Charles was but a boy when he saw his first transformation of a werewolf to human form. He had stood frozen in the corner by the fireplace as his father was snatched away by the frightening beast and his mother slaughtered. Until then his life had not exactly been idyllic for they were poor, but there had always been food on the table after a hard day helping his father cut wood to sell in the marketplace. They'd always been a dry roof over his head and a warm bed for him to sleep in, even on the coldest nights.
In the days leading up to the attack he'd overheard his parents talking in anxious whispers about some new terror in the nearby town. When he asked what was wrong they'd given fake smiles of reassurance and sent him back to bed. On that fateful night the moon had hung high in the sky, fat and round, casting a silver glow over the woods. He'd seen the woman running across the clearing, and he heard her desperate cry for entrance, confused when his father barred the door and tried to kill her.
He still recalled his mother's fear-filled eyes as she placed his grandfather's silver wolf's head necklace around his neck as a talisman. He'd clutched at it as the creature scrabbled over the roof after ripping the head off their old cart horse. After it killed his mother and father, it turned its ferocious, sharp teeth and malevolent eyes towards him.
Charles clutched at the talisman now in remembrance, convinced it had brought him luck that night for some instinct had made him unlatch the heavy wooden chandelier, and it dropped upon the creature, knocking it to the ground where the flames from the candles caught at the rug beneath it. He ran away, but turned at the door, frozen half in fear, half in fascination as the werewolf turned human before his eyes.
It was the woman. So petite and pretty, like a doll. It was his first lesson.
Lesson One: Looks could be deceiving, and the most innocent looking man, woman, or child could hide a demon inside.
His second lesson had come soon after as his disemboweled father rose from the ground, dark eyes turned a sickly yellow and blood dripping from his deathly pale skin. Verdilacs were the victims of werewolves, those clawed or gouged by the beast rather than bitten. The transformed, half-eaten corpses would open their eyes and crawl towards the living, seeking fresh meat.
Lesson Two: The dead didn't always stay dead so it was wise to cut off the head or burn the bodies of a werewolf's victims.
His third lesson was learning there was more to the night than werewolves and their half-turned verdilacs. Vampires, banshees, evil water spirits that haunted lakes and rivers, dragging men down to their deaths. Lonely spirits wandering the back roads, seeking eternal companionship by killing lone travelers.
Lesson Three: There was a whole world of creatures hidden in twilight, lurking in dark shadows, or governed by the sinister light of the moon.
Stefan was a vampire, now long dead after being slain by a different kind of werewolf - Daniel. Charles had met Stefan on that fateful night as a boy - a werewolf hunter, who had chased the creature from the town to their door. Many months past before he saw Stefan transform from mortal to vampire for the first time, coming upon him accidentally as he took his fill of blood from a woman he'd lured to his bedroom. Frightened but intrigued for he had long sensed an otherworldliness about Stefan, Charles had watched and waited. He had wanted to see if the man - vampire - he had come to respect was in truth a monster like the werewolves he hunted.
The woman awoke feeling woozy and lightheaded, but otherwise very much alive.
Charles had loved Stefan, indebted to him from the moment Stefan let loose his silver knives to destroy the creature that wore his father's face. Indebted to him for the new life he gave Charles rather than leaving in the forest to survive or die alone, or perhaps even for simply letting him live rather than drain him of his blood. Stefan had raised him. He had fed and clothed him, had taught him how to fight werewolves and other night creatures. How to track them, bait them. How to kill them. He'd been his guardian, protector, and mentor until Charles became a man, and then he'd stepped back to let Charles lead the small, ragged group of werewolf hunters.
Stefan's hatred of werewolves had come from a distant past where vampires and werewolves were mortal enemies. He had seen his vampire lover taken from him by one of the foul creatures, and had vowed vengeance, wanting to kill every werewolf he could find.
Lesson Four: Not every creature of the night was wholly evil, and not every mortal was wholly good.
Stefan had been capable of love, of taking pity on an orphaned human boy and giving him life and purpose. Daniel had been a werewolf who could change at will rather than be enslaved to the full moon, yet gentle spirit once he was no longer under the mind control of a mortal man bent on terror and destruction. Loyal and fiercely protective of those he cared for and loved. Charles was honored to have been among that small number.
Both long dead.
His fingers rubbed across the worn surface of the wolf's head, smoothed down through the years of his long existence before trailing down his own body. His skin was smooth to the touch, unblemished except for a few scars. His touch awakened pleasure in his body and though he would have little difficulty in finding a willing bed partner, he preferred his own company this night, quickly bringing himself to release.
On this night one hundred and seventy years earlier, he had died at the hands of the insane doctor controlling Daniel.
Lesson two: The dead didn't always stay dead, at least not when they had vampire blood still running through their veins.
Stefan had given him his blood to speed the healing on his badly broken arm after an initial confrontation with Daniel in werewolf form.
He still remembered his first transformation into vampire form, of how his body had seemed so alive, senses heightened. His hearing was sharper, his eyes could pierce the shadows. He was stronger, faster, with lightning reflexes, and he wondered how Stefan had managed to keep such a tight rein on his control, living his life mostly at a mortal pace, when he had such gifts at his fingertips.
Just as they had accepted Stefan, the others accepted him, but he learned his true curse was to watch his companions grow old and die - if they were one of the lucky ones. Hunting werewolves and other night creatures was a dangerous occupation, even for a vampire such as him. The slashing claws and snapping teeth of a werewolf could not transform him into werewolf or verdilac, but any blood loss left him weak, and needed to be replaced.
He'd drunk the blood of so many over the long years, charming them into his bed and giving them pleasure in return.
But not tonight.
Tonight was a full moon, and if he listened carefully, he could hear sharp claws scratch across the roof tiles.
He cleaned up and dressed quickly. Pulling a silver blade from its scabbard, he waited alone in the darkened corner of the room as the werewolf terrorizing the small town came for what it thought was another easy meal.
Tonight it would find only its own death.