“Another twig snapped, this time seemingly closer. Eyes narrowed, I pulled the bowstring taught and aimed towards the sound. I still didn’t see anything, but a feeling of unease had begun to creep into my body.”
I was awoken by the sun’s soft, early morning rays. I’ve always been a light sleeper, which is always a good thing for waking up early to work like I do. With a quick yawn and a stretch, I slid out of bed and laced up my boots again. By the looks of things when I got downstairs, Mother and Father were still asleep. Hunting takes up most of my day if I’m to catch anything, so I grabbed a decent chunk of bread from the kitchen and filled up a waterskin at the well. Lastly, I headed to the shed just outside of the house and retrieved the bow and quiver of arrows from the shelf. The early morning air was cool and the breeze was slight, the sun just beginning to peek over the horizon, leaving the land covered in a golden haze. Today should be a good hunt for me. That is, if I didn’t get too frustrated first. With a last glance at the house, I silently made my way to the nearby woods, bow gripped tightly in my hand.
Surprisingly, within minutes, I found myself hiding behind some bushes while a deer grazed a few paces away from me. I slowly pulled an arrow from my quiver and nocked it on the bowstring. Before I could pull it back and ready my shot, a twig snapped behind me and scared off the deer. I whirled around to look for the source of the noise, only to be faced with trees, shrubs, and nothing more. I let out a low growl of frustration and stood up. Another twig snapped, this time seemingly closer. Eyes narrowed, I pulled the bowstring taught and aimed towards the sound. I still didn’t see anything, but a feeling of unease had begun to creep into my body.
“Who’s there?” I called, a slight shake to my voice.
I got no answer, which only deepened the sense of dread that had begun to weigh me down. I waited for a few more moments, and lowered my bow. I bit my lip, and quickly moved on, scanning the forest floor for any more tracks. I spent a few more hours following what appeared to be deer tracks, but after a while I realized that I had gotten completely lost.
“Of course… of course I get lost…” I grumbled, kicking a few rocks out of my way. The forest had gotten dark, even though I knew that it couldn’t be any later than noon. I had never been in this part of the woods, and every shape in the undergrowth seemed foreign or threatening. I found myself drawing my bow at the slightest noise. Eventually, I saw the beginnings of a pathway and my hopes shot up. I followed the path like an excited puppy, eager to get out of this wretched forest. The path led to an open mouthed cave, and I could faintly hear voices coming from within. As I made my way to the entrance, I tripped on a rock and fell flat on my face with a small cry. The voices stopped and I scrambled to my feet.
When I looked up, a tall, thin man was leaning over me. I like to think of myself as rather tall, but this man was a good head higher than I was. His greasy, shoulder-length hair was dark, his eyes even darker, a glimmer of something otherworldly lurking behind his irises. His skin was like ivory, so much so that it seemed nearly translucent. His lips were the only colorful part of him, as if they were stained with wine, or something of the like.
“Well well well. What have we here? A little lost pup?” The man purred. His voice was smooth and slick, dark amusement oozing from every word.
“I won’t deny I’m lost, but I’m not a pup.” I glared and dusted off my trousers.
The man laughed and turned back towards the cave, where two more men were standing with their arms crossed.
“Well how about we play a little game then?” The man stepped back a few paces, joining the other two at the cave’s mouth. “Think of it as… a game of hide and seek.”
The three men grinned, in near-perfect unison. The skin on the back of my neck prickled, and I gripped the handle of my bow even tighter.
“I don’t have time for this. If you won’t tell me how to get back to the village of Farnworth, then I’ll be on my way.” My tone grew sharp, masking the fear I felt deep in my core. There was something off about these men. That much was clear.
“Oh but if you win, we’ll even take you right there!” A second man piped up. This man was burlier than the first, muscular even. His golden, curly hair was cropped at his ears, and his blue eyes glittered with the same sick amusement as the first man.
“Yeah, thanks for the offer but I’ll make my way out.” I turned to leave, but suddenly the third man rushed forward with unnatural speed and gripped my shoulder tightly, his sharp nails digging into my flesh.
“Have it your way then.” The third man was the smallest, but also the most terrifying. His eyes were almost colorless, a dead sort of grey. His hair seemed to be falling out, despite his rather young appearance. If he weren’t standing in front of me and talking, I would have said that he was dead, or close to being in such a state. I swatted his hand away and nocked an arrow.
“I think I will.” I aimed the arrow at the man’s chest with shaking hands.
The three of them burst into laughter.
“You see that Lucien?” The first man called to the third. “He’s shaking!”
Lucien, the man in front of me, merely smiled, revealing a row of rotting teeth with several of the front ones missing. I barely held back a cry as two of those empty holes began to fill in front of my very eyes with long, wickedly sharp fangs.
Those fangs sent a chill down my spine. They belonged to some… creature. A wicked monster my sheltered mind couldn’t begin to comprehend. My eyes grew wide and a wave of cold fear crashed over me, making me shake even more. Even though my legs felt like lead, I turned around as fast as I could and began to run in the opposite direction. I could hear the three men howling with laughter as I bolted, weaving in and out between trees and fallen logs. My heart hammered in my chest, uneven breaths forcing themselves out into the now-frigid air.
“You really are a curious one.” I yelped as the first man murmured in my ear. He was barely breathing hard, yet he had run up to me quicker than any creature I had ever seen. I screamed and tried to whack him with my bow, but he caught the end of it effortlessly. “What a pathetic little toy.” He grinned, exposing sharp fangs so white and polished I could swear I saw my own reflection within them.
The man wrenched the bow out of my hand as if he were taking candy from a child. I whimpered and stumbled back, now thrown off balance. I fell to the ground with a grunt, hitting my head on a tree trunk. Pain blossomed at the base of my neck, a pain I’d never really experienced before. Black spots danced almost mockingly at the edges of my vision, teasing and calling me to fall into the world of the unconscious.
“Well gentlemen, I know we just ate, but we never say no to a free meal, do we?” Lucien snickered, kneeling down in front of me, fangs bared.
“M…meal?!” I stammered out weakly, blinking several times to clear my vision.
“Oh come on, little pup!” The first man giggled. “Judging by your reaction I assume you know what we are!”
“I don’t have a damn clue! Whatever you are, you can’t be real!” I cried, clenching my eyes shut.
A cold hand grabbed my chin, nails digging into my cheeks.
“I can assure you, we are very real.”
I grit my teeth and kicked out my leg, hitting one of the men in the chest. My eyes flew open and the other two seemed startled by my kick, so I turned and began running again. My muscles screamed in pain, begging for me to slow down, but the adrenaline coursing through my body pushed me forward. My head throbbed, pounding with each step I took.
Then, I was suddenly tackled from behind and found myself pinned down on the forest floor, my face pressed into the dirt.
“Rather persistent aren’t you?” The man dug his nails into my back, nails so sharp that they easily tore through my shirt, leaving a line of gouge marks oozing with warm, sticky blood. A strangled cry leapt out of my mouth, muffled by the dirt and leaves. “I usually don’t play with my food but this has been… delightful!”
I could hear the other men approach as well, and I squirmed under the man’s hand.
“Ah ah! Stay still! It won’t hurt as much if you do, I promise.” One of the men cackled.
Tears were streaming down my face, hot tears born out of a cold fear. I whined as the man pinning me down pulled me upright and tossed me violently into a thorny bush with little effort. I opened my mouth to cry out as the thorns wedged themselves into my skin, but no sound came out. It struck me then and there that this was how I was going to die. At the hands of some strange monsters that I never stood a chance against.
I wasn’t even able to —
My thoughts were cut short as a firm hand pulled me out of the thorn bush, and a fist smashed into my face. Once, then twice. Then a few times more. I scratched and clawed at whoever was holding me, my eyes swollen shut from the relentless blows.
My my. This is rather pathetic, a voice chuckled. But this voice was not one of the men beating the life out of me. This voice seemed different, and seemed to come from all around me, not in one specific location. The pain seemed to fade away for a moment, as did the rest of the world. I felt like I was floating in some strange, endless void.
I can help you, you know, the voice thundered again, still without a definite source.
“How? Who are you?” I tried to speak, but my words fell flat against the darkness.
The voice laughed, a heavy boom that resonated throughout my entire body.
“Hey! Answer me!” I yelled, looking around to find the voice. I felt as if I were on the brink of tears, but my eyes were strangely dry.
Just look at yourself, the voice purred, and the void around me exploded into a vivid scene, and a familiar one at that. I was back in the woods, watching the three strange men hitting and beating a slumped-over figure, seemingly enjoying themselves. But that figure was… me. Yet somehow I was observing this from outside my own body. Poor little thing. How could you ever survive such a ruthless attack?
A shiver ran through my body. I whirled around to see a raven perched on a low-hanging branch, its small, black, beady eyes glittering with amusement.
“What are you!?” I reached out to grab the bird, as if catching it would release me from this strange hallucination. The raven vanished as soon as I touched it.
Rather touchy, aren’t we?
“Stop it! Stop!” I squeezed my eyes shut and cradled my head in my hands. I was overwhelmed, fear and confusion running rampant through my mind, wild and untamed.
I could help you, Jamie.
I choked out a sob, opening one eye to peer at my savagely beaten body. I was covered in blood, blood which the men seemed to be scooping up with their hands and… and drinking. My arms hung at strange angles, bruises covering nearly every inch of exposed skin. There were undoubtedly more under my shredded shirt and pants.
You could destroy them, dear boy. Just say the word.
Those words seemed to strike a spark, igniting some strange, otherworldly anger that I never imagined that I was capable of. I stood up and opened my eyes. What gave these monsters the right to do such things? To me? To anyone? Could I really destroy them? Punish them with the justice they deserve?
Yes Jamie, you can. The raven was perched on another branch, staring intently into my eyes. I can give you the power to wreak havoc on any of those who stand in your way. Scorch a path of justice, just for you to walk upon.
Well… how could I refuse with my broken body?
How admirable. I am yours to command, Jamie Darkthorn. The raven shot up into the air and dove straight down towards me. I raised my arms to block the bird, but as soon as it just touched my arm, a wave of powerful force exploded out from within me. I was back in my body, but it was no longer broken. The three men were blown back, landing on the ground with sickening crunches. I opened my eyes, only to find my vision changed. The three men, who were scrambling to their feet, now looked dead in every sense of the word. Skin and flesh was just barely holding on to their time-withered bones, eyes hollow and empty. A word bubbled at my lips, forcing itself free.
“Vampire.” I growled, my voice laced with some cruel, ancient power. The three vampires hissed and backed away from me.
“The hell are you?” One of them snarled, fangs slick with blood. My blood. I didn’t respond. I was too busy looking at my hands and arms, which were swathed in a swirling violet light. “Hey we’re talkin’ to you!”
The vampire ran up to me, ready to lunge, but I instinctively grabbed his arm and, with some urging from the raven, I snapped it. Like snapping a twig. My veins felt as if they were on fire, burning with savage rage.
Rip off their heads. Break their necks, the raven ordered. Otherwise they won’t die.
If I weren’t drunk on this strange, newfound power, I wouldn’t have even considered doing what the raven instructed. But my fingers twitched and itched, begging me to do it.
A second vampire rushed at me, and I clamped my hands firmly around his neck. My body was moving without my input, guided by the raven. A flash of doubt flickered in the back of my mind and for a second, my grip weakened. I can’t do this. This… this isn’t right!
You want them punished, don’t you? The raven chided.
“I-I do,” I growled, tightening my grip again. The raven pushed and shoved, and I felt bone snap under my fingers. A sickening jolt of nausea lurched in my stomach and I pushed the vampire away. He reeled back, coughing and grasping at his neck. He then fell back onto the forest floor, gasping and panting. After a few moments, the vampire’s movements stilled. His two companions glanced at me with fearful eyes and bolted back towards their cave. I let them go, a cold mixture of guilt and fear crashing like waves on a stormy sea.
What are you doing? The raven didn’t seem angry, but rather puzzled.
“Not like this. I-I’m not a killer.”
You aren’t. That vampire was dead. As all before it have been. You did not kill it, you just made its death more permanent.
Tears welled up in my eyes, hot and painful. The thrum of power began to fade, and my hands began to shake. A rustling of leaves made me whirl around to find the raven perched on a nearby bush, its head cocked to the side.
“Why… why did you make me do that?” I choked out, backing away from the bird.
It was not what you wanted? The raven ruffled its wings. I apologize.
“Of course it wasn’t what I bloody wanted!” I took a few more steps back, tripping over the vampire’s body. I yelped and scrambled away from it.
You wanted to serve them justice. I assumed that meant by ending their miserable existence.
I shook my head vigorously.
“No! You… you.. Leave me alone!” I screamed, running and stumbling away from the raven and the body. I didn’t know where I was running, or what path I was taking, but I eventually stumbled across a river, nearly falling in. I stopped at the bank, and looked down at my reflection in the water. My eyes were no longer their usual shade of green, but a brilliant violet, shimmering with power and some otherworldly magic. My hair was still tied up, except for a few odd strands. A thick chunk of my bangs had been stripped of all of its color, leaving it pale and silvery. With a startled cry, I splashed the surface of the water, shattering the reflection.
I am truly sorry if I had alarmed you, Jamie. The raven was on the other side of the riverbank, nonchalant as ever.
I screamed and scrambled back.
“What did you do to me?!”
Nothing. I simply awakened the power you already harboured. The raven flew swiftly over the river’s water and landed in front of me. I will explain all in due time, but I implore that you calm down before I do so.
“Awakened? Power? You’re talking nonsense!” I kicked at the raven, who squawked and flew off a few paces.
You have just proved my point. You are shaken up, so I will wait until you are calm enough to listen to me.
“I-I’ve gone crazy!” I whimpered, scrambling to my feet and running off in the other direction. My eyes itched and burned, so I reached up to rub them. When my hands fell back to my sides, my vision had changed again. My surroundings were clouded in a violet haze, leaving only a clear path that snaked between the trees and plant life. I shook my head and ignored the chiseled path, as it had to be my mind playing tricks on me. Yet the farther I wandered from the path, the more lost and confused I found myself. I stopped for a moment and glanced at the path. It was illuminated by small wisps of light, almost inviting me to follow them.
I gritted my teeth, debating whether or not I should give in. I eventually did, for I was exhausted and desperate for any way out of this hellish maze. As soon as I stepped foot onto this path, it flickered and glowed softly. I took a second step, then a third. After a few more paces, I broke into a run. The forest became a blur, my eyes clouded with tears once again. Finally, I caught a glimpse of the forest edge. I couldn’t help but let out a sigh and a smile of relief, dragging myself out of the densely wooded hell that I had just spent hours in.
I had made it out. I could even see our farmhouse just a few yards from where I was standing. Yet I couldn’t find the energy to pull myself over there. I was suddenly hit with a wave of exhaustion, and collapsed into the grass.