Chapter 1: Razing of Clearwater

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The staccato rhythm of the artillery units echoed in the darkness of the evacuation center. Parents and children huddled together under the crimson flicker of the emergency lights. A blast reverberated through the secure hold... One less defense unit.

A chorus of cries erupted from those too young to know better. Their call for comfort was deafening. Baleful glares were cast to the parents of the unruly young. Quiet them, lest they be silenced before they call the dark hoards to them. Mothers and fathers pulled their young to their breast, dampening their fear into whimpers while hushing the soothing lullabies that had worked in less dire circumstances.

The refugees of Clearwater dared not voice their rage with the enemy at their doorstep. This time, there are no weapons for the panicked survivors to take matters into their own hands. One disaster averted in favour of another.

Astral, an eight-year-old girl, with long ebony hair sat in a corner watching the survivors succumb to the transformative nature of their circumstance. She watched as friends and neighbours became monsters in human skin.

Her Sunday best was stained and torn, her legs and arms scraped from a nasty fall when the initial stages of panic set-in over Clearwater. She was one of the lucky ones. She cradled her trusty teddy bear between her legs and her chest, keeping her constant companion close, making herself small. Humans were unpredictable in their fear. It was a wise decision to avoid the notice of the strangers with familiar faces.

Somewhere out there, beyond the walls of concrete and steel, her father was fighting a losing battle against the legion of freed demons.

Children fought against their parents' smothering love. Too weak to make any significant impact, their bodies slumped in their parents' hold. Better to pass with love than to suffer the torment of the demonic forces that were bound to take them.

Approving nods with a mix of disdain replaced the hate of the residents of older, well behaved, well controlled, children. In times like these, there was no room for compassion when selfish lives were at stake.

The spark of life drifted from the children, dancing above their parents, confused and frightened. 'Hush now, children, your sacrifice was not in vain.' Astral's moist blue eyes stared up at the void that had been her imaginary friend. 'Why?' her eyes wide, she begged for answers she could not voice.

'Because of you,' her imaginary friend replied. 'Did you think they wouldn't follow? Did you think that choosing a Hunter as your Guardian would change anything?' It was a cruel thing to imply that the razing of Clearwater was the fault of a child. Imbedding the sense of guilt and duty now, during such a formidable time of her identity was crucial. She should not have the option to deny the severity of the threat at hand, nor should she pass her role to lesser hands. The girl had the memories of the time before, a rare condition that most children learn to forget. Not this child. Her memories would serve her well.

The sparkling souls of the children danced around the dark shapeless void, waiting for instruction.

Another blast shook the dust from the ceiling.

"It's not my fault." The child's voice was less than a whisper, her ancient accent still present even after eight years in the new world. Not a whimper in her tone.

"Henry!" a desperate mother cried out, shaking her son's limp body. "Wake up! Somebody help -"

A loud crack silenced her cries as a good Samaritan broke her neck. Her body hit the floor and residents returned to their families.

Silence was the golden rule. All the Council's information channels said so. Don't say a word. Don't breathe. Stay absolutely still. It was all a lie. The demons would sniff them out.

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