Marks of the Past - 7

Marks of the Past - 7

A Chapter by A.L.

Chapter 7


When the crowd began to boo, I wasn’t sure if they were booing me or whatever had attacked me. Honestly, I was beginning to think it was the latter. 

The thing had huge feet that pressed down on my chest, making it hard to breathe. Saliva dripped from its fangs as it bared its teeth. Its breath reeked of death, it smelled even worse than Liam and Lexi after they spent a day rolling around in the sewers. (My mom had not been happy about that incident, even when they claimed they’d found treasure.)

My battle instincts weren’t very good apparently, because my reaction to the beast standing on me was to punch it in the face. 

In terms of shock factor, I’d succeeded. In terms of damage… 

I used my few precious seconds to roll to my feet, removing one of the daggers from my belt. It felt light and useless in my hand compared to the huge mass of fur in front of me.

The lighting did the creature little justice. I was pretty sure it was some sort of overgrown tiger, but that didn’t really matter at this point. 

Once I was on my feet, I did the only thing I could think of - I ran. 

The spectators booed some more and I was tempted to scream back at them but held my tongue. 

The tiger lunged after me, paws ripping up the dirt as it plowed forward. Powerful muscles rippled down its back. 

A tiny part of me was tempted to rip the surrender flag out of my boot. 

I didn’t have time to finish my thought because I ran straight into someone else. We collapsed to the ground in a heap. 

As quickly as I could, I untangled myself from the other person. Their skin was slick with sweat - or maybe it was blood. I grabbed their hand and pulled them to their feet just as the tiger came barreling towards us. 

The figure’s fast reflexes saved us, and they yanked me back against the wall in time for the tiger to run straight into another wall. 

“Thanks,” I mumbled. 

“Don’t mention it,” the other figure replied curtly. I realized that it was a she - the dark haired girl I’d seen in the prison. Slung across her back was an empty sheath for what probably was a huge sword. 

Before I could ask if she wanted to team up for now, she was gone. 

I blinked once before taking off in the other direction. The tiger let out a whimper behind me but I forced myself to run. Who knew when it would recover, and I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of any of its pain. 

Unfortunately for me, the tiger had drawn all sorts of attention. 

And apparently, the Court didn’t care if you walked on the walls at all. 

Someone dropped to the ground in front of me, startling me into a fighting stance that wouldn’t do much against them. They were huge, their face silhouetted in the darkness of the night. 

“Lookee here,” the figure - who sounded masculine - snickered. “We caught ourselves that lover gal.” 

My first thought was that I could take him. Even through the dark, I could make out the knot of a bandana tied around his head. That had to be the surrender flag. If he was armed, there was a chance that I would get him out before he caught me.

That’s when I looked up and saw the various other shadows perched on the walls around me. One of them was even hanging from the light fixture. 

Somehow, they’d surrounded me.

“It’s okay,” cooed one of the skinnier figures, who leapt off of the wall with unmatchable grace. She stepped into the light, revealing a ratty looking woman with lines marking her arms. Were those … kills. “We’re not going to hurt you.” Her giggles told me otherwise.

“I wonder if that rich boy’d still love ‘er if we marked her up a bit,” called out one of the other people standing on the wall.

“Nah, with that mark on her face she’s ugly enough,” retorted another one with a laugh. 

I clenched my fists, one dagger still in hand. There was no way I could take all of them at once and win. I’d need a miracle…

Something brushed by my ear and I forced myself still as I realized Mark was standing right behind me. His voice was soft as he spoke. “If I take care of them for you, then you have to make it look realistic.” 

The offer was my best hope, so I gave a slight nod, but then a cautious head shake. Wait. 

“If you let me go, I promise not to hurt you” I warned, forcing my voice not to shake. It didn’t work very well. 

The first man snorted. “Hey guys, this precious doll thinks she can defend herself.”

“I could snap her like a twig with one hand!”

“I bet I could wipe that smug grin off her face with just one hit!”

The woman stepped closer to me. She had a haggard look to her, like she’d spent more of her life on a street than in an actual building. “You shoulda kept your mouth shut, little girl.” 

I grabbed my dagger with both hands, holding it out in front of me. “Do you recognize me?”

“‘Course,'' replied the first man. “I’d recognize that face o’ yours anywhere. It’s plastered on the front page o’ every paper right now. Criminal enters rich household - a few days later someone turns up sick and dying. Yeah, sweetie, ya’ got a big price on that li’l head o’ yours.” 

“I meant do you recognize my scar.”

The woman was the one to suck in a tiny breath. “That’s the scar of King Mark, ain’t it Martin.”

The man - Martin - took an unconscious step back and I smirked. 

“That’s right,” I spat. “I’m the descendant of King Mark - and if you want to live another minute I’d suggest you let me go.”

The whole group burst out in synchronous laughter. Somewhere, in the distance, a clock chimed nine times.

As she laughed, the woman stumbled towards me. She looked drunk too - though I wasn’t sure how. Maybe she’d had a generous sponsor.

These people have been in here for far longer than you, I reminded myself. 

They’d been in here for at least half a day - if not longer. With dehydration and hunger coming into play, I had the upper hand here. Not a big advantage, but enough for me to possibly manage an escape while taking down at least one opponent.

She was standing right in front of me now, and she reeked of some sort of sweetness - probably alcohol. 

“Let you go,” she mocked. “Please, please, miss. I didn’t do nothing. Where’s your rich little hero now? Huh?” The woman gave another laugh before shoving me. 

You have to play weak, I told myself. Make them underestimate you

I pretended to fall to the ground, faking a wound. The woman and her little group laughed some more. They all sounded drunk and I wondered if maybe one of the sponsors had given them a whole case of the strong stuff

Suddenly, the woman had a knife too. I wasn’t sure where it came from, but it appeared in her hand. The blade was clean, but she held it like she knew how to use it. The crowd was screaming - maybe encouragement at the lady or maybe encouragement at me. I wasn’t sure who they supported now.

The world shook, or maybe it was just me. 

No, it was definitely the whole arena. I leapt to my feet, bracing for the worst. The woman looked up from her prey and her face paled. 

The crowd wasn’t screaming encouragement. They were screaming warnings. 

During the midst of my “talk” with the group, somehow parts of the stadium had begun flooding. 

Now that I listened, I could hear the rushing of water fastly approaching. 

“Run! Run! Run!” I could make out the cries clearly now, but I wasn’t sure which direction to go. Was this some part of the Redemption? 

I decided the best course of action would first be to get to higher ground. 

The walls provided plenty of handholds for me and it took me less than ten seconds to find myself on top of the wall. 

Water poured in from all sides of the stadium. It rushed down the aisles of the spectator section, flooding into the maze and through the corridors. In my frantic search for an escape, I happened to catch James’s eye through the wall of chain link that separated us. 

The fear etched on his features told me this wasn’t planned. 

Higher and higher the water rose, now touching my feet. The weird group who’d attacked me was all on the wall now too, slowly advancing toward me. 

Luckily, the wall was only about two feet thick which didn’t give much room for footing. Not to mention, the stones were slippery now as the water became to rise even higher than the walls. 

The majority of the crowd appeared to have evacuated, but that left the criminals to fend for themselves.

A loud crack ripped through the air and a section of the wall tumbled into the water. Not long after, a loud scream echoed through the air before falling silent. 

The water was up to my hips now, and rising fast. It was pouring in from the highest seats in the stadium, which didn’t make sense because the stadium was elevated in the middle of a lake. We’d have to be … 

Sinking. Someone was sinking the stadium into the lake - most likely with magic. 

I looked up just in time to spot a large chunk of the mesh dome collapse, plummeting towards me. In a few minutes, the entire stadium would be filled with water as the structure sank to the bottom of the lake. How deep even was this thing? 

I dove out of the way as the dome crashed into the group of criminals who’d attacked me. It took out a few of them, dragging them beneath the dark water.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the woman looking fearful. She pointed at me, who was balancing precariously on the wall, and yelled something about it being my fault. I shouldn’t have told them about the King Mark thing. 

Fear must’ve fueled the woman at this point because she threw her knife directly at me. 

If she hadn’t been drunk, it probably would’ve hit me right in the chest. Instead, the knife struck me right in the rib cage. 

Searing pain shot through me like lightning and I tumbled backwards into the water. It was freezing and blacker than night. I struggled futilely to the surface, breaking it for only a second to catch a breath. 

Time slowed down. 

The rest of the dome caved in from the water and the lake poured in over top of us, sending me spiraling back into the depths. 

With a knife still buried in my side, I kicked my feet helplessly to try to get to the surface. The closer I got, the more my lungs screamed for air, my side for mercy, my legs for rest. But I couldn’t give up. 

Something grabbed my hair, yanking me upwards and out of the water. 

I sucked in a grateful breath, hacking up the water in my lungs. My clothing was soaked and I was freezing, with blood dripping down my side. 

But I was alive. 

The world bobbed beneath me, letting me come to the conclusion that I was in a boat of some sort. Blurry figures stood over me like angels and I let my breathing steady. 

“Thanks,” I mumbled to whoever had saved me. 

Then I passed out.

I could feel the soft bob of waves under me. But when I sat up, I wasn’t in a boat. Instead, a rocky beach lay under my feet. Waves lapped at the shore and the air smelled of salt and rain. 

Beside me was Mark, but he was solid. 

Normally he would appear floating slightly off the ground, and he had a shimmer to him (since he was a ghost). Now, he appeared whole and actually human. 

I took an unconscious step back, nearly tripping. 

Mark just gave me a look, one of either amusement or disappointment. Then he turned tail and strode off into the distance. 

Excuse me! I wanted to yell, but I restrained myself. Mark probably wanted me to follow him, and I couldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing that he’d got to me. Still, the way he turned and waited for me told me that I needed to follow him.

“Where are we?” I asked as I caught up to him. “Am I dead?”

He didn’t answer at first, eyes focused on a point beyond the ocean as he slowed to a stop. Beneath him, a rock erupted from the ground and formed a bench-like boulder. 

We both took a seat, though I was pretty sure I was going to fall through the rock. 

This couldn’t be real

“We’re in the Sea of Thoughts,” answered Mark as he finally turned to face me. “You’re not dead.”

I snorted. “Did it take you a century to come up with that line?”

Mark glared at me. “The one time I try to take you seriously and you decide to mess around. It seems James wasn’t a good influence after all.”

The way he said the comment made me think that Mark had witnessed the entire thing with James before the Redemption. A furious blush rose to my cheeks and I looked away. “Fine. What’s so important?” 

Mark gave a sigh. “Do you know what the word jenya comes from?” 

I didn’t see how this pertained to whatever he wanted to talk about, and I also knew little to nothing about the ancient language. “Doesn’t it mean sweet, like a term of endearment?” 

“Close, but not quite. Jenya is actually derived from the word jenyayi, which is a word used to describe someone with magic - but in a good way.”

It took me a moment to connect the dots. Mark had been calling me jenya not as an affectionate term, but calling me what he thought I actually was. 

“I’m not magical,” I argued. 

Mark raised an eyebrow, his gaze tracing down the scar on the side of his face. “Are you sure about that?” 

“100%” I retorted, though I didn’t sound sure even to myself. “I’ve never been trained in elements and I don’t have any of the other kinds - unless you know something I don’t.” And I was sure he did. 

“That’s for you to find out.” He gave a small shrug, and then continued staring off into the distance. 

I decided not to press. If Mark wanted me to know, he would’ve told me and talking to him was like talking to a brick wall. 

“So, uh, if I’m not dead, what am I?” Sure, the curiosity was bugging me but I also just didn’t want to sit in awkward silence. Mark may not have been the best conversational partner, but I was bored and I didn’t want to sit here until I woke up. 

“Just conked out. Your body is still on the boat with the rescuers.”

“Rescuers? Someone rescued me?”

Mark nodded. “A boy and a girl are on the boat right now with you, but they’re arguing. I don’t think they meant to save you.”

My heart sank at that, but at least I was alive. 

Then a thought occurred to me. “Wait, so you can see the real world right now? You can see what’s happening?” A nod. “Can you … Can you check on James for me?”

Mark gave me a disgusted look, his dark eyes flashing with anger. “Of all people, he’s the last one I would’ve expected you to ask about.”

“He has my family,” I pointed out. “Also, I don’t think he meant what he said.”

I was given an eye roll in return, but Mark sighed and stood. “Fine. Any other errands you want me to run?”

I rolled my eyes in response, and Mark flashed out of sight. 

The beach was strangely quiet but also super calming. I’d never been to one before, though our city bordered the ocean. Across the water was Miryir - a super religious kingdom best known for its criminal system and odd deities. Mom had never let me wander down by the beach because traders from Miryir searched Oaysian shores for prey. 

Mark’s words about me being magical came back to me as the waves of the ocean rolled calmly over the sand. 

I definitely didn’t have elemental magic because I’d never been trained for it. 

Physical magic was pretty common but except for my knife skills - which I suspected had to do with Mark - I was unremarkable. 

Mental magic involved fears and memories, and I’d never really shown signs of that. 

Which left the Hidden Arts, but then again, I’d never shown any signs of magic at all. With the sole exception of Mark’s mark, I was a completely normal person. 

I wanted to believe that Mark was lying about the magic, that he was trying to scare me. But he’d been right about James having an ulterior motive and about James’s plan to use me for research. Chances were, he was right about this too. 

Maybe Mark had some sort of magic and he thought it manifested in you, I thought, making a mental note to ask him when he returned. 

Mark flashed back into existence a few minutes later, retaking his seat on the rock. 

“So?” I asked, possibly sounding a bit impatient. The truth was, I was terrified that James had perished in the stadium. I told myself it was because he was my last chance at seeing Lexi, Liam, and my mom again. The selfish part of me knew I wanted more than that. 

“He’s alive,” reported Mark in a dull tone. “So are your siblings and mother. The boat you’re on is floating down a river towards the forest. Our time is limited.” 

Was it just my imagination or did he sound almost … sad? 

“Thanks … I was, uh, thinking about what you said.” 

Mark perked up at that, turning towards me with a bit of excitement etched onto his features. 

“I was wondering about the ‘magic’ you said I had, and I wanted to ask if you had any magic.” I knew this was a long shot. Mark never opened up about his past mostly because I’d ignored him until my arrest. 

Mark thought for a while. He opened his mouth to say something several times, but his voice seemed to fail him. Finally he managed, “it depends on what you define as magic.”

He seemed so … frail? That wasn’t the right word but I couldn’t describe how he looked. Maybe troubled was a better term, but it still didn’t match. It was like Mark had been stripped of all of his confidence and publicly humiliated. 

A question wormed its way into my mind and I tried to push it away, but his silence forced me to speak. “Did you actually kill all of the people they say you did?”

Mark looked at me again, and this time he shivered when he met my eyes. “Would the answer change anything? If I said yes, would you somehow manage to look at me with more hatred? If I said no, would you pity me?”

I didn’t know how to answer that, so I just didn’t. 

He sighed. “I don’t expect you to understand, Leila. Times were very different a century ago.”

“So you did kill them.” 

“Not on purpose, and I regret it every single day, but I’ve accepted this as my punishment.”

“That’s not an answer.” 

Mark gave me a sharp look before turning away. “I was greedy once. My parents were told that I was one of the most powerful magicians in the entire land. I heard it, and I thought I deserved it all - the kingdom, immortality. But to sustain myself meant the end of others. I wasn’t meant to live past my teens, but I did. The man who gave me this scar was the man who finally killed me. Then he cursed me, forcing me never to find my way to the After.”

His voice cracked at the end, and I forced myself to remember that he wasn’t that much older than I was. Sure, he’d lived a century ago. But Mark hadn’t even been twenty when he’d died.

I almost felt bad for him. Almost

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I shouldn’t have pried.”

“It’s not your fault,” Mark replied curtly. “We’re both cursed now. I’m stuck in this in-between life. And you … you’re just like me.”

I hated how these conversations always ended up back at me. I hated how he related himself to me, like I was some kind of monster.

I’m not cursed, I told myself. He’s just making that up to feel better and to try to make you feel sorry for him. Even I didn’t believe that. I thought about how the mark on my face had been the reason for my scorn, the reason I wasn’t accepted. 

“The mark isn’t what I mean,” Mark said softly and I realized I’d been tracing the scar with my finger. “We’re both too powerful.”

“What do you mean?” I couldn’t stop the fear from leaking into my voice. 

Mark met my eyes again, and he didn’t seem angry at all. Just calm and understanding. “Leila, you’re just like me in that you weren’t supposed to make it this far. Your magic is too great - even if you don’t acknowledge it. That sickness that’s spreading around your city - it isn’t pox. It’s you.”

It felt like I couldn’t breathe because the pieces clicked into place.

I’d been healed by James’s mom right before she died. She’d used her power, and somehow I’d taken the rest and killed her. I thought about Hazel and her sudden collapse after she’d touched me. 

And Anton… 

My lungs felt like they were sucking in stones. James had been right - I’d killed both of his parents - and I’d kill countless more.

“Someone has to kill me,” I whispered, turning to Mark. My voice was breathless and I felt dizzy. “Someone has to kill me and then I won’t hurt anyone else. Help me wake up and throw myself over the side of the boat.”

Mark gave me another terrified look, grabbing my hands as they trembled. “No. You don’t need to die, but you need to break your curse.”

I nodded frantically. 

“Find the Cursebreaker, Leila. He’s in Miryir somewhere. When he breaks your curse, he will also break mine. My power - which is what you have - will leave you. Then you can head back to James and save your family.”

I nodded again, trying to remember everything. I didn’t have to be the cause of all of this.

“Thank you so much.”

Mark gave a small shrug, his eyes welling with tears. “Just promise me you won’t make the same mistake as I did.”

The island dissolved from under me, suddenly dumping me back in reality. 

Only this time, I had a plan.

© 2021 A.L.

Author's Note

Sorry this chapter took a little longer (it was longer than I thought it was). Super important info in the second half of this chapter, but (no spoilers!!) still way more to come. Hope you enjoy!

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Added on March 13, 2021
Last Updated on March 13, 2021
Tags: adventure, fantasy, blessed, cursed, fiction, mythology, death, love, friendship, kingdom, prince, princess, queen, king, youngadult, ya, goddess, sword



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