The tingle of my skin was the only indication that Oryn had cast an illusion over us. I didn’t have time to see what he had done before the sound of a carriage and guards filled the air, causing my stomach to churn.
“Three guards, one Captain. The girl is in chains. She has a hood over her head.” Kova began to list off facts as the horse’s footsteps grew louder. “She’s very small.”
My heart pounded as Kova listed the facts. They were taking children? I gripped the dagger in my hand tighter, Oryn’s hand resting on my shoulder as if to calm the raging inferno that brewed within.
“Once they get inside, I’m going to move around to the side of the building,” Kova said.
“How are you going to get in?” Oryn asked.
“There’s a window that is closer to the ground that I know I can reach. When I get inside, I’ll...”
Silence filled my head as Kova’s voice cut off. Oryn’s hand tightened on my shoulder, the only indication that he too worried something was wrong.
I looked out through the crack, praying that Kova was okay, and tried to focus on the sound of the footsteps as they approached the front door. The doors slammed open, dust flying into a frenzy that nearly made me cough and sneeze.
The girl that Kova had called small was a force to be reckoned with. She was held between two large guards, bucking and thrashing with the force of a gale wind. She was a storm that the guards could barely contain as they dragged her into the foyer, a burlap sack shoved over her head.
They tossed her into the center of the room and immediately drew their swords, pointing them at the girl. She reached up and yanked the sack from her head, revealing a mess of brown curls that cascaded down her back. I saw a glimpse of freckles and green eyes.
The girl looked nothing like me.
“What the hell?” Oryn breathed, his body tensing behind me.
The girl stood, the guards pressing in closer with their swords causing her to hesitate.
“Don’t think for one second we wouldn’t drive these through you.” One of the guards said.
“You’re important to the King, but we can’t help it if you manage to kill yourself.” A voice said from outside the building. Heavy footsteps thudded through the foyer, and I watched as Captain Ralph Oliver Marion stepped through the door.
My blood chilled at the sight of him, every bone in my body locking up as he strutted in.
That wet sound filled the air of my ears, the thud of my mother’s body.
Meira, Meira, Meira... he had said right before he killed her, right before he killed my mother. Not much had changed in the man, besides the pepper quality of his hair. He still wore the overly expensive clothing as he had the night he barged into our apartment. But it was the sword that he pulled from its sheath that had snapped me to the present.
It was still the same.
I lurched, my dagger ready to strike and kill, my power even more ready. Both of Oryn’s hands clamped over my shoulders, pulling me flush against his chest. He lowered his mouth to my ear, his breath tickling as he said,
“Pull it together. Remind yourself why you’re here.” I strained against his touch, longing to feel Marion’s blood between my fingers. “We are here to find Carena.”
Carena. That’s why I was here. I took a deep breath, my heart thumping in my throat as I slowly let it out.
I promised Marion in my heart that there would come a day I would repay him for everything he had done to my family, to my mother. He would regret the day he stepped foot in my home.
A smug smile rested on the Captain’s lips as he looked at the girl. She fell back a step, realizing that she was cornered. She couldn’t fight the odds that were stacked against her. It was three against one, and it seemed that she knew just as little about the guards as they did about her.
I would have liked to see the Captain’s smug smile ripped from his face.
“Why am I here?” The girl asked, her voice much deeper than I had been anticipating from someone so small. If I had to guess, she had to be around eighteen.
“You’re needed by the King.” The Captain replied as he raised a handkerchief to his head, dabbing the sweat from his forehead. It was hot in the building, but it seemed the Captain had been struggling with her just as much as the guards had been.
The girl smirked as she watched, causing the Captain’s cheeks to grow redder with frustration.
“And why would the King want me? Who am I to him?” She raised her chin, her eyes never leaving the Captains.
“I’m not the King, am I?” He said. The girl fell quiet, looking from one guard to the next, then to the Captain. It seemed to me she was calculating her odds of survival if she were to attack.
“Aurelia,” Oryn said into my ear, his voice barely a whisper. “I can’t access my abilities.”
I turn my head, making out the panic in his face as he stared at the small sliver of the closet door.
I felt towards that well of power inside of me, to find it cut off. It was as if something had placed a stopper on the magic that was around us.
I looked back towards the girl, wondering what sort of power she possessed.
“Wait for my signal. We make a move when the time is right.” Oryn said into my ear again. For once, I didn’t disagree with him. Without my power, I was useless in any fight.
“The King wants me?” The girl asked, seeming to have decided against attacking her captors.
“We wouldn’t be here if he didn’t,” Marion replied, his tone bored.
“How does he know who I am?” She asked. The Captain sighed as he paced in front of the door.
“How am I to know? Quit asking questions.” The girl crossed her arms over her chest.
“Who are we waiting for?” She asked. One of the guards stepped forward, pushing the sword closer to her neck. She didn’t back up but only leveled him with a stare that could have leveled an army.
“If you’re going to be man enough to kill a woman, then do it already.” She seethed. A flash of alarm crossed the man’s gaze as he glanced to the Captain and then back at her. She smiled, her nose scrunching as she did so. “That’s what I thought.”
With no warning, Captain Ralph crossed the room and slapped her across the face. The sound echoed through the building as the girl fell to the floor. She didn’t so much as a gasp from the impact, but the way she reached up to her cheek, wiping the corner of her bloodied mouth, revealed how much it had hurt.
“Do you hold your wife with that hand Captain?” She seethed, looking up at him with a vicious smile.
My respect level for the girl grew immensely, and I knew that if I had met her outside of our circumstances, I would want her on my side. The Captain chuckled, shaking his head.
“You just don’t know when to give up do you?” The girl only shrugged as she waited.
As we all waited.
There was a whoosh of air and the sound of feet stepping into the room. The door blocked our view from whoever had arrived, but it didn’t block the Captain’s reaction. Marion spun, a grin on his face that quickly fell to one of complete shock and partial horror.
The Captain’s back stiffened as he saw who the other person was. He stepped to the side, his face the shade of a cloud as another man came into view.
As King Fero enter came into view.
Oryn’s hands slipped around me, pulling me against him and further into the closet in one graceful movement. His one wrapped around my middle while the other came up to clasp over my mouth, muffling the frantic breaths that threatened to give us away.
I thrust my dagger forward, the only thing standing between me and the murder of my kind.
That and a flimsy wooden door that was seconds away from falling off its hinges.
This had been a huge mistake.
“I see you found the girl.” The King said to Marion, who was still recovering from his discovery of the King. The King’s voice grated against my skin, my ears. I only caught glimpses of his form from the crack. Tall, imperious, and a deadly gaze.
“Your Majesty, I was not expecting your arrival.” The Captain dropped to his knee, finally coming to his senses, crossing his right hand over his chest, resting it on his left shoulder. The two guards did the same, forgetting about the girl they were supposed to be watching. It didn’t matter because the girl was frozen as well, her eyes wide as she took in the sight of the King, the fight that had been in her now evaporated into thin air.
She looked small as the King loomed over her, the Iron Crown smiling down at her tiny frame.
“Do you know, little girl, why you are here? Did these thick-headed imbeciles bother to explain to you why I require you?” The girl looked from the King to those around her, taking the smallest step back from him.
“There’s no need to run from me.” The King said in what I think was supposed to be a soothing tone. It came out grating and condescending instead. “I’m not the one you should be running from.” He only watched as the girl hesitated, fighting within herself on what her next move should be. My palms sweated as I waited for something to happen.
“I...they didn’t.” She squeaked out.
“Marcela. That is your name, correct?” The King said. The girl, Marcela, only nodded. “It’s an interesting name, and from the looks of it, one that is very fitting. Let me guess. You were born in the Aelfrund mountains, but you have no clue who your parents are. They left you on the steps of the Holy Church who in turn gave you over to the nearest orphanage. There you grew up as an outcast of sorts, having to defend yourself more than the others. Everyone looked down on you because you were different, but you didn’t know why.”
Marcela only stood motionless, her eyes wide as she watched the King. Her shoulders tensed as she looked at the King.
“I...I’m not sure what you’re...”
“Am I correct?” The King gritted out, his patience beginning to wear a bit thin. The slightest nod from Marcela encouraged King Fero to continue. “Has anyone ever told you that they felt ill around you? That when you walked into a room it felt as if the very air had turned sour?” Marcela’s eyes widened, the King smiling with smug satisfaction.
“Some of the kids used to throw up...” She whispered, her words seeming to betray her. The King took a few steps closer to her, standing only a foot away. She looked up at him, his cutting figure towering over hers. He reached out with a finger, gently caressing her cheek. I forced my body to remain still, even though I wanted to leap out and cut his finger off.
“You’re very special, Marcela. I’ve been searching for someone like you for a very long time.” He said, gripping her chin in his hand. Her eyes turned to steel, the glint of that fight returning to her gaze.
“Why. Why me? I’m not Marked, I’m not a Lower Race. I’ve heard the rumors.” She gritted out through clenched teeth. “I know who you are seeking.’ The King only chuckled as he said.
“It seems I have to get a few ducks in line.” He let go of her, causing Marcela to take a step back reaching up to grab her face where the King had touched. “Not all Marked have visible markings. You are just very clever at hiding them, and I’m just very good at seeing them. And in regards to who I seek, well. She’ll come crawling very soon I suspect.”
My heart stopped at the words, Oryn’s breath whooshing out of him as we both realized the depth of his words.
So it was true then. The King was searching for me.
A strange part of me wanted to laugh at the irony of the situation. If only he knew how close I was to him, how close his prize was.
Marcela looked down at the floor, the only sign of defeat that she showed.
“What then. What are you going to do to me?” She asked. The King continued to watch her, his expression masked and void of any emotion.
“Yes, you will have many uses.” He muttered, “Take her.”
A boy that I had not noticed before stepped into view and grabbed Marcela’s arm. Before Marcela could protest, he dropped a chain around her neck. I watched her face contort in pain, a look of utter panic filling her eyes, her mouth opening to unleash an other-worldly scream.
And then they disappeared.
Marcela was gone.
There was no reaction from The Captain or the guards as they looked from the space where Marcela had been, back to the King.
“Your Majesty, I...” Captain Ralph spoke up.
“For once, in your small, mediocre life, can you shut up.” The King replied as he turned his focus to them. Ralph stood straight, facing the King head-on. He had the decency to look nervous as the King prowled towards him, a brilliant red cape trailing behind him. The other guards tried to do the same thing, but the shaking of their hands made them look like scared children. “Have you found the girl?”
“No, Your Majesty. But we have her sister.” Ralph says with a smug smile. “Beauty of a girl, but I fear she won’t hold up much longer.” The King’s eyes halted Ralph’s smile.
“You take care of the sister. Not one hair is to be harmed do you understand?” The King seethed, “You told me that I would have the girl today.”
“I know, your highness, but she was not at the ball like we had planned. I thought Marcela would be a nice replacement for now.” Oryn and I hardly breathed as we tried to drink up every word they said about myself and Carena. “The girl will be coming after her beloved sister any day now.”
“Explain this to me, Ralph.” The King continued, acting as if Ralph hadn’t been talking. “How would an orphan girl know about the search for the Marked? About the search for Aurelia.” Oryn’s hands tightened on me at the mention of my name. I closed my eyes, tears of panic threatening to spill down. The way the King said my name made me sound like I was some prize of his to be achieved.
“The guards have been using some of the Lower Races to weed out the Marked you have been asking for. It’s proven to be very...” Captain Ralph doubled over, a loud thump filling the air. The King struck again, letting his elbow come down on the back of the Captain’s head. When the Captain thudded to the floor, I watched as the King kicked him, sending Ralph onto his back. The King lifted a heavy boot, setting it on Ralph’s neck, causing the great Captain to spasm in panic, his eyes bulging from his head as he tried to push the King’s boot off his throat.
“Do you know what happens when one of my own goes against my orders?” The King said in a calm whisper as if he wasn’t in the process of squeezing the life from a man. The Captain spluttered. “I feed them to my dogs. I think you would make a very tasty treat for them. I hear they like pampered pieces of shit.”
The King removed his foot, allowing the Captain to gasp for breath.
“Atlas, I’m ready.” The King said, walking away from Marion without even a glance. The boy stepped up again, resting a hand on the King’s shoulder. As he did so, the boy’s sleeve dropped, revealing the thick lines of his marks. I swallowed a gasp as the King and Atlas disappeared.