The decline of the Roman Empire left Europe in a turbulent state. In an absence of any central authority, the countryside was overrun by a series of vampire armies, each more terrifying than the last. The armies, generally consisting of between 50 and 100 vampires, would swoop into towns on horseback in the dead of night, howling with bloodlust. The only saving grace for the people of Europe was the limited range of these armies, as it was difficult for them to stray far from their daylight havens. But in the Ninth Century, a charismatic leader named Quadilla united a number of vampire armies into a mobile, fearsome fighting force that had many in Europe believing the end of the world was nigh.
Quadilla grew up riding horses and tending goats and sheep on a farm near the Po River in northern Italy. His bucolic upbringing came to an abrupt end at age 16, when a corrupt local priest confiscated his family's property. The evicted family had the distinct misfortune of settling in a gypsy camp shortly before it was set upon by a small vampire army. Quadilla's parents were killed; he was bitten, then taken away to join the army.
Quadilla quickly distinguished himself as a great horseman and fearless warrior whose ambitions outpaced the limited scope of his precursors. Quadilla envisioned himself as the leader of a vampire empire stretching from Gibraltar to the Danube. With his great skills as an orator, Quadilla was able to convince local vampire armies to join his cause. After winning important victories against the Lombards, the army began a slow, inexorable march down the Italian peninsula toward Quadilla's ultimate goal: the papal leadership in Rome.
Quadilla's offensive was greatly aided by the Italian topography. Each night, he would raid a village for blood, then take shelter in the numerous caves of the Apennine Mountains. Remindful of the corrupt priest who took his boyhood home, Quadilla saved special cruelty for houses of worship. He plundered monasteries and left the heads of priests impaled on stakes outside the churches. These horrific displays convinced many that Quadilla was the Devil himself, and that the advances of his army represented the end of the world prophesied in the bible.
In December of 772, Quadilla's army took Siena, leaving it only 150 miles from Rome. As the Italian capital swelled with refugees, the stories of Quadilla took on an outsized, mythological scale. Eyewitnesses told of a ten-foot-tall, fire-breathing man with horns, cloven hoofs and a tail. While none of these stories were true, they surely unnerved Pope Hadrian II. The Pope, facing desertions in his own army, sent envoys to the Frankish Kingdom of the north to ask the young king Charlemagne for help.
Though Charlemagne had come to power only two years earlier, at age 29, the six-foot-six-inch King of the Franks already had ambitions to match his towering frame. He wanted nothing less than to rule Europe, and he knew that having the imprimatur of the Pope would help him greatly in his quest. He told the papal envoys that he would take his men into Italy as soon as the snows melted.
In the spring of 773, Charlemagne led his army across the Alps into Italy. He followed the coast south and made camp along the Tiber River north of Rome, not far from the site of Quadilla's most recent assault. Charlemagne had planned to use the camp as a base from which to conduct sorties into the mountains, but Quadilla had different ideas. That night, the vampire army attacked the camp and inflicted heavy losses on Charlemagne's army before retreating back to their caves.
As the day dawned, Charlemagne surveyed the wreckage of his camp and realized he could not fight the vampires by conventional means. After breaking his army up into smaller groups and setting them in defensive positions in the hills, he sent his most experienced vampire hunters into the mountains to conduct reconnaissance. That night, the men located the vampire cave network, and as soon as the sun came up, Charlemagne led his army there. Rather than send his men stumbling blindly into the dark caves, Charlemagne had them heap timber onto modified horse carts, light the pile on fire and roll the carts into the caves. The plan worked beautifully: vampires were smoked out into the light and beheaded by the hundreds.
Working from cave to cave, it took four days for Charlemagne's army to kill the last of the vampires. Quadilla himself fought gallantly; though effectively rendered blind by the bright sun, he killed over 20 soldiers before Charlemagne dispatched him with a blow from his sword.
Charlemagne's fire cart, seen in this
medieval illustration, outlived him
by almost 1000 years
On Christmas Day, 773, a grateful Pope crowned Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor in the city he had saved. During Charlemagne's 47-year reign, Europe enjoyed a relative respite from vampire armies. The fire carts Charlemagne had improvised lasted even longer; they were employed against vampires well into the Eighteenth Century.
In 1974, a team of Italian archaeologists discovered a huge cache of artifacts in caves near the Tiber. Among the finds were armor and weapons bearing the broken cross symbol peculiar to Quadilla's army. A museum was built nearby to house the relics and honor the men who saved the seat of Christianity from a grisly fate.