Chapter 1: Prologue

Queen Irina's face was strained and shadowed in the candlelight, her jaw locked in pain. She breathed deeply as her husband pushed her dark, matted hair back from her forehead, his brow creased in deep concern.

"Not much longer now," reassured the midwife. With well-muscled arms, she dabbed sweat from Irina's forehead. The midwife was a bit more full-bodied than most women, but she was the best midwife in all of Varaki. No one else would be allowed to deliver the king and queen's first child.

"Isn't there anything I can do?" asked King Alaric, his voice sounding as if he were the one in pain. He rubbed one of the inky Marks on his arm, then grasped his wife's fragile hand and squeezed it tightly.

The midwife hesitated for a moment. "I suppose a little more light would be nice, your Majesty," she said, more to occupy him than to bring light, although outside the castle walls, night had fallen.

Alaric nodded and closed his eyes as if concentrating. At once, the room lit up as if the walls were made of glass on a sunny day.

"Push," said the midwife as another set of contractions rippled down Irina's abdomen. Her face twisted with pain and effort and she clutched Alaric's hand fervently. He clasped her hand tightly between his own, saying a silent prayer to Varak.

Queen Irina cried out with one last push, and seconds later, the crying of an infant filled the room. In the hands of the midwife was a baby, its flesh wet and pink. Smiling, the midwife suctioned fluid from its mouth and nose, then wrapped the squealing newborn in a soft blanket and handed the infant to its father. "It's a boy, your Majesty," she said, her voice filled with the wonder of seeing a new life enter the world.

Alaric's face broke into a rare smile, his eyes burning with love, awe and pride. He had a son, an heir to his kingdom. He held the tiny infant in his arms, silent tears of joy trailing down his cheeks. With the tip of his finger, he traced the dark Marks that spiraled across his baby son's arms and chest, so much like his own. The boy opened his eyes, and Alaric saw his own green eyes mirrored back at him, different than the blue most babies were born with.

"Look, Irina," he whispered, briefly taking his eyes off his son to gaze at his wife. Her eyes filled with love and she reached out to her son, taking him in her arms.

"Casimir," she crooned softly, telling the infant his name for the first time. Suddenly, her look of wonder changed to a look of pain, as contractions shuddered through her body. Concern again etched itself on Alaric's face, and he gently took his son into his arms and looked to the midwife in concern.

"Don't worry, your Majesty," she assured Queen Irina and King Alaric. "It's only the afterbirth."

Irina shook her head. "No it isn't," she said, her body strained with effort.

"Twins," breathed the midwife in surprise as she went to deliver the second baby. In only minutes, another child entered the world.

The midwife smiled as she wrapped up the infant, who was slightly smaller than the first of the twins. "It's a girl," she said, handing the quiet child to her father. His face lit up as he held his daughter. Through cloudy hazel eyes she took in the strange, cold world without crying. Alaric gently touched the dark, intricate Mark on her neck, and traced it down to her collarbone. Suddenly, he frowned. The Mark didn't continue down her arms or her torso as it was supposed to, he noted in the back of his mind. But his spirits were only dimmed for a second, and he smiled again as he handed his beautiful daughter to his wife. His son had stopped crying the second his sister entered the world, and the tiny boy was also handed to his beaming mother.

"Callista," she crooned. "Callista Renata Varaki-Brynmont. And Casimir. Casimir Alaric Varaki-Brynmont. One day, you will both be great, my beautiful children. This kingdom will be yours to nurture." She beamed at her children and her husband.

"Excuse me, Your Majesty, but may I see your daughter? It's unusual that she hasn't cried. I want to be sure that she's breathing well," said the midwife gently.

"Yes, of course," said Irina, looking worried again. The midwife stepped forward, taking the girl from her mother's arms. Suddenly, a strange current seemed to tear through the infant, causing her body to shudder. The midwife looked at the infant in concern.

Knowing that she had been taken from her mother, the baby began to whimper. Her whimper quickly escalated to an animalistic shriek, and her hazel eyes filled with tears. She flailed her tiny arms, and as her worried parents watched, she started to Change. Her tiny fingernails lengthened into needle sharp claws. Dark fur covered her body and her eyes gleamed green. Her face lengthened into a muzzle and tiny yet perfectly formed incisors emerged. A snarl came from the infant, who looked more animal than human.

The midwife practically threw the infant back to Irina, her eyes wide with horror. "What is this child?" she gasped. "I've delivered a monster." She turned and ran from the room, not glancing back even once.

In shock, Irina and Alaric stared at their daughter. Before their eyes, she was Changing again, back to a human baby. She gurgled happily next to her mother and brother, unaware of the horror on her parent's faces.

Alaric looked away from his daughter, unable to bear the sight of her any longer. He spoke, his voice rough with disgust. "What have we created?"

[A/N: So here it begins! Thanks for reading! Please review, reviews help me know what to improve. If you read this prologue and it caught your interest, I'd love to know why. The same with if you read it and you didn't want to continue. Just ask, and I will be happy to return a review. Happy reading, and thank you so much for clicking this story! ~DarkHawk