Prologue

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I had always believed the prophecy to be true. It told of the coming of four special beings with the ability to wield the elements and to restore balance to a world imbalanced by evil and darkness. As a child, I imagined that these special beings would be big and strong, all-powerful like the gods themselves, wielding swords of light, spears of fire, and shields of unbreakable steel. The prophecy was hope. A glimmer of light in a sea of darkness.

A cruel deception.

I have seen the darkness. And it has suffocated my light of hope. There is no hope. There is no escaping the darkness.

The irony of my conviction. My youth yielded nothing of the morbidity that dictates my thoughts now. No, my youth was filled with happiness and sunshine, a bright light that I never imagined would ever end. My mother was the center of it all. Our days together were filled with laughter, games in the garden, often joined by the flora fae, and meals by the warm fireplace. The war did not touch us there. And there was no darkness. Only love. Yet, on that dreadful day when the inevitable pounding came at our door, unwelcomed and unsolicited, I knew. I sensed it before it came. The darkness had finally reached our safe haven. It had taken over their minds, their senses. There was no reasoning with them. They, whom my mother had aided, nourished, and healed. They had become the enemy, consumed with hate, only wanting one thing: blood.

The gods bestowed upon me a gift of presentiment. But on that day, it was not a gift. It was a curse. For all my knowing, I couldn't save her. Mother, of course, believed otherwise. Even as she breathed her last dying breaths, she still had hope. She assured me that my ability of foresight was a gift and that it would not only save my life, but the lives of many.

She died in my arms. It was then that I lost all hope and realized that it was a cursed illusion. There had been no hope for her, just as there had been no hope for me.

Despite all that has happened since, I suddenly find myself clinging desperately to that illusionary hope. As I run for my life, I hope that escape will only be a little bit further, that I won't die in this desolate, dark forest, and that the child I bear in my arms will not face a fate worse than death. She is not mine. She is not even human. As a matter of fact, we have not yet met. I am still unsure of what compelled me to pull her out of the cold water and into my arms. Perhaps it was out of a secret need to redeem my failure so many years ago. Perhaps it was to save the innocence that was so clear in her small elven face, an innocence that was robbed from me so long ago. Whatever the reason, the only thing I know now is that I must save her.

I race through the frozen, dark forest, fleeing daemons, deformities of darkness, that only promise a torturous death should they catch me. The child in my arms weighs me down, but pure fear drives me forward. I try to think of the fae blood that runs through my veins and hope still that it will give me the advantage I need to escape.

The woods are quiet. Too quiet. There is no sound, not even the scurry of rodents as they make way for my frenzied flight. Dawn is approaching, yet the birds do not leave their safe haven to greet it. It is almost as if the animals, and even the trees, know that something dark, something sinister is in their midst.

My foot catches on something. A root. Or a rock. It doesn't matter. I'm falling. And so is she.

I crash to the ground, my hands scratched bare by the rough, frozen ground. I quickly scramble to my feet, my pain the least of my worries as I whirl around, my eyes frantically searching for them. Only darkness greets my desperate, wild eyes. Darkness and silence. The silence reaches an unbearable pitch when I finally hear it. It is a horrible sound. It turns my blood cold and raises the hairs on my body. It is a hollow echo of a true Siren's Shriek, but my mind whirls and my stomach heaves all the same. I push myself to my feet and pull the child into my arms again, forcing my feet into a haphazard flight through the darkness that cruelly hides the path of escape. The terror that threatens to paralyze me strangely fuels my will to survive.

All too soon, the sounds of slapping wet feet suddenly accompany my own. I realize with dread that they are upon me. A daemon a few paces behind me releases another piercing screech. The vibrations shake every bone in my body and threaten to throw my balance askew. I feel their swampy breaths all around me. Sucking, gurgling, and salivating at the sight of fresh prey. A feeling of hopelessness begins to gnaw at the pit of my stomach.

Just as that small glimmer of hope begins to fade away, I see it. The opening. Our escape. We are almost there.

A wet, gnarled hand tangles itself through my loose hair and yanks me back. A strangled scream escapes my lips and my free hand shoots forward, desperately reaching for the freedom that is only inches from my fingertips.

They drag me back into the suffocating darkness. It presses all around me. I claw at it as it begins to envelop me in its cold and dreadful embrace. I am gasping for air when it happens. A light so piercing I have to shut my eyes against its shining brilliance breaks through the trees and thinning branches overhead. To the creatures, the light is like a fiery blade through their dark rimmed eyes and they recoil in agony. They whimper in pain as they retreat back into the darkness, all the while letting me go free.

The morning sun has finally arisen.

Without hesitating another moment, I run towards the light, its warm touch reassuring. When my eyes finally adjust, I realize that I am standing in a clearing and out of the stifling forest. I fall to my knees, the relief too great to bear.

I made it. We made it.

I look down at the child in my arms, still unconscious. She is perfectly unaware of the danger she just escaped. But that is all right. She is safe and that is all that matters. A small smile turns the corners of my mouth.

Behind me, the creatures continue to howl and screech. Their screams are no longer filled with the pain caused by the morning light. Instead, they are filled with outrage and animosity. Their prey has eluded them.

Though their cries cause chills to run down my spine, I fear their threat no longer. The daemons, no matter their original race, are so called because they have betrayed the light. The sun is their greatest enemy.

I climb to my feet with difficulty and walk across the clearing. Up ahead the land dips down into a cliff and after a few shaky steps I can see across the horizon. The morning light is blinding, but so beautiful and breathtaking that the darkness of just a few moments ago is nearly purged from my mind. Below, the small town of End of the Road is immersed in its radiance, the cluster of worn structures made stunning by its golden light.

The vision that follows is unexpected as it is startling. A great journey unveils before my eyes and a great purpose is revealed. All that was and will be becomes suddenly clear and in this moment of clarity, I am made aware of my purpose and the purpose of the child in my arms. She is precious. So, so precious. The fate of the world is in her hands and, inadvertently, in my own.

As I come to understand what is being revealed so blatantly by the gods, there is only one feeling that starts at the pit of my stomach and slowly grows until I am suddenly overwhelmed by it.

Fear.

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