Chapter 1         

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The shack was dark; little more than a silhouette beneath the incomprehensible blackness of the heavens, bathing its inhabitants with the constant yet gently twinkling black light of endless stars. Seraph would have loved to touch those tiny, impossible orbs of light; she yearned to reach into the glowing blackness of space and find whatever it was that would one day make man yearn to strap himself into tiny, unimaginably unstable and architecturally flawed boxes, ready to risk life and limb for what, a meager payment and occasional fame? No, it simply had to be more than that. Yet did humans truly understand the joy - the brilliant, driven elation - derived from sacrificing life and limb for the greater glory of one's species, or was their sight fogged by the mists of selfish gain? She and her sisters (Seraph's small frame trembled at the thought of what had transpired between them during those final, terrible events that had invariably led her here, even after the many years since she had beheld their faces) had always disagreed about this one thing. It was the reason they were still in an ancient castle too far within the Great Forest to be perceived by the prying eyes of the race she mingled with now, while she...heavens. The more she thought about what she had done, the more she wanted to undo it all, to escape the miserable creatures' dismaying culture called humanity, and flee her fate before its repulsive tendrils crept toward the one frayed tie holding her struggling being to her so meticulously concealed identity, and, with a motion deft as an assassin's blade, slice away the work of a lifetime, in a way her masterpiece. Yet few who understood the true plight of this young, very nearly human woman would believe she regarded her grand hoax with pride. Once, in another age and a vastly different land, it drove her until she stumbled on the edge of sanity. Her sisters stopped searching for her shortly after. She had never seen them again, and had no way of even knowing if they still lived.

Seraph had traveled far throughout the lands of humans; she had seen feats she had thought impossible, she had been shown secrets unimaginable to the common traveler, and had learned to converse in the many variations of humans' strange language. Why, then, was she consumed so suddenly with such profound regret? She had built her new home with her own hands, small and soft though they might be, and bore the calouses to prove it. She had found a part of the forest about a day's gallop from the outskirts of the city, if this scrawny copse of saplings could be called that, which no man had claimed for himself. The answer, of course, rendered her accomplishments as worthless as the thick vermillion clay which caked her worn boots: Seraph may have become human in form, may have learned more of their customs than many humans themselves, but that did not, could not, make her one of them. That would require altering the soul, and even the youngest of children knew it would curse those who tried until their dying gasp. Yet it was the only way they would accept her. The only way she would be heard by them. The only way she could teach them. Sighing, Seraph walked to her home and bolted the somewhat dilapidated door, thoughts lingering on polished grey scales glimmering in the mist, and the snap of leathery wings.

Dawn, the rising sun a scarlet wound bathed in thick fog, was cool and brought with it the tang of blood. This was the season when humans leashed their strange short-furred, docile wolves, and crashed through the trees in their wake in search of game. Thus, she woke while humans still lay in their beds to find prey of her own, before anything that could run was frightened away. On this morning Seraph was fortunate: the scent of elk was pungent in the air, and she soon came across a young stag, grazing ravenously on a thick patch of coarse greyish grass. She had taken great care to mask her scent, a feat easily done with the help of certain herbs, but still moved downwind, stepping cautiously to avoid spots of crackling lichen and loose stones. When she finally became still, Seraph was close enough to make out each hair on the creature's lean flank, the same ruddy brown as the trees that grew farther north. She had wondered, from a great distance, what would drive such a creature so near the dwellings of men at such a dangerous time, and now her answer was revealed in the form of angular ribs-every one defined and protruding-like the skeleton of a galley's hull.  Seraph wondered how far it had traveled, most likely from the barren lands in the distant east, to reach this place. Perhaps miles, perhaps kingdoms. This one would be no different from any other; she drew a long bone knife from within the thick folds of her cloak, and, with one fluid motion, severed the elk's spinal cord deep enough to cease communication between its brain and nerves, effectively ensuring it would feel nothing to come. Seraph had developed the habit of taking no pride in her prizes, however grand, and instead regarded them merely with an air of necessity, and the greatest of pity. She no longer was filled with the crimson joy of the hunt like her sisters, nor tumbling over herself with hubris over feats as distorted and misinterpreted as they were foolish, like humans were sometimes wont to do. Perhaps, she thought, it is easier for one who has played the part of prey as well as hunter in this charade to be so courteous to one's spoils. Perhaps she had been a craven fool for not asserting herself over her prey, as warned her sisters when they saw her hunt as nestmates. No, she was no craven, but she had been rash and foolhardy in her actions on many an occasion. It had cost her dearly, more indeed than anything else ever had, but those days were long since passed. Dogs' baying far into the distance heralded her trek as her mind returned to the woods. She decided to head north, up into the looming mountains. No more game was to be found here.