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stranger (1)

Humans and the supernatural—called the Unnatural—have been living together for the past 200 years. After humans initially made the discovery, they kept to themselves, afraid of what the Unnatural creatures could do. For years, humans cowered in fear, just as the supernatural did before.

Mages, demons, fae, and werewolves alike cowered in corners for millennia, terrified of humans finding out their secret. And when they finally did, the tables turned.

A few decades passed before they started comfortably coexisting. During that time, there were rumors of “interspecies” couples living in the shadows, hiding from the rest of the world, to ensure their own safety. But once they revealed their secrets, the world revealed their own. It was because of those couples that they live peacefully.

There was never war between the Unnatural and the humans, only amongst the Unnatural themselves.

The mages were completely wiped out 300 years ago in a war between the fae, and now the creatures even live peacefully amongst themselves as well, afraid of getting obliterated like the mages.

The humans accepted the fact that they were not alone. Some particular humans had a few issues in the beginning, unable to come to terms with reality.

This, however, was not the case for 23-year-old Emerson Russell.

Emerson came to terms with the Unnatural when she was young, after hearing stories from her mother. She had even had a couple of incidents with the beasts themselves. She never doubted their existence, nor did she ever fight it.

She grew up with her mother until the age of 12, and has lived on her own ever since, in the middle of the vast Chestnut Forest. She never knew her father, and didn’t bother looking for him after her mother died. She still had her grandmother, Isa.

Isa lived across the woods in a small cottage on the top of a mountain. Emerson made it a point to visit her often, once a month, to bring her a basket and to keep her company. She didn’t want Grandma Isa to feel lonely, or to get sick. She wanted to make sure that she was well taken care of.

Emerson has grown comfortable in her small cabin. There wasn’t much in this particular patch of woods, just a few animals and the occasional hunter. Her daily routine wasn’t too much of a hassle, either. Emerson just ensured to do household chores and hunt for food.

She didn’t quite like going into town; she only went into town on the first of each month. Emerson had never been fond of people, and the nearest town was Selal, which was far from a small town. The town was packed with close to 1,000 people, and had been named a vacation spot years back. Selal was always packed with tourists, and Emerson made sure to steer clear of that as much as possible.

The only good part was that most people from town, albeit the hunters, didn’t go into the woods. There was a legend of a wolf who lived in the Chestnut Forest, and everyone avoided the forest like a disease. But Emerson knew better. She’s lived in the forest for years, and she’s never seen a wolf, or anything like it.

Her mother used to warn her about the wolf, but her mother once admitted she hadn’t seen him in her 36 years of living, either. The wolf was nothing but a myth.

Emerson was preparing her basket for Isa; her trip was due in a week. She had already stuffed some non-perishable foods in there, like crackers, cookies, and fruits. She would wait to put the bread in there until the day before. Emerson was never able to bring her grandmother cold foods, it always took her three days to get to her cottage.

The woman sighed, placing another apple in the basket. She glanced out the window and saw that the sun was high, which meant it was mid-day. Time to go hunting.

Hunters these days like to use guns, but Emerson didn’t like the way a gun felt in her hand. She preferred daggers and bows. She set aside her basket and grabbed her boots, pulling them on her feet and lacing them up.

She strapped three daggers at her side, and another at her thigh. Living alone all these years, she had made sure to learn how to defend herself, and how to use a good weapon.

She went to her closet and pulled out her large, oversized red velvet cloak. It was her favorite. Isa made it for her a couple years ago. It was a way of thanking her for all of the times she came to see her. It was smilier to a cape, Emerson thought once, the first time she wrapped it around her neck.

Emerson tied the hood around her neck tightly and put her hair into a sloppy braid. She pulled her braid back, placing it into her hood, and pulled the hood up. The hood was huge, it came down just above her eyebrows. On her way out the door, she grabbed her bow and quiver, and strapped the quiver to her back.

Once she stepped outside, she inhaled the scent of the moods deeply. This was her favorite part. The first rush of nature. The smell of grass, pine, and dirt burning her nose brought her absolute joy. It’s one of the reasons she loved living in the middle of nowhere.

As she trekked through the woods, she noticed there wasn’t any sign of movement, or animals. The wind was barely blowing, and she could barely hear the trickle of the river. She furrowed her eyebrows. Something was wrong.

She quickly pulled an arrow out of her quiver and nocked it, then tentatively walked further into the woods. The deeper she got, the more worried she became.

She walked down to the river and crouched down. Emerson stuck one hand into the clear river and realized it was running warm, and saw no fish nearby. Something was definitely off.

She stalked through the grass, listening to nothing but the sound of the grass crushing underneath her boots. Emerson heard a sharp snap from behind her, and she quickly turned, raising her bow.

“Who are you?” she questioned. Her voice was neither shaky nor faltering, and she spoke clearly and with authority. These woods were her woods.

Before her stood a man who only smiled at her, as if mocking her. She repeated the question again, only louder, and pulled her arrow back to let the man know she wasn’t just messing around.

“A friend,” he replied. His voice seemed familiar to her, but she couldn’t quite place it. It held just as much authority as hers, making her feet plant firmer into the ground.

Emerson looked the man over. He was older than she was, probably in his 40s. His dark hair was cut short and was speckled with grey, as was his beard. His dark brown eyes stared at her coldly, searching for something Emerson didn’t think she had. He was tall and his shoulders broad, and under his purple cloak, she knew this man was muscular.

“I’ll ask again,” she said through clenched teeth. “Who. Are. You. I need a name.”

The stranger smiled at her once again, and responded swiftly. “My name does not matter. What matters is what I can do for you.”

Emerson’s left eyebrow quirked up and she pursed her lips. “And what exactly is that? Don’t play games with me. I will shoot.”

Under normal circumstances, Emerson would have shot already. This man was clearly not a hunter, and despite his earlier comment, not a friend. For some reason, though, she found herself hesitating. It never clicked in her mind that this was the first stranger, the first non-hunter, she’d seen in over 10 years.

“Anything you desire,” he answered.

Without thinking, Emerson drew her arrow back and released. It hit the tree behind the man with a loud thud. She nocked another arrow before either of them could take another breath. The man didn’t even bat an eye. “The next one goes between your eyes. What the hell do you want from me?”

Emerson knew she didn’t look or sound threatening at all. She knew that from the man’s point of view, her appearance wasn’t very menacing, despite her body covered in weapons. She was very pretty, and Emerson knew that. Her hair was dark brown and never stayed in place, and her bright blue eyes always shone in the light. Her skin was light and smooth, the only thing she had going for her was her body. She wasn’t short; she stood proudly at 5′10" and was curves in muscles throughout her body, especially in her lower half.

However, Emerson didn’t care in the slightest how she appeared in this man’s eyes. She knew he was dangerous, and she wanted him gone.

“Oh, dearie,” the stranger laughed. “I don’t want anything from you. I just want to help.”

The laugh passed her lips before she could stop it. “What makes you think I need help?”

The man stared at her, and Emerson grew uncomfortable under his gaze when her body became hot.

“I don’t think anything, dear. I know everything about you, and I know just want you want from me,” he replied.

Emerson was at a loss for words. She didn’t know who this guy was, where he came from, or what he wanted—rather, what he thought she wanted. All she wanted was to find some damn food.

“Oh, you’re hungry? Why didn’t you say so?”

Before she could question how he knew that, Emerson saw movement out of the corner of her eye. The hunter in her stirred, begging to be let out. She whipped around and shot the arrow, watching a deer get shot down. Right in the heart.

“How did you know that? Where did that deer come from?” Another arrow nocked.

“I told you, I know everything,” said the man. “You see, I’m not...from this world.”

It clicked in her head, and Emerson spoke before her mind processed the word. “Unnatural?”

“That’s right. I’m a mage, one of the last to live.”

Emerson barked out a laugh. A mage? This guy had to be kidding. All of the mages had been wiped out more than 300 years ago.

“Ah, ah, ah,” the man wagged his finger. “Not all of them.”

Suddenly, Emerson was no longer standing in the woods. Now, she was right on the outskirts of Selal. Her chest started heaving and she looked around for the man. This had to be some type of practical joke, right?

She found him lazing on a large boulder a few feet away. Her hand clutched her bow, not even bothering to threaten him anymore.

“What the hell are you?” her voice was wavering now, and every bone in her body shook.

“I told you, dear, I’m a mage. And I’m here to grant you a wish.” He flashed a toothy smile, and Emerson looked over her shoulder at the town behind her. Could she run? “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

She looked back at the man. “You can read my mind?”

He gave her a bored stare. “Of course I can. How do you think I know it is what you want me to do? You want me to save you. To help you out of this life. You want to keep your grandmother safe, too, and you want her to live a long, healthy life. You want to know the truth, the truth about your mother, the truth about you. You, dear Emerson, want a lot of things, don’t you?”

“How do you know my name?” It didn’t settle well in her stomach, the fact that a mere stranger knew such things about her. Such things she didn’t dare say aloud.

He stared at her again. “Didn’t we just go over this? Seriously, Emmy, this is getting rather boring rather fast.”

At the sound of her mother’s nickname, Emerson had an arrow nocked and aimed at the stranger so fast he didn’t even have the chance to blink. “Don’t. Call me that. Are we clear? I don’t know what game you’re playing, but I want no part of it.”

The stranger gave her a look, a look that Emerson swore meant Are you sure about that? and smiled. “You will.”

Then he vanished.

Emerson huffed, realizing that she had to go all the way back to the clearing to get the deer she shot, and her two arrows. She shoved her arrow back into her quiver and started to trek through the woods once again.

The man’s words echoed in her head, almost threateningly.

You will.

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