Marked (Book One of the Marked Saga)

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The Golden Eagle

In… out… in… out…

Grace counted her breaths. She counted the length of her breaths, as well as how many times she performed a full inhale and exhale. Malcolm sat before her, watching intently. She held her hands in front of her, and between her palms, a ball of blue and green magefire crackled. A bead of sweat trickled down the side of her face, and her arms were shaking. But she refused to give up. Instead, she focused on feeding more breath to the ball.

It’s been a month since Grace’s encounter with Diana. The mage had since kept her distance from her, but Grace had the sense that she was only waiting, biding her time.

During that time, she trained. Grace would train in combat with Basil in the mornings, and then she’d attend school. When she was done at school, she would go to the Hideout and do homework with Basil. Sometimes Beck was there, and other times, he continued onwards to the mansion. He always seemed to brighten when he knew he’d be seeing Malcolm. Grace was glad he was happy. He had spent so much of his life making sure he never made a wrong move, and now he was free to be himself.

Her evenings alternated. She’d spend three days working with Malcolm, learning all sorts of spells and breathing exercises. For the other three days, she’d either practice her magic on her own or read various grimoires and spellbooks Malcolm had assigned to her. On Sundays, she would take a break from all of her training and schoolwork. She’d read or draw, and occasionally, she played music.

When Grace moved out of her aunt and uncle’s home, she brought all of her art supplies. Including her paints. She had brought her gray canvas throw and set up her art in a corner of her room. And so, she began painting again.

She had grown stronger. The week before, after their training session had ended, Malcolm told her that after another year or so of training, she would no longer need his tutelage.

Grace’s arms shook more violently, threatening to disperse the magefire. She sighed and closed her eyes, forcing her muscles to relax. Instantly, the ball grew wider, throwing her arms farther apart. She slowly lowered her hands, encasing the eagle on the coffee table. It shook its one good wing furiously for a moment, and then calmed itself as the tiny, delicate bones in its other wing began knitting themselves back together.

Beck had arrived at the mansion earlier that day, a wide, frightened expression on his face. In his hands, he had been holding the body of a golden eagle. One wing was shredded and bent crookedly, and the other was pressed against Beck’s chest. His shirt and torso were shredded from the claws, but he didn’t seem to care. He told them he had seen the eagle on the side of the road, with tufts of red fur in the talons.

Beck brought the bird inside, and when they set the eagle on the coffee table in the library, Grace almost had a heart attack. The eagle stared at her with its golden eyes, frightened but calm. Across the chest was a streak of white feathers. It was the eagle from her dream.

The magefire slowly dissipated. The wing had been returned to its original state, but a horrible scar had been left behind. The eagle would never be able to fly the same way again.

The eagle pushed itself to its feet, shaking out its wings. The eagle looked around the room from Malcolm and Basil, to Beck, and finally, to Grace. It blinked once and then stepped towards Grace. It delicately stepped onto her knee, flapping its wings to keep its balance. It settled itself on her thigh, keeping care to not dig its talons through her jeans and into her skin.

Grace was captivated. There were green flecks in the eagle’s eyes, and it seemed to be looking through her, staring straight into her soul. She hesitantly raised a hand, and the eagle watched as she brought her fingers closer. She softly brushed her knuckles along its chest, and the eagle ducked its head, butting its beak against her hand. She laughed and, feeling bold, stroked its head.

“Aquila chrysaetos,” Malcolm said. “Also known as the golden eagle, the sigil of the MacEntyre clan. Based on the size, I’d say it’s a male.”

“I’ve seen him before,” Grace said in a soft voice. She glanced up from the eagle, staring at her companions. “A month ago, in a dream of mine. This was the same exact eagle.”

Malcolm leaned forward, a deadly serious expression on his face. “Grace, what happened in your dream? Tell me every exact detail.”

“I don’t remember much,” she admitted. “It was night, and I was alone in the woods. A shadow was coming towards me, and then this eagle came out of nowhere and attacked it. The shadow disappeared, and then I woke up.”

Malcolm nodded, his gaze fixed upon the magnificent bird. “This is no ordinary eagle, then,” he said. “And that wasn’t a normal dream.”

Grace frowned. “What do you mean?”

“That shadow you saw wasn’t a shadow. It was a demon.”

Grace’s eyes widened. She opened her mouth to ask him something, but Malcolm continued. Gesturing to the eagle, he said, “This creature may have saved your life. It was a dream demon, and they invade the minds of people when they sleep. They create nightmares from your worst fears, and then you are unable to wake up.”

“Where does the eagle come into it?” she asked.

“You and this eagle are bonded,” Malcolm said. “He is your clan’s sigil, and he’s your familiar.”

Grace blinked. Malcolm had told her about familiars, how they weren’t black cats that became a witch’s favorite pet. Witches weren’t born with magic, and so could never have a familiar. Mages, on the other hand, could. Malcolm told her that there was no system to who had a familiar, and who did not. A familiar was a companion for life and was an extension of the mage, both mind, and soul. The familiar chose who they were bonded to, not the other way around.

Grace’s heart swelled as she gazed down at the eagle. He blinked back at her, then rubbed his head along her arm. She chuckled and stroked his wings.

Malcolm smiled. “You have a guardian angel right there, Grace. Don’t do what a good number of mages do and take him for granted.”

“Believe me,” she said softly. “I won’t.”

After that, taking care of the eagle became one of Grace’s new priorities. After struggling for over a week, she decided on naming him Vincent. It meant to conquer, and she felt that the eagle had truly conquered the odds by surviving long enough for Beck to find him and bring him to Grace.

Basil had purchased an assortment of leather and a crafting kit the day after the eagle came into their lives. He then spent three days creating a patch of thick, reinforced leather for Grace. When he was done, Grace was ecstatic to discover he made a glove for her shoulder. She’d slip it up her arm, and after tying a series of straps, she had a perch on her shoulder for Vincent to rest on, without his talons digging into her shoulder.

Now that she had Vincent, Grace felt like she was complete. What she didn’t know was how things were about to change, for the worse.

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