The bed of wet pine needles cushion my stride as I race through the forest, heart thundering, breath coming in burning, almost desperate pants.
I’m safe here. The curse on my blood, wrapped by my own wand, offers me protection. I am hidden. I’m Jasmin Swan, a perfectly normal young woman. Not a psychic witch of the famed Black Swan Coven. No, not her…
I’m not fated to unlock the legend of the werewolves—a species lost to vampire’s memories, witch’s grimoires, and human’s nightmares. The Hunter, a vampire assassin so old his real name is lost in the same sepia mists of time as the wolves, does not pursue me—determined to twine our fates by turning me into his spawn. To tear me from my coven’s protection, stop me from freeing the wolves, and keep power over witches in vampire hands. No, none of that is true. I am a perfectly normal human.
That which we believe becomes our reality. That is one of the guiding principles of the coven I do not belong to and never have. My word is my wand.
A dog barks in the distance, pulling me up short. There is someone else out here.
I can barely hear over my hammering heart. Claire-Cognizance urges me to let her fly, to find the source of the sound and uncover its purpose. But I restrain her. That which seeks can also be found.
I am not physic. I do not have any Claires trying to tell me information that a normal, closed-off human, wouldn’t know.
A twig snaps behind me. I whirl around, eyes scanning the forest, darting from one dark shadow to the next. Nothing there that shouldn’t be.
Slowly, the gentle rhythms of the forest come back into focus. My breath evens out and the thudding of my heart fades. It was just a dog, probably a hiker. Claire-Sentience itches to dig into the ground and touch the heart of this land, but I grit my teeth and refuse to release her.
I begin to run again. The tremble in my hands and hollowness in my gut left by the bolt of fear fades with each measured step. Eight miles under my feet, the sun reaching the apex of the sky, and my rented cabin comes into view through the evergreens.
When I moved here months earlier a blanket of snow covered the small structure, clumping on the bows of the trees, and kissing the edge of the porch. As spring breaks through the winter cold my cabin is exposed. Soon the underbrush will burst back to life, the deciduous trees will bud anew, and protection will grow around the log cabin.
Well built. That’s the first thing I thought when I saw it. The thick tree trunks, stacked like Lincoln Logs, the small windows—paned and etched with frost—double glazed.
“The owner built it with his father when he was 10 or 11,” the realtor told me, clomping up the shoveled walk, her boots meeting the hem of her down jacket. “It’s rustic, no internet but there is a landline.” She looked over her shoulder at me, smiling. “The owner is our town’s most eligible bachelor—from one of the founding families, moved to New York City and made a name for himself in the art world. He’s a wealthy artist, private, but handsome as sin.” She laughed then, her eyes glittering with the thrill of a good joke woven with a thread of gossip.
I nodded at Tricia Spanner—realtor and owner of the local diner—but didn’t respond. I have no interest in bachelors, gossip, or jokes. Which makes me sound like no fun…which I am these days, I guess. But I’m alive and safe. Those two elemental priorities are at the top of my to-do list.
I’d been sitting at Tricia’s counter when I decided to live in Dawson Falls, Vermont. Nursing a cup of coffee after pushing my pancakes around on the scratched plate, I looked out onto the tiny Main Street. Quiet, safe, and isolated.
I decided that this is where I would hide. No Claires involved, just pure old-fashioned decision making. Without my physic abilities, or ritual enhanced powers, making decisions felt like shooting into the dark hoping to pin a tail on a donkey but...
It is my only chance of out-running my past, and avoiding my fated future.