I forced a smile. ‘No. It’s … er…’ I scratched my neck awkwardly. ‘I could do with some help with research.’
He beamed. In fact, I’d say that he positively glowed. ‘Yes. Yes! What in particular? I came across a wonderful old book tucked away just this morning that details the healing properties of rabbit dung when mixed with…’
‘Er, no,’ I interrupted hastily. The bunnies could keep their poo. ‘I need to know about the side-effects of necromancy.’
Maidmont’s face immediately dropped. ‘Necromancy?’ He shook his head in dismay. ‘Oh no, Ivy. No, you can’t. I know what you did up in Scotland and I know you stopped that boy. But you can’t dabble in that kind of magic. It almost destroyed him – and you. You can’t think…’
‘Hush,’ I said. ‘I don’t want to perform necromancy. I don’t want anything to do with it. But something weird has been happening to me.’ I dropped my gaze. ‘I’m seeing strange things and I need to find out if there’s something wrong with me. Even better, if there’s a way to stop what’s happening.’
Maidmont drew himself up. ‘Strange things? What kind of strange things?’
I shifted from foot to foot. ‘The details aren’t important. But any information you have about any side-effects…’ I paused and swallowed ‘…and if I’m liable to become a danger to myself or to anyone around me, would be – helpful.’ Understatement of the year.
‘Danger?’ He shook his head vigorously. ‘Unless you’re performing necromantic magic, there can be no risk to anyone.’ He gave me a searching look as if to ask if that’s what I was doing. The trouble was that I didn’t know.
‘I’m not deliberately performing anything.’ My voice sank to a whisper. ‘But I might be using necromancy subconsciously. Either that, or I'm going crazy.’
Maidmont seemed relieved. ‘That’s impossible. You can’t accidentally cast spells. Look at the boy who did all this in the first place – Alistair, wasn’t it? He required blood to do what he did. It’s a very deliberate action and takes considerable power.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘So I’m nuts then.’ I wrinkled my nose. I suppose insanity was slightly better than turning evil and being able to destroy the entire country in one fell swoop. Slightly. The costume didn’t have the same potential, though.
Maidmont arched an eyebrow. ‘Tell me what you’re experiencing.’
I pressed my lips together. ‘I could tell you,’ I said, ‘but then I’d have to kill you.’
‘Not funny. Ivy, I can’t help you look for information until I know what information I should be looking for.’
Damn. I didn’t want to drag the poor guy into this but I needed to know. And not just for my own sake. ‘I think…’ I sighed. I was just going to have to come straight out with it. ‘I think I’m seeing ghosts.’ There.
Maidmont stared at me. ‘Huh?’
Yep. This was kind of how I’d expected the conversation to go. ‘I’m seeing ghosts,’ I repeated. ‘Not like Casper. They’re not wearing white sheets or anything like that. They just look like regular people but I think they’re – dead. Most of them aren’t in the slightest bit friendly. Not that I’d be feeling sociable if I were dead, but I’m just saying. They never ask me how my day is going, they just complain or tut or yell. I wish they wouldn’t. I wish they’d go away. So, Philip, you can see why I’m kind of concerned. I absorbed necromantic magic to stop Scotland from exploding and now I’m communing with the dead. I’d like to know if I’m going to explode and how I can stop them appearing. Or at the very least from tutting. There’s only so much censure a girl can take.’
Maidmont kept on staring at me, his mouth hanging open slightly. There was a shred of green caught in his teeth. It might have been lettuce but I wasn’t sure and this probably wasn’t the time to point it out. ‘Ghosts are tutting at you?’ he asked finally.
I shrugged. ‘Or tsking. To be honest, I’ve never been sure about the difference between a tut and a tsk. I think the last ghost might have been tutting at you for dropping all those books rather than at me.’ I hesitated. ‘But I kind of made you drop the books by surprising you, so I guess she was getting at me by default.’ I forced a smile.
Maidmont still hadn’t blinked. Concerned that his eyeballs might dry out and I’d be responsible for him going blind, I reached out and shook his shoulder. ‘Hello? Philip?’
‘Uh … let’s sit down,’ he said weakly. Then his legs gave way and he sank down onto the floor rather than looking around for a chair. I shrugged; it worked for me. I joined him, crossing my legs and resting my chin on my hands while Maidmont tried to recover.
After what seemed an age, he nodded almost imperceptibly and looked at me. ‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I’m just a bit – surprised. I believe you, though. I’ve never heard of anything like this before and, working here, I’ve heard a lot of odd things. Why don’t you start from the beginning?’
I gazed into the distance. ‘The very beginning? It started in Scotland. Right after I took the kid’s magic from him, I saw a floating head. It spoke to me.’ I twisted my fingers in my lap. ‘It was Benjamin Alberts, the Enchantment contestant who’d died. At the time, I was in so much pain that I passed out. Afterwards, I assumed it had just been my imagination or something to do with the trauma of what was happening. Afterwards, though, in the hospital when I woke up…’ My voice drifted off.
‘Go on,’ Maidmont said quietly. There was no censure in his tone and his expression suggested nothing except encouragement.
I heaved in a breath. ‘There were lots of them. People, I mean. None of them looked healthy.’ Images of gaunt old men and bloodied children flickered through my head. My stomach twisted with sudden nausea and I glanced at Maidmont. ‘I was on heavy painkillers,’ I said, doing my best to find a rational explanation. ‘Morphine and stuff like that, so everything was a bit dreamy. But they kept coming in and talking to me. I thought they were real to begin with, but it didn’t take long to work out that no one else could see them.’ I gave a short, humourless laugh. ‘I asked one woman, who wandered in and demanded to know where her baby was, if she’d spoken to one of the nurses. Winter was there at the time and he answered me. Then he stepped back and passed right through her as if she were nothing more than air. She looked annoyed, then she just vanished. Right in front of my eyes.’
Maidmont cleared his throat. ‘And what makes you think they’re ghosts and not just hallucinations? Because you had a few of those, didn’t you?’
‘I had one,’ I replied flatly. ‘One hallucination caused by the kid’s magic. And it was of a bloodstain.’ I shuddered. ‘What I’m seeing now is nothing like that. I thought maybe they’d disappear if I pretended they weren’t there. I thought maybe I was going crazy. But I think cats sense them too.’ I told him about Brutus, Princess and Harold and the way they’d avoided Cobweb Lady.
‘It’s been two months since Scotland and they won’t go away. There’s a woman who all but lives in my damned flat. There was a red-robed guy outside, with the bushiest beard and moustache that I’ve seen in my life, who talked like he’d come from another century. His eyes were yellow! Who the hell has yellow eyes? Not to mention the woman here in the library I already mentioned. They’re everywhere, Philip. And they keep talking to me.’ I met his eyes. ‘Am I going crazy? Or is the necromancy I absorbed taking me over?’
Maidmont’s face was still very pale. ‘The man outside, the one with the beard. Can you describe him in more detail?’
I scratched my head and did my best. As Maidmont listened, the young woman with half a face reappeared. She crouched down and stared at him. ‘He has something stuck in his teeth,’ she declared. ‘It’s disgusting. In my day, librarians paid far more attention to their personal hygiene. No one likes to be breathed on by someone who still has their lunch hanging out of their mouth.’
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