I'm going to die.
At least that's what the marked hunters say when they feed me that dreadful slop of what they call “food”. Even we had food with shape under my Fathers roof. But the food is how I keep track of the days go by. With two meals a day that isn’t much.
By now I've lost count as the hours slag together in an endless void of waiting, listening to the whispers of my sanity slowly leaving me. I look around at my surroundings for the hundredth time just for something to do.
To my right there is a steel door blocking my way to the dungeon hallway and to my freedom. Once in a while I can smell the faint breeze of summer flowers when the hunters rotate their positions. To my left is a barred window close to the ceiling in which I can see the street and on rainy days this window acts like a sewer drain, filling the cell with rain and dirt up to my knees. Then there is where I am. I'm chained at my feet to solid stone wall so I can only move a little to the left and right. When I try to see my ankle and how red it is from the chafing clamp the clamp tightens and I yell in agony from the pain. Across from me is a blank stone wall. The one time I tried yelling for help the person on the other side started yelling at me in this sandpaper on stone voice to stop and I didn’t listen. That's how I got my black eye and broken ankle. Another reason to hate the hunters.
I scuffle as far as I can get away from the door and quietly cry out in pain as the steel door opens.
“Still haven’t learned your lesson, have ya” the hunter said. He stalked across the room to smack me across the face.
“I can't wait until tomorrow, curse.” he said as he threw the tray that is supposed to have food but is just a puddle on a tray at me.
That's what they call us.
Enemies to the king.
Dripping from the liquid slop from the hunter I bury my head in the crooks of my arms trying to ignore the stinging pain in my face and wonder how I got here.
But I can't lie to myself, I know, because I’m a murderer.
I think back to the day I escaped from my home. My home is an elaborate Victorian house with lace curtains, silver utensils, and elegant furniture. The upstairs was where my father, sister, mother, and myself once slept. Once.
When the brain fever ravaged the country the royals said to shut ourselves from the outside world. We were too late. The fever came into my household and took my sister, mother, and myself in its deadly grip. Like all other adults who caught the fever Mother died, while I became marked. The marked are the kids who have recovered from the fever but have markings on them, showing we are different from the regular people, or norms. My hair turned snow white with a black streak going down the sided by my ear. My sister came out of the fever unmarked.
When the time for suitors came Father brought my sister and I to a bar to meet some potential suitors. Most took an interest in my sister, perfect in every way looking like our mother in ways I don’t, while they just never even thought of me. Girls can't get claimed by a suitor until they are 18 so this was just one of many meetings. Every time the suitors ignored me. Every time my father shunned me. Until Father decided I was worthless to him and ignored me until the time that I killed him.
The day started like any other, Father woke up and cooked my sister breakfast while I was out tending to the horses. Father gave her a beautiful new dress while I set the table with two places for lunch. The only reprieve I got from work was my two hours with my sister. She would braid my hair with carnations and petunias that covered most of my hair while we talked about our future. That night I heard my father talked downstairs with another potential suitor. I crept to the corner by the railing and the wall. This was my favorite place to be when my father was looking for me because he was angry enough to hit something, which was always me. Not the wall because that would damage the house. Me.
I curled into a ball and listened to their conversation.
“Just give me five more weeks' and the debt will be paid.” My father said with a pleading voice.
“Sorry Dan, we can’t afford to wait, but I do have a deal in mind.” the now businessman not suitor, said in a cheery voice. “I would like to buy your daughter.” he said
“Who, Cherise?” Father said.
“No, Jaymi” he said as he tossed a pouch of gold on the table.
“But she’s not eighteen yet” father said in a voice like he had to say it but didn’t really want to pass up the deal either.
“Don’t worry she's not going to be my wife, the only thing you need to know is I’m buying her for a good price and she will be off your hands.” he said.
My father stood up and offered his hand to the stranger and I took off to my room to grab my sack. It was filled with stolen valuables and silver from my father in case I needed to sell them on the path to another place. I shoved some silks into the sack and opened the window to seek out and grab a horse but as I opened the window I heard my door open and turned around to see Cherise. I raised a finger to my lips and climbed out the window.
I spurred my horse into a gallop and rode off to the nearest town that had a harbor so she could take refuge. After about and hour I heard the racing stride of another horse behind me, I turned around and saw my father's steed with Father perched on top. I urged the horse to go faster. Soon I heard him right behind me and suddenly was shoved off the saddle while my horse still ran ahead.
I look through mud and tear streaked eyes up at my father, towering over me still on his horse. He hopped off his saddle and landed with a splash right next to me and, with an iron grip snatched my are and hoisted me to my feet. He dragged me to my feet and dragged me towered my spilled sack with my clothes and silverware. He kicked it and saw all his things in the sack.
“You little thief,” my father snarled as he started dragging me to his steed.
“Your not going to ruin this deal,” he said.
We had reached his horse when I quickly turned around and bit him in the arm. He just looked at me and suddenly punched me in the eye.
This is where things started to get sketchy. I heard this from my future mentor, we will get to him later.
Apparently when I hit the ground I looked up and I had solid black eyes and glared at Father. He stumbled backwards into his horse which had started to skiter. I had started to stand when I started to change. First my body started to expand and warp. Second, my face started to shift into a snout. Soon I was a hulking seven foot tall, white furred, werewolf. I walked up to Father, whose eyes were wide with fear. When I got close to the horse it reared up and landed its front hooves on Father's head.
Warping back into a human and standing in front of Father body I was overcome with grief. I took of for the nearby woods and soon I reached the tree line. I took a moment to catch my breath.
I whipped my head around to the direction the voice had come from. Wishing I was just imagining the voice in my head.
“W-Wh-Whos there?” I whispered in a shaky voice still burnt out from the run.
“I’m right here,” replied a boy seemingly appearing from the shadows.
“Who are you?” I said.
“The better question is, what are you?” he said in a kind voice.
“Come,” he said.
I followed skeptically, still in shock over what had happened to Father. Then a sickening thought occurred to me. What will happen to Cherise? I turned this thought over and over in my head and was about to ask this stranger if we could go back when he turned around, smiled, and pointed upwards. I turned my head to the sky and gasped. Up above us was a huge house in a tree. I looked back down to the boy who was about my age. He smiled and started to climb up the tree using wooden handholds to help him.
He turned and looked down “Come on up” he yelled down to me. I reached to the first handheld and hoisted myself up. When we got up to the house in the tree I looked around in awe. Around the floor where we popped up were elaborate carpets with swirling patterns. To my left was a kitchen with a fireplace surrounded by stone to cook food. By the kitchen was wooden chairs around an elegantly carved table with the swirls, the sign of aged trees. To my right was a curtained off area with what I assumed was the bedroom. In front of me was a window overlooking the forest and the town. I pulled myself up and looked behind me to see the living area with chests and chairs. I looked up with an astonished look to see jars with fireflies lighting the whole house. I looked back down at the stranger and decided to try a question.
“Who are you? I asked.
“My name is Visk,” he stated as he sat in a wooden chair and gestured to another chair.
After the easiness of the last question my head started to swirl with questions.
“Now I know you have many questions so let's hear them.” he said as if he could hear my thoughts.
“What is this place?”
“What did you see?”
“Why do you live here?”
“What's wrong with me?”
At that last question his face turned to mock surprise.
“Are you saying there's something wrong with me to?” he teased.
I just stared at him.
“You’re like me to?”
“I will explain it all. To answer your question no I’m not exactly like you but have something special as well. We are called the “marked” and we are not normal some of us have nothing wrong with us, some have marking on them that are not normal” he then pointed to my hair.” and some have powers that were gifted to us by the gods. I was gifted by Morta the goddess of death. I can have the attributes of a ghoul.” He then stood up and started to change he began with the skin which became limp, green, and molted. Then his face was unraveling itself his mouth started to hang down low, his nose began to sink into his face until it was like his nose had disappeared, his eyes started to turn milky white when he stumbled backwards into the wall when one of his eyes dislodged itself from his face and hung like a ball from a string from his eye socket.
I had just started to stand when he started to take on the image of a human. By the time he sat back down I was breathing heavily and pushed against the wall.
“As I was saying I am blessed by Morta while you seemed to be gifted by Lupa Goddess of Wolves.”
He suddenly clapped his hands together.
“And now for a test to see what you get your power from.”
He walked to a small chest and opened it with a grunt. Inside he picked up four small gemstones.
“Rose quartz is the chosen gem of the Goddess Venus so this stone is used to align with love.”
“Ocean Jasper is the chosen gem of Flaezus god of joy so this gem aligns with joy.”
“Moonstar is the gem of Erebus god of darkness so this gem aligned with darkness and fear.”
“Bixbite is the gem for Hersilia Goddess of courage so this gem aligns with courage. Please stand in the middle of the room.”
I stood and walked to the center of the house in the tree while Visk placed the four stones around me in a square.
“Now close your eyes and be still.”
I did what I was told. Suddenly the feeling of flying washed over me and I felt something rise in my chest. I mentally strained to pull it to the surface but felt it disappear before I could reach it. I opened my eyes to find Visk staring at me the moonstar floating in the air and glowing with a grayish light.
Visk picked up the others and put them in the chest then walked and grabbed the moonstone out of the air. As soon as he touched the gem it stopped glowing and settled into his hand.
“You can sleep here for the night to take shelter from the hunters that are surly on your trail and we will work on your gift in the morning.” he said.
I nearly leapt up in excitement. I was so tired I just fell on the chair and started to drift into the haze of sleep and didn’t realize the crushing weight of what he said.
The next few months went by in a haze of training and working. Each morning began with the work. Tending to the grade that was to the roof, helping with the gathering of food, ad making the meals. The afternoons were full of training.
Visk trained me how to use the aura of darkness from the surrounding people to use my power. We they trained on how to hold my form while I am changed. Then we worked on fighting and using the darkness to do other things that relate to what I change into. I can create fake wolves, an illusion, to obey my commands but they need a significant concentration to hold so they can only appear for minutes at a time.
One day while gathering nuts and roots in the woods we came across some other marked.
“We have heard rumors of a marked murderer in these woods. We have come to take her in to the marked hunters for the award,” the leader said as she started to walk towards me.
I quickly started to pull on Visks fear and created two wolves and sent them to attack the group.
“Come on!” I yelled at Visk pulling him toward the house.
We climbed up the handholds and scrambled into the house and locked the hatch under us. It was quiet for a minute. That's when our world erupted in flames.
“Come on!” I yelled at a frozen stiff Visk.
I grabbed his arm and pulled him out the window and into the tree. Down below I saw sight that made my blood run cold. One person was a huge humanoid being made of magma and fire was punching the base of the tree repeatedly with his fists. Another was a hellhound with fire fur and was clawing the ground around the tree digging up roots. The other was a demonic bat lady with a whip that spits fire when it lashes which now was wrapped around the tree and slowly burning the tree while cutting. The last person was just a person standing near the back and watching with a look of cold satisfaction on her face. I recognized her face from the papers. She was Zara, the princess who was supposedly poisoned because she became marked.
Then she saw us. I could see her ice cold gaze through the raging inferno separating Visk and me from her. I suddenly flashed back to when I was younger.
I was seven and had just accidentally dropped a china dish on the floor. Father was looking for me in a rage. I had run up to my closet and was sitting among the silks when I heard the bedroom door open. Through the crack in the door I recognized Father in his merchant cloths. I held my breath and prayed to all the gods that he would not find me. Suddenly the doors opened to see Father, towering before me. In that moment I had felt a fear so sharp I was hurt just from the feeling and afterward, the sting of pin through my face.
This was the fear when I saw Zara when she yelled something to her comrades that was lost in the noise of the rising wind. Then I realized the wind was coming from her. I could see the dust around her feet scatter in all directions, away from her. Her comrades looked up and saw us. I pulled Visk along the branches. Visk seeded to come back into the world and guided me down to a safe escape point.
Then more people arrived. Some men in stark white armor rushed into the woods and started to fight the other marked. The marked hunters were here. They had found me. Me and Visk climbed down and started to run to a safe house (probably in a tree) when a gust of wind picked me up and hung me upside down. A marked hunter tackled Zara and I fell on the ground and blacked out.
When I came to I found the marked on the ground in human form, bleeding from their chests and the marked hunters staring above me, injecting me with some sort of treatment when I heard Visk say “About time you got here.”
As I sit here covered in slop and gazing at the wall I hear the sound of footsteps. The door opens to find the marked hunters and one more person in the group, Visk with a white robe with gold strands entwined with the silk making the robe sparkle in the sunlight from the window. I glare at him while he speaks.
“I’ll have you know that you will be useful in the work of instilling fear in all the marked so your life will not go to waste.” Visk said in a matter-of-fact voice.
“You will burn at the stake for all to see and this will set of a massive search for other marked who will also be burned.”
He spun around with great flourish and walked out of the cell while the hunters roughly unchained me and hauled me out of the cell. After what seemed like ages we came to a wooden door which Visk pulled open and a roar of boos came over me like a wave and threatened to drown me. It was horrifying to see that thousands of people had come to see my burning.
I was led up the stairs and tied to my stake with logs and twigs below me. Visk grabbed a burning torch and I tried to use my power. I could feel the darkness inside every person in the square, but I couldn’t feed on the darkness like I could before. Visk strode up to me and said under his breath.
“ Justice is always served,” as he threw the torch into the log pile.
As my skin burnt to a crisp, my blood began to boil, and my screams echoed through the square. I knew he was right and what I had did was wrong, wrong to run away when I should have just come I and just face my crime and taken the punishment.