Chapter One

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Jinji

~ Northmore Forest ~

A shadow was just the absence of light, a spot the sun could not reach. It was empty. But floating below her, drifting and dancing along the landscape, her shadow seemed full—not a reflection, but an impostor.

She pumped her leathery wings. The shadow did too. 

She dipped closer to the trees. The shadow condensed, its points sharpening to match the outline of her body.

She arched up, farther into the cloudless sky. The shadow expanded and lost focus, rippling over the pointed trees below.

Enough, she thought, gliding with the wind. Time for food. She focused on the horizon, spotting a deeper blue against the sky. Her mouth watered.

Keeping her eyes on the ground, she watched as forest gave way to rocks that cut deep into the sea, a molten sapphire speckled with white. She swerved left along the shore, focusing on the cerulean expanse of the reef, searching for movement.

There.

The lazy undulation of a fin.

She dove, jaws widening.

A black shape flicked into her peripheral vision. She turned.

Bright white eyes opened in the darkness. Jaws clamped around her neck. She reached out with her claws, sinking razor-sharp nails into the invader's flesh.

They fell as one, smacking into the water, a mass of light and dark, plummeting below the surface. The jaws tightened. Her vision condensed. Air slowed.

They continued to descend deeper and deeper into the shadows, to the part of the world the sun could not penetrate, where the darkness gained a life of its own…

Jinji awoke with a start, gasping for air and clutching her aching chest. Her lungs screamed. Her mind fought to escape the daze. She blinked, but the darkness would not recede, even as her memory ignited.

It was the same dream. A dream she had only had once before but would never forget. A dream that was somehow more.

Another blink and a soft orange light leaked into her vision. She looked up through the smoke circle in the roof, toward the sky.

Dawn.

Jinji stood, throwing her furs to the side and stepping quietly past her mother and father. Soft dirt muted her steps, and her parents didn't stir as she crossed the small expanse of their home. Lifting the pelt aside, she stepped into the morning mist and began to run. Her feet followed the path along the longhouse, past the rest of her sleeping tribe and into the forest beyond. No thought was necessary—she had taken this path too many times before.

Besides, concentration was beyond her. Her thoughts had drifted out of the world and into her memories, all the way back to her brother.

Janu, her heart cried softly, remembering him.

The last time she dreamed that dream had been on the eve of his death—what did it mean that it had happened again, a decade later on the dawn of her joining?

Jinji stopped.

She had reached the clearing, her sacred haven. A place shared only with her closest friend Leoa. Away from the game and too close to the outside world for anyone else in her tribe to discover—this place was their secret. The only place two girls could talk away from the attentive ears of the elders and the only place she could go to truly escape.

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