Home > How to Save an Undead Life (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #1)(14)

How to Save an Undead Life (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #1)(14)
Author: Hailey Edwards

The lights flickered and died until the only sound left in the kitchen was the hum of major appliances.

“You forget, she is the house.” Boaz crossed to me, his eyesight keen in the dark, and tugged on the sleeve of my shirt before grazing my flannel-covered thigh with his fingertips. “This is a good look for you, but the idea was to wear only what I left you.”

“All I saw was the T-shirt.”

Leaning close, he breathed me in, and his breath tickled the shell of my ear. “Exactly.”

“Ugh.” Amelie carried her dishes to the sink then fed her omelet to the disposal. “I’m out.”

A horn honked loud enough to convince me Boaz had left the front door open. “Have they given you the scoop?”

“Nope.” He rolled his eyes. “They won’t even share the location, so we’re all riding together.”

“The family that conducts dark rites together stays together?” I shoveled in another mouthful of omelet. “Don’t sacrifice too many virgins. Your parents probably had to special order them from out of town now that you’re back.”

“There’s only one virgin I’m interested in sacrificing,” he purred.

The skin on my face ignited like the surface of the sun, and I was grateful for the darkness. The jerk might see my expression, but he couldn’t pick out the red splotches rouging my cheeks.

“You are not sheathing your ceremonial dagger in my—” I finished lamely “—sheath.”

“You’re so cute.” His teeth closed over my pulse. “I could eat you up.”

“I’m a virgin, not an idiot. I grasp double entendres just fine.”

“I bet you do.”

Spinning the fork on my palm, I jabbed him in the abs, and he jumped back while I cackled. “Shoo fly, don’t bother me.”

“You’re a cruel woman, Grier Woolworth.” He clutched his gut like I’d disemboweled him instead of checking him for doneness. “You’re lucky I like claws. The more you scratch me, the worse the itch gets.”

Short blasts from a car horn had him cursing under his breath.

“Maybe you should consult a dermatologist.” I smiled as sweet as you please. “Or maybe a vet since you’ve developed some odd cat fetish? Or would that require a psychiatrist?”

“We’ll finish this later.” He darted in and ruffled my hair. “Later, Squirt.”

I bared my teeth and hissed at him just to hear him laugh his way out the door.

Sadly, my antics didn’t amuse Woolly. She remained stubbornly silent while I rinsed the dishes. Mourning the loss of Amelie’s omelet, I put away the supplies littered across the counter. I reserved a few slivers of tomato and carried those into the living room. Keet, diurnal by nature, was snoozing on his perch when I popped in to check on him and left him with his treat.

The skin at my nape prickled when I stepped out onto the front porch, and Woolly didn’t rouse herself to protest against my exit. Usually I got a slamming door or flickering porchlight—some outward indication she was in a tizzy over me leaving.

The absolute stillness disturbed me enough I reached for the wards on instinct. A skull-rattling pain sliced through my scalp, and I gasped through the resonations that almost sent me crashing to my knees. The normally radiant song of her consciousness had quieted until I had to strain to make out even a note, and still she hadn’t cried out in those final moments. Maybe because she couldn’t.

An oily blackness clung to the back door, seeping underneath and spilling across the hardwood planks.

This was no temper tantrum. The wards had been breached. Woolly was… She was… Silent.

I took a running start and jumped off the porch into the yard, keeping a mental eye on the intruder. I shoved into the carriage house, retrieved the key and battled with the smallest trunk to retrieve Maud’s bag. This time the trunk behaved, so I set the bag on its lid and opened the ink to dip the brush for the sigil required to deepen my perception. Not waiting for it to dry, I pocketed the ink and the brush then charged back into the house.

The greasy taint stained the door leading down into the basement, but a quick check of its knob assured me the wards sealing off Maud’s private laboratory remained secure. She had refreshed the wards protecting her sanctuary each night with blood straight from the vein. I doubted anything could crack the magic seal—I couldn’t—but it made me uneasy that this thing had tried.

Glimmers of spent magic sparkled out of the corner of my eye. Under the sigil’s influence, the intruder left a shimmering slug trail of dark energy. I painted a few sigils for safety on my arm, but that was all the protection my weakened powers offered.

A panicked chirrup caused my heartbeat to skip, and I bolted into the living room to face the intruder.

Or not face him. He didn’t have one. A mass of undulating robes whipped in an unfelt breeze. The wraith sensed me and whirled, its hood as empty as eternity. In his fist, he clutched Keet. Droppings oozed through his spectral fingers, but he didn’t seem to mind.

“Release him,” I ordered, advancing on the wraith. “Let him go, and I won’t banish you.”

I didn’t have the strength to banish a wraith, but the wraith’s master didn’t have to know that.

Rather than back down, the creature pulled a smoking envelope from the depths of its robes and passed it between the bars of the empty cage. Before I settled on a plan of action, he popped Keet like a snack into his absent mouth and vanished in a whirl of black mist.

“Keet.”

I spun in a circle, my mind touching on every corner of the collapsing wards, but I already knew what I’d find.

Keet was gone.

I spent the better part of an hour restoring the wards and rousing Woolly from her drugged slumber. The fact my house could be knocked unconscious terrified me. Whoever had controlled the wraith had managed to slip inside with a nasty bit of work that overlapped one of the weakened points in the wards.

I snapped pictures of the combined sigils the intruder had used to gain access so I could show Odette later, then scrubbed the foul ink until red bubbles frothed through my fingers. The anchor wards surrounding Woolworth House were carved into the stone of her foundation. A little bit of blood shouldn’t have overpowered inset patterns woven together by a master necromancer, but these had, and I worried this was more proof the old girl’s strength mirrored mine.

At least my puny magic wasn’t at fault for the breakdown in communication between Woolly and me. As it turned out, someone had eroded key points in the sigils that had slowly eaten away at our link until the only time I registered the interference was when I made a focused effort to check the wards.

Flicking the light on my phone, I started the grueling process of examining the foundation. I didn’t have to look far before I spotted the first missing sigil, gouged from the stone with sharp claws. Great. Permanent damage. How was I supposed to repair this? It’s not like I could lift up Woolly and slide a new slab under her.

I found five more missing sigils that corresponded with the thinning of the wards I’d been sensing over the past several days. For now, the best I could do was dip my brush and swipe on fresh symbols. Those would keep until it rained, or at least until the dew faded them.

After examining the patchwork wards with a critical eye, I decided they would do and capped my ink.

As much as I hated leaving Woolly while she was vulnerable, I had to honor my promise to Amelie. We both needed our jobs, and being Haints paid better than anything else we could do while keeping our night-owl schedule.

I trudged up the steps and entered the house. “Will you be okay for a few hours?”

The foyer chandelier dimmed to near blackness before surging.

“You have nothing to be ashamed of.” I patted the doorframe. “This is my fault. I should have pulled my head out of my butt sooner.” All that wallowing hadn’t gotten me anything except a violated home and a stolen pet. “If I had taken the minor attacks more seriously, I might have noticed the damage to the sigils before the wraith…” I spun on my heel, thought trailing, marched to Keet’s empty cage and fished out the envelope. “Why am I not surprised?”

A nearby floor register ticked on and set a curtain wriggling in anticipation.

“It’s from Dame Lawson,” I told her, and opened the envelope with care. “Guess I didn’t RSVP fast enough for her.” I skimmed the first line then read the rest aloud for Woolly’s benefit. “Dearest Grier, I do hope you’ll reconsider my previous invitation. Being named the Grande Dame of the Society for Post-Death Management is a momentous occasion, and I expect all my family to be in attendance. That includes you. Our relationship has been strained these past few years, but I hope to rectify that soon. Proof of my good intentions should be evident by now. You are standing in your own living room, reading this letter, are you not? You can thank me for that with your presence.”

The tinkle of crystals in the chandelier laughed at her gall in claiming me now that I’d been exonerated.

Again, I rolled the vampire’s warning around in my head. What did Dame Lawson want from me? What did he want? Why did anyone want anything from me at all when I had nothing but the clothes on my back and the roof over my head to my name?

Dame Lawson hadn’t just dispatched one of her lackeys to leave her calling card. Whoever the architect of this infiltration was, he was brilliant. And the energy, now that I’d had time to reflect, had definitely been male.

With those grim thoughts circling, I walked into the kitchen, scooped up the invitation, and dialed the gas burner high on the stove. Then I took Boaz’s advice and burned them both to cinders.

The floor register gusted air in a relieved sigh as I swirled the ashes down the sink.

“We ought to be safe. For now.” A tired exhale parted my lips. “They got what they wanted. A hostage.”

The letter hadn’t mentioned poor Keet, but it would have been incriminating if it had, and you didn’t get to be the Grande Dame by making such rudimentary errors. The message was clear. Her wraith postman had done his job well, proving she could get to me and mine inside the wards, inside the house. But why she would demand my presence at all stumped me.

   
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