Reaper (Book Two of The Marked Saga)

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Prison

No. This isn’t happening.

Fear made Regan’s stomach drop to the floor as she saw the trail of red, leading into the prison. She glanced around, hoping no one noticed. Nobody seemed to. She sighed and faced the trail, frowning. She inhaled deeply, and caught the faint stench of rotten eggs. She gagged, doubling over.

She had been underneath her shelter with Rose, napping in the heat of the day, when an uneasy feeling tingled down her spine. She tried to ignore it, but the feeling only intensified. So she rolled out, and was now looking at the trail of a demon.

Some mages could summon a demon, and a Kuren definitely had the ability. Because they themselves are creatures of darkness, they don’t need spells or protective wards to summon a demon. All they had to do was call it. Mejhan, who were beings of light and goodness, had no power over demons themselves. Their only hope was to have a mage on their side, or have a special, ceremonial blade in their possession, as well as an exorcism.

Regan had neither. All she had was her Tracking abilities. She was able to see the auras of those around her, as well as trails left behind by demons and other creatures. She frowned as she thought back to a horrible moment just a few short months ago. She and another Mejhan, a grizzly named Basil, had gone to the mage Malcolm’s party in order to hunt a demon that had infiltrated the town. She had been so depressed, she wanted to die, for a time at least. So when she found the trail of the demon, instead of running to fetch Basil or Malcolm, she had gone after it alone. It had resulted in the death of the poor soul the demon was possessing.

She refused to fail again. And this time, she wasn’t looking to die. Before, she had wanted nothing more than to cease existing. But she had died, twice, after becoming a Mejhan. It was nothing but horrible darkness, so thick she suffocated. Each time, though, her wolf spirit had helped her escape the darkness, and brought her back into the light.

Besides, her sister was waiting for her. Grace was in danger, and Regan had to escape and return to her in order to keep her safe. She would rather die again and again forever than let Duncan Carter kill her sister.

So, she followed the line of red that disappeared into the prison. She had to dodge between two tall, broad Mejhan with bison and elephant spirits. They growled, a deep rumble in their chests, as she danced out of the way. She bared her teeth and snarled in return, then continued on her way.

She followed the trail deep into the prison. She traveled from one dormitory to the other, scanning the aura of every Mejhan in each room. Though they were all criminals, they still had pure white auras, some laced with individual flecks of color. But none of them had the thick, blood red of evil.

“Za zeeb… za zeeb… zee za zeb… zee za zeb… za zeeb…”

Regan froze, a frown pulling at her lips. She turned her head, her ears straining to catch the unintelligible muttering. Her vision returned to normal as she walked, her heart racing. Survivors of demonic possession were sometimes left disoriented, at the slightest. Others had been driven mad with the things they had seen and done.

Regan eventually came to a small library, the shelves covered with books and scrolls. There were few people in here, but the mumbling was coming from a corner. Regan stepped around a shelf, staring at the old woman before her.

A cougar spirit was curled at the woman’s feet, who was sitting on the floor, back pressed against the shelves, her knees drawn to her chest. She was old, ancient even. She looked to be in her nineties, and her glassy green eyes were rolling across the ceiling. Her gray hair was frizzy and wild, making her look more mad than she sounded.

“Zee za zeb… za zeeb… za zeeb…” the woman muttered. She raised her head slightly to look at Regan, but she didn’t seem to see the white wolf. Her mind was too far gone.

An uneasy feeling stole over Regan. A heavy weight pressed against her chest, and she felt a darkness enter her mind. She slipped into her sight again, and jumped in surprise at the flash of red she saw. The old woman was surrounded in a thick, dark red aura, tainting her mind, soul, and spirit. Regan heard a strange, chittering noise. Slowly, she raised her head. It took all of her self control to hold back the scream.

A demon clung to the wall above the old woman. Its body was black, long and skeletal. The head was vaguely human, the body a twisted version of a dog. It had a long, thin, wicked tail with a sharp barb on the end. The demon had red eyes, no pupil, and long, sharp teeth. It hissed at Regan, saliva dripping from the fangs and onto the floor below.

She was frozen in fear. She needed to move, but she couldn’t convince her feet to move, to carry her as far away from the demon as possible.

Hands gripped her arms, pulling her away. The old woman stared at Regan as she was dragged away, muttering softly, “Za zeeb… zee za zeb…”

Regan allowed herself to be pulled back out into the hallway before she jerked away. Rose stood there, her hands held in front of her. Her ocean blue eyes were wide, full of concern. Her brows were pulled together, and her muscles were tensed, ready for a fight. “Are you okay?” She asked Regan.

Regan gulped, looking over her shoulder back to the library. The demon had its head peeking around the corner, shooting a venomous glare in the wolf’s direction. Regan shivered as it slunk away, back to the old woman. She shook her head and turned back to Rose. “No,” she choked out. “No, I’m not okay.”

Rose nodded. “I get it,” she said. “Demons are terrifying bastards.”

“You can see demons?”

The other wolf gulped, glancing left and right. She took Regan’s arm and began walking away, putting as much distance between them and the library as possible. They returned outside to the yard, where the light of the full moon lit the area.

“No,” Rose answered. “I was a Seer when I was alive, and when I became Mejhan, some of those abilities transferred with me.”

“Oh.”

Rose sighed. “It’s a shame about the old woman,” she said. “She was a mighty warrior once. One of my best fighters.”

“One of yours?” Regan asked, confused.

“Remember when I said I was arrested for leading a rebellion?” Regan nodded, so Rose continued. “Well, that woman was one of my fighters. Her name’s Zee, and it was a hard blow to all of us when she was taken.”

“What happened to her?”

Rose shrugged. “Don’t really know,” she said. “My best guess? She’s been possessed by that demon for too long. Even for Mejhan, the toll it takes to be controlled by a demon is great. It takes longer, but we still go mad.”

Regan shivered. “I need air,” she said. “I’m going for a walk.”

Rose nodded, watching while Regan walked away. She could feel the other wolf’s gaze on her back as she walked away. She ignored her, disappearing into the miniature forest.

The cool, crisp air wrapped around her, the scent of pine and cold mountain air washing over her nose. Regan felt her lips twist into a smile for a moment, before icy dread filled her stomach. She snarled, her eyes running over every link in the fence. She knew that scent.

She didn’t have to search long. As she came closer to the edge of the prison, she heard a familiar voice whisper to her from the darkness, “Regan! Over here!”

Regan recognized him before she even came close. Six foot tall frame, black hair, glowing green eyes. Red aura, with the spirit of a black wolf beside him.

“You’re lucky there’s a fence between us,” Regan snarled as she came closer. “Otherwise I’d rip your throat out with my teeth.”

Caíl sighed. “Look,” he began.

“No,” Regan growled. “I don’t want to hear anything you have to say. You better turn around and walk away, now, before I call the guards myself.”

Caíl cocked his head to the side. “And never have a chance at escaping?”

She glared at him a moment, considering. Finally, she said, “I’ll figure it out myself.”

Regan turned and began to walk away, but Caíl stopped her when he said, “Carter’s going after Grace himself. He knows you’re here, and he doesn’t think you’ll ever get out.”

“You think I’m stupid?” Regan demanded, whirling back towards him. “Of course I know he’s going after her. She’s the last MacEntyre, other than my aunt.”

Caíl sighed. “Look, just let me help you get out of here. You have nothing to gain in prison.”

“Why do you want me out so bad?” Regan asked. “What, are you going to betray me and hand me over to Duncan Carter again?”

Caíl flinched, moving as if she had slapped him. Good, she thought. He deserved it. After everything he had put her through, she should be trying to rip him to shreds. But something stopped her, something in the way he stood, in the pained light in his eyes.

“I did what I had to do in order to keep Leah safe,” Caíl snarled. “She’s the only family I have left. If I had a chance to change things, I would turn you over again.”

Regan pulled her lips from her teeth, her anger threatening to tear her insides apart. But then a thought stopped her. Grace. If their roles were reversed, she knew that she would do the same he did. Regan had never been close with her aunt, and she considered her sister the only family she had left. If she was being honest with herself, she knew that she would do anything for her sister.

Instantly, a wave of calm washed over her. Regan huffed out a breath and leaned against a tree, crossing her arms over her chest. “So, what’s your plan, then?”

Caíl blinked, surprised at her sudden change in demeanor. “Memorize the layout of the prison,” he said, “and teach it to me. I need doors, windows, everything. Also, learn the guard’s patrol patterns. I need everything so I can make a plan to bust you.”

She nodded. “Fine,” she said. “Give me a few days.”

“Very well,” Caíl said. “Meet me back here in three days, at this time.”

Regan nodded again, then turned to leave. She paused suddenly, her eyes widening. She turned back to Caíl and said, “There’s a demon in here.”

Caíl frowned. “What kind of demon?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said. “I’m pretty sure it’s a lesser demon, though. It can’t shift into a corporeal form.”

He nodded. “Stay away if you can,” he said. “I’ll get you out soon.”

Regan bobbed her head, watching as Caíl turned and fled from the fence, into the woods beyond. She sighed, linking her fingers through the fence. She longed to be out there, to be running as far away from this place as possible.

When Regan returned to her shelter sometime later, Rose was there. She was laying on her back, a book held before her. As Regan got on her hands and knees to crawl under the tarp, Rose said, “So, planning to escape, huh?”

Regan choked and stumbled in surprise, her face hitting the dirt. She growled, and said, “What are you talking about?”

Rose laughed. “I’m not stupid,” she said. “I know you’re looking to escape. I saw you talking with your Kuren buddy.” She rolled over to look at Regan, who was sprawled out on the ground. “Look, I’m not going to turn you in. In fact, I wanna help.”

Regan narrowed her eyes. “Why?”

The other wolf smiled. “Why, oh why, indeed? That’s a silly question, dum dum. No one wants to be in prison. But my help doesn’t come for free. I want out, too.”

Regan sighed. “Fine,” she said. It wouldn’t help to have help outside of Caíl. Besides, there was something about Rose that calmed her aching soul. She didn’t trust her, not for a second. But it would be nice to have a friend until she escaped.

Rose smiled. “Pleasure doing business with you.”

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