Chapter 5: Oliver

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When Oliver had been a demon, he’d had all sorts of enhanced senses that lowly human beings lacked.

Now that he was a lowly human being too, he was…Well, lowly. He couldn’t see in the dark, he couldn’t track a person by scent, and he certainly couldn’t speak mind to mind with Eleanor Fitt—or anyone else, for that matter.

But there were two things Oliver could still do well, and though he had no idea why he’d not lose these particular demonic “enhancements,” they had saved his life on more occasions than he could count.

First: he could hear.

A scream miles away. A bat’s high-frequency cry. A rumble far below the earth. All of these noises trickled into Oliver’s ears, and for some inexplicable reason, his brain always plucked out exactly which sounds were the most important.

Right now, as he sat on the garden bench he’d hunkered onto earlier, as he fidgeted with his hat and tried to pretend Eleanor wasn’t rambling about her latest publication while Jie chimed in every few moments…As he tried not to stare at Eleanor’s mechanical hand, just visible beneath the edge of her gloves (and a sharp reminder of a time long gone)…And as he tried to ignore all the faces in the school windows that were pinned on his own face—that was when Oliver heard a bell ringing.

It took him a moment to recognize that tolling sound. Then memory slammed into him, and instincts kicked in.

“Dead alarm,” was all he said, before he was on his feet and lunging for the garden’s exit.

And here was the second thing that Oliver could do inexplicably, unnaturally well: he could move.

No person could keep up with him, and thus far, no animal had outpaced him either. He was out of the garden before Eleanor and Jie had even realized what was happening, and the still-clanging bell from—From the gatehouse, his brain graciously provided—spurred Oliver to run all the faster.

In what felt like much too long—there was a raw, unmistakable shriek of female vocal chords now—the school’s gate finally came into view.

It looked exactly as it had when Oliver had sauntered through only half an hour before, except that now there were three figures between its stone flanks.

First: a girl, heaving a shovel at a skeleton’s knees.

Second: A boy running toward the girl, weaponless. Useless.

And third (the most important part of this lovely tableau): a skeleton. An animated one, to be precise, dressed in a tattered gown and with one crunched- inknee-cap.

Oliver absorbed it all in a flash, and his right hand had slid to the holster in his jacket—to where he always kept a pulse pistol strapped tight.

“Stand aside!” he roared.

Neither the boy nor the girl paid any heed. In fact, the girl only swung her shovel back, preparing for second knee-felling blow.

But even if her aim was true—which it clearly hadn’t been true enough the first time—this corpse wouldn’t go down. That wasn’t how necromancy worked. Until the magic was stilled, the corpse would remain alive.

Alive-ish.

So Oliver staggered to halt, fifteen paces from the Dead, and withdrew his pistol. Although his breaths were heavy, his arm stayed still as he took aim. With the girl closing in on the skeleton’s left and the boy diving in from the right, the skeleton itself waited directly in the crosshairs on the gun’s barrel.

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