Chapter 1

The sound of water dripping had woken Rancet from her restless sleep, complete with all the nightmares the past had brought to her. She opened her eyes and found herself lying in their old, hard, wooden bed that belonged to her deceased grandmother. She was covered in darkness; the sun had not yet shown its blazing glory. She could only make shapes and silhouettes of the things in the room. A wooden dresser, a beat up cushion, pile of clothes in the corner, stack of books, the ceramic vases and other antiques were nothing but dark shadows.

Rancet tried to sit up only to find her white blanket tangled up all around her, making her sweaty, her hair pasted on her forehead and neck. Finally freeing herself, she rested her feet on the damp wooden floors. The roof is leaking again, she thought to herself. I'll ask Sven to fix that later.

She stood up and tried to find her way in the total darkness. If she were not used to all this clutter she would have tripped down and hurt herself - rags on the floor, plants hanging from the ceiling, jars of unknown powders and liquids, concoctions, even dried herbs are stacked up on tables and cabinets - but she was used to it. She was used to the darkness, no matter how little light there was or even if there was none.

After searching through all the bits and pieces of whatnot on the old mahogany table with her hands, she finally found the gas lamp. Lighting it on, she could clearly see how messy the room really was. It looked like as if a hurricane just passed through the room. How could we even live here?

Rancet, on the very moment, pushed the thought away. It's the only place we have, that's why. She reached for the bathroom door and let herself in. The gas lamp perfectly illuminated the bathroom. Though the entire house was a mess, the bathroom was pretty much clean and in order. Soaps and towels perfectly arranged on the wooden shelf just above the toilet. Although the tiled walls and floors were turning into a yellowy stain due to old age.

She set the gas lamp on the wooden shelf and reached for the sink beside it. Turning on the faucet and splashing her face with cold water, she turned to look at the old Victorian mirror in front of her. There she saw a girl, pale and ghostly in color, with black circles under her eyes. With her long black hair, almost to her hips, her pallor makes her look as if she's dying. Dying? Maybe that's better than this.

The sound of a creaky door opening snapped her out of her dark thoughts. Turning off the faucet, she dried her hands on the towel hanging behind the bathroom door. Hastily, she paced to the living room, which turned out to be the only room in the house, other than the bathroom, where they eat, sit, sleep, and entertain guests, though the last part does not usually happen.

She forgot the gas lamp in the bathroom but fortunately the sun was already rising, casting little illumination in the house. There she saw someone standing in front of the mahogany table searching through the endless clutter. The light given off by the sun was not enough for her to make out the features of the stranger in front of her. The gas lamp the stranger holds does not do any good either. She took a step forward to see if she can see the person better, instead she stepped on a leather bound book and tripped over. The stranger, startled, illuminated the very spot where she had landed.

"Rancet?" The voice was familiar; she'd know to whom it belonged to without seeing the face of its owner. "That's unusual of you to trip over something so mundane. You know if that happens while we're hunting, you'd be a satisfying meal for the demons."

"Demons don't —well flesh, they don't eat flesh, they feed on energies, Sven" She doubted herself even having said that. But now, she was just happy to see Sven back home safe. It had been a while since she last saw him, two weeks or so, and now he was back from Naemtar, the trade city of Nasra. Finally, I won't be alone again and I need not worry about him.

"Really?" Sven arched his brow then grinned lazily at her. "Tell me then, how many demons have you seen, met or even fought?"

The sun was rising fast enough which completely illuminated the whole house. Sven looked fine in the dark but now, his silver hair was damp and all messed up and there was dried blood in his left temple. There were also cuts in his forearms and blood had seemed to be dry there as well. There were dark circles under his eyes that made him look even paler and the electric blue of his eyes even more mesmerizing than ever. Sven looked like an angel, Rancet thought to herself, despite the fact that he was in black garb with the exception of the finger less silver gauntlet on his left hand.

Rancet need not to answer that question, both Sven and she knew that she was not that skilled when it came to demon hunting because she had not left Windsor her whole life, met only a couple of mindless demons and had not undergo any serious training. Furthermore, she excelled in the art of healing not the art of war.

The grin on Sven's face suddenly faltered as he was waiting for Rancet's conceited comeback regarding her demon hunting but only got a stare in return. "Rancet, are you okay? Look if I said something –"

"Yes," she said. Shame for herself suddenly surged through her. "I'm fine, I know I'm not as experienced as you are and –"

"That's not what I meant." He cut her words before things get worse between them. "I only want you to be more careful. I try to do my best to protect you but I cannot assure you that I'll always be there for you especially since Venator Noctis is pursuing Genova.

"What?" Rancet was shocked by what Sven had told her. "You mean, Venox is going to the capital and you're going too?" Delight of seeing Sven back had waned out of her knowing that he needs to leave again, this time surely in a span of months. She barely gets to spend time with Sven since he joined Venator Noctis when he turned fifteen and the feeling of neglect had been creeping on her since then.

Venator Noctis , which most people refer to as Venox, was a faction of humans, some half blooded – half human and half divine - who subdues demons and their demonic activities with the help of gramarye – divine gramarye, form of magic with the help of the gods and benevolent spirits. As hearsay spread that Malfas, the demon lord of Genova, was to be resurrected by the demons of Genova, Venox had been preventing the demons from doing so with the help of the other factions.

"They're calling everyone in with no exception." Sven told her looking at his boots clumped with mud due to the rain. His hands were in his pockets and he was shoeing the clutter on the floor away from him.

"When are you leaving?" Clearly disappointment was reflected on Rancet's voice. She was not worried about being left all alone. She was used to it since she was four, since their mother died. What she feared was that Sven might not return at all to her. Going to Genova was like saying I am fed up of living and nothing else mattered anymore, even this life of mine. It's suicide.

It took Sven a few seconds before he answered her, whispering, "Tomorrow."

With that said, all joy left in her finally turned into sadness and anger at the same time but she still tried masking it. It won't do me any good even if I scream at him and tear his hair out or cry and beg him not to go. "Is it okay if I come with you?" She already knew that Sven does not agree of her coming with him when he was on missions skirmishing greater demons but still she was hoping that Sven would see it fit to bring her along, she was not useless after all.

"You're much safer here." Sven said still not looking at her. "And it won't take that long."

"It would take months, Sven. What am I suppose to do then? This is it, it's my chance to prove myself that I'm worthy of being taken in by Venox." Rancet reasoned out hoping to persuade Sven on taking her along. If she came, she could help Sven and assure herself that he was safe and sound.

"But you're a healer not a knight or a swordsman, Rancet." Finally, Sven looked directly at her. In his eyes reflected worry and regret. The last time she saw that look in him was when Sven saw her in the woods, crying near the century old Village Tree. They had a fight before she ran off to the woods, spent the entire night there and was flushed with a fever the next morning. "Besides, occupy yourself and you won't notice I'm gone."

"Occupy myself?" Rancet almost gave a little laugh having said that. Keeping herself busy would not keep her from worrying about him. Crossing her arms on her chest she said, "And what do you suggest I keep myself busy with?"

"Your specialty of course." The worried look on Sven's face was replaced with a crooked smile that lighted up his whole face. Sven looks so out of place in this dark world of ours. He looks so ethereal unlike me. No wonder many girls in Windsor are fond of him.

Rancet was not surprised at hearing that. "Herbal concoctions and salves?" When she was not in the village center selling jams from the fruits that the trees near their house bears to eke out a living or practicing swordsman skills, she was making concoctions and herbal medicine for the people of Windsor to use especially for the Venator Noctis.

Rancet as quite known in Windsor as a healer – a half divine, a quarter to be exact, someone with holy blood. Aside from her medicinal herbs and whatnot, she could use divine gramarye. Few were blessed with divine gramarye with the exception of Aeterna – those who were purely holy blooded. As half-human, Rancet and her kind were considered impurities to the Aeterna, which would rather have the half-divine obliterated but fortunately had decided not due to an irrational reason.

"Well, you could make fruit jams too you know or go to the village center and find yourself a beau." Sven's crooked smile turned into a wide grin, that clearly showed his amusement in teasing Rancet about that matter.

"Sven!" Rancet was caught off guard and a sudden heat rushed to her face. Not knowing how to respond to that she said, "Clean yourself up, I'm going out to the village..and no, not to find some.." She shook her head and dashed through the front door banging it so loud that a glass inside their house shattered.

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