Marked (Book One of the Marked Saga)

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The Storm

Lightning flashed across the night sky, and thunder shook the earth. Regan’s paws slipped along the mud as she raced through the woods, searching for any way out. She snarled in frustration and moved on.

From far behind her, she could hear the shouts of the hunters as they gave chase. A raven cried out above her, and she lifted her head to see Sybil flying above her, signaling her location to the others. Regan snarled and continued on, lengthening her strides as she hoped to outpace the raven.

Leaves and mud splashed behind her, and she heard the sound of paws beating at the ground. It was moving fast, gaining speed and distance with every second. Regan cursed as she realized that the cheetah, Douglas, was back in the game.

She continued running in a straight line, waiting for him to catch up. When he was almost on top of her, Regan made a sharp turn left, and the cheetah continued on. He yelped as he ran into a tree, and Regan raced on.

After a short while, Regan thought that she had made it. There was a break in the trees ahead, and anticipation caused her to run harder. Lightning flashed across the sky again, and she realized too late that she was about to tumble over the edge of a cliff.

Regan yelped and tried backpedaling, but the mud was slippery, and she continued forward. She shifted into human form as she reached the edge, and before she fell to her death she twisted and grabbed the edge of the cliff.

She grunted as the sudden lack of momentum caused her to crash into the cliff, bouncing off a few times. Regan cried out, her ribs aching as she slammed against the rock face. She gripped the edge with both hands, her fingers and wrists cramping up in pain as she struggled to keep her grip.

Suddenly, a large hand grabbed her wrist, the grip so tight it was nearly breaking her bones. Regan screamed in pain and was hauled up over the edge, back onto even ground.

Breccan was growling, a low sound from deep in his chest that frightened Regan. He had pulled her up, and he looked furious. Over his shoulder, Regan could see the hilt of her katana stabbing into the air. Before she could think of reaching for her sword, Breccan roughly brought her wrists together, tying them together with a long, thin length of rope. He slammed his fist into the side of her head. Regan gasped in pain as stars danced before her eyes. The world swayed, and her stomach threatened to empty the contents onto the ground. Unfortunately, she had nothing in her stomach to empty, and it made her feel even sicker.

“Don’t kill the girl, Breccan,” Sybil said as she emerged from the trees, Douglas right behind her.

“Shut up,” Breccan growled. His eyes blazed in anger as he dragged Regan over to a tree. When she realized what he was about to do, she began to struggle. She pulled against the rope, snarling and cursing as they came closer.

Pain lanced through her skull as he struck her again. Regan stayed still a moment, dazed. When her vision cleared again, her arms were above her head, the rope wrapped around one of the branches. Breccan pulled, and she cried out as her arms were jerked above her head. He continued pulling on the rope, until she was more than a foot off the ground.

“Breccan!” Sybil yelled. “Don’t kill her!”

“Shut up!” Breccan roared back.

“We have our orders,” Douglas said. “We’re to bring the MacEntyre girl to the Council, alive.”

“I don’t care,” Breccan growled. “She’s crossed a line. Now, either you can help, or—”

He was cut off by the sound of a twig snapping. Lightning flashed, and seconds later the sound of thunder crashed again, Breccan pulled a dagger from the sheath on his thigh, his cold eyes searching the trees. A howl cut through the night. Lightning lit up the night again, and then the shape of a black wolf was hurtling through the air, straight for Breccan’s throat.

Breccan barely managed to dodge. Caíl landed in the mud, and nearly slid over the edge of the cliff. He regained his footing and dove himself for the bear’s legs. Breccan cried out, landing hard on his back. Caíl howled again and then lunged onto Breccan, burying his fangs into Breccan’s throat.

Caíl shifted to human form, and he ducked as Douglas threw a kick at him. Caíl swept his leg around, knocking the cheetah to the ground. He jumped to his feet, grabbed the dagger Breccan had dropped and sent it soaring through the air.

The dagger sliced through the rope, and Regan fell to the ground. She grunted and then rolled out of the way as Sybil came at her. The raven missed, and Regan jumped to her feet. While Sybil regained her balance, Regan raced towards Breccan’s body. Her hands were still bound in front of her, but that didn’t stop her from fighting. She bent over and pulled her katana from the sheath. She stood straight and held the blade before her, waiting for Sybil to attack.

The two circled each other, refusing to take their eyes off one another. To the side of them, Regan caught a glance of Caíl and Douglas battling one another. Sybil cried a battle roar, and Regan turned her attention back on her opponent. She raised her katana, blocking the strike from Sybil’s two daggers. She twisted her hips, shifting out of the way as she redirected the attack. Sybil’s eyes widened as Regan sliced her sword across the other woman’s chest. She stepped back and then stabbed the point through Sybil’s gut. A final sigh escaped her, and then she fell to the ground.

Regan stood there for several moments, gasping for breath. Across from her, she watched as Caíl slashed two daggers across Douglas’ throat. The cheetah gurgled a last breath, and then he crumpled to the ground.

Caíl made his way over to Regan, his chest heaving as he gasped for breath. Regan held her hands in front of her, and without a word, he dragged his dagger across the rope binding her wrists together. She sighed and rubbed at them, wincing as the blood began flowing back into her hands. She dropped her sword.

Regan looked up into Caíl’s eyes. The emerald irises were wide, his pupils dilated as he stared at her. Regan let out a sob, and then she fell against his chest. He caught her, holding her close to him as she began sobbing uncontrollably. She felt his lips atop her head, and then they were still as the storm continued to rage around them.

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