I'm sharing an exclusive sneak peek at my new YA SciFi series EverMarked in anticipation of the release on July 28th. Check out a new chapter every week until the release date! Here is chapter 2. If you haven't read chapter 1 yet check it out HERE.
Chapter 2 - Sienna
We traveled quickly up three flights of stairs, creaking with each step, keeping our heads down as we passed people in the narrow hallway. When we reached the heavy steel door at the end of the block, I knocked three times. On the third knock, the door swung open.
“What have you done this time?” the old lady on the other side of the door asked, as she hobbled back to a table where a steaming cup of tea waited. The smell of peppermint and orange hit my lungs as soon as I passed the threshold.
“Broken ribs, I think.” I quietly closed the door behind us and stepped around Theo. He stood rigid at my side, assessing the old lady as he did with everyone he met.
“You can tell your friend to relax. Ain’t nothing in here to harm him. Whether he be a Marked kid or the future king of Kuros, I could care less.” Ava shrugged, and her long, thin, ash blonde hair fell over her shoulder.
Theo’s eyes widened. The light from outside cast odd shadows throughout the tiny room, and it was dark enough our features were still hidden. But even in the subtle light, we’d be hard to recognize as Marked. That wasn’t what made her words so shocking; it was the fact that her milky eyes hadn’t seen a thing in years. Cataracts had left her blind since she was a child. Theo had noticed as soon as we walked in, and it had him on edge.
I made my way toward the small table, which had two chairs around it, leaving Theo to his assessment. I already knew we had nothing to fear from Ava. We had met more than a year ago after one of my first fights. I had miraculously won, but I took some heavy shots, and hadn’t known I had internal bleeding. I collapsed in an alley halfway back to the DEZ and woke up a few hours later here.
Ava wasn’t a Carbon; she was something else. Carbons had powers and abilities, but as a sign of good faith after the Peace-Making, they wore a cuff stifling that power; a silver band on each wrist they could never take off.
But Ava had her own powers; a gift from the stars, she’d told me, and a healing ability I had come to rely on.
“Lift up your shirt, girl,” Ava ordered. I did, revealing already black, swollen ribs. I flinched, her hands cold against my warm skin. She felt around and poked at different spots. I winced and gritted my teeth as Ava shook her head. “You’re lucky you didn’t puncture anything. This could have been much worse. You need to be more careful.”
“I’ll try to remember that,” I said.
Her hands hovered over the wound, and a cool, tingling sensation slid over the pain. I didn’t just feel, but heard the ribs snap back into place. I let out a heavy breath as the sharp pain subsided, and the calm healing powers of Ava poured through me.
When she pulled her hands away, a gasp sounded from Theo still standing by the door. I glanced down to where the dark, swollen bruise once was to see the pale, smooth skin of my side again. I dropped my shirt back down and gave Theo a cocky smile.
“Thank you, Ava,” I said and took a seat across from her. She poured me a cup of tea, and the peppermint and orange soothed my dry throat.
She filled up her own cup again, and then moved to a third cup before she paused and glanced towards the door. “Do you plan to join us, or are you just going to gawk from over there?” Ava tilted her head to Theo.
I hid my smile as he stumbled over, taking a small stool from beside the window with him and sitting down a little closer than necessary. He looked like a giant on the tiny stool, sitting a good foot lower than me. His knees were almost at his chest, his chin nearly resting on the table.
Ava passed him a cup of tea, which he took without taking his eyes off the old woman. Not done with his assessment.
He must have finally given up guessing, as he asked, “What are you?”
“An old lady your friend here thinks to take advantage of whenever she’s hurt.” Ava sipped on her tea.
I scoffed. “You’re the one who took me in first! You could have left me in the gutters with the sewer rats if you didn’t want me coming around.”
Ava shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “Maybe I should have.”
“No, I mean what are you?” Theo pressed, the grip around his small cup of tea tightening. He hadn’t taken a sip yet.
“I’m human, if that’s what you mean,” Ava said, not in the least offended.
I, on the other hand, gave Theo a sharp kick to the shin, silently telling him to shut up.
He didn’t. “How can you…do what you did?”
“Heal?” Ava said, as if she didn’t know exactly what he was asking. For an old lady, she had a lot of bite to her. “It’s my gift from the stars.”
Theo looked between Ava and me, waiting for an explanation I wasn’t about to give.
Ava sighed and put down her cup of tea. “Much like the Carbons, my people have gifts, given to us by the forest we were born into. The Muted Forest changed my people many years ago, and now, as descendants of The Ladies of the Muted Forest and the Mountain Men, we carry those gifts within ourselves to use as the stars bid us.” She tilted her head to me. “Or on spoiled brats who keep getting themselves into trouble.”
I rolled my eyes.
Theo’s eyes widened with disbelief. “You…you were a Lady of the Muted Forest?” Ava nodded. “But how? They were living legend. They don’t exist anymore. That’s…not possible.”
Ava quirked a smile, her milky eyes resting on Theo, even though she couldn’t possibly see him. “Then you must be talking to a ghost, boy.”
“But I thought…” He stopped short of saying anything else stupid.
“You, like everyone else, thought the stories ended in victory and peace, and we all just moved on and forgot what happened. But you’re wrong. We’re still here, the Ladies and Watchers, too. We still exist, and we watch the shadows.” Ava leaned in close enough to him that he froze. “The shadows are where evil beings still exist. It never left—the darkness. It’s just been hiding.”
A chill went down my spine at the tone in Ava’s voice.
Before the Peace-Making, a symbolic end to the war between the humans and the Carbons a hundred and fifty years ago, Watchers protected us. Elite humans trained to kill and destroy Carbons. But why would we still need them? Wasn’t there peace?
We were silent for a moment before I slurped back the last of my tea and stood. “Well, as fun as this conversation is, I think we’d better get going. Don’t want anyone to notice we’re gone for too long.” I pulled Theo to his feet, his eyes still studying Ava for a second longer, before he shook himself out of his stare.
“Always a pleasure to see you, Sienna.” Ava tipped her cup my way with a bite of sarcasm. “Next time, why don’t you try visiting without a wound to heal?”
“I make no promises,” I joked. “But I’ll try.” I bent down and gave Ava a soft kiss on the forehead before turning back to our exit.
As I reached for the doorknob, Ava said, “You’d be wise to stick together in the coming months. It’s not safe out there on your own, especially at night. Who knows what other dark things await you in the shadows?”
I glanced up to Theo, his brow was low as he frowned. But I nodded. “Of course, Ava. We’ll stick together.”
As the door shut behind us and we stalked quickly through the halls and out to the busy streets, I couldn’t help but watch the shadows a little closer and wonder what might be hiding there.
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