Ten years had passed since the death of her mother. In her hand, she held her mother’s last words to her.
My Dearest Jessamine,
If this were a dime store novel, it might have started something like… He came into my life like a cool autumn breeze—graceful, elegant and shameless, with a smile that could bring women to their knees. His thick eyelashes drew attention to his catastrophically vivid blue eyes, as though the very lashes were holding back the ocean. His hair was midnight black and his pale skin made him appear devilishly handsome. His prominent cheekbones and sharp chin framed his face perfectly. He had looks that stopped every eligible female in her tracks. His nonchalant gaze and grin said he had grown used to being eyed by ladies and most gentlemen. Muscles ripped across every inch of his body as he moved and his clothing pulled tightly against him, begging to be let loose. He was a strong warrior or a leader in the many armies. The way he moved made him appear ever more mysterious. He swept me off my feet, and we lived happily ever after. The End.
But this isn’t another cheap novel, my sweetest Jessamine. This was real life, and there was nothing graceful or elegant about him. The sweeping off my feet was much more brutal than a happily ever after. The man almost belonged…but not quite. Something about him stood out. He dressed in an elegant suit, as most men had in those days, but there was something about the suit that said it had seen days longer than he could possibly have. Although he was a handsome gent, it was his eyes that took away the false, boyish charm—like the man staring out didn’t fit the package he was presenting to the world. I should have trusted my gut, as I always tell you to do. The instincts of our line are never wrong. This was the first time I had seen him in town. The second time had taken my breath away.
The peak of the witch trials had begun in the seventeenth century. Hordes of men and women had been slaughtered. I would come to learn that these people were not witches, but they did pose a threat to those in power. My mother had been assaulted. I was born nine months and six days later. She had been accused of dancing with the devil and spawning a demon—me. She was hanged when I was but three days old. I was raised by two spinsters who were later burned at the stake. My first dozen years looked a lot like a serial killer novel, everyone around me dropping like flies. Those were the days that painted our history in red. If only we’d known then what we know now, we could have saved so many.
I, at the young, tender age of twenty-one, was named a witch. I ran. I ran as fast as my legs could take me. I was not a witch, nor did I dabble in any form of witchcraft. In fear of a trial and certain death, I left everything behind, which due to the trials, wasn’t much. I had seen what had been done to those accused of witchery. Trials were nothing more than accusations and brutal killings of hated neighbors and scandalous ladies. Each one killed had been innocent of sorcery. They were hanged or drowned or burned at the stake. They died for no other reason than an unfounded accusation and fear-mongering of the masses.
When my legs could carry me no longer, I found myself exhausted and hiding inside the hollowed trunk of a tree. The Wandering Woods, a place not even the hounds would venture into, was where I tucked myself away. Things lurked in the shadows of those woods. The thickets grabbed at my hair and flesh, pulling me deeper into the darkness. It was said that the woods were haunted by creatures of the night—stories told to young boys and girls to keep them from venturing too far from home. Those silly tales barely touched on the truth. It was much worse than any could imagine. The Wandering Woods were what nightmares were scared of. My first taste of this nightmarish dream had come in the form of hunters, those who braved any conditions to bring in those accused of witchery for reward. They were the soulless ones. They couldn’t possibly be granted a soul and do the bidding for the devil himself, dragging men and women undeserving to their deaths.
The howls yanked me out of a dead sleep. I scrambled to free myself of the hollowed tree. Covered in mud and blood from cuts and wounds, I ran through the darkness. The tree branches slapped my face like a scorned lover. I was panicky and slipped on the wet leaves, but I refused to fall. The cold evening air shocked my chest as I inhaled one breath after the next, my frantic panting thundering in my ears. Each step jarred my body, sending pain up and down my trembling limbs. My heart pounded wildly as I gasped past a scream for air. I prayed I wouldn’t cry out in fear.
“Help me,” a shaken voice called out to me. “Please, help me.”
I didn’t want to stop. I could hear the footsteps gaining ground. I swore I could hear them grunt as they ran toward me. I had heard of the hunter's beasts, hellhounds sent from the devil to help. Surely they could not be anything more than hunting dogs. No hound around could sound like the very gates of hell were creaking open. My conscience wouldn’t allow me to leave someone to the dogs. At that moment, I wished more than anything that I had been a witch. I could lure the hunters to their deaths, and we could all be free of them. My legs slowed, and I searched the shadows for the person who had called out for help. Below a tree, a young woman with fire-red hair was snarled in the thistles and thickets. Her hair was wrapped around the branches. It was as if the tree itself was holding on to her for the hunters. The Wandering Woods were traitorous.
“Shh,” I whispered to her as I approached her.
“Please, hurry,” she whispered back.
I tugged at her hair violently. She didn’t scream out from the pain I knew I was causing her. My nervousness pushed me to be quick, but the tree fought me tooth and nail. I had no knife to cut her loose, nothing of the sort. The howling of the hounds sent a shiver down my spine. They were close—too close for us to be just standing there. I could smell their musky scent filling the air around us. It coated my throat with the taste of pending death.
“Run,” she said. “Save yourself.”
I shook my head. “I’m no better than they are, should I leave you to your death.”
She grabbed my arm. “This is my fate. It does not need to be yours.”
I shook off her hand and kept working on her freedom. Another howl from the darkness and the woman with fire-red head began to shake. We both watched as not a dog, but a wolf, moved past us in the shadows. I couldn’t believe my eyes, for it was massive, far too large to be a wolf.
“Werewolves,” she whispered.
I almost laughed, had it not been for the fear resting in the back of my throat. “Werewolves? Surely not. Those are nothing more than tales.”
“Real wolves do not move that way, nor are they of that size,” she replied.
I had thought, for a moment, of that very thing but hadn’t said it out loud. What I had seen was larger than any wolf or dog I had laid eyes upon. The legions were real. The stories told to us as young children to keep us from the woods were as real as the hairs on my head. If these beasts were anything like the natural wolf, the werewolves would be moving in a pack, coordinated and lacking all forms of mercy. We were sitting ducks and fair game. The instant I had seen it, it was as if the marrow in my bones had begun a slow boil. The hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention. I was more than worried. My mind screamed for me to run while my muscles prepared to attack the beast circling us. I picked up a long branch, broken and jagged at the end. It would serve no other purpose than to fight off what was coming for us.
From the shadows leaped the largest wolf I had ever laid eyes upon. It reached out to the red-haired woman. In the blink of an eye, I stepped between them. The wolf lashed at me. In an instant, my fear had faded. I had no flinches within my muscles. I was steady as a boulder in a river. I turned with the branch and crouched. I sprang up with all of my might and plunged the nature-made weapon into the beast’s side. As it fell to the ground, I pulled the branch and drove it into the monster’s chest. My eyes met his eyes, and I watched the light fade from within.
Deep down, something in my bones told me that where there was one, there were plenty more in the waiting. Wounded, I tugged the hair of the red-headed woman and ripped it from her head, broke thick branches in a panic and finally pulled her free. I pushed her ahead of me, knowing it was too late for me since I was injured and bleeding heavily. My blood would be a trail of bread crumbs, and it would get us both killed. There was no reason for us both to die that night.
The barking of the hounds rattled my bones. They were behind us. I could see them moving in the shadows. They were much like natural wolves, aside from their size. These beasts were as purposeful and intelligent, their movements just as graceful. What made my bones shake was the look in the wolf’s eyes as the life had drained from him. His eyes reminded me of a man. To my knowledge, only man could be this brutal and destructive, more so than the most vicious of beasts alive.
“Run,” I told the red-haired woman. She reached for my hand, but I shook my head. “I’m bleeding badly. I would serve no other purpose than to lead the beasts to you. Run, as fast as you can. Do not stop until you are free of these woods.”
She paused for only a moment. After I made another thrust against her shoulder, I watched her run into the trees. I headed away from her. I would draw them in a different direction. It was all I could do to help the young girl. She was much younger than I was. I would grant her the additional years I had already been gifted from above. I had nothing left to lose—no family, no love, no children of my own, nothing. She, on the other hand, might have a future that I would never have. I had already been branded an abomination, as they said my mother had danced with the devil to conceive me.
I held my side as I tried to run. The warmth of the blood covered my hand. I could feel it leaking down my side and onto my leg. The pain pulsed throughout my side and into my stomach. It was piercing and hot. It felt like someone had their hands on my ribs and was squeezing my lungs with each step I took. I breathed slow and shallow, just enough air to keep me from passing out. Every step was an explosion igniting within my abdomen. I held my dress above my knees and it felt as if I were being lashed, each branch taking a turn on my flesh. I ran into a clearing and fell to my knees. I knew my time was up. I could go no farther.
I couldn’t breathe. The pain was excruciating. I was tired and on the verge of passing out from my wounds and fatigue. Around me, the wind whipped my hair and teetered me left and right. The wolves, once barking and howling with madness, all but stopped, their noise replaced with the sound of trees snapping and breaking. The clearing, once bright from the stars, fell dark and cold. It filled with screams and yelps. I knew in my heart that those were not trees cracking, however, but the sounds of bones breaking. I covered my ears and rocked. The attack came hard and fast. I had closed my eyes as I was thrown across the field.
I would learn the name of the man who took my breath away. His name was Christoval Saint Clair. I would later learn that name wasn’t his real name. His name is Strain, the son of the Darkness. He towered over me as I scrambled to get away. I knew I should have run, fought him off in some way, but his appearance alone was seductive. It pulled me in like a moth to a flame. I stopped scrambling. His black hair glistened in the moonlight, adding to his deadly charm. It was pulled back from his face and exposed his handsomeness. He was much more beautiful than the first time I had seen him in the village. Everything about him was alluring. Each breath he took, I could feel a pulse in my core. His piercing eyes didn’t just peer at me. It was as though he was seeing right into me. They held me fixed within his gaze. For the briefest of moments, I didn’t care if he killed me. I would have been his willing victim.
He was impossibly fast. My eyes couldn’t track him as he pounced. He landed on top of my frozen-in-fear body. He lost the paleness of his skin, replaced with an almost translucent and bloodless hue. He reminded me of a sickly mole rat or a corpse of the long-dead. His mouth stretched into a monstrous gap, exposing elongated teeth. I struggled, but it was of no use. He gripped my head and shoulder and sunk his teeth into my flesh, pulling bits of me off and spitting them into the air.
He pulled back with an ugly sneer, exposing his jagged and sharp teeth. He spat a mouthful of blood onto my chest. “Hunter.”
The terror passed as quickly as it had begun. I pulled a small stick from my boot and plunged it into his chest. He ripped his fingernails down the front of my body, clawing at my ribs and meat. I grabbed onto his shoulder and sat up as I pulled him toward me. I dug the branch into his flesh as deep as it would go. I had no thought of my own survival. His death as I died would make my passing worthwhile. He bit into my throat, and the world darkened around me. I thanked the gods for allowing me to fade from the savage attack. I was certain that this was the end for me.
I would be wrong in a very long list of mistakes to come.
Upon awakening, I was stiff and cold. I raised my hand to my neck and flinched in confusion. I knew I hadn’t dreamed the violence inflicted but there was no blood, no pain and no evidence of such an attack upon my body. I reached to my side, remembering the claws of the wolf ripping my flesh from the bones. There was nothing, no wounds of any sort. My chest was no longer torn to shreds from the nails of my attacker. It was as if it hadn’t happened at all. I would have sworn it were a dream, had it not been for the dried blood coating my dress, hair and skin. My eyes, as sensitive as they were, struggled to see through the darkness for the attacker. I was terrified but felt no flutter of my pulse or pounding of my heart.
A man stood at the foot of the bed, watching me. His ice-blue eyes held an intelligence and serenity that was almost impossible to ignore, had it not been for the panic I could feel in every fiber of my being. His stare was captivating. It made me want to focus on him and only him. His lips were full and red and drew attention to his mouth. His long and almost-white hair was pulled back from his face and twisted onto the top of his head. His prominent jaw curved gracefully, bringing attention to high cheekbones. He was unlike any other man I had seen—more potent and commanding of attention, a true warrior in his own right.
He pointed and I rolled my head there. A muffled scream filled the rock-walled room. A young lady, with hair as red as fire, had been tied in the corner. She was the woman I had freed in the woods. Her nude body was covered in bites and slashes. In the vulnerability of her nudity, I realized she was even younger than I had initially thought. Her muffled fear pulled me in a jerking motion off the bed I had been lying on.
I could smell her. I could almost taste the sweat that coated her body. At first, her blood smelled of copper. The tanginess filled my senses. The scent turned sweet. It was an aroma that triggered a thirst from deep within my subconscious. My teeth throbbed. An instinct held within me had pushed me toward the corner. I wanted nothing more than to bathe in her young blood, yet I was driven to protect her. I twitched with need. I envisioned a dozen ways to cut her open and drown myself in her innards. I needed it. I wanted it so badly. Her screams through her gag had excited me. I could faintly hear her pulse pound, along with the swoosh of her blood. Such sweet blood. I wanted it all, every drop that kept her heart going. I wanted it inside me, all over me. The only thing that kept me from lunging onto her was an instinct stronger than the hunger itself.
“Remember who you are,” the man spoke.
I turned my head and growled an animalistic snarl. I turned back to the lady. Her rushing blood pulled me another step forward. I had never been as starved as I was at that moment.
“Remember who you are!” the man demanded. His voice filled the room and bounced off the walls. “You are not Nosferatu.”
I took another step. Her eyes couldn’t possibly get any wider. I could smell something in the air. It tickled my brain and told me the odor was fear. I blinked rapidly and shook my head. The need for her blood had whispered through the back of my mind, like overhearing a conversation in the next room. This was not my need. I did not kill or drink blood. Above her, a torch blazed. I moved quickly and grabbed it. I turned to the man and held the fire out as a weapon. I crouched down and pulled the gag from her mouth. The ropes that bound her wrists and ankles were a task far less strenuous as her hair twisted in the branches had been.
“You will back up, sir,” I called out and helped the woman stand. I pulled her behind me and moved inch by inch from the corner.
I scanned the walls. Even in complete darkness, I could almost make out every detail. Beyond the man, at his back, rested the only door to our freedom. As I walked, the young woman followed. I kept my arm out, ready to burn the man to a crisp, should he act on our movements.
“I would urge you to drop that torch, Jessamy,” he spoke.
I reached behind me and fixed my grip onto the lady’s arm. I moved as quickly as I could and pulled her with me. The man took one step forward, and I lunged at him, letting go of the door.
“Run,” I screamed at her.
I drove the torch into the man’s middle and pushed with all my might. I twisted and ran for the door. The fire-red-headed lady struggled to open the door. I threw myself into it and accomplished nothing more than cause the door to creak.
“Would you sacrifice yourself for her?” the man asked. “Either you or she will leave this room. Who shall be the sacrificial lamb?”
I turned. I had expected to see a burned and grotesque man. I saw nothing of the sort. He was free of fire, no burns, not even the slightest charred clothing. I looked back to the woman. I could see the pulse in her neck. I was right back to remembering the hunger that took up a post in the back of my mind. I stepped back from her.
“Will you free her?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied.
“I will be your lamb. Please, let her go,” I answered.
The door opened. I turned back to the man who was now sitting on the edge of the bed. I glanced at the woman. She was gone, and the door was closed.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“My name is Sidriel. I am a Watchyr.”
“What is happening?” I whispered. I moved back until I hit the wall. I held my throat as the thirst overwhelmed me.
“The hunger you feel is not your own. It is the hunger of a Vampyre sent by Strain. If you are fierce enough, you will overcome this.”
“Vampyre?” I asked weakly. I was lightheaded, like too much information had been stuffed into my brain at once. “They can’t possibly be real.”
“But they are. Your mother knew of them—the Nosferatu, the Vampyre. She, like those who have been burned and hanged, was like you. Hunters. Each one of you has a purpose, a path.”
I nodded at first, then shook my head. “I think you’ve had too many spirits, sir. You’re not making any sense. My mother is dead.”
“Regrettably so, I’m afraid. You’ve not had the teachings of being a Hunter. You’ve all been hunted to near extinction. You are the only one that remains—and almost not, I might add. You were pursued by the Nosferatu and Lycan at the command of Strain—son of the Darkness. I found them upon your body.”
“How did that not end my life?” I asked.
“You, like Watchyrs, are virtually indestructible. Your life span will last hundreds of years or until you suffer a mortal wound, the removal of your soul.”
I slumped down the wall. “A soul can be removed?”
“If you are turned into Vampyre, your soul is gone, lost for all time,” he replied. “A Hunter is of both mortal and immortal bloodlines, a creation for balance. When the Darkness began to form his armies, mankind was given a gift of protection, the Hunters. You are the last gift to humanity, the last of your kind. You carry the answers within you.”
“I want to go home,” I whispered.
“That is no longer an option. You are a target and will remain a target until you are fully trained and become a full Hunter. Even then, you will be hunted.”
I shook my head and closed my eyes. I rocked back and forth. “No, no, no. Go away, please. Leave me alone. This is not real.”
“I am sorry, but this is very real. The thirst will only grow, for your attacker is in your mind, and it will take years of training to remove his mark from your body. I will be back. There is new clothing in the corner.” Sidriel left me to my despair.
I sat on the bed and hugged my legs into my chest. A burn for blood rested in my stomach and only grew with each passing hour. As the days passed, I took it upon myself to end my suffering before the lust for blood became too powerful for me to stop it. I racked my memory for stories of the Nosferatu. I remembered the ways my ancestors had killed them.
Six days following my awakening, I stepped into the sun. I was most confident that if a Vampyre were taking up residence in my mind, the sun would cook him from my memory. I stood for some time then finally sat. It did nothing more than cause me to grow warm under my layers of clothing. Perhaps that was not the way, given I was not a Vampyre and only held the thoughts of one. I grew disappointed and left the sun to find a church. Surely I would burst into flames as the stories said. If he was inside me, the holy house should expel him, as it had done for so many tortured souls before. I did not engulf in flames, nor did I become the slightest bit warm. What did happen, however, was me interrupting a service and having to sit for three hours in the back. Before leaving, I dunked my finger into the holy water in hopes of burning the flesh from my hand. I would drink it down, should it work. It did not. It appeared I would need to take matters to a higher level. Not the man upstairs… It was obvious that he was uninterested in my salvation. Or at least, he was not interested in curing me of this link.
With determination, I broke a branch on a tree and created a sharp stake. Running at the tree, I pierced my chest. I slumped onto the branch, unable to breathe through the pain. I’d thought that penetrating my heart with a sharp object would do the trick. If it didn’t cure me of the thoughts of a Vampyre, it should cure me of life. My last thought, as I looked at my chest, was of the delicious blood pouring from my wound. Had I been granted a drop more vitality in my ending, I’d have licked the blood from my hands. Thankfully, I blacked out. I thought this was it. I was dead. I thanked the gods, only to wake up on that cursed bed. Sidriel stood above me once more. He shook his head with his hands on his hips. He seemed disappointed—no more than I was that I was still alive.
“Does this feel real yet?” he asked.
I groaned. “Regrettably, yes.”
It was at that moment, in 1601, when I became the last Hunter—not by volunteering, I might add. Sidriel was my teacher, my mentor, my Watchyr and my confidant. I soon learned the weaknesses of the unnatural beings. I would spend eternity, should it take that long, to rid the world of the supernatural who broke the rules, and there were quite a few rules they were to follow. I would hunt the unnatural until I was gifted the sweet mercy of death. I’d continue to search for a way to remove the darkness from this world, no matter the cost.
I am a hunter of the odd, the abnormal and the unknown, the demons and beasts that lurk in the night. I am twenty and one years to your eyes. Inside, I am of three hundred years and more. Many say they would like to live forever. Take it from me, it’s a bloody nightmare.
This was my beginning. This will also be my ending. I fear I have grown ill, and not even Sidriel can save me. The Darkness has touched me. I feel it slither inside me, eating my light. You are at a young, tender age and soon will be alone without proper training. Sidriel once told me that within me, I carried the answers. I asked him what answers I had inside me. He said you, Jessamine, my daughter. You are the answer. You will help end the Darkness. Trust your gut, stay on your path and remember who you are. Sidriel will watch over you. He will hear your call.
I wish I could be there with you for all of your days. But finally, after centuries of life, I have been gifted a true death.
I love you, my sweet Jessamine Chasseur. Goodbye.
Your mother always,