In The Shadow Of Death (Chapter ONE Preview)
THUNDER POUNDED AGAINST THE SKIES, the crackling of electricity sending every nerve in Vana’s mutated body on edge. With shaking, bruised hands, she stepped out of the cottage that hides her from the rest of the world and onto the path that will lead her into the deadliest forest in Lyst.
Allowing the Change to overcome her body, Vana’s eyes shifted from round golden irises to predator-like slits that shone like blood rubies. Fingernails morphed into claws and the top-most canine teeth elongated to a sharpened point; though she walked on two feet, this girl did not look human any longer.
The cobbled path became more visible by the lightning’s chaotic imprints with this Sight, allowing Vana’s red eyes soak in the scenery. Scarce are the mundane animals that once lurked in this world, instead replaced by the darkest of creatures that feeds upon primal fears and instincts held by mankind.
The only way to be safe from monsters is to become a monster, as her father always says but Vana suspects that this is just a way to rationalize all of his own sins. Sometimes it is easy to think that she can see regret in her father’s eyes after he beats her and rapes what is left. Sometimes..
Wind whipped at her face and Vana swallowed the frosty air as the grasses beneath her bended to the weight and bowed to her, the path at an end too soon. Giant, elder trees towered above it all, touching the sky with mighty, waving branches greeting all who dare to enter the Dark Lords’ forest.
By Rite and Oath of Blood, Vana is bound to take another life in exchange for her own once she crosses His domain. Eli, her brother, has set traps for the creatures last full moon and now Vana must collect what has been captured, killing it of her own free will.
“Please, Dark One, grant me strength to survive the Eternal Night. Guide me by your withering shadow.” She sent up her prayer and quickly searched the traps one by one. The first few laid cold and bare, leaving very little hope for what lies ahead. The fourth held two poachers, one on top of the other, now dead from the spikes Eli covered to eliminate the competition for resources.
Father will be impressed, she knew. But not of her, never proud of the hideous monster that bloomed from his beautiful wife and her mother. She held the woman’s likeness, but the mutations Vana bore to survive this horrible world made her father vengeful. Yet she did not hate him.
The second to last trap, though, held promise. At the bottom of the pit, movement stirred in the shadows and bright green eyes glared. With fur blacker than the darkest night, the beast hid easily in the shadows from Vana, biding his time as she prepared herself to begin the Rite. It is her or the beast.
Jumping straight into the pit before her fears can take control of her, Vana growled like a ravenous animal that hasn’t fed in over a week because in truth she has not. The beast lunged without hesitation, the sharpened talons only scratching the barest corner of her forearm. A small trickle stemmed down and soaked into the earth like a sponge.
Using claws of her own, the girl swiped at its’ throat but only harmed air. Lifting her ruby eyes to meet the beasts’ emerald ones, time stopped altogether. Vana’s heart refused to beat as she took in the purest creature she had ever seen; this was no beast, no. This is a panther, likely one of the last in Lyst, and is more rare than the mythical sunshine her mother dreamed of. And his heart reflected her, body and soul.
The consuming desire to fulfill the Rite ebbed. Replacing it is withering sadness, knowing that she cannot escape the path she has started upon. Vana will fight the creature no longer.
Immediately, she allowed herself to fall to her knees and retracted the claws designed to tear apart her prey. Vana has decided; she cannot destroy a soul that reflects her own. One that is battered, beaten, and almost without hope, yet still dares to believes it will survive.
If luck smiled on this day, perhaps destiny will allow a quick death.