My Aunt Bethi is preparing for bed, but is feeling strangely uneasy. She completes her usual seven p.m. tasks by walking around the house and double-checking both the doors and window locks. Before going upstairs to read in bed, she starts to walk out of the kitchen and hears a tiny scratching sound. Stopping, she turns around slowly looking for the source, and sees a pale human-like creature staring at her from the kitchen door window with completely black eyes. Grabbing the phone off of the wall next to her, she dials my number. As I answer, she begins talking quickly but pauses in midsentence when she looks back at the window. The creature has vanished. She continues to tell me about the monster and how scared she is, but Aunt Bethi doesn’t know that the creature is now directly behind her. On the other end of the phone, I can hear her scream as the creature attacks her. The only sound I hear now is the phone dropping to the ground with a loud thud. A dark red stain slowly appears around the collar of her nightgown as the creature viciously feeds on her blood.
I awoke in a panic and saw that my digital clock read 6:58 p.m. I must have dozed off after my afternoon human anatomy class. Still in somewhat of a groggy daze, I grabbed my sweater and put on my running shoes as fast as I could. The phone started ringing, but I had no time to answer it; I had to get to my aunt.
I yelled at my roommate, “Peyton! Answer the phone! It's my aunt!” We lived in the East Laughlin corner apartments at Veilmont University. It was a small elite university in Norwich, Vermont, a little quiet town across the river from Hanover, New Hampshire. As I grabbed my keys and ran to the front door, I heard Peyton start to ask as she answered the phone, “Edyn, what’s—”
I didn’t let Peyton finish her question. “Call 9-1-1! My aunt is in trouble!” I yelled as I slammed the door shut. I hope she heard that. I knew Peyton must have been confused, but I had no time to explain. I was down the stairs and out onto the street heading to Bethi’s house faster than I’d ever moved before. Aunt Bethi lived close to campus, so it wouldn’t take much time to get to her. But then what? I thought, as my mind raced through various scenarios, all of them bad.
There was someone, or rather some “thing,” in my aunt's home and I had no protection or weapon. I guessed in my panic, I had forgotten to grab something to protect myself with. I began looking around for anything I could use and found a bat leaning against the fence by the baseball field I was passing. Grabbing it without missing a step or reducing my speed, I reached her house within two minutes. I was out of breath, but my adrenaline had definitely kicked in.
I ran around to the backyard and up the porch to the kitchen’s glass door. I knew the door was locked because I had seen her check it twice in my vision. I used the bat to break a small windowpane near the handle, reached in and unlocked the door. The creature was there in the kitchen of course, as if waiting for me to enter, and my entrance was not exactly silent. Its flesh was an ill-looking pale color, far too smooth for a human. It stared at me, its head cocked to one side, with its eyes—disturbingly ominous black eyes. My aunt was in its grasp dangling awkwardly in front of it. She was barely alive, her eyes pleaded for me. Her neck and the front of her nightgown were soaked with her blood.
“Let her go!” I shouted with as much threatening force as I could muster, my breathing still heavy from running. The thing just stood there looking at me, making it clear that it was my move now. Prepared to charge and before my foot even hit the ground, literally within a second, it had dropped my aunt to the floor and was at me. It ripped the bat out of my hands and threw me back onto the heavy kitchen table. Being made of solid wood, it didn't break as I landed on top of it, its very solidity making the impact hurt even more. I flipped over and landed on the floor with an ungraceful bang. The glass teapot set I had bought Aunt Bethi four Christmases ago came down with me, shattering into thousands of little pieces on the floor.
Turning my head towards my enemy, I saw it raise the bat over his head. I grabbed the chair next to me and used it as a shield, but it splintered in my hands from the force of the impact, leaving only a piece of the leg in my hand. The creature yanked me up violently from off the floor until our faces were less than an inch apart; it stared directly into my eyes. It smiled widely, showing me its sharp fangs.
I flinched, certain the creature was about to bite me. Instead, it hurled me through the kitchen glass door, which I was unready for. I landed on the backyard lawn, mainly on my left side, and rolled a couple of times. Blistering pain exploded throughout my body as if I was suddenly and completely on fire. I clenched my teeth as the pain intensified, wanting to just lie there on the soft grass and cry, but Aunt Bethi needed me. Come on, Edyn. Get up! I screamed inside. Save Bethi! You need to be strong! I rolled over to my right side, facing what was left of the kitchen door. The monster stood in the doorframe, staring at me, and apparently decided I was no longer a threat. It returned to my shaken and weakened aunt, picked her up, and continued its attack on her neck. I was furious, and my whole body began to shake with my anger. I realized that I still held the broken chair leg, my fingers clenching tightly around it. I looked at the creature and quickly decided it may be some sort of undead vampire-type being; maybe not, but either way, this chair leg was going into its heart. I wasn’t going to take the time to analyze things further; I was just going kill it.
I painfully ascended to my feet and yanked a large piece of glass out of my arm, immediately feeling relief. I gripped the chair leg so tightly I thought I would break every bone in my hand. Hobbling over to where the kitchen door used to be, I stepped through the doorframe and yelled while lunging forward, “Get away from her!” I hoped to achieve more surprise than my uneventful first attack. Unfortunately, the creature reacted quickly, grabbing my hair and slamming me into the fridge, the wall, and then once again into the fridge. Despite the fact that I was about to lose consciousness from the severe beating I was receiving, I held tightly onto the piece of wood. I waited for my opportunity until I finally saw my opening. Using all of my remaining strength, I drove the chair leg deep into where I was hoping the creature’s heart would be, thanks to the anatomy class only hours before. Getting the chair leg deeper was harder than I expected, I struggled to push it further in. Finally, I felt it sink past the creature’s ribs to my target. As the creature let go of me, it let out a horrible shrieking sound.
Putting both hands on the wooden leg that now impaled the creature’s chest, I wanted to get it away from the kitchen and Aunt Bethi. I pushed its body back into the living room, where it fell backwards with a resounding thud. I just stood there, staring at it. I was breathing hard, my body was furiously shaking, and my pulse was going about a bazillion beats a minute. I had to make sure that I killed whatever this hideous monster was and that it was not coming back. Running over to the panic button Bethi had installed by the front door, I pressed it and the light started flashing. I felt a little better knowing help would be here soon.
Quickly running to my Aunt, I got down on my knees next to her frail body and lifted her head onto my lap as gently as I could. Her face was streaked with tears and smudged with blood. I stroked her face lightly as I spoke. “Bethi, I'm here. Edyn's here. It’s okay. Just hang on, the ambulance will be here soon.” Come on, I begged.
She looked up at me and our eyes met. She whispered, “Edyn, no matter what they say... I always loved you...as my own.”
“I know, Bethi. I know,” I assured her. Her voice was getting weaker and I had to lean in to hear her next words.
“Do you...remember...the dancing...blue tree...remember?” I nodded as she lifted her hand towards my face. It never reached me, but instead fell as her eyes went blank. No! NO! I silently screamed.
“Bethi, please... No! Don't leave me...” I pleaded as I lifted her head and buried it into my shoulder, all the while sobbing. I had no family left in this horrible world. I was all alone in Bethi’s house, holding her lifeless body. I thought nothing could be worse than this.
I was wrong.
What I didn't know was that these monsters traveled in pairs and I had misread the vision. There wasn’t one creature, but two. The second creature was already in the house, lurking around upstairs, while his partner was beating me up. The next thing I knew, the second creature had come up behind me and picked me up by my hair. I was certain the creature was going to rip it all out. My screams echoed loudly off the walls of the otherwise empty house.
I struggled to get a hold of anything at that point and noticed my bat had been left on the kitchen table by the other creature. I reached out and grabbed it. Wasting no time, I swung it to my left as hard as I could in a fluid upwards motion, and made contact with the creature's head. After a couple of swings, it let me go and I fell to the floor. It was then that I noticed a burning smell. I looked over my shoulder, and while the creature was no longer there, I saw flames and billows of smoke coming from the top of the upstairs landing. That damn thing was trying to burn down the house! All I could think of was getting Aunt Bethi to safety. It didn't register then that she was dead. I didn't know where the creature had gone; I hoped that the fire scared it off.
The creature had gone around to the other side entrance to the kitchen from the living room. It must have checked on his buddy’s condition, which still held at “dead.” The creature grabbed me as I stood up with my aunt's body hanging awkwardly in my arms. My aunt’s body dropped to the floor as I was thrown out of the kitchen for the second time tonight. My body slammed into and through the wooden post holding up the porch, causing a loud crashing sound as I landed on the lawn, again. I was not getting back up this time around. I felt my lungs filling with fluid, so I rolled over and coughed up a bunch of blood onto the lawn. Everything went black for a moment, but then my vision came back into focus in time to see the creature bringing the bat down on me.
I waited for it to strike me into oblivion, but that didn't happen. Something, or rather someone, stopped it. I looked over and saw a fuzzy image of a tall man with black wavy hair and bright blue eyes. He held a sword below the bat wielded by the creature, preventing it from killing me. The side of my body facing the house was getting warmer. I thought it was just me, blushing at the seriously jaw-dropping hottie holding the sword four inches from my head. Not quite. My rescuer looked over and realized the house was burning down to the ground. He moved with almost as much speed as the creature, but much more gracefully, as if trained in the art of combat. They engaged in a sword-to-bat battle.
The image of them fighting to the death, with their bodies illuminated by the enormous orange flames consuming the house next to them, was truly a magnificent sight. The fire’s intense glow highlighted my rescuer's smooth and determined movements and reflected off of his incredibly blue eyes. He was much taller than I, just a couple of inches over six feet, and was dressed in all black, including a long black jacket. He looked no more than twenty-five. With just a few agile moves, he had his sword in the creature’s chest. A direct hit, like mine, but way more polished than the chair leg method I had used. This creature let out a horrible shriek just like the first one.
It stared at me as it fell and spoke to my rescuer, “The Bellum is coming, Orion.” Then it said nothing else nor moved again. I made a mental note to find out what “the Bellum” was, but right then I needed to get Bethi out of the burning house. I rolled over and painfully crawled towards the house. I reached the porch and saw her.
Though the heat was intense, I stretched my arm and tried to reach her hand, but my rescuer lightly grabbed me and pulled me back. He was trying to be careful, and I imagine my body looked extremely broken and pathetic. He lifted me up effortlessly, slowly walked down the two steps of the back porch, and gently laid me down on the lawn. While I lay there, away from the fiery destruction that was once my home, I could hear sirens in the distance.
Suddenly, I heard a woman’s voice behind me. “Since when do dracs attack old ladies at night and burn their houses down?”
Then I heard my rescuer speak for the first time. He had a wonderful voice; it was strong, with a slight French accent. “This wasn’t a random attack, it was planned. Where was the other one?”
The woman responded, “She killed the other one just before we got here. It looks like a kitchen chair leg to the heart.”
“Resourceful. If she lives, that will be impressive.” I was glad that I impressed someone with my efforts to save my aunt. However, I still failed; Aunt Bethi was dead. My aunt was just murdered and I had killed her murderer. A knot started growing in my stomach. God, my body hurts!
“The cops are coming. We have to go, Kieran,” the woman said.
Kieran. His name was Kieran and I didn't want him to go. I wanted to see his eyes again, those beautiful blue eyes. As I reached up towards his face, he moved swiftly and grabbed my hand with his without hurting me. Oh my God! The instant we touched skin-to-skin, my body started heating up from its very core. He looked down at me, and our eyes made contact. I felt the earth below us rumble like a mini-earthquake, and my own heart pounded along with it. My whole body began to shiver as the sound of thunder echoed above our heads. His eyes widened, just as two lightning strikes came down from sky and hit the ground mere yards from us.
I wondered whether he was feeling the same intense energy consuming his soul, too. We were frozen in time for what seemed like hours, but was only seconds. Suddenly, the woman grabbed him by the shoulders and shook both of us out of whatever trance we were in.
“Kieran...Kieran.... What the hell was that?” she asked in a shaky voice.
He didn't answer; maybe he couldn’t answer. The woman was about to go when she saw my necklace and it stopped her cold in her tracks. “She's a Vella? How is that possible? I thought they were all dead.”
Kieran looked down at my necklace as well. I had on the same necklace I’ve worn since my father died. It was his, a V for Vella, but in an intricate half-circle, crescent moon design. Kieran’s expression was a mix of confusion and wonder.
“Edyn. Where have you been?” he whispered as he ran his hands down the side of my cheek in an embracing touch. Both of our bodies responded with goose bumps. The moment my Aunt Bethi died, I felt alone in the world. The moment Kieran and I touched, I no longer felt alone, but at peace. Even as I lay there on backyard lawn, probably dying, my soul felt content. It was as if I had known Kieran my whole life, or maybe in another life. The brief, confusing event distracted my mind from the horrible pain my body was feeling.
“Kieran, seriously, we have to go. The message wasn't clear, so what do you want to do?” she asked hastily.
He thought about this for a second. “Call Terrin, get a car here right away. We’ll take her to Dr. Bale,” he ordered. She nodded her head and left my sight. Kieran effortlessly picked me up again and started into a sprint. The sirens were getting closer, louder. We reached the alleyway and continued in a sprint away from the house.
“Is she still with us?” the woman asked.
Stopping at the street, Kieran looked down on me with those stunning eyes. “Janelle, I think she might just make it.”
“Look at her cuts, they’re already healing,” he said as he pointed them out to her.
As Janelle came around, I finally got a good look at her face. She had black hair in a really short pixie style, brown eyes, and a well-defined scar on her left cheek. “How can that be...?” she said as she examined my arm.
“Because she’s an Ace,” he replied, and she shook her head in disbelief.
Just then a black SUV pulled up quickly. Janelle opened the back door and Kieran laid me across the seat. He closed the door, went around, and got in next to me. I couldn't see the driver, so I had no idea if it was a man or woman, or what the person looked like. The SUV accelerated and started swerving in and out of traffic at a high rate of speed. Kieran was stroking my hair, and even though it felt good, the pain still became too intense. I groaned and tried to shift my body, trying to ease the pain. Kieran responded by placing his hands on my shoulders, holding me down. “We're almost there. I know it hurts, Edyn.” Tears started to escape my eyes and roll down my cheeks.
“I can’t believe Gavin’s daughter is alive,” Janelle said with bewilderment.
Kieran responded in a grave tone, “Call Ethan. He needs to know.”
My eyelids began to grow heavy with sleepiness and I gave in to closing them. The car came to an abrupt stop, and I felt the sensation of my body being lifted up and moved quickly. I wasn't quite awake, but not completely out either. I was somewhere in between, only partially fighting to stay awake. Death? Limbo? I didn’t know and honestly? I didn’t care.
I heard Kieran's strained voice, “Edyn, wake up, don't close your eyes...” His voice trailed off as I finally stopped fighting and let the blissful darkness take me.
END OF CHAPTER ONE