Excerpt from The Journey of the Marked







After seeing a boy being followed by wretched Graeliths…

Prizene skirted around the two Graeliths and skipped casually down the street toward the boy. He still meandered along, stopping to gawk in shop windows. She caught up with him and linked her arm in his. Startled, he tried to pull away, but she tightened her grasp, propelling him along.

She gave him a warm smile to counter his evident surprise. “I’m Prizene. You passed a diner a few minutes ago where I was eating lunch. Don’t look now, but you do realize that two Graeliths are following you?”

He stopped suddenly and spun around. She groaned and placed her hand to her forehead. That was not a smart thing to do. Why didn’t I tell him more carefully? Her stomach tightened as she turned around. She grimaced. Sure enough, the Graeliths had stopped walking, their eyes were now riveted on Prizene and the boy. She swallowed hard. Then the Graeliths broke into a run, coming directly toward them. So much for her planned artful getaway. She grabbed the boy’s hand and took off at a mad dash. Luckily, he responded quickly and ran with agility. They dodged other shoppers, jumping over several boxes sitting at the curb. Prizene met the eyes of a few shoppers, hoping to find help. None was offered.

She looked over her shoulder, relieved to see that the Graeliths had fallen behind. The boy ran ahead of her, which cleared the path, making it easier for her to keep up with him. Within a few minutes, they reached the southeast corner of the marketplace, now thick with shoppers. The boy slowed momentarily and looked back toward her. His eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. It was a look that filled her with dread. Did she really want to know what was behind her? She blew out a sharp breath and stole a glance. At least five Graeliths now tracked them.

When his eyes met hers again, she saw the fear. She motioned him onward. They bolted into the crowd, zig-zagging their way through moving clumps of shoppers. She heard a loud crash behind them, but didn’t dare turn to see what had happened. She kept her eyes focused on the boy and stayed as close to him as she could. The crowd thinned ahead and they soon pushed through to the northwest end of the marketplace. The boy darted into one of the nearby lanes and she followed him. She wasn’t familiar with this part of town and hoped he knew where he was going.

They made turn after turn. All the alleys looked the same — dank and dingy. She rounded the next corner after the boy, only to run into him. She stood on tiptoe and peered over his shoulder. Two more Graeliths were sprinting toward them from the opposite direction.

“Come on!” she yelled, retracing their steps and running back to the alley they had just left. They turned in a new direction and, halfway down the next alley, the boy hesitated and she stopped beside him. This passageway was long and narrow with no other openings besides the ones at either end and a few closed gates farther along. They had no options. Her eyes canvassed the length of the alley, but there was nowhere to hide.

“We should turn back,” he said, a quiver in his voice. He backed up and started to return from the direction they had come just as the Graeliths rounded the corner — seven of them now. They slowed and glared at Prizene and the boy, their mouths curled upward, baring their teeth.

Prizene and the boy turned and ran the remaining length of passage, trying the gates and finding each locked. At the end, the opening led to a small square. They stopped in the middle. She scanned the walls. “The only opening is the one we just came through.” She began backing toward the wall on the far side of the square. The boy followed her lead.

The Graeliths entered the square as a group and spread across in front of them. The square held a few trash bins, but nothing else. They were trapped. Tears threatened to spill from Prizene’s eyes. What could they do? The Graeliths growled and snorted, obviously enjoying the fear they provoked.

The boy pulled something from his pocket. She had never seen the device before. Was it a weapon? He pulled the lever on the top toward him, pointed it toward the Graeliths, and pressed the button on the handle. A short, red beam shot out of what was apparently a laser gun. Where did he find that? The force of the blast jerked his arm upwards, causing him to lose his balance and topple over a refuse can behind them, spilling trash onto the ground.

She turned toward the Graeliths; they were rooted to the ground and the growling had stopped. They were staring at a spot in the wall where the laser beam had removed a chunk of stone. As the boy quickly jumped back to his feet, the Graeliths briefly looked at each other, then turned wide eyes toward the boy.

He grabbed the handle of the weapon with both hands, and began firing repeatedly. The rapidly fired red beams took chunks out of the stone walls and ground. One of the Graeliths cursed and they began diving wildly in every direction. At first, the shots seemed random, but as she watched, the boy’s aim noticeably improved. Finally, he hit one of the Graeliths along the side of the leg. The Graelith howled, then turned angry eyes toward his assailant. The boy stopped firing. He turned to look uncertainly at her.

She drew in a deep breath and yelled at the Graeliths, “Leave us alone!”

The injured Graelith let out a loud, terrifying roar. The boy jumped backwards in shock, lost his balance, and stumbled once again into the pile of trash.

Suddenly, two Graeliths fell to the ground, blood pouring from them. Five fighters had appeared behind the Graeliths with swords slashing. Who were these fighters? And why were they helping when no one else would? One Graelith blocked the attack from another fighter with a long-handled, serrated sickle. Another Graelith shifted, bearing only a nick to his snout, as a fighter swung his sword. Prizene grabbed the boy and pulled him behind the bins. He pushed the lever on the top of the gun and tucked it away inside his coat. She peered over the bins occasionally, hypnotized by the fierce fight with neither side gaining advantage.

One of the Graeliths landed a solid blow on the left side of a fighter’s head, knocking him unconscious. The remaining fighters occupied, the Graelith turned toward Prizene and the boy. He covered the square quickly. Prizene frantically looked at the boy. He was hunched behind a can, not watching the fight. “Your gun!” she pleaded with desperation. “Quickly!”

The boy jumped up, fumbling with the gun inside his jacket. The Graelith tossed the can aside and swung his right claw, cutting deeply into the boy’s side. Prizene had to do something. She threw her weight against the Graelith, knocking him off-balance. On her rebound she grabbed a nearby bin and slammed it into his head. The Graelith fell to the ground, motionless.

She dropped the container and ran to the boy’s side. He collapsed against her and she slowly lowered him to the ground. She needed to slow the bleeding, but she didn’t have anything useful in her pack. What could she do?

“Put pressure on the wound!” someone yelled.

With her hands, she applied as much force as she could. The boy winced. She looked at the on-going scuffle. One of the fighters was stealing glances in her direction. He nodded curtly at her, as an indication she was doing the right thing. He was massive, standing nearly as tall as the Graelith he was fighting and was a little overweight. He must be a daunting adversary.

In the next few minutes, one of the fighters inflicted a severe wound on one of the Graeliths. The four conscious Graeliths edged away from the fighters and retreated from the square. The fighters checked on their unconscious companion and each other, except for the large one. He walked directly toward Prizene and the boy.

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