Prologue

The Voices, Both Living and Dead, That Torment Her

Rith crawled out of the bush, giggling, and stood to brush twigs and leaves from her soiled dress. "Lif, are we there yet I thought we were going to the tree-killing place can you see brother I can't see him there was a squirrel in that bush did you see it maybe if I catch-"

Hush, sweetheart. Lorin's right next to you. Rith's mouth shut instantly, and she looked to each of her sides, squinting a little, but couldn't see her brother. He was a tricky one, always fading in and out and popping up when she least expected it-the forest was far too crowded, she could get lost here, lose sight of her brother among all the people dancing and crying and running and shouting in her ear-oh! She turned again, squinting and concentrating on the faint sound of someone calling her name.

"Lif is that brother brother is that you did you see the squirrel he had a very fuzzy tail I think I'll name him Kazak and take him with us Lif likes him don't you Lif?" Yes, sweet.

She saw him now-not a person at all, really, her brother was so silly, he looked more like the streaming of light caught in the air. She laughed at his silliness and reached out to stroke him, felt her hand pass through him, and a faint ow escaped the ghost's lips, but also a pained and gentle smile. Rith, be careful with him. He's the only brother we have.

Rith frowned. "You can't hurt ghosts, silly." Her hand felt wet, sticky-she looked down at it. Blood on the tips of her fingers. Her frown deepened. "Am I bleeding?"

That's Lorin, sweet. He's still wounded from that fight with the bear. A childish laugh erupted from her, as she felt herself being gently pulled from the bush and led along the forest path. "What bear! Was he friendly?"

No answer. She frowned again, her face contorted by confusion, then winced as pale sunlight hit her face. She pulled her arm up to shield her face from the light, realizing they must have finally left the forest, but a ghost had it tight in his grip. Panic flooded through her-ghosts? Attacking her again!-and Rith lashed out with her free hand, raking the ghost across the face with her nails briefly before it gently but firmly held her down, humming a soft lullaby in her ear.

Rith felt tears bubbling up and someone-was it Lif?-carrying her away, before she sighed and let herself sink into that familiar, sane darkness.