Hunter

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41. How to Be Reborn


A yell of surprise escaped me as Thomas’ chest heaved up, gulping in air, his eyes flying open. Cedric must have closed them without my noticing.

“Thomas!” Hope rushed through me. He was still alive! I moved to hug him, but Cedric pulled me away, Thomas sliding off my lap and onto the sidewalk. Cedric sprang to his feet, yanking me up along with him. I cast him a sharp glare. “What was that for?”

He said nothing, his expression cold, horrified. He nodded in Thomas’ direction, biting his lip. I followed his gaze, squinting as my eyes tried to adjust to the dark, moonless night. To help, Cedric flicked on the flashlight he must have brought with him, shining it in the direction of our little brother.

Thomas recoiled from the light, and I blanched at what I saw.

It looked like him, all right. Same dark hair, same dark blue eyes. He still looked like a younger version of Dad, like a more masculine version of me. But the way he held himself, coiled like a snake preparing to attack its prey? His every muscle tensed, as though he was about to burst into action at a moment’s notice? That was new.

Oh, and the fangs that pierced his bottom lip, sending a thin trickle of blood dripping down his chin. I was pretty certain those hadn’t been there before.

“Thomas?” I took a cautious step forward, pausing as Cedric’s arm tightened around my wrist. He tilted his head, utterly silent. In the dead of night, in one of the more quiet parts of the city, you could hear the blood from his lip hitting the pavement. He didn’t seem to notice. “Thomas, are you - ”

“Reese,” Cedric’s voice was still calm, and eerie calm, one that spoke of approaching danger. “That’s not Thomas.”

But wasn’t it? He still looked like my brother. I was sure that if he spoke, he still sounded like my brother. I wrenched my hand out of Cedric’s grip and took another step closer. Thomas tracked the movement, looking curious. It was more of an animalistic curiosity, though, and something clicked inside of my head. Slowly, I met his eyes, my heart sinking at what I saw in there.

Hunger. Pure, wild, unrestrained hunger. His pupils were blown wide, staring at me like I was a juicy piece of steak or a cinnamon roll from Cinnabon or something. There was no recognition there. It was like he didn’t know who I was.

Still, I had to do something. I couldn’t just leave him out here - he was family, after all, and we were supposed to protect one another. Keep one another safe.

I’d already failed at that task twice. I would not fail again.

I held up my hands, showing that I held no weapon, no stake, nothing that could kill a vampire. I had a second stake stashed away in my hoodie, but I made no move to pull it out, for fear that I would spook him. “Thomas?” I spoke quietly, like I was talking to a wild animal. “It’s me, Reese. Your big sister. Listen, we’re going to help you, okay? You’re still the same - ”

“No.” Cedric cut me off, grabbing my wrist to prevent me from going any further. “Reese, he’s not Thomas anymore. Look at him.”

I was. I couldn’t stop looking at him. But no matter how much I tried to heed his words, I just kept looking past the fangs and the cut lip and the dribbling blood, seeing only Thomas. Tommy. My baby brother.

He spoke then.

“Reese?” His voice sounded funny through the fangs. It was almost like he was speaking with a lisp. “Reese, I’m so hungry.”

“I know,” I murmured, despite Cedric muttering his concerns. “We’ll go back to the safe house and - ”

“I’m hungry, Reese. I need to eat.”

I tried to move closer to him. To embrace him. To protect him. His eyes bore into mine, the pupils turning a bright red, the blue irises appearing to dance around. A red light flashed across my vision.

“Can you help me, Reese? I just need a bite. I’ll be careful, I promise.”

The earnestness and misery in his voice broke my heart. What had I done to him? What did I let him become? He was just a kid, only fourteen. The least I could do was help him, right?

I wanted to help him. I needed to help him. I lurched forward, escaping Cedric’s grasp once again.

“Of course,” I crooned. “Of course I’ll help you, Tommy.”

He closed his eyes, inhaling sharply. “Thank you,” he breathed.

Then he sprang.

A force knocked me aside, sending me careening across the pavement. My pants ripped and my skin scraped against the ground sending a stinging pain coursing through me. I glanced up sharply, wondering what had just happened.

I froze.

Cedric had moved into action, pushing me out of the path of Thomas’ deadly fangs. My next breath caught in my throat as the leporem faded away. I’d been enchanted. By my own brother. And now Cedric was paying the price.

My older brother had taken my place, fangs piercing into the neck that should have been mine. Thomas attacked with an eager frenzy, ripping into the skin without a care in the world. Blood sprayed, splattering across them, the ground, me. I could taste it in my mouth, smell it in the air, the sickening smell of rust and salt.

By the time I regained my footing, a stake already in my hand, it was over.

Thomas shoved Cedric away, the latter falling to the ground with a dull thud. He didn’t move again. A giant chunk of skin was gone from his neck, blood flowing slowly from the wound, spreading in a thick red puddle around him. I screamed, and Thomas’ attention fell upon me.

It wasn’t Thomas, though. Thomas would never do that. Thomas would never hurt anybody, let alone his family. Thomas died in my arms, just mere minutes ago, from a vampire attack.

What rose in his place was no longer my brother. It was a thing, a leech, a parasite. A vampire.

Cedric’s blood stained its chin and shirt, and it tilted its head, eyeing me carefully. It looked down at Cedric’s body and let out a shrill wail.

“No!” it exclaimed. “No! Reese, please, help me! I’m still so hungry.”

What had been a voice of heartbreaking misery and pain before became monotone and emotionless. It was a new vampire, a shell of its previous self, and its humanity wouldn’t return for years. It didn’t care. It had no feelings.

My hand tightened around the stake. A voice rose up in my head, unfamiliar, and yet I trusted its advice.

Kill. Kill. Kill.

But it still looked like my beloved brother. It still sounded like him. Underneath all of that blood, it probably still smelled like him, too.

Kill. Kill. Kill.

I shut off the bothersome emotions. It was a vampire, nothing more, nothing less. It was a supernatural being. A vampire killed my mother. A vampire killed Thomas. A vampire killed Cedric. They were all the same, driven by bloodlust. This imposter pretending to be my brother was no different.

The stake acted like it had a mind of its own, flying out of my hand and sinking deep into Thomas’ chest.

He was a new vampire, just minutes old. Because of this, he didn’t disintegrate. He lay on the pavement, his body slumped over Cedric’s, their blood mingling together.

***

Elijah’s eyes were wide with surprise. He let out a sharp gasp, his eyes flashing down to where the silver dagger protruded from his heart. He glanced back up at me, fear clouding his vision.

He slumped over, collapsing onto the ground. He was dead within seconds.

I eyed his body coldly for a few moments more, my hand red with his blood, before the worst pain I’d ever felt crashed over me, flooding my mind, body, and soul until I was barely aware of anything else around me.

Ah. So this is why we don’t want our mates to die.

It felt like my soul was being forcibly cleaved from my chest with a dull knife, the pain prolonged and growing more and more agonizing by the second. I cried out, a loud sob forcing its way up my throat, escaping from my mouth. I couldn’t be bothered to force it down.

It hurt, this pain. Far more than I would have expected from the death of somebody I hated. Still, I found myself draped over his body, an instinct drilled into me from that stupid mate bond.

Speaking of, the mark on my neck was burning.

Seriously, it was burning. My hands clawed at it, trying to scrape it from my skin, but the fire only grew more and more intense. White-hot pain cut through me, cutting through my emotional torment, briefly giving me a reprieve from mourning over the one person I wanted dead more than anything in the world.

A hand pressed against my shoulder, a comforting presence. I glanced up, spotting Rebecca through the haziness of my thoughts. Tears were streaming down her face. Why?

Right. Elijah was her brother. She dropped to her knees next to me, wrapping her arms around me. I didn’t move. I was frozen. I was in agony. I would never move again. I didn’t want to move again.

“Reese,” her voice was dim, faded like I was hearing it from down a long tunnel. It grew fainter as the pain grew stronger, slicing into me, stabbing me like nails. My very essence was bleeding out. I could feel it. “Why would you do that? Why would you sacrifice yourself like that?”

I didn’t know. Why would anybody wish this upon themselves? Not even a well-known interrogator with a reputation for ripping out eyeballs would have been able to inflict this kind of pain. Hell, even Elijah wouldn’t be able to create a feeling of this magnitude.

Well, his death could, I guess.

“It hurts,” I heard myself whimpering. “Make it stop, please.”

I couldn’t take much more of this. The agony rose to a crescendo, overtaking everything sense, every fiber of my being. I could no longer hear Rebecca’s voice. I could no longer see his body, lifeless on the floor, my dagger covered with his blood. I was no longer aware of where I was.

Was this to be my life, drifting in an endless pool of misery and pain? Unable to have a sense of self, a reason to keep going? Unable to move, unable to speak, unable to ask somebody to just end it for me.

Please, please, please, make it stop. Please.

The air became stifling. It seared down my throat as I shakily inhaled, a pure reflex now. Why did I care if I lived or died? Why would I care about something trivial as breathing?

I needed it to end. Please.

I couldn’t live like this. Please.

I had to find a way out. Please.

I had to speak to somebody. Make it stop.

Tell them to end it. Please.

End me. It hurts.

The air boiled. Electricity simmered. My magic erupted and blew out of me. I became a hurricane of pain, the wind picking it up and slamming it into the far reaches of the city. Away from me.

Far, far away.

I came back to myself.

The room was back where it was, though it was in a bit more disarray than I remembered. People were everywhere, scattered across the room like paper put in front of a fan. I guess in this case, I was the fan.

Rebecca was a few meters away now, her hair in a messy halo around her head. She still managed to look good, the werewolf-Barbie.

“Reese?” She eyes me curiously, warily. “Are you...?”

It was gone. The pain. Well, mostly. A hint of it still lingered, more of a relenting sadness than anything, the kind of grief one would feel after losing a relative. It was a type of grief I knew well. But the pain no longer consumed me. It was manageable. My neck no longer burned, either. I brushed a hand against the mark, pushing my hair back. Rebecca gasped.

“Your mark. It’s... gone?”

I frowned. Was it? Perhaps that explained why the grief I felt was nowhere near as powerful as what it had been just moments ago. My magic must have reversed the mating process. Erased the mark. Without it, my emotions concerning him weren’t as powerful.

If you’ve met the mate, but have yet to complete the bond, their death feels more like the passing of a close friend or family member; it’s upsetting, can often cause deep depression, and takes time to process. These wolves are also free to form other relationships but are often haunted by the death of their mate.

Well, thank fuck. I never thought I’d be grateful to be part-witch, and yet, here we are.

I glanced at Elijah’s body, at the bloody dagger sticking out of his chest. His eyes were still open, glazed over, the expression of shock and fear he’d died with frozen onto his face. He looked better dead than he was alive. A thrill of satisfaction momentarily pushed through the grief, and I yanked the dagger free. Blood dripped from the blade. His blood. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I turned to Rebecca. “Looks like you’re the Alpha now.”

She blinked. “I - what?”

Twisting, I turned to face the rest of the pack. They were standing frozen, their gazes trained on Elijah’s body. Evangeline was the only one who was looking at me. She grinned.

“Elijah Randon is dead!” she announced. Those closest to her jumped in surprise at her voice, spinning to glare at her. She had a bit too much glee in her voice, especially since it was her cousin who just died. Oh, well. Evangeline never did things half-heartedly. “As his only living relative, Rebecca Randon is to take his place!”

“What?” Keith’s voice rose out of the ensuing silence. “Rebecca? As our Alpha? Don’t be ridiculous, Evan. She’s a female. Women can’t lead!”

“Oh, shut it,” Rebecca snapped. Keith’s jaw slammed shut with an audible noise.

Well, I guess that settled that. Rebecca being able to order Keith around like that just showed that the lycanthrope was the proper Alpha.

I was a bit disappointed. I wanted this to be a bit more climatic.

“Right,” Evangeline set her hands on her hips, examining the rest of the group. “Any more objections?”

Silence.

After a slight pause, Evangeline nodded to herself, then flashed Rebecca a thumbs-up.

Rebecca rose to her feet, her shoulders straightening, her confidence rising. It was a sight to behold, watching the power of an Alpha flood into her, filling her spirit. Trust me, it was better to see in person to get the full effect.

She swept her emerald gaze across the pack, challenging them. There were no further objections to her claim. Satisfied, she swung around to the vampires, who had watched the entire proceeding quietly, not a word escaping from any of them. She stepped forward, tilting her head.

“Right, Christian. I proposed a plan. You expressed interest. I have terms. The city is to be divided into equal parts. No more petty bickering and violence between our two species; we’re grown-ups, and I think we’re old enough to act like it. And from now on, everybody is equal; no abducting humans off the streets, no manipulating them into becoming Blood Bags. If you’re hungry, perhaps try drinking from actual blood bags, often found in hospitals. You say your species welcomes change. Well, here it is.”

He watched her carefully as the corner of her mouth rose up into a smirk. She held out her hand, an offering.

“Well, Christian? Do we have a deal?”

***

I sobbed for what felt like hours. In reality, it was probably only a few minutes.

They were dead. All of them. I was alone. What was I to do now?

I never wanted to move again. Even as their blood seeped into my clothes, I didn’t think I could move.

The grief ate at me, hard and unyielding as the full force of what I’d done slammed into me.

I’d just killed Thomas. My brother. I’d just ended his life without batting an eye. What if he had been genuine? What if killing Cedric had been an accident? What if he really needed my help?

He was crying out for me, begging me to help him, and I killed him instead. I turned on him. Betrayed him.

They were all dead. Everybody.

It was all my fault.

“Excuse me?”

A voice from beside me. A woman’s. She was middle-aged, about the age Dad would have been now. She eyed me warily, though the sight of bodies on the sidewalk was a normal occurrence nowadays. She barely batted an eye at them.

My gaze swept over Cedric’s body. A glint of silver appeared in the inside pocket of his jacket. I reached into it, pulling out none other than Dad’s old silver dagger.

I still didn’t remember much from that day. I remembered blood. Death. Cedric taking this dagger from Dad. I remembered the promise I’d made to Elijah Randon, only two years ago.

One day, I will find you, and I will make you regret it. I promise you that.

I straightened, the dagger in my hand. I was wrong. It wasn’t my fault. The deaths of Dad and Mom, Cedric and Thomas... none of it was my fault.

It was his.

“Are you all right, child?”

A fury broke through me, and my knuckles turned white as I clenched the hilt more tightly. I had failed to protect my family, yes. That part was on me. But the circumstances were not my fault.

He killed Dad. He killed the last Hunter, allowing supernatural beings to roam free, to do what they pleased.

Because of him, a vampire killed Mom.

Because of him, a vampire turned and killed Thomas.

Because of him, Thomas killed Cedric.

Because of him, I was forced to kill Thomas.

I turned to the woman, plastering a smile across my face. “I’m perfectly all right, thank you.”

She frowned. “Who are you?”

I twisted, glancing back down at my brothers. They were dead. Their blood pooled together, uniting them even in death. As I stared at them, two boys with matching brown hair and blue eyes, I knew it in my heart then:

Reese Hearne was dead, too.

She died here with them, tonight.

I raised the dagger and sliced it across my palm. Blood spilled out, dropping into the puddle, mixing my blood with theirs.

My blood had been spilled tonight, too.

But there was still the question from the woman, one that echoed through my head, demanding an answer.

Who was I?

I stared at the dagger, the blade wet and glistening with my blood, and it came to me.

“Who I was doesn’t matter,” I said, my gaze trained behind me, in the direction we’d all come from. It was all in the past now, but that didn’t matter to me. I needed the past. I needed it to fuel me for what came next.

“Do you have a name?” The woman asked.

I eyed her curiously, wondering why that was of any importance. “I am the Hunter,” I said. “And I will free you all.”

I stood and turned, walking away, walking into the shadows, succumbing to my anger.

He did this. He broke my family apart. He shattered my life.

So I would do the same to him.

And eye for an eye, after all.

If it was the last thing I did, I would kill Elijah Randon.

The light from a nearby streetlight flashed off the silver dagger, and then all was dark.


THE END


A/N: Never fear, my lovelies, there WILL be a sequel to Hunter! I’m aware some of you won’t be happy with how this ended, but it was necessary for the plot (also, I did NOT like Elijah).

The sequel will start a few weeks/months after Hunter ends and will be from Rebecca’s perspective!

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