Marked (Book One of the Marked Saga)

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He was dreaming again. Or it was another of the damned visions. Beck had lost track a long time ago. He couldn’t tell what was a simple, innocent dream, or a painful vision. All he knew anymore was that he’d wake up in the night, a scream in his throat and the sheets sticking to his sweaty skin.

Beck forced his eyes open, staring sleepily at his ceiling. The overhead fan slowly turned, and he focused on it until he felt his eyes drift shut again. Then he rolled over to sit on the edge of his bed, putting his face in his hands. He sat up, moving slowly as his sore body screamed at him in protest. He flailed around in the dark for a moment, searching for a jacket. When he found his Wolf Valley High hoodie, he slipped it over his bare shoulders, shoving his hands into his pocket. Exhausted, he stumbled from his room into the hall.

As Beck made his way downstairs to the kitchen, he replayed his most recent nightmare in his mind. It had been the usual, where he saw Grace following the golden eagle and disappearing into the warehouse. Of her being captured, and then Diana coming towards her with a dagger.

This time, instead of waking up, the dream shifted. Beck was in an alley, beside Basil in bear form. Basil was bloody, and patches of fur were gone from his body. He stumbled along the ground, his head hanging low to the ground. He finally collapsed, and then the light of life let his eyes.

Suddenly, he was in a dark-colored hallway. The lights were dim, and at the end of the hall, he saw a familiar form. Beck slowly began making his way forward, his eyes narrowed as he attempted to see who was before him. When he realized who it was, he began sprinting down the hallway.

Malcolm, like Basil, was a bloody mess. His clothes hung off his body in bloody tatters, and fresh bruises decorated his skin. His lip was swollen, and his right eye was black. Beck wrapped an arm around Malcolm’s shoulders, doing his best to haul him to his feet. Malcolm groaned, his body limp and his head rolling to the side.

“Come on, Malcolm,” Beck growled. “Don’t you dare die on me! You hear me?”

“I can’t hang on…” Malcolm whispered. “I can’t…”

“No!” Beck yelled. He began making his way towards the door at the end of the hall, dragging Malcolm along with him. The mage became heavier with every step, threatening to bring Beck down with him to the ground. He stumbled to a knee, and his other leg shook violently beneath him. His body threatened to collapse to the floor, but Beck let out a scream of anger and agony. He clenched his muscles and forced himself back to his feet.

He was dragging Malcolm completely now. His head hung, and Beck was terrified he had died. Only the occasional moan told him he wasn’t.

“Do not die on me,” Beck snarled. Malcolm groaned, and Beck shook him. “Takashi!”

Malcolm groaned again. More determined than before, Beck put one foot in front of the other.

The hall seemed to grow longer, and Beck grew weaker. His arms and legs gave out, and he and Malcolm fell through the floor into the darkness below.

Now, Beck was awake, and he was now in his kitchen. He pulled the coffee pot out of the cupboard above him, plugged it in. He spooned ground coffee into the machine and then set to making coffee. He sighed and turned around, leaning back against the counter. He let his head fall back against the cupboard behind him, closing his eyes. He hoped that all he had were nightmares and not visions. He didn’t know if he could take being able to see the deaths of his loved ones, and not be able to do anything about it.

His chest tightened as he mentally relived the nightmare of Malcolm dying. He had been spending every spare moment alone with the mage that he was able to, and it pained him greatly to see what he did. Truth be told, Beck didn’t know what he’d do if Malcolm died. If that fate ever fell upon him, Beck was terrified it would destroy him. Malcolm had been one of a very few people to care for and appreciate Beck for who he was.

Not for the first time, he wondered why Malcolm was interested. He was an all-powerful mage, able to summon and banish demons with the flick of a wrist. He had lived for centuries and had lived life in the company of many warriors, kings, and other nobles. Beck was only a lowly high school senior that happened to be born with the gift of Sight. What did he have to offer?

Once the coffee was finished, Beck poured the dark, strong liquid into a large, silver thermos. He retreated to his room once more, shutting the door shut behind him. He paced across his room, sipping at the rejuvenating liquid as he went. Once the thermos was empty, he tossed it into the corner of his room. Heaving a sigh, he turned and flopped backward onto his bed, staring at the dark ceiling. As the night wore on, the effects of the coffee dissipated. His eyelids slid shut, and he was tossed headfirst into a nightmare of Basil having his throat slit.

Beck shared a glance with Grace, a question in his eyes. She nodded, and they turned back to their opponent. As they did, the image of her body wavered, and then she disappeared. The only sign of her presence was a shift in the air, seen only by those that looked closely. Beck let out a slow breath, unwilling to let their enemy discover their presence just yet, and he began moving forward.

Grace had found a stealth spell in one of the grimoires that Malcolm gave to her to read. When Basil was on patrol once, she had gone to Beck excitedly and told him about the spell. They had devised a plan and spent days practicing in order to perfect it. Grace would practice on Beck occasionally, testing the strength of the spell. Each time she used it, it became better, until the time came when he couldn’t hear her coming up behind him at all.

Now, they were creeping up on Basil, their movements slow and sure. Beck allowed one foot to drag behind him, causing a scuffle on the mats. Basil whirled around, grinning when he saw Beck.

“Well, well,” the grizzly drawled. “What’s this? A young cub trying to gain an upper hand on an old bear?”

Beck shrugged, a grin splitting his face. “Just seeing if I could sneak up on you. Guess not.”

Basil raised an eyebrow, suspicion lighting his eyes. He opened his mouth to say something, and then grunted and pitched forward. Grace’s body faded back to sight, and Beck laughed at the sight before him.

Grace reminded Beck of a spider monkey. Her legs were wrapped around Basil’s waist, one arm was wrapped around his shoulder, the other around his neck. She tightened her grip, a smile on her face. Basil grunted and struggled to break loose, but Grace had a firm grip on him. He began turning purple, and Beck nodded.

“All right, Grace!” he called out. “Let the old bear go.”

She loosened her hold, and Basil gasped for breath. Grace laughed as she climbed off his back, pressing a kiss to his cheek. He grinned and said, “That was cruel. You cheated.”

“Nope,” she said in a cheery voice. “You never specified whether or not I could use magic. You just said I had to catch you by surprise.”

Basil sighed. “Very well,” he said. “You win.”

Grace whooped, dancing around the training mat triumphantly. Beck laughed, and Basil ducked his head and charged at her waist. Grace screeched in laughter as he threw her over his shoulder. She pounded at his back for a moment and then sighed. She turned to Beck and said, “Thanks for the help, but I’ve got it from here.”

He waved a hand. “You guys go ahead, then,” he said. “I’m just gonna train alone for a bit.”

She nodded, and then in a few swift movements, Basil had taken the stairs three at a time, Grace over his shoulder.

Beck chuckled, and then his smile faded away. He turned to the equipment on the far wall, preparing to begin his solo training.

“That was quite interesting,” a voice said from behind him.

Beck whirled around, pleased to see Malcolm standing at the bottom of the stairs. Beck forced a grin to his face and said, “It was fun. She’s been working hard on that spell to get it right.”

“Good,” Malcolm said. “She may need it, especially if she’s going to go to the Court.”

Beck blinked. “What?”

Malcolm frowned. “She didn’t tell you?”

Beck shook his head. “No, she didn’t.”

Malcolm nodded, his eyes far away and distant. Finally, he stepped towards Beck. He stopped when he was inches away and said, “Come on. I want to show you something.”

Beck swallowed a hard lump in his throat, his cheeks burning. Malcolm looked as handsome and vibrant as ever, wearing a bright red dress shirt with a golden phoenix emblazoned on the front. He wore black slacks and black dress boots, with a ring on every finger. He was wearing black eyeliner, making the electricity of his blue eyes stand out. His hair was stylishly messy, with a few strands falling appealingly over the corner of one eye. Not for the first time, and certainly not the last, Beck thought he was the most beautiful and intriguing person on the planet.

Malcolm was holding his hand out, offering it to Beck. He glanced at the hand, and then back at the mage’s face. Finally, he reached out, placing his hand within Malcolm’s. He smiled, and then Beck felt a strange pulling sensation in his gut. The world swam around him, and then everything began to spin. Everything blurred, and then all was black.

When Beck opened his eyes again, he was standing in the middle of a crowded city sidewalk, his hand in Malcolm’s. He pulled his hand away and spun in circles, trying to find his bearings. It was nighttime, but the lights from the city lit the sky with brilliant, bright colors. Beck suddenly frowned when he saw the area looked familiar. He whirled around, fixing Malcolm with a wide-eyed look.

“Are we in New York?” he demanded.

Malcolm smiled, seemingly very pleased with himself. “Why, yes!” he said. “Yes, we are. What gave it away?”

“What, besides the fact that this is Times Square?” Beck’s voice was shrill, much too high for his comfort. He coughed, clearing his throat, and continued in his usual voice. “Why did you bring me here?”

Malcolm smiled mischievously. “My favorite club in all of New York is here, and I believe that you need to take some time for yourself.”

Beck frowned. “I don’t know what you mean. How’d we even get here so fast?” He clenched his jaw as a wave of nausea rolled through his stomach.

Malcolm ignored his question. Instead, he gestured down the sidewalk, and they began walking down the side of Times Square. Beck clenched his fists in frustration, his jaw setting. At his side, he felt Malcolm’s fingers teasing at his fist. Almost against his will, Beck relaxed his hand, and Malcolm laced his fingers through Beck's.

“You know exactly what I’m talking about,” Malcolm said in a gentle, yet firm, voice. Beck turned to glare at him. The mage ignored his glance and continued, saying, “You’ve been awfully distant lately, Beck. When you come over to the house, you spend all of your time in the gym training, or you stay with Grace. And even that’s been somewhat lacking, lately.”

Beck shrugged. “Grace has Vincent now,” he said. “She’s busy taking care of him in her free time.”

Malcolm stopped, pulling on Beck’s hand. Beck stopped as well, turning to look at Malcolm. “Beck, I’m worried about you,” he said. “What’s going on? Is it your nightmares again?”

Beck sighed. “A bit,” he said. “I can’t sleep, and I feel like I can’t stop to take a moment for myself.”

“Why not?” Malcolm asked gently.

“Because I’m having nightmares where you, Grace, and Basil die,” he said. “I can’t tell what’s a vision and what’s not, and I don’t know how to deal with any of this. I’m terrified of going to sleep because one of you dies. I… I can’t… I don’t…”

He sighed, pulling his hand from Malcolm’s. Beck turned away, running his hands over his face. He let them fall to his side, glancing up at the bright lights all around him. Music pounded out onto the streets from the open doors of clubs. People dressed in bright, vivid clothes reflected off the lights around them. Times Square had a strange kind of magic to it. It was modern, but with years of old magic and money underlining the brilliance.

Malcolm rested his hand on Beck’s shoulder. He squeezed, and Beck reached up to cover Malcolm’s hand with his own. A calming wave washed through him. He felt light, as if nothing could go wrong in the world.

“You can’t let these ‘maybes’ and ‘what ifs’ control all you do,” Malcolm gently said. “You need to live for yourself, otherwise all you’ll do is drive yourself to the ground.”

Beck sighed. “I know that,” he said. “Really, I do. I just don’t know how.”

He turned his head. Malcolm was smiling. The lights of Times Square reflected off his electric eyes and he said, “That’s what I’m here for. Let me worry about your mental well-being until you can determine the differences between dreams and nightmares. For now, as your personally assigned mental nurse, I am prescribing a night of fun at my favorite club.” He smiled, and his face was so sincere Beck almost lost it.

Beck let out a harsh breath, tilting his head up to the sky. “Even if I wanted to,” he said, turning back to Malcolm, “I don’t have anything to wear to a club, or party or anything.” He truly didn't, and Beck felt a strange, empty victory at the realization. He was wearing the same hoodie from the other night, as well as sneakers and a pair of sweatpants that hadn’t seen the wash in a few days. Beck’s hair hadn’t been washed in as many days either, and he knew he looked terrible.

Malcolm pursed his lips. “Hmm,” he said. “I believe I can fix that.” He snapped his fingers, and within a split second, Beck’s sneakers, sweats, and hoodie had disappeared. It was replaced with a pair of black, Italian leather dress shoes, and a dark, charcoal gray suit. He wore a green dress shirt underneath, and the top three buttons undone to expose his throat and the top of his chest. He ran his fingers through his hair, surprised to find the strands silky soft.

“What did you do?” Beck demanded.

Malcolm was grinning, a proud look on his face. “I gave you a makeover,” he said. “And believe me, you look great.”

Beck grinned. Malcolm held out a hand, and after a moment, Beck placed his hand in his.

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