***Author's Note****

It's been quite a long hiatus! Life tends to get in the way of things like this, so this project was shelved – for a looooooooong time. I sort of hit a bit of writer's block and dreaded writing the next chapter (I just wanted to skip ahead to the next chapter!) Nevertheless, I hope anyone still keeping up with this enjoys a new chapter!

I fully intend to finish a massive re-writing to make characters more character-y, but due to the begging of some of my readers *cough*you knowwhoyouare *cough* I'm adding more chapters to this edit for your enjoyment. You may notice a few non-continuities in these chapters – this is due to irrevocable changes in the storyline – I cannot tailor them to fit this story's lore since it is too important to future development. Sorry! But I wish you all a happy summer! ~slflew

Prologue. One Year Ago.

The sun hovered over the trees, setting them aglow with its flame and casting the quietness of a late summer afternoon on the world. Small insects like dust motes danced over the long amber blades of grass as the river ran lazily by. The heat lay like a stifling blanket, making every breath a gasp.

The people of the town sensed that something was going to happen, that they were on the brink of something new, and - perhaps- terrifying. They looked up at the hazy white sky and whispered among themselves, as though they didn't want to disturb what lay waiting. Children woke up at night screaming for their parents, who had few words to comfort them, since they themselves had been lying awake, sweating in the darkness, starting blindly at the ceiling and praying that morning would come swiftly.

When people met, they turned away from each other after exchanging only a few words. Few had the heart to do anything, and even the television had lost any comforting power. A nameless fear was eating away at everyone's hearts, and they knew not what to do.

School began, somewhat to the relief of the adults, as the children would have something to take their minds off the darkness of their dreams. The children filed into their oppressively hot schoolrooms, passively listening to their teachers; there was rarely any laughter or teasing. This increased the unease of the teachers, who fidgeted in the fronts of their classrooms as they spoke nervously to their students.

Over time the unease began to pass, and people breathed sighs of relief. It was merely a passing nightmare, they said to one another, and, because the memories pained them, they promptly forgot about it, as humans so often tend to do.

Chapter 1. An introduction to Gwen, our main character.

Every snowflake is different, an individual creation that, though small, is unique. Scientists may say that it is just the random crystal-like freezing of water that combines to make this phenomenon, but the sheer idea that among billions, each is unique, is in itself compelling. Each of us is also unique, but such an idea is difficult to think about when so much of our lives can be the same.

Gwen is nothing special, to be sure. She is neither too short nor too tall, and she has dark, brownish hair and greenish eyes. Her family is not rich or poor, and she cannot talk to animals or fly, like many heroes of the stories she often read. If one were to look more clearly at her eyes, however, they would notice that they are not green, as first perceived, but that they are rather a blue-grey, with a yellow circle near the pupils. This, from a distance, combine to make a muddy green, but give her eyes the extraordinary effect of shifting colors up close.

On the eastern seaboard of America, there lies the oft-forgotten state of Maine, with wild forests and slippery crags and cliffs that drop violently into the frigid churning grey sea. These forests have been tamed somewhat by the passing of man, but many parts remain untouched, so that one might walk from utter wilderness of soaring pines to old stone walls framing younger trees, and then to open meadows that grow tall grasses, not yet claimed by the forest. There is something mysterious about the woods of Maine - a sense that one gets. They are beautiful and elusive - poets have fallen in love with them; artists have left their paints and walked into their murky darkness, disappearing for all time. A tourist may walk by and note their variety, but only a resident can know its soul. And so it was in this wild, betwixt-and-between land that Gwen had grown up. Often during the summer, her parents would take her to the lake, where they owned a small, humble cabin. There mice and bats would take up residence before its human occupants arrived. The pine needle carpets characteristic of the taiga would surround it, having fallen from vast heights above.

But the lake - a glacial lake, some say - is so big that its furthest shore, as viewed from the cabin, would often be obscured by rain or haze, and large islands covered with mysterious forests quietly wait out the water. Though the water is deep, enormous rocks would loom out of the depths, and occasionally causing Gwen to squeak in fear and clutch the sides of her father's fishing boat. Reeds grace the water near the cabin shore, giving shelter to mussels, frogs, fish, and loons. Their haunting staccato cries would punch through the stillness of the night.

Though Gwen's heart might have been stowed away at this lake, she lived in the bustling small town of Ash Mills. It had a couple of restaurants and gas stations, and even a movie theater and a Carnegie library where one could find Gwen most of the time. Her home, where she lived with her parents, her younger brother and sister as well as a cat, sat on top of a hill overlooking the town. It was surrounded by wide fields of tall grasses, and behind the house sat the dark and brooding woods.

But at the end of the school year, Gwen's family began packing to go up to the lake. Their last day in the house was frenzied as they tried to remember everything they would need. Gwen's father made sure all his work was finished, her brother John was taking care of food under the watchful eye of their mother, and her younger sister was tasked with making sure the cat would be well-fed. They had hired a neighbor to take care of it while they were gone.

Gwen had been lazy and left all her personal packing to the last day, which was driving her mother up the wall. When her mother came into the room, Gwen was staring contemplatively at her dresser drawers.

"Why aren't you packing yet?" her mother demanded, making Gwen jump.

"I am packing!" she protested. "I was trying to remember everything."

"You wouldn't forget anything if you would've packed earlier."

Gwen pursed her lips and started pulling books off shelves, stuffing them into a bag.

Her mother sighed. "Don't forget important things like underwear," she said before leaving for the kitchen.

"I'm not going to!" Gwen muttered under her breath as she forced more books into the bag.

That night they all carried things out to the van – fishing rods, food, sunscreen, laptops - and early the next morning locked up the house, leaving the key under the doormat for the sitter, and got into the car.

The wilderness flashed by as they drove along the interstate. It was a solid three hour drive, and it wasn't until they were halfway there when Gwen realized with a sinking feeling that she'd forgotten to pack pajamas. Soon their van slid into the shade of the green forest. They slowed to a crawl along the potholed dirt road, tree branches scraping gently along the sides of the van. It wasn't long before the dirty white of their cabin peeked out from among the veil of trees.

Quickly, Gwen unbuckled and got out of the van, running to stand at the edge of the dock, letting the wind ruffle her hair, watching the waves, the green of the island forests, and the white clouds scudding by. She lay in the hammock after putting her luggage in the cabin, smelling the pungent scent of the pine trees and the rich smoke of the barbecue as her father cooked.

That evening, she fought a losing battle to keep her long hair out her food. Her mother often commented (hinting, no doubt, at a haircut) on its length, but Gwen liked it - it gave her a distinction among her peers at school.

"Gwen! Your feet are filthy!" her mother scolded, and indeed, as she looked at them, they were. She shrugged, not caring. She normally went barefoot in and out of doors, which meant that her feet were calloused from years of abuse. If she didn't go barefoot, she wore sandals, even in winter, which annoyed both her teachers and her parents to no end. In truth, her feet got very hot if confined to socks and shoes, so she wiggled her dirty toes as she wolfed down her dinner, and slept in jeans with her feet outside the blankets that night.