Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega #5) by Patricia Briggs



PROLOGUE





A Tale Without an Ending


            Once upon a time, there was a small spring that, touched by the earth’s spirit, bore a sparkle of magic scattered in its cold, pure water. It was only a little magic, but it brought good things into the world—tiny bits of goodness born of the tiny bits of magic.

            There is a certain sort of evil that cannot abide happiness, even such humble joys as lived in that spring.

            Such an evil came to dwell at the spring, culling victims from those who came to seek the little surcease it offered. Eventually, even the earth’s magic could not cleanse the evil from the water, and the spring’s small magic was turned to darker uses.

            Thus died a little joy in the world, and evil was satisfied for a time.

            This evil held the now-polluted spring, one way or another, for a very long while. Time changed, and the evil changed with it, grew more clever about drawing prey to it. Sometimes it fed upon innocence, sometimes magic, sometimes beauty—but the evil always took satisfaction in robbing the world of any good it could find.

            It became aware of one who sought, like the spring once had, to do a little good in a world now bleak and dark. On the evil one’s webs came whispers of a monster who fought other monsters. The evil deemed it no more of a meal than a thousand others like it. Still, it could not, by virtue of what it was, allow such a one to live. It set a snare to catch one who was a hero—for heroes are delicious when they fall. It set a snare to trap a monster because even evil fears monsters, a little.

            The one who sprang the trap was truly a monster. The one who triggered the snare was also a hero.

            But this one was an artist, too, and not just any artist. Such an artist, he was, as found beauty and joy in the world and shared it for all to see. An artist who, like the spring had, spread little magics around and left happiness where there was none before.

            An artist such as that was a bigger mouthful than evil, even such an old and wicked evil as this, could swallow easily.

            Much was lost in the battle, and it cost both sides dearly. As far as anyone knows, the fire of the battle burns still.





CHAPTER





1


            This was bad. This was so very bad.

            He ran full tilt, ghosting through the trees. The branches and brambles reached out and extracted their price in blood and flesh for running at such speed through their territory. He could feel the ground absorb his blood and his sweat—feel it stir at the taste. Dangerous. Feeding the earth with his blood when he was so upset was not wise.

            He almost slowed his feet.

            No one was chasing him.

            No one had even known he was there. They’d seen the trees who’d obeyed his will, but they had not seen him. The trees . . . he might have to answer to her for the trees.

            She’d told him to run, and he had paused to call the trees. That was not how their bargain was supposed to work. But he couldn’t just let them take her, not when it was within his power to stop it.

            Think. Think. Think. The words were his, but he heard them in her voice. She’d worked so hard to give him rules. The first rule was think.

            It was funny that everyone believed that she was the danger, that she was the crazy one. Very funny—and his lips stretched in a grin only the forest could see. It wasn’t amusement that caused his feral smile. He wasn’t sure exactly what the emotion was, though it was fueled by an anger, a rage so deep that the earth, aroused by his blood, rose eagerly to do his bidding. The earth, out of all the elements, was the hardest to wake but the most eager for violence.