Prologue

We are such stuff

As dreams are made on; and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep

—Shakespeare, The Tempest

Perhaps her life had started as a delightful dream, ten-year-old Belle mused from her place in the caravan her family was traveling with. But if it had, it had turned to a nightmare in a blink. Once, as little as two months ago, they'd been wealthy, the richest family of merchants in Asha, below only the nobility in funds. They'd had all manner of material things—far too many to count, really—as well as family bonds that had been close and loving, considering their station.

And then her mother died, three years before, and her unfortunate, still-grieving father had lost all of their great wealth in a series of losses and accidents, till they were left with only the meagerest of things, their family expelled in shame from the city. They left with, literally, only what they could carry in a wagon and the horse that Belle rode, now called 'Armel', who she'd saved from a cruel death at the hands of a villainous farrier the year before. They were on their way now to a village called Belkin, hundreds of miles from anything familiar, where her Grand-mère had left them a little cottage on the outskirts of the town.

A sudden tingle at the back of Belle's neck sent a shiver down her spine. The feeling of being watched had plagued her for the last three miles, ever since they had entered these woods. Stories of wolves and bandits were not as prevalent in her mind as those of worse things: ghouls, witches, werewolves. The Magic Wars had been over for nearly two hundred years, but she'd heard the stories of the horrible things could happen to travelers this far to the north.

Cat's-eyes opened, staring keenly straight at her, the irises purple in color. An angular face that wasn't…human…surrounded them, clad with tight silver scales. There was blood, dark red, spilling onto nearly colorless granite, and rose petals of the same shade scattered about.

"Belle..."

With a start she jerked away from the vision, throwing down the mental walls she'd cultivated at a young age and refusing to allow it back into her mind. Regardless of what her Grand-mère had said, she didn't have to accept what her dubious 'gift' could bring her, these little flashes of what was, what might be, and what had been. She refused to—not when it was so unreliable. Not when she hadn't even been able to foresee her own mother's death, three years ago. No, Maman was gone, and Belle would never use her power again, not willingly.

"Belle? Are you alright?" her eldest sister asked from her seat in the wagon. Belle gazed over at the beautiful woman her sister had become and smiled reassuringly.

"I'm fine, Esme. Really."