Prologue

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In the dead of night, the music started.

It rang at the edge of her hearing, beneath the sigh of the wind that blew through the grasses outside. It felt like a dream, a tune that pulled at her heart with its beauty and mystery. It demanded something.

It demanded that she get up from her bed and come out into the night.

Her parents slept deeply and would never be the wiser. No one would know.

The blanket was thrown off her body, her bare feet touched the floor. The room swayed. She moved like a dreamer through the silent, unlit house. Why was the front door unlocked? The question remained unanswered because the music demanded.

It was soft, but filled with strange meanings, with a sense that there was a purpose, a path — she had to follow. The gravel in the driveway cut the soles of her small bare feet — yet the prickling of the pebbles was a distant bother, a few tickling notes within the tune.

The wind tugged and pulled at her black hair and white nightgown. She could see nothing; the night was pitch black. Her feet moved on their own. She was headed to the forest. No, this wasn't right. Something was amiss. She wanted to turn back. She had to turn back.

Out of the tune, out of the music, a voice whispered, "Come to me...."

The trees unfolded before her, she could feel them in the music — tall and slow. Shadows gathered beneath their trunks, wind creaked in their branches. Everyone was warned against the forest and what could be found there, her parents always locked the door at night, always.

Children called into the forest never returned.

"Come to me," the voice whispered again, and her feet obeyed, dragging through the mossy earth as she tried to stop her steps and turn back home.

"Help..." she shouted. The fear in her heart was nothing but a drum-beat and the sound of her voice was swallowed up into the music as well.

One reluctant step at a time, deep into dark forest she went, helplessly. Then — a clearing in the trees, the earth before her opened a gaping maw. The music was a shriek now, a dissonance of sound that tore at her ears and soul. She was released, and fell back onto the ground as the chasm widened, she tried to crawl away.

Something pale was rising out of the rift.

Hands, many long-fingered hands reached for her on thin, transparent arms that extended on and on like long ropes. She scrambled away — but they caught her fast. First a few, then many more, grasping her hair, her arms, her legs, pulling her from all directions. The hands were bony, almost like claws, and they dragged her toward the chasm.

In a split second that lasted an eternity, a hum trembled through the earth and a tune, a different tune, ancient and deep, called out desperately to her. In the blur of movement, she saw gigantic white shapes bounding through the thin trees, sending long tendrils of whiteness towards her.

They would save her, they would

But missed her by a mere inch, she was whisked away.

"No!" someone cried.

In and in and in she fell, to the dark abyss and empty chaos, another child — lost.

The earth sealed itself closed when she was gone.

*

The chill of dawn penetrated through her nightgown as, shivering, she fell to the hard, dew-covered ground. Her whole body curled into a ball, tears trailing down her cheeks.

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