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Exhaustion permeatedd every line of Catori Turner's body.

She was tired. So damn tired.

She'd been alive for two thousand years and was staring down the long, long barrel of immortality thanks to her father's cursed blood.

A millennium alone in the human realm had almost driven her mad. Until the day she'd felt a spark of death enter the world. A spark that hadn't been felt since her father was killed. Having been born after his death, she'd never felt that spark. 

But she still recognized it, still knew what it portended.

Another Vessel. Her father had been the first and only one, and the Cryptic world still didn't know why he had been sent by the gods. He was killed before he could live out his purpose, before anyone could even discover what that purpose might have been. 

But another Vessel? What in hells did the death deities have planned?

Catori cloaked herself in shadow and darkness and watched, invisibly, as the Vessel's parents realized what they had brought into the world. Months it took them to know the truth of their daughter, and then only because of the changes. In the four months of her life, the babe's stark black hair turned to the shimmering silver of liquid mercury. Her eyes, once the glittering silver of diamonds, had gone as black as obsidian. And her bronze skin faded until it was as pale and luminescent as a precious pearl.

Death. The girl had seen death, and it had leached the color right from her.

Catori shuddered, thankful she was not plagued by the same ghosts as the innocent babe. Thankful she'd inherited a different gift from her father.

The girl's parents were unable to ignore the shift. It had been two thousand years since the last Vessel roamed the world, but they knew what the changes meant.

Catori's concern was what they would do about those changes.

She watched and waited. How would they handle their daughter's power? One wrong move, and they were dead. She'd take the Vessel and run before anyone even knew the girl existed—exactly as her own grandmother had done the moment Catori was born.

"I am so sorry, Diana." Catori's great-nephew, her brother's grandson, sighed as he watched his daughter sleeping in her crib.

"You have nothing to apologize for, Gerald," his wife said softly. She leaned over the edge of the crib, brushing back a wisp of her daughter's hair. The silver-haired baby cooed and snuggled into something—someone—no one else could see.

"But our daughter." Anguish coated his words, his voice thick. "It is my fault. This came from my line."

"You are not so powerful." Diana's words were wry, and she spared her husband a brief smile before looking back to her daughter. "The gods have done this. Not you. Do not blame yourself."

Catori chewed her lip as she watched the couple. Partly true. The gods were certainly responsible for ushering a new Vessel into the world, but Gerald's bloodline was to blame. Only someone born into the first Silverson line, Gerald's bloodline, could have withstood all the death magic the gods had to gift.

Had the death deities tried to make a Vessel out of just anyone, the enormity of their magic would have wiped that person from existence.

"What will we do? People will fear her, hunt her. They will try to kill her." He shuddered. "My own mother will lead the hunt. She'll try to turn our daughter into her own personal weapon. How will we protect her?"

"We will hide. Disappear." Diana reached down and stroked her fingertips along a furrow that had appeared in her daughter's brow. "We will protect her with our own lives. There is a reason a Vessel has been born again. She must be protected at all costs."

There it was. What Catori had been waiting four months to hear. A smile graced her lips. Finally, her waiting, her millennium of solitude, was over. Gerald and Diana  were worthy of the gift they'd been given, worthy of the trust the gods had placed in them, worthy of being the Vessel's parents.

"We'll run," her nephew agreed. "We'll hide. They won't find us. Our daughter will be safe." He said the words as if he could make them true through sheer force of will.

His wife bent over and picked up their sleeping baby. She kissed the top of the Vessel's head and smelled her baby-fine silver hair.

"You are safe, baby," she whispered. "We will protect you."

Catori chose that moment to step from the shadows, keeping a few tendrils of darkness wrapped around her. She remained invisible where the shadows clung to her, but allowed her face to come into view.

Diana clutched her daughter close as Gerald swept them both behind him, his magic sweeping through the room as he summoned a blade to each hand. Catori only held up a hand to stay him, shadows pooling in her palm. She gave her nephew a chance to observe, to see that her face was nearly identical to his mother's, her niece's. To see the invisibility that clung to her, to see that she could only be one thing, one person.

His blades lowered a fraction as uncertainty rippled across his face.

"Yes," Catori agreed. "We will protect her."


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