â€œHello?â€ the ghost boy repeated, starting to panic. â€œIs someone there?â€ He had his back to me.
I kept my voice soft, as if speaking to a cornered animal or frightened child; both applied. â€œMendel. Itâ€™s okay. Youâ€™re not alone.â€
I could ease his passage, if nothing else, send him to the Mists, whereâ€¦well, who knew if it was any better there than here. Probably wasnâ€™t.
â€œWhoâ€¦who are you?â€ The aether warped his words.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter anymore. Tell me one thing, and then Iâ€™ll send you to the gods. What crime did you witness yesterday?â€
The boyâ€™s translucence rippled, and I saw the fear in his face. â€œIâ€¦Iâ€¦â€
I directed my magic at him, guided it over him like a motherâ€™s touch, and saw him relax. â€œYou can tell me.â€
He buried his face in his hands. â€œThey took aâ€¦womanâ€¦into a cellar. They used dark magic on her. She screamed, but it was silent. Her mouth opened, but no sound came out. Her eyesâ€¦â€
â€œOkay. Who did this?â€
For the first time, the ghost boy looked straight at me, and he said, â€œMinisterâ€”â€
Energy crackled behind me a fraction of a second prior to the blast. It shot past my left ear, and instinct sent me rolling to the side. But the spell hadnâ€™t been intended for me. It hit the ghost boy square in the chest and threw him back, off his feet, into mid-air.
The ghost boy screamed as his chest imploded, then was sucked into the Mists through a hole torn in the fabric of the world.
I landed on my feet in the next moment, but it was too late for the ghost boy. I shifted into hunter mode. The other necromancer had already turned tail and run, leaving an energy trail I could follow if I hurried. I sprinted.
At the end of the alley, I flew out into a wide street and stopped, scanning for my prey.
A cloud of dead air burst up around me, latched on, and would not let go. Putrid, the air contained particles that clung to my skin and clothes, lingered inside my mouth and nose, and made my eyes water. I steeled myself against it. Youâ€™d think a necromancer would be used to it, but not that smell. Your body reacts automatically. I fought back the urge to gag and searched my surroundings.
There! A black-cloaked figure slid through the shadows on the far side of the street.
I ran after the figure and was catching up when it turned another corner. Iâ€™d learned my lesson, so I slowed to a stop, crouched, and peered around the edge.
No nasty spell hit me in the face. No target was waiting for a fight. No one.
I stood slowly, and as I reached my full height, a body came up gently behind me. Arms wrapped so intimately around me that my fight or flight instincts never kicked in. Then, a knife appeared at my throat.
I froze. When youâ€™ve been had, thereâ€™s not much you can do but listen.
A deep voice whispered next to my ear, â€œCalm.â€ I sensed no necromantic power radiating from my captor. This was someone different. â€œThe man youâ€™re chasing is Kraig the Bleak. Magic for hire. Youâ€™ll probably never see him again.â€
I asked, â€œWho are you?â€
â€œListen closely,â€ the deep voice said. â€œThere are forces at work in this city, in this world, that will take us all down if we let them. Together, you and I can make a difference.â€
My body was relaxing, senses expanding, and Iâ€™d finally caught my breath. â€œAnd what a positive start to our relationship.â€ My sense of humor was even returning.
â€œOne you wonâ€™t forget. Iâ€™ll be in touch. You can call me E.â€
Before I knew it, I was released, throat intact. I spun around, but no one was there. My captorâ€”Eâ€”had left me standing, alone, on a moonless night, at the edge of a cobblestone street that smelled of rotting vegetables and dog droppings, and all I could think was, I need a new job.
The next day, I turned in my badge. The day after that, I took my first case as Marjory Delaqua, private investigator: I hired myself to unravel the conspiracy behind the ghost boyâ€™s murder. I havenâ€™t succeeded yet, but I will. If nothing else, everyone ends up in the Mists eventually, and we necromancers come with a large dose of patience.