Chapter 13 - Marked
“I noticed that the attackers bore a similar standard on their skin, either on their left hand or right shoulder. Someone branded these symbols into them as a mark of ownership, and the brands differed from Victor's birthmark in small ways,” Marcus supplied. Rowan never checked the bodies, except to ascertain they were dead. It made her uneasy to know that in Victor's case it was a birthmark. What did such a thing mean?
“Are you certain you only noticed this symbol on the medallion and the shrine?” Alena asked with a strange intensity in her eyes. Something in the way she said it, warned Rowan that Alena believed she wasn’t telling the whole truth. Rowan fought down her instant anger.
She suspected there was more at play here than she understood. They possessed a vital piece of information, and they weren’t sure if she did too. They didn’t trust her, and she didn’t trust them either, but she would have remembered if she saw it before, and she had no reason to lie to them. It was both unique and eerie enough that one would not forget having seen it.
“I already answered that question,” Rowan stated, and their eyes measured each other in a brief in a battle of wills.
“Play nice Alena,” Marcus ordered, and despite the spark of defiance in Alena’s eyes, she backed off, lowered her gaze, and grit her teeth. Rowan found she didn’t like that Marcus had such power over Alena, and the sentiment surprised her, made her frown with displeasure. Alena misinterpreted her expression as belligerence.
“Please take your clothes off, and I will show you what I mean,” Alena demanded with casual insistence, and Rowan's ire rose again. What was wrong with these people? Are they so used to being obeyed they don’t hear themselves speak?
She was not theirs to command, and she would never fall under their purview. Under different circumstances, they would not acknowledge her, and the idea gave her pause. If this creature worried them enough to warrant her presence in their lives, perhaps they had more concrete reasons to fear than riddles and fairytales.
Why would she need to disrobe? It was a ludicrous suggestion: unless they assumed that she inherited Victor’s birthmark? She concluded, and that meant they either believed she lied or was unaware. That raised the question of how she was unaware of such a distinct mark in the first place?
“Show her Alena, then maybe she would be more forthcoming,” Marcus suggested with the faintest touch of amused exasperation. Alena turned away from them and took off her bodice, shirt, and chamois. She displayed no discomfort in at disrobing before a virtual stranger or her master. Rowan entertained the notion of them being lovers for a brief moment but dismissed it. She discerned an emotional distance between them that wouldn’t be there if they had a physical relationship.
On her bare back, below the ribs to the left of her spine, just above her kidney, she had Victor’s mark. The birthmark on her body didn’t seem inked into her skin, and it startled them to notice the similarities, but the difference lay in the details. A thin red line slashed through the design like a shallow cut. It seemed too regular, and precise to have occurred by the machinations of nature.
“It’s a birthmark. I held Alena the day of her birth, and it just sat there. Complete with the red line through it as if someone drew it by hand,” Marcus assured her and Rowan realized she never considered the difference in their ages. Five hours ago such details would have meant nothing to her. Rowan realized that for a made vampire like Marcus to be a Master and a Sire, he had to be at least three hundred years old.
“Now remove your clothes,” Alena prodded again, but with no demanding insistence in her voice. She replaced the thin blouse without bothering to replace her other garments; even though there was a man in their presence. Marcus showed no interest in Alena’s lack of modesty, or he was great at pretending. A human male would not have been so controlled.
“No,” something in Rowan resisted the knowledge. Both of them glanced at her with keen interest and noticed the denial in her eyes. They did not find her reaction childish and understood how bombarding her with facts that challenged the foundations of her life might unsettle anybody. She required a little breathing space, which was the one thing they dared not give her. Sunset drew near and soon they would have to move. Both of them suspected Rowan would take her own path.
“Rowan, you cannot prevent us from seeing for ourselves, but we do not want to fight you or pressure you, there is no point in this if we don’t make certain that we're wrong. Please,” hearing Alena speak to her with such a civil tone, as if they were equals, made Rowan feel less trapped. Alena’s reluctance to press her, made Rowan relax in increments. When she answered their message, she never would have predicted how this would turn out.
They realized she would not go down without a fight, but Rowan saw no point in resisting them. The possibility of such a mark on her person, burned into her thoughts like fire.
“There is no such birthmark; I promise you that,” Rowan insisted, but even she heard the slight uncertainty in her voice.
“Perhaps, but we have to be certain,” Marcus requested while looking into her eyes. Rowan recognized the unbending determination of a man fighting for his life, and his people.
For some reason, she needed them to accept she wasn’t lying and yet dread threaded its way through her insides. Rowan wouldn’t allow them to handle her, but somehow all of their futures balanced on something strange, unnatural and inexplicable.
“It would not be on your arms, legs or belly. Perhaps on your back or buttocks,” Marcus encouraged. Rowan felt exposed in a way she never had before. Despite her certainty, doubt invaded her thoughts, and her unease grew.
Rowan turned her back on them despite knowing that either of them had the strength to overpower and slay her with ease. She also recognized that they would not need to attack her from behind. She had neither the ability nor the skill to match either of them, and even she sensed their power. Rowan forced herself to calm down. They didn’t intend to kill her, not while they possibly needed her. She accepted that her fear wasn’t of them, but what lurked outside the sanctuary of this cave.
Rowan undressed with quiet efficiency; she wanted it over with and done. The mark wasn’t on her back, and she expected relief to flood through her, but it didn't happen. She half expected that it would appear on her body like some curse. Neither was it on her legs or the back of her thighs.