Marked (Book One of the Marked Saga)

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Pain was all she knew. It was everywhere, both within her and beyond.

It started with small, simple memories. Grace vividly remembered a time when she skinned her knee at the age of three. It was her first memory of pain. She remembered the sting of the cut when she scraped her skin against the sidewalk, the hissing pain as her mother swiped an alcohol wipe over it to clean the wound.

She was curled up in the corner of the bathroom, arms wrapped around her body as she sobbed. She was in second grade, and she was being bullied. The three popular girls in her class had just finished harassing Grace, and pushing her around. They dumped a bottle of ink into her hair, then dumped her papers into the toilet and flushed them.

She was afraid. Grace was standing a few feet away from her first crush, biting her lip as she watched him take a book from his locker. She stepped forward, telling him how she felt. He laughed, and then told all of his friends that she was a weird, psycho girl that was looking to sleep with them. She was humiliated, and avoided everyone for the rest of the eighth grade.

Memories that held great pain for her flashed through Grace’s mind, destroying and crippling her. Memories of fear blended in as well, turning her into a messy puddle of tears and hysterics. Grace watched as living nightmares came to life before her eyes, making her want to curl into a ball and disappear.

It was dark out. Men and women with auras outlined in red dotted the front lawn of her aunt’s house, with the front door swung wide open. Children screamed, and then her cousins were being thrown onto the lawn. Her aunt and uncle followed a moment later, both beaten and bloody. One of the men ringed in red, a Kuren Grace now realized, stepped forward and said, “Duncan sends his regards.” Then, his fingers turned into a lion’s claws, and he buried them into her aunt’s chest.

Grace screamed as the scene changed. Malcolm and Beck were running, frantically looking over their shoulders. It was too dark to see where they were, or to make out any landmarks. They both suddenly pitched forward as a red feathered arrow buried itself into their backs, sending them sprawling in the dirt.

Then, she was suddenly in the woods. It was the dead of winter, and Regan was laying face down in the snow several feet away, a pool of blood surrounding her. Grace cried out, causing her sister to glance up. Regan snarled in pain and anger, pushing herself to her feet, trying to get to her little sister. Grace reached out towards her, but found she couldn’t move. Something wet drew her attention down, and she gasped in shock and pain at the image of her sister’s katana sticking through her chest. Somewhere to her right, a bear roared, and then the sword was ripped back from her body, causing her to fall.

She felt numb. The hunter laughed as she collapsed, and Basil roared again. The hunter turned and walked away, seemingly into thin air. Regan snarled and howled, anger and hatred buried within her voice. Basil suddenly appeared by her side, gently lifting her broken body to his chest. She cried out in pain, and the grizzly whispered, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…”

“Don’t leave me, Grace,” he begged, sobs racking his body. “Please, please don’t leave.”

She was terrified. But, there was a strange calm hovering over her, and the calm itself frightened her.

“It’s… fine,” Grace whispered, lifting a hand to stroke his cheek. “I’ll be okay.”

His throat worked as he struggled to hold back his tears. She smiled reassuringly, then cried out as agony ripped through her core. Soon, all she knew was pain and fear.

She was screaming. She was in pain, and Beck felt a strange sense of satisfaction at the knowledge. The witch was in pain, and he had caused it. He felt powerful. He felt unstoppable.

Distantly, like a fly buzzing in his ear, someone was screaming at him. Or just screaming. He couldn’t tell. All he knew was that he was making the witch suffer. Just as she needed to.

“Beck!” the voice continued to scream. “You’re hurting her!”

He knew he was hurting her. That was what he wanted to do. He wanted to make her suffer, to cause her the same pain she had caused him and everyone he loved.

“Beck!” Hands were on his shoulders, and Beck saw Malcolm’s face. Annoyance flashed through him as the mage broke his line of sight, where he had Diana in his gaze.

“You’re hurting Grace!” Malcolm said. “You need to stop!”

He frowned. Beck glanced past Malcolm, over to where Grace lay on the ground, curled up into a ball in a fetal position. Basil was beside her, in a similar position as Grace. She had her hands clamped down tightly over her ears. As if he had been tossed into a cold shower, Beck gasped and the connection broke. His ears popped, and the lightness he had been feeling disappeared. As if a bag of rocks had been dumped onto his shoulder, Beck dropped to a knee, suddenly unable to breathe.

What have I done?

Grace stopped screaming, but she was still curled into a ball. Her body shook violently, as if a layer of cold had seeped deep into her bones and nothing could make her warm again. Basil straightened from the ball he was in. He glanced around, and as soon as his eyes landed on Grace he lunged for her, scooping her up in his arms.

Diana raised her head, tears streaming from her eyes. She glanced around, and when she saw everyone was occupied, she staggered to her feet and ran. Beck longed to chase after her, to inflict more pain on her. But he couldn’t move.

“Beck?” Malcolm gently said, trying to look the young Seer in the eye. “Beck, this isn’t your fault. You didn’t know.”

Beck shook his head, refusing to listen, refusing to allow Malcolm’s words to penetrate the walls he began building around his mind. He did this. He had caused his friends immeasurable pain, and he hadn’t meant to. All he could think, watching as Basil cradles a whimpering Grace to his chest, was, I’m a monster.

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