Excerpt – The Catalyst of Corruption

Warning!  The stories in my Final Formula Series are intended to be read in order.  Reading them out of order will spoil the fun of an earlier tale.  For blurbs, excerpts, and retailer links on the previous books in the series, just click on my BOOKS tab above.


The-Catalyst-of-Corruption-800 Cover reveal and PromotionalChapter 1

Alchemy is a diverse discipline that offers endless possibilities. The alchemist is not restricted to a particular magic born to her. She can create potions to achieve anything, limited only by her imagination—and morality.

At least, that was what I had always believed. I was a master alchemist, but some problems still stumped me. For example, I had yet to design a potion that could heal a broken heart. And at the moment, I wished I had.

Ian’s face gave away nothing as he studied the name carved on the lid of the sarcophagus. I had come to know the man well over the last few months, and I knew his silences were the equivalent of more violent outbursts from other men. Even so, I had expected some reaction.

I pressed closer to Rowan’s side, unnerved by the silence in these subterranean catacombs, and ran my flashlight beam over the name carved on the lid. Matilda Grace Nelson. Ian’s daughter. We had finally found her grave. Well, Elysia and James had technically found her grave—and they had gone through hell to do it.

I glanced over at where the pair stood watching Ian. They had been held captive in these catacombs by Ian’s twin brother, Alexander. Elysia had placed herself under Alexander’s power in hope of finding his secret location, ultimately ending him with James’s help. But that hadn’t been their only goal. They had also hoped to learn of Matilda’s location. And they had. Sort of.

“The sarcophagus is empty,” Ian said.

Rowan left my side and walked to the sarcophagus, his footsteps echoing off the bare walls. He lifted his battery-powered lantern, illuminating the interior of the stone box. “What does this mean?”

“It can mean a lot of things,” Ian said.

Rowan frowned, but didn’t question him further. Instead, he turned to James. “Is anyone else here?”

James’s green eyes began to glow, and he spun in a slow circle as he searched for souls around us. “Down below.”

“There are more tunnels beneath us?”

“There were cells containing imprisoned liches,” Elysia said. She glanced up at James. “I guess we didn’t find them all.”

“Show me.” Rowan was clearly in Flame Lord mode, taking command. He had insisted on joining us, and I was grateful. Alexander wouldn’t dare return with him around.

“I will show you,” Elysia said, “then James can release them.” She gave James a questioning look and he nodded.

“I can do it,” Rowan said.

I knew he offered because, like me, he wasn’t happy about James taking life—even if these things were technically dead.

“I’ll be freeing them,” James said to Rowan. “It won’t harm me.”


“I don’t plan to eat their souls.” James flashed him a grin of teeth more canine than human. He pulled off his T-shirt and handed it to Elysia.

I noted the way she frowned when he said that. Was it more than a joke?

James removed his sweatpants and passed them to Elysia as well. A shimmer of darkness, and a hellhound suddenly stood in his place. As a hound, he was huge. His shoulders stood higher than my waist. His shaggy black fur was so dark that the shadows swallowed him—or maybe, he swallowed the shadows. Only his glowing green eyes were visible as he walked soundlessly around the sarcophagus and disappeared behind it.

We followed him to a crudely dug stairwell carved into the stone floor. James vanished into the darkness, only the faint green glow from his eyes marking his progress. Ian followed without hesitation, though the rest of us held the flashlights.

“Watch yourselves,” Elysia said, moving toward the dark hole. “We were attacked the last time we were down here.”

“Attacked?” I asked. “By what?”

“Those liches. The one controlling them wasn’t happy about having her space invaded.”

I caught Elysia’s arm. “Her?”

“I considered that it might be Matilda.” Elysia kept her words soft. “But she told me she was a soul reaper. It was my understanding that Mattie was a lich king, like her father.”

“That’s what he told me,” I agreed.

“This is probably one of her descendants.”

I released her arm, making an effort not to stare at her eyes. Elysia’s golden-brown irises were noticeably lighter than they had been before her adventure in these catacombs. During that ordeal, Elysia had learned that she, too, was a soul reaper—a necromantic blood gift that was as rare as it was deadly. But what really bothered me, and her, was that Ian had known what she was and had never told her.

I aimed my flashlight down the uneven steps and waited while Elysia descended. “Here we go again,” I said to Rowan.

“Era is going to be upset that we explored some catacombs without her.”

I bit back a laugh. “True.” Rowan’s sister Element loved horror movies and ghost hunts. “So why is it that we always end up in these places?”

“I believe we decided that it was part of my master plan to scare you into my arms.”

I smiled, remembering the first crypt we had explored together. It had turned out to be Ian’s.

“I’ll let you in on a little secret, Your Grace.” I looked up into his gray eyes, clearly visible in the light of his lantern. “I don’t need to be scared to jump into your arms.”

A faint ring of fire ignited around his pupils. “Perhaps you would like to demonstrate later.”

“Perhaps.” I gave him a wink, then started down the steps, very aware of him following. It was the most playful he’d been in a while.

The walls closed in the deeper we went, and the scent of damp earth filled my nose. At the base of the stairs, a tunnel stretched into the darkness, the hand-dug walls broken up every few feet by what appeared to be smaller tunnels on either side. I suspected these were the cells Elysia had mentioned.

She hadn’t stopped to examine any of them, but continued to the end of the tunnel where it opened up into a large room.

I stopped just inside, shining my flashlight around the space. A heavy wooden table stood in the center of the room, and I noted with unease the shackles hanging from the underside.

Elysia continued to the far wall and a second table there. She ran her flashlight beam over the surface, illuminating what appeared to be a collection of old tools, then she began examining the floor. Was she looking for something?

Rowan walked past me, and I followed him into the room. He set his lantern on the center table, then lifted one of the shackles for a closer examination before dropping it. The soft clang of metal on metal echoed around the space.

“What is this place?” I asked.

“It is where those who displeased the Nelson Family were Made,” Ian said, joining us.

James walked past him, his paws making no sound as he crossed the room to Elysia’s side.

“Did you find any…one?” I asked.

“A pair of liches so old that they had lost their mobility.” Ian walked deeper into the room, examining his surroundings with the typical necromancer indifference.

“So, this place has been here longer than your tomb?” I asked. Ian had been decayed when I found him, but not to the point that it had affected his mobility.

“No.” Ian walked over to the table of equipment Elysia had been examining.

I frowned at his back.

Blood. The word just popped into my mind.

I glanced over and found Elysia watching me. The hairs on my arms rose. Ever since she had used her magic to save my life, I would occasionally pick up on her thoughts. Since her visit to these catacombs, she was doing more than projecting a random image. She had begun to communicate.

Blood? I mouthed the word.

Necromancer blood delays rot.

I watched Ian pick up another tool, this one a large pair of forceps. He had told me that his brother had continued to visit his tomb. Alexander had lived another forty years after he had Made Ian. Had Alexander used his own blood to keep Ian whole?

I shivered and Rowan lifted a questioning eyebrow. I reached down and gave his forearm a reassuring squeeze, then walked over to Ian.

“Any idea where she might be?” I asked.

“No.” He set down the forceps and picked up a pair of thick-bladed scissors.

“There are no other souls within the catacombs,” James said. He had pulled on his sweatpants.

I sighed. In other words, Matilda wasn’t here—or she was no longer among the living. “Damn.”

Ian opened the scissors. They moved surprisingly well for such an old tool. Then, too, Ian did possess the strength of the dead.

“What now?” I asked.

“Find Lex.” He closed the scissors with a snap.

“Will a truth serum work on the dead?”

Ian looked up, those vibrant blue eyes meeting mine. I had a strong suspicion that he wasn’t thinking about using a truth serum on his brother.

I gripped his cool wrist just above the hand that held the scissors. “Those would not be terribly effective against the dead.”

“You underestimate my brother’s vanity.”

I eyed how meticulously Ian was dressed to explore these catacombs. “I doubt it.”

A hint of dimples creased his cheeks, but the small smile didn’t last.

Alexander had taken Ian’s daughter for his wife in hopes of combining his and Ian’s considerable power. It had worked. In vengeance, Ian had slipped his brother a potion making it so Alexander could only father powerful female offspring. Thus ending Alexander’s quest to establish a dynasty. But the potion worked too well. Those girls could also only have daughters, and every one of them inherited that same combined power. They were all soul reapers.

A soft growl pulled my attention from Ian to James. He stood with his T-shirt in his hands, but he hadn’t pulled it on. His green eyes were on full glow.

“What is it?” Rowan asked.

“We’re not alone,” Elysia said, accepting James’s shirt when he passed it back to her.

I crossed my arms. “As if this place wasn’t disturbing enough.”

Ian gave my shoulder a pat and walked over to James. “A specter?”

“Aside from a grim, that’s the only thing I know that can walk the veil.” James stepped out of his pants and handed them to Elysia. “I’ll flush it out.”

A shimmer of darkness, and he became the hound. Then he vanished. No portal opened; he simply wasn’t there.

“He isn’t accurate,” Ian said. “The powerful can walk the veil.”

Elysia looked up, her faded eyes meeting his. “Do you think it’s Matilda?”

“No.” His gaze swept the room. “Can you sense James?”

“Yes, but I feel him through the bond.”

“Are you sure?”

Elysia frowned. Then turned, gazing across the room. A chill crawled up my spine as her eyes seemed to track movement.

“It’s the bond,” she answered Ian.

“But you could sense the other?”

“She speaks to me.”

Ian frowned. “I hear nothing.”

Elysia’s jaw hardened. “I’m not mad—yet. Doug and James couldn’t hear her last time we were here.”

“I wasn’t implying—”

“You were considering it.”

I was about to cut in when both of them whirled to face the far wall. I turned, as well, and noticed the open portal. James hadn’t left via a portal, but when something on four legs jumped out, I expected it to be him. Then I realized what I was seeing wasn’t canine, it was human. I covered my mouth with one hand as my brain tried to make sense of what it was seeing.

“Dear God,” Rowan whispered. His shoulder brushed mine as he moved to my side.

The man—if I could still call it that—scurried across the floor on all fours. The problem was that the fours weren’t in the proper order. His limbs had been rearranged. Arms grew from his hips and legs from his shoulders. I couldn’t tell how he had come to be in this condition, because he was so badly decayed that he was little more than dried muscle, tendon, and bone.

The lich thing scuttled across the floor, heading straight for Elysia.

She spun to face the equipment table. Dropping James’s clothes on the surface, she snatched up a scalpel.

“What are you doing?” I asked. A lich couldn’t be stopped with a scalpel.

“It’s soul-reaper Made. I can only control it with my blood.” She ran the scalpel across her palm.

“No!” Ian lunged forward and caught her wrist, but he was too late to stop her from cutting herself. He pushed her behind him, positioning himself between her and the charging creature.

The lich skidded to a stop and rose up on arms that now served as legs. It looked so wrong that it didn’t seem real. I watched in horrified fascination as it kicked at Ian with an upper limb.

Ian turned his shoulders, avoiding the strike, and closed in on it. He caught its head, or rather, its skull, between his palms.

The thing reared up on one… hand and gripped the bottom of Ian’s coat with the other.

Rowan took a step toward him, fire already burning in his eyes.

Ian twisted the lich’s head to the side and pulled upward. The move looked so effortless that I was shocked when the head popped off with a loud crunch. An instant later, the deformed body crumbled as the necromancy holding it together was released. Ian dropped the skull, and it landed with a clatter among the now bare bones.

“That’s how Alexander killed Bella,” Elysia whispered in the silence.

“Bella?” Rowan asked.

“His eldest daughter,” Elysia said. “He pulled off her head with no more compassion than that.” She gestured at Ian and the pile of bones.

Ian gave her a frown. “You will not use your blood gift.”

Elysia fisted her hand and a drop of blood fell to the floor. “I wasn’t going to reap it; I was just going to sever the bonds that held it to its master.”

“Where would the soul go once you freed it?”

“It would—” Elysia gasped and whirled away from Ian.

I followed her gaze, trying to figure out what had drawn her attention, when a cloaked figure appeared a few yards in front of her. If it had come through a portal, I hadn’t seen it.

“Rowan, don’t.” Ian lifted a hand to stop him from ashing the lich, then he stepped around Elysia.

“She’s the soul reaper,” Elysia whispered. “This is her… workshop.”

The lich took a step toward Ian. Father?

My mouth fell open. Oh my God, could this be Mattie?

Ian stopped, and a frown darkened his expression. Not the reaction I expected at finding his long-lost daughter.

“Is that Matilda?” Rowan asked, echoing my suspicions.

I studied Ian’s face, and suddenly I understood. “No.” Elysia claimed this girl was a soul reaper. Mattie hadn’t possessed that gift.

You never come visit me anymore, Father.

“Visit you?” Ian asked.

Here. In my workshop. Who is she? The lich waved an arm at Elysia, revealing a glimpse of skeletal fingers beneath the frayed sleeve. She’s a soul reaper. Is she my sister?

“How could I be your sister?” Elysia demanded.

The hooded head turned toward Elysia, and I took that moment to move closer to Ian. “What’s going on?” I whispered.

“A case of mistaken identity,” he mumbled, keeping his eyes on the lich.

“She thinks you’re Alexander?” I asked. James had told me that Ian and his brother were identical twins.

“I’d say Lex fathered a fourth daughter.”

“There was no record of that.”

“And the records you found were so accurate?” He did have a point. Alexander had altered the birth certificates of Ian’s three youngest sons making them appear to be his.

The lich faced him once more.

“Play along,” I muttered.

Ian frowned, but didn’t refuse. “Can you prove who you are?” he asked her. “Who were your parents?”

You named me Psyche, Father. She took a step toward Ian. Did you find a suitable vessel? Shall I try again? She took my uncle’s journal. She waved a hand at Elysia. But I have it memorized.


Suddenly, a portal whispered open behind her. A clawed hand reached out and caught her shoulder.

“James, no!” Ian shouted.

James had left the portal open, and though the darkness masked him, I could tell by his height that he was in his true form—as he called it. A mesh of hellhound and human, he towered over the lich, his glowing green eyes now on Ian.

“Don’t take her across,” Ian said.

James released her shoulder, then leapt from the portal, landing on four paws.

Hellhound! Look out, Father! Psyche pulled a dagger from her belt and lunged at James.

“No!” Elysia sprang forward and caught her arm. The move did nothing to slow Psyche. Instead, Elysia was pulled off her feet.

“Stop!” Elysia shouted.

This time, Psyche stumbled. She recovered quickly and spun toward Elysia, lifting her dagger.

A shimmer of darkness, and James was human, yet he moved so fast, I barely followed it. He caught Psyche from behind, seizing her wrist before she could bring the dagger down.

Release me, dead man.

James snarled, but did as commanded.

Psyche still held the dagger aloft, but before she could continue the downward motion, Elysia shoved her bloodied hand into Psyche’s hood. “Do not give him commands.” Elysia’s eyes went white.

“Elysia, don’t,” Ian said.

Elysia spared him a glare. “Back off, Ian.”

Ian? Psyche’s voice was little more than a whisper. She shoved Elysia away and with a single sidestep, vanished.

I blinked. “Where did she go?” She hadn’t opened a portal.

“She’s in the veil,” James said, then shifted into the hellhound.

Four portals simultaneously opened around the room. For an instant, I thought James was behind it, then four…things ran out, one from each opening. The first was canine, the limbs realigned so it ran on two legs. The other three were human—or had once been. Their bodies had been disassembled and reattached in bizarre ways that made my stomach turn. They were all little more than skeletons now. I didn’t even want to think about what they must have looked like before they decayed.

“James, get Elysia out of here.” Ian’s eyes flickered white. “Take her to the lab. Now.”

A portal opened behind Elysia as James sprang toward her. He bumped into her, and she stumbled back into the portal, then he followed.

“James—” The rest of Elysia’s words were lost as the portal closed behind them.

The four creatures continued to close on us—or that’s what I thought before the dog thing ran right past me. They were going after Ian.

“Stop!” he shouted.

The things slid to a halt. None of them breathed, or made a sound. They just watched him with eyeless faces.

Ian’s white eyes glanced in our direction. “You two get out of here.” He spoke the words between clenched teeth, his attention immediately returning to the things around him.

One of the humanoid creatures dropped into a crouch, its legs folding backward like a grasshopper’s.

“I said, stop,” Ian repeated.

The grasshopper thing froze, but the one on Ian’s other side took a step toward him. I couldn’t see where its head was. An arm was mounted where its neck should be.

“Why can’t you stop them?” I reached in the front pocket of my jeans and pulled out a vial.

“They’re soul-reaper Made. Go.”

“I’ve got some necromancy solvent.” I held up the vial.

Ian ignored me. “Rowan, get her out of here.”

The dog thing dropped to all fours, though it still didn’t look right.

I pulled the cap from the vial. “I’m not leaving you.”

Rowan gripped my shoulder.

“We can’t—” I didn’t get to finish my plea before all four dead things erupted into roaring pillars of blue-white flame.

Ian threw up an arm, dropping into a crouch. The flames flared all the way to the ceiling, then abruptly vanished. Nothing remained of the four creatures. No ash, no bones, just silence.

Rowan released my shoulder, and the soft chime of metal against metal sounded behind me. I turned to find him braced against the autopsy table, the manacles gently swinging beneath the wooden surface where he had bumped into it.

Ian rose to his feet. “That wasn’t necessary.”

Rowan’s still glowing eyes shifted to him. “You couldn’t hold them.”

“I could have held them long enough for the two of you to get out of here. Then I would have used the portal to leave.”

The orange glow in Rowan’s eyes shrank to a slim band around his pupils. “You would have left those things to be found by the next curious person to venture down here?”

“She is still here.” Ian brushed his coat then tugged it straight.

“Does she have more of those things?” I asked.

“I assume not, or they’d be here now.”

“What were they?” Rowan asked.

“A soul reaper’s pets,” Ian answered.

“She made them? Can she make more?”

“No. Without blood, she cannot use her blood gift, but she is still a soul reaper. I’d rather not test my skill against hers.” Ian’s gaze shifted to me. “Give him his remedy. We need to go.”

Rowan released his grip on the table. “I’m not—”

“You are paler than a corpse and your nose is bleeding,” Ian said. “But if you prefer, I can carry you out of here.”

I reached down the front of my shirt and pulled out the vial I always kept tucked in my bra. “Your nose is bleeding.” I offered Rowan the vial.

He pulled a tissue from his pocket and dabbed his nose. “I’m fine.”

“Being less than whole puts Addie in danger,” Ian said. “Is your pride that important to you?”

Fire spread through Rowan’s eyes once more. “You want to lecture me about putting her in danger?”

I stepped between them. “Would you two quit?” I gave Ian my back and held out the vial to Rowan. “Take the damn potion.”

Rowan frowned.

“Please, Rowan.”

He held my gaze for one long moment, and just when I thought he would refuse, he took the vial from my fingers.

A snarl echoed around the room, and suddenly, James was back. No sooner did his paws hit the ground then he was human. He caught Ian by the throat and pinned him to the wall before the portal could close behind him.

One look at James’s face, and I knew he was beyond pissed.

“James!” I hurried toward them. “James, don’t.”

Glowing green eyes flicked in my direction, but James didn’t release him. “I took your journal,” he said to Ian, his voice a low snarl. “I read enough of it to know what you were studying.”

“Was that the journal Psyche mentioned?” I asked, glancing between the two of them.

“I assume,” James answered. “I found it here, in this room.”

Ian’s eyes flickered white, and James released him with a snarl. “How much did you read?” Ian demanded. “Answer.”

“Damn it, Ian.” He was starting to really piss me off.

“Just a line or two, here and there.” James’s tone made it clear that he was no happier with Ian than I was. “It was enough.”

“Where is it now?” I asked.

“We lost it,” James said.

“Any idea where?”

“Here, the Nelson Funeral Parlor, I don’t know.”

“You took it to the funeral parlor?” Ian took a step toward him. “You’d better hope Neil didn’t read it.”

“Why?” I asked, trying to insert myself between them—at least verbally.

Ian glanced in my direction, a frown wrinkling his forehead, but I didn’t think it was anger. A portal whispered open beside him.


His eyes met mine before he stepped into the portal.

“What’s this about?” I demanded.

“Ash alchemy,” his voice echoed out of the portal.

I didn’t see the portal close. I fell into a memory.


Chapter 2

Neil smiled at me, his face lightly sweated in the glow of the cremator. He lifted the jar, displaying the gray ashes inside, then dipped in a finger. As I watched, he brought it to his mouth.

I wrinkled my nose. “That’s hardly hygienic.”

He smacked his lips. “Necromancer.”

I tried not to laugh. “Seriously, that’s gross.”

“How do you know if you haven’t tried it? Then, too, you wouldn’t be able to sense the power.”

“Ha ha.” He loved to remind me that I wasn’t magical, and that he was. “Is he strong enough to suit our purposes?”

“No blood gift, but he was moderately talented.”

“So that’s a yes?”

His white eyes glinted. “That’s a yes.” He offered me the jar. “I know it works on Old Magic.”

I took the jar, holding it up to examine the ashes inside. Ashes that contained a necromancer’s power.

“The question is,” Neil continued, “does it work on New Magic?”

I looked up, aware of the Air Element he had imprisoned upstairs. “Only one way to find out.”



I blinked my eyes, trying to focus on Rowan’s face in the dim light. He knelt before me on the floor of the catacombs’ autopsy room.

“Your nose is bleeding,” James said from behind me. It was he who I leaned against.

I brushed a finger beneath my nose, and it came away bloody.

“Déjà vu?” James asked, using the term I had chosen for the magical surges of memory I occasionally experienced.

“Yes.” I pushed myself to my feet, turning my back on them. It had been a long time since I’d had a memory surge strong enough to knock me down.

“Anything you want to share?” James asked.

“Not particularly.” I eyed the blood and couldn’t help but wonder just how much blood I had on my hands.

Rowan stepped up beside me and wordlessly offered me a tissue.

“Thanks,” I muttered and dabbed my nose. James and Rowan maintained their silence, making my pounding heart sound loud in my ears. I knew they wouldn’t pressure me, but we were way past the point where I could remain silent. They both knew that my past was a dark one, and they had forgiven me for it, trusting that I was a better person now.

I took a deep breath and plunged in. “I remembered working with Neil,” I said. “There was a cremator—where, I don’t know. He handed me a jar of ashes, claiming they contained the power of a necromancer.”

“Did he kill him?” James asked, his voice now coming from the other side of the room. He had moved to the equipment table where his clothes still lay.

“I don’t know.” I swallowed. “Nor do I know if I helped him.”

My response was met with silence. I could imagine them making eye contact, but I didn’t turn to look.

“What was the purpose of the ashes?” Rowan asked.

I dabbed my nose again and examined the tissue instead of looking at him. “We were studying ash alchemy.”

“Ash alchemy? What exactly is that?”

Knowledge that I had forgotten suddenly filled my mind. Somehow Ian’s mention of the term had unlocked knowledge I hadn’t been aware I had. It wasn’t the first time a powerful déjà vu surge had done that. Strangely, it gave me only the information and not specific memories about how I had acquired it.

I cleared my throat. “It’s a branch of alchemy in which the primary, or quintessent ingredient, is the cremated remains of a person, typically someone who had a magical ability.”

“What purpose does that serve?” Rowan asked.

“Supposedly, the magical ability can be transferred to someone else.”

“It works?”

“You’ve seen it,” James said to Rowan. “Winters was an ash alchemist.”

“Winters,” Rowan repeated. “The crazy doctor haunting the old crematorium on Buffalo Ridge. How do you know?”

“While we were there, I was shown what he did, but I didn’t have a term for it until I read Ian’s journal.”

I looked over my shoulder. “What did his journal say?”

“He was studying soul transference.”

“What exactly does that mean?” I asked.

“Just what you’d think. Transferring a soul from one body to another,” James said.

Rowan snorted. “A necromancer myth.”

“It’s supposed to be the core ability of the soul reaper blood gift.” James’s voice dropped to a whisper. “And I can tell you that Elysia really does take a little of each soul she binds.” His faintly glowing eyes met mine. “You know she’s now connected to you.”

“You mean the way she’s able to share mental images with Addie?” Rowan asked.

“She’s getting to the point where she can speak to me,” I admitted.

“What does that mean?” Rowan turned to James. “What did she do to Addie?”

“She saved her life—at the cost of her own.”

“I won’t let it come to that,” I said.

“This is her blood gift, her inborn magic. You can’t change that.”

“Yeah? Watch me.”

A smile curled James’s lips, but he didn’t look convinced.

“What does all this have to do with Ian’s journal?” Rowan asked.

“I didn’t get to read much,” James said. “But I came across a formula. One of the quint ingredients was the ashes of a soul reaper.”

A twinge of déjà vu darkened the edges of my vision.

“Addie?” Rowan’s hand settled on my back.

“Do you remember the other ingredients?” I asked James.

“That one kind of floored me.” James shook his head. “I didn’t read on. Why would he want a soul reaper’s ability?”

I snapped my fingers. “The potion he hit his brother with. All Alexander’s daughters were soul reapers.”

“I considered that, but the journal was written before Ian was Made.”

I frowned.

“And you don’t know where this journal ended up?” Rowan asked James.

“I put it in the pocket of Elysia’s robe, but when everything was over, it was no longer there. Neil held her captive for a time.”

Rowan sighed, his gaze moving to me. “Does he need the journal, or is the information it contains redundant to him?”

I couldn’t hold his gaze and frowned at the far wall instead. “I got the sense that we were just starting down that road.”

“Any idea when that was?”

“Last summer. The end of June.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Rowan straighten. Era had been missing for four days around the end of June. I steeled my courage and made myself continue. “In my memory, Neil asked me if it would work on New Magic.”

Something clanked behind me, and I spun toward the sound. In the beam of my flashlight, I could see one of the shackles swinging on its chain.

“We should go,” James said. “I’ll lead you out of here, then I’m going back to the lab.”

“Okay,” Rowan agreed. “I think we’ve learned all we can.”

I hoped that was true, but I had a feeling this was just the beginning.


“Are you going to spend the whole drive studying the landscape?” Rowan asked after we’d been on the road for a few minutes.

I pulled my eyes from the forested hills along the winding two-lane road we were following. “I was considering it.”

He glanced over before the road forced his attention back on his driving. “I thought we had moved beyond this.”


“Your past.”

“I don’t think I can ever move beyond that.”

“Then take the Final Formula, and we’ll face it together.”

His suggestion both pleased and horrified me. The fact that he was willing to accept the bad that I might have done was wonderful, but I couldn’t bear the thought of him knowing what evil I might have committed.


“I won’t take the Formula.” With its powerful regenerative properties, the Final Formula would repair the damage Emil had done when he stole the Formula from me. It would return my memories.

“It’s not going to make you someone you’re not.”

But it might make me someone I once was, and after the glimpses I had gotten of my past, that terrified me. “I won’t take it.”

Rowan sighed. “Well, you and Elysia have that in common.”

“Yeah.” Elysia also refused to take the Final Formula, but not because she feared her past. Her fears lay in the future. Her gift was destined to drive her insane. It wasn’t a future she wanted to prolong—even though the Formula would regrow the partially amputated finger Alexander had severed.

“Do you really think you can save her?” Rowan asked.

“There’s a solution, I know there is. It’s just not something I would ever consider.”

“Hmm.” He didn’t look over, but his lips curled upward.

“I’m going to have to think outside the box.”

“Don’t you always?”

“Way outside the box. And I’ll have to learn more about necromancy.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem, considering who your roommates are.”


James and Elysia hadn’t returned from the catacombs alone; they’d brought Doug Nelson with them. When I learned that Xander, his father, had attempted to Make him, I had insisted Doug stay with me.

“He offered to pay me rent, but as I told him, what’s one more necromancer?”

Rowan chuckled. “How did you end up starting a home for wayward necromancers?”

“If I’m housing the wayward ones, I’m going to need a bigger building.”

“Good point.” Rowan merged onto the interstate, deftly weaving between two cars. “With so many of your roommates on the opposition’s Most Wanted list, I’m beginning to wonder if you’re safe at your apartment.”

Where was he going with that? After Gavin had nearly killed me, Rowan had spent the first two weeks of my convalescence with me. But once I began to recover, he had returned home. He claimed that being away from his brother and sister Elements was hard on him—and them. In some strange magical way, they balanced each other. I knew that was true, but I still wondered about his timing. Rowan had returned home as soon as the doctor released me from all restrictions. Restrictions that had included no sex. Was Rowan afraid he would lose control of his magic again? He had done a nice job of destroying my shower the last time we were together. I couldn’t help but wonder just how close he had come to hurting me.

“I’ll be fine,” I said. “You don’t need to find me another building.”

“I wasn’t thinking about moving the lab.”

The hesitant quality of his tone made me look over. Rowan wasn’t the hesitant type. “I get the sense that you’re going somewhere with this.”

He met my eyes for a moment. “I was going to ask you to move in with me, with us. Cora even agreed to it.”

I stared at him. “You asked her?”

“Yes.” He spared me another glance. “There goes your favorite excuse.”

I frowned. Was that really what he thought? “I don’t use it as an excuse. She dislikes me.”

He tapped his finger against the wheel, but didn’t disagree. “So, what’s your answer?”

“Technically, you didn’t ask a question.”


“You want me to move into my old room at the manor?”

“No. I want you to move in with me. I think you understand the distinction. You’re just putting off answering.” He changed lanes a little more quickly than he usually would. “It’s pretty simple. Yes or no.”

He was starting to anger me, and I was really tempted to say no, out of spite, but that would be childish. I knew that he was being snippy because he thought I was turning him down.

“It’s not that simple. I love you, Rowan, you know that. I would love to move in with you, but there’s so much going on right now. I can’t leave Elysia, and as insane as it sounds, Doug is going to bear watching to keep him from doing something stupid.”

“And Ian?”

“And Ian.” I didn’t elaborate.

Rowan gave me a frown, but said nothing. He tolerated Ian more than he used to, but I didn’t think he would ever truly like, let alone trust, the guy. Though at this point, I was beginning to wonder if Rowan had judged him accurately.


I didn’t get to quiz Ian about his journal; he wasn’t in the lab. But there was still a necromancer at the workbench—not that he was doing any work.

Doug Nelson gave Rowan and me a sheepish look as we emerged from the back hall.

“That looks impressive,” Rowan said.

Doug had made something that looked like the Eiffel Tower from a collection of rubber stoppers, magnetic stir bars, and a few glass rods.

“You know you’re welcome to go upstairs and watch TV,” I said.

“A man can only watch so much daytime television.” Doug dropped the last few stir bars on the counter and faced us. “Besides, James and Elysia are up there.”

“Hogging the remote?” I teased.

“Arguing whether the cut on her hand requires healing. When I asked what happened, I got my head bit off.”

I sighed.

“So what did happen?” he asked.

We gave him a quick recap of what we found in the catacombs.

Doug shook his head when we finished. “I wish you had invited me to go. I could have helped. I could have done something purposeful. Something that might let me get back to my life.”

Rowan sighed. “Your father isn’t returning my calls.”

“He may not be among the living.”

“Since when does that stop your kind from answering the phone?” I asked.

Doug gave me a frown.

“What? You said he expected to be Made.”

“I was considering paying him a visit at home,” Rowan cut in.

“No,” I said.

“I agree with Addie,” Doug quickly added.

Rowan lifted a brow, but before he could speak, James joined us.

“Agree with Addie about what?” James asked.

Doug faced him. “About Rowan not visiting my father.”

Rowan’s phone buzzed, and he pulled it from his pocket, and after glancing at the screen, answered it. “Waylon,” Rowan said into the phone. “Are you about to spoil my afternoon?”

“Now what?” I muttered. Director Waylon was head of the PIA, the Paranormal Investigation Agency. He wouldn’t call Rowan unless he had a problem.

As Rowan listened, I glanced up at James. James’s hellhound half gave him superhuman hearing. He had no trouble listening to the other side of telephone conversations. A deepening frown shadowed his green eyes, and he moved closer.

“I’m on my way,” Rowan said to Waylon, then ended the call.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

It was James who answered. “Waylon thinks he found my brothers.”


“Well, where they were holed up. If he had actually found them, he probably wouldn’t have been able to call.” James grimaced.

In other words, Waylon would have been dead.

“Where?” I asked.

“Ian’s crypt.” James answered.

What? “How would they know about his tomb?”

“Apparently, Gavin didn’t free them,” Rowan took up the story. “He locked them up somewhere secure. Being new to town, his options were limited.”

“He closed them up inside?” I asked. “That was over a month ago.” How were George and Henry still alive?

“He must have left them some supplies.”

“God, I never considered that they might be confined. I was just relieved that they seemed to be leaving us alone.”

“Fortunately, someone found them,” Rowan said. “Well, fortunately for us, not so fortunate for the three guys who discovered them.”

Fortunate because if his brothers died, James would be exiled from the mortal plane. “Who were these guys?” I asked.

“Waylon doesn’t know. They have police records for things like theft and vandalism, so they were probably up to no good. Waylon estimated that they’ve been dead for several days to a week. It was the smell that led to their discovery.”

I wrinkled my nose. “How does he know it was James’s brothers?”

“At this point, it’s just speculation. He wants us to help him make that determination.”


“You’re good at crime scene investigations.” Rowan turned to James. “I would like you to come, too.”

James didn’t look so sure. “Alexander wants Elysia, and without Ian here…”

“Give us time to drive over,” Rowan said. “Pop in, take a look, and come back. Bring me a pair of your sweatpants, and I’ll take them along so you don’t have to flash any PIA agents.”

James gave him a dark look, but moved off toward the stairs to do as Rowan asked.

“I could tell you how long they’ve been dead,” Doug spoke up. “Better than anyone the PIA employs.”

Rowan considered him. “Okay.”

“Let me grab my jacket.” Doug hurried to the room he now shared with Ian.

I watched him go, surprised by his eagerness to help us.

“You okay with that?” Rowan asked, catching me frowning after Doug.

“Sure. We might as well put him to work.”

Rowan smiled. “My thoughts exactly.”


Rowan didn’t park along the curb as he did the first time we visited Greenlawn cemetery. Instead, he drove beneath the arch and parked behind the collection of late-model sedans lining the narrow road.

Doug climbed out of the Camaro, then held the door while I slipped out of the back seat. I looked up, ready to thank him, but he had closed his eyes, his head tipped back and a smile on his face.

“Enjoying the ambiance?” I asked.

He opened his eyes, and his white irises met mine. “I appreciate your hospitality, but I do find it a bit lacking.”

“My apologies. Had I expected your visit, perhaps I could have picked up a corpse or two.” A necromancer had to periodically use his magic or suffer potentially debilitating pain. The more powerful the necromancer, the more frequent the need. “Couldn’t you find a few flies to animate around the lab?”

“Actually, there’s a rather large spider under your workbench.”

I stiffened. “Don’t you dare.”

He laughed and closed the door, his eyes reverting to their former blue.

“You two coming?” Rowan called, already several yards away.

Doug gestured for me to precede him, and I eyed the headstones around us. I was pretty sure that Doug was an okay guy, but I wasn’t thrilled about walking through a cemetery with him.

“I don’t think I want you at my back,” I said.

“That’s harsh. What have I ever done to you?”

“How about that autopsy the first time we met? Or the dead woman you animated at that murder scene?”

“I was just teasing you.”

“You have a morbid sense of humor.”

“Naturally.” His cheeks dimpled with a grin.

I rolled my eyes and hurried after Rowan. Yes, Doug was definitely Ian’s descendant. At some point, we should probably tell him.

We made our way through the headstones to Ian’s mausoleum. We were still yards away when I began to detect the odor that had brought the mausoleum to the PIA’s attention. Was there anything more foul than the smell of a decaying corpse?

A pair of men stood outside the door, talking in low voices, but they fell silent when we approached.

“He’s waiting for you inside,” the large man closest to the door told us.

“Thank you, Agent Johnson.” Rowan gave the man a nod. Agent Johnson knew who we were. He had been at the lodge last month when Gavin had nearly killed me.

We followed Rowan inside, and I immediately wanted to pull my shirt up over my nose to mask the smell. I had hoped the bodies would be gone by the time we got here, but apparently, that hope had been in vain.

The small room normally lay in shadow, illuminated only by the daylight slipping through the multiple holes in the roof, but this afternoon, it was well lit with several battery-powered lanterns. A half-dozen agents milled around the room, gathering evidence and snapping pictures.

“Thank you for coming.” Director Waylon stepped forward to exchange a handshake with Rowan, then he addressed me. “It’s good to see you out and about, Addie.”

“It’s good to be out and about.” I gave him a reassuring smile. Waylon had been a frequent visitor during my week-plus hospital stay. I sometimes wondered if he felt guilty because he had been the one to take me to the lodge where I had nearly died. Whatever his reasoning, we had become something like friends since then.

Waylon’s gaze fell on Doug. “Mr. Nelson?” It was clear that Waylon hadn’t expected him.

“It’s Dr. Nelson, actually.” Doug offered his hand. “But you can call me Doug.”

Waylon nodded and took his hand. “You’re more than a mortician?”

“Forensic pathologist. I do some work for the coroner’s office.”

“I didn’t realize.”

“Do you mind if Doug takes a look at the bodies?” Rowan asked.

“No, I’m pleased to have his expertise. Though I don’t think it any great mystery how these guys died—or who killed them.”

Waylon called over to the man currently checking the bodies, and introduced him as Agent Bruner.

The agent’s eyes narrowed as he studied Doug. “If you’re with her,” he nodded at me, “you’re magical.”

“I’m a necromancer,” Doug answered as easily as someone would admit to being an accountant or an electrician.

“So, you could make these guys get up and dance a jig?”

“I could, but that would compromise the evidence. Do you have a pair of gloves I could use? I’m afraid I’ve come unprepared.”

The man glanced at Waylon, and at his nod, led Doug over to where he’d been working.

“Perhaps you are unaware,” Waylon said to Rowan, “but the PIA does employ individuals trained in the forensic sciences.”

“I’m aware,” Rowan said. “I didn’t bring Doug because I doubt the PIA’s competence. I just wanted to give him something to do.”

Waylon’s brows rose, but he remained silent.

“There has been a shake up in the necromancer power structure.”

A frown replaced Waylon’s questioning expression. “Were you going to tell me?”

“At the moment, there’s not much to tell. Xander isn’t returning my calls.”

“Do you suspect foul play?”

“I’m sure it’s foul,” I spoke up. “But I don’t think anyone was murdered against their will.”

“Against their will?” Waylon asked.

“We suspect a new Deacon has been named. According to necromancer tradition, the previous Deacon can expect to be Made. Doug said that his father viewed it as his reward.”

Waylon shook his head. “Necromancers,” he muttered, his gaze moving to Doug, who had donned a pair of gloves and was now examining a body. “And what of the son?”

“He wasn’t as keen on the idea,” I said. “When he showed up in my lab with a knife through his chest, I had to give him the Final Formula to save him. He’s been bunking with Ian since. As Rowan said, we brought him along today to keep him from going stir crazy.”

“And there was no foul play involved?” Waylon asked.

“With regard to Xander.”

Waylon continued to watch Doug. “Perhaps Doug would like to give me a statement about his attempted murder and his father’s disappearance.”

I glanced up at Rowan.

“If I have learned anything about Old Magic,” Rowan said, “it’s that they prefer to keep their affairs to themselves.”

“And New Magic is so different?”

A smile curled Rowan’s lips. “Point taken.” Rowan sobered. “I’ll speak to him.”

“So, what makes you think George and Henry were here?” I asked, trying to move things along. The less time I spent confined with this smell the better.

“Come. I’ll show you.” Waylon started toward the bodies. “I hope you’re not squeamish.”

“I am, but you can just pick me up off the floor when this is over.”

Waylon chuckled and kept walking, but Rowan’s hand settled on the small of my back. He knew I wasn’t kidding.

The three bodies lay around the open sarcophagus. A jack and a pair of crowbars lay nearby where someone had pried open the lid. The large slab of stone leaned against the side of the sarcophagus, the carved name on the surface visible. Ian Mallory, 1791 – 1825.

Waylon stopped beside the stone box and bent to pick up the bright orange coveralls that lay on the floor beside it. “We found these downstairs,” he said. I remembered George and Henry wearing those same coveralls when Ian and I had visited them in their cells.

“And then there is the manner of these deaths.” Waylon gestured at the bodies.

I gave in and pulled my shirt over my nose as I focused on the three bloated bodies. Puddles of noxious fluids had formed beneath each, further validating that they had been here a while. I took a step closer, Rowan at my side, and saw that each man had died the same way: a quarrel through the eye.

“Obviously, we haven’t had time for a more in-depth investigation,” Waylon said, “but from what we can tell, the method of death is what you see. We don’t get many homicides perpetrated with a crossbow.”

I took a step closer, studying the features of the nearest dead man. His face was bloated, but I still recognized it. I moved on to examine the other two.

“Addie, what is it?” Rowan asked.

“I know these men.”

“You do?” Waylon pulled a notepad from inside his coat.

“Well, not know,” I clarified. “Ian and I had a run-in with them when I first came here last fall.” When I had offered Ian the Final Formula in exchange for his lab.

“What happened?” Rowan asked.

“They followed me into his mausoleum, and Ian chased them off. They ran out of here so fast that they stumbled right into the cops who were looking for them. I later read that they’d held up a nearby convenience store.”

“That’s true,” Waylon said. “But it was their first major offense, so they got three months and community service.”

“And once released, they decided to pay a visit to the guy they saw as responsible for their imprisonment,” Rowan said.

“They got a nasty surprise when they opened the crypt,” I said. Not that Ian would have been any better if they had found him in residence. “Morons.”

“Shit!” one of the agents shouted.

I turned in time to watch an agent draw his gun and point it in my direction. That’s when I saw the open portal beside me. The agent must be a Sensitive. Clearly, he saw the portal, too.

James leapt through the opening, landing on four paws a few feet from me.

The agent’s dilated eyes went wide and he fired.

A puff of dust exploded at James’s feet, then a searing burn tingled across my cheek. Surprised, I lifted a hand to my face, and my fingertips came away bloody. It took me a second to realize that the bullet had ricocheted off the floor and grazed my cheek.

Stunned, I looked up from my fingers and met James’s glowing eyes. He lifted his lips and with a snarl, spun toward the agent.

“James, no!” Rowan shouted.

James sprang.

The agent screamed and fired again. James’s body jerked with the impact, but it didn’t alter his flight. Darkness enveloped him in midair, and he was human. He landed in front of the agent and in a move almost too fast to follow, caught his wrist.

Even from across the room, I heard the crunch of bone. The man cried out, and the gun tumbled from his limp hand.

“Release him!” a new voice shouted.

Agent Johnson and a half-dozen other men had their weapons aimed at James.

James lifted his lips in a silent snarl. He shoved the man away from him and in another shimmer of darkness, he was again the hellhound.

“Nelson, stop him!” Rowan shouted at Doug.

Doug rose to his feet, his blue eyes locking with Rowan’s. “No.”

I stared at Doug. Was he doing this because he refused to take an order from Rowan?

“James will kill them,” Rowan said. “The Hunt has consumed him.”

“I won’t give him a command.”

Rowan frowned, glancing from Doug to James.

James took a step toward the agents, his paws flexing to expose ebony claws that dug into the stone floor.

“Addie?” Rowan said.




Fire suddenly enveloped me, blue-white flames so close that the heat seared my cheeks. I threw my arms up to shield my face, and the sleeves of my coat burst into flame.

I screamed.


Chapter 3

Fire filled my field of vision, and I squeezed my eyes closed.

Arms suddenly wrapped around me, and I was taken to the floor. We twisted just before impact, and I landed on a warm chest instead of unforgiving stone.

“Addie.” James’s arms tightened around me.

I pressed my hands against his bare shoulders and pushed myself up until I could meet his glowing green eyes.

“Are you okay?” he asked me.

“Of course.” I frowned. “What the hell got into you?”

He cupped my face between his hands. “Your skin is hot.”

“Are you with us now?” Rowan asked from above us.

James pulled back his lips, exposing teeth that weren’t human.

“Quit,” I whispered. “He was just trying to get your attention. You know he would never hurt me.”

James still glared past my shoulder.

I leaned closer and whispered, “You know what that cost him. He’s already had a vial of his remedy today.”

James’s glare became a frown.

“Addie?” Rowan offered me a hand, then pulled me to my feet when I took it.

“That was a little extreme,” James said.

Rowan dropped the sweatpants he was carrying on James’s bare stomach. “How about you get dressed and do what you came to do?”

James still looked angry, but did as told, springing to his feet a moment later.

The trigger-happy agent was no longer in the room, but those that remained were watching James with concerned expressions. More than one still held his weapon.

James looked down at the three dead men, then over at me. “You’re getting better at this.”

“Perhaps, but I rather wish I didn’t have to.”

He grunted, then headed for the open sarcophagus. With little effort, he vaulted the stone wall and disappeared down the staircase inside. I wondered if there were any lights on down below—not that it mattered to James. He could see in total darkness.

Waylon released a breath. “Damn. I knew what he was, but seeing it…” He shook his head. “What just happened?”

Rowan didn’t immediately answer. He touched my chin, tipping my face upward before he ran his fingers beneath my cut cheekbone. “James is very protective of Addie.”

“Okay.” Waylon’s tone made it clear that he didn’t find that answer enlightening.

“Is she all right?” Doug joined us. “May I?” He reached up to touch my cheek.

Rowan’s hand shot out, catching his wrist. “What the hell was that all about?” he demanded, keeping his voice low. “Why didn’t you stop James?”

“I swore I would never give him another command,” Doug said, his voice just as low. “I keep my promises.”

“You promised James?” I asked, wondering how James got him to do that.

“No, myself.”

I blinked. Doug kept surprising me. Had I misjudged him so badly?

“He would have killed that man,” Rowan continued. “And probably the others, too.”

“James? No.”

Rowan took a step closer. “Yes.”

Doug frowned, glancing toward the door where the other agents were gathered. They didn’t look as antsy as their trigger-happy coworker, but they were all watching the sarcophagus. They didn’t have to wait long.

James hopped out the sarcophagus as easily as he climbed into it, then walked over to us. “It was them.”

“How do you know?” Waylon asked.

James touched the side of his nose. “Scent.”

Waylon’s brows rose. “Seriously?”

James regarded him with a cool stare.

“That’s not going to hold up in court.”

“You’re certain it was them?” Doug asked James.


“Do your brothers make it a habit of shooting dead men?”


“The quarrels were shot into the victims postmortem.”

“So he claims.” Agent Bruner walked over. “But he has no theory how these three men died in rapid succession.”

“Cause of death is a mystery. Perhaps it was something chemical.” Doug’s gaze met mine before he turned back to Waylon. “But I can tell you that the crowbars and jack were never used.”

“And how would you know that?” Agent Bruner asked.

“There’s stone dust on their hands and beneath their nails. I suspect you’ll find their tools clean and no scratches on the sarcophagus lid. You should find their fingerprints instead.”

“Are you suggesting they lifted the lid by hand? Why?”

“They were commanded to.” Doug answered. “They were blood animated. I feel the lingering necromancy. This also means they’ve been dead longer than they appear.”

“Because necro blood prevents rot,” I said, remembering what Elysia told me.

Doug nodded, then addressed Waylon. “Time of death will be difficult to pinpoint, but I would estimate at least a month.”

“A month? No way,” Agent Bruner said.

“As Addie said, necromancer blood delays rot. You’re just going to have to take my word on it.”

Agent Bruner frowned, but didn’t comment. I suspected he didn’t like being shown up, but he was smart enough to realize that Doug could offer some valuable insights he would have missed.

“But why the charade?” Waylon asked.

“I don’t think it started out as one,” I said. “These men came here to pay back Ian and me for sending them to jail.”

“Idiots,” James growled the word. “Ian would have just played with them.”

“And Addie?” Waylon’s sharp gaze settled on me.

“I can defend myself.” I waved away the comment, relieved that Waylon looked more amused than suspicious. “Anyway, these guys were interrupted by a necromancer.”

“Neil?” James asked. “He’s the one who showed Gavin this place.”

“A month ago, Neil couldn’t have commanded these men to remove the lid,” Doug said.

“Why not?” Waylon asked. “Neil is a necromancer as well as an alchemist, right?”

“Neil was stunted,” I said. “He couldn’t touch his magic until he took the Final Formula—on the first day of spring.” Neil had also given Alexander the Formula, but I didn’t go into that.

“Then who animated these men?” Waylon asked.

I frowned at the three dead men. Why had it been staged to make us think George and Henry killed them?

“Addie?” Rowan pulled my attention to him. “What are you thinking?”

“We need to determine how these men died.” I turned to Doug. “Was it something magical or…”

“Alchemical?” Doug offered. “How would you know if alchemy was used? You can’t sense magic.”

His comment brought back my new memory of Neil saying nearly the same thing. Unlike Neil, Doug didn’t smirk, but he clearly doubted me. The magical always doubted those without talent. It was moments like these that I fully understood the pride Waylon took in proving them wrong. I admired his determination, but I also knew he carried it too far.

“Would you let us help you?” I asked Waylon. “Let Doug autopsy these guys? Let me study the toxicology reports and other lab findings?”

Agent Bruner cleared his throat. “There are regulations. We can’t let anyone come in off the street and expect our findings to hold up in court.”

“I am licensed,” Doug said. “You’re welcome to verify it.”

“And I’m not going to be running any tests,” I said. “I just want to review the findings. Consider me a consultant, an expert in the field of alchemy. Unfortunately, I don’t have a license, but I can show you my tattoos.”

Doug snorted, but Agent Bruner didn’t look convinced. “Director?”

Waylon studied us, a frown creasing his brow. “All right. Dr. Nelson may observe the autopsies, and you may consult on our lab findings, Miss Daulton.”

“Can I observe in the lab, too?” I asked. If the technician was agreeable, I could make sure any alchemical evidence was preserved.

“On the condition that you only watch.” The corner of Waylon’s mouth twisted upward. “I believe you set off the sprinklers last time you were there.”

“Hey. You know that wasn’t my fault.”

“Perhaps, but it is my understanding that it is a valid concern.” Waylon glanced at Rowan, his smile larger.

“Did you rat me out?” I asked Rowan.

“No. Your reputation precedes you.”


The PIA’s lab technician handed me the printout, and I dropped onto the nearest stool to examine the report.

“I assume you know how to read that?” he asked.

“Yes. I was a chemist before I became an alchemist.” I knew that was true even though I had no specific memories of those days. Just as I didn’t remember learning to read one of these printouts. That didn’t stop me from understanding what I saw.

“Find something?” Rowan had stopped a few feet into the room and gave me a smile when I looked up.

“No, nothing.” I frowned at the form I held. “No evidence of alchemy.”

“What about something more mundane, like a poison?”

“I don’t see anything I recognize, but when the body breaks it down, there may be byproducts I’m unaware of. I need to ask Doug.” I turned to the technician and held up the printout. “Can I keep a copy of this?”

“The director said I should give you whatever you want.”

“How about the infrared spectrometer?” I nodded at the instrument.

The man laughed. “I don’t think that’s what the director had in mind.”

“Do you need one?” Rowan asked me.

“If I said yes, would you buy me one?”

“Of course.”

I gave the technician a grin. “And most girls can only expect flowers and chocolates.”

“Most girls wouldn’t be turned on by lab instrumentation,” Rowan said.

“Shows what they know.”

The technician smiled at our banter, giving Rowan a glance when he wasn’t looking. The newspapers had made a big deal about me being the Flame Lord’s girlfriend, so the guy probably suspected who Rowan was. But he wouldn’t be working here without the proper clearance, so I wasn’t overly concerned.

The door opened and Waylon walked in. “How are things progressing up here?”

I waved the sheet of paper. “Nothing alchemical.”

“So much for a lead there.” Waylon turned to the technician. “Thanks for staying over, Thomas.”

“All part of the job, sir. And getting to watch Miss Daulton work was…enlightening. I didn’t expect her to be a scientist.”

Waylon cleared his throat. “Watching her work?”

“Just a demonstration,” I said quickly. “I didn’t blow up anything, and I didn’t tamper with evidence. Mr. Thomas here,” I gestured at the technician, “didn’t believe.”

He stuffed his hands in his lab coat pockets and shrugged. “It all sounded pretty incredible. Now I wonder.”

“Oh, I can bottle magic. I can even teach you to.”

“But I’m not magical.”

“Neither am I.”

He fell silent, seeming to consider that.

“How’s Doug progressing?” Rowan asked Waylon.

“I was on my way to check. Care to join me?”

“Are you done here?” Rowan asked me.

“Yes.” I exchanged a handshake with the technician, thanking him for his help.

“If you do get that alchemy course up, I might have to check that out,” he said, referring to the proposed curriculum the University of Cincinnati had approached me about.

“I hope so.” I gave him a final farewell, and followed Rowan and Waylon from the room.

“It seems you have done a lot to turn alchemy’s reputation around,” Waylon said to me.

“That is the goal.”

Rowan didn’t look over, but I caught his smile. We had come a long way since the days when he thought me just another power-hungry Alchemica alchemist.

Doug was stripping off his gloves when we entered the room. He was deep in conversation with Agent Bruner and both of them wore white lab coats over a set of scrubs. Had Doug been allowed to do more than observe?

“Have you finished?” Waylon asked them.

“For now,” Bruner said. “We’ll have to see what the lab finds, but Dr. Nelson was right. None of the men were killed by the quarrel. They were already dead when they were shot. I should have considered it by the lack of bruising and bleeding.”

“Most of the bleeding would have pooled in the skull with the victims on their backs,” Doug said. “I wouldn’t have noticed at the scene if I hadn’t picked up on the necromancy.”

I was pleased to see that the pair had made up. Judging by Waylon’s smile, he was pleased, too.

“We did swab their mouths and sent that off in hopes of identifying the necromancer’s blood,” Bruner said.

“Excellent.” Waylon gave him a single nod. “We may deal with the magical, but only hard evidence stands up in court. It’s the great irony of my job.”

Doug’s brows rose, and I suspected he had never considered the trials of Waylon’s position. His vibrant blue eyes shifted to me. “How about you? Find any hard evidence?”

I handed Doug my printout. “No alchemy. Do you see anything? Byproducts of a poison, or…”

Doug studied the sheet for a moment. “Hey, Bruner, look at this.” He pointed at a line on the report when Bruner joined him. “I think we can rule out a gas.”

“What gas?” I asked.

“These men suffocated,” Bruner said. “But we found no evidence of strangulation. I thought the perpetrator might have used an asphyxiant, but there’s no evidence of that here.”

“A shame,” Doug said. “It was a good theory.” He frowned at the bodies laid out on the three tables. All were covered with sheets, leaving only their upper halves exposed.

Someone knocked and I looked up, then blinked in surprise. Ian stood on the threshold of the open door.

“Excuse me,” he said. “I—”

“Ian.” I hurried to him. “Where have you been?”

“I needed a moment of reflection.” He turned toward Waylon and Rowan. “I heard you found the Hunters.”

“We found where they had been held,” Rowan said. “Your mausoleum.”

“Yes, the agents stationed there directed me here.”

I wondered how accurate that was. Had he asked, or had he been eavesdropping? With Ian, I would probably never know. He kept a lot to himself, yet for some reason, I had always trusted him. It had been my downfall once.

“We speculate that Gavin, being new to the area, had nowhere else to hide them,” I explained, then went on to tell him about finding the bodies of the thugs we had encountered once before, as well as the strange way they had died and the necromancy that had animated them.

Ian absorbed all of this in silence, walking over to study the nearest body.

“The necromancy is subtle. Over a month has passed since the animation.” He gave Doug a nod. “Good catch.”

Doug shrugged off his lab coat. “Thank you for the condescension.”

Ian gave him a smile and walked to the other side of the table, continuing to study the corpse.

“He’s a necromancer, too?” Bruner asked.

“Yes.” Doug frowned as he watched Ian.

Ian didn’t look up to see it.

“Do you think it was Neil?” I asked.

“We already ruled him out,” Doug said. “Remember, Neil couldn’t touch his power a month ago.”

“I suspect Addie means, did Neil use his blood in an alchemical formula,” Ian said. “The answer is no. The necromancer who animated these men possessed no blood gift. Stunted or not, Neil has always had a blood gift.”

“You can sense that?” Doug waved a hand at the corpse. “Now?”

“Yes,” Ian simply answered.

“Was it Xander?” Rowan asked.

“I cannot discern the necromancer’s identity, only his power.”

Doug crossed his arms, but he looked uncomfortable rather than angry. “Whoever it was is talented enough to command three corpses to work together to remove a sarcophagus lid.”

The lid had been leaning against the side of the sarcophagus. Not pulled off and slung aside.

“How much does that narrow the list of suspects?” Waylon asked.

“Quite a bit,” Doug said. “Maybe a few dozen within the city, and a couple more individuals in outlying areas.”

“That’s better than hundreds, I guess.” Waylon didn’t sound that happy.

“How about the way they died?” Bruner asked Ian. “Any ideas?” The guy seemed to have gotten over his resistance to asking the magical for help. Doug must have really made an impression.

“You mean physically?” Ian frowned at the body. “Dr. Nelson is much better versed at that than I am. In my day, we didn’t bother looking much beyond the obvious.”

Bruner frowned, and I understood his confusion. In appearance, Doug and Ian looked the same age.

“All three men died of suffocation,” Doug said. “No toxin, alchemy, or physical trauma was found.”

“Curious.” Ian looked up. “You’re saying they just stopped breathing? Last I checked, the mausoleum wasn’t airtight.” He grinned.

Not that a lack of air would have bothered Ian. Though I suspected that he had spent a good bit of his confinement wandering the land of the dead.

Suddenly, I saw another possibility.

“Wait. What if these guys were pulled into a portal? Would it affect them like this?” I waved a hand at the nearest body.

“Yes, that’s it!” Doug smiled, his grin so much like Ian’s.

“What are you talking about?” Waylon asked.

“Our assailant pulled these men into the land of the dead,” I explained. “That’s how they died.”

“Say what?” Bruner asked. “What is the land of the dead?”

“Show him,” I said to Ian.

“That would be pointless. He wouldn’t be able to see it.”

“Oh. Right.” I was always forgetting that the non-magical couldn’t see such things. Only the magical… and me.

“It’s where the dead go,” Doug told him.

Bruner returned an incredulous stare. “As in heaven or hell?”

“No,” I spoke up. “I’ve been told that it’s a transitional place between the mortal world and where we ultimately end up. Think of it as an alternate plane of reality.”

Bruner cleared his throat. “And you expect me to buy that?”

“It exists,” Rowan cut in. “And the living do not survive there long.”

“No oxygen?” Waylon asked.

“It drains away the life force,” Ian said. “That’s why it is called the land of the dead. Only the dead can remain.”

“The life force?” Bruner looked like he was holding back a laugh. “And you missed that?” he asked Doug, sarcasm heavy in his tone.

“I’ve never examined a person left to expire in the land of the dead.”

“You’re serious?” Bruner shook his head. “And just when I was starting to think you were a legitimate scientist.”

“Skepticism aside,” Waylon said, “what if there’s something to this? How much does that narrow my list of suspects?”

“The only living necromancers in the area with that kind of power are Neil and Elysia,” Doug said. “At the time of these deaths, Neil didn’t have the ability, and Elysia has never been taught how.”

“That’s it?” Waylon asked. “Are you suggesting this is someone not from the area?”

“He said living necromancer,” I pointed out. “There’s also Alexander.”

“Or one of his henchmen,” Doug said. “There was a badly decayed fellow he used to shuttle us around.”

“And there’s Psyche,” I said. “Though she didn’t seem mentally with it enough to do this.”

“You’re forgetting one,” Rowan said.

I frowned, running my mind back over the list. “Who?”

“Me,” Ian said. A smile curled his lips as he met Rowan’s gaze. “You will allow that I am mentally capable, and it was my tomb.”

Bruner mouthed the words my tomb.

“But you are forgetting something,” Ian continued. “These bodies were blood animated—as Doug will attest. I have none, and beyond that, why would I bother? I would open the sarcophagus the way I’ve always opened it.”

“Your cousins,” I said, referring to the other bodies buried in his mausoleum.

Ian nodded.

“You could also just remove the lid yourself,” Doug said.

“Truly?” Ian gestured at himself.

“I see your point,” Doug said. “The damage to the waistcoat would be irreparable.”

I started to laugh, then realized Doug was serious. What was it about Nelson men and their clothes?

“So, have we concluded…anything?” Waylon asked.

“No.” Rowan looked at his watch. “And I’m afraid we’ll have to leave this mystery for another day. We have a birthday party to prepare for.”

“I’ll go change.” Doug turned to Bruner. “I’ll need you to let me in the locker room.”

Bruner nodded, still looking uncertain about all of this.

I watched them walk away, then glanced up at Rowan. “I would think Donovan would prefer a backyard BBQ and a game of horseshoes for his birthday, not a night at the opera.”

“My brother has hidden depths.” Rowan gave me that smirk that used to piss me off. “You’re just upset that you have to dress up.”

“Horseshoes sound like a lot more fun.” I caught Ian trying not to laugh. “Ian can take Doug and me back to the lab. That’ll save you time.”

Rowan glanced at Ian, then surprised me by nodding. “It’ll give you more time to prepare. Era tells me I’m really going to like this dress.”

“You’d better not have influenced Donovan’s choice of party location.”

Rowan laughed. “You think a lot of my powers of persuasion.”

I arched a brow, and he captured my chin in his hand. Not caring that we had an audience, he leaned down and kissed me. When he straightened, a faint ring of fire encircled his pupils.

“I’ll pick you up at seven.” Rowan released me, then he and Waylon left.

I faced Ian. We were now the only ones in the room.

Ian’s smile was smug. “I told you he liked it when you dress like a woman.”

“Yes.” I wasn’t going to let him distract me with a little teasing. “So, ash alchemy?”

His good humor vanished. “I also told you that I went down a dark path when I lost Isabelle.”

“How dark? Were you successful in whatever you were trying to accomplish?”

“There are some moments in my life that if I could do them over, I would. This was one of them.”

“That doesn’t answer my question. What happens if Neil finds your journal?”

“We need to prevent that from happening.”

I held his gaze. “So, you were successful.”

“I’m sorry, Addie, but I won’t give you those details.”

I crossed my arms. “I get that you’ve done some things you’re not proud of, so have I. But I need to know how much Neil will learn if he finds your journal.”

“Too much. That’s why I went to Xander’s funeral home to search for it.”


Pick up a copy here: Amazon | Smashwords | Barnes & NobleKobo | Apple