When I awaken the next morning, my neck is throbbing dully and tinges as I stretch it out. When I stand it throbs again, perhaps I slept on it wrong?
I find Adrian in the kitchen, cooking pancakes with a smile on his lips that is innocent and quite beautiful.
“Good morning,” he chimes happily as I sit at the breakfast bar.
Adrian serves me pancakes and blueberries, he has syrups and spreads laid out for my selection.
“Did your hunt go well?” I ask, curious about his light mood.
“No,” he says, though he keeps a positive composure about it, “Unfortunately not.”
“I’m sorry,” I say, letting those words fall out of my mouth without thinking.
Adrian shrugs his shoulders, he then sits with me and watches as I eat.
“I want to talk to you about something,” he says, just as I’ve taken my first bite of food, “about yesterday.”
“I’m sorry for leaving without telling you,” I say, afraid that he may become annoyed again.
“No,” he says, taking my hand in his, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry because I overreacted, you are safe here, and I trust you to keep yourself safe.”
His whole tone has changed from the way he was speaking yesterday, he is sympathetic and truly sorry for how he handled things yesterday.
“If you want to go out, then I won’t stop you,” he says, he then presses a key into the palm of my hand and smiles, “So you can let yourself back in. And... in case of emergencies, I’ve downloaded an emergency beacon onto your phone, so if you are in trouble, all you have to do is press a button and I or another hunter, will be there. And in addition to that...”
Adrian whistles and Max comes bounding through the apartment. My heart races in excitement as I kneel down and wrap my arms around the dog’s neck.
“He missed you,” Adrian says, “he refused training and was constantly escaping. So he is retired from the institute and now belongs solely to you.”
Tears brim my eyes as Max licks at my cheek, his tail wagging uncontrollably.
“Thank you,” I say, looking up to Adrian with a smile so big it hurts.
Adrian places his hand on my shoulder reassuringly, his face light with pride and happiness.
That day, Adrian and I explore the city and the nearby towns. We discover unbelievable sights. We drive up a mountain and sit for a moment, staring out over the city that bursts with life. Afterwards we find ourselves in a small town seemingly surrounding an impressive water fountain with a marble swan at its center.
We walk through a small farmer’s market, finding unique things and fresh food. The entire atmosphere and surreal beauty is something quite indescribable.
As we drive back to the city, Adrian informs me that we will be having dinner with Stella tonight.
“You’re boss?” I ask and he nods his head once, “Does she often have dinners with her employees?”
“She is a little more than my boss,” he says, “She adopted me from Italy, raised me as her own. She’s like a mother to me.”
The rest of the car ride is mostly silent, save for the soft music humming from the speakers.
When we arrive at Stella’s home, Adrian walks in without knocking, instead, he calls out to Stella that we’re here.
“I’m in the kitchen, love,” Stella answers, and we follow the mouth-watering smell of roasting meat.
“I brought wine,” Adrian says, placing the bottle on the kitchen bench.
When Stella turns around, her eyes immediately find me and widen in shock.
“Crina,” she breathes, her face paling as she drops the pot she’s holding.
Adrian rushes to his adoptive mother’s side, taking her hand and asking if she is ok.
“You look so much like her,” Stella whispers, moving closer to me with eyes haunted by the past.
“Who?” Adrian asks.
“Her mother,” Stella answers, I take a step back away from the woman with the scarred face.
“How do you know my mother?” I ask, wanting to keep my personal space uninterrupted.
“Crina was my sister,” Stella says, her voice soft and shaking ever so slightly.
“My mother’s name was Emilia,” I correct.
Stella just stares at me, tears brim her eyes and she covers her mouth with her hand.
“She disappeared so long ago,” Stella says, “she would’ve been pregnant with you when she left.”
“I think you have the wrong person.”
“Look,” Stella says, pointing over my shoulder.
I turn, and there, hanging on the wall in a framed photograph, is my mother; much younger than I remember.
I step towards the photograph, I’ve seen the exact same one in our home, she stands with her parent’s, smiling while dressed in a pretty blue dress.
“It was her seventeenth birthday,” Stella says, standing behind me, “We went out to see her favourite opera at the theatre.”
Dinner is awkward, Stella talks the whole night about my mother, and afterwards, she brings out multiple albums filled with pictures of my mother and her family.
While Rowy sits with Stella, I stand in the kitchen, cleaning the dishes, looking up every so often to glance at the photograph on Stella’s wall.
I’ve seen that picture at least a hundred times before, I grew up in this house and it has always been there; so why is it only now that I see the similarities between the photo and Rowy? The woman in the picture could be Rowaelin’s twin.
“Does this mean you know who her father is?” I ask from the kitchen as I wipe my hands and walk into the dining room.
Rowaelin looks to me, then she looks to Stella; her eyes wide and expecting.
“...I may,” Stella says, she purses her lips and then flips to the back of the album she holds.
Suddenly the pictures are of one event, of Crina’s wedding to a legendary hunter.
The couple couldn’t be older than twenty in the photographs. Rowaelin’s mother is stunning in her white dress, and I cannot help but imagine Rowy in a wedding dress.
“Him?” Rowaelin says, her eyebrows pinch in a frown as she looks at the man so dashingly dressed in his suit.
“His name is Sorin,” Stella says, but I already knew that, “He is someplace in Russia currently, I’ll write to him and see if we could arrange a meeting.”
Sorin is the most legendary hunter to ever walk the earth, with over a thousand kills under his belt, he is my hero, the person I aspire to be.
“Why did she leave?” Rowaelin asks, her eyes never leaving the picture in front of her.
Stella doesn’t answer right away, she sits back and crosses one leg over the other.
“A hunt went wrong,” Stella says, her eyes become dark and her shoulders are tense, “It’s the hunt where I got this-” Stella gestures to her scarred face.
I lean on my knees and my interest is piqued, Stella has never told me the full story of her scars; she has always just referred to it as ‘a hunt gone wrong’.
“I was close on the king’s trail,” Stella says, finally gaining Rowaelin’s full attention, “my family and I set a trap, one meant to ensnare the king. But instead we were trapped, set upon by vampires. When the fight cleared, Crina was gone, the only thing left of her was blood, too much blood for her to have survived.”
“Why didn’t she come back?” I ask, confused as to why a huntress would abandon her family.
“Crina was not too fond of hunting,” Stella answers, “she had deluded thoughts that vampires and humans could coexist, she was a talented hunter, with convoluted dreams.”
Stella doesn’t see Rowaelin’s face as she pulls up her nose at Stella’s remark.
“When she fled, she must have been pregnant with you,” Stella says, she wipes a single tear off her cheek hastily.
Rowaelin is silent, her mind turning over and over again. When we leave, Stella lets Rowy take a couple photo albums with us.
As I drive back to the apartment, Rowaelin remains silent, her hands firmly grasped together in her lap, no doubt she is star-struck at the possibility of meeting her father.
“What are you thinking about?” I ask as Rowy and I return to the apartment with Max eagerly waiting, “You’ve hardly said a thing.”
Rowaelin shrugs her shoulders and then wrings her hands together.
“Talk to me,” I beg, taking her hands in mine.
Rowy bites her lip, she shakes her head once and tears well in her eyes as she tries to keep up a mask of strength and indifference.
But slowly, her mask cracks and her tears start to fall, causing her bottom lip to tremble.
“If my parents were both hunters,” she starts, “Why was I taken? Why was I kept for so many years? Why didn’t they come for me?”
“I’m sure they did everything in their power to get you back,” I say, trying to comfort her as I pull her close.
“No,” she whimpers, shivering as I wrap my arms around her, “don’t touch me.”
“It will be alright,” I say, stroking her golden hair, “you’re safe now.”
“Don’t,” she snarls.
In a complete turn, Rowaelin but’s her hands to my chest and pushes back.
“I don’t want to be touched,” she says, showing anger for the first time since I’ve known her.
Max, from his place by her side, growls a low warning, his eyes pinned on me, as if I were a threat to Rowy. Should Rowy become more enraged, Max May be persuaded to attack.
“Ok,” I say, holing my hands up in surrender, “I’m sorry, Rowy, tell me what I can do to help.”
“Just leave me alone,” she says, her tears falling like rain.
“I don’t think that that’s the right thing to do right now,” I say, clearly seeing the pain written all over Rowaelin’s face.
“I was eleven when they took me,” she snarls, “for seven years I was kept from the light, for seven years they fed off me, they fucked me as if I was some piece of meat. I was fucked before I even knew what it was! I can never escape that; my body will forever echo with their touch. I can’t even close my eyes without seeing the hundreds of faces that smiled at me while greedily stealing my childhood and innocence. And it’s all because I was some hunters’ daughter... it’s not fair!”
Rowaelin is hurt, she’s lost in her anger, her hands clench at her side her nails undoubtedly biting into her palm. I want to hold her and promise to protect her, she’s so scared and confused.“Why didn’t they come for me?” Rowaelin asks, her voice quavering as her eyes become bloodshot, “Why did I have to wait for you? Why didn’t they care about me?”
“I cannot speak for your father,” I start, taking a cautionary step forward, “but I know that your mother did everything in her power to find you. Your mother loved you, and she never gave up. And you’re here now, you’re safe.”
“What’s to stop them taking me again?” She asks, her voice trembling in fear.
“I am,” I say decisively, “Row, I promise you, I will not let them take you, I will protect you until my dying breath. You are safe with me.”
When I step closer to her, Max doesn’t object, I take her in my arms again and this time she does not fight me. She cries into my chest, the pain of her past taking through her as she mourns the loss of her childhood.