Chapter 1

Chapter 1

The dark haired, green-eyed boy was far from me now. Even if I saw him again, I doubted that he would recognize me. Taking a deep breath, I steadied myself. No, as Rose, I was invisible to him. The thought of never seeing him again saddened me far greatly than I thought it would. He wasn't like me. He wouldn't purposefully hurt me just because he was hurt. I was the childish one, not him.

"Rose," Melina called, wrenching me from my thoughts.

I turned my gaze to the girl behind the counter. As unbelievable as it seemed, this girl was a powerful witch. She, too, was disguised, but I was able to see her as she really was: curly brown hair and amber colored eyes.

"Pick these up for me," she ordered, handing me a list before she dealt with the next customer in the shop.

We were hiding from the Exultian guards and knights. They were still swarming the town like flies, and it had already been a few days. How long would we continue to lay in wait? I had yet to see any of our companions, and it was greatly worrying me. Melina continuously assured me that they were unharmed, but my trust in her didn't extend far. She was a witch, after all.

Stepping out of the shop, I took a deep breath before I started walking. Townsfolk and travelers alike were littering the streets, but they paid little attention to me. I passed by a mirror and glanced in it curiously, admiring how well Melina's disguise hid the true me.

My hair was a rich, dark brown cut to my shoulders, where it curled slightly upward. My facial features, although not ugly, were hardly as pronounced and lovely as I was used to seeing. The only thing that remained the same was the color of my eyes; their shape had even changed, oval instead of large and round. My reflection revealed none of the girl I had been. Helena—fair, beautiful Helena—was lost to me.

I bit the panic that threatened to overtake me. Being hysteric wouldn't help me. It would only attract attention. So, I bowed my head and quickened my pace. By doing so, I ran into somebody. The both of us fell to the ground, and my list fluttered away in the wind. Eyes wide, I watched it settle on a carriage that was traveling far too fast for me to catch.

Now what?

I gazed at the girl I had run into, and she was staring back at me with a fierce expression. She was a dirty girl with a tattered dress. Grime streaked her face, and her greasy hair hung in her face. It was a dark color, but I couldn't be sure how it had originally looked. Her eyes were something to behold, though: such a rich dark brown color I had never seen before in my life! Suddenly, her hand thrust to my waist. Before I knew it, she had stolen my pouch of bronze pieces and was running deep into the town.

After my initial shock, I scrambled after her. But it wasn't easy. She slipped through the crowd as if there had never been a crowd to begin with. Still, I wasn't about to give up. Seeing her disappear around a corner, I dashed past a particularly fancy looking couple, who sneered at me as if I were beneath them. I merely smiled in return, hiding my malice toward them. I was the princess of their kingdom, and they didn't even realize it.

Rounding the corner, I saw the girl move a crate. She crawled into a hole and pulled the box behind her. Again, I followed, kneeling on the grimy street to push the crate and enter the hole. As soon as I revealed the hole, I was taken aback by the stench that radiated from it. Grimacing in disgust, I continued on. Her footfalls were becoming distant, and I didn't know how many twists and turns this tunnel had or what lay ahead.

My heart pounded as I continued on. I couldn't see where I was crawling, and some thick, slimy substance coated the floor of the tunnel. What would Melissa, my old nanny, say about what I was doing? No doubt she'd admonish my behavior. Ladies weren't supposed to crawl through dark, nasty tunnels. But the girl had stolen my money, even if it wasn't much.

Something brushed against my hand, furry and warm. I snatched my hand back and bumped my head on the ceiling of the passageway. No sound left my lips, though, despite how frightened I was. If I spoke up now, there was no doubt that the girl would hear. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, I crawled on, cringing as I felt another small body brush against my hand.

The darkness seemed to stretch forever, and the pungent air made my stomach churn in protest. How much longer would we crawl? Then, as if answering my question, a light shone from up ahead. It was another crate moving out of the way. I could see the girl's silhouette as she crawled out and accepted someone's hand to help her up.

The crate was being pushed back. I hurried to the end of the tunnel as the last ray of light disappeared. My hands reached out blindly before me, and I felt the hard, rough substance of the wooden crate. I pushed against it, but it wasn't moving. Alarmed, I pushed frantically, almost hysterically. Tears slid down my cheeks as I thought of the creatures in the tunnel. Would they eat me? Would I die here in this horrible place? No! I pounded on the crate with my fists, hoping that someone—anyone—would hear me.

Suddenly, the crate moved easily. I realized that it wasn't because of my pushing, but rather because it was being moved from the other side. A dirty face peered into the darkness, and I took this moment to shove past the boy, back into the light…into the fresh air! I took a greedy breath, filling my lungs before I glanced around me. It was a strange sight, one that broke my heart.

Children of all ages lounged around the hidden area, sealed on all sides by buildings and enormous crates. They were so thin: their faces gaunt, and arms and legs nothing more than bones encased in skin. Tattered garments and rags hung off their thin frames, and their eyes gazed at me without emotion. They stood or lounged around. Some were lying on the ground, staring at the sky and mumbling to each other. As I gazed around in wonder, the girl who had stolen my money stepped up to me, eyes menacing.

"You followed me," she accused.

I stared back at her for a moment before relenting. "But you stole my money," I retorted.

"I need it more than you do," she replied, glancing around her.

Some of the other children lost their vacant stares and began to crowd around us. When they gazed at me now, their eyes were hostile. I was beginning to lose my nerve. Mama had once told me that people became most dangerous when they felt threatened and desperate. Certainly, it was happening here.

"Even if you do need it more, I worked for my money."

"So did I." She tossed the bag and caught it with the same hand. Then she frowned dismissively. "And I have the advantage here. Why don't you scamper on home, Princess?"

I felt the blood drain from my face. "P-princess? Why would you call me that? I look nothing like-"

"You act like a princess," she retorted. A sneer spread across her face as she regarded me. "Your hands are smooth, your dress is clean, and you've certainly been well-fed."

I blushed at the comment, understanding what she meant by the words. She wasn't calling me fat, but she wasn't saying that I hardly ate either. "Well, where are your parents?" I demanded, searching the faces for an adult.

"We ain't got any," a little boy declared, jumping from his seat on top of the crate that blocked the entrance. "Never had parents, none of us," he muttered darkly.

"You're orphans?" I asked, blinking in disbelief. "Then surely you can go to an orphanage, where they will feed, clothe, and shelter you."

The girl stepped closer to me, anger blazing in her eyes. "There ain't any orphanages. The White Fever hit, and kids lost their parents, so the orphanages filled up… But then, the disease spread to the orphanages, and they all closed down. There are places that'll house kids if they got money. But do any of us look like we got money?"

I mutely shook my head. "I'm sorry… You lost your parents to the White Fever?"

She nodded, eyes still dancing with fire.

I had never thought of what would happen after the White Fever had spread. Sure, the deaths and suffering were bad, and I had saved the lands from being sick. But the damage had already been done. Families had been destroyed. Children had nowhere to go and were forced to be nothing but common thieves. There had always been poor people, but…

As I gazed around me, it wasn't merely ten children that I saw. No, there were at least thirty in this small alcove, packed in here…starving, getting sick…and dying. In the far corner, I saw a small pile of bodies that weren't moving and felt my stomach churn once again.

"Are you going to tell the guards on us?" the girl asked. She was obviously the leader of the band of children, but she was younger than me.

"No," I answered softly. "Keep the money. I'll help you!"

Her eyes narrowed skeptically. "I don't need your help." Her eyes shifted to the other children, the younger ones who were crying and wailing with hunger.

"I'll help all of you," I asserted.

"How?" she asked in a defeated tone. "How could you possibly help us?"

"I don't know," I replied. "But I will." My voice was as firm and strong as my belief that these children shouldn't be suffering.

"Really?" the boy from the crate asked. "Will you really?"

An excited murmur spread across the group of children as they gazed at me with a new emotion: hope. The leader glanced around her, her expression still remaining stoic, calculating. Then, she turned back to me.

"Prove it to us." She snapped her fingers, and a girl of about eight years old stepped forward, pulling on the hand of a sobbing three-year-old. "Amelia's sick and will die if not treated by a doctor. If you can get her better, well-fed and happy—no, if you can find her a family—then I'll believe you. Until then, your words are just that: words. No matter how pretty words can be, they can't keep you warm at night, feed you, or love you. There ain't safety in words. They're empty, hollow, and lacking. Tommy, show her the easy way out."

The boy from the crate nodded and ushered me in the direction opposite to the pile of bodies. Amelia's sobbing had quieted to the occasional sniffle as I bent to pick her up. She was so hot, her little body pressing against me. I paused and glanced back at the girl: the brave leader of the orphans.

"What is your name?" I asked her.

She smiled slyly. "If you help Amelia, then I'll tell you." Then, her hand lifted in a wave, and Amelia waved back before resting her head on my shoulder, her arms drooping as she fell into a deep sleep.

Tommy pushed his fingers into a slit in a large crate. A door slid open, and I gaped at the simple marvel. The hole had been a kind of handle to open the door. I was urged forward by the impatient boy. He had been eying the pouch of money in his leader's hand. It was obvious that he expected to eat well today, and he was worrying that the others would get their pick of what they wanted before he could return.

Walking through the opening in the crate wasn't nearly as frightening as that tunnel in the building. How had these children found such places? At least they could band together, but perhaps that wasn't such a good idea. If there were another outbreak of disease, then having so many bodies in such an enclosed area would no doubt spread the disease quickly. This tunnel was also shorter than the one I had ventured through. We had reached the end quickly, and Tommy again rushed me through the doorway before I could examine it. Then, the door closed, and I was left outside of their small enclosure, their safe haven.

Amelia sighed in my arms as I gazed around at my surroundings. I was back on the street I had been originally on when I ran into the thief. Glancing at the sky, I was shocked by how long I had been gone. Melina would be angry. I had lost the list and my money… I glanced at the sleeping child in my arms who was shivering ever so slightly. Plus, I was bringing back a sickly, starved child. No, she'd probably be furious.

Author's Note: Well, hello! I know, it's been far too long. The update gap was exceedingly long, and I'm sorry for that. I've been swamped with college and things at home. I haven't even been able to write all that much. Sad, isn't it? Oh, and this is a double update because Jem made a family tree. So, thanks go to her for this update. And yes, there will most likely be another double update very soon. Also, Cindy won an award. Exciting, isn't it? She won Judge's Pick for the best villain (for OSTSG).

Special thanks to the following reviewers for both the prologue of this and the epilogue of Book I: The Light of Earendil, Written, PrematureLlama, Faith Adeline, AestheticBreezyDoll, Solestis, miss-life, StrawberryKisses08, Riley Hunter, LondonLi, Carrie, CayRae-SkySong, Skeptic-Critic, Crystal Royale, emrevolemina, tabiscus, aferdeity, Shayla, S. Arouet Adair, Mariella H., sketchingaCYNiC, K.B. and C.B., cls81690, Erikaizzle, Aiur, Pen Killer, superficialSagacity, Iphegenia101, Mandatory Volunteer, Ellie, planurescape, .YoXx, Rayne, LaylaLivesLoosely, MuseofMagic, The Brilliance of the Mindless, Narissa, I Murder on Impulse, and Lin Barkow. Now that was a long list of names. I feel like laughing and crying at the same time. I don't think I've ever written a special thanks that long before. You guys are the best! Seriously!

Alright. I'm going to split the Q&A into two. The first part will answer questions from Prelude. The second will answer questions from Absence.

Q&A: 1

Is the person who's going to be on the verge of death Vinny?

Hmm…that is a good question. I think I'll leave that to speculation for now. I haven't even written that part yet. But there is a possibility.

How many witches are there really, in this story?

Well, there are the three witches in Astaire: Sana, Mara and Iasa. Then there's Melina. There's also the witch of Exultia (who remains shrouded in mystery…for the time being). And there's Eriwyn (but she's dead). You could count Lycan, but he's an alchemist, not a witch.

Wait…wasn't Melina the witch Dru met in OSTSG? Why is she so young here?

Yes! Melina is the witch Dru met. She's young here because she doesn't want Helena to be intimidated by her. She wants Helena's trust. And if you piece the puzzle together, you will find out that Melina and the witch of Exultia are really… Nope, can't tell you. But I thought someone would pick up on that earlier.

If I drew stick figures with the right hair color and eyes, does that still count as drawing and still earn a double update?

Perhaps. It depends on how spectacular the stick-figures are. Or if they amuse me. Most likely, yes…

Does Eve already know that she's going to die?

She has a slight inkling. But she really doesn't want to know her future. If she dies, she doesn't want to know where, how, or when. She'd rather be in the dark about it instead of constantly worrying about it.

Is Melina an antagonist?

Yes…and no. She's helping them, but it's for her own personal gain. She knows that Eve's going to die, and she's not going to do a thing to stop it. I guess you could say that she's an antagonistic protagonist?

Q&A: 2

Wait, I thought the visit was when she was really tiny, and then they didn't tell Helena the whole story until she was older?

Helena has many lapses in her memory from when she was younger. At the beginning of the first book, she said that she didn't remember anything before her younger brother was born. When I first started writing Prelude, I didn't know why Helena never said Vinny's name. Then I was having writer's block in starting this book. So, I started going over the characters again. The whole Helena-Vinny and Helena-Dru was the strongest thing in my head. So, I wrote down a story for why Helena and Vinny became distant (since she had called him by his name at one point in time), and she stopped calling him by his name when she was six (either in Chapter 1 or 2 of Prelude). Then my writer's block melted away. There's no other real reason for the prologue than to ease my difficulty at starting book two. I knew where I wanted to go, and I knew what I wanted to happen, but it took three tries to write the first chapter. Wow…that was long-winded.

Are Vinny and Helena going to ever get together?

Well…it seems to be the favorite coupling as of now, so it's highly likely. I think my beta'd kill me if they didn't. But I could handle her wrath…

Will Vinny man up and tell her how he feels? Or kiss her?

Therein lies the problem. Vinny is one of those proud people. He doesn't tell people how he feels, and he keeps denying his own feelings time and time again. This could be because he feels he doesn't deserve happiness, it could be a force of habit, or it could be that he doesn't feel the need to have a relationship. Don't worry, though. There will be some romance later on (which Melina thwarts).

Where can I see the picture that made you update earlier twice?

All the pictures are on my profile (complete with links). I had forgotten to put that one up there too, but it's there now!

When you get ideas for the story, how do you retain them? Do you carry around a notebook or something?

No, although I wish I did. Usually, I write at night, and if I get an idea for something that will happen later on, I'll put it in a list at the end of what I'm writing. As much as I hate to say it, there isn't a lot of planning in my stories. I know that I want to go from point A to point B. How I get there, though, only has marginal planning. I wish I was one of those authors who can sketch out all the different chapters they want to write. I tried that once before (in a story that will never be on FP), but by the time I got started actually writing it, I forgot what I was thinking of when I put it together. Usually, the characters pretty much take me where I want to go, but that tends to make my stories drag at some parts and speed up at others. I still have to go back over OSTSG and fix some things.

What if Vinny kisses Helena before she falls asleep?

That will not happen. Why? Because Melina will make sure that it won't. If it does, her little scheme will disappear completely. Then there will be genocide and slavery…the end of magic, and raping, pillaging, so on and so forth. Vinny will die prematurely, Eric will be killed. And Helena? Either she'll sleep for an eternity (because she already had true love's first kiss) or she'll never get her legs even.

So Princess Michelle…describe your Prince Charming.

That's not really a question, but I'll do it anyway. He definitely wouldn't be like Vinny, although Vin is really hot. My Prince Charming would be very Alex-like. He'd have to have a sense of humor, and he'd have to be a (somewhat) doting boyfriend. Let's see…he'd be intelligent, loyal to me (death to cheaters!), and spontaneous. Of course, I don't really have very many specifications after that. I'd have to be attracted to him. Hair color and eye color don't really mean anything. All in all, I don't think I'm too fickle.

What's your favorite book off FP?

Well, let's see here… Aiur's stories are fantastic (and finished!), although she needs to start writing again. I feel so alone out here. I still really like The Gwen Flynn Diaries by evanescent, and Unfinished Business by Maeven would be really great…if she'd update. I try to read a variety, but sometimes love triangles throw me off…because there are times when I like both guys, and I can't figure out who the chick should be with. And there are other times when the girl chooses the guy I didn't want her to get with. I like sticking with the completed books, though (heh, I'm such a hypocrite). Waiting for an update really does suck.

Does Vinny remember that fateful day?

Of course! But he doesn't bring it up because he thinks that he brought it on himself.

She still calls him Vinny, right? Or only in her head?

She only calls him Vinny in her head. I heard, though, that not referring to someone by their name is actually exceedingly insulting.

Would it be wrong to say that I'm your biggest fan?

My beta might fight you for the title. But I like having fans! Nobody has made a C2 based just on my stories, no.

A/N: This took longer than expected. I might have to put off updating secondly until tomorrow. Mother will be home soon, and she doesn't like me on the computer too often…