I have to run faster, to escape the shadows, though I know I never will. Not after the fire. Smoke coils around the dark pine trees, leading to the steep, rough mountain. Where am I... my head hurts. I look around before finally seeing where I am.

Then it's pitch black and I am falling, my mouth open in a scream but it's like someone has pressed a mute button


and I can't ehar myself. I land.

I'm alone.

In the dark.

Chapter 1:

I sit bolt upright in my bed, the effects of the dream fading away. I have the same dream every night. It's too weird. I stretch, and my little brother Jesse looks in. When he sees me, he grins and runs into my room. "Hey Anna," he yells, clearly oblivious to the fact that I only just woke up. "Get ready for the thing."

Oh yes. The "thing". I don't really know too much about the "thing," only that it was the funeral for someone seriously important. I get up and get dressed. Usual clothes, since I' not exactly rich, but not poor. What I'm



wearing is better than a T-shirt and sweatpants. Jesse's talking al about the cemetary on the car ride. "Guys... Jesse, cool it," Suzanna mumbles from the driver's seat. She's our older sister. She's 19.

Of course, it wasn't very exciting sitting around waiting for things to end. I saw our cousins. There were our classically beautiful cousins, Mackenzie and Cotto, both talking to the priest and looking like they had been crying. Obviously fake. Also obviously part of their cuteness act. Cotto was at least nicer than Mackenzie. They both had straight blond hair and unnaturally blue eyes, and were both awful.

Dawn Woods, another girl, sat near us. She was nice enough, I've met her once before.

"Come on," Jesse mutters to me, leading me away from her. Suddenly, right there in the cemetary, there's a huge burst of static.

"What was that?" my brother gasps. I pry him off me and send him sprawling in the dirt.

The priest begins talking as if it never happened, but now everyone listens to him.

"Now... one of the things that Thomas Yglacious --"


"So THAT's his name!"

"Shut up, Jesse."

"... wanted to accomplish in his life were..."

The priest paused for dramatic effect. It worked. Everyone caught their breath. He looked straight into my eyes.

"He was a scientist wanting to find the ingredients to the elixir that would stop the illness that his sister Manessa foretold."

We exchange glances, me and my brother.

"They are all here," the priest says, booting up an image on a very high-tech, non-priest like computer.

Then the place where we will be finding these elements comes into view. It's the same as my dreams.

The same place.

I stand up abrtuptly. All talking ceases.

"Anna... sit down," Jesse whispers. "You're attracting attention!"

I obey him.

"So it'll be dangerous, yes?" a snarky voice comes from the back.

"Yes it will, Mackenzie. Your name is also on the list."

"Read it."

"Do not rush me, girl."

He brandishes his list and begins to tick off names.

"Dawn Woods."

Dawn rises.

"Rosalee Trace."

Rosalee gets up. She's an average size girl with short brown hair. She looks pretty nice.

"Jiselle Burgess."

I choke back a laugh, at her last name. Jiselle, a tall girl with blonde waves tumbling down her back, gets up. She flicks her hands nervously. Claws shoot out from the black gloves she wears and retract again. Flick. Sshing! Flick. Retract. Cool.

"Mackenzie Crest."

"Anna L'Aine." That's me. I stand. Now for the boys.

"Cotto Crest." The equally haughty Cotto joins his sister.

"Jesse L'Aine." Jess joins me in the corner.

"Quinn Burgess." A tall blonde boy joins Jiselle. He doesn't have gloves like hers.

"Demetrius Dagotice." Another boy. My cousin Demetrius.

Our competition is children, all children. Why am I scared? Most of them are hardly older than me.

Jiselle's claws. I can already begin to image them clotted with flesh. My flesh.

Mackenzie's cruelty and hate to those less rich or fancy than she was.

Demetrius' eyes, burning into my skull, picking out all my secrets one by one.

This is why I am scared.

"Now as you all know, the place you are about to enter could be the very key to survival or instant death. They are scattered."

"They?'" Mackenzie glares at him. He shies away from her frigid gaze, then swallows and continues, "Yes. They, my child, are the ingredients, spread far and wide, that you will need to recover. The world needs the antidote to this illness that will soon plague and kill all living, breathing things on Earth. You all have been chosen by a prophecy long ago. Fortelling the coming of 9 strong children who alone have the power to retrieve the lost ingredients to the greatest antidote of all time."

"He sounds formal," Jesse murmurs.

"He sounds serious," I roll my eyes, putting emphasis on the last word.

"Mackenzie is such a huge --"

"Shut up."

Uh oh... trouble right behind us in two syllables. Cotto.

I scowl darkly at Jesse, and he gives me a can-you-help-me-out-here look, the one with the pleading eyes and the fake smile. I return him a you're-on-your-own-you-nimrod kind of face, and he goes back to Cotto with a please-don't-kill-me-and-I-might-give-you-a-jelly-doughnut-but-no-promises kind of look on his face.

"Oh she can certainly be quite belligerent at times, but she's awfully nice and polite on some occasions," Cotto says offhandedly.

"MacKENZIE?" Jesse's stunned tone makes the dangerous fire in Cotto's eyes flare up as if the flames had just devoured the morning newspaper when Jesse accidentally threw it into the fire and almost burned the house down.

"Yes, of course. Who else... YOUR sister?"

I feel hate begin to surge up, and a terrible feeling posesses me. In my mind, I see myself killing Cotto, but elusively, so they'll mistake it for an accident and let me go free; there's no killing the others in the place we're about to go into. No... I push the thought from my brain, unwilling to kill anyone, despising the thought as I dismiss it. Sighing, I tug Jesse away before a huge argument and possibly a huge fight breaks out among the two. The last thing I want is for Jesse to get injured, but remain fighting with Cotto, urged on by the cries of, "FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!" Really, I've seen enough of that at school.

A hand comes up on my shoulder. I whirl around to face Jiselle. She grins at me and motions for me to sit. I do, all the while watching her hands.

"I won't hurt you," she says, "But the other things will. There's creatures in the forests out there that no one knows about. I've seen them before in my dreams. Can I trust you?"

I feel my dry lips forming the word: "yes."

"Good." She settles back and lowers her voice.

"Long ago, there was something -- an animal of some sort -- called the... well, I'm not very sure. It's a wild dog with a thousand razor sharp teeth. But the scary part... the scary part is, on the full moon, in the darkest part of a forest, the beast can change form... shape shift into... anything."

I notice I have been holding my breath. I let it out slowly.

"I've seen it in my dreams," she whispers again. "It terrified me... and now... since you know what it is... if you know now, you might be less scared. If you meet one, you have to outrun it. It's extremely fast, but they get tangled up in too many branches because of their size and fur, they'll give. They'll be done. But here."

From her pocket, she takes a small leather pouch, tyed tightly, and hands it to me. "Wear it on you. It's a protection charm with yarrow and lavender. If you can't outrun them, that'll keep them away," Jiselle whispers. Then she stands up and walks away.

Peculiar, but I can take it. It was truly helpful, after all. I mean, knowing what I might encounter reassures me... a little.

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