A Darkness Strange and Lovely (21 page)

Why hadn’t Joseph and Oliver known about this method? It was so easy. . . .

A gentle buzz suddenly twirled in my gut, and I knew without looking that Oliver was near.

Two breaths later, the lab door cracked open.

“What do you want?” I snapped. My eyes never left the page.

“To talk. To . . . apologize.”

“Well, I don’t accept.”

“I messed up, El.”

“Yes, yes you did.” My teeth gnashed together, and against my will, I glanced up. Oliver stood, head hanging, in the doorway. “Why did you do that?”

“I . . . I was drunk.”

“Really? Because you seem quite sober now.”

“Drunk and jealous,” he whispered. His yellow eyes crawled up to mine. “You’re my only friend. My family.”

“And?” I slammed the book shut and stood. “I have no family either, Oliver. Did you forget that? Did you forget that my father is dead, my brother is dead, and my mother has renounced me? I have no money, no home, and no chance at a real life. And now—
now
—the only three people who are able to look beyond all that . . .” My fingers clenched into fists. “I am about to lose them too.”

Oliver hunched even further into himself. “You still have me.”

“That’s not
enough
!”

“It was enough for Elijah. He and I used to do
everything
together.”

“And I am
not
Elijah.”

“I know,” he murmured. “Trust me: I
know.

“What does that mean?”

“It means,” he retorted, his spine unfurling, “you don’t want to learn how to free me. It means you run off with Madame Something-or-other and silly inventors when I’m right here waiting to teach you. Elijah never missed a chance to learn more. Now, do you accept my apology or not?”

“I do not accept.” I glared at him. “One minute you behave like my oldest chum—the spitting image of Elijah. Then the next minute you’re manipulating me
.
I don’t trust you, Oliver.”

He sniffed. “I never asked you to.”

“No, you’re right. You did not.” I got to my feet. “Yet for some reason you still seem to
expect
a great deal from me. Elijah might have made you his companion, Oliver, but for me you are nothing but a tool.”

Pain flashed across his face, but it was quickly replaced by a smug arch to his eyebrow. “I see what you’re trying to do. This has nothing to do with that Daniel fellow at all. You’re afraid of something, and you’re taking it out on me. So what is it, El?” He left the doorway and strode to me, only stopping once he was inches away. “What is it you’re afraid of?”

His eyes held mine—daring me to look away. I did not. “Are you the demon raising
les Morts
?” My voice was barely a whisper. “Tell me.”

“And if I do not?” He sneered. “Will you
command
me? Command your tool?”

“Yes, I will.”

“So do it then.” He rolled his eyes. “You’re being ridiculous, though. You know I can’t do any magic without your command.”

“How do I know that?”

“Well, I suppose you do
not
know for certain.” He opened his arms. “But go ahead. Ask me for the truth. Just be prepared for the consequences.”

My heart lurched. “What consequences?”

“In a few hours, once Joseph knows about my existence, I really
will
be all you have left. So even if I am the demon behind
les Morts
, do you truly want to know?”

I thinned my eyes. “Now I see exactly what
you’re
trying to do. If I command you, you will hold it against me—hang it over my head as leverage. Elijah used to play the same childish game.” I flipped my hand out and in a mocking voice said, “‘Oh, El, you
owe
me. Remember that time you blamed me for stealing the cherries?’” I backed away from Oliver, turning dismissively toward the butler’s corpse. “Well, I do
not
truly think you’re behind
les Morts
. And I won’t fall for your tricks. Now come here. I want you to take a look at this corpse.”

At that word, Oliver’s footsteps sounded behind me, and together we went to the white sheet.

“This is one of
les Morts
?” Oliver grabbed the edge of the sheet and yanked back. “I bet I can—oh, blessed Eternity.” His hand flew to his mouth, and his face turned a putrid green.

“Does it bother you?” I set my mouth in a stern line. “
You
, the boy who wanted me to sacrifice an animal?”

“When I said sacrifice,” he said, his voice muffled by his fingers, “I did not mean this atrocity.”

“How am I supposed to know that? Now, inspect this corpse and tell me if you recognize the spell.”

Oliver gulped and slowly lowered his hands. “I cannot tell much by simply looking. There are thousands of spells it could be. . . .”

“But?”

“But if you command me to, I can sense for the magic.”

“Will you be
angry
if I command you?”

He shook his head once.

And at that movement the hunger flared in my belly, so sharp and so fierce I could not breathe.

You promised Joseph you would resist.
Except this was vital information, wasn’t it? If we could learn the spell, we would be one step closer to stopping
les Morts
. I
had
to use Oliver’s magic.

I wet my lips, and before guilt could stop me, I said, “Sense for the spell on this corpse.
Sum veritas.
” The magic curled over me, pleasant and warm, before sliding off me like smoke.

Oliver’s eyes flashed blue. Then he snapped them shut, and his brows drew together.

“Well?” I asked. “Can you feel it?”

“Give me a minute,” he growled. But it only took him a few seconds to begin nodding. “There’s something there . . . a faint trace of power around the ears and eyes . . . and the tongue.” His eyelids lifted, and, using the edge of the sheet, he eased open the corpse’s jaw.

We both leaned forward and peered inside. “The tongue is still there,” I said.

“Yes, but look at how slashed and swollen it is.”

“Is that not from all the chomping?”

Oliver’s head flicked once to the side. “No. It was cut. Drained of blood.”

I recoiled. “What does that mean, then? Can you recognize the spell?”

“I think I can, yes.” He straightened, and when his eyes met mine, they were winced with revulsion. “But it’s bad, El. Very bad. I . . . I think it’s a compulsion spell.”

That sounded familiar. I kneaded my wrist, trying to figure out
why
. Then I remembered. “You mentioned that on the boat, didn’t you? You said to control a person’s actions, you had to sacrifice body parts.” I looked down at the butler. “So this spell is meant to control someone’s ears and eyes and tongue?”

“Yes, what they see, hear, and say . . . but not just one person, El.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean there have been over seventy victims.”

The full weight of his words slammed into me, and I stumbled back. “Someone has cast seventy-two compulsion spells.”

“Except . . .”—he waved toward the corpse’s head—“there are still traces of the magic on this body, which means the spiritual energy from this corpse has not yet been used. It’s still with the body—hoarded, almost.”

I scrunched up my face. “I don’t understand. How is that possible?” I took the sheet from his hands and replaced it over the butler’s face.

“It’s possible with an amulet—an object that holds a spell. The necromancer will build the spell over time, adding more and more spiritual energy to the object. Then one day when he’s ready, he leaves the amulet where he wants it to cast, he goes far away from the danger area, and then . . .” Oliver’s hands spread wide. “He lets the spell release.”

“Blazes.” I swayed back on my heels. “So it’s an undetonated bomb.”

“Exactly.”

“Does this mean we are up against seventy-two amulets?”

“More likely we’re up against
one
amulet with seventy-two spells inside.”

“So if Joseph . . . or I wanted to stop it, could we?”

“Not easily. Possibly not at all.” He circled his hands on his temples. “Whenever this necromancer—or demon—finally decides to cast the spell, he’ll gain compulsion over seventy-two people.”

I hugged my arms to my stomach, feeling ill. “Seventy-two people?”

“That or a single person for—well, I would estimate at
least
seventy-two days.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s simple, really. A compulsion spell is only in effect temporarily. The stronger the necromancer, the longer the spell. If he wanted to control a person for an extended period of time, he’d need multiple spells.” Oliver swung his head side to side, his face grim. “But that’s not even the worst of it, El. A compelled victim won’t be able to tell when they’re possessed . . . and nor will
we
.”

 

It was only moments after Oliver explained the horrors of an amulet to me that a steward came to fetch me. Madame Marineaux had arrived and so I dismissed Oliver and met the Madame in my room.

Her visit was as wonderful as I had hoped. The perfect distraction to the thoughts—and fears—roiling through me.

I had to tell Joseph about the amulet and the compulsion spells. I also had to figure out what I would do—what Oliver and I would do—as soon as Joseph learned about the demon.

But all those worrisome thoughts faded into the background the moment Madame Marineaux arrived. We drank delicious French wine on my balcony and talked about the ball the next evening, the places I wanted to see, and . . . well, I could not remember precisely what else. The wine must have clouded my head at that point. Either way, I awoke the next morning feeling alive, alert, and ready to take on the day.

I could face Joseph. I
had
to face Joseph, and in the end, wouldn’t I rather the truth come from me than from Jie?

However, as I descended the main stairwell, my jaw set and my stride determined, I was accosted by outraged bellows from the floor below. My resolve instantly shattered.

“I can’t believe it!” Daniel roared. “You didn’t consult me in this at all.”

I paused on the middle landing and craned my neck around. Through the lab’s open door and curtains, I could see Daniel standing beside his crates, waving a crowbar wildly. Jie was nowhere to be seen.

Joseph sat on his stool, his back rod straight. He lifted his hands. “I do not need to consult you, Daniel. I am in charge, and there was never any question of her joining us or not. Her skills are an asset to the team.”

“Skills?” Daniel shoved the crowbar into a crate top. “What skills? Necromancy? Lying?”

I gulped. They were discussing me . . . but did they know of Oliver?

Joseph began ticking off on his fingers. “She fought an entire cemetery in Philadelphia. She helped us at Madame Marineaux’s. Yes, she has a great deal of self-control to learn, but she is undeniably powerful.”

They don’t know what Oliver is yet
.

“I have never seen anyone with so much natural magic,” Joseph continued. “Once she learns my methods, she will be incredible.”

“More like disgusting,” Daniel spat. “You’re letting a necromancer into the group. Just think about that.”

Fury cramped my gut. Daniel had no right to say such things, for he had no idea what I had been through.
No idea.

“She has stopped,” Joseph declared. “She fights the call of black magic—and ultimately, Daniel, it is none of your concern what magic she uses. I am in charge, and I say she is in the group. I expect Marcus to arrive any day—any
moment
—and we need her power, no matter what form it is in. As such, when she arrives, I expect you to control your temper.”

A strangled cry came next, but other than that Daniel made no more sounds.

I dug my palms in my eyes and waited until the normal murmur of conversation picked up. Then, my hands shaking, I strode as steadily as I could down the remaining steps and into the lab.

“Ah, Eleanor,” Joseph said with a tired smile. He waved to a stool. “Have a seat.” The butler’s corpse still lay on the farthest table. And though the windows were all opened, it wasn’t enough to kill the body’s stench.

“Where’s Jie?” I asked.

Joseph glanced at me sidelong. “We assumed she must be with you. She left a note”—he gestured to a slip of paper on the windowsill—“that said she was going out.”

“But that was yesterday afternoon,” Daniel said gruffly.

“And she has not come back yet?” I gaped at them. “Aren’t you worried? We should look for her!”

“It’s Jie,” Daniel said. “She can take care of herself.”

“One does not simply ‘go out’ for an entire day,” I snapped. “Not Jie, at least.”

Joseph scratched his neck. “I will send out one of our new patrolmen to check for her.”

“Please,” I begged.

“Yes. I will do it the minute I leave the lab.”

My shoulders sank. I had not even realized I had held them tensed. Perhaps I was overreacting—Jie
could
take care of herself, after all.

“So,” I said to Joseph, “I suppose you received the patrol force you wanted?”

Joseph bowed his head in acknowledgment. “We did. And did you learn anything about contacting spirits?”

“Actually, yes.” I swallowed. “I read about séances.”

“Séances,” Joseph murmured. “They are very hard to successfully employ, and there are certainly dangers involved. However, it
is
an avenue worth researching. But first . . .” He set his hands on the table. “Daniel, I would very much like to see your newest inventions.”

I, however, had no desire to see them. I stood. “Perhaps I should go—”


Non
!” Joseph’s hand shot up. “This equipment is as much yours as mine, and I believe it will help you control your powers.” He gave an encouraging nod. “Look at these items as your tools.”

“Um, all right.” I reclaimed my seat, and Joseph motioned for Daniel to continue.

“Well, this box”—Daniel nudged his boot against the middle crate—“has two new influence machines. Nothing exciting.” His voice was coated with the odd, stiff affectation once more. “This other box contains the pulse pistols.” He shoved his crowbar into the crate he’d been prying at before I entered the room. As the nails squeaked, he said, “Do you remember the pulse bombs in Philadelphia? The dynamite propels a magnetic rod, thereby creating an electromagnetic pulse. That pulse laid the Dead to rest.”

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