Chapter 1: Prologue
I remember the scene perfectly.
My head spun, my legs shook, and I was going to be sick at any moment. Trails of bloody pawprints decorated the polished wood floor, leading into the woods. My mother's beautiful pottery was now only a pile of broken shards, sitting there in a pathetic little pile. The curtains were shredded, the windows were broken, my stuffed animals were torn to pieces. None of that was important, none of it. I didn't care at all at this point. I didn't see any of it, the only thing I could see were the corpses of my family, stuffed in the fireplace, roasting.
Quickly, I raced for the bucket of water I had gotten from the well, heaved it over to the fire, and splashed it onto the flames. With a loud hiss, the devilish tendrils disappeared, but left behind a large cloud of gray smoke.
I felt like crying.
I wanted to cry.
I couldn't cry.
I could only stare at their twisted faces and the horrid sight of them just… sitting there… not moving. It was clear to me that none of them had been burned alive. Their throats were cut. The marks looked exactly like the marks of a steady set of claws, yet the muddy imprints of dirty boots rested on the floor, right next to the pawprints. It was obvious that a shapeshifter was responsible for this… but why? My parents didn't have a bad reputation with shapeshifters…. Unlike most humans, our family was known for being quite hospitable towards their kind.
I considered the possibility of it being just a regular old animal, or perhaps someone of the Vulpes race, but both of those options were promptly ruled out. Animals can't open doors. The Vulpes don't even live in human lands. If one of them really did murder my parents, it would have traveled all the way across the world. That seemed unlikely and very troublesome for them.
It must have been a shapeshifter.
I inspected the claw marks further, and came to the conclusion that this murderer must have been a shifter who knew how to change into some kind of large cat.
I couldn't look at their bodies any longer… it was all too horrible, and I was too angry. No… I was a lot more than angry. I was filled with rage, grief, and disbelief so strong that I wanted to destroy whoever was responsible. I wanted to give them a taste of their own medicine, cut their neck open, and stuff them into their own fireplace.
The rage was boiling inside of me, and it was starting to burn so strongly that it became painful. I had to let it out somehow, so I decided to scream. I did this until my voice reached its limit and my throat was utterly destroyed. Once that happened, I cried for a very, very long time, my hoarse whimpers filling the blood-soaked cottage….
After that, I sat on the cold, bloodied floor wondering what on the great planet of Siege I was supposed to do next. Was I supposed to just sit there and die with my parents? Should I run all the way to town and get help? …But there was still a chance that the murderer was around. It hadn't been too long since I had gotten home and discovered the bodies, and it hadn't even been that long since I had left. I had only gone out for a few minutes to get water from the well, which wasn't that close to the house, [I couldn't have noticed the killer walking in or out from so far away] but it wasn't unreasonably far either. So the killer… was probably still nearby. I could find them, all I had to do was follow their pawprints and boot markings.
Naturally, that was what I started doing. The killer must have been an idiot to leave such obvious evidence, or maybe I was the dumb one for following it. The pawprints could have easily been a trap. Ignoring the possibility, I followed the path of prints for a while, and found myself deep in the woods. After a few minutes of walking through the wilderness, I noticed something very strange, bloody skid marks next to the pawprints, like the killer had been dragging someone else that they had brutally murdered. I cringed in disgust… I wouldn't allow any more people to become victims. I would kill whoever did this, and I would make sure their body felt the same torment endured by my innocent family. I greatly anticipated the moment I could hear that changeling scream for help, to no avail. Death would come without mercy, and I would be its harbinger.
Pulling my "Beginner's Book of Sorcery" out of my leather bag, I flipped to the page titled "Dark Vivace". When I found the murderer, I wouldn't hesitate to use it. It was a spell that took a load of energy off of the caster, but in this case it wouldn't matter. I didn't care about myself anymore. If I died, at least I would meet my parents in the afterlife. That would be enough for me to be happy… it was all I desired as my weary bones continued dragging me through the grass. My feet stung and my head ached, but my heart was tenacious. It would never forgive the one who ruined my life.
After a long, painful trek through the woods, I finally found myself free of the shade of the massive trees and I could see the dark night sky once again. It was hardly believable that at this time of night I was still alive and in one piece. My parents had often told me tales of little girls like me wandering into the unknown and never returning. That didn't scare me anymore. I was determined to destroy the filth that ended our peaceful, calm, joyous lives.
I knew that I must have been getting close. I had been following the bloody pawprints for more than an hour, so I must have been close. Yes, I was close. There she was, the murderer of my parents, and the one who shattered my peaceful life. This was my first encounter with Mariana.
I didn't do it. I wouldn't murder innocent humans, yet none of them seem to believe me. I never really had any good relationships with humans besides Alice's parents… so why would I kill them? The answer is simple, I wouldn't.
I had arrived at the Falconarius household at precisely midnight, they had been expecting me, and so had someone else apparently. An uninvited guest was waiting for me by the fireplace. This "uninvited guest" happened to be of the Ielithian race as well as a shapeshifter, like me.
The man looked like he had just woken up from a 100 year slumber. His long, dark hair was an overgrown plant, sticking out from all sides like he hadn't brushed it for an eternity at the least.
This man… I had no idea who he was. He definitely wasn't a member of my village, that was for sure. I would have seen him before if that were the case.
His eyes, there was something odd about his eyes. I was surprised it wasn't the first thing I noticed. They were glowing a faint orange, unlike any Ielithian I have ever seen. Also, there weren't any words imprinted in his eyes. This was incredibly unusual, and something I thought was impossible. The script inside of my irises was something that bothered me greatly, but it was sacred to Ielithians. Every one of us had some sort of writing in our eyes, which made this man increasingly strange. I looked at this man for a second longer, and finally asked, "Are you even Ielithian?"
With this, he immediately shapeshifted, where a man stood a second ago, a small lion stood instead and charged directly towards me. He was fairly scrawny, and so was I, but surprisingly he was even more poorly coordinated than I was. Shifting into a white tiger, I leaped at him, knocking him over with ease. I gave him a chance to surrender, but instead of backing down, he decided to slice me on the neck. I could feel the sharp needles tearing my fur, grazing my skin and creating a few droplers of blood. Luckily, his claws didn't go far enough to do any serious damage, so I quickly scraped my claws against his side, engendering a quick yelp from him and raced into the kitchen. If I could find something to knock him out with, this would all be over. Frantically, I scavenged through each cupboard and cabinet, there was nothing in sight that could be usable. The lion began to regain his balance, as I skidded over to the other side of the kitchen. Desperately, I scavenged every corner and every inch of the room. He was gaining on me, the murderer's minatory claws ravenously reaching in each direction I dodged to. A discrepancy in betweeen the floorboards caused me to lose my balance, sending me tumbling into the next room. Surprisingly, the fall was fortunate. A cooking pan was teetering on the edge of a dining table, the perfect weapon to make a direct hit. I snatched the cooking pan from the table with the power of my feline teeth and promptly swung it several times towards the beast in front of me. Slowly, he changed back into his original self as the man lost his conciousness.
Quickly, I took this chance and dragged him out of the house, leaving bloody skid marks on the floor. I assumed this man was some kind of lone terrorist. People of the Brotherhood, my Kingdom, wouldn't behave this way. Not even to humans of the Civic Kingdom like Alice's parents. I highly doubted that the Persona Sanctus Kingdom would ever do anything to harm the people of the Civic. They were practically allies (though there were occasions when they would quarrel....)
After about a half an hour of lugging the murderer through the woods, the daughter of the humans, Alice, appeared from the foggy end of the woods. Red-faced and barely able to walk, she was mumbling something to me. It sounded like a threat, but it was hardly even audible. I frowned at her, set the dumb murderer down, and went back into my regular Ielithian shape. Alice just glared at me with her sharp, angry, sad brown eyes. At this time, neither of us knew who the other was. We had never spoken to one another at all. I knew nothing of Alice besides her name, and the only information Alice knew of me was whatever her parents had told her.
In Alice's hand was a black spellbook, and a pretty low caliber one at that. It was then that I realized how much it looked like I was the killer.
Alice was staring at me with cold, dark eyes filled with nothing but hatred. I was completely frozen in place.
In the next moment, Alice let out a horrible shriek, pulling me out of my daze. I tried to explain to her what happened, I tried to explain to her that it hadn't been my doing. She wouldn't even listen to me for a second. Instead of listening, she decided to cast one of her dumb, inferior paralyzing spells on me… of course, it didn't work. Frustrated and angry, I changed into a swift white fox and grabbed the dumb murderer. After all that, I took off. There was no way she could catch me. As I looked back, I caught a glimpse of her sad brown eyes, lost and completely unsure of what to do next.
Forever and ever, for the rest of my life, I would remember that sad little girl standing in the woods all by herself with that hopeless look on her face.
That was something I couldn't ever forget,
even if I tried.