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He arced his head up towards me, pain mingled with something indecipherable in his eyes. Whoever he’d been expecting, it wasn’t me. His mouth dropped open. ‘Ivy?’

I kept my distance on the off-chance that he might try something. ‘Why, Gareth? Why did you do it? Was it the power?’

He stared at me. ‘Wh – what?’

For good measure – and because I had to ensure that Gareth didn’t get up again – I cast my next rune, pinning his body flat to the ground. If he’d been an Order witch, he probably could have countered it. Fortunately for me, death magic appeared to be rather limiting. With my safety assured – for now – I stepped closer to him as my phone rang off again once more.

‘Who’s Alistair? Is this your partner in crime?’ I knelt down to get a better look at his face. I’d definitely managed to draw blood but it was still too dark to tell how much, beyond the fact that it was wet and dribbling down his cheek. ‘Tell me where he is.’

Gareth’s jaw worked uselessly. He was trying to talk – even I could tell that – but my last spell must have hit him harder than I’d realised. Either that or he’d already set the next raising in motion and he was exhausted from the effort.

With one eye on him, I scanned round anxiously. There was police tape around one grave, a mound of earth next to a gaping hole and the name emblazoned on the headstone was Mark Fulwright, rest in peace. Then I spotted more police tape a metre away around one of the graves on the next row. Swallowing, I took a step over to see. Scott McGuthrie.

Wrinkling my nose, I focused on Gareth. ‘Why these two?’ I asked. ‘Why did you raise these two men as zombies?’

‘Unghhh.’

Arse. I wanted answers. Unfortunately Gareth was in no position to give them. ‘Unghhh,’ he repeated, his eyes flicking to the right.

I followed his gaze, finally noticing that the untouched grave next to Mark Fulwright and in front of Scott McGuthrie belonged to someone who had once been Morag McAllan. Born 1761. Died 1799.

Suppressing a chill, I closed my eyes momentarily. In terms of necromancy, Gareth was a baby. He’d been aiming for Morag, one of his direct ancestors; instead he’d brought up two strangers whose only crime was being buried next to her. The catalogue of mistakes that had brought both of us to this point was staggering. I slumped down beside him.

‘You fucked up,’ I told him frankly. I leaned over, holding my breath as I slid my index finger along the blood on his cheek and held it up to the moonlight to get a better look. ‘So did I.’ I sighed and reached for my phone once again. ‘You don’t really have any idea about what you’ve unleashed, do you? No matter what your blood reveals, you’re a dead man. There’s no other option. Necromancy is too powerful and too uncontrollable. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether I’ll be joining you.’

Gareth’s expression was clouded with confusion. I turned on my phone to use its light and breathed out. His blood was a pure, beautiful red. That meant there was only one thing left to do.

‘I’ve been so focused on my own impending doom,’ I told him sadly, ‘that I’ve not really thought about what it’ll be like to end the life of another human being. If there were any other choice, I wouldn’t do it. If you hadn’t been such a damn good liar and hadn’t managed to take things so far already, maybe there would have been another way out. But by raising two dead bodies, you’ve abused too much necromantic magic, Gareth. Whatever your reasons were, there’s no way to contain what you’ve done now other than by killing you. I really, truly am sorry. I’ll make it as swift and painless as I can.’

The confusion in Gareth’s eyes was rapidly changing to terror. ‘Unnnnngh!’

I ran a hand through my hair. I could do this. I had to do this. If I wasn’t going to get a full explanation from Gareth then I’d have to deal with that. But there was one answer I had to get first.

‘Blink once for yes and twice for no. Is this Alistair working with you?’

‘Puh-lease,’ drawled a voice behind me. ‘I wouldn’t work with that loony loser.’

And then something hit me on the back of the head and everything went dark.

Chapter Twenty Two

When I came to, it wasn’t just the pain from my head where I’d been hit that was pulsing through me. I was hogtied, my ankles and wrists bound together, and the chafing of the rope, not to mention the uncomfortable position and the hard, damp ground, did not make for a happy Ivy. I was also incredibly disorientated. My vision swam and I had to shake my head to try and see properly. All that did was to make me even more dizzy.

As I gradually returned to full consciousness, panic and fear rushed through me. It wasn’t a trickle, it was more like a deluge. It was still dark so I couldn’t have been unconscious for long but it was long enough. I was in deep trouble.

Twisting around, I tried desperately to see what was going on. There were heavy grunts and mutters off to my right. To my left, there was another body. I craned my neck and spotted Gareth, trussed up just like I was. His eyes were on me, warning reflected in their depths. It was too late: my captor had already realised I was awake.

‘Stop that,’ he yelled. ‘Or I’ll hit you again!’

I blinked, focusing on his face. When I saw who it was, my mouth dropped open in astonishment.

‘Yeah,’ he sneered. ‘You remember me. Well, I remember you too. And I don’t like being treated like a fool.’ He reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled packet, drawing out a cigarette and lighting it, his boyish features momentarily illuminated. ‘You’re not going to set these fags on fire,’ he told me with a snort. ‘You’re not going to do anything.’

I stared at the teenager, the one who’d told me where to find Gareth when he was in the gym. It didn’t make any sense. Neither did the fact that I’d been bested by a damn kid. So much for my supposed magical talent.

‘Alistair?’ I asked.

His lip curled. ‘Yeah. You didn’t really think that gormless Gareth was behind all this, did you? He’s useless.’ For good measure, he kicked Gareth’s legs. The force he used was considerable and Gareth’s sharp moan of pain attested to its violence.

I didn’t understand. My gaze swung from Alistair to Gareth and back again. ‘But…’

Interpreting my confusion for what it was, Alistair laughed. It was a humourless sound but I didn’t think I imagined the tremble in it. ‘Calls himself a McAllan. But he’s not really. Tell her what you really are.’

Gareth mumbled to himself.

‘Speak up,’ Alistair yelled, his fury growing. I realised that this wasn’t teenage angst expressing itself in a particularly ugly manner. The necromancy he’d already conjured up was taking root within him. Veins were bulging across his forehead and his eyes had a peculiar glazed look. How on earth had he managed to slip through the net? But I already knew the answer – he was a kid. The Order and the police wouldn’t have given him a second thought. I doubted he’d even been interviewed.

‘I was adopted,’ Gareth said, his voice still barely above a whisper.

‘His mother didn’t want him. Ain’t that right? Even when you were a baby she knew that you’d turn out to be nothing. Gave you up the first chance she got.’

I glanced at Gareth. ‘You’re brothers?’

Alistair answered for him. ‘We are not brothers. The only reason Mum and Dad didn’t get rid of him when I came along is that they felt sorry for him.’ There was another long-drawn-out snort. ‘He’s a waste of space.’

Bloody hell. This was like a gender-swapped Cinderella. I wondered if my role was supposed to be that of the Fairy Godmother. Somehow I didn’t think glass slippers and a pretty gown would do the trick.

‘I should be grateful to him. If it wasn’t for him, I would never have learned what I’m really capable of.’ Alistair paused and gazed down at his hands. ‘I can do amazing things. I will do amazing things.’

‘Alistair, what you’re doing is highly dangerous,’ I said, shifting round and trying to get into a position where I could wriggle out of my bonds, or at least move my hands enough to cast a rune. ‘The magic you’re using comes at a high cost.’

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