PROLOGUE –

They were standing in the doorway, drops of water ricocheting onto the threadbare school carpet beneath them. Sorrow and frowns were plastered onto the grim faces of two men and woman. The man on the furthest right held a look of apprehension and stress. All three were staring tiredly into the eyes of a trembling teacher.

"What happened?" She whimpered out. "W-why is my student…"

Three heads swiveled to the strange boy, cowering behind his mother's pale skirt. His body showed no sign of the form he had abandoned seconds ago. He was only seven years old.

The stern woman pinched her brow before replying in a soothing tone, "Mrs. Levenski, why don't you come with us and we'll explain on our way there?"

She stared after her. "G-go where?"

"Mr. Talon, Mr. Vordic, take care of matters here. I have to see to Mrs. Levenski's relocation."

Mr. Talon stood taller, straightening his shoulders officially but regretfully. His blonde hair was hanging just above his heavy, youthful eyes. Eyes that sparked with a calculated, concerned defiance. "What exactly are… 'matters here'?" The look he tossed the woman in charge demanded an answer.

"You know full well what matters are." She hissed. The head of the small assembly glanced over at the teacher cowering beside them, looking more worried as the conversation progressed. The 'matters here' were not something she should have had to explain, not something she wanted to in front of the already hysterical mentor.

"No. I don't. This has never happened under my command before. I'm afraid you'll need to inform me what we are to take care of."

She glared, "Mister Vordic will tell you what must be done."

"A personal discussion would be much more appropriate." Mr. Talon looked pointedly at her, and then at the confused, frightened woman hunched behind a desk. For a moment, they just stared at each other until the official looking female realized he wasn't going to back down and if she didn't do something, thing would get dangerous.

"Fine," she said, "Mr. Vordic, take her to the car and explain to her what happened, just as you've been trained. Find her a suiting place among the Laminas. Inform her gently, and don't overload her. We don't want her thinking she's going insane." Every word of this command was so blunt, so matter-of-fact.

The door swung open, inviting a blast of frigid air, laced with the faint taste of death. Mr. Vordic walked grimly into the bitter wind outside with the trembling teacher trailing after him in a petrified daze. It was wet outside, wet and acridly cold.

It was the frosty glare from inside that had the potential to cause the most harm. Her Unrelenting glower felt like pins sliding into Mr. Talon's eyes. Suddenly her thundering rage seemed less of something to be trifled with. Of course, there was no reason to muffle the unforgiving howl of her harsh fury now. "Okay Talon. What. Don't. You. Understand?" Each word was dotted with a threat.

The boy and his mom stood white-faced. The child didn't even understand. There were just these people in suits glaring back and forth. They looked grim. Like maybe something horrible was going to happen. And then his mom's face. Something was bad. Something was very bad.

"Everything! I don't understand what you're asking me to do!"

She gritted her teeth coldly. "You know what they did. They were warned of the consequences, they did not listen. If something like this were to happen again, I doubt we would be as lucky as we were this time around. Do you understand me Talon?"

Mr. Talon shook his head frustratedly, "I don't understand. They didn't know this would happen. This wasn't something they were warned about! No one ever told them they would be… that this was the price."

"They exposed us Talon! It was only one person this time, but what about next time?"

Mr. Talon straightened furiously. "Next time? You think there's going to be a next time?"

"You can't tell me there won't be! Your words mean nothing! This is as much your fault as it is theirs! Next time you will not take these risks so lightly! Next time you will enforce the rules that have been set down! Next time, you will realize that failure to do so puts LIVES on the line!"

Mr. Talon shrank back against the torrent of blame. His fault. Their lives. His fault. No. No. That wasn't true. "That's not true. I'll take care of this, but not this way. I refuse to hurt anyone."

"Mr. Talon. You will do as you are instructed. You of all people knew what would happen if something of this extent happened and you did nothing about it!"

He swallowed hard. This…this…this wasn't his fault. But it was. He wouldn't do it though. He couldn't. He told her this. A scowl distorted her rageful face.

"Yes. You. Will. Or you will face the same consequences. I have half a mind to disband you from your position. But you're lucky I have some humanity. Your family needs your job. So you'll keep it. But you will stay in accordance to the laws that you helped set down. Am I clear Mr. Talon?"

He blinked, moisture staining his vision. "I never agreed to this one."

"No one asked you to."

"Fine."

The cowering mother finally spoke up, "No, you'll leave my son alone, he didn't know any better! He didn't know anything!"

Mr. Talon drew in a shaky breath. He didn't want any part in this. "She's right, the kid, he didn't know any better. You can't expect me to… he's just a little kid. He doesn't deserve this." No one deserved it.

The stern look from his superior made him shrink. She was serious about this. Was she going to make him deal out the same fate to this child? This seven-year-old child?

"I do expect you to Talon! This is your responsibility. There will be no further discussion on the matter."

"But… I can't, I just-"

"MISTER TALON!"

He shrank into himself, shaking with the enormity of the task ahead of him. The inhumanity of it. It was useless arguing with her. She really expected him to kill them.

Both of them.

Was he really just like the rest of these people in positions of high authority? Was there anyone besides him who knew this was deeply wrong? Was there anyone, anyone else that was too much of a coward to stop it? Could he have stopped it?

"Are we clear?"

He swallowed.

He felt tears blurring his vision as he listened to the strained sobs behind him. They were horrible, desperate sounds. He was her last hope, and he had caved under pressure. His face remained blank, as the dark, teeming haze of emotions scraping and clawing inside of him tore any cohesive thoughts to shreds.

She was going to make him do this.

"Mr. Talon, are we clear?"

"Yes. We're clear."

Some puzzling emotion crossed over the stern woman's face, one that it seemed would have been pushed away by her uncompromising features. It appeared to be approbation. "Then take care that I do not have to visit this place for a long time. Make sure to keep in strict line with the Lamina traditions and something of this likeness will not occur again. You're a good man Mr. Talon. I'm sorry it had to come to this."

The door swung slowly open, letting in the cold, dead, outside wind. It seemed fitting. Mr. Vordic walked in, shaking from cold.

"How did it go?" Mr. Vordic's superior asked.

"She's fine. She seemed to take it in stride. I think after a little time to take it in, she'll be back to normal." The words seemed to quake out of him, accompanied by the drip, drip, drip of black beads of water crashing into the bare carpet beneath him.

"Good," She said simply, "then Mr. Vordic, you will stay with Talon and make sure he takes care of things properly." Vordic nodded slowly. He didn't like this turn of events any more than the shrunken Mr. Talon. The door breezed open and was slammed shut.

She was gone.

Mr. Vordic looked to Talon. "Take your things and get out of here," he laid a hand on his colleague's shoulder, "I'll take care of things," he said lifting a gun from his jacket pocket remorsefully.

Mr. Talon nodded gravely, eyes wide and terrified. He looked back at the mother and her son, his eyes haunted. "I-I'm so, so sorry."

"M-mom, what's going to happen mom?"

Talon cringed at the little voice, thinking of the fate that would befall them.

"Baby," came the woman's small trembling voice, "Mommy's here. It's okay. It's okay."

As he walked into the biting ice, he could hear the mother's morose voice begging him, "please, don't let them hurt my baby. Please. Don't hurt my baby!"

Two minutes later, he heard two distant gunshots from the school.