Marked (Book One of the Marked Saga)

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When Grace awoke, she felt like she was floating. She kept her eyes closed, too afraid of what she might see. Am I dead? she wondered.

She waited several moments, and when nothing happened, she slowly opened her eyes.

She was surrounded by gold and white. Her eyes widened, and she slowly pushed herself into a sitting position to take in the view of the room.

The bed was a king size, and Grace thought it had to be made from satin and feathers. The gold comforter draped over her legs was thick enough to be a mattress, and the pillows behind her were thick and soft. The wooden frame of the bed was painted gold, and the sheets were white.

The walls of the room were painted a light gold, and the white carpet was thick and plush. A white vanity sat against the wall in front of the bed, with a white dresser on the wall beside a set of balcony doors leading outside. A soft breeze sent the light curtains dancing into the room.

Grace swung her legs over the edge of the bed, sighing as her bare feet touched the ground. She stood, and wobbled slightly as a wave of dizziness threatened to topple her over. After she had regained her balance, she made her way to the vanity. Draped over the chair was her coat, and on the floor were her snow boots. She pulled her boots on, and deciding to leave her coat, she headed to the door and slipped out into the hall.

The light was dimmer in the hall, noticeably darker than inside the room. After allowing her eyes to adjust for a moment, she turned right and began making her way down the hall.

Before long, Grace stumbled across a library. A fireplace held a warm, blazing fire, and standing next to it, staring intently into the flames, was Malcolm. He was dressed in slacks, dress boots, and a flashy red and silver shirt with a Chinese dragon printed on the front. The tips of his spiky hair were dyed red, and he held a glass of wine in his hand.

At her entrance, Malcolm looked up. He grinned when he saw her and stepped forward. He set his glass on a coffee table, saying, “Hello, Grace. You look much better.”

“Thanks,” she grumbled. She looked around, a frown pulling at her lips. “Where’s Basil?” she asked.

“Basil is resting,” Malcolm said. “It was a very close call, but I’ve managed to stop the flow of poison.”

Grace’s eyes widened. “Poison?”

Malcolm sighed. He gestured to a plush leather chair, and she slowly sank onto the edge of the seat. Malcolm sat in the chair across from her and said, “The knife that stabbed him was coated in a fast-acting poison. When you collapsed on my front porch, you had almost frozen to death, and Basil was almost dead. I used magic to put you to sleep and placed you by a fire, while I drew out as much of the poison as possible.”

“But he’s okay now, right?” Grace asked anxiously, her knee beginning to bounce.

Malcolm chuckled. “Yes, he’s fine. As I said, he’s currently resting right now.” He leaned forward and placed a hand on her knee. She looked at him, suddenly feeling very exposed. She swallowed a lump in her throat, and he said, “How are you doing? Are you okay?”

Grace sighed. “I have no idea,” she said, a bitter laugh escaping from her chest. “Things have been happening so fast… My aunt and uncle are probably worried about me.” She frowned, confused. Normally, she would panic in a situation like this. Her aunt and uncle, but especially her aunt Beth, had been babying her in one way or another ever since the accident. How long had she been out?”

Malcolm waved a hand nonchalantly. “Don’t worry, I sent them a text from your phone. I just said you were spending a few days at a friend’s. You’re on winter break now, right?”

She nodded, relieved. “Did they reply?”

“Your aunt did. She said that they were going to all go to LA until the beginning of the new year.”

Grace nodded again, falling silent. Her mind had finally woken up, and memories came unbidden to her. The alley, the men, Basil in bear form, and how he crushed Clark’s skull with his jaws. And then she remembered Ivan, remembered how she had somehow summoned fire and burned him to death. And there wasn’t a mark on her.

Grace tried to suck in a breath, and when she found she couldn’t, her mind rushed into a panic. Her hands and arms began shaking, and tears streamed down her face as she began to hyperventilate as a panic attack took hold of her.

“Grace, it’s okay. Grace, you are fine. Nothing will hurt you in my home,” Malcolm murmured softly, taking her hands in her own. A strange warmth seeped into her skin from his hands, and it began spreading up her arms, through her shoulders and chest, and then to the rest of her body. Her breathing slowed, and she felt a heavy weight on her mind, almost like a blanket. She glanced up, into Malcolm’s smiling face.

“Better?”

She nodded and let out a shaky breath. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine now. I think…” She frowned.

“Basil said you burned one of the men in the alley,” Malcolm said. “Would you like to explain what happened?

“I… I don’t know,” she said. “Ivan grabbed me, and he was going to take me somewhere… I don’t know, some kind of rendezvous. But Ivan grabbed me, and then all of a sudden My hands were on fire, and…” she trailed off, the images flashing into her mind.

“Describe the fire to me,” Malcolm said. “What color was it?”

She closed her eyes, thinking back. “It was green and blue,” she said.

“How did it feel? Was it hot, or cool to the touch?”

Her eyes flashed open and she snapped her gaze back to Malcolm. She frowned. “Is this a trick question? We’re talking about fire here.”

He smiled. “Just humor me,” he said. “Think. Was it cool?”

“Yes,” she said. “It felt cold to me, but Ivan… It burned him, like an actual fire.”

He nodded. “That was magefire you used, my dear. It’s a special kind of flame, one that only powerful mages can use. To the user, it is cold and does not harm them. Magefire can be used for many things, whatever the mage desires. It can be used to heal, it can be a tool, and it can be a weapon.

“Most mages come into their power when they’re children, no later than puberty. Any time after that and the mage isn’t nearly as strong.” Malcolm frowned as his gaze traveled up and down her frame. “However… you’re different.”

“How?” Grace asked.

“Your aura is a very powerful one. I’ve never seen one with this magnitude of concealed magic. You should have come into your powers at a very young age…”

“Maybe I’m just a late bloomer?” Grace suggested.

He shook his head. “No, there’s no such thing as a powerful mage that was a late bloomer. Let me see your right hand.”

Grace frowned, but she did as he said. Malcolm gripped her hand in his own and then turned it so the palm was facing the ceiling. A burst of green and blue flames appeared in his left hand, spreading over his fingers in a twisting shield. He slowly slid his hand over her wrist, leaving hot, searing pain sizzling on her skin. Grace cried out and tried to pull her hand away, but the mage tightened his grip and refused to let go.

When he finally let her go, Grace snapped her hand back and cradled it to her chest. She glared at him and said, “What the hell was that?”

“I was revealing the unseen,” he said. “If you hadn’t reacted at all, then nothing would have happened. Let me see your hand again. No magefire this time, I promise.”

She scrutinized him a moment, and then after deciding the sincerity in his eyes were true, she held her hand out again.

Before, her wrist had been bare, with creamy pale skin the color of milk. Now, a strange design was on her skin, almost as if it had been tattooed there a long time ago. It was the image of a bird of prey rising, its wings spread to the sides as it soared into the air. The design wasn’t very big, but Grace would have known before if she had a tattoo.

When she glanced up, Malcolm had a wide-eyed, disbelieving expression. He was shaking his head, muttering, “It’s impossible…”

“What’s going on, Malcolm?” Grace demanded, both annoyed and scared.

“Is your name MacEntyre?” he asked, his eyes snapping to hers.

“Yes… why? How did you know?”

Malcolm stood and began pacing before the fire. It had begun to die out, so Malcolm shot a small blast of flames from his hand into the hearth, bringing the flames back to life. As he moved, Malcolm spoke, saying, “In our world, sometimes called the Dark Realm, there is a hierarchy among mages. They’re what you would call a council, and this council is made up of the leaders of the most powerful clans of mages. The MacEntyre clan is—or rather, was—one of those clans. They were the most powerful mages in the world, but around three hundred years ago, they began dying out. They were being picked off, one by one, by demons, rogue mages, and other forces that we still do not know of.

“In the late eighteen hundreds, the MacEntyres withdrew from the council and disappeared into the mortal world in order to survive. That tattoo on your wrist is not a tattoo, Grace. It is a Mark, the symbol of the MacEntyres, a golden eagle. It represents many things, such as strength and truth. It served as a reminder to the MacEntyres that they were strong, and that they would eventually pull through. There’s still a chair on the council reserved for the MacEntyres, waiting for their return.”

Malcolm stopped pacing, giving Grace a sad look. “Your family must have tried to keep this secret from you. You need to have your parents tell you everything.”

Grace let out a humorless laugh. “Kind of hard to do that,” she said. “They’re dead. They died in a car accident three years ago. What about my aunt and uncle? Would they know?”

Malcolm frowned. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, they should know something, anyway…”

He trailed off, and his mind seemed far away. Then, his eyes lit up, as if he came to a realization. He opened his mouth to say something, but then a knock from the open door to the library stopped him.

Grace and Malcolm snapped their heads around, and Grace smiled when she saw Basil. He was leaning against the doorway as if it was the only thing keeping him up. Basil’s skin still looked somewhat grayish, but he had more color to him than he did outside of the mansion. He was wearing gray sweatpants, a black sweater, and thick socks. He looked sweaty, and his hair hung in front of his eyes in limp strands.

“You shouldn’t be standing,” Malcolm grumbled in annoyance.

Basil shrugged and painfully made his way into the room. “I was bored,” he said. “I heard you and Grace talking, and decided to come to say hi.”

Grace gaped, unsure if she heard him right. He heard them? How? The bedroom she knew of that was closest to the library was the one she had woken up in, and there was no possible way she could have heard anything.

Malcolm gestured to the chair he was just sitting in, and Basil slowly sank into the soft leather. He closed his eyes, his chest heaving, gasping for breath as if he had run a marathon. He began to shiver, and Malcolm snapped his fingers. A second later, a folded blanket appeared on the coffee table beside him.

“Thank you, Malcolm,” Basil said softly. He leaned forward, gripped the blanket, and after shaking it out he draped it across his shoulders. He leaned back again and closed his eyes.

“I’ll leave you two to talk,” Malcolm said. He turned to leave, but before he did so he said, “Oh, and Grace? I have something for you. Something you forgot in the alley.”

He snapped his fingers again, and Grace’s messenger bag appeared in his hands. He handed it to her, and after delivering an elegant bow, Malcolm turned and sauntered from the room.

“He’s certainly… vibrant,” Grace noted, hugging her messenger bag to her chest.

Basil laughed. “Yeah, he definitely is.” He fixed Grace with a soft expression and said, “Are you okay?”

Grace bowed her head and smirked. “You know, for three years, people have been asking me that. It’s making me want to scream. Can I just be completely honest with you?”

“Of course,” he answered.

“I’m not okay,” she admitted. “I like to think I am. I tell everyone I’m fine, but I’m not. I wake up, and I do the same things over and over, every day. Wake up, shower, eat, go to school, sketch a little, read a bit, do homework, pretend to be engaged in family events, sleep, wake up, and do it all over again. I’ve gotten so used to this that I’m just going through the motions, and I’ve had enough practice that I can just put on this face, one that says, ‘here I am. I’m happy’.”

Grace sighed and leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees. She put her face in her hands and said, “I’m so exhausted, Basil. Some days, I don’t feel like I can go on anymore. There are days where I just want to end it all, to get rid of this heavy weight on my chest.”

She looked up and was shocked to see that he was crouching in front of her. How did he move so quietly?

Silently, Basil took her hand in between his. His skin was cool and clammy to the touch, and it felt good on her hot skin. “Don’t give up,” he told her. “Don’t ever give up, no matter how difficult things may become.”

She nodded. “I won’t,” she said. She pulled her hand away and said, “Now, you owe me some answers. You promised to tell me everything.”

He smiled. “I said that I’d tell you everything if you met me at the Hideout. We’re not at the Hideout.”

Grace groaned. “Come on! I was attacked by some shady guys on my way to meet you, so you can’t hold that over me.”

He laughed and stood. He returned to the chair, and after he had settled back down he said, “Very well, then. What do you want to know?”

“What are you?” she blurted. “Clark called you something called a ‘Mejhan,’ and you can turn into a bear.”

“Yes, I am a Mejhan,” he said. “I’m someone who died and came back to life. I have a new spirit, that of the bear, and it’s my life’s mission to protect the mortals from demons and Kuren.”

Grace frowned, and Basil said, “Kuren and Mejhan are similar. We were both human once, and we both died and came back to life with an animal spirit that usually best represents our personality, our souls. We can both die, and depending on our age and the cause of death, we are brought back to life again.”

“Hold up,” Grace cut in, holding up a hand. “So, say we didn’t get to Malcolm in time, and you died. You’d still be able to come back to life?”

“Yes,” Basil replied. “But there’s no telling when I would have come back. Death and regeneration isn’t an exact science for my kind, the revenants. If I had died, it could have taken anywhere between a few days to a few months for me to come back.”

“Oh,” Grace said. “How does it work, exactly? What are the differences between Mejhan and Kuren?”

“A Mejhan is born from a human who died while saving a life,” Basil explained, "where a Kuren is someone who died while doing evil. Mejhan are good, and Kuren are evil. That’s about the only difference. However, that doesn’t mean that every human that dies while saving someone becomes a Mejhan.”

Grace nodded. “That must suck, the whole dying and coming back to life over and over again.”

Basil laughed. “Yes, it can be quite annoying at times. Especially when we die from starvation. Now that’s not fun.”

Grace raised an eyebrow, and Basil continued, saying, “As a revenant, certain connections are no longer there. As a human, our bodies told our brains when to eat, sleep, and drink water. But as a revenant, that connection is dead. The first time I died, I was barely a month into my new life. I never ate or drank water, and I didn’t really sleep. I didn’t know what was going on. I died from starvation and dehydration, and three months later, I came back. Luckily, a Mejhan found me, and took me under his wing for a while.”

“Oh.”

Basil nodded, and they drifted into silence. She frowned, thinking about how her sister had saved her. If Regan hadn’t pushed her out of the way in time, she would be dead.

“What are you thinking?” Basil asked.

Grace shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve got a nagging feeling…” She sighed and said, “I told you my parents and sister died in an accident. Well, before the semi truck hit the car, my sister Regan shoved me out of the car. The semi barely missed me.”

Basil suddenly straightened, looking at Grace with wide eyes. She frowned and he said, “What did you say your sister’s name was?”

“Regan… why?”

“Grace,” Basil said in a voice that demanded attention. He leaned forward and said, “There’s something you need to know.”

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