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"Amychete"

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Born in the late nineteenth-century, Amelia Hope's youth was smothered in pointless pleasantries and egregious affluence. Her father, a rare Union war hero of the state, assured her a proper education with the best tutors available, and mother instructed the girl to always act as a perfect lady should. Amelia found this life a spectacular bore, often imagining a life of adventure and risk instead of one rife with affectation. Those closest to her scorned the stubborn, wild, daydreaming side she had been taught to repress; traits all men found fascinating and desirable in an adolescent girl. The fact that she was a rare and dark beauty unlike any seen in the nearby territories did not grant any reprieve of suitors visiting to woo her father for her hand in wanton exchange. Though proud, Amelia's parents found her demeanor unbecoming and urged she settle on a courter quickly before she lost her youthful attraction. She felt this idea reprehensible, and at her next opportunity fled the safety and comfort of home to chase her dreams of adventure.

The world, she found, was not as clean and proper as life on her family’s plantation in Georgia, suiting her perfectly. She used her beauty and intelligence to beguile her way south, careful to inspire swaths of men to follow her without forming a widespread reputation. Eventually a rough older man, lacking any graces and immune to her charms, caught on to her schemes and threatened incarceration, or worse. He thought her designs foolish and conviction weak, while she found in him an exciting new challenge to conquer. Amelia's words danced expertly between inciteful and apologetic, but the man remained steadfast throughout. When pressed he explained his occupation as a hunter, one who had no need for camaraderie or companionship. Weeks of Amelia's life went by as she chipped away at his resolve and even he could only endure so much pestering. The hunter deemed her dedication suitable for an apprenticeship and took the foolish girl under his wing where she learned to use and take proper care of a wide range of firearms, hunting techniques, a variety of useful tools while ranging, and laying traps for game.

In the early years of her training, Amelia quickly learned how to best communicate with the old man without instigating heated lecture or punishment: Speak tersely and never ask personal questions. The latter was a harsh lesson, as she had grown accustomed to men warming to her through boasting or divulging personal thoughts. The hunter however was not one for casual reflection and responded with rage when she tried to relate with him based off of her father's experiences. She assumed they would be similar in age, and judging by his experience in a variety of weapons he too must have served, and survived, in the War of the Rebellion. It was a point of pride with her family that her father never supported the southern rebels, despite employing the use of African labor to aid in the harvesting of his tobacco crop, and continued to profit from the information he gave freely to aid the Union. Immediately after inquiring on his feelings regarding the emancipation of his people, she realized her error as his knuckles whitened around the handle of his skinning knife. The bloodless stag swung gently as he pushed away from it to turn to her, the corpse's easy sway contrasting the hunter's bristling fury. He punctuated his short list of prohibited topics by throwing the knife into the dirt, blade penetrating the earth, and commanded she finish dressing the animal on her own. It was less that she found the task grotesque, and moreso it seemed tedious and required more effort from her unpracticed hand. The silence the order garnered carried between the two of them for the rest of her apprenticeship.

A few years passed and eventually the old hunter didn’t mind having an extra pair of hands mind the land while he left on trips to sell their spare wares. He always managed to bring back a little treat for his assistant, usually honey or soaps, in addition to extra provisions and a larger than expected profit, and once or twice a peculiar wound that needed binding. Amelia's challenge was long forgotten in exchange for admiration and respect, her love and loyalty burning passionately for her mentor. She would die for him, and when she admitted as much he shocked her with a scowl and shook his head in disappointment.

“Never die for anyone, fool girl. This world, it don’t like heroes. It chews up the brave and swallows the meek. Die for no one, and don’t you never die for me.”

She was heartbroken, the machinations of her passions and dreams shattered completely, turning her heart to blackened ice. The warmth and vibrancy in her disposition faded, resulting in ruthless and riskier behavior during their outings. She would choose to face boar with only a machete, deer with a handgun, and captured fowl with gruesome traps of her own design. Her blood boiled in anticipation of worthy game, threatening to consume her with every conquest. This change in Amelia hardened the old man’s resolve as he finally determined she was ready to join the Association.

“Grab your things. Come,” He demanded one very ordinary day. She noted the break in routine, but did so without question. They saddled their horses and journeyed two days to the edges of an old plantation. The stench of the area, a mix of marsh and death, would have been unbearable if not for every turn of her short life preparing her for this exact moment.

The two waded through a field of drowned crop in silence until they reached the derelict plantation's great house. The deck groaned as they paused at the front door for quite some time. Amelia wondered if he was waiting for something, listening, or paying respects, but right before she asked aloud he reached for the knob. Dark ash caked every corner of the interior, rot and blood flooded their senses. A mangled, rotted body lay strewn along the steps to the second story. The old man, still silent, grabbed an old lantern from the nearby wall and made to light it.

He continued down the hall and unlocked the cellar door. As the hinges squeaked, something stirred in the dark and Amelia drew her machete reflexively. The old man gently laid his arm on hers and moved the lantern to light the room. The bottom of the stairs had been barricaded to block any exit or entry, though they could still see through the steep diagonal opening between the stairway and the cellar. A raspy groan responded to the light and two green predatory eyes reflected back in their direction. Amelia watched frozen, alert, fascinated. The creature pulled itself along the ground, gasping in pain, to get closer into the light. First she saw its arms. Human, but ashen and covered in small scratches, like a housecat's claw marks.

When the face came into view, Amelia’s heartbeat quickened, the rush exhilarating; at last the sensation she had been seeking for since the moment game became chore. Blotted and stringy hair stuck to the wet skin of the creature whose face reminded her of melting tallow, exposing the bone and sinew beneath. The wretch dragged itself to the wall beneath them, now fully revealed by the steady light of the lantern. It was missing both its legs below the knees, parts of what may have once been clothing hung torn around its neck and waist. Amelia’s instinct to slay the creature was overwhelming and she leaned into her mentor, excited for the creature to attack so that she might take the life of this new type of prey.

“I got a story to tell, fool girl. Listen to me,” he commanded, gaining her attention. “Her name was Agatha,” the old man spoke without emotion. “She worked in this house as a maid servant. One day she didn’t show, so all us workers, we turn the land over lookin’ for her.” He paused to take a breath enticing Amelia enough to look away from Agatha to the face of her mentor. His head hung as he stared at the creature’s face, somber. She would swear it looked right back into his eyes. “At night we come back to the house without her. She was sweet, and it broke our hearts when we walked in seein’ her hunched over the Lady’s body. Eatin’ the woman like a starved animal feeds on its kill.” He paused another moment, and chewed on his following words, “She was my wife, and before she got to the Lady, she ate our children and slaughtered the young Masters of the house.” Amelia could see his jaw clench as he remembered the scene, a visceral memory, and her urge to slay the creature was renewed twofold. He sensed her anticipation and held fast. “I'm not done, girl. You listen here,” he started and turned to look his apprentice in the eyes. “You hunt game for food and sport. I hunt the demons for purpose and glory. This," he pointed with his other arm to Agatha, "Is not game. It's meaning, sa vle di." Amelia's eyes traveled from his face to the monster's and back, uncertain of what her response should be. "You understand, fool girl? You fail, you die, if you are lucky. Maybe you kill your partner, or someone you love." Amelia was beginning to comprehend the purpose of this spontaneous lecture. Another lesson, in how the hunter becomes the hunted. Seeing this revelation reflected in her expression the old man nodded, "Good. You see. No more training. Now," he began his final command to his apprentice while dropping the arm that was holding her back, "Slay my wife.”