Prologue

Whipping branches and grasping thorns tore at her skin and clothes, shredding them and leaving scores of cuts and gashes. Blood trickled from them, leaving small droplets behind as she urged her rapidly flagging legs onwards. She was fleeing. She was fleeing from the one who sought to kill her. She had no right to live. Justice demanded that she die for her sins. But justice had never been of much concern for the Witch of Betrayal. After all, if justice had never been granted to her in life, why should she respect it in turn? She would live. Even for a second longer, she would live. Even with death coming for her, she would live.

And there was rain, and blood, and the Witch condemned.

She chanced a glance over her shoulder. Silence. Darkness. A forest still. Had death stop coming for her? He ran on swift feet, while hers was slow. Had he been chasing her, he would have caught her by now.

A stray root tangled her foot, and she rolled over into the mud. Her chest heaved up and down as she laid there, catching her breath. Slowly, she pushed her upper body back up, but no more than that. Her body was weary, and more importantly, what was the point? Even if he had stopped hunting her, it could only be because she was doomed either way. With no Master to anchor her to this world, she would soon fade away. She was not certain how long she had left. Hours. Minutes. Perhaps seconds. It did not matter. They would pass, and she would die.

And there was rain, and blood, and only time.

She dragged herself to the trunk of a tree and leaned her head against it. Her hood had fallen away during her flight, so she pressed her bare skin and hair against the rough and wet bark. A small comfort, but in such a moment, she grasped at every comfort she could get. She sobbed and the tears intermingled with the rain that fell through the branches of the forest.

It wasn't fair. She knew that she sounded like a petulant girl, but still she sobbed to herself. It wasn't fair. All she wanted was a second chance at life. For that, she would do anything, but fate would not permit such an impossible wish. She was doomed to a life of betrayal, and she knew it. Her king, her lovers, even her Master had betrayed her. This was life. This was fate. This was her condemnation.

And there was rain, and blood, and then the miracle.

He appeared, hands in pockets and unmindful of the rain that fell upon his hooded head. She turned her head to him languidly. Blood was splattered on his clothes, but they were being washed away by the rain. She wondered, briefly, where the blood had come from. He did not look injured, meaning that blood was not his own. He looked back at her with a frown.

"Are you okay?"

She opened her mouth, then hitched as fresh tears fell from her eyes.

"Save me," she whispered. "Please, save me."

He nodded and gently scooped her up in his arms, uncaring of the mud from her clothes caking his own. Closer now, she studied his face more carefully. Was it concern that she saw there? Pity? Or was this yet another human who would seek to take advantage of a woman lost and alone and in desperate need? Was it not even that, and instead mere indifference? She could not tell, not with her heavy eyelids starting to droop shut.

And so there was rain, and blood, and those condemned.