~Prologue~

~Year 3476, Sokoly, Enderwice~

Atop a dappled grey mare, the young woman rode bareback, a bundle of blankets in her left arm. Though the night air was warm, little shivers ran down her spine. The country she was meant to cross was going to be dangerous; there was no chance she could endure it in her current state. The journey would be treacherous enough without the responsibility she held in her arms.

On every side, trees thick with leaves and overgrown underbrush hid her from view. Marielle was used to danger. She had crossed many lines in her years and garnered a reputation for that very trait. She never feared anyone or anything anymore; nothing could spring her by surprise. She was just too good at what she did.

The mare halted at the stream and twitched her ears, head held high. Marielle's eyes, the same blue as the water before them, darted about nervously. No, she was not afraid…for herself. Her daughter's life, however, was much more precious than her own. She had to be sure her daughter stayed safe. The sound of the water trickling over rocks soothed both horse and rider.

Murmuring words of encouragement to the horse, Marielle rode on at a steady walk across the water, after having made sure she was alone. Strands of her golden hair had come loose around her face, but she was too engrossed in her own thoughts to notice or care. The baby resting in the crook of her arm was silent, yet clearly awake. Marielle had noticed that she hardly ever cried; strange for an infant so young.

"Marielle!"

The mare halted and Marielle looked to her left, toward where the voice originated from. Tall, green trees stretched as far as the eye could see, even with the moon shining so brightly in the dark summer sky. Shadows and mist danced around her, but she was not afraid. The night was her ally; it hid her from the Slayers and other beings – even shifters – that hunted her. Never had she killed an innocent, yet she was spoken of as a murderer.

"Marielle!" the voice hissed again. Marielle jumped from the mare's back, clutching the bundle tightly to her chest.

"I am here," she whispered into the night.

A tall man emerged from the bracken, a black hood hiding his eyes in shadow. Marielle had never been so pleased to see him; her only remaining friend. His dark hair contrasted with his fair skin and beside him walked a red bay thoroughbred, fully tacked, with saddlebags hanging from his saddle. This man had stuck by her from the beginning of her training days. She could not trust anybody else; they all wanted her dead too much.

"I was beginning to think you would never make it here alive," the man said in a low voice. "You and the infant."

Marielle said nothing. Her eyes stayed on the long grass growing at her feet. She hated having to leave her daughter, but she knew she would not be wise to even attempt the journey with a baby on her back.

"Are you sure you have to go?" he asked her gently.

Marielle nodded. "Yes. I intend to return to Igrendem. If I do not return in six months, do not expect me back at all. Keep her safe, Maks."

Maks took the bundle from her and gently pulled the blankets from the child's face. The baby sneezed and then yawned, her eyes larger than normal, taking in everything as if she understood it all. Fair hair, the same shade as Marielle's, was beginning to grow on the top of her head. "Where's her father?" he asked.

"Long gone," Marielle replied, her tone blunt.

"…Dead?"

She glared up at him and shook her head. "He is safe. He went where I told him to go, before I even knew I was expecting her. He does not know that he has a daughter."

Maks looked back down at the child. "She looks just like you," he commented. "Less like her father, though she has his expression: masked." Maks looked up at his friend and embraced her, the child between them. Marielle had a good heart; though she often got carried away with her abilities, which was the reason behind the hatred that followed her.

Pulling himself onto his stallion with the infant still in one hand, he began to turn his horse away. He intended to get away from here with the child as quickly as possible. If anyone knew Marielle had a daughter, both of them would be in greater danger.

"Maks," Marielle called softly, hurrying after him and grasping his arm before he could disappear with her only child. "Look after her. Her name is Alexia."

Maks nodded as Marielle kissed her daughter's forehead one last time. She ran back and leapt onto her mare, kicking her into a gallop without looking back. Maks watched her a moment before turning his own horse in the opposite direction; knowing it was unlikely she would return.

Tears streamed Marielle's face as she raced back through the forest. She knew a miracle would have to occur to be reunited with her daughter, but she wished in her heart of hearts that this was not the last time they would meet.