Prologue

I ran. Slowly at first, but gaining speed with each stride. My bare feet tore through the springy grass, striking the dry earth that lay beneath and whipping it into clouds of dust. It swirled around me, stinging my eyes, making the torrent of tears fall faster down my sodden cheeks, only to be knocked off by the clawing wind. My muscles ached, yet I pushed on. Toes digging further and further into the soft dirt, driving me forward. I was a madman running blindly from all I had ever known to be safe and true. Fears, sorrows, hopes, dreams, desires, gone. Left far behind like the people from which I fled. My mind was blank, my only task was to move, and to keep going no matter how loud my body screamed in protest. I was deaf. All sounds were drowned out by that of my heart drumming louder and louder, threatening to burst with each passing second. Yet I continued. I was oblivious to my surroundings, focusing only on beating back the pain. Trees, clouds, flowers, animals, all blurred together like the paints on an artist's palette, indistinguishable in my eyes. Yet I continued. Sweat trickled over every inch of my body, attempting to cool me off in the blistering afternoon heat. But there was no need; I was already frozen to the core, and no amount of heat could thaw me now. Yet I continued, one foot after the other. And then I was falling through the air, tumbling head over heels onto the inviting ground. My body hit the ground with a hard thud that was barley audible over the roar of blood in my ears. Numb, my mind could barely process the images that flashed by as I rolled, there was only color. Green, blue, green, blue, green, black.

I awoke to the tickling of warm breath along the nape of my neck and outer ear. It felt good compared to the chilly temperature of the air, and in my groggy state I attempted to roll closer to it, only to be rewarded by a sharp peck on my ear. I yelped in pain and, now somewhat awake, moved away. She did this nearly every morning to wake me up, but from what I could see it was still dark out. I wanted to go back to sleep, to relish in the comfort that my dreams brought, but I'd never be able to now. The whisper of her wings broke the silence as she fluttered forward, this time, perching on my sprawled-out arm.

"Ki…." I managed to mumble, shaking her off before reaching down to pull up the blanket.

She gave a small twitter in protest, but seeing as I had not responded, rose passively into one of the nearby trees. Having gotten rid of my annoyance, I turned my attention back to the night's chill. The blanket must have fallen onto the floor in the night as it usually did, because I couldn't find it when I stretched down toward my ankles. With a groan I rolled over and began to grope about for the edge of my bed. It never came; instead I found tufts of cool dewy grass. Panicking, my eyes shot open, but I could only see black. I screamed. This was not my home, this was not my room, I was not in my bed. I was bombarded with fearful thoughts, and I began to feel sick.

Looking around, I noticed that my eyes had begun to adjust to the light radiating from the crescent moon and that I could see. I was in a field of some sort, which was quite large, and the thick summer grass had been allowed to run wild for quite some time, judging by its height. Massive, old oaks and tall, majestic maples bordered the perimeter and a few yards away I could here the gurgling of a small brook. Other than that the night was eerily silent; even the wind seemed to have quieted. I wasn't used to the stillness and it made me tense.

I jumped as the sound of beating wings broke the silence and began to approach me. Turning, I could see the small figure of a falcon silhouetted against the glowing moon. At the sight of the bird my fear had been vanquished, for I knew immediately that this wasn't just any bird, this was Kiora. My kestrel. She circled overhead quite a few times before uttering a high-pitched screech and descending into a patch of tall grass near my out stretched legs. As she hopped nearer to my head I could tell that something was different, something wasn't right. And then I saw it. Traveling a jagged line from the crook of her neck to her right wing was a long patch of matted feathers, stained crimson by the flow of blood. It stood out starkly from the creamy white feathers on her breast and the memories came crashing back.

My body began to quiver and my head to spin. I lay down, letting the soft grass cradle my aching muscles, and shut my eyes fiercely, hoping to stop the flood of remembrance. It was hopeless. The images I had witnessed were forever burned into my eyelids and there was no escaping them, so I succumbed. I watched each event unfold through the eyes of another; it was as if I was someone else sitting on a mountaintop, watching as I stumbled up its craggy slopes. All the same the scenes engulfed me.