Marked by Death (Necromancer #1) - Kaje Harper

Chapter 1

Darien woke screaming. The instant he could move, he rolled over and stuffed his pillow into his mouth, trying to muffle the sounds, choking against his own wild breaths.

The nightmare tried to claw him back in, a new voice inside his head chittering about cats and stairs and dark places. The other voices were quieter, as if making room for the additional rider, but he could hear them shifting around in there, grunting or moaning a word. He clutched his head between his hands and pressed, wishing he could squeeze them out of his skull.

On cue, a loud thumping from below marked Mrs. Gordon deploying her broomstick. Shit. She’d said one more loud night, and he’d be out on his ear, rent or no rent. He flipped the pillow over his head, as if that would make a difference. A few more thumps, and silence reigned outside his head. Inside his head— double shit.

Crying, begging, cursing, strange laughter.

He forced himself upright— no way he was going to sleep again tonight. Things shifted in his skull, voices that almost made sense, hiding around the corners of his mind. He set his bare feet on the ice-cold floor, hoping the shock would do… something. Jump-start his brain, send the voices running, hell, stop his heart. At this point he didn’t much care.

All it did was chill his toes. He shuddered and eased out of bed. Tugging at the ratty blanket, he pulled it free of the mattress and wrapped it around himself, though it did very little to ease the cold inside him. As quietly as he could, he went to get a drink of water from the chipped sink in the corner, but when he got there, the mirror glittered at him, reflecting the neon lights through the cheap curtains. Red, yellow, red, yellow— no words, broken up by the fabric, just a flicker of malevolent fire.

Like the fires of hell.

He gave his own unshaven cheek a slap, because fuck the melodrama. He might be going crazy, but damned if he was going to drag religion into it. Bending to the sink, he let the water drip almost silently into his palms, until he’d gathered enough to splash his face. He took his mug from the ledge and opened the tap to a slightly faster flow. The pipes groaned, and he echoed them, as Mrs. Gordon thumped her ceiling again.

Losing the room for sure.

Well, at least that settled his mind. He’d been here almost a week, circling the drain, unable to pull the trigger, but tonight was like a last sucker-punch from the universe. Time to find the necromancer.

Before he could convince himself his problems were all in his head— ha, like they aren’t? —he dropped the blanket and peered at the side of his neck where his skin itched and felt tight. A thin wand of gray crept from the neck of his shirt up the line of his jugular vein. His hands shook, despite everything, as he pulled the shirt away from his collarbone. Underneath it, the dark wand resolved into the tail of a cat, walking away, tattooed on his skin. A tattoo he hadn’t worn when he went to bed. Just like the rest of them.

He clenched his fingers together to keep from clawing at it. He’d tried. That second one— the speedboat on his arm— he’d cut and burned. He’d scraped it from his skin till he bled raw. And as he healed it’d reformed over the damaged skin, darker, warped, bigger maybe. He’d stopped trying.

How insane was his life that instead of heading to a payphone and calling a doctor or psychiatrist, he was considering… magic? But what would a doctor do, except stick him in an insane asylum for hearing voices? I have people screaming about their death in my head. This might be the modern era of color TV and rocket launches, but the tattoos creeping across his skin suggested magic wasn’t just a bad joke on Johnny Carson. Maybe the dark whispers were right, and the necromancer was more than just a guy who exorcised poltergeists. Maybe he could help somehow.

Don’t wait. Go now.

He smacked his forehead. That was crazy. The night outside was dark and icy. The necromancer’s house was a mile out of town, along slippery streets where desperate people might mug him for the clothes on his back.

Crazy is as crazy does.

Without giving himself more time to think, he dropped the blanket back on the bed and pulled on