MY FAITHFUL READERS: Thank you so much for your support. This novel is now published via Amazon as of 12/11/19. If you’d like to purchase a copy, please visit Amazon’s website or my own at www.StephaniDamato.com. Besides the prologue, all chapters (including its sequel--Between Iron and Ice) will be removed from Inkitt.
Follow this link to see it on Amazon! Available in paperback and Kindle e-book. shor
PROLOGUE—THIS IS WHERE IT BEGAN
I was eight years old when my mother threw a knife at me for the first time. I was tending the garden in the back yard of our log house. I’d always been fascinated with nature—probably because the property my family and I resided on was bordered by wilderness. I knew my mother was a Hunter, and although I was very young, my mom decided it was time to start teaching her daughters the tools of the trade. I hadn’t considered at that point what I wanted to be when I grew up—again, I was eight—but I so admired my mother’s strength, courage, and fearlessness that I realized from a young age I wanted to embody everything she stood for.
It was early morning and the sun’s rays were just escaping through the thicket of trees that shared an area with my makeshift, poorly-undertaken garden when I heard an object fly past me, about half a foot to my right. The object plunged into our home, and when I looked up to see what it was, I was met with a blade from the kitchen protruding from our house’s siding. Frightened, I ducked in case any more knives were to follow, stumbling over the roses I just attempted to plant, their petals plucked from their stems and trampled into the dirt.
That’s when I saw my mom smirking at me, one hand on her hip, across the yard. She was holding another knife in her hand, poised a little too casually for the deadly object she tossed in the air and caught, the serrated blade glistening in the sunlight. I opened my mouth to ask her what she was doing but all that managed to escape was a squeak. She laughed and trotted over to me, lifting me up under my arms and steadying me so that our eyes met.
“You always have to be ready for an attack. There are creatures out there who wish to bring you harm. Do you understand?”
Her voice was so gentle and assuring that I nodded even though I didn’t quite know what she was talking about to any extent. I had heard her mention these “creatures” before to my dad, usually in the privacy of his office—vampires, werewolves, Faeries, witches—but until then, all they were to me were words. Strange, mysterious beasts that came out at night, or more disturbing, walked with humans during the day, undetected. I couldn’t understand at that age why these creatures, who had never met me, would want to hurt me, and all my mother replied was, “For a long time, men and women were at the top of the food chain, with no natural predators. Now, it isn’t that way. I’m still waiting on God to give us some kind of answer, but it looks like I must be on the waiting list.”
Basically, what my mom believed is that God had created these monstrosities in order to keep the circle of life in motion; however, it’s always been difficult for me to believe that God had anything to do with this. Overpopulation had threatened our world more than once before, and ever since these creatures began to reveal themselves, or were discovered by supernatural investigators, they felt threatened and therefore retaliated. Not many of them are fearful of humans, which is why the government created a specialized ranking of police officers—the Hunters. Other countries besides the Untied States were quick to follow suit, setting up Academies all around the globe: ARSC—the Academy for the Removal of Supernatural Creatures. My mom was fiercely dedicated to what she did—she joined the Academy the year it opened in 2050 when she was 25 years old.
My mom had always spoken highly of her training there, my dad not so much.
He supported my mother in her ventures, of course, but sometimes it was hard for him to stand idly by while his wife and the mother of his children risked her life daily in order to protect the people of our town. I saw it as a selfless act of bravery, but at times it seemed all my dad deemed it was foolish and unnecessary. While I saw her as a superhero, cape and all, he saw a moving target, bull’s-eye and all. Mom forced him into private lessons with her on self-preservation and basic facts about the most dangerous creatures. He gladly accepted this training since my mom wanted it so desperately, but his eyes always held a hint of exhaustion—worn out from years of worry. I often overheard him asking, “Why must we live in a world where my daughters’ safety isn’t guaranteed?” To which my mom usually countered, “It doesn’t matter what world you live in, no one is ever truly safe.”
She had a point.
Ever since that day I knew how to respond to an attack. Mom liked to stage various scenarios and I would have to rely on my training and instinct to decide how I should handle the situation. Being quick and calculated was not something I excelled at—Mom did, and even my little sister Jamie too, for that matter—and so on many occasions Mom would come up behind me, pretend to gnaw on my neck, and say, “I bit you. You’re dead.” Following that, I usually made a dramatic show about falling to the floor, dying. Contrariwise, she would pretend to bite me and say, “I injected my venom into you. You are now a child of the night!” To which I would use my index fingers as fangs and chase Jamie around the house, her squealing and laughing in delight.
But all in all, it was no joke. Our family found this out quicker than most.
When one of Mom’s coworkers, Officer Sutter, knocked on our door around nine o’ clock one September night—two days after I turned twelve—my dad fell to the floor before he could even utter a word.
The Unseelie Faeries had found her. They had killed her.
Mom was dead.
I remember my mind racing—how could this happen? Mom knew everything there was to know about all Faeries, both Seelie (“silly” or “benevolent”) and Unseelie (“unholy” or “malevolent”). She knew their hiding places. She knew the kinds of things that they liked and things that they didn’t like. But most of all, she knew to never go in search of one. Faeries valued their privacy, so any trespasser would not be treated kindly. But Mom knew that.
For the next six years Dad shut himself in his office, slamming books into walls in the late hours of the night. Jamie suffered from panic attacks and began seeing a therapist for anger management and abandonment issues. As for myself, I was left to gradually glue all of the pieces of a broken family back together, unsuccessfully.
Which leads us to today.
My parents were cryptozoologists. The term “cryptozoology” refers to the study of “hidden animals.” Although most of these “animals” prefer to stay hidden, nowadays you’re more likely to find a werewolf in your backyard than ever before. Even fairies can be found more easily than in the past, tending gardens and frolicking in earthy places like groves, woodlands, and streams. All of these creatures that society has confirmed aren’t all bad—a lot of them mean no harm to us. However, it was strictly the dangerous ones that my mom dedicated her life to learning about and destroying, which ultimately cost her her life.
I’m not using the past tense “were” solely because my mother isn’t around anymore. My dad swore off caring about the work he and Mom dedicated a good portion of their life to. I never thought he was as interested as Mom anyway, but it saddened me that he suddenly deemed everything my mom stood for as superfluous and didn’t think any possible outcome could warrant the risk that Hunters put themselves in by choosing their profession. Any time I mention anything having to do with he and Mom’s previous supernatural exploration, a reproving expression plagues his face, signaling the end of the conversation.
The claim that vampires existed was unsubstantiated up until recent history. Cryptozoologists had been studying cold cases thought to be the result of vampiric activity throughout the ages, compiling evidence before professionals verified the existence of vampires in 2027. They gathered extensive research including photos and even videos, and this rallied the support of many, but seldom convinced the masses, because no matter how much proof is viable, there will always be the outspoken skeptics refusing what’s right in front of them.
That is, until a vampire was caught.
Authorities and scientists subdued the creature through a variety of experiments and observations—a lot of poking and prodding—and when they were finished, deemed themselves unable to “lawfully release the monster back into the world due to fear of retaliation.” Personally, I think the clan would want to retaliate regardless of whether the vampire was returned or not. Therefore, they found it humane and necessary to stake, decapitate, and set it aflame: the only means of destroying immortal vampires, all conducted simultaneously, just to be cautious. I can’t say I disagree with their methods, but the images published in Supernatural Science Weekly were certainly graphic and not appropriate for the faint of heart. I guess nowadays in this country, not much is for the faint of heart, despite the Hunter’s efforts to maintain public safety.
It didn’t take the clan long to find the people responsible and exact their definition of justice (hanging the men upside down in a tree and slicing their throats, making for a slow and unsavory death).
Vampires were only the beginning.
Supernatural Science Weekly—a magazine that combines science and supernaturalism—published its first copy in 2025. Their first claim was that vampires existed and the majority of the articles focused on past cases that were never solved. It included eye witnesses, personal accounts of attacks, and various images taken by both professional and amateur photographers. In the years to follow, investigators all around the globe began investing in the search for other creatures of myths and legends that people heeded as imaginary up until that point. Their time and money paid off—the next creature to be discovered was the werewolf, followed by fairies, then witches and warlocks. One of the most recent discoveries were Faeries, which differ greatly from the winged, more benevolent fairies that frolic through flower beds.
Faeries are able to enact Glamour upon their bodies, making it difficult to recognize one as a supernatural creature since Glamour can make them appear human. Naturally, Faeries have a tint of color to their skin and earth-like features like flowers or leaves flourishing on their body. They have control of various elements pertaining to a certain season. Their ears are slightly pointed which is where their resemblance to fairies ends. To this day, however, a lot about the Fae remain unknown. We uncovered the fact that there are two courts—Seelie and Unseelie—and although the Unseelie have been infiltrated before, not many live from an encounter with one, and the Seelie keep themselves well-hidden. Not many reports of encountering a Seelie Faerie have been confirmed.
Hunters, supernatural investigators, and cryptozoologists alike have yet to exhaust their efforts in learning more—it’s for our safety. Or so they say. According to them, we are in more danger the longer we turn a blind eye. Some assure that everyone can live in harmony together, but others fervently denounce those claims.
I’m excited to begin at the Academy—the place that will allow me to pursue my passion for protecting and defending. A place that will provide me the tools necessary to not only keep my mom’s legacy alive, but to make something of myself as well. To be the Hunter I’ve wanted to be since I dodged my mom’s knives. Since I mourned the death of a third-grade classmate who died at the hands of a werewolf. Since I watched two sirens take down a whole ship of men on the news. I have a lot to learn and I feel humbled that I have the chance to work alongside Hunters and academics who dedicate their lives to protecting us from the malevolent creatures that haunt our doorsteps, back yards, and subconscious.
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