Marked by Death (Necromancer #1) - Kaje Harper Page 0,1

his jacket. Socks and battered loafers took only a moment, since he slept in most of his clothes for warmth anyway. Almost everything else he owned was in his suitcase, and it was fast work to add the battered novel from his bedside, his comb and toothbrush and the mug. For a second he hesitated, eyeing the bed. He was so tired. Even if she kicked him out in the morning, he could still rest a few more hours.

Something inside his skull hissed, more water-on-a-stove than a cat sound, and someone else groaned.

Fuck rest.

The stairs creaked as he went down them, but it didn’t matter now. He was tempted to leave the downstairs door unlocked on his way out, but he held no grudge against the people sleeping in the other rooms. He battled the sticky lock shut and stuck the key in his pocket. Mrs. Gordon could worry about changing the lock tomorrow. She could pay for it out of the three days’ rent he’d abandoned.

The neon of the Girls, Girls, Girls XXX next door splashed red and gold on the slick sidewalk. Inside the building, the faint thump of a bass music line echoed, still two hours before closing. He turned away from it, heading toward the outskirts of town, the pavement treacherous under his worn loafers.

Squat three-story buildings loomed over him, cheap boarding houses and small iron-barred stores with apartments above. Most of the windows were dark, hardworking folk already in bed or not wanting to pay for the power. The few streetlights were widely spaced apart and some were broken. He moved from one pool of light to the next, his senses on high alert.

Things scuttled in the dark of an alley. Like in my head, lurking— he forced himself to pay attention. If he’d wanted to get his skull bashed in, there were easier choices than creeping through the icy streets at midnight, with the cold wind freezing the back of his neck. His pulse raced in his throat and his chest tightened. He clutched the knife in his pocket and straightened his shoulders. Nothing to see here. Too poor to rob, too much trouble to rape, no fun to chase.

Either the motion had merely been rats, or the lurkers hadn’t thought much of him as prey, because he passed by and nothing came up behind him, no one called out or ran. He moved to the next circle of light, and the next, his heart gradually slowing back to normal.

After a dozen blocks, the buildings began spacing out. Stores lost their guardian bars, and the smells of urine and beer and cabbage and rot gave way to something cold and clean. Single homes sat on small lots behind grass and actual trees.

I came from this once. It shouldn’t be a surprise. But it had been a long time since he’d been out this way.

His teeth chattered as the wind picked up, whipping through the spaces between the houses. The hoot of an owl startled him so much he slipped and went down, cracking one hip hard on the sidewalk. The shock reverberated through him. Like glass when it cracks. He lay still for a moment, working up the energy to move.

The only thing cracked is your brain. Get up off your ass. Don’t be a quitter.

He rolled over, elbows on the freezing cement that sucked the heat right through his jacket.

I could just lie here. They’d find me frozen in the morning… except he wasn’t sure what they would find. The voices in his head were getting loud and excited. Were they afraid their host was dying, or anticipating the moment he’d vacate his skull and leave them to own it?

To hell with that. He pushed to his feet, and returned to setting one step after another. A yard, a block, three.

The houses ended. And there on the hill, picturesquely silhouetted against a fucking crescent moon, was the old Vickery place. The new powerful necromancer’s place, if the crazy whispers he’d laughed at were right.

They say he speaks to the dead, and takes payment in human flesh. They say he summons demons, and will tell your future if you bring enough money.

Well, they also said the moon was made of green cheese, and the Mayor cared about his citizens. Anyone who believed rumors got what he deserved. Besides, if Darien wasn’t insane— if the voices in his head were ghosts or demons, not just his brain slipping off its moorings— speaking to the dead