Prologue

The full moon cast a frail glow in the dead of night, barely lighting the large stone chamber. A lack of stars made the illumination seem almost worthless. The walls were littered with burnt out torches and etched markings. Tattered tapestries drooped from the ceiling bearing the symbol of two opposing crescent moons intersecting each other; they hung motionless, bogged down by the heat. The air was dense, the stone walls moist and the wooden floorboards felt like pitch. Hot air weighed heavily on the ground and rested near the floor, thick; too thick to rise, too thick to inhale. It clung to the inside of the throat, refusing to become a prisoner of the lungs, providing only a hint of respite in each gasp.

It was very hard to breathe.

And Kaylin Ayala was breathing, hard, though it seemed to not be enough. Every time she gasped for air she choked instead, coughing, suffocating. An arduous ordeal, but her only other choice was to stop breathing and she did not plan on doing that. Not yet. She tried to lift her hand to wipe her mouth. She could hardly move and she was barely even able to twitch her finger, though that twitch was at least a little comfort. She was covered in blood; the deep cut on her forehead had only just stopped bleeding, though not before smothering her face in crimson and clouding her vision. The horrible metallic taste lingered on her tongue. Her normally light straight blond hair was disheveled, matted down with dirt and sweat, while her clothes stuck to her skin. Fight. Her eyes stung as she slowly opened them through tears; some of that blood began to wash away.

Kaylin had never felt so much pain in her life, not even close. Her body was telling her to give up, to stop fighting; she wouldn't listen. She couldn't. She would never give up, not even in death. Never stop fighting. Something in the back of her mind spoke to her. You are strong. Fighting a way through her aches, she listened. It was a familiar voice, calling to her. Though they still hurt, Kaylin opened her eyes as wide as she could.

She could only just make out shadows on the wall, spots of darkness dancing about like flames. She tried to focus, to listen. There was shouting in the distance, but it felt close. Fighting her way through the tears and blood, she focused as hard as she felt possible. Past thick heat, damp clothes and the choking air refusing to fill her lungs, past her blinding hatred for what had caused this… It was not enough; the pain too thick, her wounds too deep, her vision too clouded. She could not see. But she could hear that voice now, shouting her name. Familiar.

"-aylin!" The voice boomed throughout the room, it was deep and rough, yet also wise and comforting, like a grandfather who'd seen it all. She knew that voice well. There was a long pause but she waited to hear it again. Making sure it was real. "Kaylin!"

She tried to call out, but no words would form in her hoarse throat. There was not enough air to scream. She tried to reach out, but her arms still would not move. She wanted help, something to touch, but there was nothing. For now all she could do was listen in.

"Kaylin, look at me." A caring voice and one she trusted. She lifted her head as far as she could. "Everything will be fine." The voice was soothing her. Hope. A small light sparked inside her and made her forget for a second what had happened, a brief second. Like everything would be fine. Something moved in the room and Kaylin could make out another shadow against the wall, coming toward her. That hope vanished.

"Do not lie to the child. Your false comforts are not appreciated." This new voice was a deep and guttural tone, like two horrible voices trapped together; it was also familiar. Intense hate flooded out some of her agony. Growing larger, the shadow moved closer to her helpless body. Every step on the stone scraped like knives. She could feel its presence above her, watching. Something not made of flesh leaned down and wiped clean her eyes, leaving droplets of moisture on her face. That horrifying voice whispered to her.

"I will tear you limb from limb until you beg for death."

A loathing filled Kaylin now, not fear, but pure hate and the inspiration of revenge. She trembled in fury as the shadow against the wall caught her eye. It was distinct, a wolf over its fallen prey. She could see now and her rage boiled.

"Do not touch her!" The soothing voice's shout filled the room as her predator turned around and made its way back toward her fallen friend, leaving pools of water in his wake.

"Or what, General? You can do nothing this time." The voice chortled mockingly. Kaylin could just make out the shadow of the General against the wall. Seeing him there was just as comforting as hearing his voice, it brought hope: just a shape slumped on the ground barely moving. She could see the wolf creature's shadow approach and violently drag a paw across the General's back.

She didn't know what exactly had been done but she could hear the sound of flesh tearing. That caring voice, the General, cried out though his shadow barely flinched. Kaylin wanted to help him, comfort him. Take his pain away. Yet she could only watch with growing frustration and fueled pain. Her arm jerked. She pulled it slowly across the damp hot floor and wiped more filth from her face. She saw that horrible shadow now circling the General, stalking. Fight.

She could feel her legs again.

"This time they will die, all of them. And their precious General Naval won't even be able to save them." The wolf hissed with laughter.

Concern flooded through her. Her friends and family's lives were at stake and she couldn't do a thing about it. Kaylin told herself that it was not in any way her fault, it couldn't be. But she could not help but worry. She wanted to warn someone, everyone. She wanted to fight, and knew how if given the chance. She was prepared to fight to her death if need be. If only she could right now.

Suddenly the hulking silhouette of the General leaped forward off the ground toward his stalker. Kaylin could make out the shadowed form of the General clearly and recognizably. With the fierce head of a bird of prey, powerful feline body and one massive feathered wing extended, the General lunged forward with remarkable swiftness, his body completely outstretched. The other wing dragged across the floor, wounded. Shouting words that Kaylin did not understand, the room began to glow a bright white, the sounds echoing off every wall. A flash of hope swelled inside her, a chance. She focused; still watching the shadows reflected against the wall. The wolf, three times the size of a normal one locked his stance and the sockets where his eyes should be began to glow a horrifying orange even in the shadow. She watched as the wolf-like creature raised a colossal paw into the air and swung, hard.

The downward swipe hit the charging General right in the head. A claw gouging flesh, bones cracking and the screeching of her dear friend was the most terrifying thing Kaylin had ever heard. She gasped barely enough air to scream as one of the General's eyes hit the ground in front of her, severed. Had anything been in her stomach she would have thrown it up. She watched as the General's shadow slumped to the floorboards, crushed. Kaylin looked away from the dancing figures, back to the eye covered in blood. It looked at her; she felt nauseous but couldn't look away. She stared at it, a bright yellow circle with red spots surrounding a dark rounded pupil; it was so powerful and innocent. She stared and felt sorry, wished the pain was hers to take.

The wolf began speaking in a low voice, also in a tongue Kaylin could not comprehend; circling his now fallen foe. That horrid orange glow emanating from its eyes was slowly getting brighter. The words hurt her ears and made her eyes water. She could taste the blood freshly in her mouth. The pain in her body increased, doubled, something terrible was coming. She did not know what, but that hatred fueled her again, trying to wash away all other feeling. The glow grew brighter. She instinctively reached for the knife she often had behind her belt. It was still there, hidden. She pulled it out slowly, holding it against the underside of her wrist. She would put up just as much fight as the General. Those vile words were getting louder and more hurtful. Kaylin clutched the knife to her chest as the whole chamber began to glow an orange hue. Hatred was just barely winning the fight with against incredible agony. Her grip on the knife was so tight; her knuckles began to lose color.

The predator's solid body began to dissipate, only half of it still gripping reality, the rest forming more mist around him. Abruptly, the General's beaked head jerked violently upward as if being pulled. Slowly his broken body began moving, rising slowly until it was completely off the ground. Kaylin tried to turn and see him but her head would barely move; the silhouettes would have to do. Nearly ten feet off the ground, the General's body stopped rising and just levitated in mid air. It was the most amazing and horrifying thing Kaylin had ever seen.

The chant became louder still and even more brutal. Each word was like a whip cutting into her skin. It was too much, her anger started to dissolve, swallowed by that horrible voice. The General began to spin in the air, slowly, both wings held completely out at his side. The mist wolf standing below was looking up at him still chanting. His words sounded, satisfied. Kaylin could barely watch; her insides felt like they were trying to claw their way out. Her wounds felt like they were on fire. She gasped even harder for air and nothing seemed to be helping. She felt empty, like everything she knew and loved was being sucked out of her; like she was dying.

A great flash of orange light brought her thoughts back into the room. Another flash and the General's piercing cry made her flinch.

Flash.

One of the General's mighty wings convulsed, stretched as far as it could and shot inward as if it were sucked into his body. His cries were even louder than the chanting.

Another flash and the other wing was forced inward as well. The screams were too much for Kaylin, she had to look away; another flash.

She looked down toward the severed eye, blood drying in the scorching heat. Another cry from the General and Kaylin closed her eyes. She was crying again, but no longer due to her wounds, just from pure sadness. She knew that she could not fight, that no matter how hard she tried she could not save him. She could not save her friends and family. She couldn't even save herself. Whatever was happening to the General was going to happen to her, but she didn't think she could last that long, she wasn't as strong as he was. Death felt like it was approaching and for the first time in her thirteen year old life, she was truly afraid.

Another flash of fiery orange was interrupted by something; something glimpsed in the corner of her eye. Another flash and Kaylin looked down into the dark pupil of her friend's eye glow a very subtle blue. With each flash of orange light and each cry of her beloved friend, the separated eye grew brighter. She did not understand but it soothed her pain and eased her breathing. There was a low hum in her mind, drowning out the screams and chanting. Seeming to come from the eye, Kaylin did her best to listen. It was the familiar voice of the General and it gave her an immense amount of hope. She stared into the eye in wonder and joy and tried to forget about everything else in the room, she made herself drive the rest of it away. The peaceful chanting of the General grew a little louder and that rough but soothing voice in her mind returned.

Facing death is one of the greatest challenges anyone can conquer. You make me proud Kaylin Ayala. And your courage will give me strength. There was a pause in the voice and Kaylin almost sighed out of relief. But I won't let you die today.

The eye began to move on the ground, rolling around and spinning. It was glowing both white and blue brilliantly. A great white flash suddenly erupted throughout the room. It blinded Kaylin and flooded out the horrible orange glow. The pure light disappeared as soon as it had come, but the eye fell and hit the ground with a metallic clank. It was no longer a severed body part but a bronze stone with the engraving of an eye on it, the size of a fist. It stood straight up, balancing on edge, staring at Kaylin. It began to glow that bright white and blue again.

The wolf had stopped his ritual and Kaylin heard him shout up at the General. "What have you done Kajaff?" His horrible dual voice roared off the walls.

The stone eye was glowing even brighter than before as the General's majestic voice boomed throughout the chamber, coming from all directions.

"Apologies, Auros, but you are not going to take her easily!"

The eye began to hover slowly off the ground, growing, until it was about as tall as Kaylin. She could not look away, squinting through the splendor of the light to see the center of the eye. It washed away all the pain, all her worries and fears. It gave her courage beyond anything she had ever known and it spoke to her, in the back of her mind.

Now go Kaylin, go to where he cannot harm you.

Kaylin pushed her arms against the ground as hard as she could and got to her knees. She could feel the life rushing back into her body. Her legs tightened as she forced herself upright standing on her feet. The heat had died and the air felt cool against her skin. Her lungs were filled with air and her eyes were clear and open.

Her strength returned to her and she felt the knife in her hand. She remembered the hatred that had fueled her as she listened to the sounds of the mist wolf sprinting toward her; its claws scraping on the ground and its low snarl roaring behind her. She was not afraid, she was not angry, she felt sorry for the wolf called Auros. Every step Kaylin took closer to the eye gave her more hope; more determination; until she was staring directly into the carved pupil. A smile started to form on her blood soaked lips.

That smile vanished, however, as she felt thick sharp claws digging into her right shoulder. They went in deep, cold to the bone and she screamed despite herself. The dark laughing of her enemy echoed in her ear and that abhorrence flashed back. Fury, courage and hope all swelled inside her now. Lowering the hidden knife into the palm of her left hand she whipped it around behind her, felt it pass through a sort of mist cloud and then sink deep into flesh. The pressure from her shoulder was relieved as the claws yanked out. Auros howled and Kaylin let go of the knife. She took one look over her shoulder to see the wolf. His body seemed to be enshrouded in mist and shadow and there was a symbol on his forehead— the same intersecting moon symbol from the tapestries— shining a faint orange light. The wolf-like creature grabbed the knife in his teeth and yanked it out from above his chest, snarling. Looking back at the stone pupil of the General's eye she smiled again, satisfied. Reaching out with her left hand Kaylin pressed her palm to the center of the eye and felt pure power rush through her. A bluish white light flashed throughout the entire room and a friend spoke in her mind again. You make me proud.

Kaylin Ayala closed her eyes, and let that fatherly voice carry her away.