Gabriel's Story

There’s an old saying in the brotherhood: Every hunter is born alone, and all hunters will die alone. I suppose I was an exception to this rule — at least at the outset.

 

I came into this world kicking and screaming behind my twin brother, who was good and mellow and completely mortal. I was born to a woman who probably gazed down at me adoringly before she was cruelly snatched from this world.

I’ve heard enough stories to believe that this is the true legacy of our race: Hunters are born to be raised without mothers and forsaken by their fathers.

Most of our kind believe that Romulus and Remus were the very first hunters in recorded history. Their mother, Rhea Silvia, was the daughter of a king and a Vestal Virgin — a priestess of the goddess Vesta, who took a vow of chastity and was charged with maintaining the sacred fire on the goddess’s altar to protect Rome.

According to myth, Rhea Silvia was either seduced or violated by Mars. Some believe her sons were sired by the demigod Hercules. Still others think Rhea Silvia was raped by a hunter. I believe that she was the first true hunter and protector of mortals, but we will never know.

What’s important is that Rhea’s uncle, King Amulius, had recently taken the thrown. He wanted to be certain that his brother had no heirs, so he killed his brother’s son and forced Rhea to become a Vestal Virgin. When she fell pregnant, this threatened to jeopardize King Amulius’s plans. 

To avoid offending the gods by killing the infants with his own hand, the king ordered a servant to kill them. Taking pity on the infant boys, the servant placed the twins in a basket and floated them down the Tiber River. 

According to legend, the river god Tiberinus carried them safely to the roots of a fig tree at the base of the Palatine Hill. The boys, suckled by a she-wolf, grew up to be the namesake of the Eternal City. Eventually, Romulus would kill his brother and become the king of Rome.

I wasn’t floated down a river in a basket. I spent the first two months of my life incubating in a plastic box, while my brother was taken home at once to be cradled and bounced in the arms of his father. 

Wesley’s sire was a military man on a quest for world order — a world that made sense and was just. To him, it must have seemed the height of injustice to have his mate taken from him so suddenly. Or perhaps he knew in his gut what logic couldn’t explain.

Wesley and I may have been twins, but we were sired by two different men. You see it in dogs all the time: The mother gives birth to one pup that looks like a German shepherd and another that is, for all intents and purposes, a Labrador. Among humans, it’s a fleetingly rare occurrence called superfecundation. To this day, my brother still has no idea. 

Besides our easily dismissible differences in looks and personality, I was born with a supernatural drive to hunt and kill witches, vampires, and werewolves. Wesley was not. While my brother was an obedient son who excelled at sports and academics, I was trouble from the outset — struggling to conform to the mortal world which was my destiny to protect.

Any hunter who bore offspring would recognize the signs early: an infant who rarely cries or fusses. The heightened senses that overstimulate a child in the classroom. A physicality and overactiveness that can keep a young teenager awake through the night and turn into violence as he matures. 

What is usually viewed by mortals as mean-spiritedness on the playground is just the young hunter’s instincts running on overdrive. A burgeoning hunter without proper guidance and an outlet for his natural drive can become overwhelmed by the thrill of the chase or the excitement of competition. 

I have few memories of our father at home. He was always off securing the homeland by killing predators seven thousand miles away. Occasionally, he would return to restore order on the home front when I got in trouble at school or crashed my car. 

If our mother had lived, I might have asked her what became of my biological father. Did she mate with him willingly? Or, more likely, was their union the result of a hunter’s instinct that had become warped and perverted? I’ve heard that if hunters don’t follow their natural drive to hunt supernaturals, the instinct to stalk and destroy can drive them to madness.

But it’s not an excuse. It’s the rare hunter who had the guidance of a like-minded parent and the warmth of a loving home. Most hunters I know ended up in the foster-care system, a juvenile detention center, or else drugged into oblivion in an effort to “even them out.” A few I know were in and out of an insane asylum half a dozen times before they reached puberty. 

I consider myself lucky that my father was never home. Mortal caregivers rarely do a hunter child a service. I was smart enough to seek out other misanthropes at Valhalla’s Gate — a comic-book store that also sold rare vinyl records and hosted live performances by lesser-known punk bands. I worked nights at the store throughout high school and was drawn to a few dark souls who became my friends — or as close to friends as any hunter can get.

After I graduated, the drive took me to California with nothing but the clothes on my back and whatever would fit into my silver Camaro. While hunters live among mortals and often go through the same pageantry of adolescence as any human, a hunter’s First Blood is the only rite of passage that matters. I was blooded in Santee Alley — an outdoor market in LA’s Fashion District. 

I’d been drawn there by a clan of vampires that had been preying on young women. I stalked and killed three of them with a hunting knife I’d bought at a Navajo tourist trap. 

At the time, I didn’t feel anything except perhaps hunger — hunger for more killing. I know now that a certain mania is common after a hunter takes his First Blood. After that, I bounced from Los Angeles to Vegas to Austin, killing witches, vampires, werewolves — even banishing the odd stray demon or two. 

As the initial high of my first kills wore off, I felt only horror and disgust. I didn’t know what I was or why I felt this desire to kill. All I knew was that those supernaturals were dangerous, and it was up to me to stop them. 

I’d come alive — awakened my true nature. The months after First Blood are some of the most active in any young hunter’s life. And once he is blooded, he can’t be stopped.

It wasn’t until I went to Queens that I began being pursued by the brotherhood. They’d been aware of my presence for a while, but I’d made myself hard to trace by constantly moving around. It was in Queens that I first learned what I was and met others like me.

Hunters are solitary creatures by nature. We don’t live in groups like werewolves, witches, or vampires. We’ve lived and worked alone since the dawn of time. Still, the modern age is one relentless grind toward control and conformity. Even hunters aren’t immune. 

The brotherhood draws us in twice a year with formal gatherings that coincide with the summer and winter solstices. These are always held under the guise of helping us become faster, stronger, and more ruthless killers, but they’re just a means to oversee our kind and exert authority where necessary.

There’s no law that says all hunters must take an oath or pledge their fealty to any brotherhood, sisterhood, or Rotary Club. The only code hunters abide by are those imposed by organizations like the brotherhood. The brotherhood prides itself on its ancient roots, but it’s as political, dysfunctional, slow-moving, and misogynistic as any mortal club or holy order. Willful blindness and a refusal to modernize are as distinctive to the brotherhood as its mission to hunt supernaturals.

I took my oath when I was young and inexperienced. They drew me in with the promise of fast cars and generous bounties. Taking an oath buys a hunter a measure of goodwill and autonomy, but if I’d known then what I know now, I never would have bound myself to the brotherhood. To run afoul of the brotherhood as a hunter who has not pledged fealty is a dangerous game, but to disobey the brotherhood after one has taken an oath is the very height of stupidity. 

Female hunters do exist — I’ve known two or three in my day. The brotherhood only began recognizing them a few years ago, but they are still the black sheep of the bunch. I’ve heard that female hunters are barren. More likely, a pair of hunters together cannot bear children, but I suspect this is why the brotherhood took so long to acknowledge any of its brothers’ sisters. 

“Go forth and multiply” is part of the doctrine — if only to ensure the survival of our race. Most hunters choose to mate, however briefly, with mortal women. Very few form any real attachments. It is not our way.

To be a hunter is to walk through this world without the love of another person. The first loss comes at birth, and that eternal wound is opened afresh with every mortal mate.

But it’s this wound that makes us strong. It scars over each time it’s ripped open until all that’s left is a hard outer shell. Hunters are born to protect the human race — not to spend a lifetime looking over their shoulder to ensure that their family is safe. The brotherhood is the closest most will come to real human connection, but even that kinship has its limits.

Love is a weakness we aren’t allowed. That’s why we hunt alone.

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Copyright Tarah Benner 2020. All rights reserved.