Chapter 35

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Back at the ball, no one appears to have noticed our absence and Sebastian still hasn't returned. Hale did an amazing job on my hair and my dress is nearly perfect so nothing about my appearance gives away that I'd been exploring a dank tomb.

Willow and Darius are over at the buffet table and as I watch, he feeds her a chocolate. She smiles up at him prettily, eyes sparkling.

I grind my teeth, reminding myself that drowning him in the chocolate fondue isn't a good idea. 

Hale notices my distress. "I know you want to tell her but I'm worried if she acts suspiciously, Darius might panic and make move,'' he whispers in my ear.

I nod, having thought of the same thing. I'll just have to keep an eye on her throughout the ball and once it's over, tell her what happened. It hurts my heart though, watching her look at him like that and knowing I'll have to crush her hopes. 

It makes me pity Willow and want to bash Darius's head against the wall.

Hale and I wander around the edges of the ball, the night growing later and later. Sebastian still doesn't show, but Hale doesn't offer to dance with me again. I don't know if I'm relieved or disappointed. 

Several other young men do ask me to dance but I decline as graciously as possible, unable to keep the small smile off of my face. Hale's scowl becomes permanent. 

I'm just about to suggest to Hale that we go beg Willow to head back to her rooms, when out of nowhere, the huge glass windows around the ballroom explode inwards. 

People scream and scatter, avoiding shards of glass as they rain down onto the crowd. Hale pulls me to the ground, covering my body with his own. 

A high pitched shriek that feels like it's stabbing at my ears cuts through the screaming. Swirling, streaming black pours in through the now open windows. It condenses over the ballroom, writhing and twisting, the shriek getting louder until I scream, covering my ears. 

Finally it stops and I look up to see the dark shade of the necromancer hovering above the crowd.

I push Hale off and stagger to my feet, looking frantically for Willow. I catch a brief glimpse of her blonde head next to Kassia's golden one, disappearing out the far door. Relief like I've never known washes over me. 

All of the doors slam shut in a collective, final sounding boom that shakes the room. People scream and pile against the doors, pounding on them and wailing desperately.

"Silence!'' the necromancer hisses, the word slithering through the crowd and doing his bidding. 

In seconds, the ballroom has gone silent except for some whimpering and crying sounds. The necromancer's head jerks around, like a dog catching a scent. Darkness drips off of his body to pool on the ground beneath it, glistening like oil. 

Moving slowly, I reach for my dress and started pulling the hem up.

"Where is the little witch?'' the necromancer snarls, sniffing at the air. Teeth flash from the void of his body. He seems to push the light away from him, the darkness surrounding him absolute and cold. "I can smell the taint of her magic. Where is she?''

No one says anything and I freeze as he scans the crowd, my dress up to my knees. I can feel Hale pressed against my back, body tense. But the necromancer's gaze passes right over me.

"Where is she?'' A dark tendril shoots out of his body and into the crowd, wrapping around a man. I recognize him as one of the first men to ask me to dance. "Do you know where the witch is?'' the necromancer asks, the tendril dangling the man high above the floor.

"N-No,'' the man stammers. "I don't know who you're-'' 

The necromancer closes his hand into a fist and the man's body crunches sickeningly, dropping to the floor with a wet thud. The whimpers and crying increased.

"I'll kill every single one of you until she reveals herself,'' he rasps, pulling a woman from the crowd this time. Another crunch and thud as her body hits the floor. "Every single-'' There's a sudden pause and he inhales deeply.

His head snaps up and suddenly he's staring right at me. Though he has no visible eyes, I can feel them on me. 

"Sister,'' he hisses. 

Before I can react, a black tentacle slithers through the crowd and wraps around my chest. My fingers slip off the handle of the knife I'd nearly had in my grasp. 

Behind me, Hale surges forward to grab me, his hand barely grazing mine as the tentacle tightens and whips me forward through the crowd.

Up close, the necromancer is more terrifying, more... wrong than I remember. A cold, slimy feeling aura oozes off of him, sticking to my skin. The overwhelming stench of decay and rot fills my nose, taking me back to the day Willow and I had found the pile of slaughtered animals he'd left. Bile rises in my throat. 

I force myself to look at him, the alien wrongness seeping down into my core. Through the oily black that makes up his body, all I can see are the occasional glint of teeth.

I can see them now, bared in a vicious sort of smile as he dangles me in front of him like meat on a hook. "I've missed you, the taste of your terror was so sweet on my tongue. But not as sweet as your blood will be.''

My throat closes up as pure, cold fear holds my body still. I will try to be strong, try to be brave and kill him with my silver knife that seems so tiny now. But looking into the darkness, I know I won't be leaving this room alive. I have to try to make my last minutes mean something though, mean something for Willow.

"Ah.'' A slimy black tongue slides over his teeth. "There it is, just as delicious as I'd remembered.''

The ballroom doors fling open, crashing against walls with a force that would have rattled the windows if there were any left.

"How about some privacy?" the necromancer rasps, and whatever hold he'd had over the crowd disappears. People start screaming again, stampeding towards the doors in a mad frenzy to get out.

"Now, big sister, tell me where your little witch is and I won't make you eat your own entrails," he says.

Over the cacophony of human terror, I hear someone calling my name. I turn my head slightly to see Hale fighting against the crowd, struggling to make his way to us. I can see the panic, the desperation in his face. 

Idiot. The necromancer will tear him apart with half a thought. I can't see that, can't let that be the last thing I see before he kills me.

"I'll only tell you once everyone is out of here,'' I say over the shrieks. "Every single last person needs to be out.''

"I have no need for such vermin anyways,'' he hisses, dark magic pulsing off of him.

All of the people still in the room, including Hale, are swept out through the doors by a forceful wind, like they weigh nothing. The doors closed with a decisive click. Pounding immediately starts and I imagine Hale trying to break down the door with just his fists. The necromancer thankfully ignores it, giving me his full attention.

"Now,'' he says and the band of darkness around my chest tightens, squeezing the air from my lungs. "Tell me where she is.''

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