Marks of the Past - 8

Marks of the Past - 8

A Chapter by A.L.

Chapter 8


I don’t know who was more scared when I first opened my eyes - me, or the boy standing over me. Needless to say, there was a whole lot of screaming. 

“Good ghosts below,” the first person breathed when I was finally in a sitting position. 

There were two people on this tiny dinghy, both looking about my age. One was a boy with bright green eyes, the other was a girl with vivid red hair and a pretty face. They didn’t look related or like they were even very good friends for that matter. 

“Sorry,” I mumbled. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

The girl frowned. “You’re fine. Nik is just a big scaredy-cat.” There was no humor in her voice, though, and I was pretty sure she didn’t want to be here. 

“Am not,” protested Nik. He was smiling, at least, which was an improvement. Still, my presence felt tolerated and not actually welcomed. “Chelsea is just jealous that I scream higher than she does.”

A joke. That felt promising. Kind of. 

The dinghy was still floating gently down a stream and into the forest. There was no sign of the stadium or the city at all, and it had to be at least midnight by now. My clothing was soaked and I was freezing, but dared not say anything out of fear of my rescuers deciding I was too high-maintenance to take care of. 

“So,” I decided to ask. “Where are we going?”

“Back to-” Nik began, but Chelsea cut him off, giving me a sweet smile. 

“Sorry,” she said. “But we don’t know if we can trust you yet.” 

I wanted to point out that they hadn’t pushed me off the boat yet, but that might give Chelsea ideas and I didn’t think I was strong enough to swim. 

“I understand.” The boat fell quiet again. 

Nik and Chelsea seemed to have a silent conversation, probably about me. I couldn’t tell if they were deciding to keep more or kick me, but I hoped it was the first option. 

After a long while of silence, Nik asked, “Is it alright if we blindfold you?”

I thought it was a bit overkill, but I nodded anyway. “It’s fine, I suppose. As long as you take it off eventually.”

That earned a snicker from Nik and a growl from Chelsea. The girl grabbed a piece of cloth out of her bulging satchel. She moved closer to me, her fingers gentle as they wrapped the fabric around my face. 

Darkness poured over me and I held my breath. What Mark had said about my “curse” was still in the front of my mind. Did my curse have something to do with touch? 

I clasped my hands in front me, just in case.

Chelsea had touched me, and that meant it was possible I would spread that illness to her. I was pretty sure it transferred by touch.

You just have to find the Cursebreaker, I reminded myself. The Cursebreaker would take whatever power from Mark that was in me, and then I wouldn’t have to worry about killing anyone I touched. Just find the Cursebreaker

I waited in silence until the boat came to a stop. 

“Here,” Nik said, and I knew he was going to take off the blindfold so I ripped it off before he could touch me. No use in risking someone else.

The boat had come to rest in a small lake next to an even smaller log cabin. 

Chelsea and Nik stood, stepping out of the boat with utmost grace. I, on the other hand, had just been knocked out for a few hours and wasn’t graceful to begin with. 

I stumbled out of the boat, Nik reaching out his arms to catch me. I narrowly avoided touching him, tucking my arms to my chest and trying to take up the least amount of space as possible. 

The cabin was actually quite roomy on the inside. The door opened to a large center room with several doors leading off of it. Because the cabin was so small on the outside, I assumed that behind the doors were staircases leading down into some sort of basement. The main room consisted of a small kitchenette and a little table, both coated in dust. A large rug was spread across the very center of the room with couches surrounding it. 

Perched on the windowsill was a bronze-skinned boy with shaggy dark hair. He hopped up when he caught sight of Nik, Chelsea, and I. 

His expression of shock morphed into one of fear when he saw me. 

Honestly, I was getting used to that disappointment that everyone gave me. It was becoming second nature. 

“Who is she?” asked the boy. “And where is Becky?”

“Becky,” Nik answered, “is gone. And this is the girl we rescued instead.” He gave an unhappy hmph

“I’m Leila,” I interrupted, giving the three of them a pointed look. “You don’t have to talk about me like I’m not here, y’know.” I was hoping that they would stop giving me weird looks, but it only made everything work. 

The other boy blinked once before breaking into a grin. “That’s where I recognize you from!” I froze. “You’re that girl who is a descendant of King Mark!” I breathed out again. 

“What does that have to do with anything?” Chelsea asked, sounding disgusted.

“It has to do with everything,” retorted the boy. “Chelsea, this is what we’ve been waiting for. Someone to get the attention of the Cursebreaker!”

A wave of nausea rolled through me. They wanted to find the Cursebreaker too. Could luck really be that much on my side? It seemed unlikely that my luck was that good. 

No one noticed my sudden paleness. 

“Jonah, can we talk please?” Nik snapped through gritted teeth. 

The other boy, Jonah, gave a sigh before nodding. “Fine. If you want Rave here, you can wake her up, because she’s sleeping downstairs.” 

“We’ll be fine,” Nik said. “Leila, the bathroom is the furthest door to the left. You can steal whatever clothing you can find, and shower if you’d like.”

I took it as a demand rather than an invitation. 

Jonah sent me a pitying look as I shut the bathroom door and clicked the lock. I did feel disgusting so I showered quickly, but I left the water running as I stepped out. It was that that I didn’t want to hear what the others were saying, but I had no interest in them coming in here to talk to me. 

So many thoughts were racing through my head and I was struggling to hold onto them all. James had Lexi, Liam, and my mom - holding them hostage so he could research on me and my part in his mother’s death. Somehow, I’d been rescued by these crazy teens - all of which seemed to be my age - who wanted to go to the Cursebreaker for some unknown reason. And by some coincidence, the Cursebreaker was where I needed to go so my curse would be broken and Mark would leave me and I’d be able to touch people without killing them and… 

“Just shut up,” I heard myself say. 

Maybe I had every right to be scared. Maybe there was a lot on my plate. But I couldn’t freak out, not until after this was all over. 

I could almost picture Mark telling me not to bottle up my emotions. 

There was a closet in the back of the bathroom, nearly empty. I grabbed a shirt and a pair of pants off the shelves, hoping my boots and coat were dry enough for me to wear. 

As much as I wanted to run, these people were a free ticket to the Cursebreaker. Who knew, maybe I would be able to help them too. The thought felt almost liberating because it was my decision for once. 

When I finally joined the group in the common area again, another girl had joined them. 

Nik and Chelsea were sitting on opposite ends of the room, an icy silence between them when Chelsea caught sight of me. Jonah and the new girl were sitting together on the third couch. 

“Leila, this is Rave,” Jonah introduced as I took a seat on the carpet. “Rave, Leila.” 

The girl looked a lot like Jonah with the same shade of skin, though her eyes were brighter and her hair was silkier. Her fingers were wrapped around a tiny wooden bow that looked as though she’d carved it straight from a tree, leaves and vines still curved around it. 

“That’s a cool bow,” I commented softly, hoping to loosen the atmosphere. 

Rave gave a small smile but said nothing. 

Jonah answered for her. “She grew it herself. Rave is an Earth magician - she spent several years alone in the mountains.” 

That made sense, and I was pretty sure Rave didn’t hate me so we were off to a good start. Nik and Chelsea on the other hand… 

“Too bad Jonah refuses to wipe your memory,” Chelsea mumbled. “We could send you back to where you came from.”

The words were harsh, but I could sense sorrow behind them. 

I decided to focus one what she’d said about Jonah wiping my memories. That had to mean he was some sort of magician, probably one that specialized in mental magic. 

“She can be a replacement for-” Jonah began, but apparently he chose the wrong words. 

“She will never replace Becky,” snarled Chelsea, her face almost as red as her hair. “I don’t care where she came from or what people are saying about her, she isn’t Becky.” 

And with that, Chelsea stormed off.

I stared at my feet, suddenly wishing I hadn’t been rescued. Was the Cursebreaker really worth breaking apart these friends with my presence? It felt wrong and I was beginning to stand when Jonah was suddenly at my side.

I scrambled backwards, afraid he’d touched me. His hands lingered by his sides and I gave a breath of relief. 

“Look, I don’t think we gave you a proper greeting,” Jonah began, feigning confidence. 

“It’s fine,” I whispered. “I was just about to get going, actually. You guys don’t want me here and I don’t want to ruin anything.”

“Chelsea is just upset,” Nik assured me. “She lost both of her cousins in less than a year.” 

“But she’s an amazing alchemist,” Jonah continued, sitting across from me. “Best tasting potions that I have ever drank, by the way. Her past haunts her ever waking moment, as do her bloodthirsty hopes of revenge-”

“What is this, some sort of advertisement?” I giggled. It felt good to laugh. 

Jonah smiled again. “Precisely. We are the Shadows, at your service. The best bank-robbers, adventurous explorers, and charming killers ever.”

I couldn’t help but smile. Even Nik was grinning. 

“Anyway, the lovely lady in the back is the mysterious Rave, though you’ll never see her. A spy in the making, she’s an expert on strangling you with a potted plant - and for a small fee!” 

Rave rolled her eyes, but I knew she was enjoying the attention. 

“I’m Jonah, your darling host,” he continued. “The best mentalic in the history of the Oaysian Republic. And,” he wiggled his eyebrows, “the man all the ladies come to see.” Mentalic had to be a term for a magician who specialized in mental magic then. 

“Oh please,” Nik grumbled. “The only lady who came to see you was your grandmother.” 

“And even she told me I was a heart-breaker!”
“Because you killed the first boy to flirt with Rave. She wasn’t talking about your social skills.”

The fight continued for a few minutes before Nik finally gave in (probably because he was tired of hearing Jonah describe how wonderful he was in a million different ways). I definitely welcomed the silence. 

“Then there’s Nik,” Jonah mumbled, obviously ‘hurt’. “He’s the meanest teddy bear ever - he either wants you dead or needs a hug. Nik also fights with a girly weapon, for the record. Knives are very feminine, though now that I think about it, they suit you, Nik-” He didn’t get to finish because Nik tackled him to the floor. 

The two exchanged a few punches before Nik reluctantly let Jonah back to his feet. All the humor was gone from Jonah’s face, however, when he turned to face Nik. 

They seemed to have a silent discussion. “Should we…” 

Nik turned to me, cutting Jonah off. His face was one filled with pain and anguish. “Leila, how would you like to meet the final member of our team?” 

I thought they were going to lead me to a gravestone, but what they showed me was so much worse. 

Apparently, there were gravestones too. No one went into details. 

Jonah, Nik, and Rave led me to the middle staircase. We descended the steps quickly, and the further down we went the more the smell of earth and dirt increased. The air almost seemed thick and humid. 

“Are you sure this is a good time?” Jonah asked, sounding worried. “Leila just got here, and it’s been a long night…” 

“She has to see him,” replied Nik without hesitation. 

“Do I get a choice in this?” I asked, because honestly I wasn’t sure that I wanted to see the mysterious last member. Why were they hidden away? I didn’t want to find out. 

No one answered me and we finally reached the end of the stairs. Darkness seemed almost solid as Nik and Jonah stopped. The two shared a silent battle, Rave and I watching in confusion. 

“He’s right in here,” Nik said quickly, moving out of the way so I could step into the little basement area. 

I nodded, more to assure myself that it would be fine even though I was sure it wouldn’t. Then I stepped into the cold, dark room. 

Moss grew on every square inch of the ceiling and it glowed with a soft, green light. At the back of the room, hidden in the shadows was a small bed, a limp body draped across it. Rave snapped her fingers behind me and the glow of the moss brightened, illuminating the face of the figure. 

I sucked in a gasp, nearly tripping over backwards. 

Nik was suddenly at my side and I slipped away before he could steady me. My mind was racing but I couldn’t let them see. 

The boy on the bed was extremely pale, freckles dotting his nose. His eyes were closed, his chest rising and falling in shallow breaths. A coma, perhaps?

“He’s been like this for sixth months,” Nik said softly. 

Sixth months. The exact amount of time that it had been since he’d asked if I wanted to hold his hand to ease my anxiety about being healed. The same amount of time that it had been since James’s mom died. He was the boy from the healer’s. 

And he was dying because of me. 

“His name is Kyle,” Jonah whispered in his typical introduction, though there was a somber mood to it. “Master of the Hidden Arts even if he never used them, ultimate booknerd, and the only person who could make Rave smile.”

I choked back a sob as Rave shook her tiny fists in silence. She looked like she was on the verge of tears. 

“How did this happen?” I asked, even though I already knew. Maybe they had some theory… 

“Kyle contracted the pox about six months ago,” Nik explained in a low tone. “He returned from the healer and the next day he was sick again, then he passed out a week later. Hasn’t woken up since.” 

So no theories then. 

“He’s the reason we’re looking for the Cursebreaker,” Jonah said. “We thought maybe we could break Kyle’s curse.”

You won’t be able to, I thought bitterly. It was a miracle Kyle had survived this long, and I couldn’t guarantee that his luck would last much longer. But I kept these thoughts to myself. These people were my only hope of getting to the Cursebreaker without being caught by the patrols. 

“I’m so sorry” I mumbled, unsure of what else to say. 

Nik reached out like he was going to reach an arm around me but I shied away. I’d caused enough damage here. 

“I think that’s enough for now,” whispered Nik. He gestured back towards the stairs and I couldn’t be happy enough to leave. Rave stayed behind, kneeling beside the bed as she sniffed into the blankets. All my fault

“See, you can help us,” Jonah said when we’d reached the main room again. “Leila, you’re the descendant of King Mark, which pretty much designates you as a super powerful magician. Becky was trying to recruit one when she got caught, but now we have you. Please, you have to help.”
“I will,” I assured him. It’s my only chance to save my family - if James hasn’t killed them yet. “You rescued me from the Redemption after all.” 

I wanted to see their reactions, but Jonah and Nik just gave small smiles. 

“So,” I continued. “What’s the plan exactly?”

Nik brightened at thought, practically prancing to one of the kitchen cabinets. When he pulled the tiny door open, a bunch of rolled up pieces of paper fell out. Nik didn’t even blush, gathering them up in his arms and spreading them out on the carpet. 

“Where do I even begin?”

© 2021 A.L.

Author's Note

Lots of new characters, a bit of important info.

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Added on March 17, 2021
Last Updated on March 17, 2021
Tags: adventure, fantasy, blessed, cursed, fiction, mythology, death, love, friendship, kingdom, prince, princess, queen, king, youngadult, ya, goddess, sword



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