Chapter 1 - The mist

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Her day started as a gray and damp morning, guaranteed to be the start of a gray and wet day. Mist rose from the forest floor in swirls and eddies.  The smell of growing things and damp earth lingered on the cold air. Her robes had already become soggy and uncomfortable from the moisture.

Her silver-blonde hair became a shade darker, and her silver-gray eyes betrayed a certain wariness.  She didn't lose sight of the realization that one could get lost in the thick mist, even when one was as familiar with the countryside as she was. She played in these woods as a child and scavenged for food and herbs in it.

Aren knew that the swirling and shifting mists made the most well-known paths into foreign places. The mist dampened all sound, and familiar trees loomed, grotesquely, from the enshrouding whiteness.

A movement, seen from the corner of her eye, startled the young girl. There was nothing there and Aren, who never was one to fear the unknown, felt uneasy. She had the oddest sense of being watched by burning bright eyes, hidden from her sight by the surrounding mist.

Her back straightened and her lithe body quickened its stride. Careful not to step off the path, she scanned the mist.  Her grandfather would have chastened her for allowing her imagination to play tricks on her, but she couldn't shake the notion of danger lurking in the blinding whiteness.

The dregs of a restless night, filled with barely remembered dreams, now left her with a sense of dread and of foreboding. Perhaps even something more specific than foreboding.

The madness made others uneasy around her, and then there were the dreams that haunted her for as long as she could remember, and which made enemies of even friends. The whispered warnings of something dreadful that no-one dared speak out loud.

The dreams became more vivid when the moon was at its fullest. They plagued her from the night before the full moon to the night the moon waned to three-quarters full once more. They afforded her no real rest.

Her eyes refocused on the ground and Aren realized that she strayed from the track.  She fought down her panic as she scanned the mist; she heard her heartbeat in the deafening silence, thumping like a drum in her chest and drowning out all other sounds.

Something changed as if she physically stepped into her dreams of the night before. The mist parted as if by magic and a gray wolf launched through the air.  The world seemed to slow, and her mind imprinted the memory of the huge grey beast with its bright glowing eyes and powerful body in her thoughts.

The razor sharp fangs and sharp claws glinted in the half-light. The impact as it collided with her, landed Aren on her back.  Dazed and winded by the fall, but scrambled to her feet, expecting the beast to tear her apart but nothing happened.

There was no wolf, and the rest of the pack wouldn't lunge from the blinding whiteness. Not even footprints disturbed the ground, and she should feel relieved, but instead, she felt wary.  Something trickled down her arm, and she stared at the bright red ribbons of blood in confusion. Four long scratches marred the tanned skin of her arm.

She scanned the mist with fear, as she finally understood that this wasn't one of her dreams.  Aren came to realize that something seemed wrong. Something alien and yet familiar flowed through her veins like fire. A presence touched the edges of her awareness and connected with her soul.

A sharp stab of pain invaded her brain without warning, like a searing hot brand, forcing Aren to her knees. The pain increased until it encompassed her entire consciousness and spread through her body like a raging wildfire.

The ground and the trees passed her by in a whirl of speed down a path, into the forest, over a broken tree, further and further from where she had been.  When the world came to a standstill, and it took a while for the thought to sink in; she had become a bystander in her mind.

She recognized the ruins from a visit, long before, with the mother she barely remembered. It seemed different to her now that she was no longer a child, more surreal. Here there was no mist, but no real sunlight either as the clouds thickened in the sky with the first stirrings of a storm.

Aren shook her head. Her senses became painfully alert, and she saw details that she couldn't recognize before.

Her ears picked up sounds she couldn't place, some near, and some far, along with a profusion of unknown smells. Her skin seemed to have acquired a life of its own as it prickled at the dampness, and the hair on the back of her neck stood on end.

How did she get here? She wondered, but the question seemed distant as if it originated from someone else. Some other Aren that wasn't important.

A small sound appeared louder, closer, more immediate than any other. Her head cocked in that direction, and her breathing changed as she picked up a faint, but familiar odor on the wind. Hunter, her mind had no time to consider the conclusion. Instinct urged her to get away from the danger, but some part of her knew this response came from some primal part of her, it was born of habit, and wasn't a necessity. The hunter posed no threat to her person, but she posed a threat to the hunter.

Again her consciousness faded; into blurs of color that passed her by, along with swathes of forest floor, dead leaves that rustled under her feet as she rushed over boulders, under branches, and over hedges.

Aren came to herself in the open grasslands. The sense of being two separate people had gone. Adversely, she longed for that other presence, but it would not surface.  She was Aren, and yet something felt wrong. The answer came unbidden, and she almost smiled.

The wolf lowered its head and became Aren once more. She found herself seated between bowing yellow grasses that touched her shoulders and tickled her face.  Her legs were bent, and her arms rested on her knees. Her body relaxed, but not her mind. Aren let her chin rest on her locked arms, and a frown drew her brows together.

What drew her to that particular path, and where was she headed? She couldn't remember because something actively tried to prevent the memory. Aren recalled a sense of purpose, a feeling of having something important that she needed to do.

The faces of her grandparents created a dense fog between her and that purpose. Without effort, she understood and interpreted her thought. The image faded, leaving her aware that she sat motionless for a long time.

The sun had grown hot, and sweat trickled down her sides. Yesterday it was spring, and already the season changed to midsummer. She dared no longer ignore the intense longing to do what she was born to do.

This one I've been working on for many years.  One of my first babies. I can never quite get it right, but I edited this chapter as a preview of what it would look like when I get a chance to edit the rest.

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