This is the vampire of myths and folklore. Some of the stories are indeed rooted in reality, but vampires are far more complex than fiction makes them out to be. Very little is commonly known about their origin.
Vampires are humans who have been transformed into magical, powerful creatures through the transfusion of tainted blood. In our modern world, there are hundreds of myths about vampires from every culture and corner of the world, inspired by folktales, misunderstandings and Hollywood liberties.
The incipient vampires appeared in the First Age. Experimental human mutants created in a lab by Lilith, the original subjects were a biological success. Lilith later improved her creation by mixing the mutants with demons. The result was a hybrid that looked like a human but had the power of a demon.
Eventually she developed a blood-borne agent that, when infused into the subject's blood system, would mutate the DNA and start the metamorphosis.
Lilith also administered the agent to herself, but because she was immortal she never transformed into a vampire. Instead, it gave her the freedom to create new, demonic children outside of her laboratory - by having them drink her blood.
Vampires can create new fledglings in the same way - by spreading the agent they carry in their blood. Being bitten does not change a victim, and a vampire can drink a human dry without spreading their condition. Only when the host blood is consumed in larger quantities will transformation start.
Once turned, the human body changes, drastically at first, then slowly for the rest of the vampire's life. The entire biological system transforms and maintains little resemblance to a human's, but, contrary to common belief, they are not dead. The person they once were is gone, with only traces of their humanity and personality retained. Their callousness inspires the notion of a lifeless heart, but they are not deceased.
Their extended life is quite different from a human's; a vampire can be thousands of years old. In the eyes of the short-lived, they seem immortal, like some undead beings. But they are in fact living creatures, though it is another kind of living. They age languidly, their hearts barely beating - though beating - and their body temperatures dip much lower than a human's, making the skin feel cold to the touch.
A vampire is not dependent on water or food, but, unlike in many myths, vampires do need oxygen for cellular metabolism. Of course, breathing alone can't sustain them. Only through consumption of the haemoglobin in red blood cells can the vampire live, and so they must feed regularly on large quantities of human or animal blood to survive. Because they can store oxygen, they are able to remain underground or underwater for long periods of time.
Their speed, physical strength, reflexes and stamina outweigh the capacities of the most athletic human. They also seem impervious to pain, for their regeneration speed is vastly superior. It is therefore very hard to kill vampires; opportunities for the fatal blow seem to close as quickly as their wounds, which are at one moment gaping, the next taut and covered with leather-like skin.
Despite all their strengths, vampires also have weaknesses. The greatest of them is their absolute intolerance for strong ultraviolet radiation. Whereas humans get sunburns and sometimes develop skin cancer from too much exposure to the sun, vampires will die after only a few moments in direct sunlight.
Sunlight is one of a few ways to kill a vampire. If the heart is destroyed or they are decapitated, they die. Trauma to the head and body will slow them down and can even incapacitate them for a short while, but because of their regenerative abilities, they are soon mobile again. Fire will also kill them if they have no means of escape from the flames.
Crucifixes, holy water and garlic do little against these supernaturals. Their image is reflected in a mirror and they can cross running water. Many traditional and modern myths about vampires have no root in the truth about the vampires of Europe.
While animal blood can keep a vampire alive, they much prefer human blood because it empowers them - though its potency creates an unavoidable addiction. If ignored, the thirst will eventually lead to a blood rage frenzy, in which the vampire loses control over itself and attacks anyone and anything in sight. There are some vampires who pledge to survive only on animal blood, but none can avoid the occasional blood rage.
The vampire's strengths outweigh its weaknesses, as long as it has no moral qualms about feeding. The extent of its power is determined by age and by the purity of its lineage.
As they grow older, vampires are better able to control their urges, and can resist blood withdrawal longer. They become faster and stronger and their senses are heightened. They are still prone to frenzy, but it happens less frequently.
Ultimately though, lineage is more indicative of power than age. A vampire who descends from Lilith's own creations, or, in rare cases, directly from her, is far more powerful than one who is thousands of years old but several blood lettings removed from her. The further down the bloodline, the more muddled the blood. Potential power is then weakened and the vampire is more prone to blood related problems.
In the Bacas County of Transylvania, there is evidence of several generations of vampires.
The most common are the younger, recently turned vampires and the genetic experiments from the Red Hand facilities in the valley. These are both far less powerful than elder vampires, and especially vulnerable to sunlight. Bred solely for numbers, their discipline suffers, though zeal often makes up for their weaknesses.
Some of the common vampires have covered up in heavily padded makeshift armors. These insane creatures have been imprisoned in the Soviet vaults beneath the mountain, entombed in concrete since the early 70s. Mara recently opened the vaults to let them loose upon the villagers, to terrorise and distract them.
Many are incredibly fast, others have learnt rudimentary magic, and some rely on brutality and strength. The enormous tank vampires are considered the most expendable of the troops. These hulks feed on the blood of their own kind. This more potent blood source gives them increased strength, but shortens their existence.
Too many and too reckless to function as a disciplined army, the common vampires are held in check by brutal generals, as well as by Mara's controlling power. However, infighting, disobedience and even desertion are frequent, as are blood borne diseases from sharing dirty blood during their frantic feeding and brawling.
Hailing from a purer bloodline - with short and direct lineages back to the original monsters created by Lilith thousands of years ago - are the blood vampires. They are few in number and very hard to kill. Unlike their mongrel brethren, they are mostly immune to sunlight. Because the clean bloodline bestows them with occult powers, some can shapeshift, while others wield advanced magical techniques.
The generals and ringleaders in the war effort are Romanian vampires of royal descent: Mara's brood, handpicked throughout the centuries, loyal to her over Lilith. They are the most focused and organised of her fighters, having come prepared for battle. Far too proud to swathe themselves in rags and fight in the daylight, they prefer to direct from the shadows of siege engines and nests, or wait for nightfall before emerging.
Finally, there are the monstrous, human-vampire Red Hand soldiers. These wretched creatures are humans mutated with modified vampire genes in an effort to create occult warriors with advanced telepathic and psychokinetic abilities. They are pure killing machines, striking out against anything they encounter without prejudice. These soldiers heed Mara's commands for the most part, but are ultimately more monster than human - irksome to control and dangerous to all.
In the midst of the conflict in Bacas County it is easy to forget that not all vampires are murderous monsters. Many live anonymous, quiet lives, feeding only off consenting donors or partners. Eventually though, even the most noble vampires will likely outlive their good intentions, for no matter what they seem, they are not human. They were, once, but those are just shadows of a life now lived in the night.