I am comfortable in the dark, when the moon slumbers and clouds dim the stars and the smell of the earth rises in the still air. Perhaps that still moment is the only place I am comfortable. My years have been long and have seen me travel nearly all of this world, often alone. I have given life and dealt death, but I offer no regrets. Regret is a waste of effort when justice brings the guilty no peace. I will see justice in the end, I am certain of that, for all that I have done, and all I have not.
So much has gone now and I am ill at ease with the time, the waiting, here at the end of my life. The ancient game is played out and three souls, born together in the lost pages of time are as they were meant to be … but to tell that story, my story, I must go back to the beginning, before I came to be, before any of us had come to be.
It begins near to the birth of time, or man's keeping of it, when three brothers entered into an unholy bond, bound by blood to the night, trading the daylight for eternal life. The stories tell of their calling, the slaughter of their mortal families, and the beginning of what would be called The Family. The middle brother, a brutish man named Crenoral, chose my mother to be his first bride. She had been a farmer's wife, and was pregnant, only barely so, when Crenoral came and called her into the night. She followed him, bringing me with her, and leaving behind a mortal family of two sons to mourn her. It was some time after that when I came to be born.
Our existence and all of its dark burden was new to us then. There were no rules to our existence, save for the drinking of blood and the death that rose with each sunrise. The Family was small, those three brothers, their brides and the occasional other whom they adopted along the way. In all, there were no more than twelve in my earliest memories, aside from Crenoral and his brothers.
I was born in a dark, dank cave somewhere in the Caucasus to a mother who wasn't exactly beautiful. She learned early how to make use of what gifts she was given, and when she chose, could be dynamically attractive, terrifying and compelling at once. I can still see her long, angular face and hair as black as the night, which made her appear somehow harsh, unforgiving. Her green eyes burned eerily in the darkness and smoldered in the firelight.
There was little to our relationship but for the vague, distant kinship we all shared and the occasional moment of maternal gesture. Her life was securely coiled around her own hunger and little intruded upon her desire, save her duty to Crenoral. She did, however, take pleasure in telling me how long she was forced to carry me, and how I had maimed her in my infancy.
When I was first born, Mother fed me, returning from her own hunt to suckle me to her breast. My teeth and instinct combined to fill me with the blood that she brought for me. As I grew, ever so slowly, I was given to drink from her wrist, but the damage was done and both breasts bore scars from my years of feeding. As she complained, and grew bored with me, Crenoral would feed me, cradling me in his arms as he held his wrist to my lips. The day came, however, when it was no longer enough, the instincts born within me cried for release, the hunger needed to be appeased.
I waited in the dark of my nursery crypt, cold and hungry, the Change full upon me when Crenoral came. I caught him unaware, pouncing from my sleeping pallet and clawing my way up his chest to bite into the tender skin at his neck. When I was sated and pulled back from him, he was laughing, wiping at the still dripping wound. I was breathless and shaking as he pulled me to him and held me tightly, pride filling his words. “Amara, my little one, what a killer you shall be.” He held me, caressing my wild, un-brushed hair and showering me with kisses until the Change subsided.
The next night was ours. He bathed me and dressed me, parading me before the gathered clan as his perfect little daughter. I was proud, walking beside him, knowing we were going out into the night together, and that not even my mother was afforded that honor. I was his protégé and he was my mentor, my father.
I might have even passed as his daughter, though I was born with skin purely white. My full head of black hair was thick like his and slightly wavy. The fangs that sliced through flesh so easily had cut my mother as I was born, though they were the only teeth in my head. Over the next decades, the rest of my teeth came in and the fangs became somewhat less noticeable, retracting until the Change came upon me. My eyes were so dark that they might not be discerned from the shadows and my vision was sharp in the dark without a moon or stars. There was little remarkable about my appearance, save these things. I did not possess the odd, translucent beauty of my brothers and sisters, nor the mysterious, gripping quality I would find later in humanity. I was, beside them all, rather plain.
That night, none my inadequacies mattered. I was glorious beside him, my tiny hand held in his thick one as we followed the night down from our mountain home, a slowly growing abode above the natural caves that hid us by day. I had never been outside the protective walls before that spring night, and I wanted to see everything. The crisp aroma of broken grass was punctuated with bursts of fennel and yarrow and underscored by the constant base of damp earth. There was a slight tang in the air that Crenoral said came from the sea that was nearly a whole night's journey away, even for us, to the east and slightly north. Sometimes, when the wind blew just right, it brought with it the scent of the water. Closer to us the aroma of blood faintly came to me. I was more familiar with this scent and my feet quickened their pace.
Two of the local tribes were at war and the call of blood and death rose higher in the air as we moved through the trees. My little body shook with excitement as we neared the battlefield and I felt my teeth biting into my lower lip. The scents grew sharper as the Change came over me, transforming my tender, child-like features into something far more terrifying.
As we paused in the shadows of the trees, Crenoral smiled down at me. His face was also distorted by the Change, his thick eyebrows thicker still and raised somewhat from his eyes, which seemed brighter. His smile revealed white teeth and deadly fangs. The pale light of the half moon reflected off his face, making him appear to glow. I wondered if I glowed too.
Yards away from us, a man walked a slow pattern through the field, pausing from time to time to examine a body. His wrapped feet scuffed on the stones and cold dirt of the bloodied field that had earlier been filled with living souls, but now held only the dead and the dying. The smell of him was nearly overpowering. I had never seen a mortal alive before.
He was smaller than I had imagined, in a rough spun cloth tunic girded with a leather belt. He wore a bag over one shoulder and he was collecting items from the bodies. His breath plumed on the chill air as he looked around him nervously. I licked my lips in anticipation, willing him closer. The hunger inside me was undeniable.
I held my breath, as Crenoral stole up behind the man, overpowering him quickly and pulling him to the ground, with one hand covering the man's mouth. Crenoral used that hand to pull the man's head away from his shoulder, exposing his neck and signaling me to come. I scrambled over a stiff body and slick grass. I could see then he was already bleeding from a small wound Crenoral had made with a blade secreted in his hand. I looked up at Crenoral expectantly.
“What are you waiting for? Drink.”
I needed no further encouragement, clamping my small mouth over the bleeding, pulsing wound just below the man's ear. The taste was richer than what I was used to, thicker, sweeter. The echo of another heart called out to my own, even as I felt that other heart slowing. Images of his life filled my mind, thoughts of his brother, a child, his fear of death. For all my appetite, he was far more than my body could contain, and when I was full I pulled back, my face was wet with his blood. I pulled a corner of my tunic over my sticky chin and looked up at my teacher.
Crenoral laughed and dropped the man, leaving him to die alone where he fell. We made for the outskirts of the nearest camp then, and Crenoral feasted twice before we turned for home. As we walked through the night, he spoke of the people of the mountain, those closest to us. He warned me away from certain roads and told me stories of his early days, when he and Bestin raged through the nights.
Crenoral was a dark and sinister man. He had already reached his mid-thirties when his elder brother came to him and kissed him with immortality. He was short, as most men were in his time, dark of skin and hair, and he was possessed of deep, dark blue eyes, made all the deeper by the prominent brow that gave him a permanent scowl. Even the many years spent in the embrace of the night only slightly paled him. Dark hair, trimmed short, conferred on him an appearance of strength, even when the Change was not upon him, and he was charismatic and charming.
He doted upon me in those early days, lavishing me with gifts and praise. He made a show of honoring the day of my birth, though the others clearly despised me for the unnatural way I came to be. Crenoral fancied himself my father, and I the only daughter he would ever have. In turn, I adored him. He gave me anything and everything my heart desired and I followed him through the nights, emulating him.
From that first night on, I went out to hunt among the tribes of man, a child small, frail…fearsome, ferocious. Hand in hand we wandered through dark settlements, stealing through opened doors and crawling into open windows when we could find no wayward soul dealing death or attending to urgent private matters in the small hours of the night. In those days the hunger was more than I knew how to control, and I would fall upon my prey fiercely, leaving little behind.
Crenoral's pride in me was palpable, and the strength and rush that came with the blood was enthralling. I had known that we were stronger, faster than our mortal cousins, but was fascinated by the frailty of the human body, the ease with which death came to them. I was captivated as well by what I saw as we passed like wraiths through settlements and villages. Homes built of wood and stone, gathering places, shrines to gods and goddesses, tools with which they killed and worked the ground all would bring me to pause in my hunt, running my tiny hands over them until Crenoral's hunger dragged me away.
One night, in a village on the western slope of the mountain where the salty scents of the distant Black Sea would reach strongly if the sky was clear, I stole a small piece of burnished copper from the room of a young girl whose blood was sweet. Her things had enthralled me, and I settled on the reflective surface, slipping through the night back to my dark crypt to spend hours staring at my own face.
By candlelight I watched my face change from one not much different from that of the girl who had last owned the primitive mirror, to that of a monster. I had seen the others, my mother and Crenoral, as they Changed and wondered about my own face. I knew I was different, though I had little understanding of what that meant. The face that scowled out at me was not unlike Mother's, though my brow was not nearly as pronounced as hers or Crenoral's. My sunken eyes made my face seem far more sinister than any mortal child my size I had seen. My teeth, already slightly larger and more distinct than the humans I had encountered, lengthened just noticeably, their sharpness catching on my lip if I wasn't mindful of them. Not all of the gifts of the Change can be found in a mirror though, and the truth of our differences from our mortal brethren can be found in those that cannot be seen.
Senses intensify as the Change comes and the speed of our stride can imply the notion of flight. Our eyes are not well suited for the harsh light of day, but are keen in the dark and shadow. We, small as we might have been, were the dark predators that hunted in the cold shadows and caused the preternatural fears among the early ancestors of today's man. Much of the uneducated mythology and barbaric belief dismissed so easily by modern scholars is, in its deepest core, the reality of who and what we were. There was no escaping our hunger. There was only death. It was all I knew in those days.
I was, however, quite alone. The Family despised me, even Mother who grew bored with me as Crenoral became enamored of me. He was my only companion, and when I was not with him I was alone, or bullied about by Arda and Vahe who despised me. Vahe was the oldest of Crenoral's clan, taken, on a whim when Crenoral needed company, from a sheep pasture. He had only been sixteen. Arda was little more than that, brought by Vahe to serve his lust. With my arrival, Crenoral left them to their own darkness. They hated me for that. My childhood was filled with torments, the hunger which haunted my day and night and their hatred, softened only by Crenoral's affection. I craved companionship, and after a time it was not that of a doting father that I needed.