Prologue

A Chill Below; The Cold Barrow

Wind lashed at her skin like pelting fires of ice, venomous fangs of snowflakes pelting her face. She wasn't sure she could feel her toes anymore, and the howling of the wind was arguing with the chattering of her bones beneath her flesh. Her hands couldn't cling tight enough to her shoulders, couldn't stop the cold that seeped from every conceivable angle. She grit her teeth. The stars and a full moon lit the snow as an ethereal ghost, guiding her as much as losing her in the vastness. She had no room to question her inner sense of direction; if she were wrong, she was dead, and death was an ultimatum she could not accept. Somewhere in the distance, a howl haunted her, traveling miles it to cradle the curves of her pointed ears.

There is so much snow, so much wind, an endless story of the same old villain, that when she saw movement, she almost didn't comprehend it. Her eyes attempt to capture the sight, but whatever it was was gone, in the distant, endless snows, she cannot find. She swayed, balance almost lost due to pure frigidness, but she coiled her courage taunt around her ribs and forced the rope to pull her limbs, and promised herself that even if she had to keep doing it every few minutes, she would. The snow crunched beneath her boots, and the movement again – accompanied by a lone howl. She snapped her vision aside, just in time to see the end of whiteness disappearing behind a snowy mound.

It was her luck that a wolf would be following her. She felt a bitter chuckle try to escape her throat and suppressed it, tried to keep her mind from wandering. Even as she told herself to stop, she lamented her mark, lamented that she had been sent to the conclave, that she had been the first, that she had been born with magic in her blood, that her father hadn't wanted her, that – "Enough!"

Her shout thundered over the hills, and a howl that crippled her soul with astonishing empathy responded. She had to stop, had to put her hands on her knees, had to catch her breath. Had to contain her waves of emotions under the cool, calm exterior she ever exerted, before her exterior became so cool she could no longer draw breath. The wolf was not capable of empathy towards her, she knew. Her imagination was running wild with details out here, alone, shivering and cold, perhaps on the very last of her grains of sand.

She forced herself to stand, told herself that not all trees grew straight but they all reached towards the sun. Hadn't she said that once – to Blackwall? In another life, in another time – she was struck nearly dumb by the sensation that settled on her then. She had no choice but to look at her iced fingers and dry palms, demanding answers to why she felt so strongly she knew this path, that she had been here before. Her eyes were alight like newborn stars as they searched around, another crunch of snow beneath her feet, and then another. From stop to run did she turn, trying to outrun this déjà vu, this wolf following her, hunting her.

She catches a sight of the white wolf in the distance, too far to discern details. It was running, too, now. Always parallel, never behind, never before. It was on her time, but her time was wrong, and she could only run, trying to find the right time, trying to find her time, not his time, not this one that demanded she stay. Her will pushed and heaved at her heart and her feet propelled like driven machines, the graceful last dance her mind declared to her, and she made a disgusted noise at herself.

She snapped her eyes forward before she stumbled, before the wolf stole her attention and sucked her life away, and all she saw was blackness and six yellow eyes, all she smelt was blood, all she heard was her own scream.