Author's Note: So, Final Exams are over, Winter Break has begun, and I am in an overall good mood. So, I've decided that I'm starting this story early. Lucky for you.

Again, this is another 'introduction' style chapter. I decided to leave the previous chapter up in case anyone else wished to make an OC submission.

Thank you to Hawk-Masters, Ghostie, and Clockwerk133 for reviewing. I am grateful for your submissions and I will try to do your characters justice.

Disclaimer: I don't own anything. Just the plot, none of the characters, not the Storm Hawks, not the OC's. The plot isn't even necessarily mine, as some of it comes from the backstories in the OC Submission Form. So don't sue me.

Piper glanced around, fear in her topaz eyes. Despite the fact that she knew the queen was long gone, she still felt like she was trespassing. She still felt like Cyclonis was going to burst back into the room and duel her with her crystal staff.

Or, even worse, she imagined Lark, beautiful Lark, coming back, and just looking at her with those big blue eyes filled with disappointment.

Sometimes—just sometimes—Piper wondered: was Lark really just a lie? Or did the girl always hide herself behind an evil overlord mask, and the vulnerable girl whom Piper had befriended was her real self?

Usually, though, it was easier to think of the girl as evil and emotionless.

Because they had killed her.

Not them, the Storm Hawks; Piper's squadron had only captured her and brought her to Terra Atmosia for trial. The Sky Knight Council had sentenced her to life imprisonment in maximum security, and she had met Piper's eyes and smiled.

Then, still smiling, she brought her right hand up directly above her heart and tapped once.

Her lips were still curved upwards as her body sank to the floor, limp. Her eyes, such a unique shade of violet, were still open, but they were flat. She was unquestionably dead.

She had killed herself; when she knew she was losing the war, she had given herself surgery, inserted a deadly crystal underneath her own skin, so she could escape whatever the Sky Knight Council decided for her.

Piper had just watched as she killed herself, and didn't do anything. She couldn't have done anything. How could she have known?

How could she have not known? Lark was supposed to be her friend.

The Sky Knight Council had wanted to burn all of the late empress's things, as to make sure none of the Talons could ever use them to rise again. Piper interceded. Perhaps she couldn't save her friend—or was she her enemy?—but she could at least save her precious life's work. Piper knew that Lark had so many rare crystal books, and her own notes on the science probably were filled with innumerable invaluable discoveries. Piper couldn't just let all that work go up in flames.

Piper placed the last book on the cart, then glanced around the room again. Nothing but old furniture draped in dust, dreary colors to begin with, but ever darker and more morose now. It was as if the entire room mourned the death of its occupant. Piper shivered, and tried not to think of all the ghost stories she and the boys told each other when they were younger.

A small, leather-bound book, appearing almost like a journal, caught her eye. She was surprised she had overlooked it before. Still, it appeared different than the well-organized, labeled volumes that contained Lark's notes. She glanced at the cover. Although the little book was covered in designs, there were no titles. Shrugging, she slipped it into her pocket, and began the process of wheeling the books out of the now-stripped bare room.

It was only later, as she watched the flames snake out of the windows of the ruined palace, reaching for the heavens but never quite making it, that she remembered the book. Feeling a bit like Eve taking the Forbidden Fruit, looking around to see if anyone was watching her, she opened the small leather journal and began to read.

Lark Cyclonis.

Writing. Well, Ace has gotten me this journal for my birthday—I'm eight years old, and I don't need a diary. Really, he might be a good fighter, but he doesn't understand intelligence, true knowledge, the beauty of thinking and knowing and complex problems—he doesn't understand any of that at all.

Maybe it's because I've been complaining to Grandmother about the lack of people for me to interact with. I certainly do not need Dark Ace as a surrogate Father. Ever since my biological parents were killed, she has been trying to replace them. Really, this attempt is just silly. The nannies were bearable, because most of them were to scared to approach me, but Dark Ace? He's our best fighter, and he should be out fighting, not babysitting me.

When I told him this he ruffled my hair and grinned, then said something about when did I grow up so fast?, and left. I guess this journal is a present from him to make up for not being here when he's supposed to pretend to by my 'Daddy' to make Grandmother happy.

Well, I much prefer a journal to Dark Ace trying to act sappy, but not by much. Seriously, what am I supposed to do, write my feelings in it? No way. I'm sorry, but that is just lame, pathetic, and cliché on so many levels.

I considered using this book for target practice, but the leather designs are so pretty, and I wouldn't want to insult Dark Ace, or Grandmother. I guess I will fill the pages, but not the way they expect me to.

I've had more free time on my hands than ever now, so I've been reading some old pieces. Sophocles—Antigone was such an amazing play, Creon was an idiot and there is no way any Cyclonian would have behaved like him—some Darwin, quite fascinating, his theories, a bit of Shakespeare, although I skipped the mushy pointless ones like Romeo and Juliet, really, how bored must someone be to enjoy it? I've read less popular works to, by unknown authors, and I've come to the conclusion:

Writing fiction is a more powerful way to record one's feelings than writing some journal about all the pointless little things one did in a day and how each pointless little thing made them feel.

All of the writings—the good ones, at least—I can feel a bit of the author's soul in it, speaking to me. They live on through the deepest and darkest parts of their imagination, saved forever through ink and paper.

To never die—what a fascinating idea. I do not wish to die. I know, at age eight, that I am too young to be so worried about death. Still, eternal blackness, forever not-being…it is such a frightening concept to grasp. What do you do for forever when you forever do not exist? I do not believe in an afterlife; indeed, it is just a stupid tale that people have created to comfort themselves over the fear of death. I would rather face that fear.

Yet I look at these stories—everyone knows who Shakespeare is—and I realize that these authors have never really died. They live on through every reader, through every character. They go down in history, and they never die.

Thus this journal is my way of cheating death. I want to record my soul in it, and—

Piper stopped reading. Record her soul in it.

It was like her worst nightmare come true. There was never any Lark. This eight-year-old manifestation of evil, she was downright creepy, and Piper hated how she heard her friend's voice speaking in her head.

She saw in her mind's eye once again Lark smiling, one hand over her heart, then falling limp, eyes still wide open.

She was not afraid of death.

It was if she knew her soul was going to survive, as if she knew Piper would find the book, and begin to read it.

Even now, it haunted her. She wanted to know what Cyclonis thought, what stories the young girl cooked up. She was dying to go back to the journal, and read just one entry. Surely one wouldn't hurt.

It was infecting her, this curiosity. She was already addicted. She knew she was falling right into the dead queen's trap, and she knew that she should just leave now.

Yet…she couldn't. She wanted to read on, and see the humanity. She wanted to read on, and see that the Lark she grew to think of almost as a sister wasn't a figment of her imagination. The book had been left lying on Cyclonis's bedside table; the queen probably wrote in it up until the Storm Hawks captured her.

Piper had been given a snapshot of the girl's life.

She said she feared death. Surely, in her death, it was only right to honor her last wish and read this book.

and you, the reader, will help me live on.

Yes, I know that someone is reading this. I do not know who you are, or how you found this book, but I charge you with the important task of keeping knowledge alive. Do not let me be forgotten.

You're at a crossroads, an important choice. Actually, I doubt you had a choice. I doubt you can put the book down now. You are curious, are you not? You need to see what nightmares I can dream up. Well, you're good and trapped now. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Turn the page, if you dare.

Piper shivered. Now she really could hear Cyclonis's voice, proud and condescending, as if the deceased empress were reading the words to her. It was like the girl was in her mind already, reading her thoughts and writing it down on the page. Cyclonis was right—she couldn't put the book down now.

Trembling, she brought two thin brown fingers to the edge of the paper, and flipped the page.

So now I wonder, are you as addicted as Piper? Are you dying to turn the page and read the next chapter? Review, please, and it will go up. Soon. I am still taking submissions for OCs (which is why the submissions page is up).