A Darkness Strange and Lovely (9 page)

It was exactly like the dream. Faster, I had to run
faster.

I reached the door, and Oliver grabbed my sleeves and yanked me aside just as the Hounds galloped past—screeching like tornados and fully visible now.

We ran as clouds crowded in overhead, blocking out the sun.

We reached the smokestacks at the center of the boat. Oliver shoved me between them. “You’ve got to hide!”

“How?” My breath came in short gasps. “They know I’m here!”

He shook his head. “You’ve only got seconds.” He grabbed my stump and lifted it. My hand was there in its entirety, pulsing from blue starlight to pink flesh and back. “You’ve got to hide this!”


How?
” I strained to keep breathing. I wasn’t ready to die—to have my soul obliterated! But the howls were racing closer, back on my trail. The smokestacks wouldn’t protect me from the Hounds’ supernatural jaws.

Oliver glanced desperately toward the sea. As my heart battered my lungs, I grabbed Oliver’s sleeve and yanked him to me. “If I bind to you, can you save me?”

His yellow eyes locked on mine. “Yes.”

“Then do it!”

He pulled me close. “Promise to set me free.”

The Hounds were so near, I could hear each snarl and the gnashing of their phantom teeth. “I can’t set you—”

“Promise to set me free,” he shouted, “and then I’ll save you!”

“Fine! Yes!” I shrieked over their raging howls. “I promise!”

Triumph flashed over his face. Gripping my left hand, he started whispering words I didn’t recognize and could barely hear. Then he leaned in until our foreheads touched. “Say
Sum dominus et veritas
.”

I hesitated.

“Say it, Eleanor—now!” The boat tipped dangerously, and the Hell Hounds’ growls shattered through my skull.


Sum dominus et veritas
!” I screamed.

Blue light flashed in Oliver’s eyes, and he tugged my glowing right hand up. The air around it sparked, cracking with electricity. Oliver’s eyes flashed the same color as my hand.

Abruptly, the wind stopped, and with it the howls.

But not the smell of grave dirt.

I turned to face them. The guardians of the spirit realm. They looked exactly as they had on the spirit dock, but now they stood still, confused. Four dogs towering over us, their noses sniffing and yellow eyes staring.

“Wh-what do we do?” I croaked.

“Give them a minute,” Oliver whispered. “Their target—your hand—just vanished. They should leave soon . . . I
think
.”

After what felt like hours of holding my breath, the dogs finally did twirl around and leave. I darted forward to watch them go.

Over the ship they bounded, their feet barely skimming the wood, before they leaped up off the edge and winked out of existence completely.

I spun to Oliver. “They’re gone?”

“Yes. Gone.”

My breath whooshed out. I almost doubled over. Oliver slipped his hand around my waist and guided me to the nearest bench, where we both plopped down and swallowed in air.

“That . . . that was close.” I was coated in sweat, and my scratches were scabbing over anew.

“Too close.” Oliver leaned onto his knees and held his head. “But that was smart of you, El. To bind to me, I mean.”

I winced. Maybe it had saved my life, but at what price?

“Don’t look so miserable,” Oliver grumbled. “You got to keep your life,
and
you got your hand back.” He reached for my right wrist and held it up.

My jaw sagged. All I could manage was a shocked sputter.

For there, wiggling at me as good as new, was a very flesh-colored, very
real
hand.

Chapter Eight

The first thing I did with my new hand was pinch
Oliver.

“Hey!” He scooted away from me on the bench.

“Is it real?” I leaned toward him to pinch again, but he wriggled away.

“Of course it’s real! Well, mostly.”

“What do you mean ‘mostly’?” I held it to the light, flexing and straightening the fingers. My body blazed with a warmth ten times more powerful than after the dream ward was cast. The closest I’d ever come to a feeling like this was when the doctors had fed me laudanum after amputating my hand. But this was a much,
much
better feeling. Instead of a happy lethargy, I felt ablaze with energy. I could do
anything
.

Oliver returned to his seat, eying me cautiously. “It’s a phantom limb—it’s only here because of my magic.”

“A phantom limb,” I repeated, shaking my head. “And will it stay forever?”

“About that . . .” He fixed his eyes on his feet. “It’s bound to
me
.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning the hand only exists as long as I exist.”

“So if I set you free, I lose the hand.”

“If?” Oliver wagged his finger at me. “
When
, you mean. You just made a binding agreement.”

“What happens if I don’t follow through?”

He bit his lip. “There is, um . . . a time limit. If you don’t set me free within the next two months, then your new hand will vanish.
And
, if Marcus’s spell is still in effect, then the Hell Hounds will come after you just like they did five minutes ago.”

“So I’m really no better off than before!” I cried. “All I did was sign over my life to you!”

“And I signed over mine!” He threw his hands up. “You ought to be thanking me, El! You’ve got absolute control over my magic now—anything you want done, I have to do.”

I deflated slightly. “Why two months?”

“The longer the time frame, the longer the incantation. We were in a bit of a
rush
, you know.”

“And now . . .” I stared at my fingers, torn between staggering relief and pulsing terror. “Now you’re my demon? Like a djinn?”

“Precisely. And you’re
my
master.”

“Will you call me Master Eleanor?”

“No.” He looked horrified. “I never called your brother Master Elijah.”

“What if I command you to?”

“Then I
have
to.” He groaned. “But is that really the sort of command you want to give?”

I shrugged. “Well, I have nothing else to ask for . . .”

“Then it’s a damned good thing I haven’t taught you the words of command yet.”

I fixed my eyes on him, and he shifted uncomfortably. “Of course, I
will
tell you.” He crossed his legs and lowered his voice, leaning close. “
Sum veritas.
You said it when you bound to me. It means ‘I am the truth.’”

I drummed my new fingers on my thigh, savoring the feeling. “So all I do is give you a command and add those words at the end?”

He nodded.

“All right. Go to the edge of the boat”—I pointed at the railing around the deck—“and wait for me.
Sum veritas.

A warm wave rolled over my body, and for a split second Oliver’s eyes shone blue.

He blinked, and then a scowl cut into his forehead. “Truly, El? That’s your command?” He slid off the seat, muttering, “Abuse of power.”

I shoved up and hurried after him. “Can you not resist?”

He slowed and clenched his teeth. “It . . . hurts. Don’t you feel it?”

I frowned and focused on my body. Sure enough, there was a strange sense growing in my belly—as if my breakfast wasn’t sitting quite right.

“All right,” I said, “I cancel the command. You can go wherever you want.
Sum veritas.
” Again the pleasant tingle coursed through me, and Oliver exhaled sharply. We padded back to the bench and sat.

“No more abusing power,” he ordered. “
Please.
You might turn me into a Rakshasi, if you’re not careful.”

“Turn you into a what?”

“A who. Rakshasa are demons. Very angry, very
awful
demons. For one, they have a fondness for making their fingernails venomous.”

“Venomous?”

“Nasty, isn’t it?” He shuddered. “I had the same reaction when Elijah told me about them.”

“So you haven’t met any?”

“No. Demons don’t exactly cavort in the spirit world, and most Rakshasa who cross into the earthly realm head straight for the Orient. For some reason, they seem to thrive there—perhaps they like the taste of rotting Asian flesh more than European? Who can say? But, oh dear”—his lips twitched up—“you’re looking a bit green, El.”

I grimaced. “I daresay rotting flesh isn’t the ideal topic for . . .” I trailed off. A figure had just appeared on the deck, her usual dark hair falling over her shoulders and her sleeve ripped jaggedly. Laure’s eyes met mine, and relief washed over her face.

“Invisibility,” I blurted. My happy warmth receded fast in the face of fear. “My hand—make it invisible.”

“What?” Oliver reared back. “I can’t do that—”

“Well, hide the blasted thing somehow.”

“Why?”

“My roommates have seen me
without
it.”

His face paled. “I can’t do a spell like that, El—it’s impossible.”

“But it’s magic,” I hissed. “You can do anything!”

“It’s
spiritual energy
,” he hissed back, “and there are limits.” He grabbed my sleeve and tugged. “Just pull it down. You’ll have to pretend.”

So I did precisely that, and just in time, for Laure had reached us. “
Mon Dieu
!” she cried. “You are all right! How did you know that was coming?”

“How did I know what was coming?” I asked carefully. Had she seen the Hell Hounds? My eyes flicked to Oliver’s, but he merely lifted one shoulder.

“That thing—that
cyclone
!” Laure wrung her hands. “Every lady is lost in a faint.”

“Cyclone?” I pressed.


Oui
. Made of water.”

Ah—a waterspout. Interesting explanation.

“Was there any damage?” Oliver inserted.

She turned to him, and recognition flashed in her eyes. “You are the young man from the other night,
non
?”

“Yes, he is,” I rushed to say. “He was on deck too when . . . when this
waterspout
hit.” I shifted my new hand beneath my skirts. “But was there any damage to the ship?”


Non
. It is the strangest thing. Other than some items knocked over and the icy water on everything, it is all fine.” She dropped to a whisper. “But I did hear that the captain wants to turn around. People are in a panic. For some reason, many think they saw
dogs
and not a waterspout. So the captain now believes we should return to shore.”

I sat up, alarmed. “Aren’t we too far? Surely we’re halfway to France by now.”


Non
—not quite, and there are so many Americans. They want their own soil.” She rolled her eyes. “You should see Mrs. Brown—’er poor granddaughter must wave smelling salts beneath her nose. And the little girl is one of those swearing that the waterspout was really a pack of wild dogs.” Laure giggled, as if it were the most absurd idea in the world.

Oliver snickered too, so I forced my own laugh. “Listen, Laure,” I said, “surely there are enough French people to keep the captain from turning around.”


C’est possible
.” She pursed her lips. “I can speak to any passengers who are still conscious. Perhaps we can make the majority.”


Je peux vous aider
,” Oliver said, his voice unusually silky.

Interest flared in Laure’s eyes. “
Parlez-vous français
?”


Bien sûr.
Of course.” He gave her a smile—a disarmingly handsome one.

A pleased flush burned on her cheeks. “I would welcome your help.” Her eyes flicked briefly to me. “Eleanor?”

“I don’t speak French,” I muttered. “Or at least not enough to help.”

She shrugged. “
Très bien.
You”—she flourished her fingers at Oliver—“will be enough.”

“I will join you momentarily.” He bowed smoothly, and as Laure sauntered off, I couldn’t help but notice the extra sway in her hips.

The instant she was out of sight, I slid close to the demon. “Listen: you have to keep the captain from taking us back to New York.”

“How?”

“Magic.”

He recoiled. “A compulsion spell? Absolutely not! You have to sacrifice a living person to do that.”

My insides flipped sickeningly.

“Exactly,” he said, seeing my grimace. “You have to cut out all the body parts you want to control. So to compel the captain’s tongue, I’d have to—”

“Cut out someone else’s tongue,” I said quickly. “I get it . . . but is there not some other way? What can you do with your magic?”

“Basic things. Mostly I just give you my power so you can cast spells. But . . .” He tapped his chin for a moment. “I suppose I could interfere with their navigation.”

My eyebrows rose. “Do I have to cast a spell for that?”

“No.” He jumped to his feet, his lips twisting up. “You see, I’m an incredibly persuasive demon. All it takes is a little conversation, charm . . .
alcohol
with the captain, and this boat will not be turning around.” He winked. “I’ll find you later,
Master
Eleanor.”

Then, arms swinging, he strode off to the saloon.

 

Oliver found me hours later in the dining room, shoving whatever I could find into my mouth. I felt wretched. Tired, hungry, and drowning in shame. Why had I bound myself to Oliver? What had I done? And what would the Spirit-Hunters say?

Oliver slumped into the seat beside me, his nose wrinkled. “Elijah said you enjoyed food, but this is disgusting.”

I gulped down some coffee and cleared my throat. “I’m sorry, Ollie. Demons may not eat, but
humans
do.”

“Demons have to eat too,” he retorted. “My body might not die as easily as yours, but it still needs food—and sleep.” He set his forearms on the table. “But you, Eleanor, are not eating. You’re gorging.”

I scowled. “I can’t help it. No matter how much I eat, I find I’m still hungry at the end.”

“I wonder . . .” His eyes thinned. “Finish your coffee so we can start studying necromancy.”

My heart bounced. Before I even knew what I was doing, I said, “All right.” But then I stopped, horror rushing through me. No—I didn’t want to learn more. Necromancy could only bring evil, and I would
not
do that.

“Actually,” I began, but then my stomach gurgled with such agony, I couldn’t speak. Maybe I
had
overindulged. “Actually,” I tried again, “I don’t need to learn it, do I? You told me the other day I could learn spells
or
bind to you.”

Oliver bit his lip. “Well . . . you’re forgetting the agreement.”

Another rumble churned in my belly. I gulped. “What agreement?”

“The one in which you promised to set me free within two months.”

Again the excitement shivered through me, but it was rapidly quelled by my conscience. I did not want this.
No
. “Set you free, set you free,” I muttered, hugging my hands over my stomach. “Is that all you care about?”

“Blessed Eternity!” he swore. “I just saved your life—”

“Only so I would save yours!”

“Well, you’re bound to this promise whether you like it or not.” He pounded the table. “Set me free or be Hell Hound lunch.”

“O-or,” I said, watching his face, “I can just take you to the Spirit-Hunters in Paris. Joseph can set you free.”

“Who can set me free?”

I winced as a hot wave of nausea hit me. No more eating three lunches in a row. “The Spirit-Hunters—they’re the ones who will help me with Marcus. Did Elijah not tell you about them? They were in Philadelphia when he . . .”

Oliver scowled, his eyebrows dropping so low they shaded his eyes. “When, pray tell, would Elijah have told me? He wouldn’t let me come to Philadelphia, remember?”

“He didn’t write?”

“No,” Oliver spat. “He didn’t bloody write.” He turned away, his jaw muscles twitching.

“Oh,” I murmured. Then, with a deep breath, I explained who the Spirit-Hunters were and how Joseph’s specialty was blasting spirits back to their realm.

“The important word there is ‘blast,’” Oliver said, shifting back toward me. “He’ll probably destroy my soul like a Hell Hound.”

“You’re just being dramatic.” Sweat beaded on my brow, and I dabbed at it. I craved water to cool me, but I knew there wasn’t any space in my stomach for it.

“I am
not
being dramatic.” Oliver glared, offended and . . . and something else. Something dark. Something
angry
. But I couldn’t tell if it was directed at me, the Spirit-Hunters, or someone else entirely.

The lines on his face relaxed, and he said almost flippantly, “How about this: you learn necromancy. Then you can set me free the old-fashioned . . .” He stopped speaking, and his eyebrows drew together. “Are you ill? You look a little green.”

I swallowed. “I . . . I think I ate too much.”

“Of course you did!”

“Can you help me walk to my cabin?” I made to stand up, but he flicked up his hand and stopped me.

“Not that you deserve this after intentionally stuffing your face, but I can ease your gluttonous pains if you wish.” He fingered the chain around his neck. “All you have to do is say the words.”


Sum veritas
? How will that make my stomachache go—” I broke off and dropped my gaze to my belly. The trickle of warmth was sliding through me, glowing faintly blue.

I gasped because, oh, I loved it. It was two long heartbeats of perfection, and then when the haze cleared, I realized my nausea had vanished.

And fear grabbed hold of my chest. I jerked my head toward Oliver. “Wh-why’d you do that?”

His eyes were wide, scared. “I’m sorry.”

“I didn’t ask for it!” I was terrified because my body wanted more—
needed
more—of that magic.

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