Aurora fell onto her bed and wept. She would never dare to cry in front of the others, but in the privacy of her bedroom she let out her grief. The loss of Stefan had shattered her heart into a thousand pieces. Her only brother was dead. How could that stupid hunter have mistaken him for a strigoi? Was he completely insane?
Strigoi were the undead. Existing in the 1700 and 1800s, they were humans who had succumbed to the fatal poison of a vampire’s bite and risen to become beautiful, immortal creatures with superior senses. They could see further, hear better and smell even the faintest scent carried on a summer breeze. They were stronger than bears, ran faster than wolves and never aged. And they survived by drinking the blood of humans.
But that hunter could not be the strigoi she had seen in her vision. He was weak and he was stupid. She had anticipated his arrival, waited for him, and now he had taken everything from her.
She got to her feet, padded over to the open window and let the cold night air blow in, stinging at her face like a thousand tiny needles. When the soft footfall of someone coming down the hall snapped her back, she turned just in time to see Jasmyne sneak her head around the corner.
“Aurora? Are you alright?”
They were sisters, connected not by blood but by love. Jasmyne and Stefan had been partners and for their kind, the promise of forever meant a very long time. Aurora knew his death must be unbearable for her and it would be selfish to send her away, so instead she motioned for her sister to come in and sit down.
“He was my brother,” Aurora began quietly. “But he was your partner Jasmyne. I should be the one seeking you out, asking if you’re alright. Forgive me sister, my grief has made me selfish.”
Jasmyne blinked away a fresh set of tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks. “I want you to know Aurora, I adored him with all my heart. He was the only love I’ve ever known.”
Aurora knew the strength of what they had shared and it hurt to see her sister in so much pain. They had been each other’s compass. A heart’s true north.
“I know you loved him,” Aurora began. “And for now you will grieve, but someday… Someday you will tuck all that love away somewhere special and find a new place in your heart. Trust me sister, the pain will eventually heal.”
The women shared so much, but they were as opposite as day and night. Aurora was a leader, fiery and fierce while her sister was always the first to stand by her side. With long blond hair and moss-green eyes, Jasmyne was like a wood fairy, soft, natural and graceful. Against Aurora’s wild temper she was calm and loving and more than once Aurora had envied her ability to love so openly and with all her heart.
“I already miss him,” she whispered. “I feel so empty inside.”
Aurora nodded and they both fell silent, lost in their own thoughts.
“Do you think he felt any pain?”
“No. It happened quickly.”
It was not the truth, but Aurora could not tell her sister that the person she loved most in the world had suffered. When Aurel howled on their way back to the house, Aurora had known it was time. She had broken away from her sisters and gone ahead, desperate to try and intervene. But she had failed. Now her brother was dead.
“Do you really think that hunter was a strigoi?” Her sister was asking. “And if he was, why would he want to destroy what he thinks are his own kind, especially when there are no more living ancestors?”
Aurora knew Jasmyne was looking for answers, for any way to make sense of Stefan’s death. She knew because she was doing exactly the same thing.
“I think he’s confused. I don’t think he understands who we are, or even who he is. I hate him for killing Stefan, but if he really is the only remaining strigoi he must be very lonely.”
Aurora thought of her own loneliness and the empty space that gaped inside her. At least she had her family. How must it feel to be completely alone?
But Jasmyne was already up on her feet. “Aurora, I don’t understand? How can you say such a thing? How can you feel sorry for him? He killed Stefan!”
“Do not forget yourself sister. I know you’re hurting but I am still the elder of this family. You need to calm yourself.”
“But he murdered him, right here in our home!”
Aurora could see the poison in her sister’s eyes. It was the same darkness, the same twist of thorns that had taken up residence in her own heart a long time ago. The same hate that had stopped her from ever letting anyone in.
“Sister, I know you loved Stefan but you have to honour him in a way that is peaceful and respectful. Stefan would not have wanted your life to be spent in anger. I know my brother, and that’s not what he would want for you.”
“So you’re not going to do anything? You’re just going to let him get away with it?”
Aurora knew that destroying Stefan’s killer would bring them both some peace, but it was something she just couldn’t do, not yet. First she had to find out who, and what, he was and the Council, a panel of the Earth’s last four remaining vampires, would help her do just that.
“The treaty still stands sister, you know that,” she began. “It has been a long time since a strigoi walked the Earth, but the rules have not changed. The Council forbids the genocide of any vampire, strigoi or descendant. First, we have to find out what he is. If he has broken the law they will deal with him, but if it turns out he is not what we think he is, then I will take care of him myself. You have my word.”
“I don’t care what he is! Strigoi, descendant or human, he can’t get away with this. It’s not right!”
“And he won’t Jasmyne, what he did will be investigated. The Council will make this right, it’s why they still exist.”
Inside, Aurora wanted to tear the foolish hunter limb from limb. She wanted to rip his head from his body and burn the pieces, but if she lashed out in revenge she could end up being the one locked away and that was not something she was willing to risk. Not when she still had so much unfinished business of her own.
“But no matter what the Council decides Stefan will still be dead,” Jasmyne whispered. “He’ll still be gone.”
“And that will remain so whether I revenge his death or not,” Aurora whispered. “Jasmyne, if they take me away as well then where will our family be? I know it’s hard. I want to destroy him as much as you do. Stefan was my family, but so are the rest of you. I need to be here to protect you.”
“Protect us? From what?” Jasmyne spat. “Humans are no threat to us. They don’t even know descendants exist.”
For the longest time Aurora had wanted to tell Jasmyne the truth, but saying the words aloud felt like an impossible task. She had not even spoken of it with Stefan in such a long time. He had been a child when it happened, tucked away and blind to the horror she had witnessed, but perhaps it was time.
“I want to show you something sister, but you cannot tell the others. Do you promise?” Aurora asked.
Jasmyne eyed her cautiously and nodded. The trust they shared ran deep and despite her sister’s grief they were a family. Nothing could break the bond they shared.
Aurora padded over to the bedroom door and waited to make sure none of her sisters would interrupt them. From downstairs their gentle laughter floated up and she could hear them reminiscing about Stefan. As she listened, her thoughts drifted back to when they were all children, not a care in the world, their faces covered in dirt. It had been a good childhood, a happy home, now everyone was gone and she was all that remained of her true bloodline.
Aurora opened the dresser and took a soft velvet pouch from the drawer. As she turned, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and was reminded that despite her 120 years on Earth she still looked no older than a 30-year-old human woman. Eventually she would age and someday die, but she was a first-generation descendant, the first child ever conceived between a Scythian warrior and a strigoi elder. How long she would live was yet to be determined, but whatever time she had, she intended to use finding the monsters that had destroyed her childhood village. The monsters that had murdered her parents.
“Aurora?” Jasmyne whispered. “What is it you want to show me?”
“It’s about my parents,” she began. “It’s time you knew the truth sister.”
Jasmyne glanced down at the velvet pouch. “The truth?”
“First I need to tell you a story. Jasmyne, do you remember when we were young, back when we all lived with our families on the Romanian Plain?”
Jasmyne nodded and her eyes fell. “Yes, another tribe came into our village. They killed almost all of our elders. The very next morning we had to leave.”
“That’s right, but it wasn’t another tribe that killed our families.”
Immediately Jasmyne’s eyes clouded with rage. “You mean it was a hunter who killed them? Like the one who killed Stefan?”
In many ways Aurora wished it was that simple. “No, the things that came into our village were not hunters Jasmyne. They weren’t strigoi and they weren’t human.”
“What are you saying Aurora?”
“I was 11 years old that night. I was in my bed, Stefan was in his bed too. Our parents were out in the kitchen. Do you remember that night sister? It was winter time and there was snow on the ground.”
As she described it, Aurora was transported back to her childhood home. She could smell smoke drifting in from a wooden stove that warmed the kitchen and hear the gentle sound of her mother’s laughter. Then the crash that changed everything.
“A terrible sound came from the kitchen and I climbed out of bed to go and see what it was, but as I turned the corner…”
“Aurora, what did you see?”
“My father was running toward me. At first I couldn’t understand why he would run. He was strong and he was proud. It made no sense, but he grabbed my arm and pulled me back down the hall. He quickly gathered Stefan out of bed and tucked us both down behind our old blanket box. He looked at us closely and said something I will never forget. He said ’Ssh now, not a word. Stefan my son, you must be as still and silent as the corn that grows in the field and when you become a man you will provide for your sister just as the harvest has for us.’ And then he turned to me and said, ’Aurora my daughter, you must be as still and silent as the sunflowers that grow in our garden and when you bloom into a beautiful woman you will be just as radiant and glorious. You are both so important. Respect the Earth and love each other. We’re so proud of you.’ Then he covered us with blankets and told us not to come out until the sun came up.”
Jasmyne nodded and a tear slipped over her cheek. “My parents hid me away too. My mother said there was another tribe in the village that wished us harm. She made me promise not to come out no matter what.”
Aurora took a deep breath. Telling Jasmyne the truth was difficult, but she needed to hear it.
“I tried to do what my father told us sister, but I couldn’t stay in there. Not when I knew my parents were in danger. After a few minutes I let go of Stefan’s hand and tip-toed as quietly as I could toward the kitchen. But when I got there…”
Jasmyne reached out, the touch of her hand causing Aurora to jump.
“When I got there, standing over my mother was something that I don’t know how to describe. I was young Jasmyne, but I know it wasn’t a vampire, strigoi or human. It was something else.”
Jasmyne looked at her closely. “What do you mean, something else?”
“It was a creature made of bone. It had what looked like a skeleton on the outside, and behind the bone was thick black flesh. Its eyes were deep and hollow, empty like there was no light inside. And there was something ancient about it Jasmyne, something unworldly.”
“I knew I should go in and try and help my mother,” she pushed on. “I wanted to be brave, but I was so afraid, so I hid behind the door trying to find the courage. She never knew I was there. She never knew I came and then…”
“And you think that’s what killed all of our parents?”
Aurora nodded and tucked a loose strand of hair back behind her ear. “A few of the elders survived and the next day they took all of the children, including us, away from there. That morning many of us woke as orphans.”
Jasmyne nodded slowly and took a moment before she spoke. “So, what were they?”
“That’s what I need to find out sister. A long time ago I had a vision that showed me a strigoi male. He was supposed to help me, but now…”
“So that’s what this is about? You think that murderer is supposed to help you track down monsters?” Jasmyne got to her feet and fixed Aurora with a look. “That’s why you won’t kill him?”
“It’s not as simple as that Jasmyne.” Aurora willed her sister to understand. There was so much at stake. “I need to speak with the Council, but I also need your support. I cannot do this alone. Tell me sister, will you help me?”