Marked (Book One of the Marked Saga)

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A light fog filtered its way through the woods, sending a heavy, ominous presence into the air. The full moon glowed high overhead, and a rustle in the woods behind her caused Grace to spin around.

She saw nothing, other than fog and trees. Grace’s heart hammered in her chest, threatening to burst out of her ribcage at any second. She turned around, and screamed when she saw a shadow rushing towards her.

It slunk along the ground, twisting and writhing like a snake. Grace froze in fear, unable to move, helpless as the shadow came closer to her. A high pitched, yipping screech cut through the air, and then a winged figure dashed into the fray. The creature slashed at the shadow with talons and beak, wings flapping against the air.

The shadow sunk into the ground, and the eagle turned to fix its golden gaze upon Grace. A single, white streak of feathers was slashed diagonally across the chest, while the rest of the feathers were a dark brown color. She gasped, and then the dream fell away. She sat up in her bed slowly, her mind somewhat dazed. Something familiar had gazed back at her from the eagle, as if some piece of its soul was reaching out for her.

Grace shook her head, glancing outside. The moon hung in the sky, but no fog covered the ground. She felt somewhat better, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off. Instead of dwelling on it, she crawled back under her covers and fell back into a dreamless sleep.

The next day, Grace and Beck were sitting at their usual table in the library for lunch when Diana sat between them. Instantly, Grace and Beck jumped up and backed away, glaring suspicious daggers at the mage. Beck’s eyes were wide as if he had seen a ghost.

Diana sighed, snapping her fingers and pulling a stick of celery out of thin air. She munched on the vibrant green, her blue eyes flitting back and forth between Grace and Beck. “Honestly,” she said after swallowing. “I don’t see what the big deal is about either of you being near me. I’m as innocent as a kitten.”

Grace scoffed. “Please,” she said. “You really think I’m that stupid? Don’t come near any of us ever again. Do you understand?”

Diana laughed as if Grace were some child that the older mage found amusing when throwing a fit. She stood and met Grace’s gaze head-on, and it took everything within her to not bow her head in submission.

“Do you understand,” Diana began in a low, dangerous voice, “that I am more powerful than you? Yes, you may be a MacEntyre, but you’re also young. You don’t know what it is like to have true power. To have an unlimited supply of magic at your disposal. The MacEntyre line is dying, young Grace. My family, the Petrov clan, is next in line to have a king or queen of the Mage’s Court. And guess what? I’m at the top of the candidate list.” She smiled sweetly, but there was venom mixed in with her words.

Grace wanted to return with a remark, but she was at a loss for words. King? Queen? She barely understood the basics of the Court, that it was an organization of thirteen clans of mages from around the world. But she didn’t know how the Court worked, or understood how the system was a living, breathing thing.

Diana’s smile grew when she realized Grace had no clue what she was speaking of. “Oh, yes,” she said. “At the moment, because your precious aunt hasn’t touched her magic in years, and your parents are dead, you are the top candidate for your family in the position of chief. Unfortunately, you do not have the training level required to be chief. So, your clan’s position as the top mages has been discarded. We are holding our tournament within the year, on the summer solstice.”

Grace staggered back a step. Malcolm had told her once that there was still a chair reserved for the MacEntyre clan. Now they were no longer allowed a spot on the council?

“Why are you telling me this?” Grace demanded, fury and despair washing through her. She took a step forward, but Beck gripped her arm, holding her back. “Why did you even come here? What do you want?”

“Honestly, I came here for Malcolm,” Diana replied, and beside her Grace felt Beck flinch. Diana’s eyes flicked to him for a moment, then returned to Grace. “I need a sponsor from someone that is not of my clan that supports me, and my claim to the throne. I had hoped Malcolm would sponsor me, but I can see that is clearly not happening. Then, I found out Basil was here, and I decided to stick around for a while.” She smiled, her brilliant, white teeth gleaming. “I’ve missed him, and I want to get him back.”

She’s as sneaky as a fox, Basil had told her. Grace realized then that Diana didn’t care about Basil. She just wanted him because Grace had him.

Fury welled within her chest. She pulled her arm against Beck who, surprisingly, let go. She stormed up to Diana and snarled in her face, “Stay away from Basil. He wants nothing to do with you. I suggest you leave, now, and don’t bother coming back.”

Diana never bothered to smile this time. Her face darkened in anger and she said, “Watch yourself, little girl. You don’t know a thing about our world, so I suggest you take a decade or two and learn the rules.” She spun on her heel, flipping her hair over her shoulder as she turned, and stormed from the library.

Grace’s body shook in anger. Her knees wobbled as she moved, but she refused to let it stop her. She collected her belongings and then turned to Beck. His face was still pale, his eyes wide. She frowned. She had never seen him this shocked before.

“Beck?” she asked. “Are you okay?”

He started to nod, but it quickly changed into a shake of his head. “No,” he said. “I’m not.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

As if his legs could no longer support him anymore, he sat down heavily in a chair. Grace crouched beside him. “What’s going on?” she asked.

“I need you to promise me something,” he whispered. He looked at her and said, “Promise you’ll stay as far away from that evil witch as you possibly can.”

“Of course I will,” she said. “I was going to… what’s wrong?”

“She was in one of my visions,” Beck said. He gulped and said, “In it, she’s going to kill you.”

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