The Pădurea Hoia, or Hoia forest for english speakers, is one of those place famous for one thing; alleged supernatural phenomena which brought its share of people wanting to meet the supernatural. Unlike most of those supernatural hotspots, the pădurea wasn’t a friendly one.
And supernatural meant idiot tourists and clueless children messing where they shouldn’t have been. The world might have held wonders; aliens and people with powers beyond human nature, yet people still yearned for the supernatural. And the supernatural yearned for them in return… As food.
So Mama and I patrolled the forest and surrounding lands to cleanse evil from it, which had been our family’s duty for centuries.
The sun was already set when I heard something, a distant howl of pain. A normal human wouldn’t have picked it up, but I wasn’t one. I ran in the sound’s direction at full speed only to arrive at the site of an attack; A lone middle aged man with a camera around his neck amidst the ruins of a trashed camp. On top of him was a wolf, or what one would have mistaken for one; large as a horse and black as the night. It held the man’s arm in its maw. I let out a whistle and the The Pricolici turned toward me, sensing my own supernatural nature and ready to fight what it saw as a potential competitor over its lunch.
“Come on ugly.” I snarled at it in Romanian.
It didn’t hesitate to charge, after all it had claws and fangs while I was seemingly unarmed. As It did, I threw myself sideways, easily tumbling back safely to my feet before muttering the incantation my mother had taught me; summoning my blade, Mâncător or the Eater… It just appeared, forming as it flowed out of my hand, crystalline and jagged in nature.
As the Pricolici turned around for its second charge, I took a defensive position. Putting the blade between us. In a swift movement, it pounced, landing on top of me, letting my blade sink into its gut, something that it would have normally shrugged off.
However the Pricolici didn’t expect the power of Mâncător as it began spasming about impaled on the blade before slowly dissolving into ashes, having had its essence devoured by my sword.
My gaze turned toward the man, who was still paralyzed by fear, desperately trying to understand what he’d seen. Having a glimpse of the secret world of magic rarely ended well for humans, it wasn’t something they were equipped to deal with.
“Leave.” I snapped at him in English. He didn’t move so I snarled at him, which got him on his feet and running.
There was nothing preventing him from telling what had happened, but most people wouldn’t have believed him anyway. Magic and the creatures of the other worlds only showed themselves to those whom they wanted to.
“Are you alright?” My Mama asked, coming up behind me. “I felt Mâncător’s power.” She said before looking around. Unlike me, my mama was fully human but imbued with the power of her magical lineage, which was how she’d created Mâncător.
“Just a Pricolici, one of the dumb ones.” I said.
“I was worried for a second.”
“I can handle myself mama. But do you think you’ll be able to handle yourself when I’m gone?” I asked. Although she was a competent sorceress, she hadn’t been the best hunter.
A few months ago, I’d decided to register for Ravenhold academy, the American superhero school. Surprisingly they hadn’t thought me a crazy person when they’d read my honest introduction letter… I was scheduled to leave in a few hours.
“I’ve been handling myself before you were born Harley.” She said sternly. “Dragă, are you sure you want to go to America? That you’ll be alright there?” She then asked her face twisted in a worried frown.
“Mama… We were literally demon hunting a few minutes ago. I think I can handle living in a dorm and going to high school like a normal person.”
“You know I worry about you Harley.” She said, putting a hand on my shoulder. “And I’m worried about how people are going to treat you.” Mama had always been good toward me, even when I come out as non-binary.
“Can’t really be worse than here.” I said with a shrug. As good as my mama had been, others hadn’t been…
“Dragă, they’re our family.”
“No, you’re my family, Mama. They’re just blood.”
She stopped and gave me a hug.
“I’m sorry for everything you’ve had to deal with.”
“It’s not your fault, you’ve been better than I could ever ask for. But how about we get back home? I’m starving.”
She nodded and we went toward town. As we walked across it, we were met with a thousand glares. Being a feminine genderqueer person with my body type tended to attract the wrong kind of attention, even in big cities like Cluj-Napoca. Which made me incredibly self conscious.
Romania wasn’t the most queer friendly country in the world, having arrested people for being gay as late as 1995. It was only in 2001 that the law had been repealed and only so the country could join the EU. Even then, the constitution had recently been changed so that only heterosexual marriage could be legally recognized…
Which was why I’d been homeschooled since I was little. Well, that and the dhampir thing. Officially the story was that I was an early activated paramorphic mutant, which explained the unearthly pallor, my sensitivity to light and my enhanced physique and senses.
Eventually, we reached the family house, located in the posh side of the city. It was an old house, build at the turn of the century and kept mostly intact. It was also fairly large and luxurious. When you had magical powers for centuries and and made a living fighting supernatural beings, collecting a fortune wasn’t exactly hard.
“We’re back.” I announced, not receiving any answer. We went upstairs to drop our things and wash up before coming down, finding everyone sitting around the dinner table eating. There was a silent acknowledgement of our presence and we sat down but I still felt like we were intruding.
Mama and I were the black sheep of the family, when you come from a proud lineage of demon hunters, running away and having a child with one of the strigoi you’re meant to hunt hadn’t won her any points. As a result, we were more tolerated than liked by the family.
Mama and I tried to enjoy the meal in silence, it was always best to avoid confrontation. Although the dislike between us and the rest of the family was mutual, we generally needed them for protection. Our bloodline came with countless enemies, so we hadn’t been able to just leave…
“Pavell, When are you leaving?” Klaus, the family patriarch and my great grandfather, asked, using my birth name rather than the one I preferred. It didn’t take supernatural senses to see how happy he was that I’d be gone, after all, he’d be getting rid of a queer and a dhampir at the same time. The only reason I’d ever been tolerated was because I was a useful weapon to the clan.
“Tonight at three in the morning, or rather that’s when my flight leave. I’ll be gone before then.” I said, attempting to be polite as best I could.
“I see.” He noted before going back to ignoring me.
“So you’re just leaving the family?” Cousin Nicolae asked, his voice full of disdain.
“I believe the family has the matter currently in hand, should the situation change, then I’ll return if called to.”
“Why would you want to be one of those costumed clown?” He snickered.
“As I can’t learn the family’s art, my education here is stagnant. I feel Ravenhold offers a good alternative suited to my talents.”
Rather than continue engaging him, I simply focused on my Sarmales. Trying to enjoy the food as best as possible. Thankfully most of the others finished their dinner quickly and were dismissed from the table by Klaus. Once the meal was over, I spent the rest of the evening with Mama, just enjoying silly things , knowing it was the last time we’d be together for months we didn’t want to spend the time we had left dreading my departure.
Still, the time of departure came and she drove me to the Airport with a heavy heart, saying goodbye with poorly concealed sadness… And just like that, I was headed to America. It takes about ten hours to go from Cluj-Napoca to New York and then it was one long boring bus ride across the country. Thankfully it was a fairly rainy day so the sun was minimal so it wasn’t uncomfortable for me.
Once we were there, there was a welcome speech by the Raven but I couldn’t concentrate on it, my ears assaulted by the cacophony of the tightly packed crowd of new students. In the end, I found myself with my class; Fourteen of us including two paramorphs; one who looked much like a mountain lion and another one who was a big lizard-like creature. But also our class had both a Tzari and an Avian.