Marked (Book One of the Marked Saga)

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The Hunter

Regan’s throat was raw, and her chest burned. Her legs and arms shook, and she felt like any moment she’d fall over. But she refused to stop. She had to keep running, keep her feet under her. Only then would she survive.

She could hear the hunter crashing through the woods behind her. Ahead of her, Regan could see the flash of a black tail as Caíl weaved between the trees, searching for a way out through the woods. Her backpack bounced against her back, and she longed to dump it and shift into her wolf form. But there were supplies the two wolves needed, and she hasn’t had time to find a place to stash it before the hunter ambushed them. Caíl didn’t have time to grab his own pack. He took off running, with Regan behind him.

Branches and leaves sliced at her cheeks and arms as she flew by. She cried out as her cheeks stung, but she otherwise ignored the pain. She knew it would be nothing compared to the pain the hunter would inflict once he caught up.

The ground fell away beneath her, and then she was stumbling down a steep hill. She grunted as she rolled, and when she finally came to an end, she was in the middle of a road.

Regan jumped to her feet, staggering slightly as the world spun before her. She shook her head, and then a huge mass of fur was tackling her to the ground. She cried out and began fighting, but once she saw it was Caíl in wolf form, she relaxed.

He slid off of her, allowing her to stand. Regan clambered to her feet once again and prepared to run. Caíl stopped her when he caught a hold of the edge of her shirt in his teeth, stopping her. She gave him a confused look, and then a rustle at the top of the drop off caught her attention.

The hunter was standing at the edge, a furious look on his face. He was a big man, even larger than Basil. He had huge arms, wide shoulders, and he was packed in nothing but muscle. He wore the hunter’s garb; black leathers, with an assortment of weapons attached to his body. Behind him, Regan saw the shadow of a polar bear spirit prowling behind him. The man looked like he would climb down and chase after them, but then the horrible grinding sound of an old pickup truck came to them. The three of them glanced down the road to the north, just as an old, rusted brown pickup rounded the corner. The hunter sent the two wolves a menacing glare and then backed away into the shadows of the woods.

Regan sighed in relief, bending over to place her hands on her knees. Even though she was wanted, and the hunter would catch her no matter what, he wasn’t willing to risk exposure of the Dark Realm. No matter what, secrecy was of the utmost importance.

The truck rolled to a stop in front of Regan and Caíl. The driver, a nice-looking man in his late fifties, rolled down the window and said, “You and your dog need a ride, girl?”

Caíl’s fur spiked up around the neck and back, and if she didn’t feel like she was about to die, she would have smiled. She nodded and said, “Yes, please. That would be lovely.”

“Sure thing. I can take you into the city, and I believe there’s a bus station near where I’m stopping.”

“That’s fine.”

The driver opened the door, and Regan climbed in behind Caíl. The wolf sat between Regan and the driver, his tongue hanging from his mouth as he panted. As the old man began driving down the street again, Regan and Caíl glanced over their shoulders. The hunter was standing in the middle of the road, his polar bear spirit beside him. Regan shivered and pressed herself closer to Caíl. He whined, and neither of them took their eyes off the hunter until he had disappeared from sight.

After half an hour, they arrived in Spokane, Washington. The old man dropped them off at a local grocery store, and after giving him thanks, the old man drove off. Caíl began to move, trotting across a street towards a nearby alley. Regan followed, glancing over her shoulder and testing the air with her nose to make sure no one noticed them. Once in the alley, Caíl shifted into human form.

He groaned and rolled his shoulders back. He rolled his neck, popping it with each movement. Regan winced, and he turned to her. Caíl frowned and reached out, gripping her chin in his hand. He turned her head left, and then right. She allowed him to scrutinize her, unable to take her gaze from his face. He released her, then said, “We need to get you cleaned up before going anywhere else. Come on, hand me your pack.”

She did as he said, her sword clanging as the pack bumped against it. She stilled her blade, and Caíl said, “We’re going to have to put that in the case. It’ll cause too much suspicion.”

She nodded, unable to help but feel disappointed. She hated being unable to carry her sword, but she knew she had no choice if they were to stay under the radar until they reached New York City, where Duncan lived. She’d be happy to hide her sword away for the time being, as long as she was able to stab it through his heart later.

Caíl dug around in her pack for a moment, pulling out the long, canvas material bag for her. She placed her sword delicately inside and then zipped it closed. She swung the case over her shoulders just as Caíl began rubbing a strange, foul-smelling cream onto her cheeks. Regan hissed, clenching her fists as she allowed the cream to seep into her wounds. Caíl waited for several moments, and then he used a damp, clean rag to wipe away the cream and blood.

“What now?” Regan asked as he worked. “Where are we going to go first?”

“We’re just going to head straight to New York,” he said. “Duncan has his penthouse apartment there, and we’re going to perform a full, frontal assault.”

Regan frowned. “Won’t we be outnumbered?”

He laughed. “Yes, but they’ll be outmatched. If he’s sticking to his old ways, Duncan’s followers are stupid, blindly following his every command. There’s only one man, a lion named Caesar, who is as smart as Duncan is. But while we fight our way to him, we’ll be able to fight our way through.”

Regan nodded, feeling slightly better. Caíl finished, tossing the rag into a nearby dumpster, and slinging the pack across his shoulders. He gestured for her to follow, and together the two of them made their way to the mouth of the alley. After glancing right and left, he turned left, and Regan followed.

Thirty minutes later, they had reached the bus station. Caíl purchased two tickets that would take them to Sioux Falls, and then they piled onto the bus when it showed up forty minutes later. While they waited, they paced back and forth outside, their eyes scanning the surrounding area. Regan wouldn’t be surprised if the hunter had run all the way to Spokane, searching for and following their scent as best he could. With each moment they waited, it gave the hunter more of a chance to find them.

When the bus arrived, Caíl and Regan were the first ones to get on. They found two seats towards the back, where they could open an emergency door and escape if the hunter came aboard. When the bus finally pulled out onto the street a few moments later, they breathed a sigh of relief. Regan, feeling exhausted, placed her head on Caíl’s shoulder. He rested his head on top of hers, and with her sword pressed between them, the two wolves fell into a restless sleep.

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