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PROLOGUE

Martin latched onto Isabel’s arm with his free hand, using his full weight to lean back and sink into the rocks. It took all his strength to stop her from hurtling headlong down the cliff.  She twisted around, her other arm flying out to grasp his jacket, and collapsed on a step. She squeezed her eyes shut, gasping, as if she had asthma and couldn’t get enough air.

            “It’s OK, I’ve got you,” he whispered. “Are you hurt?”

            “No. Just give me a second.” She waited until her breathing returned to normal. “Maybe we should go…go back, give this up.” Her voice shook slightly.

            Martin bit his lower lip. “We’ve come this far. We can’t quit now.”

            Isabel took in a ragged breath. “OK. I’m going the rest of the way on my backside.”

            They scooted down the remaining stone steps on their seats. When Martin’s feet hit the sand, he let out a long sigh of relief. “That strange glow at the end of the beach must be the cave.”

            The wind had picked up speed, cutting through Martin’s jacket and knit cap like an icy knife. Being out here is completely insane.

            Isabel grabbed onto his arm, and they trudged through the sand, hugging the side of the cliff. They neared the entrance to the cave and ducked behind a boulder, crouching down. Light flickered and danced from within the cave, matched by a strange chanting that drifted into the freezing night.

            “We need to get closer,” she whispered.

            “I’ll look.” He edged his way past the rock, peering around the entrance while staying in the shadows. Isabel leaned over his shoulder, and her warm breath fell on his neck.

            Martin counted twelve figures holding lighted candles and circling a blazing fire on the cave floor. The hoods of their long white robes cast deep shadows, making it difficult to distinguish faces. A woman led the procession, uttering strange words while others repeated each phrase. Their voices bounced off the walls, creating an eerie echo. After several times around, they stopped and bowed their heads toward the fire.

            Martin stood with his mouth hanging open. It seemed unreal, like watching some B-rated horror flick. It was laughable, only these people were dead serious.