Home > How to Live an Undead Lie (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #5)(15)

How to Live an Undead Lie (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #5)(15)
Author: Hailey Edwards

I invited myself into his arms. “When are you going to stop being surprised that I want to protect you?”

That I wanted him, that he was wanted. Period.

“When the sun fails to rise, when the stars wink out, when the moon falls into the ocean.”

“Are you quoting at me?” I squinted up at him. “I can’t tell.”

“A failed attempt at being romantic, I’m afraid.” Pink suffused his cheeks. “I’m not very good at it.”

“I like that you’re practicing on me.” I felt heat on my nape. “I’m glad some of this is new to you too.”

His lips parted, like he might say more, but he cleared his throat. Twice. “I better check on Corbin.”

“I’ll do my best not to wind up outside your room again.”

“I don’t mind.”

But I did. Drool was not sexy. Bedhead, not great either. Screaming and writhing on the floor?

Ugh.

Leaving Linus to reel in my progeny before the sun rose and turned Corbin to a crispy critter, I headed upstairs to check on Oscar. Quietly, I opened the door then ducked my head in his room.

He was gone.

I chose to read that as a good sign. When he came back from wherever he went, he was always recharged. I hoped that held true this time too.

Woolly nudged the door closed, squeezing me out into the hall where she prodded me toward my room.

“Will you let me know when he gets back?”

The old house groaned assent then turned on the shower in the bathroom.

I didn’t need a shower, but I embraced the chance to wash today off me before I climbed into bed.

He has a new girlfriend. His third one this week. Just as mundane as all the rest.

Why not me? Why won’t he ask me? I would say yes. He knows I would say yes. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I should play hard to get. Maybe then he would see we were meant to…

The carpet squishes under my feet, and cold slime seeps between my toes. I shiver, confused, my anger at Boaz forgotten. The smell hits me then, copper and rose water and thyme.

Maud.

I collapse to my knees beside her and scoop the icy blood back into the gaping hole in her chest.

“Maud?”

The sobs start, and I can’t stop them. I’m working as fast as I can, but her heart—her heart—it’s missing.

“Wake up. Please wake up. Please, Maud. Wake up. Please.”

Shivers dapple my arms, and my teeth chatter, but it doesn’t matter. None of it matters if she won’t open her eyes. I’ll be alone again. All alone. Maud is all I have, and she’s…

She’s gone.

She’s dead.

Dead.

Using her blood for my ink, I start drawing a sigil, one I’ve never seen in any textbooks.

“No, Grier,” a voice pleads behind me. “Stop before it’s too late.”

“I’m not losing her too. I won’t.” I keep going, slipping and sliding, covering her head to toe in the foreign sigils. “Come on, Maud. Try. For me.”

“You have to let her go.” Footsteps pound closer. “You don’t want her back. Not like this.”

“You’re wrong.” I scream so loud my voice shreds to ribbons. “I want her back any way I can get her.”

“You don’t mean that. Please, Grier. Think.”

Snot clogs my throat as I close the sigil with a defiant swoop of my finger.

Magic explodes into the room, knocks me backward, and my head cracks against a wall.

“Grier.”

Darkness swirls around me, and I embrace it, grateful when it blinds me to the corpse at my feet.

Except it doesn’t last. I’m not passing out, I feel like I’m waking from a nightmare of my own making.

The blackness thins, swirls, coalesces, and I sob like my heart is breaking.

What have I done? What have I done? What have I done?

Her heart is gone. There can be no culmination now. How would we ever find it in time?

Goddess, what have I done?

A figure kneels on the floor, shrouded in black, hands clawing their face, their chest, their arms.

The room spins, a vortex of midnight, as all that grim power funnels itself into a new host.

I rocketed toward consciousness, soaked through with sweat and trembling. I came awake stretched halfway across my threshold, my fingernails broken and fresh claw marks on the hardwood. I swallowed and I swallowed and I swallowed, but the lump in my throat persisted. I tasted old blood and salty tears.

Chill hands hooked under my arms and lifted me to my feet, but my legs might as well have been jelly.

“I remember…” I wet my cracked lips with my dry tongue. “I tried to bring her back. Maud. I tried to resuscitate her.”

Linus shut his eyes, but it did nothing to conceal his pain, and it didn’t dull the edge of mine when I realized what this meant, what ought to be impossible but made so much sense.

“You’re not surprised,” I rasped, locking my knees to keep me upright. “You knew.”

The rich navy of his gaze was a punch to my gut, a wordless confirmation.

The smidgen of resolve I had gathered around myself crumbled. “How did…?”

Black mist spun across the surface of his skin, hiding his expression, the vortex cloaking him in midnight.

A vortex of midnight.

“It was you. In my dream.” Legs buckling, hope failing, I sank onto the floor. “You were there.”

All that dark power had cocooned him, embraced him…devoured him.

“I—” I bit my lip, tried again. “I remember now.”

The voice pleading with me to heed his warnings, the figure clawing at his face after I failed to listen…was Linus.

Linus had been there, in Woolly, with me, when my world ended for the second time.

Just like that, the other shoe dropped, and it squished my hopes and dreams flat as pancakes.

A gasp broke free of my chest, and then another and another.

Lungs burning, I gulped oxygen until I choked from swallowing. Not enough. Never enough. I scratched at my throat, raking furrows in my skin. I couldn’t breathe. The walls pressed closer, suffocating me. Air whistled through my teeth. No use. It was no use. None of it.

Linus caught my hands and pinned them down at my sides before I clawed myself bloody.

The peaceful afterlife I had imagined for Maud had been just that—a dream.

The nightmare—that was reality. Hers and mine. And neither of us could wake from it.

How much of what I dreamed was real? Accurate? How much was tainted by drugs and time and Atramentous? There was only one way to find out, and that was by asking the man across from me to tell me the truth, even if it hurt, even if it left us both raw and empty.

“Let me go,” I rasped, and he folded his hands in his lap.

Wiping my face dry on the hem of my shirt, I focused on my breathing until my pulse stopped roaring in my ears and my breaths came easier. I don’t know how long I sat there while my hiccupping sobs tapered into a breathless quiet that ended with puffy eyes and a graveled voice.

“I found Maud sprawled on the carpet like she had fallen. Blood everywhere. Her chest…” I rubbed my throat, but it didn’t help. Maybe nothing would ever again. “Someone killed her and cut out her heart.”

“They wanted to punish her,” he said softly. “They took the heart to prevent us from performing the culmination.”

“They must have hated her,” I whispered, “to do that.”

The culmination was a ceremony where, hours after death, the heart was removed and burned to ash to release the spirit. The remains got swept into a box for the mantle. Necromancers didn’t bother with the rest. The graves. The flowers. Our bodies got incinerated then left for the wind to collect. It was the heart that mattered, and someone had taken hers.

I dropped my face into my hands and wept. I’m not sure where I found the tears. I should have run out by now. No one person should be able to hurt so much at once without dying.

The Grande Dame had entrusted Maud’s heart to me, the remains encased in a gold box, meaning they had recovered it at some point, but it must not have offered them any leads as to her killer’s identity.

Woolly gathered her consciousness around me, soothing as best she could, but I was hollow.

“Tell me the truth.” I couldn’t look him in the eye. “All of it.”

“I came to spend the weekend with Maud.” Entire minutes lapsed before he continued. “I was on break at Strophalos, and she had a new project she wanted a second opinion on. I met Mother for lunch. She wanted to see me, pretend hurt that I hadn’t stayed with her, but she wanted to know what her sister was working on more. When I got back to Woolly…” A horrible finality laced his voice. “I was too late.”

“Maud was dead when you arrived,” I said, not exactly a question.

“Yes.” Exhaustion made it sound like he had dragged the word up from his toes to his mouth. “You must have beaten me there by minutes.” He drew his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them like a child in need of comfort he knew better than to expect would come from anyone other than himself. “You were covered in blood, scooping handfuls off the floor to fill the hole in her chest.”

I crushed my eyes shut, but that didn’t stop me from hearing the rest.

“You were in shock. I was screaming at you to stop, to listen, but you didn’t hear me. You had covered her body in sigils I had never come across in all my studies.” He rested his forehead on his arms. “I couldn’t read them, but I could guess what they did.”

“I was trying to bring her back.” The horror of it struck me anew. “I was trying to resuscitate her.”

But necromantic magic doesn’t work on necromancers. We have one life, and that’s all. No extensions.

“Maud had no heart. She couldn’t return to her body. She wouldn’t have survived.” He kept going, voice going lower. “You called her soul, and it had nowhere to go.” He was barely whispering now. “I did what I had to do. I did the only thing for her—for you—that I could. I claimed her soul, bonded her to me as a wraith. That way at least she would be released into the afterlife when I died. Otherwise…”

   
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