Prologue

Six years before the searing….

Night hung heavily on the surrounding forest. The only light entering the clearing came from the sliver of moon overhead. Shongaqu lay stretched out across the cool grass. In the distance the howls of wolves pierced the silence of the summer night. With a modicum of effort Shongaqu pushed himself up to a sitting position where he regarded his wife. She sat across from him on a stump in the center of the clearing, her long blond hair wet and matted.

“Rough day?” Shongaqu asked, his wife did not respond. He inspected the bags underneath his wife’s eyes and suspected that his face looked quite similar. The past several weeks leading up to his daughter’s birth had been exhausting for the both of them. His wife’s discomfort was compounded by the nightmares that had begun to plague his sleep.

“I’ve had worse,” Kaylah said as she rose from the stump. Shongaqu furrowed his brow trying to think of a more stressful day. “Like the day I married you,” she answered his unspoken question.

Shongaqu threw his head back and laughed, “You were fit to be tied that day, true.”

“We had never met and I wanted no part of the little pale boy my parents had arranged for me to marry.”  Kaylah said her eyes glazed over in reverie.

            “Your yelling was quite off putting, I almost fled from the temple.” Shongaqu shook his head partly from embarrassment and partly because it seemed such a silly thing to have thought. Shongaqu let himself fall back and stared up at the stars a moment later he sensed his wife join him. She knelt beside him her mouth nearly touching his ear.

“I still hate you for going through with it.” She whispered.

“What, marrying you?” Shongaqu didn’t have to ask he knew the answer already, “I know you loved another man, but my father-“

“Your father? Please,” she whispered the words as if they were bile, “You look like an old man, with your white hair and bent back, what self respecting woman would want to marry you? That’s why you leapt at the chance to take me as your bride; you were driven by your own selfishness.”

Turning is face away Shongaqu felt tears welling up in his eyes. He knew the words were true. ”Then why stay with me?” he asked petulantly.

“Because, my love, my family needs the ties to the Xunlai company.”

The howling of the wolves had come closer and Shongaqu shivered involuntarily.

“Do the wolves scare you my pet?” Kaylah asked playfully as she circled around behind him.

Shaking his head Shongaqu sat up.  “Not particularly, though I don’t want to be eaten.”

“I very much doubt that that would happen, not enough meat on your bones to constitute a meal.” Kaylah said, the sadistic grin carried by her voice.

“With your love of tormenting me I’m surprised you never chased other men.” Shongaqu sighed.

“Who said I haven’t,” Kaylah replied, after a pause she laughed, “ahh my sweet Shongaqu how could I betray you. I would risk dishonoring my family and you know how loyal I am to my family.”

Shongaqu waved his hand behind his head as if swatting an annoying insect and his wife returned to the stump where she sat and grinned at him.

“Perhaps I should never have married you,” Shongaqu said his tone defeated.

“If you had not married me then I would never of been invited to this wonderful party,” Kaylah said as she took a sip of her tea. Shongaqu shivered his eyes fixated on his wife unable to look away. The wolves and their piercing howls were nearly on top of the pair, but Shongaqu couldn’t hear. Opposite the wolves men wreathed in shadow emerged from the tree line to stand behind Shongaqu’s wife. The tallest stood directly behind Kaylah his eyes glowed a dull yellow from under his ocher hood. A greenish blue mist enshrouded the clearing and the red dripping from Shongaqu’s hands stood out in stark contrast.

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