In the Elder Races universe, Vampyrism has an extensive and varied history that has its roots in ancient Egypt. It has long been called the “serpent’s kiss,” many believe, because of the fangs that descend when a Vampyre is hungry and wishes to feed. Vampyrism is purely a human phenomenon; none of the Elder Races can contract it. Vampyres can only receive nourishment from human blood. Although they can drink wine and enjoy it for the taste, Vampyres cannot get intoxicated unless they drink blood from an inebriated human.
Perhaps the Vampyres’ ability to imbibe wine is what led to the creation of bloodwine in the mid-11th Century. Bloodwine is exactly as it sounds, blood that has been mixed with wine and bottled. The process involves a low-level alchemy and it requires a wine with a high alcoholic content.
Bloodwine does not have the capacity to mature over time as other wines do. At best, it has a shelf life of two years, and it doesn’t have the same nutritive quality that fresh blood does, but, if necessary, a Vampyre can survive on bloodwine for months at a time. It can be used to supplement a fresh blood supply during lean times. Bloodwine is credited for how European Vampyres managed to survive the Black Death in the 14th Century, when up to 60% of the human population had been killed.
Historically many cultures viewed Vampyrism as a curse. However, this attitude changed in the latter part of the 19th Century, due, in large part, to the medical research done by Louis Pasteur and Emile Roux, the two doctors famed for their development of a rabies vaccine.
According to Pasteur and Roux, Vampyrism had all the characteristics of a blood-borne pathogen. It was found in blood and certain other bodily fluids and had a 98.9% infection rate when a direct blood exchange had occurred. It cannot be transmitted through air, and intact skin acts as an effective barrier. The scientific nature of their findings caused a broad transformation in attitude. The conviction that Vampyrism is an infectious disease has become so well-entrenched in modern thought, it is no longer questioned. Now in the 21st Century, virtually all medical and scientific research on vampyrism is based on this premise.
Early in the 20th Century, in the United States a process of application was developed in an attempt to control the spread of Vampyrism. The Nightkind demesne coordinates efforts with the CDC (Center for Disease Control) in Atlanta to determine how many people may be turned each year. This, at least, is the official, approved process. In reality it is generally understood that Vampyrism itself is impossible to regulate or control, just as the spread of HIV or other communicable diseases are impossible to control. Also, many of the older Vampyre families resist the modern regulations and rely on their old ways of regulation, through intimidation and violence.
While Vampyrism can give someone an extremely long life, it does not offer true immortality. Very old Vampyres go through a period of increasing mental deterioration, black-out episodes, and sometimes what appears to be delusions or outright madness before death. This is the challenge that the Vampyre Carling is struggling with when Rune arrives to pay his debt to her, and so Serpent’s Kiss begins.