Prologue

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Darkness surrounded me, as it always did on this side of Echo. I ran through the wilting trees, far from the only home I had ever known. A home that had only brought me pain and shadows.

I chanced a look over my shoulder, my eyes searching through the haunting mist. I didn't see her, but I could feel her crimson eyes searching for me.

I was being hunted.

My heart thumped loudly in my ears, the pulse strong in my veins. I had to outrun her. But I knew what a fool's optimism that was. She was the fastest beast in this realm.

I just had to make it to the human world. She wouldn't be able to pass through if I closed the Echo first. The question was, could I make it there before she caught up to me? Before she could drag me back to my father with her claws and teeth?

I turned my gaze forward as I rushed through the broken terrain of the forest. There was no moon here, no starlight to peek through the branching trees. But I knew this path by heart, it would lead me to the edge.

It was one thundering step and then another as I drew closer and closer to the Echo. A howl reverberated through the night, its deep guttural growl felt like claws scraping against my soul.

She had caught my scent.

I breathed out in agonizing gasps as I quickened my pace. I was loud as I hurried through the maze of trees, but it mattered little now if anyone heard my escape. My father's beast knew where I was, knew where I was headed. It wouldn't be long now until she closed that gap between us and hauled me back to my father, bleeding.

The terrain began to change, the trees seeping into a dark, deadly gray. I could see the edge before me, rippling like water through the haze. I thought of the place I wanted to go as I approached the thin veil. An image glistened along the surface of the tranquil structure, just beyond my reach on the other side. I grabbed my father's blade in my hand as I stabbed it through the barrier between worlds, cutting through the thin fabric to make a doorway. Radiant hues erupted through the slit I made.

Claws dug into my back as the beast landed on me. We soared through the barrier and into the human world. She let out a cry as we landed hard on cement. My blade flew out of my hands on impact. I scrambled to my feet to get away from her, ignoring the new sense of pain as it ripped through me.

My hands shook as I took in her monstrous appearance. Her black fur was raised as if she had hackles erected, her eyes were a blood thirsty red, her lips curled, flashing her sharpened teeth. Saliva dripped from her mouth as she lowered herself, ready to pounce.

I took a step to flee.

But I wasn't fast enough.

She rammed herself into me again. I landed on my back as I held my arms up to protect myself. She slashed at my arms with her elongated claws. They were razor sharp and burrowed into my flesh. Blood spilt from the wounds and I let out a cry from the pain. I tried to push her large form off me, but her weight pressed down against me, making it impossible to dislodge her placement. The scent of decay overpowered me as she let out an ear-piercing growl next to my face.

Saliva dripped onto my cheek. The smell of her rancid breath assaulted my nostrils. Her eyes looked at me as if she had just conquered her most challenging acquisition. She knew how bringing me back would please my father. All my father's beasts hungered for his affection.

My arms fumbled along the ground, desperately searching, but I knew my attempts were useless. She clamped her mouth on my forearm and began dragging me back towards the doorway. It would close any second if I could just hold on a little longer.

I reached my arms out, trying to latch onto anything I could grasp. My fingernails caught a groove in the hard-cemented ground and I felt my nails pull as I tried desperately to keep myself in this world.

I felt a nail snap backward in excruciating pain. I let out a startled cry as she yanked me closer and closer to the edge. I could feel the small traces of determination dwindling inside of me to ash. The beast would take me back to my father. He would punish me for attempting to flee his services. And I would be forced to steal for him again.

Just as I felt every ounce of hope threatening to shatter within me, something cold and sharp brushed against my hand. I reached for the blade, grasping it in one hand. A ferocious roar escaped my quivering lips as I swung the blade towards the beast.

She was keeping me from my freedom.

I was going to set myself free.

I slashed the blade at her head, slicing it into her skull with one final blow. My arm shook with the effort of killing her. The beast's head slumped forward, her jaw releasing its hold on my arm. Slowly the color of her eyes drained from crimson to a nebulous shade. Suddenly the blade was yanked from her skull then disappeared. I worried for one terrible moment that it had been pulled back into my father's realm. Then in a puff of smoke the beast vanished, dissolving into shimmering dust, the wind sweeping her away. All thoughts of the blade were whisked away with my father's favorite creature.

I let out a strangled cry as I fell to my knees. I covered my ears as the sirens screeched around me, but none of that mattered now.

I was finally free.

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