1 Chapter 1

1722 Desmond, Ireland

Dimitri Norton had always known he would perish young, and he had never had cause to contemplate his mortality. His early years had been a young boy's ideal, right from the very day of his birth. Born rich and with lovely, loving parents, his life was perfect and he had everything.

It was true that Dimitri was the heir to the old and affluent Earl of Desmond, but unlike most other noble couples, Lord Damascus and Lady Abrianna, his parents were very much in love, and they saw their son's birth, not as the appearance of an heir, but rather that of a child. And so there were no festivities, no fêtes, no parties other than those of a mother and father staring in awe at their new son.

It was once foretold that Dimitri would change the world, foolish really, but his father had high hopes. As his father used to say, 'in order to change the world, we had to first understand ourselves better. We, humans, love rivalry; we require obstacles to keep us motivated and moving forward. Many of our competitions were for health-related reasons, such as sports, culinary skills, or academic accomplishment. Yet so many of them were societal poisons that we needed to get rid of. The intensity of rivalry over who has the most money, the biggest house, or the most special items to wear would destroy our world if we didn't control it. These leagues were a disease that resulted in false shorts. The world will need someone like you, Dimitri.'

Maybe it was nothing but deep down, Dimitri knew it was what his father wanted.

However, the Nortons were young parents; Lord Damascus was barely twenty-two and Lady Abrianna just nineteen, but they were prudent, powerful, and they adored their son with fierceness and affection that was hardly seen in their sociable elite circles. Because the couple was so young and so very much in love, it came as no shock to anyone when, just two years after Dimitri's birth, he was joined by a younger brother, christened Daniel.

Earl Damascus always treated his children with equal admiration and fondness, but late at night, when Dimitri nestled the legendary Norton diamond-encrusted pocket watch on his chest, given to him on his eighth birthday by his father, Dimitri preferred to think that his connection with his father was just a little bit extraordinary, more than a father and son. It was a bond that was so powerful. Not because Lord Damascus loved him best; no, Dimitri loved to think that his connection with his father was completely different because he'd known him the longest. After all, no matter how long Daniel had known their father, Dimitri would always have two years on him.

And it was no secret that Lord Damascus was, quite clearly, in the very midst of Dimitri's world. He loved and adored his father so much. His father was his best friend, and Lord Damascus saw no reason why his sons should not have the best education and the best of everything.

His father taught Dimitri everything: how to ride a horse, how to shoot a bow and arrow, and how to use a sword and different weapons. He taught him to swim and took him off to the institute himself, rather than sending him in a wagon with attendants, and Dimitri loved him as much as he loved his mother. Hell, he'd probably bite off his own arm if it meant keeping his mother and father safe and well. But growing up, everything he did, every achievement, every purpose, every single expectation, and dream—it was all for his father. The Earl of Desmond.

And then, one day, everything changes. It was raining, and it was crazy, everything was nothing but normal, he reflected later, how one's life could alter in a moment, how one second could be everything, and the next it's simply... not. It occurred when Dimitri was eighteen, home for the summer and preparing for his first year at school. When he found out, it was late morning. He was returning from a long and bruising ride with Daniel and had just pushed through the front door of their mansion corridor, the ancestral home of the Nortons when he saw his mother sitting on the floor.

Dimitri halted when he saw her. "Mother?" he asked. It was unusual enough that his mother was crouching in the middle of the floor in the main hall. It was even more strange that she was crying.

Her mother never cried. "Mother? What happened?" he mumbled hesitantly, but before he could finish his question, his mother lifted her head, and the wrecking heartbreak in her large cobalt eyes cut through him like a blade. Dimitri stumbled back a step, knowing something was wrong, terribly wrong.

"Your father is dead," Lady Abrianna whispered. "He is dead."

For a minute, Dimitri was sure he'd misheard her. His father couldn't be dead. Other people died young, but his father? No! Impossible. He was strong.

"Mother, stop fooling around. This isn't funny. You're wrong, d-don't-" he told her. "You must be wrong."

She shook her head. "The physician told me. He was…it was…"

Dimitri knew he shouldn't shake his mother while she sobbed, but he couldn't help himself. "It was what, Mother?"

"A demon," she whispered. "He was bitten by a demon, a devil... He is dead, Dimitri... he is-"

For a moment, Dimitri could do nothing but gaze at her. Ultimately, his voice hoarse and hardly recognizable, he said, "Bullocks! Demons do not exist, mother."

He heard Daniel run past them and go to the stairs. His brother heard their conversation as he stumbled upon another servant coming down.

Then his mother said nothing, just sat there on the floor, her throat working convulsively as she attempted to regulate her tears. Certainly, his father wasn't dead. A man couldn't die from a stupid demon bite, not that he believes in demons. Of course, it was all a lie, a rumor, hearsay. It was impossible, completely insane. Earl Damascus Norton was young, he was strong. So he ran after Daniel. But when Dimitri reached the upstairs hall, he could say from the utter and comprehensive stillness of the six or so hovering housekeepers that the crisis was tragic.

And their sympathizing faces... for the rest of his life, he'd be plagued by those pitying faces. Those sad faces…

Dimitri had thought he'd have to shove his way into his parents' master chamber, but the housekeepers parted their way, and when he pushed open the door, he knew. It was not a trick.

He didn't even want to think about the word. It was chaos as his heartbeat was so fast.

"Papa?" he choked out. He hadn't called him that for years; he'd been "Father" since he'd left for school.

The family physician whirled, purposefully, as if hearing Dimitri's voice through a long cavern.

"What happened to my father?" Dimitri whispered as he took a step forward. His actions were awkward and slow. Everything had been slow, it was like time itself had turned very sluggish."

"He's gone, son. He had been... um-bitten by something, um-his blood drained, h-heart's gone... he had been a-attacked by some um- a w-wild animal or something." The physician finally muttered.

"That's impossible!" Dimitri choked back the tears that were scorching his eyes and throbbing in his throat and strode to his father's body. He was covered in a white linen blanket. He was indeed lifeless, and he stood there for almost eternity while Daniel stood motionless, sobbing quietly.

His grief came in waves, little by little, it was painful, and at first, they were so strong he felt so swept away. They come at such random moments, replacing a feeling of normalcy with those familiar tears. Yet in time those waves lessened and he wanted to let the good memories flood in instead, allowing his father's memories, her waves of smiles and warmth, those funny and sweet things that were said. He wanted to ride that wave, ride it in that boat called love but Dimitri couldn't his heartache for vengeance. He wanted nothing but blood.

Ten minutes later.

The physician kept saying it over and over until Dimitri wanted to smother him. Eventually, he got them all out of his parents' chamber, and he put his mother and Daniel to bed. Then he walked into the room where his father's body was still lying and looked at him. He stared at him and looked at him for what seemed like forever, staring at him for hours, barely blinking. "Father, I will avenge your demise. I don't care if it will take forever. I will avenge you. That I promised." He whispered and held the diamond pocket watch tightly under his burning gaze.

And when Dimitri left the room, he left with a new mission in his life and new knowledge about his own mortality. He would find a way to stay awake forever as long as the person responsible for his father's death was still breathing. He would find a way.

His father always said that transforming the world would never be a feat for one person or one sort of thinking because we are all born differently for a reason. 'Human intellect is not a race with a single track and a single gold medal; it is as diverse as a natural meadow, and it is closer to the concept of an ecosystem in which all thrive.'

But for Dimitri, it was all for nothing now. He wouldn't care for the change. All he ever wanted was to feed the darkness inside him, fuel the resentment because he wanted nothing but vengeance.

Looking at his body one last time, he knew his father was truly gone and someone executed him like a mundane varmint, and he vowed to his father's tomb that someone would pay, and he didn't care if he sold his soul to the devil. Lord Damascus had died at the age of forty, and Dimitri simply couldn't imagine ever surpassing his father in any way, even in years. Yet he did, for hundreds of years.

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