A Darkness Strange and Lovely (8 page)

It didn’t take many knocks before a blustery man threw the cabin door wide. He wore a long nightshirt and only seemed capable of keeping one eye open. “Who’re you?”

“Um . . . I’m looking for—”

“Me.” Oliver bounced in front of the man. He wore the same gray suit as before, but it was wrinkled and untucked—as if he’d slept in it. “What is it, El?”

“I want to talk. Somewhere very public but where we can’t be overheard.”

He ran a tongue over his teeth. “How about the saloon?”

I nodded. “Lead the way.”

Two flights of stairs later, he led me into the second-class saloon, which was—as Laure had declared—much like the first-class saloon. There was rich upholstery and an elegant grand piano, yet the ornamentation was calmer. Less nauseating, and more importantly, no one gave me or my gown a second glance.

“There.” I pointed to a nook in the back corner with two green chairs, and we strode over. With a grateful sigh, I swept my petticoats aside and eased to a seat. Rolling back my head, I let my eyes flutter shut. Though I hardly liked sitting with Oliver, I was too tired to maintain any of the fury I’d carried the night before.

But Oliver seemed to misunderstand my relaxation. “Does the rocking bother you?”

“Why do you ask?” I opened my eyes.

“Elijah didn’t like it either.” He dropped onto the seat across from me and gazed out a porthole. “He got his sea legs eventually.”

“When did you travel on a boat?”

“From England to France and then again when we went to Egypt.” He sighed through his teeth. “I offered him relief, but he was funny about using my magic. He never used it unless he had to. I was more a companion to him than a tool. We were . . . friends.” He turned to me, his brow knit. “Though for a friend, you’d think he’d have let me win at chess every now and then. I swear, the man was ruthless.”

I couldn’t help it. I laughed. “He was, wasn’t he? We used to play every day, and not
once
did he go easy on me—even when I didn’t know the rules yet!”

“That sounds like him. He was the same with riddles. He’d always pose those tricky little mind games—”

“Like the eight-queens riddle?”

“Exactly!” Oliver slapped his knee. “How do I fit eight queens on a chess board? I haven’t the bloody faintest.”

I grinned. “I never figured it out either.”

“Well, perhaps if we both set our minds to it”—he tapped his forehead—“we could finally solve it.” He bent toward me, a smile spreading over his lips. “Now, I assume you’ve brought me up here to make some deal?”

“Yes, though
not
the one you’re imagining, so wipe that look off your face.” I tugged at my earlobe. “I saw Elijah last night. I crossed into the spirit world, and he was
there.

“I know.”

“So, I want to know if I can go to the spirit dock on purpose. Can I cross over and talk to him and—” I stopped speaking. Oliver was shaking his head emphatically.

“No. For one, the Hell Hounds would be on you in a second. For two, that’s
very
advanced necromancy. You’d need years and years of training.”

“Oh.” I gulped. “Even . . . even with your magic? Could you send me over?”

He blanched, and his pupils swallowed up the gold of his eyes. “No.
No
.”

“What is it?”

“Your brother . . . he wanted the same thing, but I can’t. I wish I could—maybe none of this would have happened if it were possible. But if I try to cross, the Hell Hounds will destroy me.”

I deflated back into the seat. “What about voodoo? Can other magics cross into the spirit realm?”

He wrinkled his forehead. “I don’t know, El. I’ve only learned what Elijah learned.”

“So only necromancy.”

“Yes—” He broke off as two little boys came barreling past in a rousing game of tag. Once they were out of earshot, Oliver continued, “I believe you could call Elijah if you had his body, since a soul and its body have a special connection, but . . .”

“There is no body.” Disappointment swooped through me. “Damn Marcus.” I looked away.

“I’m sorry,” Oliver said softly. “If there was a way I could talk to your brother, I swear to you, I would.”

I sniffed. He sounded just like Elijah, and I didn’t like how it made me feel.

At that moment a yawn cracked through my jaw.

“You
know
,” Oliver drawled, “one of the easiest spells to learn in necromancy is a dream ward. Because necromancers are so vulnerable in their sleep, blocking dreams is one of the first spells they ever learn.” He shot a pointed finger up and recited: “A spell can’t hit its target if the target’s concentration is elsewhere.” He curled his finger back down and dropped his hand. “Spirit world, earthly world—it doesn’t matter. If you’re distracted, the spell can’t hit.”

“But if all it takes is distraction to deflect magic, it sounds like necromancy would backfire constantly.”

“Sure, but you’ve seen how hard it is to distract yourself with monstrous dogs salivating for your soul. A non-necromancer wouldn’t know he had to concentrate elsewhere, and the average person wouldn’t even be
able
to.” He shrugged. “Plus, distracting yourself when you’re asleep is almost impossible. However, if you cast a
dream
ward
”—he dragged out the two words—”you’ll be safe and sound until the morning.”

“The spell is . . . easy?”

“Very.” He scooted toward me, his face animated. “And if you’re even half as powerful as Elijah, you’ll be able to cast it with almost no effort at all.”

I pinched my lips together, considering his words. He wanted me to do necromancy.
Necromancy
. The black magic that had destroyed my brother and created monsters like Marcus.

But I couldn’t stay awake indefinitely, and the more tired I became, the less I would be able to defend myself with this distraction technique.

And . . . there was just the tiniest corner of my heart that wanted to know what Elijah had done. Wanted to know what this magic was that had made him—and made Marcus too—devote his life to studying it.

Then another part of me—that roiling part in my gut that would do anything to kill Marcus and take my brother’s body
back
—wanted to see just what kind of power I had living inside me.

“This simple little spell,” I said warily, “you’re certain it will protect me?”

“It’s not a permanent solution to the Hounds, but it’ll keep them away a bit longer.”

I wet my lips, and before I could reconsider said, “All right. Tell me what to do.”

His lips curved into a grin. “Focus your power and repeat after me.”

“Focus my power?”

“It’s quite easy—or I think it is, based on Elijah. Close your eyes.”

“How do I know you won’t kill me or make me cast some horrible, world-destroying curse?”

“Because that wouldn’t help me, now would it? I need you—alive—to set me free.”

“That’s a
very
comforting response, Oliver. Of course I can trust you implicitly when all you care about is using me for your own designs.”

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I’ve been thoroughly lonely and bored until you came along. So . . . I don’t
want
to lose you.”

I grunted, and his face sobered. “You really are just like him, aren’t you?” He blinked quickly. “Never mind. Just close your eyes and feel for your power—your soul.”

I squeezed my eyes shut and imagined sending my senses out to the very edge of my limbs.

“It’s like taking a deep breath,” Oliver said, his voice low. “With each breath, draw power into your chest. The magic is part of you—it’s your very soul—and all you have to do is gather it into one place. You’re making a
well
. That’s what Elijah called it.”

I sat up tall, inhaling until my lungs were full. I tried to pull every drop of spiritual energy into my body.

It happened immediately—a tingle that started in my toes and fingers and buzzed up to my chest. It was warm. Soothing.

“Wow,” Oliver breathed.

“What?” I mumbled, keeping my eyes shut. This was nothing like the burning pain in my hand or the electric crack of Joseph’s methods.

“You’re glowing.”

My eyes sprang open. “I’m
what
?”

“Just concentrate!”

I looked down. My entire body was emanating a soft blue light. I stared in horror at Oliver. “M-my skin!”

“It’s fine.” He threw his hands up. “No one’s looking at us. Trust me, El. Don’t worry. It just means you’re strong.
Bloody
strong.”

I gulped. “Wh-what do I do now?”

“You’ve got plenty of power here for the spell, so just repeat after me:
Hac nocte non somniabo.

“What does that mean?”

“I will not dream tonight.”

“Oh.” I drew in a steeling breath. I could do this—I could cast a spell.


Hac nocte non somniabo,
” I whispered. Warmth rushed through me like a wave, and the magic twirled around my heart—once, twice—before coursing back through my limbs and out. A heartbeat later, all the magic was gone.

I collapsed back onto the seat.

“You did it!” Oliver clapped. “And on your first try. Do you feel all right?”

A tired smile tugged at my lips. “Actually, I feel
amazing
.” It was as if balmy bathwater lapped at my skin, and all my worries had fallen away.

“A complete sense of well-being?” Oliver’s eyes crinkled knowingly. “That usually happens with necromancy. You ought to go to bed now—while you’re relaxed. Your body needs to sleep anyway, to replenish the soul you just used. I’ll be here—at the bar—if you need me.”

I nodded, too exhausted and happy to do much else. Necromancy hadn’t been what I expected at all, and I suddenly understood exactly why Elijah might have turned to it.

For not only was it a dark magic—it was a strange and lovely magic too.

 

I slept like a stone for the rest of that day. It was far more sleep than a single waking night warranted, yet I wrote off the exhaustion as part of the necromancy.

And I also blamed the necromancy for the abysmal pit of hunger in my stomach. Laure kindly ordered sea biscuits and oranges to the room, but no matter how many I stuffed into my face, the hunger never seemed to fade.

Nonetheless, I managed to ignore it long enough to conk back out and sleep straight through the night. I spent the next morning gluttonously eating—this time with something more substantial than seasickness fare—and writing letters to Mary, Mama, and even Allison.

I reveled in the fact that I felt safe. That, for the first time in months, not a single cloud of grief blackened my sky.

Eventually Laure convinced me to dress, and she looked on as the stewardess’s fingers flew deftly up the final buttons on my gown.

“Mademoiselle Fitt,” Laure drawled, lounging against our bunk, “you must be the easiest woman to dress on this boat.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked, giving the stewardess a thankful nod as she left our room.

Laure arched an eyebrow. “You ’ave no stays to pull or laces to tie.”

“It’s much more comfortable.” I smiled and patted my corset-free belly. “Perhaps one day all women will forgo the wretched—” I broke off as an itch began in my missing hand.

Holding my breath, I glanced down—and found the air over my wrist shimmered.
Distract yourself, Eleanor. Focus elsewhere. Distract!

“The wretched . . . ?” Laure prompted.

“Um.” I wet my lips, attempting to recall what we’d been discussing. “Uh, one day we’ll forgo the wretched things and start wearing trousers instead—”

Pain rammed into me—so hard and so fast, a moan broke through my lips.

“What is it?” Laure stepped toward me.

“It’s my hand.” I grasped my wrist to my chest, hoping she couldn’t see the glow.

Then a single, long howl burst through the room.

It was happening again. The guardians had found me.

Without thinking, I bolted for the door. I needed Oliver—now! He would know what to do.

Laure shouted after me, but I shoved into the hall without a backward glance.

Snatching my skirts in one hand, I barreled down the corridor and toward the stairs. My absent hand throbbed with each step, and I didn’t have to look to know that it glowed. The bluish light shone in my eyes like a lantern.

I reached the stairwell and headed toward the bar. Moments later, I burst into the second-class saloon. Shocked faces turned toward me, and I ran my eyes over each one. But none of them had the familiar rosy cheeks and rounded jaw I needed.

“Eleanor!” a voice yelled behind me. It was Laure, but I didn’t turn. At that instant a howl burst through the saloon, carrying with it the dark stench of grave dirt.

Every lamp flickered and winked out.

Screams erupted—high-pitched and terrified—and I realized that, for the first time, it wasn’t only I who could hear them. But what did that mean? Did it mean the Hound was here—actually in the earthly realm?

No, not hound.
Hounds
. There were several now, growling and barking over one another.

I spun around until I spotted the exit onto the second-class deck. Then I surged back into a run, my good hand out to shove people aside and my right hand a beacon to see by. If people noticed my glowing hand, they didn’t react—they were too busy scrambling and screaming in the dark.

“Move!” I shrieked, shoving people harder.

But I only made it halfway across the room before an icy wind blasted into me. I toppled forward and hit the ground. Pain burst in my chin, and the recent scratches ripped open. All around, the passengers’ shouts grew louder.

I dragged myself to my feet and trudged onward to the door. The wind was so strong, it felt like slogging through mud. Then came the sound like a full-speed train. The Hell Hounds were here—right behind me, with roars so intense they consumed every piece of my mind and being.

My legs pumped harder, my knees kicking high, and the bright square of daylight grew closer and closer. Just as I reached the door, a new voice shouted my name. “Eleanor!” Oliver’s figure formed in the doorway, arms outstretched.
“Faster!”

Other books

Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch
Engaging the Earl by Diana Quincy
Dangerous Relations by Marilyn Levinson
Just for Fins by Tera Lynn Childs
Meant To Be by Karen Stivali
The UnAmericans: Stories by Antopol, Molly
Nemesis by Jo Nesbø
Be My Lover by Cecily French
Johnny Marr by Richard Carman


readsbookonline.com Copyright 2016 - 2021