Marked (Book One of the Marked Saga)

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The Forsaken Sisters

It was a cool night out in the mountains. Regan raced along the snowbanks, relishing in the feel of the cold, sharp winter air cutting into her lungs. The sky was gray, and the white wolf could sense the snowfall that was coming her way.

Regan had finished her patrols some time ago. Now she was running, hoping to run until the numbness in her chest disappeared. She needed to feel something, anything. Even pain. She always volunteered for the most dangerous missions, and she’d fight both in the ring and out until she dropped from exhaustion. When she didn’t have any of those to occupy her time, she’d shift into her wolf form and run in the highest parts of the mountains, on the coldest nights.

She slid to a stop, snow spraying up all around her. She raised her nose to the sky, closing her eyes and inhaling deeply. The scents of the pine trees surrounded her, the cold of the snow pressing against the layers of her fur. Below her, at the base of the mountains and leading into the valley, rested the small community of Wolf Valley. And behind her, gaining ground quickly, she caught the scent of spice, leather, and the faintest hint of fish.

Regan turned to look behind her, unsurprised when a huge, dark grizzly bear burst forth from the trees. He roared and charged towards the wolf, stopping inches away from her.

Regan snarled, baring her fangs and flattening her ears against her head. What do you want, Basil? she snapped.

The bear huffed. Dom wants you back at the mansion, he said. Basil’s voice was deep and smooth, brushing against her mind in a soothing balm.

Regan whined, a high pitched sound low in her throat. What for? she asked. I’ve finished my duties for the day.

Basil shrugged. I don’t know, he said. He just told me to find you and bring you to him.

Regan snarled. Fine. She turned back towards the valley. She raised her nose to the air again, but this time she released a long, low howl. She set her voice free to the sky, painting the cold air before her with her breath. Behind her, she heard Basil huff in annoyance. She panted happily, nipped at his shoulder, and then took off down the mountain back towards the valley.

“Ooh, how about this?” Beck held up a black and gold long-sleeved, skin tight shirt for Grace to see.

Grace wrinkled her nose and shook her head. “No,” she said. “I am not wearing that.”

He gave her an exasperated look. “Why not?” He asked. “You look gorgeous in this shirt, especially with those skinny jeans I got you for homecoming.”

She shrugged and flopped back onto her bed. “I don’t know,” Grace said. “It just doesn’t feel right…”

Beck sighed and flopped onto the bed beside her. She draped her left ankle over his shin, resting her hands on her stomach. They gazed up at her ceiling together, tracing the constellations that she had painted on her walls and ceiling. After Grace and her family had moved to Wolf Valley after her parents’ and sisters’ death, she had taken her grief out by painting her new room. The bottom edges of the walls represented mountains with a red and gold sunset, and the farther up the painting traveled, the darker it became. She had painted an almost perfect replica of the Milky Way on her ceiling, with random stars and constellations surrounding it.

“Is this because of your sister?” Beck asked, finally breaking the silence.

Grace sighed. “That was her shirt,” she said. “She gave it to me a week before the accident. That’s why I can’t wear it.”

“Don’t do this,” Beck said.

Grace frowned and turned to look at her best friend. “Do what?” she asked.

“Punish yourself.”

The bed shifted as Beck moved to sit up straight. Grace turned her head to look at him. His sandy hair, as always, was messed up and spiking everywhere. His amber eyes were gazing at her intently, full of worry. “I’m not punishing myself,” Grace protested.

He raised an eyebrow. “No? Then what is it you’re doing?”

What am I doing? Grace wondered. Ever since her family’s death, especially Regan’s, Grace hadn’t allowed herself any sort of luxury. She never asked her aunt Beth or uncle Mike for anything, save only for the basic necessities. She hardly ever spoke to anyone at school, and she didn’t have any friends except for Beck. He had been the only one at school to break through the walls she had built up around her heart, and he had proven a long time ago that he was there to stay.

The only luxury that Grace indulged in was her art, and even that was sometimes limited. She hadn’t painted since she painted her room. Mostly, she sketched, with pencil and chalk. She used her sketchbooks like journals, and she easily filled one within a week. Sometimes, if it was a particularly difficult week, she’d fill two.

The other day, Beck had finally convinced her to go with him to a party. Some rich guy living on the outskirts of the town apparently had a relative that went to Wolf Valley High School, and had agreed to let them use his house for a party. Beck’s drama friends had invited him, and the other day he had invited Grace. He had begged and pleaded with her, until she finally said yes just to get him to stop pestering her. Now, though, she was starting to reconsider.

Grace finally sight and looked away. “I don’t know,” she said. “Just getting by, I guess.”

Beck groaned. “Look, kid,” he said. “You are my best friend, and I love you to death. But you can’t keep doing this to yourself.” He reached out and took one of her hands in his own. She looked back at him and he said, “I didn’t know your sister, or your parents. But I know they wouldn’t want you doing this to yourself. They’d want you to live life, to honor their memories. Am I wrong?”

He was smiling, but Grace could see the worry written plainly in his eyes. She couldn’t help but smile. He was one of the best drama geeks at school, and she knew there was a very bright future for him in the future as an actor. He was able to conjure any emotion and play his characters very well. But despite his years of training, when it came to his own emotions, he couldn’t control them very well. He showed his own emotion as strongly as he did his characters, and Grace found it very refreshing when he did so.

“Please come to the party,” he begged. “You’ve already said you would, and I told all of my other friends that I’d be hanging out with you there. I really don’t want to go alone. It’s so boring.”

She laughed. “Fine,” she said. “I’ll keep my promise. Hand me that shirt, please.”

Regan trudged up the steps to the mansion, her boots nearly slipping on the ice-slicked steps. She cursed and shoved her shoulder against the door, stumbling into the grand foyer beyond.

Two curving staircases loomed before her, forming the shape of an omega. Potted plants decorated the base of the steps. On the second floor was an assortment of bedrooms and studies, where Regan and the other Mejhan either slept or worked on their reports and studies. Dominic Ansaldo, the head of the house, believed that every Mejhan should pursue education of some kind, and had set up occasional online classes for the Mejhan in the house.

A set of double doors lay wide-open beneath the stairs, leading into a grand ballroom. To the right of the foyer was a library and sitting room, and to the left a dining room. Beyond the dining room was a set of swinging doors leading into a dark oak kitchen. Beyond the stairs, Regan knew she’d find the gym and training area on one side, and a sitting room on the other. In the gym was a simple staircase leading down to the basement, where an indoor pool and hot tub lay waiting.

Regan sniffed the air, searching for Dom. She found his scent was strongest upstairs, so she made her way up to the second floor. Once she hit the landing, she took a moment, and then followed his scent to his study.

The door was open, and Dom was sitting at his desk. He sighed and shuffled papers around, searching for something. A report most likely, Regan decided.

Dominic looked to be in his late forties, with graying brown hair and dark, soft brown eyes. He had crows feet around his eyes, and a trim, muscled physique. He wore a gray sweater and jeans, and as far as the world knew, he was a simple businessman.

But Regan knew he was anything but. Dom was a Mejhan, and when he was alive back in the late eighteen hundreds, he had saved a young girl from being trampled to death by a spooked herd of horses. Unfortunately, he was caught in their stampede, and his wounds were so great he had died. But he had been given a second chance at life, and now the spirit of a red fox helped him live his second life to the fullest.

Regan lightly knocked her knuckles on the open door. Dom glanced up, then grinned when he saw the white wolf. “Hello, Regan,” he said. “Come on in, have a seat.”

“What’s up?” she asked as she lazily flopped into the leather armchair before his desk.

“I’m worried about you,” Dom said. “How have you been doing?”

She shrugged. “I’m fine,” she said, though she was anything but. In truth, she felt empty, numb. Nothing she did helped, and she didn’t know how to change it. After she died, she had to cut all ties from her old life. She had no direction in her life, and when she thought about how she’d be living forever, she’d spiral into a deep, dark depression. The concept of immortality loomed before her, and she didn’t know how she’d ever be able to cope with it. Or if she could accept it.

“Regan?” Dominic was gazing at her with an intense, concerned look. She shook her head, telling him she hadn’t heard what he said.

He sighed. “I was asking if you wanted to talk about whatever is bothering you.”

Regan frowned. “I said I’m fine.”

“And I don’t believe you.”

“Why?” Regan snapped, annoyance creeping into her voice.

Dom grinned, but there was no humor in his expression. He stood and came around to her side of the desk, perching himself on the edge.

“You know Mejhan get depressed easily,” he said. “More than humans.”

Regan shrugged. “I’m not depressed,” she lied.

He raised an eyebrow, unconvinced. “Then why aren’t you eating? You barely sleep, you go on extremely dangerous missions, and you’re either beating on the heavy bags as a human or running as a wolf until you drop. Regan, you’re on a fast track to nowhere. One of these days, you’re going to go down, hard. You’re going to get back up again, but it will be worse.”

She scoffed and turned away, crossing her arms over her chest. A Mejhan’s emotions were stronger than a normal human’s. With the life they lived, they became depressed easily. There had been times when a Mejhan had been depressed enough that they ended their own lives. Unfortunately, all they ever did was come back to life, and their mental state was even worse.

Regan knew this, and she didn’t care. She had nothing to live for anymore, other that protecting the world from evil. She was a fighter, but sometimes even warriors grew weary. More often than not she thought of the sweet bliss of oblivion, of how she could be at peace for a few months at the very least.

“Did you call me here to lecture?” she finally said.

Dominic sighed. “No,” he said. “Unfortunately, I have a mission, one that you have to be on in order to succeed.”

Regan grinned, sitting up in the chair. She was a Tracker, a special type of Mejhan. They were very rare, able to tap into powers that aided them in hunts for demons. She was able to see the auras of anything surrounding her, living or not. She could track demons based on thermal trails they left behind, and she was able to detect Kuren, the rivals of Mejhan. If her talents were needed for a mission, they must be hunting a demon.

“What’s the mission?” she asked, all too eagerly.

A sad look crossed Dominic’s face. Regan ignored it, anxious to learn the details. Demons were dangerous, very strong and absolutely deadly. She didn’t know if she had the strength to pass into oblivion on her own. But if she went toe-to-toe with a demon, chances were she could fail, and she wouldn’t have to disappoint Dom, Basil, or any of the other Mejhan in the house.

“Malcolm McCullough,” Dom said. “He’s a mage that lives on the east side of the valley. He’s hosting a party, one that he designed to draw a demon out of hiding.”

Regan frowned. “We’ve had a demon on the loose, and you never told me?”

“I didn’t want to risk anything unless there was no choice. The bastard’s smarter than we thought, and Malcolm agreed to help us. He wants that Hell spawn to go back to the pit as much as we do, if not more. You and Basil are going to go to his party, track the thing down, and send it back to Hell. Don’t let any civilian see you.”

Regan nodded. She jumped to her feet, a little too quickly. Her head swam, and she blinked furiously. Dom gave her an anxious look, but she waved it away. When was the last time she had eaten? She couldn’t remember.

“Don’t worry, Dom,” she said. “You can count on us.”

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