Darkness Arisen - By Stephanie Rowe

Chapter One

Naked on a public beach at midnight under an eerily full moon was not where Alice Shaw wanted to be.

At all.

But she knew she had no other choice, not with the way the deep red glow of the night sky was streaking across the still waters of the Oregon coast.

The only sounds were the soft lapping of the ocean on the rocky sand, the distant roar of waves further out to sea…and the thudding of her heart, of course. The air was hot and thick, unusually humid for Oregon, even in the summer. Sweat ran in disordered streaks down her chest…nerves or humidity? She wanted to believe it was the weather. Her gut knew it was fear.

Fisting her hand tightly around the precious item she dared not drop, Alice untied the drawstring of her shorts and let them fall. They hit the sand with a whisper that made her jump, and she quickly scanned the beach again for any sign of humanity, or any other living creature.

She saw nothing. Heard nothing. She appeared to be alone, which she knew could be a lie. But it was the best she could hope for.

Quickly, she turned back to the water that was a glistening red, mixed with the unnatural blue-green of the moon. She swallowed hard, then yanked off her underwear and pulled her tank top over her head. They joined her shorts, flip-flops, and car keys on the sand, a tiny pile that had been her last defense against anything. Now, she had nothing. Nothing but the blood-red natural pearl clenched in her hand, one of three so precious that no creature on earth even knew she had it in her possession. Only her mother had known, because she'd given it to Alice, but her mother was long gone.

The pearl was a secret she had sworn to keep. A secret she was going to betray tonight.

She moved up next to the water, so her toes were right on the edge of where the damp sand met the dry beach, where hard met soft, where cold met hot. The warm breeze seemed to caress her like invisible fingers of sin, and she shivered, wishing for her clothes.

But the Mageaan would never accept her if she brought anything into the ocean with her. All she was allowed to bring was herself. Vulnerable. Defenseless. Pure.

Pure? She laughed softly. Purity was an area where she had failed completely, and if all went as planned, her fall from grace would become even greater.

But for Catherine, she would do it. Once she fulfilled her promise to Catherine, death would no longer be the threat that it currently was.

Alice raised her eyes to the sky, watching, waiting, and searching the vast night. The sky blazed crimson, becoming angrier by the minute, and yet she did not move. A glowing ring of red light drifted near the moon, and she sucked in her breath, her heart racing in anticipation. That was it. The sign that the moment was close. So close.

Her muscles tensed. Her blood rushed with searing heat through her veins as she watched the inexorable approach of the bleeding red cloud as it crept closer and closer to the turquoise moon. She began to count under her breath. Five. Four. Three. Two. One.

The edge of the ring drifted over the rim of the moon, breaking the perimeter. The night flashed with a vicious violet energy as the moon seemed to ignite. A firestorm of luminescence thrust the entire earth and ocean into a bath of thundering violet flames.

Now! Alice leapt forward, launching herself into the air, her arms outstretched to her sides like a sacrificial virgin. She threw her head back, baring her throat, and pointed her toes behind her like a ballet dancer in mid leap, exposing her stomach, a position of ultimate surrender. She closed her eyes, relinquishing all defenses as she let herself fall into the water that was only inches deep.

The cold ocean was shockingly brutal as she hit the surface, but she didn't change her position. She didn't try to protect herself from the impact on the sandy bottom. She simply whispered the words she'd paid so dearly for, "May death become my freedom."

Then she plunged into the water…and didn't hit the bottom. She gasped in shock as she was sucked downward, the violent turbulence of the ocean spinning her away from the surface. Violet light burned through her closed eyelids, and her instincts screamed at her to fight, to swim for