I put a hand on my fluttering stomach as Bria turned to the table she’d set up, holding a plethora of Necromancer tools, from incense to candles to the really annoying bells favored by Mediums. Her gaze roamed the table and her eyes squinted as she noticed each thing. “All there. Good.”
She pointed to the table set up just beyond it. Personal items sat in clusters, my aids in calling powerful spirits from the other side. Since the most powerful spirit I’d ever called was someone’s stubborn grandpap, I really hoped it’d go well.
“Okay,” she whispered, turning back to my devastated yard. “Good. Now, here’s the plan. We’re going to fill these bodies, one at a time, working together. I’ll take a large section of the easier ones, since I’m the hack—”
“You’re the only one with experience.”
“Not for long, am I right?” She grinned at me before turning back to the yard. “I’ve placed the cadavers in order. We’ll start on the left.” She walked in that direction, pointing. “The top left, back there. These are sturdy bodies with a good deal of corrosion, which will help freak people out. We’ll go down the column to here…” She stood at the foot of a large hole. “Then start back at the top of the next column, okay? Females go into a female body. Male into male. Otherwise it’ll take longer for the spirit to adjust.”
“You don’t think this is a little…fucked up?” I couldn’t help but ask. “I mean, who are these people? And what if they get loose or something, and some little kid sees Aunt Ethel running amok? They’ll think she’s a legit zombie. This is the stuff of nightmares.”
She waved the comment away. “It’s fine. All these people were donors.”
“Organ donors. Not body snatcher donors. They were probably trying to help people, not have some rando stuffed into their body and forced to do our bidding.”
She shrugged, moving back to the tables. “That’s the risk you take. Now. Let’s go pick our spirits.” She paused by the Necromancy table. “I’m good to just leave this here, right? You can walk me through your readings?”
“What do you mean, readings?”
She made a this is taking too long, hurry up gesture. Another wave of anxiety rolled through me. “Their power, their skills, their strength—basically how good of a fit they’d be in a particular body. Just…” She pushed me in front of her. “I’ll ask the questions. You tell me the answers.”
“Okay.” All I wanted to do was pop a Xanax and maybe take a bath in my new whirlpool tub, but instead I was ushered out to the front of the house. Boman had used his ability to conceal us from the nearer half of the neighborhood—and them from us.
My next shock of the night came quickly.
“Alexis! Where have you been?” Frank demanded with his hands on his hips, standing in front of a host of waiting spirits. “I was worried sick. Did you know someone broke into your house? I didn’t see who it was, but I saw through the windows that he sure riffled through everything. And there are a bunch of mangy strays running around. The pound must’ve had a breakout or something.”
“Hi Frank,” I said, trying to edge around him. “You found me, huh?”
“I was worried about you.” Frank scowled at me. “Your mother told me to keep an eye on you. I can’t do that when you don’t come home for days on end. Is this Mister Drusus’s house?” His eyes narrowed and he lowered his voice, speaking out of the side of his mouth. “Don’t give the milk away for free, girl. If you want to keep him, you have to keep him on the hook.”
“Frank found us, huh?” Bria asked with a chuckle. “My lucky day.”
“Yes.” Frank’s scowl hardened. “They said we’d see her.” His gaze turned accusatory. “I had to ask these strange spirits where you’d gone. Thank goodness the timing was right, or I might’ve missed everyone entirely.”
I blew out a breath. “Can it, Frank. We need to get people into bodies and go to war.”
The anger and indignation quickly drained from his face. “Alexis, no! What would your mother say?”
I shooed him to the side. “She’d say, Cut off their nuts and call them Sally.”
“Yes, but you know she wouldn’t actually mean it!”
I ignored him as I approached John, the tough guy I’d met in the ghost neighborhood. Behind them stood a line of grim-faced, tough-looking dudes with crew cuts and chiseled jaws. Backing them up was a gaggle of nutters milling around, bumping into one another and randomly screeching. The ghost house where they’d been imprisoned had driven the sense from their minds, and freedom hadn’t returned it.
John, a barrel-chested guy with a wicked scar cutting across his cheek, nodded at me in hello. “I got the best I could. Some I lost to the Line. They couldn’t resist the call. Or maybe didn’t want to.”
After what Valens had put them through, I couldn’t blame them.
Someone yelled from the middle of the throng. A commotion ensued as one of the spirits blasted through the others, dropping to his knees, and then rolled down the driveway like he was on fire.
“Some I couldn’t seem to get rid of,” John added. “They followed me like a bad smell.”
I laughed and took a deep breath. “All right, where do we start?” I asked Bria.
We went through everyone, as quickly as we could.
“I can’t imagine half these guys can fight,” I murmured as Bria told me how to organize everyone in a line.
“Remember those animated cadavers in the ghost neighborhood, as you called it?” she asked. I pushed the spirits she’d deemed unnecessary (surprisingly not the craziest of the bunch) out of the neighborhood. The Line would probably call them home now that John wasn’t around to anchor them in the turbulent world of the living.
I thought back, remembering how the reanimated dead had run at me, knocking me over and trying to rip and tear. They’d seemed more like zombies than anything.
“Even if they’ve never fought a day in their lives, somehow they know how to rip and tear their way to victory. I have no idea why that’s the case, but I look forward to learning one day.”
“If you outlive me, please don’t shove me into one of these things after I die,” I whispered, eyeing one of the worst cadavers. Three broken ribs jutted out through the decaying chest.
“No promises. I might miss you. I’ll put your body on magical ice, though, don’t you worry. Now.” She stopped at the personal effects table. “Do you need some supplies to make it easier to pull these guys out?”
I fingered a small red die in one of the clusters before nudging a rabbit’s foot. “Who are these people?”
“I don’t know. Kieran brought in all this stuff. He said they were all high class fives in life, though, so they won’t be easy to control.”
“And I’m supposed to control all…ten of these, plus whatever leftovers you have for me, plus fight?” I was screeching by the end.
She patted me, as though that would help. I had no idea how she could be so utterly calm about our looming battle with a crazy and cunning and uber-experienced Demigod in his home domain. It was unnatural.
“Controlling them isn’t that hard in and of itself. You just have to give them some gentle direction. You know, keep them from wandering. It’s more like corralling. You’re a natural. You’ll do fine.”
“But yet, you aren’t doing the more powerful ones…”
“I am neither a Demigod’s daughter nor a Demigod’s shortsighted girlfriend.” She patted me again. “Time to work. The faster we get these fuckers in bodies, the more sleep we can get. Oh, and I’m hungry. We’ll need to fuel up after this is done. Lots to do, lots to do. Let’s get some dead guys in bodies!” She slapped her hands together.
Butterflies filled my belly, but I didn’t think about what was to come. I couldn’t. If I did, I’d probably get cold feet and run off. Maybe lose it and roll down the driveway.
“Okay,” I said with a sigh.
“John,” she said, at her Necromancy table. “Come stand beside me. Yup. There you are. What a good, strong soul you got, huh, John?””
“I don’t need to be corralled or controlled. I know what I’m about,” John said. “Just put me in a body and stand aside.”
Bria grabbed her supplies. “The strong and silent type, I like it.”
I sighed and relayed what he’d said. This process would’ve been so much easier if she could see and hear spirits, too.
“That’s a maybe, John,” she replied. “I’ve found that even well-balanced spirits lose it when they get in a cadaver. But if you can manage, I’ll leave you to it, how’s that?” She paused and he stared at her. “Is he talking, or…”
“A woman like this could never work for someone like Valens, that’s for sure,” John muttered, following her toward a body.
I shook my head and nudged a small locket. Inside were two kids’ faces, both sweet little cherubs, no more than four years old. I settled into a trance, picking up each item, one at a time, and closing my eyes. The Line pulled at my soul. Beyond it, I felt spirits moving around—not restless, but not content to stay put, either.
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