Prologue | The Cliff
Wind whipped through Kora’s hair as she stood at the edge of the ocean cliff, her dress tattered and torn, legs scratched and bleeding from running through the briar patches in the woods. Normally she would be more careful when passing through the thorn brush, but Kora was desperate, and her life—never mind her legs and dress—meant nothing to her now. Kora’s husband pursued her.
“Kora!” he shouted. “Stop! Please!” he pleaded while trying to reach her.
But Kora did not turn to face him. He ran as fast as he could, each step bringing him closer to his wife. Kora’s husband stretched his arms out, reaching for her as he ran. He called to her again, “Kora!” But it was too late. Swoosh, she was gone. Kora made her choice, the choice to end her life and the life of the monster growing in her womb.
Chapter One: Part One | A Beautiful Young Couple
“Kaleb, the fire is dying down. Can you go bring in some more wood from outside?” Ramaya asked her husband as she knitted a white blanket. Kaleb was on the floor trying to hammer down a loose wooden floorboard. He looked up at his beautiful wife and smiled. She was sitting in a rocking chair with the hearth to her back. A warm, golden glow came from behind Ramaya, lighting up her long auburn hair. Kaleb stared for a moment, admiring her beauty. They were a beautiful young couple, married only two days ago. Ramaya was the daughter of a poor widower, and Kaleb was the son of a well-to-do farmer. They had met when Kaleb and his father traveled to her village to deliver goods for the small town.
Kaleb crawled over to his bride and sat up on his knees. “I would give you the world if you wanted, my love,” he replied as he played with a lock of her hair.
“I already have it,” Ramaya smiled as she stared into his bright green eyes. Kaleb leaned into his wife and pressed his lips to hers. Kaleb’s passion for Ramaya seemed like it was going to get in the way of him getting the firewood, but Ramaya slowly pushed her husband away.
“Kaleb, get the wood on the fire; our love alone will not keep us warm.” Kaleb stood and kissed her on her head. As he stood there with his eyes closed, Ramaya could hear him take a deep breath, inhaling the scent of her hair, taking it in.
“I will be right back,” he said as he walked to the door and put on his jacket and boots. He smiled at his lovely wife and stepped out.
The fire was down to small flames and hot coals, and Kaleb had not returned with more wood. Ramaya walked to the window to see what was taking him so long. Not seeing him from the window, she returned to her chair. She tried to continue knitting the blanket she was making for the winter, but she rose from the chair again, unsettled. She walked back to the window and leaned in close, putting her hands up to block her own reflection. Still she did not see Kaleb. Ramaya went to the front door and pulled her coat over her shoulders. She slipped her feet into her new slippers. Kaleb had purchased them for her from a neighboring village. They were very warm and lined with wool. Ramaya opened the door, and a gust of cold wind blew in on her. She quickly pulled the door shut and walked around the porch to the pile of firewood. Ramaya called for her husband. She was answered only by the wind blowing through the branches of the nearby trees.
“Kaleb,” she shouted loudly this time, worry in her voice. Not seeing her husband on the porch or in the side yard, Ramaya walked down the porch stairs to the yard and made her way to the back of the house. It seemed darker in the backyard, because the forest lined the house there. “Kaleb … please. This is not funny!” Ramaya shouted once more. Suddenly the winds ceased, and the air became thick with a fearful silence. A voice came from behind her.
“Ramaya,” the deep voice spoke. Startled, she quickly turned, knowing this was not the voice of her husband. The silhouette of a man stood between the house and Ramaya. He walked closer to her. “I am not here to end your life, Ramaya. Your fate is not that of your husband.” Ramaya’s eyes darted around the yard for her beloved.
“Kaleb!” she shouted again, tears filling her eyes.
“He cannot hear you. His ears will not hear your voice again,” the stranger said, pointing to the tall trees backing the yard. Ramaya looked in the direction he pointed and screamed in terror. Kaleb was pinned to one of the trees. Foliage wrapped around his torso, as if the tree were holding on to him. His face was expressionless; he looked as if he were in a trance. The stranger moved toward Kaleb. Ramaya watched as the man approached her incapacitated husband. Her eyes blinked rapidly, trying to adjust to what she was seeing as the stranger made his way to Kaleb. In disbelief, Ramaya watched the stranger transform into a beast, a frightening creature with horns and wings. The seven-foot-tall monster closed in on Kaleb and latched its enormous, taloned hands around his throat. Holding onto Kaleb’s neck, the creature secured its other hand to the top of Kaleb’s head. In one fast motion, the beast pulled Kaleb’s body away from the tree, tossing it to the ground. It smacked with a solid thud, like an old rag doll that hits the ground after a pesky brother snatches it from his little sister’s caring hands.
Looking back at Ramaya, who stood quivering at the sight of her husband’s lifeless body, the beast said, “He will make a great harvest.” Ramaya turned her attention back to the fiend, and what she saw jolted her more than anything she had witnessed already; the beast still held something against the trunk of the tall tree. Beneath the grip of the otherworldly beast stood a soft, whitish-gray, ghostly image, Kaleb’s soul. The fiend placed its palm on the soul’s chest and began to harvest. A faint glow moved out of the soul and up the arm of the creature, making its way through the beast’s entire body. The creature was illuminated by its harvest; it beamed like waters hit by the light of a full moon. Ramaya watched on, helpless, numb with fear and astonishment, as the beast slowly drained her husband. When Kaleb’s soul no longer emanated any light, the creature retracted its hand, and what remained of Kaleb’s essence vanished into the air.
The creature stood for a brief moment, letting its harvest disperse throughout its body. Its chest rose as it inhaled and then lowered in an exhalation of gratification. Then the creature began to distort, and human features emerged. The beast, now fully human, approached Ramaya and pulled her to him. Despite her efforts to break free, he wrapped her up in his arms and whispered in her ear. “Eovettzi` nomistara.” He repeated the words in a soft, soothing tone until Ramaya calmed and fell into a trancelike state, no different than the state Kaleb was in when he was bound to the tree. This stranger had great power, his words like an intoxicant, and no human had a chance to escape his will.
The stranger released his hold on Ramaya; she remained motionless. The man placed his hands on each side of Ramaya’s face, holding her gaze on him. He leaned into her and touched his lips to hers. A small orb of yellow light passed from his mouth to hers; it moved down her throat and settled in her belly.
“I will return for my son,” he said softly in her ear while she remained lifeless in his grasp. “Give life to my child, and I will return to relieve you of this burden; I will restore your life as it was before this night. You will have your husband again.” Tears of agony, despair, and hope ran down Ramaya’s face as he spoke of returning Kaleb to her. Ramaya would give birth to a thousand of his children to have her husband back.