Disclaimer: Everything here is MINE. 100% original. You touch, you die.
Note: This prologue is officially. . .five or six years old. I like the story enough that, having found my old chapters, I want to rewrite it. This is, however, the ORIGINAL prologue with very, very few alterations. It will not be the same quality as the rest of the story, which is being wholly rewritten.

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Prologue




It was always dark in Ward Six. The lights--dim and flickering flourescents, blackened cracked glass--broke often, and were rarely fixed. By now Andrew was used to it, though. He had worked in Six for years, ever since the Society had lost their small semblance of mercy.

He leaned back in his chair by the door, looking at the familiar logo--four white letters in a circle on black backing. SPHR. Sphere. Society for Preservation of the Human Race. Maybe The Society had been necessary during the war a hundred years ago, when humanity had teetered on the brink of extinction, but They had become tyrants and killers in this day and age. Nonhumans--'Subnaturals', some called them--were only allowed to live under the strictest supervision of The Society. The slightest infringement of law was punished with brutal isolation if the nonhuman had earned Lenience Time to pay for it . . .death, if they had not. Though . . .for some races, it came down to the same thing either way.

Six was one of the few places they could turn for a chance, the 'mental ward', so to speak. High technology and high sorcery clashed violently: power glitches and the like ran rampant if anything remotely magikal in nature came near, and any creature with the faintest bit of magik suffered pain near any tech. As far as Andrew was concerned, they should have chosen one to run with and gotten rid of the other--to call the system a mess would have been an understatement and done no credit to the frequent catastrophes it caused. Perhaps all that could be said of their mongrel structure--by Andrew, at least--was that at times it gave Subs an 'out', of sorts. To be sure, the excuse was used so often as to be run into the ground: the raw tech of the Society's cities had driven the Sub mad, so on and so forth, but it wasn't always an excuse. It happened quite often--too often, really--and to some races more than others. Elves were a good example, or Were-beasts . . .Dragons especially--

The sound of loud struggles from the other side of the door jolted Andrew from his thoughts and near-doze. Someone pounded on the thick metal.

"Open up! We've got our hands full here!"

Getting up stiffly, he punched the security code on the lockout panel, and the door slid open to reveal two rather haggard, beaten-looking guards and their charge. Andrew blinked at their condition--at the rents torn in black uniforms, at the long bleeding gouges and bruises marking their skin. From the noise outside and the state of the two men, he would have expected someone who looked strong, someone who looked capable of causing real damage. Instead, a small, teenaged girl hung limply between them held up by her arms, head down and lolling slightly to one side. Blood ran small streaks of vivid red on her fragile hands, clumped under the short broken nails. Andrew stepped aside.

"What's going on?"

The two hauled her in, setting her down on the floor of an almost bare, white-walled room, one of many that made up most of the Ward. She did not resist; instead simply letting herself fall, sprawling out like a discarded rag-doll. They backed out quickly, and barred the heavy door before turning to Andrew once more.

"Wish we knew. She jus' suddenly started raving like a lunatic. Just quieted down now, but you should'a seen her earlier. Lucky thing she didn't really hurt anyone, exceptin' us." The man patted his pockets, then sighed. "Hey, you got a cigarette on you?"

"No. She's from a City, isn't she?"

The guard shrugged. "Hey, beats me. If you'd seen the way this little hellspawn was thrashing before, you wouldn'tve wanted to search her for ID either."

Andrew looked in through the glass at the girl's unmoving form. She looked dead, just lying there like that. It was important to know if she was a citizen or not. It was important to know just what had happened, and-- to Andrew at least-- that she know she was safe here. In all his years of service in the Ward, Andrew had never yet turned in an Outsider. He felt a kind of sympathy for the nonhumans. Not empathy, of course . . .but it was still a rare enough thing for them to have, sympathy. "I'm going in there to talk to her."

"You crazy? She'll go wacky on you, old man. Not like that's a human in there."

Andrew ignored him, opening the door and entering the small room. He heard the guards push it closed again behind him, but the latch remained loose. The girl did not move as he crouched down beside her. "Are you alright, young lady?" This close, the girl seemed even more frail, if that were possible; her skin pale beneath a thin layer of dirt, almost translucent in the harsh light. Her clothing was ragged and hung like a dull shroud on her slim, bony frame, and a strange shade of purple-blue hair lay across her back in tangles. He heard her laugh slightly.

"Glory, glory, the savior is coming." Her voice was soft, little more than a whisper. She lifted her head to look at him, and in the dimness, her eyes gleamed strangely, the dark blue seeming to drink in what little light there was. The pupils were slit thinner than most, the eyes long and narrow, undeniably sinister--demon eyes. Demons were one of the few races not allowed to live in the Cities except for a few extremely rare--and theoretically useful--cases; but he had seen them before, once or twice. They were the only justification The Society could possibly claim for their actions--a race that could be labeled almost to the last individual as unrelentingly cruel and sadistic. She laughed again softly, and brushed a lock of hair from her face. "The savior is coming on burning wings; burning, burning, blood in his eyes. I've never been better, Andy my boy."

Andrew swallowed hard, throat cold and dry, and he felt his hand coming up of its own volition to grip the breast of his uniform. There was no tag there. There was no name there. . .was she a Psi? His hand left the scuffed black fabric and brushed past the greying hair of his temples--slightly calloused fingertips slid over the cool throb of a metal Screen hooked into the skin. So she couldn't have Read him. . . He swallowed again, attempting to find his voice around the thick film of uneasiness clogging his throat. "Are you . . .from around here . . .?"

She did not speak a reply, but held her arm out, pulling up one long loose sleeve. There was a mark on her wrist, branded into the skin years ago: a rune of binding, used by The Society to keep dragons and shapeshifters in human form. The runes worked well in their purpose, but not without the brutal side effect of accelerating the rate at which the already madness-prone dragons went over the edge. He took his gaze from the burned flesh and looked back at her face, at that calm, somehow mad little smile. "May I see your card?"

She made no move to get her card, but lowered her arm. "HDr/De00-1; Maryu, Rhia. Citizen Class E. SC NA 334, D block sector 4-2." Andrew stared. It wasn't that no one ever memorized their card--it was, all in all, a wholly practical thing to do, and a common practice. But no one who had really belonged in Ward Six as she seemed to ever remembered. And yet she continued, finishing as easily as though it was printed inside of her skull. "Marked 02-20-250. PID HD02-3D00-4. ELT three months; RLT twenty months, two weeks."

She laughed again, still so softly he almost couldn't hear. "I'm a good girl, aren't I Andy? I've been a good girl, and the savior is coming: the burning one, last of the phoenix." She was sitting up; her hands folded in her lap. "The savior is coming to break the Circle, to burn the future and rebuild the past. Rising, rising, out of the ashes; that was how it should have been, don't you think?"

Andrew was on his feet by then, backing slowly to the door. HDr . . .Holy dragon. Even in human form a dragon was dangerous; and a mad one, with demon blood . . .

"Don't run away Andy. I thought you'd be happy. You understand us, after all. You understand, so I thought you'd be happy." She held up two fingers. "The savior is here, to burn the corrupted. The savior is here, and in two days, the phoenix rises. The last warrior born from the ashes of many." She looked up at him, and her strange dark eyes were pleading in a way that seemed to suck him dry and leave him hollow. "You understand, don't you?"

Andrew sighed, a little shakily. She was mad. Really, and truly mad; ever so much more than a fair many of the others he had up here right now. He moved closer to her again, cautiously, and took her narrow hand in his. He pat it lightly as he would have done to a troubled child, and carefully as if her fragile bones would break beneath the contact. Her skin was strangely warm after the abstract lightless chill of her eyes. "Of course Rhia. . .of course I do. And maybe you can tell me more about it later. But right now, I think you should rest. . ."

She smiled at him, and the words shriveled on his tongue. "No Andy . . .you don't understand. . .not yet." Her hand slipped from his, and she rose like smoke to her feet. The brief image, the brief impression of grace was broken when she dropped herself back to sit on the bed, rocking back and forth; swinging her legs like a little child over the edge. "But you will. Two days, Andy. Remember, two days."

Shaking his head a bit, Andrew left the room gratefully. Anyway, he had to talk to the guards.

Behind him, Rhia still smiled, still rocked like a child on a swing. "The savior is here," she whispered to herself, "The savior of fire has come, with rage in his voice and a promise in his eye. The savior . . ." She laughed. "Murderer, murderer, go ahead and kill me . . ." She was still laughing when the guards finally left, afraid to ask what she found so funny.


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"Any idea what he is, sir?"

The man did not answer--he had a lot on his mind. There was that report earlier the same morning of one of those Subnaturals losing control in D Block, and now this. He hadn't a clue, and it didn't matter. All he needed to know he could tell simply by looking at it: the thing in the prison cell, hands shackled, was no natural creature of God's earth. It was with a sense of disgusted fascination that he examined it--how different each beast was from the next, and yet how much the same they all remained.

At first glance it had the basic apperance of a human, as many did; it looked like a boy about eighteen years of age, albeit a delicate and almost effeminate one. But the unkempt shoulder-length mess of hair was the color of blood, and though the left eye was covered by a black patch--the material smouldered where it touched the fair skin, smoke rising in undefined curls--the right one glared out at the two men. Catslit and burning, frost blue rimmed with crimson. It was the eye of a predator, of a killer on the hunt; and he found himself unable to tear himself away from that savage eye, almost mesmerized by its fire.

"Sir?"

Shaking his head, he turned his back on the cell. Disgusting, that he should find himself so drawn to the thing. . .it was like a snake, the way their eyes caught one. "Where did you find it?"

"On the ridge, sir. He was sleeping."

"And no identification?" He knew the answer already.

"No sir. You would have been notified if there was."

"Hmmn. . .So it isn't from one of our Cities. . ." The man clasped his hands behind his back and turned to face the captive, staying a careful distance away. The Outsiders were even worse than those in the Cities--God alone knew what kind of diseases the thing could be carrying.

"Do you have a name, boy?" There was no answer, only that one glaring eye and silence. He tried again, carefully keeping his tone clipped and level. It was hard to hold the disgust out sometimes. . . "My name is Tristam Fall, and I am in command of this City. Who are you? Where are you from?"

The eye looked him up and down; resting on the white logo pinned to the breast of Tristam's black uniform. The shackled hands rose, chains clinking together, and the boy pointed at the logo. His lips pulled back in a snarl, revealing long, wickedly sharp-looking fangs, impossibly white.

"Murderer." The voice came out in a thick, throaty growl, heavy with anger and hatred.

Tristam simply stood there, used to such reactions by now. The lone guard who had brought in this Subnatural took a step back though, wide-eyed and a bit pale. "He. . .he's a vampire, sir! Look at those fangs!" Tristam shook his head, but otherwise ignored the guard. The young man was obviously new to the force, and inexperienced. A vampire, this? No indeed.

"Who are you and where are you from? I really don't want to keep asking."

"Murderer. Go ahead and kill me."

Shaking his head faintly, Tristam relaxed--indeed, he almost smiled. He felt so very much better, now that he had gotten a reaction out of the thing. He never quite felt comfortable dealing with these beasts until they got angry with him; proved how animal they really were under those almost-human faces, behind the strange ensnaring eyes. It was treating them like humans that always got to him. . .

It was easier to moderate his voice now, and the clipped tones had the firm commanding edge of one speaking to a particularly stubborn or dim-witted dog. "Now, why would I want to do that? I'm a perfectly reasonable man--we just can't let individuals like yourself wander loose, do you see? So I want to know who you are, and if you have a home. That's all."

The thing growled, deep and low in its throat--a harsh staccato that rattled the skull, not so much sounding as feeling that it should have come from something much, much larger. With those feline pupils and heavy teeth, Tristam briefly entertained the idea that it could be a dragon of some breed, but no--the thin bench, and the floor of the small cell did not buckle beneath its weight. "You want to know where I came from so you can kill any others that might be left. But there aren't." It lifted its head, defiant and proud. "I'm the last."

Well, this was new--the unbearable urge to snuff out that defiance with a bullet through that one, horrible eye was pushed down under his sudden interest. "The last what?"

"You don't know?" It laughed at him; a rough, sudden sound. "You killed them all, murdered the last of a dying race, and you never even knew what they were!"

"Well now. . .maybe you can tell me."

The laugh snapped to a halt abruptly, the momentary silence in its wake almost chilling. "Maybe. Maybe I should. . .Just so we're not forgotten. Just so you know. . ." Its eye narrowed, the bloody rim bright in the flourescent lights as though it were glowing. "Just so you know who it is, what it is that will burn you and your empire to ashes."

Tristam scoffed slightly. "Empire? We are merely a group who wishes to see the human race pre--"

"I am Jakek Duer, last son of the Fire Clan." He stared straight into Tristam's eyes as he spoke, that firelit orb seeming to burn into his very soul, bright with pride. "My people have gone, have returned to their maker; and I will send you and all like you to yours." There was a grim certainty in his voice, an oath of blood in his eye; and for one horrifying moment Tristam felt that, perhaps, it was he that sat caged and helpless. For one horrifying moment it was the individual, the 'he'; and Tristam was only a frightened animal who could not run.

For that moment he only stared at the creature, and after he continued to stare, not quite believing this blatant defiance. Not wanting to believe the feelings. . .the fear it had conjured. He turned on his heel--sharply, suddenly--and strode from the room, the guard hurrying after him.

"Sir? What should we do with him, sir?"

He did not turn around, kept his gaze straight ahead as he put a hand in his pocket to clutch it about the silver cross he always kept there. The faintly warmed metal stilled the trembling of his hand admirably, and he cursed himself for that brief weakness. How could he have let that happen? How could he have let some. . .some animal affect him like that? His hand twitched around the cross, clenched tightly.

He should file a report to his superiors. That was precisely what he should do--contact the Society Heads, tell them about this beast and its pledge to destroy them . But something warned him, perhaps some old survival instinct which told him this monster was not simply bluffing--or perhaps his anger refusing to let that humiliation slide. The thing could never do anything to the Society itself, of course, but who knew how many human lives it could claim? Yes, better to do it his way. Damnit. . .he wanted to do it his way. "Kill it. Mark it for three days from now, and kill it. If it really is the last, that's one less breed of beast to worry about."

"Yes sir."