Prologue

Torches flickered feebly in the darkness, surrounding the massive stone altar. Shadowy figures stood motionless along the damp stone walls, waiting. At the far end of the chamber, seated on a massive carved throne, sat the High Priest, his skin pale, nearly white, his face unreadable, pale white eyes gazing out across the chamber at nothing and everything.

Beside the throne stood a second figure, also robed in black, its body hidden beneath the thick, overlapping folds. Only the lower half of a blackened and malformed face could be seen.

The seated figure stirred, his eyes focusing on the far entrance of the temple.

"Bring in the next one," he said. When he spoke, his voice was soft, distant, almost reptilian. A faint smile barely touched the colorless lips.

Two more robed figures came in, escorting a young woman, dressed in white. Her eyes were deep blue and glazed. She stared up at the pale figure on the throne in some form of rapture.

The seated Priest looked at the figure next to him.

"I trust this shall meet with your approval?" he asked.

"Yes," The other figure said in a rough, husky, distinctly feminine voice. That one stepped down from the dias, extending its blackened, ruined fingers to either side of the woman's delicate face.

"My father shall reward you for your sacrifice," she said hypnotically. She bent slowly and pressed her ruined lips against the mouth of the woman in a long, grotesque kiss. The cowl fell back, revealing the tortured peeled and burnt scalp with tufts of singed hair.

A soft moan emanated from the young woman as she gave herself over to that kiss, then her body stiffened in surprise and the soft moan became a rising, muffled cry of pain and terror.

The blackened fingers held fast the face of the young woman as she suddenly struggled against the dark figure holding her.

Then the flesh on the young woman began to shrink, as if years were passing by in a matter of moments, the eyes, wide with terror, glazed over again and began to go dim. The struggling hands weakened and fell limp. At the same time, the dark figure's flesh began to pale and grow pink again. Long strands of luxurious golden hair began flowing from the scarred head. The dark robe fell to the ground, revealing the body of the thing.

Like a macabre butterfly, shedding the hard shell of its cocoon, The blackened figure slowly transformed into something far more human. Her flesh was soft, pink, and shapely in its simple nakedness. The burnt claw like fingers receded beneath layers of soft flesh and perfectly manicured nails. The deep, ember pits that were its eyes dimmed and then filled, turning a deep mesmerizing green. Those green eyes stared ahead at the room, filling with malevolent satisfaction, the lips still locked on the failing body of its victim.

At last, the crumpled form of the sacrifice fell to the stone floor with the unnatural clatter of old bones wrapped in a thin layer of shrunken flesh.

The figure held up its healed hands and stared at them in wonder, a small smile barely touching the edges of her healed lips. She turned those hands over, and explored her new flesh, as if understanding, for the first time, what it truly meant to feel. The hands reached up to caress the smooth skin of her face. The long tresses, tickled the skin of her back, between her shoulder blades. Inquisitive green eyes closed in a mixture of rapture and childish fascination.

A seductive sigh escaped her lips. "I've missed this."

The pale priest rose, smiling as he surveyed her shapely body. He quickly subverted his lustful desires and draped her discarded robe over her soft shoulders.

She stiffened at his intrusive touch and turned her large green eyes up to his pale face. Her smile was cold and calculating and those soft green eyes bored into his gaze like icy daggers.

"My lady," he hissed as he bowed his head. His hand stayed poised over his heart, and he backed several respectful steps away from her. "Too long have we endured without your guidance. Now, we rejoice that you have returned to us in full."

"I'm sure," she smiled. She strode towards the throne and folded herself into it with feline grace, her eyes scanning the surrounding priests with glacial detachment. "My father is most displeased with your lack of progress over the years." Her fingers stroked the cold unyielding stone as if it were crushed velvet. Then she looked sharply at the High Priest. A single dagger detached itself from the wall and shot across the chamber, plunging into the priests heart. Instead of pain or surprise, the priest merely smiled and crumpled to the floor, his blood pooling beneath his body.

Her eyes scanned the remaining figures standing motionless about the altar. She leaned her head back against the stone and sighed, smiling coldly. "All of that is going to change."

She let a sigh escape her lips as she reveled, once more, in the feeling of her new flesh, then she rose, heedless of the way her robe opened when she moved.

Stepping to the altar, she placed her hands upon it and looked about the room.

A dozen robed figures stepped from the shadows, all of them, like their predecessor, were pale skinned and white eyed.

"The Greek Gods are no more," she said with a smile. "Those that remain are weak, waiting to be toppled. The Egyptian Gods have fallen into chaos, and the rest will fall in turn. It is our time. Gather your brothers together. It's time to go forth and claim the lands we have been promised."

A dozen cowled heads nodded in acquiescence and departed.

Once the temple was empty, she let the old robe fall back to the floor and stretched her arms out in abandon, feeling the cool air move over her skin. Standing before the large polished shape of a silver shield, she stared at her reflection in wonder and smiled again, then she raised her arms and closed her eyes. A soft bluish light rose from the ground, writhing about her like ethereal serpents. When they finally faded, she looked again at the garments she now wore. A simple green top and soft tan skirt. Her feet were encased in sturdy brown boots, and a long quarterstaff rested in her right hand.

"There," she nodded in cool satisfaction. She turned and strode purposefully towards the entrance. "Time to go see mommy."