pay him any attention. He entered without further hesitation. “Praised be Jesus Christ,” he greeted in fluent Hungarian. Not too loudly but clear enough.
“Forever. Amen,” an old woman murmured in answer. She slowly looked up at them. It was dark inside, only a small candle illuminated her tearful face. “Who are you?”
“We are only two travellers seeking refuge for the night,” Ignatius answered. He could seek shelter in any of the other houses. But he could not resist the urge to find out the cause of the woman’s tears; however to ask straightforwardly as a stranger would be highly inappropriate.
“You have found it in this house of sorrow,” she said slowly, as if half-dreaming. “God knows that we do not forget the law of hospitality.”
The still half-opened door creaked.
A tall man, likely another villager, entered behind them. He must have watched Ignatius and Nikola approach the house and followed in their wake.
“You want to take in two strangers, Dóra?” he enquired. “What do you—”
“Dead!” shrieked the woman, her mournful quiet suddenly broken. “My daughter is dead! What should I fear? Why should I fear? What is there left that somebody could take from me?” She broke into something between weeping and laughing. Nikola had to muster all his self-control not to run at the horrible sound.
“We do not mean to cause you any inconvenience,” Ignatius said firmly and calmly, unmoved by the scene. “But it is getting dark and we will not be able to find our way any further.”
“But in this cursed house—” the villager started to say.
“Shut your mouth, Balog, and go away. We already have a stranger in the village. So what’s two more? And what is better, these two are looking only for a place to sleep safely.” She gave out a strange laugh again. “Sleep, sleep, yes. But safely, I can’t promise.”
The man addressed as Balog turned on his heel and hurried away.
Nikola approached the old woman, helped her to sink onto a chair. “What happened here?” he asked quietly.
But Ignatius, whose eyes had become accustomed to the darkness in the meantime, could already see. There was a girl lying on a bed in the corner. Her hands, pale and lifeless, folded on her unmoving chest. She was dressed in a shroud, her head and shoulders covered with a piece of linen cloth.
“My daughter Annuska is dead,” Dóra whispered in a broken voice. “They say she was killed by an izcacus.”
“A vampire?” Ignatius’s eyes narrowed.
“Yes. That is why they won’t allow her body to rest in the church before burial. Neither in the festive room in our house. They say she is tainted.”
“What superstitious nonsense?” Nikola breathed out.
“I will arrange a good place for you to sleep, gentlemen.” Dóra stood up slowly, as if she drew some kind of strength from her sorrow.
She led them to the festive room, which showed that the family was certainly not the poorest in the village, as the majority of country houses had one chamber only. There was one wide bed with a high layer of duvets, one neatly folded upon the other. Next to it a heavy chest with a padlock, old carved armchairs, a massive table and an old pitcher of wrought metal on it, perhaps from tin. Certainly people only came here on special occasions, like meeting important visitors or mourning for their dead.
The place felt cold, perfectly clean and unused. Like some kind of a memento. Or a tomb.
Dóra brought a new candle and a tarnished iron warmer from the adjacent room, which was a kitchen, a living room, a bedroom—and now also a mortuary—all at once . Ignatius and Nikola let their packs slide on the floor with relief.
“Sit here, good sirs. I will bring you something to eat. You surely must be starved.” She nodded and hurried back to the kitchen.
“How far do we have to travel yet?” asked Nikola, switching from Hungarian to Czech, which he and Ignatius spoke between themselves. His exhaustion from the day’s walk through the mountains was starting to fully show. He was not used to such a strain. He was slender, his features were graceful and his cleanly shaven face symmetrical. He looked around thirty years old.
Ignatius was about the same age, taller, appeared lean but in fact was quite sinewy. Something in his stern face revealed an austere way of life and unbreakable endurance, although his hands—exactly as Nikola’s—belonged to a person who had never had to work manually.
He fished a map from his pack and spread it out on the table. “The steamboat crashed here, south of Bacău on the river Siret.” Ignatius pointed. “We have to reach Sfântu Gheorghe on the river Olt, south-west from Bacău. There we can board another ship.”