Home > The Hunt (The Twisted Kingdoms #1)

The Hunt (The Twisted Kingdoms #1)
Author: Frost Kay

Prologue

 

 

The world wasn’t always a place of war, depravity, and death.

Her mum used to tell her stories of a time when Shapeshifters, Elves, Giants, Merfolk, Dragons, and Humans shared love and unity. A time when kings were honorable, their men chivalrous and valiant.

A time of peace.

Those were times of fairytales.

In the icy land of Heimserya, fairytales didn’t exist.

Not anymore.

 

 

Tempest

 

 

The pungent scent of herbs perfumed the air as she pulled a plant from the ground just like Mama. Delight filled five-year-old Tempest as a ladybug crawled across her dirty knuckles, a bright splash of red against her own pale skin.

Her nose wrinkled as a horrid odor blew through the glen, polluting her playground. Tempest tipped her head back and scanned the meadow as the scent grew stronger. What was that? It didn’t belong in the forest. Her brows drew down as she spotted wisps of smoke swirling on the wind.

A sheen of sweat broke out on her body, and she pushed her hood from her tiny face, frowning. It was so hot today. Her mum said it was going to be chilly.

A worm wiggled in the dirt, pulling her attention from the smoke. Temp pushed some dirt over the top of him. “Goodnight little worm,” she whispered as she pulled another herb from the ground.

She paused as another wave of heat rolled over her. Tempest straightened and pulled at the neck of her frock, hating the heavy, itchy fabric. Something just wasn’t right. It was warmer than normal. Too hot for spring.

Unnatural.

She froze as a scream pierced the air. The herbs tumbled from her fingers as she recognized the voice.

Mum.

Tempest abandoned her collection of plants and bolted back toward the cottage, her little heart hammering in her chest. Why was her mama screaming like that? Was it a spider? A monster?

Her feet pounded against the loam-covered ground, the heat increasing with every step. Tempest slowed and her mouth gaped as she spotted the biggest fire she’d ever seen. Gargantuan licks of flame teased the tops of the trees that stood like giant sentinels around her home. Terror filled her body down to her very soul. Something was horrifically, painfully wrong.

She picked up her speed and sprinted toward the hissing, fiery beast. A rock jabbed into her slippered foot, but she scarcely felt the pain. All she could think about was getting home and finding her mum. Mama would know what to do. She could tame the fire.

Her breaths came in pants as she broke through the ring of trees surrounding their home. Tempest stared at the towers of fire that greeted her, five times taller than her little form. Fire demons had almost engulfed everything. Her house was being devoured before her very eyes.

“Mama?” she whispered.

Her mother was nowhere to be seen.

A soul-piercing scream caused Tempest to jump and the hair along her arms to raise. Was her mama in there? Her eyes searched the flames desperately, seeking the owner of the screams. She took one step forward and held up her arm to block the heat from her face. The blaze caused tears to leak from her eyes.

"Mama," she tried to call out, but she choked on black, poisonous smoke. She coughed and tried again. "Mama, where are you?!"

She screamed as the windows exploded, raining fragments of glass. Tempest winced as she accidentally stepped on one, the heat of the glass burning through her slipper. She blinked at the thousands of scattered shards on the ground, looking like the first frost of fall.

It was wrong. It was spring not fall. Even though none of it made sense, it was almost magical how the glass glittered on the ground, reflecting the writhing flames and clear blue sky high above.

A hysterical giggle started in her belly, and she took another step toward the house. The flames danced like fiery demons above her home. Why were they there? She and Mama were good people. They’d never done anything bad. Her mum always helped those in need. In fact, the week prior Tempest had found a stranger in the meadow near her home. She’d dropped her flowers when he’d stumbled out of the darkest part of the woods, covered in blood.

So much blood.

Perhaps another little girl would have cried at the sight of him—but not Tempest. She had asked him if she could help and he’d promptly passed out. Her mama had always said it was their responsibility to help if they had the power to. When Tempest had screamed for help, her mum came running to her side, and between the two of them, they'd hauled the man back to their cottage to tend to his wounds. He had strange, animalistic ears poking out through his hair. They were different from hers, but she didn’t care. Temp had only wanted to touch them because they looked so soft.

Her mum had called him a shifter.

Tempest didn't have much experience with shifters. Their cottage was far from any nearby villages, so they didn’t have many visitors. Much to her disappointment, the man certainly hadn’t been talkative, since he’d slept on Mama’s cot most of the time.

The shifter. Maybe he could help. “Shifter! Help!”

He didn’t come.

A wave of heat slammed into Tempest, instantly drying her tears and leaving her cheeks dry and itchy. Unbearable warmth pressed down on her, causing her to sob. The fire raged and a sense of helplessness settled over her. She needed help.

“Help!” she wailed again. The shifter had to help her.

A flash of movement through one of the broken windows caught her attention. She wiped her stinging eyes with her sleeve and squinted. There he was: the shifter. He leapt through the window and scrambled across the glass-covered ground, coughing.

Tempest glanced back to the window, waiting expectantly for her mum to follow. Nothing. Smoke billowed from the jagged-toothed window, but her mum still didn’t appear. She turned her attention back to the man. He lifted his head, and his eyes met hers. They stared at each other as the world burned down around their ears.

“Where’s Mama?” Tempest croaked.

It was as if her speech had broken the spell. As soon as the words had passed her lips, he fled through the forest.

“Where are you going?” she screamed. “My mama is in there. Help me!” Why hadn’t he helped Mama? Surely, he heard her screams? “Come back!”

A chill ran down her spine and she stilled, tears dripping down her dry face. How could he leave Mama? What was she supposed to do? Mama was screaming for help…

Tempest twisted back around to face her burning home. Something wasn’t right. It was quiet. Too quiet. Aside from the roaring of the fire, she couldn’t hear a thing. No screaming or shouting. No cries for help.

Nothing.

“Mama!” Tempest yelled. “Answer me, Mama!”

Again. Nothing.

Terror for her mum pushed past Tempest’s fear of the fire, and she found herself reaching for the front door’s handle, despite the danger raging around her, determined to find her mum. As much as she was afraid, she knew she couldn’t leave her mum alone. They were a team. Always together.

The metal was blindingly hot; she flinched away, whimpering, before wrapping her hand in her thick winter cloak and forcing herself to touch it again. With a desperate push, the door wrenched open, rewarding Tempest with a solid blast of boiling air and thick, acrid smoke. Her lungs screamed. She closed her watering eyes as she took a few unsteady steps into the cottage, the heated floorboards scalding the soles of her feet through her shoes.

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