[prologue]

[alice]

I remember the scene perfectly.

My head spun, my legs shook, and I was going to be sick at any moment. Trails of bloody pawprints decorated the polished wood floor, leading into the woods. My mother's beautiful pottery was now only a pile of broken shards, sitting there in a pathetic little pile. The curtains were shredded, the windows were broken, my stuffed animals were torn to pieces. None of that was important, none of it. I didn't care at all at this point. I didn't see any of it. I only saw the corpses of my family, stuffed in the fireplace, roasting.

Quickly, I raced for the bucket of water I had gotten from the well, heaved it over to the fire, and splashed it onto the flames. With a loud hiss, the fire disappeared, but left behind a large cloud of gray smoke.

I felt like crying.

I wanted to cry.

I couldn't cry.

I could only stare at their twisted faces and the horrid sight of them just… sitting there… not moving. It was clear to me that none of them had been burned alive. Their throats were cut. The marks looked exactly like the marks that claws made. It was obvious that a shapeshifter was responsible for this… but why? My parents didn't have a bad reputation with shapeshifters… at least that I knew of. Unlike most humans, our family was known for being quite hospitable towards their kind.

I considered the possibility of it being just a regular old animal, or perhaps someone of the Vulpes race, but I immediately ruled out both of those options. Animals can't open doors. The Vulpes don't even live in human lands. If one of them really did murder my parents, it would have traveled all the way across the world. That seemed unlikely and very troublesome for them.

It must have been a shapeshifter.

I inspected the claw marks further, and came to the conclusion that it must have been a skilled shifter who knew how to change into some kind of large cat.

I couldn't look at their bodies any longer… it was all too horrible, and I was too angry. No… I was a lot more than angry. I was filled with rage, grief, and disbelief so strong that I wanted to destroy whoever was responsible. I wanted to give them a taste of their own medicine, cut their neck open, and stuff them into their own fireplace.

The rage was boiling inside of me, and it was starting to burn so strongly that it was painful. I had to let it out somehow, so I decided to scream. I did this until my voice reached its limit… and my throat was basically destroyed. Once that happened, I cried for a very, very long time….

After that, I sat on the cold, bloodied floor, wondering what I was supposed to do next. Was I supposed to just sit there and die with my parents? Should I run all the way to town and get help? …But there was still a chance that the murderer was around. It hadn't been that long since I had gotten home and discovered the bodies… and it hadn't even been that long since I had left. I had only gone out for a few minutes to get water from the well, which wasn't that close to the house, [I couldn't have noticed the killer walking in or out from so far away] but it wasn't really far either. So the killer… was probably still nearby. I could find them… all I had to do was follow their pawprints.

Naturally, that was what I started doing. The killer must have been dumb to leave such obvious evidence, or maybe I was the dumb one. The pawprints could have easily been a trap. Ignoring the possibility, I followed the path of prints for a while, and found myself in the woods. After a few minutes of walking through the wilderness, I noticed something very strange… bloody skid marks next to the pawprints, like the killer had been dragging someone else that they had brutally murdered. I cringed in disgust… I wouldn't allow any more people to become victims. I would kill whoever did this.

Pulling my "Beginner's Book of Sorcery" out of my leather bag, I flipped to the page titled "Dark Vivace". When I found the murderer, I wouldn't hesitate to use it. It was a spell that took a load of energy off of the caster, but in this case it wouldn't matter. I didn't care about myself anymore. If I died, at least I would meet my parents in the afterlife. That would be enough for me to be happy… it was all I wanted besides revenge.

After a long, painful trek through the woods, I finally found myself free of the shade of the huge trees and I could see the dark night sky once again. It was hardly believable that at this time of night I was still alive and in one piece. My parents had often told me tales of little girls like me wandering into the unknown and never returning. That didn't scare me anymore. I was determined to destroy the filth that ended my parents' peaceful, calm, joyous lives.

I knew that I must have been getting close. I had been following the bloody pawprints for a while, so I must have been close. Yes… I was close. There she was, the murderer of my parents, and the one who shattered my peaceful life. This was my first encounter with Mariana.

[mariana]

I didn't do it. I wouldn't murder innocent humans, yet none of them seem to believe me. I never really had any good relationships with humans besides Alice's parents… so why would I kill them? The answer is simple, I wouldn't.

I will tell you exactly what happened that day.

I had arrived at the Falconarius household at precisely midnight, they had been expecting me, and so had someone else apparently. An uninvited guest was waiting for me by the fireplace. This "uninvited guest" happened to be an Ielithian shapeshifter, like me.

The man looked like he had just woken up from a 100 year nap. His long, dark hair was a huge mess, sticking out from all sides like he hadn't brushed it for an eternity at the least.

This man… I had no idea who he was. He definitely wasn't a member of my village, that was for sure. I would have seen him before if that were the case.

His eyes, there was something odd about his eyes. I was surprised it wasn't the first thing I noticed. They were glowing a faint orange, unlike any Ielithian I have ever seen. Also, there weren't any words imprinted in his eyes and– wait a minute… you probably have no idea what I'm talking about, right? I'll explain. As Ielithians, we must have traits that separate us from regular humans. Well, there are three things about us that do so.

We have words inside of our irises. Yeah, this probably sounds really weird, all humans seem to think so. Well, we think it's weird that you humans don't have words in your eyes. These words tend to tell a story, but there are only a few special people who can read them. These words are also usually pretty meaningful and sometimes will hold a message or tell the future. I still haven't found anyone who can read mine yet… but I'm sure I will someday.

We all have a dumb horn on our heads. Everyone says mine is really pretty, but I'm not too fond of it. It's got these swirly carvings on it, as if somebody had cut through it with a knife or something. We Ielithians are pretty attached to our horns (except me). It's kind of like a cultural symbol to us. But to me, it doesn't really represent my culture. To me, it represents my mother that I never got to meet. I think she must have been pretty proud of it, so that makes me proud of it too.

Finally, most of us have weird carvings on our bodies that tell a story just like our eyes (and sometimes our horns too). I don't have these carvings, which is pretty unusual for an Ielithian girl. I'm okay with it, though.

So, now that you understand the features of an Ielithian, you will understand that it was really quite odd that this man was without the Ielithian script in his irises. To make sure you humans understand, it was basically like seeing somebody walking around headless. I looked at this man for a second longer, and finally asked, "Are you even Ielithian?"

With this, he immediately shapeshifted, where a man stood a second ago, a small lion stood instead and charged directly at me. He was pretty scrawny, and so was I, but surprisingly he was even scrawnier than I was. Shifting into a white tiger, I leaped at him, knocking him over with ease. I gave him a chance to surrender, but instead of backing down like a smart person, he decided to slice me right on the neck. Luckily, his claws didn't go far enough to do any serious damage, so I quickly scraped my claws against his side, snatched a nearby cooking pan from the kitchen, and hit him in the head as hard as I could. Slowly, he changed back into his original self.

Of course, this instantly knocked the guy out. Quickly, I took this chance and dragged him out of the house, leaving bloody skid marks on the floor. I assumed this man was some kind of lone terrorist. People of the Brotherhood, my Kingdom, wouldn't behave this way. Not even to humans of the Civic like Alice's parents. I highly doubted that the Persona Sanctus Kingdom would ever do anything to harm the people of the Civic. They were practically allies (though there were occasions when they would fight….)

After about a half an hour of lugging the dumb murderer through the woods, the daughter of the humans, Alice, came along. Red-faced and barely able to walk, she mumbled something to me. It sounded like a threat, but it was hardly even audible. I frowned at her, set the dumb murderer down, and went back into my regular Ielithian shape. Alice just glared at me with her sharp, angry, sad brown eyes. At this time, neither of us knew who the other was. We had never spoken to one another at all. I knew nothing of Alice besides her name, and the only information Alice knew of me was whatever her parents had told her.

In Alice's hand was a black spellbook, and a pretty low caliber one at that. It was then that I realized how much it looked like I was the killer.

Alice was staring at me with cold, dark eyes filled with nothing but hatred. I was completely frozen in place.

In the next moment, Alice let out a horrible shriek, pulling me out of my daze. I tried to explain to her what happened, I tried to explain to her that it hadn't been my doing. She wouldn't even listen to me for a second. Instead of listening, she decided to cast one of her dumb, inferior paralyzing spells on me… of course, it didn't work. Frustrated and angry, I changed into a swift white fox and grabbed the dumb murderer. After all that, I took off. There was no way she could catch me. As I looked back, I caught a glimpse of her sad brown eyes, lost and completely unsure of what to do next.

Forever and ever, for the rest of my life, I would remember that sad little girl standing in the woods all by herself with that hopeless look on her face.

That was something I couldn't ever forget,

even if I tried.