Prologue - Our Last Hope
A siren blares through the trees, marking the start of the hunting season. Somewhere, hundreds of miles away, the gates are swinging open, letting the predators in. For one month, they have free rein to hunt us at will. It's their sport, nothing more than a game to them, but it's our lives.
And it's gone on for far too long.
“It's time, Raya.” Mark's dark brown eyes are filled with fear as he turns to me but his voice is strong. “You can do this. The fate of all werewolves is in your hands.”
“No pressure then,” I reply, trying to keep things light as we make our way down the path, but my breath is short and my heart is racing because I know he's right. It's all been leading to this. Today is the day we've been waiting for.
For years, we've protected our brightest scientific minds, keeping them safe as they worked on the machine I'm about to use. For years, they've done their best to perfect it and make it safe.
And now, at last, they're ready to try it out. Now that the hunt is about to begin, they're ready to send one wolf back in time, back to the moment it all fell apart, to try to change the fate of all werewolves.
Back four hundred years to when wolves roamed free under the last great wolf king.
Back to when we still had a chance.
And who is the wolf they've chosen for this all-important mission, the one they've decided is the last hope for us all?
That's right: it's me.
At first glance, it's not an obvious choice. Although I'm 24, I look a lot younger, partly from being underfed and partly just because of my genes. But it's the other thing carried in my genes that is the reason they've chosen me, something that gives me a better chance of survival than most of my peers, even though some of them, like Mark, are bigger and stronger than I am.
If I succeed, none of this will have ever happened. All the people I know – the scientists, the wolves who helped raise me once my own parents were killed in a hunt, and even Mark, my best friend – will simply cease to exist. At least, that's what the scientists believe will happen, based on their best calculations. Since no one's ever done this before, we can't know for certain.
I have asked Mark if the prospect of being wiped out of existence scares him, but his answer is simply that the idea of continuing to live as we are scares him more. If he has to die for all wolves to have a better life, he's willing to do it.
They all are.
And if I fail... well, we won't think about that. It's not an option; I have to succeed.
“You remember everyone's names?” Mark asks as we hurry through the trees to where the machine is set up. “The prince, for example?”
“No, I've been preparing for this for a year, but I can't remember the name of the man I'm going to save.” I shoot him a sarcastic look. “Of course I remember. I'm ready for this, Mark.”
“I know you are.” He gives me a wistful smile. “I can't help worrying though. For us, we'll just disappear, but if you're captured or worse...”
I know what he's worried about so I shake my head at him before he can say it. “I'll be careful. I'm there to save the prince and nothing else. Once he's safe, then I can live out the rest of my life in peace, alone.”
My heart twinges at the thought of a lifetime of solitude. I shouldn't have to be alone for the rest of my life, but what choice do I have? My bloodline is too dangerous to mix with any random stranger's. Only my mate would be safe for me to mate with, but I've never met him. He was probably killed in the hunt before we had a chance to meet, if he ever existed at all.
It's lucky for me that our captors never knew about the power of my blood or they might have done worse than simply hunt me along with the rest.
Thanks to the gifts my mother passed on to me, I've managed to survive five hunting seasons. It's more than a lot of people make.
“This area was all royal hunting grounds back then,” Mark continues, even though I already know this too. I let him talk, though; I think it makes him feel better to think he's being helpful. “The castle should be a few miles to the north. You should head straight there."
"And then I tell them I need to speak to the prince, or to the king's advisors. Don't worry, Mark, I won't forget."
There's a wistful smile on his face as he reaches over to ruffle my short, blonde hair that's so light it's nearly white. "I know you won't."
I get the feeling he's not just talking about the plan now, but about remembering him too.
A moment later, the clearing comes into view, the spot where the scientists have set up the doorway that will take me to the past. The various parts of the machine have been hidden from our captors for years as they worked on it, and we only have enough power for one attempt at this. It's a miracle we've even got that much. A crowd is gathered, waiting to see what happens, and I can't help wondering if they will ever know, or will they simply disappear when I walk through the fabric of time?
It all suddenly feels very real as I turn to Mark, my heart racing faster than ever. “I wish you could come with me.”
The scientists say the field they've created is only strong enough for one person, if that. It's entirely possible it's not even strong enough for me, and my molecules will simply be torn apart when I walk through it. I'm not afraid of that, though. I'm more afraid of getting through and not being able to do what I'm supposed to do.
Tears spring to Mark's eyes even as he does his best to hide them. “I wish I could go too, but I'll be rooting for you from wherever I am. And at least I won't have to go the rest of my life without seeing a flush toilet again.”
We both smile at that, but it's a smile tinged with heartache and loss. We both know no matter how this goes, whether I win or lose, we'll never see each other again.
“Are you ready, Raya?” the head engineer calls out to me. “They'll be here soon. You have to go.”
I know I do. I give Mark one last hug, the last one he might ever have, and then I turn my back on him so he won't see me cry.
With determination, I step forward, through the doorway, and into the past.