She ran through the moonlight, branches and brambles tearing at her skin as she sprinted up the overgrown path. Something was behind her, she could hear its breathing - so close at times she could feel its hot breath on her neck. She dared not risk a look behind her, not when she was so near to her goal. A crumbling building loomed ahead, its pale walls gleaming like bones beneath the moon. At the base of a giant cross set into the walls, a door swung open as if inviting her inside. Somehow she knew if she reached that threshold, she would be safe. The open door was only a few steps away...
...and then a sudden push from behind and she was falling into darkness without end-
Elanor woke gasping for breath, cold sweat beading on her skin. The tiny hostel room was still blanketed in darkness; she guessed it was early morning, several hours before dawn. She struggled to calm her breathing as she tried in vain to force the dream from her mind. Though her backpacking trip had started out as a carefree adventure, the dreams had been coming with frightening regularity lately, making nowhere feel safe for more than a night. It was almost as though they were driving her onward, deeper into eastern Europe than she had planned. At the moment she was in a small Hungarian village near the Slovakian border, a place too small to deserve mention on all but the oldest of the worn maps she carried.
A few days before, while wandering the crooked streets of Budapest's ancient Castle District, Elanor had seen a painting in a shop window that stopped her in her tracks. It was a peaceful scene of a stone building perched on the side of a mountain, shafts of pale moonlight illuminating the ancient walls and the wild, tangled greenery that surrounded it.
It was unmistakably the building from her dreams.
A brief conversation with the shopkeeper in broken English accented with her few words of Hungarian told her what she needed to know. The painting was at least a hundred years old, of a long-abandoned monastery nearly fifty miles to the northeast. If the place was even still standing a century later, she needed to see it, to put these dreams to rest.
She had arrived late the previous evening in the village on the mountainside, dropped off by a farmer coming back from the city in a worn Soviet-era pickup. The people here were kind enough, but gave her strange looks when she showed them a picture of the painting. The old woman who ran the hostel had crossed herself and muttered something under her breath when she saw it, prompting her son to explain that the place had a reputation for being cursed.
Elanor had planned to visit the monastery first thing in the morning, but after tossing and turning for half an hour without any hope of returning to sleep, she decided she could wait no longer. Whatever the dreams were leading her toward, the time had come to face it. With a resigned sigh, she left the warmth of her bed, pulled on her winter gear and backpack, and gathered her unruly black hair into a ponytail. Just before heading out the door, Elanor checked that her knife was still in her boot. She had purchased it when the dreams began, a short blade dipped in silver and decorated with a glass evil eye charm on the pommel. It wasn't a terribly large weapon, but its presence made her feel a little safer.
The village was silent as Elanor left the hostel, a light snow still falling, the big flakes that only come when the temperature is just below freezing. The only sound was her footsteps crunching on the ground. She checked her watch - just after 4 am local time. The full moon high above provided more than enough light as she set off along the road. The old woman's son had given her walking directions to the monastery, which was about three miles away.
As she grew close to her goal, Elanor felt a growing sense of unease. The dirt trail she now followed up the mountain - a shortcut, the man at the hostel assured her - was eerily reminiscent of her dream, with icy naked branches reaching out to snag her coat and hair at every step. Clearly the villagers spoke the truth when they said that few ever went up the mountain.
At last she could see the walls of the monastery gleaming like a beacon through the tunnel of branches that lined the path. She quickened her steps, eager to leave the forest. Elanor was about to step out onto the road in front of the building when a huge shadow suddenly crossed the trail. She looked up to see a strange creature flying away southward at what seemed like an impossible speed. It was far too large to be a bird, and had a vaguely human shape, with batlike wings. Elanor dropped to lie flat in the snow, hoping she had not been seen. The noise of the creature's wings quickly receded, but still the young woman waited motionless by the trail until she was certain it was gone. Not until she moved to stand did she realize she had been holding her breath all this time.
Elanor stood at the edge of the forest, considering her options. She could simply go back to town and wait until daybreak, or she could push on ahead. Strangely, the feeling of foreboding hanging over her on the walk seemed to have left with the bat-creature, and all she felt now was the sense of peace that the monastery had always brought to her dreams. Besides, she had come hundreds of miles seeking this place; how could she run now that she was literally a hundred yards away?
As she stepped out onto the road, the first thing that Elanor noticed was the chain-link fence topped with coils of barbed wire surrounding the monastery. That had definitely never been present in her dreams, but luckily the gate was open, the lock that had bound it closed lying in pieces on the ground. A wrecked Land Rover laid on its side at the edge of the snowy path. The car was empty, its windows shattered. One of the rear windows was spattered with blood, and the snow beside it stained a deep red. Did the creature do this? Elanor wondered. Whoever had been attacked here was gone now, but drag marks led from the bloodstain into a small stone-framed opening to the right of the monastery's main door.
Elanor decided to skip that dark, ominous opening and enter by the main door, as she had always failed to do in her dreams. The cross was exactly the same, every knotted carving just as she had seen a hundred times, every detail perfect down to the intricate metal solar cross at its peak. The arched wooden door was open, just as it had always been. Inviting her inside...
She stepped over the threshold into a hallway of cream-colored sandstone, walls, floor, and ceiling all the same local stone. Shafts of moonlight piercing through gaps in the ancient roof were just enough to see by - enough for Elanor to make out the red footprints leading toward the end of the hall, where candlelight spilled through the open doors. Strangely, the sight of more blood did not disturb the sense of calm she felt. The halls were quiet, and whatever evil had been here was gone now, of that she was sure.
The open doors at the end of the hall, with their soft glow of candlelight, seemed to be her destination. Elanor saw that the doors hung crookedly, as if they had been bashed open; the bar to hold them closed lay splintered at her feet. The room beyond was arranged in the shape of a cross, with a round central chamber surrounded by four narrow alcoves. Hundreds of candles burned in iron sconces, complimented by the occasional electric fixture hung from the ceiling. The room was rather elegantly furnished, though in a style several centuries out of date. Every shelf and nook around the perimeter was stuffed full of books and scrolls - in fact, the first thing Elanor noticed was the smell of old books.
The second was the unmistakable tang of fresh blood. It took her only a moment to locate its source - a man lay facedown on the dining table in the alcove to her right, surrounded by shards of glass, his face turned toward the door. His eyes were open, his lips parted, but he did not move as Elanor approached. The fur-collared jacket he wore had been pulled down to expose pale skin, and a red wound gaped in the hollow where shoulder and neck met. It almost looked like... a bite?
Gingerly Elanor reached out to feel for a pulse. The man's skin was still warm, his pulse very faint yet rapid, which suggested blood loss. As she bent to examine the wound more closely, she noticed that his eyes were an impossible shade of pale gold, and his canine teeth were unnaturally long and pointed...
Elanor took a half-step back from the table, trying to process what she was seeing. This guy had fangs. He lived alone in an abandoned monastery. He'd apparently been attacked by that bat-creature she saw earlier, which bit him on the neck and drank his blood. No matter how impossible it may appear, her mind came to the only reasonable conclusion - he was a vampire. Being a little familiar with vampire lore, she remembered that some said a vampire could steal another vampire's power by drinking his blood. Was that what had happened here?
She also remembered enough of the old stories to know that when a vampire was seriously injured, the only remedy was blood. And the only source of blood for at least three miles was her. Elanor touched the vampire's neck again, felt the faint hum of a pulse beneath her fingertips. If she did nothing, he would die, that much was certain. She did not want to be responsible for another's death, even if he was a vampire.
Her mind made up, Elanor reached beneath the vampire's arms to roll him over, since she would need to raise his head to drink. Her hands came away sticky with more blood from wounds at each shoulder, almost as if he had been pinned to the table. Ignoring this for now, she wiped away the shards of glass and sat on the table so that the vampire's head was on her lap. She drew the knife from her boot and in one swift motion ran the edge along the inside of her forearm. Immediately, blood began to well up from the wound, and she pressed her arm against his parted lips.
For almost a minute nothing happened, and Elanor began to wonder if the lore was wrong. With her other arm still supporting his head, she awkwardly reached her hand around to feel for a pulse again, and was pleasantly surprised to feel it much stronger. In the same moment, the vampire seemed to awaken, sucking hungrily on her wrist. Elanor reflexively tried to pull away, but he grabbed hold of her arm with incredible strength.
Afraid she was about to be drained dry herself, the young woman began to struggle. "Stop! Please stop, you're going to kill me!"
At the sound of her voice, the vampire looked up at her, and as he did his yellow eyes grew wide. He released his hold on her arm, backing away so quickly that he fell off the table. Elanor hurried to his side, afraid he might be hurt, but his wide-eyed stare never left her. A single word escaped his bloodstained lips, and then he fell back, unconscious.
Though puzzled by this strange outburst, Elanor now turned her attention to her bleeding arm. She was about to tear strips from her shirt to bind it when she recalled another bit of lore about the power of vampire blood to heal mortals. Intrigued, she reached down to the vampire's neck, bringing away fingers stained with blood. She rubbed the sticky liquid into her wound, and watched as it began to close before her eyes. In half a minute the gash was a red, scabby line, and moments later only a thin scar remained to mark its spot.
Without thinking, Elanor raised her hand to her face in awe, unable to believe what she was seeing. As her bloody fingers touched her lips, suddenly the world was blotted out by other images, thousands of them winking by in the space of seconds - a huge flood of information, all of it about the vampire who lay at her feet. The torrent of images was jumbled, not telling any cohesive story or even keeping to a timeline. Most were clearly centuries old, flashing by in a blur almost too fast to process - primitive settlements with earthen walls, cities with cobbled streets, people wearing clothing from another era. She heard unfamiliar voices, and a name came up again and again: Tanis. Was that his name?
The mental onslaught ended as quickly as it began, and left her literally gasping for breath as if she had been running. Suddenly Elanor felt very tired; it was somehow physically exhausting to absorb all that information in such a short time. She tried to drag the vampire to the bed at the far end of the room, but quickly realized that she would never make it. Instead she retrieved an armload of blankets and furs from the bed and brought them to where he lay beneath the round dome that marked the center of the cross. She only meant to rest for a moment, but as soon as she sank to the soft furs beside him she couldn't help but close her eyes in sleep.