They scurry about, frantic and aimless, never realizing that it is the frenzy, the absolute panic that makes that so very vulnerable. It also happens to flavor them quite well, their fear and desperation a beautiful bouquet, some with sour notes of bitterness, others with sweet undertones of hope, even as they feel their life’s blood leaking away and their body grows cold. I particularly like them in those moments. All of us have our favorites, no different than anything that eats. Some like young ones, some prefer old, I prefer them at the height of their prime, youthful but strong and with just enough confidence to think they can survive. I care nothing for the ones too old to fight, and even less for those too young to know they should.
We always start The Hunt in the same fashion, no matter where we travel to. We start slowly and quietly, some of us not bothering to feed until The Feasting begins. Some wander into town like road worn ramblers, just blowing with the wind and looking for a place to lay their head, harmless as could be in appearance. Some can, in fact, blend with the shadows and never be seen unless we wish to. There are also those of us, many of us in fact, that are gifted with the ability to change our shape. The abilities vary greatly, some only able to change the color and texture of our hair, or shape and color of the eyes, or build. Others can change form to look like any human we have ever set eyes on, or even a mixture of features from each. A smaller number are able to change form so completely that we can appear as any animal we wish. We can move through these forms with great speed, and without any warning or fanfare. We all appear human at birth, though we are far from it and as we grow, fed from the remains of The Feasting, our talents develop and so does our need to hunt.
Humans have told stories throughout the ages amongst themselves about our kind, never quite coming close to having it all figured out. Those who understand the most are always dismissed as insane or fanatical, telling stories to anyone who will listen only to have their truths ignored or turned into myth or fairy tale. We are not Fae, though there are Fae who hunger in the same way we do. We are also not myth, but it serves us well to be known only as such. We live in a cycle of three stages, and the humans’ unwillingness to believe their brethren makes the third cycle that much safer for us. We Hunt, we Feast, and we Rest. The Resting is the time when we are at our weakest, if there is such a thing for my kind. The Feasting ends in a mass procreation, every one of us who is able joining with another to propagate our species. We bring some living spoils to our den for the young who are waiting to be fed so they might grow and Feast during the next cycle. Once they have eaten their fill, The Resting begins. We choose our most comfortable form and we lay in a torpor, allowing our body to absorb the needed sustenance, allowing our young to grow and those who are with child to gestate. When gestation is complete, we commence The Hunt once more. Our young are grown within three completions of these cycles, and it is the stretch of time between Feasting that has kept these ways largely secret.
Every Hunt requires us to travel, some moving like mist through the shadows of the forests, some flying on the wings of common barn owls, some on the backs of horses and others on their own four legs. I prefer flying, myself. Looking down at the land below, knowing it is ripe with food for me and my babies. So many babies over these hundreds of years that I have lost count. We can be killed, though it is not an easy thing to do. No wooden stake in the heart will do it, nor do we care for any sort of religious artifacts. Sunlight does nothing to us, though we do prefer to travel at night as we are nocturnal creatures. Falling from a great height has taken some of my young, as has decapitation and fire. Our limbs will regenerate if we lose them, though it will take a full cycle for them to do so. As I mentioned, humans have gotten some of it right over time. As they have evolved, so have we. Some things, though, have never changed. The way they go about their lives completely oblivious to their own fragility, convinced they are the superior species to any other on this planet. The way they furiously believe in their own ability to survive anything, going into the wild with predators and counting on their weapons to keep them safe. They live their lives as if nothing exists outside of themselves, blissfully ignoring the crow flying overhead, the beggar on the corner, the old woman selling flowers by the roadside. Even ignoring the shadows, never thinking for a moment that in that darkness hides their death.
When we have found our new den, settled the young and all gathered in our places in this new town, we await sundown. The sun sets blood red and we Feast. Ah, how they scream, some in fear, others in surprise. The disbelief in their eyes dissolves to terror and then to a horrified resignation, they see their death now and see it clearly. We Feast on their blood, yes, and deeply. But sweeter than even that is the taste of their pain. We drink it in just as we swallow the hot liquid spilling from their bodies out of each new hole we make in them. It is a slow, burning agony as they first run, then fight, then beg and plead and finally, deliciously, die. Even now, your sweet aroma flows on my tongue. I can taste your fear as it grows, your hope smothering under the weight of these revelations. Yes, my sweet, I have brought you to the den. You have been Hunted, you have witnessed The Feast, and now know what happens before The Resting. The young must eat, and you are a delicious morsel, seasoned well with horror, loss and torture. I think I would like to enjoy you bit by bit, from the bottom up of course, so as to allow you to live through most of it. But, alas, you are meant for another task.
I have grown weary, my sweet. The humans no longer challenge us, or make it interesting to Hunt. I, and my brethren, do not die unless killed, and that can mean a long, long, long life when we are so very hard to kill. I crave excitement, sweetling, and the only way to do that is to give the humans a fighting chance. Take this story, and make them believe it. Tell it to all who will listen, let them see the fear in your eyes. Not everyone will believe you, of course. But there will be some who do. It is those who do that will make life interesting again for us. Do this, and we will allow you to live your pathetic life. For now. Do it not, or do it with anything less than your best efforts and you will come back here. You will feed my children and their children, and we will not let you die until old age saves you from the torment. Go, now, and swiftly, young one. And mind the shadows, the owls and the strangers.