Everything has changed. My body, my desires, my appetite.
In seventeen short years, I’ve born witness to more tragedy than anyone should—and been the cause of far too much of it. With me I carry the memory of my death and that of my brother. I’m haunted by the sound of our last breaths in the mossy woods of Mystic Falls, Virginia, and the image of my father’s lifeless body on the floor of his study in our magnificent Veritas Estate. I still smell the charred church where the town’s vampires burned. And I can almost taste the blood I took and the lives I stole out of sheer hunger and indifference after my transformation. Most clearly I see the curious dreamer of a boy I once was, and if my heart could beat, it would break for the vile creature I’ve become.
But though the very molecules of my being have morphed beyond recognition, the world continues to turn. Children grow older, their plump faces thinning with the passage of time. Young lovers exchange secret smiles as they discuss the weather. Parents sleep while the moon keeps watch, wake when the sun’s rays nudge them from slumber. They eat, labor, and love. And always, their hearts pump with rhythmic thuds, the blood as alluring to me as a snake charmer’s tune is to a cobra.
I once scoffed at the tediousness of human life, believing the Power I had made me more. Through her example, Katherine taught me that time holds no sway over vampires, so I could become divorced from it, living from moment to moment, moving from one carnal pleasure to the next with no fear of consequences. During my time in New Orleans I was heady with my new Power, my limitless strength and speed. I tore through humans as if their lives were meaningless. Every warm drop of blood made me feel alive, strong, fearless, and powerful.
It was a haze of bloodlust. I killed so many, so casually. I can’t even remember the faces of my victims. Except for one.
Her flame-red hair, her clear green eyes, the softness of her cheeks, the way she stood with her hands on her hips . . . every detail stands out in my memory with painful clarity.
It was Damon, my brother and former best friend, who dealt Callie her final blow.
In turning him into a vampire, I had taken Damon’s life, so he took from me the only thing he could—my new love.
Callie made me remember what it was to be human, and what it meant to value life. Her death weighs heavily on my conscience.
Now my strength is a burden, the constant thirst for blood a curse, the promise of immortality a terrible cross to bear. Vampires are monsters, killers. I must never, ever forget that again. I must never let the monster take over. While I will forever bear the guilt of what I did to my brother—the choice I made for him—I must also avoid the dark path he is so hell-bent on following. He revels in the violence and freedom of his new life, while I can only regret it.
Before I left New Orleans, I battled the demon my brother, Damon, had become. Now, as I remake myself up North, far from anyone who’s ever known me as either a human or a vampire, the only demon I have to battle is my own hunger.
I picked out a heartbeat, a single life, in the near distance.
The other noises of the city faded into the background as this one called to me. She had wandered away from her friends and left the well-worn paths.
The sun had just set over Central Park, where I’d exiled myself since arriving in New York City fourteen long days ago. The colors in this expanse of wilderness were softening, sliding toward one another, shadows blurring with the things that made them. The oranges and deep blues of the sky morphed into an inky black, while the muddy ground dimmed to a velvety sienna.
Around me, most of the world was still, paused in the breath that comes at the end of day when the guards change: Humans and their daylight companions lock their doors and creatures of the night like myself come out to hunt.
With the ring Katherine gave me I can walk in the daylight like any normal, living human. But as it’s been since the beginning of time, it’s easier for vampires to hunt during the uncertain hours when day slowly becomes night. Dusk confuses those who aren’t equipped with the eyes and ears of a nocturnal predator.
The heartbeat I now pursued began to sound quieter . . . its owner was getting away. Desperate, I took off, forcing my body to move quickly, my feet to push off from the ground. I was weak from lack of feeding, and it was affecting my ability to hunt. Added to that, these woods weren’t familiar to me. The plants and vines were as alien as the people on the cobbled streets a quarter mile away.
But a hunter transplanted is still a hunter. I leaped over a twiggy, stunted bush and avoided an icy stream, devoid of the lazy catfish I used to watch as a child, until my foot slipped on mossy stone and I crashed through the underbrush, my chase growing far louder than I intended.
The bearer of the heart I followed heard and knew her death was close. Now that she was alone and aware of her plight, she began to run in earnest.
What a spectacle I must have made: dark hair askew, skin as pale as a corpse, eyes starting to redden as the vampire in me came out. Running and leaping through the woods like a wild man, dressed in the finery Lexi, my friend in New Orleans, had given me, the white silk shirt now torn at the sleeves.
She picked up speed. But I wasn’t going to lose her.
My need for blood became an ache so strong that I couldn’t contain myself any longer. A sweet pain bloomed along my jaw and my fangs came out. The blood in my face grew hot as I underwent the change. My senses expanded as my Power took over, sapping my last bit of vampiric strength.
I leaped, moving at a speed beyond human and animal. With that instinct all living creatures have, the poor thing felt death closing in and began to panic, scrambling for safety under the trees. Her heart pounded out of control: thump thump thump thump thump thump.