Reaper (Book Two of The Marked Saga)

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Meeting of the Sponsors

“Do I have to wear this?” Grace wrinkled her nose, holding the green garment away from her at arm’s length.

Malcolm sighed in annoyance. “Just put the damn dress on, MacEntyre,” he said. “The mages in the Court are very traditional, and putting it on will impress them.”

She shot a disbelieving look in his direction. “I highly doubt that,” she muttered.

He threw his hands in the air in defeat. “Fine then!” he exclaimed. “Wear it, don’t wear it. I don’t care. I’m just trying to better your chances at getting sponsors.” And with that, he spun on his heel and stormed from the bedroom.

She sighed as the door closed behind Malcolm, glancing down at the dress. He was right, she knew. As a candidate for the tournament, if she hoped to survive, she would need sponsors. A sponsor would help her with everything she’d need, from supplies to ingredients for spells. And then, if she managed to become Queen, her sponsors would be her greatest allies. She had no clue what to expect in the tournament, and she’d need all the help she could get. So, tucking her pride and discomfort away, she pulled off her jeans and tank top, slipping the dress over her head.

Grace moved to the full-length mirror in the corner of the room, tying a sash around her waist. She blinked, staring in surprise at her reflection in the mirror. This time a year ago, she was skinny and had a dead look in her eyes. Now, thanks to her training with Basil and Beck, she had gained muscle. Her arms were thicker, showing defined muscles that hadn’t been there before. She had a healthy glow to her skin, and for a moment, she thought, I look beautiful. After admiring herself for a moment, she turned away from the mirror and back to the rest of her room.

In Malcolm’s mansion in Wolf Valley, she had had a room to herself. It was white and gold, very bright and open, inviting. Her new room, however, was very different. The walls were a dark, earth brown color, with a wooden floor covered in soft, thick brown and green rugs. The four poster bed was brown as well, made from dark oak wood. The covers and sheets were green, brown, and black, and the vanity that was pressed against the wall in front of the bed was brown as well. Though her new room was dark, it was very cozy and comforting. She loved it.

Grace sat down at her vanity, brushing her copper red hair and pulling it back into a thick French braid. After applying some light eye makeup and lip gloss, she pulled on her ballet flats and stood up. She grabbed her messenger bag as she left her room, slinging it over her shoulder as she moved down the hall.

Basil, Malcolm, and Beck were all waiting in the foyer. All three men wore simple black suits with white shirts underneath. Beck and Basil had the top button undone, while Malcolm had undone the shirt halfway, showing his throat and chest. He wore necklaces and talismans, and his fingers were adorned with rings. He wore his usual black eyeliner, allowing his eyes to seem brighter than they were. Overall, Grace thought he looked pretty tame.

“Ready?” Malcolm asked. “Excellent! Let’s be on our way, then!” He turned and threw open the large front door, stepping outside to the circular driveway. Grace frowned, turning to Basil and Beck.

“Is he…?”

“Speaking with a British accent?” Basil finished for her.

“Absolutely,” Beck answered, staring after Malcolm. He grinned and followed, stepping outside. Grace laughed, and after lacing her fingers through Basil’s, stepped outside as well, making sure to close the door behind them.

“What are we waiting for?” Grace asked after a few moments, looking back and forth along the driveway.

“That,” Malcolm said, smiling.

Beck, Grace, and Basil followed his gaze, looking towards the gate. The air seemed to shimmer, and an image slowly began to take form. A moment later, after the image came closer, Grace was able to make out the image of a dark, wooden carriage, pulled by two pure white unicorns.

Grace and Beck gasped, gazing in amazement at the creatures as the carriage came to a stop in front of them. The unicorns snorted and tossed their heads, their cloven hooves pawing at the cobblestones of the driveway. There were no bridles or reigns on the unicorns, and no driver.

“In we go,” Malcolm said, gesturing to the carriage. Grace moved around to the front, facing the unicorns. One of the beasts, the smaller one, turned his head towards her and blinked his huge, silver eyes. Grace held out a hand towards him, and he lowered his head and leaned forward, pressing his warm, soft nose against her palm.

“Beautiful, aren’t they?” Basil said, moving to stand by her.

“There’s no driver,” she said. “Why?”

Basil chuckled and said, “Unicorns are intelligent creatures. They willingly pull the Court’s carriages at times, and are excellent healers. Come on, let’s go. We don’t want to be late.”

Grace nodded, stroking the unicorn’s nose one final time. She smiled and said to him, “It was nice meeting you.”

The unicorn snorted, shaking out his mane. It’s an honor to meet you, fair young mage.

Grace gasped, and Basil laughed as he took a hold of her elbow, leading her to the door. He helped her step up the small footstool and into the carriage, and then followed after her, closing the door behind her. The unicorns whinnied, the sound like musical bells dancing on the air. Then they began to trot forward, following the curve of the driveway. Grace and Beck stared out the window, watching as the mansion faded away. Their surroundings quickly changed, turning from the streets of London into a forest. They appeared on a smooth, paved road, and when Grace stuck her head out the window to see ahead of them.

They were approaching what looked like a city. It looked like an ancient Celtic city, with a castle situated on a hill right in the center of the settlement. Outside the walls, Grace saw dozens of farms and ranches, all spread throughout the countryside. As they drew closer, Grace’s head began to burst with ideas. Her fingers itched, and she longed to be back at Malcolm’s mansion so she could paint to her heart’s content.

As they rolled into the city, people turned to gawk. Grace retreated back within the inside of the carriage, pressing herself against Basil’s side.

Finally, the carriage came to a stop. One of the unicorns neighed, and Malcolm clapped his hands together delightedly. “Well, we’re here!” he said. “Let’s go.”

Grace stepped out of the carriage, gaping up at the magnificent castle before her. The walls were made from sleek, gray granite, reflecting the light from the sun brilliantly. There were large, wide steps leading up to huge front double doors, which were spread wide open. On either side of the steps, resting on pedestals were statues of griffins.

After patting the unicorn on the neck, both of the majestic beasts snorted and trotted away. Beck and Malcolm started walking up to the castle first, engaged in light conversation. Basil came over to Grace, a smile on his face. “Are you ready?” he asked.

She let out a breath, staring at the castle again. “I don’t know,” she murmured. For months, she had been preparing and training for the tournament. She knew she would one day be here, but now that she was, she could hardly believe it.

“Don’t worry,” Basil said in a soft voice. He held his arm out for her, and after Grace sent a smile up at him, she took it. They began walking up the steps and Basil said, “This is just a simple meet-and-greet. It’s a chance for the potential sponsors to meet the competitors, and to start getting an idea of what to expect.”

She nodded, and as they passed the griffins, Grace had the eerie sensation of eyes upon her. She stared at the griffin on her left, frowning. Its gaze seemed to follow her, and she wasn’t sure whether to feel afraid or not.

When they entered the castle, a butler directed them down the left hallway, leading towards a magnificent ballroom. The walls and ceiling were painted to look like a bright, sunny day. Large, fluffy white clouds were painted onto the walls, and every few feet sat a golden beam holding up the ceiling, high above. A grand, golden chandelier hung from the ceiling, casting a golden glow upon the room. At the far end, there was an open window, leading to a beautiful garden outside.

There were tables set up along the sides of the room, filled with food and drink. People were milling about, talking and laughing with one another. Beck and Malcolm were off in one corner, speaking animatedly with a dark-skinned man, wearing dreads that were tied back from his face, revealing startlingly blue eyes.

“Ah, here they are!” Malcolm exclaimed when Basil and Grace moved to stand with him and Beck. Malcolm placed a hand on Grace’s shoulder, smiling between her and the man. “This is Grace MacEntyre! Grace, allow me to introduce you too Agwe, first generation mage and son of the Seer Ma Donna.”

“A pleasure to meet one as fair as you,” Agwe said, with a heavy Jamaican accent. He gently took Grace’s hand, lifting the back of it and pressing a soft kiss to her skin. His lips were soft, and Grace couldn’t help the soft blush that she felt stealing over her cheeks.

“Wonderful to meet you as well,” Grace said, bowing her head in return. Agwe smiled, his white teeth bright and sharp against the golden light around the room.

“I am glad to hear it!” Agwe said energetically. “Mother often says I am a devil of a child, a miscreant. It is music to my ears to hear someone as beautiful as you calling me ‘wonderful’.”

Grace couldn’t help it; she giggled, amused at this man’s antics. His energy was very different from that of Basil, Malcolm, and Beck. It wasn’t that she didn’t like her companions—she loved and cared for them very much. But sometimes, it was nice to have a change of pace.

“I will definitely consider and keep you in mind for the Sponsor’s Feast,” Agwe said, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. “And now, I must bid you adieu. But fear not! We shall see each other again!” And then, after bowing low at the waist, Agwe turned and left the ballroom, out into the hall.

Grace giggled again. “I like him,” she said to Malcolm.

The old mage smiled. “He’s something different, that’s definite,” he said. “He’s got a soft spot for the MacEntyre clan. I would be very surprised if you didn’t receive him as a sponsor.

“But don’t get lazy,” Malcolm warned. “Just because you’re guaranteed to have Agwe doesn’t mean that you won’t have anyone else. So, I suggest you go mingle. Go, go!”

Malcolm shooed Grace away. She chuckled, and then turned away. Basil planted a quick kiss to her cheek, and after promising to return, he left the ballroom as well.

Grace sighed as she stepped out into the garden. She was somewhat nervous, but after engaging in a small conversation with an elderly woman, she had found her groove once again. She had once been the party-goer in her family, loving to go to parties and school dances when her parents were still alive. It was like slipping on an old, comfy pair of slippers. She easily fell into her social, charismatic role within moments.

As Grace moved deeper into the garden, she began to come up with new images to sketch and paint. Her fingers were twitching now, and when she reached the statue in the center of the garden, she could contain herself no longer. Before her was a statue of a woman, gazing fiercely out over the garden, holding magefire in both of her hands.

There were small, circular tables set up throughout the garden. Grace selected an empty one, pulling her sketchbook from her messenger back. After selecting a charcoal pencil she kept in her bag at all times, she flipped to a blank page and began to sketch the statue into her book.

The world fell away, and all Grace knew was the gentle strokes of her pencil as she drew. She wasn’t aware of the people peering over her shoulder, watching as she worked. Eventually, they wandered away, leaving Grace to her art.

She had nearly finished when the other chair at the table pulled out. Someone sat down in it, and Grace peeked up through her eyelashes to the woman who had sat down before her.

She looked young, no older than twenty. Yet, Grace had learned early on that appearances could be very deceiving. The woman had dirty blonde hair, the locks fashioned into soft waves that tumbled over her shoulders and back. Her eyes were a startlingly storm gray, and she wore a flowing gray dress, very similar in style to the dress that Grace was wearing. She wore no jewelry, and like Grace, she had very light makeup on.

“Hi,” the woman said.

“Hello,” Grace replied.

“Are you the MacEntyre girl?” the woman asked. When Grace nodded, she continued. “My name’s Alexandra D’Angelo, but you can call me Alex.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Grace said, a strange flutter in her chest. Then she frowned and said, “D’Angelo… That’s one of the thirteen clans, right?”

Alex smiled. “That’s right,” she said. “Sorry, but I already promised to sponsor my sister, but when I heard you were here, I just had to see for myself.” She gestured to the sketch of the statue and said, “That’s good. Really good.”

Grace smiled. “Thanks,” she said.

“I don’t think I’ve seen someone this good since Elena MacEntyre.” Alex raised her gaze to look Grace in the eye, a smile on her face. “Your ancestor.”

Grace blinked, staring down at the sketch again. She had always loved art and music. While her older sister excelled at anything physical, Grace’s specialties rested within the arts.

“It was lovely meeting you,” Alex said. “We must get together sometime, get to know one another.”

Grace smiled as Alex stood. “Yeah,” she said. “I’d like that.”

The mage smiled and, after bowing her head, she turned and disappeared into the crowd.

“Well,” a cold, familiar voice drawled behind Grace. “That was sweet.”

Grace’s blood ran cold, and seconds later Alex’s seat had been taken. Diana Petrov smiled at her, though it did not reach her eyes. Diana’s pale gold hair was tied back from her face, the delicate locks curled and decorated with diamonds. She wore a pale blue gown, the bodice and skirt covered in diamonds. Her blue eyes, cold and malicious, were narrowed into slits as she glared at Grace.

“Diana,” Grace greeted, surprised at the cold abruptness of her own voice.

“Little wretch,” Diana returned, her voice sickly sweet. “So, you’re running in the tournament.”

“Yes,” Grace snapped, shutting her sketchbook and returning it to her bag. “What’s it to you?”

“I’ve told you before,” Diana hissed. “You don’t have the training or the experience. No one will ever sponsor you. The MacEntyres have been disgraced. You don’t stand a chance.”

Grace stood, towering over Diana. The other mage jumped to her feet, refusing to let Grace be higher. Grace smirked and said, “See, because I have the name of MacEntyre, I do stand a chance. I’m running this race, Diana. And I’m going to win.”

Diana opened her mouth, but before she could say anything, Grace spun on her heel and stormed away, holding her head high.

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