The Devil walks among us.
This ominous line was the first to predict the events that went down the next couple months. It lay hidden in a newspaper, beneath stories that were deemed more important than an old scientist's rambling. And later when it was finally found, the day of its release was declared as the start of the war.
They called it war. They had to, to keep despair at bay. In truth, humans across the world surrendered to the new regime in less than two hours, without a single drop of blood spilt.
That day, humanity fell from its reigning place, and in no time its glorious and bloody history was reduced to half-known legends and nursery rhymes.
That was the day of the Arcane uprising.
Chapter one – A mission fit for a fool
At nine in the evening I stepped out of our iron gates to start my patrol route in the city.
It was a typical Saturday night. The streets were full of young, drunk people moving in and out of clubs. As the doors opened loud music would spill out and mix into an endless noise. A drunk guy nearly bumped into me, but I easily dodged to right, leaving the slightly confused man behind. He soon forgot about me and went back to his business.
This was the party district of the Blackblood capital.
When the Arcane took over, the land previously known as America fell into the hands of a family of vampires known as Blackbloods. They are both ancient and influential, and they live only a couple miles north from here. Not the best neighbors to be had, that's for sure.
I took up some speed, wanting to get through the boring routine as quickly as possible. It was my eighteenth birthday today and that had some serious implications in my family. We were Hunters, or at least that's what our prey called us. In the official records we didn't exist, but we were more of an open secret than anything else. Everyone knew if they did something illegal, the big bad Hunters would catch them in their sleep. This wasn't true, since we are usually busy keeping the big fish from slitting each other's throats, but if the good and lawful citizens needed a boogeyman or vigilante to feel safe I say let them have it.
When a Hunter turned eighteen, they were officially allowed to start their training. (I say officially, because behind closed doors we start training as soon as we can hold a knife straight.) We also receive a formal badge from the kingdom, meaning we were allowed to do our job as Hunters. Not that I intend on ever showing it to anyone. It's considered to be a bad omen.
My daily routines of patrolling, studying and training are going to suddenly become way more interesting.
As everything in the city seemed to be in order, I headed back to our base.
As I stepped into my home, I felt a rush of excitement. I am going to receive my first real mission tonight. I swiftly kicked off my shoes and threw my coat on the hanger, then headed for the living room.
"Ava," my father called out to me. "Do you know why we gathered here tonight?"
I jokingly replied as I entered "To binge watch Bloodthirsty housewives seasons one through ten?"
"Close," he smiled at me.
The room was filled to the brim with people I knew. All of my friends and family came to celebrate my birthday – or to devour the delicious cake – and in the middle, stood the three governors of the apocalypse I call my life: mom, dad and sis.
Dad was the first one people normally noticed, with him being nearly seven feet tall and surrounded in an imposing aura. He is the leader of the local Hunters, and one of the three Pillars of Peace. He was wearing black leather clothes, the Hunters' typical work attire. His dark hair started to grow longer than his usual buzz cut, but these days he was too busy to cut it. That's what he told everyone at least. I think he just enjoyed the change. His strikingly green eyes were one of the features I'd really like to have inherited from him instead of my navy blue ones. Now they were full of pride. Lil' girl grew big, eh pop? Well, I do have big shoes to fill.
Mary-Anne, my older sister was standing on dad's right side, with an equally satisfied smile on her face. She wore her favorite green dress for the occasion, complementing her emerald eyes. Her fiery red hair wasn't in the usual ponytail, instead it flew all around her head in a bouncy bob as she moved in to embrace me.
"The lone wanderer returns once again." She hugged me a little longer than usual. "Anything interesting in the big city?"
"Nothing out of the ordinary," I replied. Then I continued in a hushed voice. "Please tell me you didn't let mom bake the cake."
Mom's a notoriously bad cook.
"Of course I didn't," she whispered back. "She was so ecstatic about shopping for the party she didn't even notice we went into a bakery until it was too late."
"My wicked-evil big sis, always getting what she wants."
"Don't tell me you're not happy," she winked at me while stepping back to dad's side.
I didn't have any time to prepare before mom launched herself at me, so I nearly fell over. She's tiny, especially compared to dad, but the intensity of her movements often caught us unawares.
"I don't want to let go of you! Ever!" Her face was burrowed in my shoulder, so I could barely hear her. We stayed in the embrace for what felt like a good minute. After that, she looked up at my face, husky blue eyes glistening with halted tears. "But I must, mustn't I?"
Dad stepped up to us, putting his hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry darling. Ava is a well-trained Hunter. Not many can stand in her way." He pulled mom back to his side, where she seemed to allow her tears to finally roll down her face.
"Don' worry ma'! I's big an' scary!" I slurred the words as I used to do back when I was a kid. People laughed around me. "And this big and scary girl needs something to do," I added.
Laughter quickly died down. When a Hunter goes on a mission, it could mean they never return. Sometimes the work takes much longer than expected, and sometimes they simply die. It was a part of the job, as was it a custom to send new Hunters on an important and secret mission. Mary-Anne did hers in about six months, which was half the allocated time. But she still won't give me any details. 'It's classified for a reason,' she'd answer every time.
Dad went back to his serious face. He gave mom a kiss on the top of her head. "Darling, would you take care of the guests? I am certain they are hungry."
"Yes, of course," she answered in a quiet but determined voice. She would never fail to make a party a success.
"Ava, Anne, follow me to my office."
Dad walked towards the back of the house, leaving us behind with his long stride. I looked at sis quizzically, but she did the same to me. It was strange to have a third party involved in a first mission. Just what the heck am I going to have to do?
We followed dad to his office. As with everything that he could call his in this house, it was minimalist. A desk, a chair for him, a couple others for guests. A computer. Two large filing cabinets on both sides, filled with various documents. White walls and simple wooden floor. I never understood how could he work in such a barren room.
We sat down in the guest chairs, waiting for the big reveal. The first mission is always decided by the three Pillars, so it should be nothing to sneeze at.
He also sat down, looking at us with a faint smile. "I never thought this day would come…" He shuffled a couple of papers around on his desk, searching. "My two little girls all grown up…" He finally pulled out a paper from the pile. His voice suddenly turned more serious. "Ava, are you ready for your first mission?"
"Yes, sir!" I answered.
Dad's face still had that strange smile as he finally revealed this new, dreaded assignment. "Avalynn Ferelith Krøth, you are going to be a student at the Blackblood Vampires' School."