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Prologue – Book 8 (spoiler alert)

Prologue

 

It has been many millennia since I lost my Mate to the Dark Queen Ashlu.

Yet I never forgot that moment.

The moment when my soul turned to ashes even as my body remained whole.

The moment I changed.

My Mate had been with our daughter in the front garden of our humble hut when the Dark Queen and her entourage happened to pass by in a stately caravan, on their way to the Ivory Palace from a sojourn abroad.

He had been laughing and playing with our young in carefree joy. Shifting back and forth between his spotted leopard form, though he’d reduced it to a cub for her enjoyment, and his Pure male form, a papa who would throw her high up in the air while she screeched with excitement, and catch her in his strong arms and cuddle her close.

I was inside preparing our supper, a simple stew and beetroot salad. A full-hearted smile had spread my lips at the most beautiful sight I’d ever beheld—my Mate and our child—the two loves of my life.

We lived in a time of oppression and fear, for Pure Ones were the lowest of the low in the empire that the Dark Ones ruled. Humans were the vampires’ cattle, and we were their slaves; household servants at best, Blood Slaves at worst.

Even so, I could not have been more content with my life as the Pure Healer for my race, though it was a much less official role than it sounds. Formally, my entire family were the property of a Dark Noble House a couple of miles away.

Our masters were generous and kind as Dark masters went. They treated us in some ways as if we were part of their family. When I Mated, they allowed us to live separate from the estate to give us more privacy.

My Mate took care of their stables and hunted game in the mountains and forests that surrounded the capital city of Akkad (not difficult for a Pure One whose Gift was to transform into a leopard), and I was their resident healer and cook. When we had our daughter, our masters allowed her to take lessons alongside their own child, just as my Mate and I learned reading, writing and arithmetic in the same household.

Indeed, I had not one single complaint in life. Our family was blessed by the Goddess, I always thought.

Until that day. When Queen Ashlu looked upon my Mate in our front garden.

I can still remember it in vivid detail:

The moment her eyes alighted upon his beautiful face, glowing with joy and love for our daughter.

The moment they narrowed with greed and lust, when her pupils dilated and her fangs descended, dripping with saliva as she growled an ominous, commanding growl.

When the fine hairs on the back of his neck prickled before he turned to face her with apprehension, holding our daughter tightly to his chest, as if he knew this would be the last time he held her.

When she opened her mouth to issue rapid-fire orders for her squadron of soldiers to seize her prize.

I’d dashed out to confront them, not knowing what I could do, fearful and weak. Just in time to see one Dark warrior tear our daughter from my Mate’s arms. Another soldier grabbed hold of me, locking his thick arms around my chest from behind, holding me immobile against him.

I was useless. Powerless. My Gifts were worthless in this moment. I couldn’t even find the voice to shout.

I saw my Mate’s skin glow with the instinct to shift into leopard form, knew that he desperately wanted to fight to protect his family from threat.

But Queen Ashlu was speaking in low tones to him. I couldn’t hear. My head had felt like it was going to explode from terror and shock, my ears ringing with a high-pitched scream.

My Mate heard the Dark Queen, and the glow of his shift subsided. He knew without a doubt that any resistance he put up would be futile. And worse, she must have threatened my own and our daughter’s lives to ensure his capitulation.

So I watched, silent, numb and dry-eyed while our daughter cried and screamed for her papa, kicking and flailing in the Dark soldier’s grasp, as Queen Ashlu took my Mate away.

Took him away and raped him.

Used him. Hurt him. Shamed him.

Enslaved him.

In the end, to quell the displeasure of Dark nobles as a civil war threatened on the horizon, she killed him with her own hands. For her obsession with her Pure Blood Slave had caused the defection of her Dark Mate.

I was there when she did it. I saw it all.

You see, apart from my useless healing powers, I can take on different forms too, but only to prolong my own life.

After my Mate’s abduction and enslavement, I abandoned my daughter to the Dark Noble House, for I had no more love inside me to care for her.

I cared for nothing but vengeance.

I shed my Pure One skin to take the body of a human housemaid within the Ivory Palace and did everything in my power to exact my revenge upon the Dark Queen Ashlu and all her descendants.

The Dark Queen was killed by her own daughter. The Great War and the Purge of the aftermath crushed the Dark empire into ruins and rubble.

But I am still exacting my revenge.

There are crucial moments in our existence that define who we are. Losing my Mate killed all hope and light and joy within me. He had been the goodness that inspired my own. When he was taken from me, there was nothing left but hate and bitterness.

I even hated my Mate, though I knew he was blameless. I knew he suffered terribly with every pain and humiliation the Dark Queen wrought upon him. But after he was made into her blood whore, I grew to despise him. And I despised myself for still craving him.

I lost my heart, my soul, and my mind.

Now, I am capriciousness and deceit, vengeance and chaos incarnate. I have no loyalty to anyone, no care, no connection.

I’d abandoned my own daughter, what do you expect?

There have been a few instances in my long existence, since that fateful day, that I’ve been tempted to “do better.” But the ones who tempt me never stay true.

Like Rain, the greatest Pure Healer across the ages whom I’d adored like my own daughter. She gave up her Gift for a Pure male. Such stupidity. Since then, I have no place in her life. Good riddance.

Like Alexandros, the last General of the Pure Ones, before I sent him to his death. He reminded me a little of my lost Mate, but he was merely a mirage after all.

Without further distractions, I can focus exclusively on bringing the same kind of mind-warping pain that reshaped me to everyone else on this god-forsaken planet.

Ironically, I’m doing it under the auspices of helping Medusa spread her evil. As one of her countless pawns.

Little does she know that the truth is quite the opposite: she is my pawn.

After all, I’m the one who whispered in her ear with false rumors about how the Dark Queen Ashlu arranged for her execution once her twin sister Ishtar was determined to be the Chosen Princess. I’m the one who supplied Anunit with the poisons to ingest. You could say I shaped her into the vile serpent she is today.

And just so we’re clear—I hate her too.

But enough with the walk down memory lane. I need to focus back on my important work: Creating little vampire devils from test tubes and readily available human shells.

Now, there’s an added component to my research. Thanks to Medusa’s run-in with her dear little sister a while back, one of the seeds she planted long ago is finally bearing fruit.

Human research to genetically enhance soldiers of war has unwittingly provided the fodder for Medusa’s experiments. She’s already successfully spliced Dark and Pure genes with that of humans. She’s been able to create a new breed of vampires that kill on her command without the threat of losing pieces of her soul turning humans the old fashioned way.

What about splicing the genes of powerful predators with that of humans, Pure and Dark Ones alike?

Just think of the possibilities.

She took everything she needed from her twin sister’s genes, the Great White Beast from the Ecliptic Prophesies. Genes from my Mate. Medusa took them from Ishtar when she’d been unconscious and helpless in Medusa’s care during their long-awaited reunion, before their last great battle that ended in the serpent’s apparent defeat.

I have to hand it to her—even when she lost, she won.

I’ve been keeping tabs on all of the experiments Medusa commissioned. Only individuals with a certain genetic predisposition or chemistry can accept foreign injections of Pure, Dark and animal DNA. 99.999% of the experiments fail. Only one out of one hundred thousand subjects survive.

Fortunately, we’ve been planting these seeds for a very long time, far longer than the timeline of modern genetic engineering. We’ve cultivated the bloodlines of the survivors over many millennia, keeping a close eye on them all the while.

Ever hear of the Little Flower Orphanage? It’s only one of thousands of “cultivation facilities” we own around the world.

Millennia ago, humans called it “sorcery” or “magic.” When men had the ability to command the elements—fire, air, earth, water. When they fed on the blood and souls of others to extend their lives and remain eternally youthful. When they possessed special Gifts like foresight, mind reading, superhuman speed and senses.

When they shifted into something else.

My Mate was a spotted leopard. A snow leopard in the case of Ishtar. Other humanoid forms in the case of the Creature, Medusa’s little pet.

And in my own case, a fox-spirit who possesses the bodies of humans, Pure and Dark Ones alike. I have nine lives, one for each of my nine tails.

This is my last skin, and I will make it count.

What would you call it? When man and animal become one. When the animal possesses the man’s soul, and the man inhabits the animal’s body.

Whatever you call it, these are our latest creations.

Let the carnage and chaos begin.

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