Prologue

Stalking through the woods, she was armed with four wooden stakes and her crossbow, with twenty silver-tipped arrows in a case slung across her chest. The full moon reached its peak while she hunted, the silvery light guiding her through the silent forest. Katarina's surefootedness gave her the edge she needed to sneak up on her prey; she made no noise as she ran through the woods. However, she was sure that her pounding heart was enough to give her away to the prey she was seeking. During hunts, her heart always pounded loudly, pumping her system full of the adrenaline she needed to fight the demons and werewolves and whatever else she had to face.

The Wardens of the Church had assigned her, the youngest slayer of the Circle, to slay one of the most powerful vampires in recent history. Of course, she wasn't informed that her prey was a vampire lord; she thought it was just a routine hunt, one of the many she had been on since she was chosen. If the High Warden gave Katarina knowledge that she was involved in a dangerous game, she would have refused the hunt, thus destroying the plans the Warden's Circle had weaved so delicately. The Wardens could not lie, but they could hide the truth from their servants. They could also play with the truth, but they could only do in cases when situations were spiraling out of control.


Katarina Löweherz had seen eighteen winters when she was suddenly sent to the Wardens of the Church. At first, she thought she could finally leave the toiling in the fields till well past dusk and the endless housework that plagued her family. She had seen the bright smiles on her parents' faces, and noticed the sudden change in mood amongst her siblings. Unfortunately, her life was not going to get any better. Once she said "Goodbye" to her parents and siblings, she was carted through several other villages, where the Wardens predicted the potential was highest. Katarina was confused – what potential were they talking about? And why had they told her and the other girls in the wagons not to look outside? It was futile to try anything anyway; guards were stationed inside each wagon to prevent the girls from being too curious, let alone escaping. So, she contemplated why she was chosen to serve this "Church" on her trip. Once the group arrived at the church, she was hauled off to her closet-like living space, as were the other girls, and was not permitted contact with them. She sighed at the accommodations she was given after the guard had locked her door. A single, aged cot lay in the middle of the room; a washstand and mirror rested on a bureau against the opposing wall. There was no space for herself. She lay down on the cot, but immediately sat up again when she realized she had a window. Gazing outside, she suddenly had a grasp on her current situation – she would never have freedom again. She dismissed the thought, even though it would eventually surface from her subconscious to haunt her.

As Katarina scanned the grounds, she noted a great deal of white robed men and women rushing around, apparently working at their chores with as much efficiency as possible. She chuckled; she used to be the one doing all the chores, taking care of the family since none of her siblings were old enough to do so. Her parents had depended on her too much for too long. She turned her gaze to the fields; each one had a symbol denoting what type of field it was, either a growing field or a training field. Some were full of luscious crops, designed to yield more than regular farmers' crops. Others were obstacle courses, with rings and hoops of all shapes and sizes littering the ground. She caught a shimmer of a sword in her eye. Was it really a sword? What was she getting herself into? She turned her head to the right to inspect the building that she would most likely live in for the rest of her life. Built of sturdy brick and cement, and layered with steel in some areas, she realized that she was in a fortified castle. Identical windows lined the walls, evenly spaced between each level. Katarina figured that she was in the living quarters; in observing other buildings, she deciphered that some were great halls while others held the master living quarters for her superiors. She sighed again.

Nearly a quarter of an hour later, a white-robed woman led her to a grand reception hall lined with benches, where all the other girls she had traveled with had gathered. A little man in a brown hempen robe stood at the podium. The room became as still as ice.

"Welcome, my guests." The man's voice boomed throughout the hall. It seemed impossible for someone so small to possess so much vocal strength. "You must be wondering why you were brought here, and why you have been so harshly treated." There was shifting among those dressed in the white robes. Then everything was still again.

"After much discussion with the committees within the Wardens of the Church and scrutinizing over the examinations of whom we have chosen, we have decided that this group of you has the highest potential we have seen in recent centuries. All of you possess the gift of Slaying, a deadly quality which has been seen less and less in women since the dawn of time. You are warriors, with the innate knowledge of how to fight, no matter what weapon you are given. There will be some who are stronger than others; those with greater strength will be given heavier tasks. But that is for later. For now, know this: the world rests on your shoulders. It is a burden only you can handle." The man paused. Katarina shifted uncomfortably on the bench; she noticed that several other girls did the same around the room. The shock of the man's words was starting to settle in amongst the crowd.

"This is a dark time for all Slayers. The supernatural world is emerging quickly, and with no one to stop it, this darkness will overpower innocent humans and even organizations like us. This is why these organizations were created. This is why we have gathered you all here. You have the gift to stop this madness, and with hard training and intensive knowledge of what you will be doing, you will be able to end the bleakness that is on the brink of infecting the world." It finally set into her bones. She could see what the man was doing to all these women, and it enraged her beyond belief. Katarina could not sit there and take the man commanding her, making her choices for her. She had to do something.

"SIR!" she said through gritted teeth. The entire audience shifted their attention. She began to feel less strongly about what she was going to say, but she had been known to voice her opinions in the past, whether it was to her mother or to the village council. And she was not going to stop now. "With all due respect, sir, I think we all have a say in what will happen with the rest of our lives. You and your minions just dragged us out of our homes and plopped us down here, expecting us to listen and take orders as if we were fresh out of the ranks of an army." Murmurs of agreement rose and fell around the room. She gazed at the faces around her, all young, radiant, and full of life. She could not let herself and the others become death machines. "I don't think we're ready to train, let alone listen to any more of your rambling about darkness and whatnot." The man stiffened, seething with rage. He visibly reddened, grasping the podium in an attempt to stop his hands from shaking.

"Who do you think you are, girl?! Do you even know who you are speaking with?!" His voice intensified, echoing through the hall.

"No." That was simple enough. She simply thought he was the head of another committee.

"I am the High Warden, the leader of Wardens of the Church. You have no right to speak to me with such arrogance! Had this been another time, you would be groveling and giving thousands of apologies while serving punishment time in the dungeons!" He almost burst as he gasped for air.

"Apologies, High Warden, but I think we all have the right to say what is on our minds, AND we have the right to decide what we do with our lives. No one has the right to take that away from us." She calmly drew herself up from her seat and caught the High Warden's eye. His eyes gleamed dangerously.

"For your information, child, your future has already been decided for you. You have no say in what you can do, besides whether or not you will accept a task we assign to you." To the rest of the women sitting in the hall, he said, "You will all proceed to the grand dining hall for dinner tonight, EXCEPT for the one who defied my presence. YOU will continue your discussion with me during the dinner. After dinner, the rest of you will proceed back to your rooms, and in the morning you will go to the training grounds for your first lessons. Your attendants will guide you through the rest of the day tomorrow." With a wave of his hand, the meeting was adjourned. His personal attendant came towards him with a cane and a bowl of cool water. The High Warden shook his head and motioned for the attendant to seize Katarina.

Katarina went without a struggle. She was brought into a room much like a dungeon, complete with one swinging pot of oil dangling from the center of the ceiling and rusted chains hanging upon the north wall. The pot flared when the High Warden strode in; she gaped in amazement. She was abruptly spun around to face her leader.

"Do you seek to ruin the organization, child?" The first words out of his mouth were full of contempt and assumption. Katarina knew she had to be compliant.

"No, sir; I was just unhappy from being torn from my home," she replied in the humblest voice she could create.

"That is not what I hear from my messengers. Apparently, you were happy and excited to say goodbye to that family of yours; is that not the truth?" He seemed satisfied that he was able to irk Katarina with his endless knowledge about her life.

"Well, sir, I was, but there are many reasons for my reaction. I miss my family very much and I am quite confused as to why I am here. You say that there will be explanations later; how much later will I find out what I have become? Will I die before I even hear one word of what this entire organization stands for?" She wished that she could go on, but something inside her advised her to save her breath for more important issues.

"It does not matter who your family is. Their memories of you have been erased; they have no idea who you are and would most likely throw things at you if you go near that hut." His voice was smug; he loved torturing the new ones.

Katarina's eyes widened. She understood now – how the society ran, how the other women, girls, could go fight the evils that bubbled up from the darkness. "I understand now. We have no choice but to follow you. We cannot go back to our homes, the lives we had before this. Would it be much easier for you just to erase our memories?" She spoke with anger and passion.

"If we erased your memories, girl, then you would never be able to access that potential the world so desperately needs. Do you understand anything at all?" The High Warden seemed exasperated. "Girl, we do not have time to chat about everything associated with the Wardens of the Church. Now, would you like to eat or not? If this were several hundred years ago, you would not see the light of day for at least a week."

She felt that the High Warden changed his mood and his mind too many times for her liking. However, she had an understanding with the little old man. Katarina was enlightened in a way, but she could not share her newfound knowledge with the other recruited girls.

Katarina could only hope for the best.