PROLOGUE

A light snoring filled the attic room of Number Five, Shaker Row. A girl with jet black hair was slumped over her desk, mouth agape. Deep in slumber, she was ignorant of the saliva that dripped from her lip and onto the page below. She snorted, and a tassel of hair fell in front of her face. She sniffed, nose twitching, and then let out a violent sneeze.

The force of air rushing through her nostrils shook Connie into wakefulness. She lifted her head, wiping at the drool. Her right cheek was burning from where her desk lamp had been shining. Yawning, she glanced to the clock on her bedside, and almost fell out of her chair. It was six hours since she had come upstairs to do a little reading before bed. She must have been more engrossed than she thought.

Stifling another yawn, Connie revolved in her swivel chair to prepare for bed, knocking a paper to the floor. Frowning, she bent down to retrieve it. Her eyes skimmed the scrawled letters.

"This ancient tale," it began, "passed down through the House of Lionheart, has been confined to the oral tradition, but on this day, I, Colman Lionheart, am proud to commit this narrative to parchment, so that future generations of our family may appreciate the gracious deed of our ancestor Helena, the first of the universal gift."

Connie paused, torn between wanting to continue and realizing that she needed to sleep. Dispelling a brief pang of guilt, she read on.

"It begins in the years before our Enlightenment, when society was masked by the veil of superstition and fear. In these times, where magic and not science predominate, a companion to that noblest of steeds, the pegasi, attempted assassination. For though the Society was not united as we know it today, there were sects where the gifts prospered. This companion was exiled for his crime. Deserted by his shamed pegasus, the companion wandered, tortured, alone.

"But one day he returned, and no longer did he travel in isolation. Instead a new pegasus, his coat as black as tar, accompanied him, and they headed a great army of the wild pegasi- those of the pegasus herds who refute the companionship of our kind. Driven by his anger and sadness, the companion declared war on those who shared bonds with the creatures of myth, desiring them to bow to him as their ruler.

"The battles were long and arduous. Many great families who housed the sacred gifts were slain, and the lone universal, Helena Lionheart, was torn by grief. And so she sacrificed herself to seal away the demon pegasus and his companion, ending the torment. The emblem of her power, however, disappeared with her, and though many expeditions have sought it out, it remains elusive. Nonetheless, we must never forget her bravery, courage and kindness. She is an example to any companion, and in her honour her memory should be revered."

Connie murmured, remembering why she had written this story down. It mentioned the universal gift was older than the foundation of the Society for the Protection of Mythical Creatures. It was a fascinating piece of family history, and somewhat alarming, for Connie was no stranger to the idea that a mythical creature could force a companion to its whims…

"I'm hurt, Universal," came a voice in her head. "Must you think of me so badly all the time?"

Connie huffed. It seemed that her permanent house guest was still awake, too.

"Was that pegasus you, then, Kullervo?" she asked silently. "It does say he was black, which was your favourite colour."

"I am far older than your feeble records of word," scoffed Kullervo. "As old as the gift that runs through your veins. But I know of this pegasus. Alas, he was defeated before I could bargain for his allegiance. A great shame, for it would have been useful to have a creature that could control another's mind."

"Oh, shut up," Connie grumbled, massaging her temples. "You did well enough forcing Col to your side. Now go away, I can't be bothered to argue with you."

"As you wish, Universal."

Connie felt Kullervo's presence fade. It was odd, that no matter how pestering he could be, he would always depart when she requested it. At least she was no longer at the mercy of his control anymore.

Her eyelids drooping, Connie shrugged on some pyjamas and crawled into bed. Oh, how she was going to regret this in the morning.