Elijah Trenton watched as the professor’s assistant held up cards that broke down Professor Kalvin’s long-winded speeches into short, memorable paragraphs and timelines. He didn’t know her name since the professor had never introduced her—one more strike against the pompous ass in Eli’s opinion. Eli appreciated all her help because History of Spell Casting definitely wasn’t one of his strengths.
His father would say that Eli didn’t have strengths of any kind.
Eli wrote down her shortcuts quickly, his hand flying across the paper. He could review them later when he had more time, but from experience he knew her notes would make a great deal more sense than the professor’s rambling lecture. Professor Kalvin took great delight in testing students on the minutest details instead of the broader scope of important history. Eli didn’t know a single student who enjoyed the class. Unfortunately it was a prerequisite to anything more interesting. He could’ve pushed it off a few more years, but Eli was of the rip-the-bandage-off train of thought. He’d rather finish it now than have to postpone it a few years down the road.
Besides, there was a perk to the class, in the form of Devin Stewartson. The sexy man sat two rows ahead of Eli and to the right. Eli spent a great deal of time ignoring the professor and staring at the gorgeous triplet. It just wasn’t fair that there were three of them. He’d heard around campus that Dan had bonded with a fire wizard and Dean was straight—that left Devin as his only option. Not that it mattered—he’d always been attracted to Devin more than his brothers. Devin’s upbeat personality pulled at Eli. Maybe because Eli didn’t have a bubbly personality, Devin’s charm called to him.
“If you stare at him any harder, he’s going to get a hole in the back of his head,” Porter whispered.
“Shut up.” Eli shoved his friend on the shoulder good-naturedly. The professor gave them a strange look but carried on with his boring lecture.
Eli returned his attention to the assistant. She hadn’t moved on to the next card. Instead, she froze as if listening to something no one else could hear. Her eyes widened, and she pinned Eli with a frightened look.
“Duck!” she shouted.
She’d never spoken before, but her terror transmitted to Eli as if she’d injected it directly into his veins. Without hesitation, he dropped his pen and slid beneath his desk.
“What are you doing?” whispered Porter.
Porter peered at Eli hiding beneath his desk, his blond hair flopping across his curious brown eyes. Porter was Eli’s best friend and generally tended to follow Eli’s lead even if he didn’t know where he was going.
Eli grabbed Porter’s jacket, yanked him beneath the desk and shouted, “Everyone, get down!”
“Shit!” Porter yelled as he tumbled to the floor. “You’re going to get into trouble.”
He tried to get up, but Eli kept a tight hold on his friend’s shirt, keeping him by Eli’s side. “Stay.” He didn’t know what was going on, but something was coming, something bad. He could feel it in his bones.
“Mr. Trenton, is there a reason you’re underneath your desk?” the professor asked in his slow, dry voice. The sound always brought to Eli’s mind the image of crispy fall leaves and zombies. A strange combination, but he refused to claim responsibility for his bizarre daydreams. Sometimes his brain went off on tangents.
Eli didn’t get out from beneath the desk to respond, even if it was completely unfair that the teacher didn’t even ask about Porter. Porter got away with everything, while the professor commented on Eli’s every action. He wondered if his father had talked to the professor. Any teacher’s evil fixation on Eli was usually the result of his father’s interference. Conrad Trenton had a way of bulldozing over people and not considering anyone’s concerns but his own and sometimes those of Eli’s older brother.
The pressure in the air raised the hair on Eli’s arms in tingly bursts of electricity. “Don’t you feel that? Everyone get under your desks!” he yelled. He kept his white-knuckled grip on Porter’s shirt, refusing to let his friend even lift his head. Eli relaxed a bit when he saw that Devin had taken his advice. He didn’t know what was coming, but he couldn’t stand it if his crush became injured.
Eli gritted his teeth as wild magic flooded the room. Electricity snapped and crackled through the air, slamming into desks and people with equal fervor. Screams pierced the air and a low hum vibrated down Eli’s spine.
Unable to stand to look, Eli squeezed his eyes shut. The combined stench of burning flesh and ozone singed his nose and had his stomach threatening to revolt. Students continued to scream as wicked pops of energy found new places to land. Not daring to peek, Eli and Porter remained frozen on the floor until the only sounds were the moans of the injured and the frantic whimpers of the other students.
When all electrical sounds had faded, Eli opened his eyes. The students in the row ahead of him peered at him from beneath their desks.
“Stay down!” Eli raised his head to take a quick look around the room. Professor Kalvin lay still on the floor, and many students were crying brokenly as they cradled their injuries.
The blonde assistant motioned to Eli that it was safe to stand. He wondered how she’d escaped injury. She hadn’t hidden at all, yet miraculously she didn’t have any damage. Many others hadn’t been so lucky.
“Porter, you can get up now,” Eli said, releasing his hold.
Porter cautiously scooted out from under the desk. Eli’s gaze slid over to Devin, who smiled at him and gave him two thumbs up. Eli’s heartbeat smoothed from a frantic thundering to its usual steady rhythm. No one he cared about had been injured. Tension eased along his spine as he walked to the front of the room to check out the professor.
The teacher lay on the floor, his face serene, but lightning had punched a hole through his shirt and burned out a spot where Professor Kalvin’s heart used to be. He wouldn’t be sharing his boring lectures ever again. Guilt swamped Eli. The poor professor hadn’t done him any true harm, and yet he wasn’t the least bit upset over his death. Eli vowed to be a better person. He’d hate to be the one zapped with no one caring if he passed.
No one spoke again for a while until Devin’s voice broke through the heavy silence. “What in the ten hells was that all about?”
Eli shrugged. “Someone’s magic probably got away from them.”
It happened sometimes if a young prodigy lost control. The wards were beginning to fade on a lot of the older buildings. The headmaster had improved the protection on some parts of campus but must not have gotten to this one yet, probably because there weren’t supposed to be any active magic classes scheduled there.
“I thought there weren’t any practice classes here,” Devin said, echoing Eli’s thoughts.
Eli shrugged. He didn’t know all the classes that went on in the building, but something had gotten loose. “I didn’t think so either, but someone’s magic got away from its caster.”
Walking over to the professor’s desk, Eli reached beneath the lip and pressed the emergency button. Each class was equipped with one in case of the school being taken over or a student becoming more than the teacher could handle. Eli knew pressing it would bring help. Some students needed medical assistance and a few of them were obviously in shock, not to mention that something had to be done with the professor’s body. Luckily it didn’t appear as if any of the students had suffered fatal injuries.
Within seconds, a soft pop of air displacement preceded two men in red robes teleporting into the room. They did a quick analysis, then called for more backup. For the next several minutes, medics and campus police continually flashed in and out of the room as they gathered information and samples to determine the cause of the traumatic event.
The campus police requested all students to stay until they got everyone’s statement. The last person to arrive was Headmaster Candine. After consulting with the medics, she beckoned Eli and Porter out of the room.
Eli sighed. He longed for his bed, and to start the day over. If only there were a magical rewind switch.
“What happened here?” the headmaster asked. She stared directly at Eli as if he had had something to do with the electrical attack.
Eli pointed at the door. “Lightning came through there, then shot around the room before vanishing. Ask anyone. I don’t know why it happened, but it did.”
The others were watching him as if he were guilty in some manner. Used to being blamed for pretty much everything, Eli refused to take responsibility for this one. He wasn’t a killer.
He folded his arms across his chest. Eli had nothing to hide, but he wouldn’t be bullied either. Headmaster Candine had a reputation for being fair—why was she staring at him as though he’d done something wrong?
“The other students say you were the one who told them to duck.” She narrowed her eyes as if trying to read his mind.
“Yes.” No point in denying it—there were a dozen other students who would point him out.
“How did you know to do that? Are you clairvoyant?”
Any other school and he would’ve thought the headmaster was being sarcastic. At this university, it could be a genuine condition.
“No, ma’am,” Eli replied. “I only knew because the teaching assistant told me to get down.”
Why didn’t she ask Porter these questions? Instead she kept her gaze on Eli as if he were the only one there. Porter could’ve just as easily told her about the incident. Neither of them knew much.
“What assistant?” Candine asked.
“I don’t know her name. She stands at the front for every lecture and breaks down the lessons so we know what the hell the professor is talking about.”
Candine looked at him as though she’d never seen Eli before in his life. “Eli, Professor Kalvin didn’t have an assistant.”
“Sure, she’s right there.” Eli pointed to where the assistant stood. She looked lost, clutching her signs. Her eyes swept the room as if checking over the students, yet she hadn’t stepped forward and talked to any of them directly. Strange.
“I don’t see anyone,” the headmaster argued.
A shimmering glow appeared beside the assistant and Eli watched as his dead professor introduced himself to her. The two shook hands and exchanged words too quietly for Eli to overhear.
Eli just figured out why no one else had seen his helpful lady.
“Never mind. I think she’s a ghost.” Eli’s entire perspective had changed. He could see ghosts. When had that started happening?
Shocked at this new ability, he didn’t even glance at Devin when the triplet patted him on the back on the way out of the door. His head spun with the consequences of his sight. He had necromancer magic. The ability to see spirits was a rare ability. He knew no one else who had the skill. Eli shivered as shock set in.
The headmaster’s mouth dropped open, but she immediately snapped it shut. Her quick recovery earned her some points in Eli’s esteem.
“I think we need to reevaluate your training, young man.”
Eli’s stomach sank. Just as he was becoming used to his schedule, everything would change. But how could he refuse? She was right. If he truly had necromancer powers, he would need extra training. Different training.
* * * *
“I can’t believe you never figured this out before,” Porter said later when they had finally been allowed to return to their dorm room. “I mean, that’s a major power.”
Eli lay on his bed across from his roommate but didn’t comment. The ceiling had turned into a sight of great importance as Eli struggled to deal with his new worldview. Porter was right. What kind of person didn’t know they could communicate with the dead? He guessed his father was right—he really was a moron, but at least now he was a moron with a rare skill. Communicating with the dead took a great deal of magical ability. Eli had never thought of himself as particularly powerful and neither did the rest of his family. He couldn’t remember any other necromancers in his family tree.
Eli started to laugh.
“What’s so funny?” Porter asked, smiling.
“Father is going to have kittens. I have a bigger power than Frederick.”
Eli’s older brother was the typical overachieving firstborn. He always rubbed it in Eli’s face that Eli had less magic than anyone else in the family. Frederick didn’t have a specialty, but his magical abilities were strong. Father had plans for Frederick to take a political position when he got older. Their father had never made plans of any kind for Eli except for him to go to the school. He probably figured Eli would flunk out, and then he could tell all his powerful friends that at least he’d tried to help his younger son. For Eli’s father, perception was more important than reality.
“You might have ghost mojo, but you still have problems with basic spells,” Porter reminded him.
“I know.” Eli lost some of his enthusiasm. “You’d think if seeing ghosts was a sign of stronger magic, I would have better skills in other areas.”
Eli had never really excelled at his studies. He’d only come to the magical university because his father refused to pay for any other college education. His sons went to his alma mater or not at all. Eli probably would’ve done better studying something nonmagical like computer science or basket weaving or maybe taking up slam poetry.
Porter laughed. “Remember when you made that fireball and almost burned down the potions classroom? Lucky they have a good fire retardant system.”
Eli glared at his friend. “How was I supposed to know that the monkey hair was extremely fresh or that I should’ve used ape instead of chimpanzee? Isn’t monkey hair monkey hair? They should’ve been labeled properly!”
“Uh-huh,” Porter said dryly. “I’m not certain apes are considered monkeys.”
Eli groaned. “I don’t care. I’m too busy freaking out right now.”
Panicky thoughts spun through his head with dizzying speed. How was this going to affect his training? His current educational schedule was created for those who either planned to teach or do research for more powerful wizards. It was often true in magical communities that those who couldn’t perform strong magic taught.
A knock had both of them jerking upright.
“Are you expecting anyone?” Porter asked.
Eli shook his head. Unwilling to admit to his unease, Eli slid off his bed, then walked over and pulled open the door. Eli’s heart tried to leap into his throat like a hyperactive frog.
“Afternoon, Headmaster, Father.” Eli took a step back to let the pair in. What he really wanted to do was slam the door closed and barricade it shut, but he resisted that urge—barely. Seeing his father had never heralded positive things in Eli’s life.
Headmaster Candine entered the dorm room and glanced around. “Afternoon, Elijah, I wanted to check in with you about how you’re doing after your revelation this afternoon. It must’ve been shocking to discover you’re a necromancer.”
“Yes, it was, but I’m fine.” He’d already had a private freak-out, but he didn’t plan on sharing the details with anyone, especially not his father. His parent never appreciated the fact that normal people had feelings.
His father frowned at Eli. Anything other than a stiff upper lip and calm acceptance of his superiority wouldn’t be allowed by a Trenton. Asshole.
“You’ll be changing your schedule right away. I’ve discussed your new classes with the headmaster and we are in agreement.”
A guilty expression flashed across the headmaster’s face as she glanced over at Eli. He bit back the angry reply hovering on his lips. Of course it would never occur to his father to possibly include Eli in any planning over his future. Eli was to do whatever his father decided. For once he felt a pang of sympathy for Frederick… except, as far as Eli could tell, his brother appreciated having their father telling him what to do. After all, it meant less thinking on his part. Frederick couldn’t put a step wrong if their father told him how to take every one.
Eli’s stomach sank. “I’ll still need my History of Magical Studies class,” he pointed out. He refused to give up the one class he shared with Devin. He didn’t know if they would ever get together, but he desperately needed to keep something familiar while everything else about his life changed.
“Yes, yes.” His father waved his hand as if banishing such trivial matters. “But you will be taking enhanced magic classes along with your basics. I’ve called in a specialist to deal with your necromancy.”
“Deal with it?” Sounded like he had a disease rather than a power. Eli rubbed his forehead. He could already feel his temples pulsing. Contact with his father often triggered migraines.
His father beamed with approval at Eli, the first time Eli could recall that happening. “There are only a handful of necromancers in the world, Eli. We want you trained by the best. Alstair Gorman is the leader in your field. He’ll be here tomorrow. He’s going to stay and personally train you for a month. You will have your afternoons free to train with him.”
“Thank you, sir.” Eli knew better than to show anything but enthusiasm. He didn’t know if he’d like these classes or this fancy-ass necromancer, but at least the one bright spot on his schedule of seeing Devin wouldn’t be erased. If he didn’t get that bit of eye candy three times a week, university life wasn’t worthwhile.
“Come by my office in the morning and we can go over your schedule,” the headmaster said.
“I will.” If he didn’t like the classes, he’d be certain to change them again. If he left everything up to his father, he’d end up in all prodigy classes… and flunk out within months.
Candine wasn’t a bad sort. She genuinely seemed to care about the students. Too bad Eli heard she was only an acting headmaster—she didn’t want the job full-time.
“I thought about moving your lodgings to a better location, but it’s too hard to get another private room,” Eli’s father said, eyeing the dorm room with distaste.
Eli wondered what his father thought about Porter. It wasn’t as if he had the room all to himself. Porter sat silently watching the exchanges as if they had nothing to do with him.
The headmaster jumped back in the conversation. “You will be taking Beginning Necromancy along with your private tutor. Maybe we can get some tips from Alstair in case this comes up again. Congratulations on your abilities.” The headmaster rubbed her hands together with glee.
“Um, thank you.” Eli didn’t know if he liked the idea of being so special or not. He didn’t want the attention. He’d learned growing up that being noticed wasn’t always a good thing.
“You’re very welcome, young man. Now I’ll leave you to talk to your father,” she said, as if that were something Eli should look forward to. On her way out, she patted him on the back as if he’d done something brilliant by having necromancy skills.
His father eyed Eli, approval in his cold gaze. After years of seeking his dad’s attention, he now wished the man would just go away. He certainly had no desire to supplant his brother’s spot in his father’s affections. Those two deserved each other. Power-seeking and ruthless, the two men had the same goals in life—taking whatever they could get and stepping on as many people as necessary to get there. Eli wanted nothing to do with them.
“Thank you for coming, Father.” He dredged up his manners but couldn’t put any enthusiasm into his words. After years of neglect, Eli preferred his father’s absence.
His father shrugged. “I was already here to visit Frederick. Good thing, too, or they might have completely mismanaged your magic.”
Eli bit his lip. He probably would have a scar from his teeth marks if his father visited very often. Unmentioned was the fact that Eli would never have known his father was on campus because he certainly didn’t drop in to visit his youngest son.
Porter snorted his disgust on the other side of the room. Eli turned in time to catch his friend rolling his eyes.
“Well, thank you for coming by. I’ll be interested to see what the headmaster has for me tomorrow.”
His father nodded. “I’ll expect a full report of your new classes. I’ve told Alstair where to find you. If there are any problems, he’ll let me know.”
Without bothering with good-byes, Eli’s father turned on his heel and left.
“Wow, he’s a fun guy,” Porter said. “I see he doesn’t care if you’re the one with problems. I don’t know how you turned out to be such a great guy with a father like that.”
Eli shrugged. He’d long ago stopped trying to decipher his father’s behavior. If the man were a proper parent, he’d be more concerned about his child’s mental health. “It would never occur to him to care. If Alstair has a good reputation, my opinion wouldn’t matter anyway.” Resignation filled Eli’s voice. His father had never tried to hide his opinion of Eli. Eli was to do as told and bother his father as little as possible. If Eli ever had kids, he’d make sure they knew they were loved and not a bother.
“What are you going to do?”
Eli shrugged. “I guess I’m going to try out my new classes tomorrow, meet this necromancer, and hope I don’t get myself killed. We both know my other magic is lacking. I’ll get my butt handed to me if they put me in any advanced classes.”
He might not have wanted to go to this school, but he wanted to flunk out of it even less.
Porter put a hand on each of Eli’s shoulders and looked him square in the eyes. “You’ll be fine. If anyone messes with you, you can call upon your legion of dead.”
Eli laughed. “So far my legion consists of a single dead assistant teacher who I don’t think is going to do anything other than help me with my studies.”
“Well, legions should be functional,” Porter said in a practical tone. “Maybe you can build them up as soon as you can figure out which ones are dead.”
“Yes, that would be the tricky part.” Some of the despair always brought on by his father’s presence began to lift. Porter always eased Eli’s concerns. If left to his own devices, he’d be wallowing in self-pity for the rest of the day. “Thanks.”
He knew he didn’t have to say what he was thanking him for when Porter nodded.
“That’s my job as your friend,” Porter assured him. “Your father is an ass—you shouldn’t listen to anything the man has to say.”
“Devin talked to me,” Eli confessed. He plopped down on the bed, smiling. Any contact with the triplet always cheered him up. The more he observed Devin, the more things he found to like about him.
“Of course he did. You just saved his pretty face from a brutal electrical storm. He’d have to be a jerk to ignore you after that. One thing I’ve noticed about the triplets—they’re good guys.”
“I probably need to stop daydreaming about him and concentrate on my studies.” He might do better in his classes if he didn’t spend them thinking about a certain triplet. Now he’d have to work harder than ever. Keeping up would be a full-time job.
Porter smirked. “What fun would that be? You need to get out there and experiment. Sow your wild oats and all that.”
“I’ve always heard that saying. What does it really mean?”
“Um, you know, go out and get crazy because before you know it you’ll be wed and popping out babies.” Porter waved his hand in the air to indicate the vast amount of offspring Eli would be birthing.
A shout of laughter escaped Eli. He held his sides and giggled until tears dripped down his face. He wiped them with the palms of his hands. Damn, he’d needed the release. “I’m pretty sure I won’t be popping out babies with anyone, ever.”
“You don’t know that. You might get a surrogate to do it. There are all kinds of things you can do now. In fact, I would be careful not to mention anything to your father—he might have dreams of you impregnating some girl and having super-necromancers.”
Eli shuddered. “I’d like to have kids one day, but I certainly wouldn’t treat them like my dad treated me.”
Memories of the cold mansion he grew up in sent shivers down his spine. He wouldn’t be returning home. After school, he’d strike out on his own. He didn’t care if he had to work fast-food and live off of burgers and fries. The idea of children with Devin’s gorgeous face flashed through his mind.
Eli shook his head over the stupidity of his thoughts. He had to get Devin to talk to him before he could start planning their future together. They might not even turn out to be compatible.
“Hey, you’ll be great. You’re a mighty necromancer. I think a lot of your problem before was lack of will. You were told your entire life that you didn’t have enough magic to be important. Now we know that’s a lie. You should see what you can do, now that you know you are strong.”
Eli rolled that idea around in his head a bit. A lot of magic involved a wizard imposing his will on whatever spell he cast. “You might be onto something. Maybe if I hone my skills, I can find employment after school. I’d love to have an ability I can make a living at.” Eli hadn’t dared to hope he could find a job in the magical community, but now it could be possible. There were more needs for necromancers than existed true wizards who could talk to the dead. For many reasons, people wanted to talk to the dearly departed, and if Eli could become a bridge between them, he’d be in high demand.
“I think you should strike while the iron’s hot and go ask Devin out.” Porter nodded knowingly.
Eli’s mouth dropped open. “Really?” He couldn’t do it. Devin was a few years ahead of him in school and he exuded confidence. “Are we certain he’s gay? I mean I’ve heard rumors that he’s bi, but I’m not positive. I’ve never seen him with a guy before.” He’d certainly watched Devin enough.
“He is. I heard him talking to his brothers once. I knew you were interested, so I gathered intel.”
“Thanks, Spy Boy, I appreciate that.”
Porter always had the dish on everybody on campus—a bigger gossip Eli didn’t know. Strange since he never saw Porter talking to anyone. Porter might be outgoing with Eli, but he was shy with everyone else.
“You think he’d go out with me?”
“Why not? You’re cute. I mean I’m not partial to redheads, but you have that fresh-faced appeal some guys want to mess up.”
“Um, thanks, I think. I just hope I’m attractive to Devin. It’s not like he’s ever asked me out and I haven’t heard the triplets are shy.”
Porter grabbed Eli’s wrist and pulled him up and off the bed. “Go. Do it now while he’s still thinking of you as the guy who stopped him from being electrocuted. Besides, what’s the worst thing he could do? Say no?”
Eli ran a shaky hand through his hair. “Besides crush me completely? Nothing.”