Read Chapter One here!
Arabella Trent was trapped in a pentagram five paces across from side to side.
She knew this because she had traversed its shape multiple times, testing the pentagram’s strength. After being thrown back by the wards every single instance, she had to concede defeat.
Besides, the buzz of angry magic hurt.
Even though I’m a ghost, I can still feel pain.
The thought was like an open pit in a stomach she didn’t have.
If she was a ghost, it meant that she—
“How can I be dead?” she demanded out loud to the empty chamber. “I don’t even remember how I got this way. There must be some mistake.”
A knot tightened in Arabella’s middle. Dead or not, she couldn’t bear being trapped. She had to get free.
She couldn’t get through the wards. Could she perhaps get under or over them? But the stone floor below her feet refused to allow her incorporeal body passage. And she couldn’t hover more than a few inches off the ground without being pressed back down as if by a giant’s hands.
Perhaps she could shift the anchors of the pentagram and nullify the spell that way? Arabella examined the floor, but the lines had been scored into the stone and inlaid with gold. The pentagram was made to be permanent.
Whatever happened to using plain old chalk? Not that it would’ve helped her much. She couldn’t affect the material world. Scuffing chalk lines was outside her scope.
Arabella paced her prison, hoping the exercise would either expose some weakness in the wards or dislodge a brilliant plan of escape from her stumped brain.
Neither occurred, but the activity did calm her down. Her fast, shallow breaths subsided—she wouldn’t think about the fact that she was not actually respiring—and rationality asserted itself.
This isn’t like those other times. It isn’t pitch dark and close. I’m not restrained and I can still see.
Arabella circled her current domain a few more times, then gave up her attempts to secure her freedom. The sight of the ground gleaming through her translucent feet made her feel ill.
She flopped onto the floor and drew her knees up to her chest. With a kind of distant surprise, she noted her clothing had changed. Instead of the shrine cloak and white robes, she wore her new high-necked walking dress of sea green with four inches of silver embroidery at the hem.
Arabella could take no pleasure from her pretty clothing. She was dead and stuck in some necromancer’s workroom.
And to think that only yesterday her biggest concern had been that her generous aunt and uncle had paid far too much for the ball gown she was to wear at Friday’s assembly!
Arabella stared out at the rest of the chamber she could not access. Judging from the thick, leaded windows set at the top of the walls, it was partially underground. The sunlight that flowed in was surprisingly warm and golden. She suspected that some sorcery was involved; a cellar workroom should not be so well-illuminated.
The rest of the space did not match Arabella’s preconceptions, either. The benches were piled with books and mathematical instruments instead of skulls, black candles, and jars of frogs’ toes and newts’ eyes. On the other side of the pentagram was a cleared space, with a practice dummy standing against one wall. Weapons lay in brackets affixed to the stone walls around it: swords of all sizes, a spear, a pike. The shelving underneath held padded armor.
Apparently Lord St. Ash was more into sword play than potion making.
Arabella scowled as she thought of the young nobleman. He had known from the start, of course. It wasn’t good manners or any interest in her well-being that had caused him to help her.
No, it was his job.
He worked in the Phantasm Bureau of the Foreign Office. Arabella was aware that one of the Bureau’s duties was banishing spirits who overstayed their welcome in the mortal world.
Spirits like her.
He could’ve sent her straight to the Shadow Lands. Arabella shivered at the thought. The Shadow Lands lurked between this world and the afterlife, a place spoken of in whispers, where lost souls and demons and who knew what else wandered.
The pentagram was preferable. Perhaps her captor had a heart after all. A small one.
Arabella tried to recall all she had ever heard of Viscount St. Ash. Surprisingly for a peer’s son, it wasn’t much. The other young ladies never brought up his name when discussing prospective husbands. Aunt Cecilia had glossed over him when doing the same. Her cousin Harry had dropped more detail in passing conversation, but Arabella hadn’t paid much attention. She had never expected to have much to do with an earl’s heir, besides the occasional pre-season dance when Lumen was thin of company. She belonged to less exalted circles.
Arabella wrinkled her nose as she turned over what little she knew of the Shields. They were a powerful magical family headed by the Earl of Whitecross. The Shields were traditionally ferromentalists, magical sword masters, but the man who had imprisoned her in this pentagram had gone in a different direction altogether.
She had heard it whispered that he walked the Shadow Lands and fought against its denizens.
What was it they called him?
The Shade Hunter.
And she’d had the bad luck to encounter him, of all people, this morning. Arabella thought of how delighted and grateful she’d been, and winced. Worst of all, she’d chattered away, never suspecting he was hatching schemes to trap her in a pentagram for his sinister purposes.
Gloomy thoughts such as these occupied Arabella as the hours whiled away. The light changed, shifting across the floor, until it was gone. Twilight filled the chamber, soft and heavy and grey.
Arabella tried to hold on to her outrage, but by that time she was resigned to her captivity. And heartily bored.
So it was with relief that she heard sounds from upstairs—the slam of a door, the scuff of feet. He was back!
Arabella waited, but no one appeared at the cellar door. Instead, noises continued to emanate from upstairs. Several thuds vibrated through the ceiling. Was he dropping books or boots?
Annoyance rekindled inside Arabella. By the saints, she may be a ghost, but she was still a gentlewoman! How dare the unmannerly boor keep her waiting!
Arabella leapt to her feet and shouted, “Help! I’m down here! Help!”
Since she had no throat to feel parched, Arabella thought with malicious glee that she could keep yelling all night. If he doesn’t come soon, I promise that I will haunt him.
The door at the top of the stairs crashed open, then slammed shut. The cellar steps creaked as Lord St. Ash ran down them. Rune lights bloomed yellow in the glass-sided lanterns set into the wall ahead of him.
Arabella put her hands on her hips as His Lordship’s stockinged feet came into view. The rest of him followed, until a tall, lean man with tousled blond hair and wary grey eyes stood before her. His cravat was loosened and the plain brown vest he wore over a white linen shirt was unbuttoned.
Incongruously, he held a sandwich in his left hand.
“You,” she informed him frostily, “forgot about me.”
“And you,” said St. Ash, “have a very penetrating preternatural scream.” He grimaced. He had, Arabella realized, a very expressive face. It was quite different from the stony demeanor he’d put on at the supper dance.
“I apologize for that,” said Arabella with dignity, “but you left me no choice.” She gestured at the pentagram.
St. Ash’s eyes narrowed as he surveyed her. Arabella had the impression that he was making up his mind about something. She began to feel nervous. If he decided to thrust her into the Shadow Lands after all, there was nothing she could do about it.
Apparently she passed the test, for St. Ash said lightly, “You were quite safe down here, Miss Trent, if a trifle bored.”
“I should like an explanation, Lord St. Ash—” began Arabella.
“Trey,” he interrupted.
Arabella frowned at him.
He waved the sandwich at her. “I’m not used to all this ‘Lord this’ and ‘Milord that.’ It puts me off my food.”
Arabella remembered that he was actually the younger son. Hadn’t Cousin Harry mentioned his older brother had died last year?
Still, she couldn’t call him by his name. What would Aunt Cecilia say? She ignored his improper request to ask a more pressing question. “Why did you stick me in this pentagram?” she demanded. “I’m not going to harm anyone. Not even Priscilla Price, who called me a rustic mushroom last month.”
“Did she indeed?” He looked amused. “But, you know, she’s only like that towards those she perceives are a threat to her matrimonial ambitions.”
Miss Price was one of Lumen society’s acknowledged beauties. Arabella’s eyes widened. “Was that a compliment?”
“Well, you are rather pretty,” he owned. “But I’ve been told, by Miss Price herself, that I am no judge of these things.”
“I was pretty,” said Arabella gloomily. “And now I’m this.” She gestured at her aethereal form.
“Don’t be so cast down. There’s hope yet. As it turns out, you’re not completely dead.”
“What do you mean, sir?”
“Just that your comatose body is safely ensconced in your bedchamber right now.”
Arabella’s head spun. Lord St.—Trey was a blur in her vision. “What?”
“Are you going to faint? It’ll be the first time I’ve seen an apparition fall unconscious. I should take notes.” The dratted man put his sandwich on his worktable and shuffled papers.
“Of course I’m not! Please stop teasing and tell me properly.” Despite herself, her words ended on a tremble.
The laughter vanished from his face. “Poor girl.” His voice was gentle. “What a trying day you’ve had. Why don’t you sit down?”
A grey mist appeared inside the pentagram and solidified into the shape of a chair. Arabella touched the back of it, expecting her fingers to go through it.
They didn’t. The chair felt smooth and cool, like marble.
“What is this?”
Arabella snatched her hand away. “Did you summon this from—?”
“The Shadow Lands? Yes.” Remarkable. He spoke the name as if it were the most commonplace thing in the world. “Do sit down, Miss Trent. The chair won’t bite.”
Arabella did so, gingerly. The magical chair wasn’t as hard as she’d expected, giving away slightly under her. “Arabella. If I am to call you Trey, you should call me Arabella.”
“Certainly.” Trey sat down on a bench and lifted his sandwich. “Do you mind? It’s late and I haven’t had supper yet.”
At her nod, he took a bite. Arabella felt a familiar empty feeling around her middle. “I’m hungry? How is that possible?”
“It hasn’t been long since you separated from your body. Your mind still remembers how you’re supposed to feel if you haven’t eaten all day.” Trey devoured the remainder of his sandwich while Arabella tried hard not to stare longingly and drool. Could a ghost salivate?
“About my body, though?” she queried.
“You’re still alive, though barely. Apparently, you slipped out of the house last evening without anyone knowing, dressed in your plainest clothes and a hooded cloak, like a girl on her way to an elopement.” He raised his eyebrows. “Were you eloping?”
“Of course not,” said Arabella crossly.
“Your aunt will be relieved. About dusk, you were hit by a hackney, according to a servant girl who witnessed the incident. You had run into the street after a stray kitten. You really are that kind of person, aren’t you?” Amusement was writ plain on his face.
“Better than being a heartless monster,” she flashed back. Goodness, he made her seem like a complete ninny. And he was the rudest man she had ever met.
He didn’t rise to the bait. “Do you remember anything from last night?”
Arabella tried, but there was a horrible blank stretch where her memories of yesterday evening should be. “I remember the dressmaker bringing my ball gown in the morning. We had stewed rabbit for luncheon. I visited with Charlotte and Viola and we talked of our excursion to Shrine Park. But after that…?” She screwed up her eyes, trying to force something to come to her.
“No need to try so hard. You’ll sprain something,” Trey advised her.
Arabella frowned. “If I was hit last evening, how come I was at Shrine Park this morning?” Her friends’ silence this morning made sense. She’d thought it was because they weren’t used to early hours. In actuality, they hadn’t been able to see her at all.
Still, they had gone on an excursion that she had wanted, most likely for her sake. The thought touched her.
“Your spirit knew where it was supposed to be this morning. With or without your body, it went.”
“If only I could remember what happened in the gap.” Arabella pressed her hands over her eyes. The gesture felt strange, cool and jelly-like. Arabella hastily removed them.
“It’s not uncommon for spirits to lose the memories surrounding their violent deaths. Or, in your case, disembodiment.”
“But my body is alive. Does that mean I can return to it?” She had clasped her hands together without realizing it.
“With a little help, I don’t see why not.”
A rush of relief swept over Arabella. “Thank you! Shall we go right now?” She was on her feet.
Trey waved a hand in a sit-down gesture. “Not so fast, Arabella. It’s not late enough—your family and servants will still be awake. We’ll leave after midnight.”
“Why the secrecy?” demanded Arabella. “My aunt and uncle will not eschew your help. I know they must be anxious and concerned.”
“We’ll keep this secret because I’m not supposed to be doing this.” Trey’s face lacked expression, and she saw, for the first time, the tired lines etched into it. “By the laws of the land and the rules of the Phantasm Bureau, I should’ve sent you on your way to the afterlife already.”
“But I’m still alive!” cried Arabella, appalled.
“Only because your aunt and uncle hired a sorcerer to put your barely-breathing self into stasis. That, by the way, comes very close to flirting with necromancy. Some would say that it crosses the line.” Trey paused. “Like, for instance, my supervisor.”
It all felt like a bad dream. “Will they get into trouble?” Arabella whispered.
“Only if they’re caught. Right now, all they’ve put out is that you’re unconscious after a bad accident. There’s precious few people who can tell your spirit’s gone wandering. And as long as any of them besides me don’t peek into your bedchamber, you’re safe.”
Arabella stiffened. “Are you saying, sir, that you were in my bedchamber?”
“Of course. I had to see for myself if your body was worth returning to. And your nightclothes are very fetching, as well.”
She eyed him, suspecting he was laughing at her again. Yes, that crook of his mouth and those lines around his eyes all indicated mirth. “I cannot believe that my aunt allowed you into my bedchamber.”
“Of course not. Charlie Blake distracted her while I went up to check.”
“Charlie Blake? Do you mean Charlotte?”
“She’s going by her Christian name now, eh?” He shook his head. “Well, I’ve known her as Charlie for years. Her older brother was up at Holyrood with me and I spent some of my holidays at the Blakes’.”
Holyrood University was where people with magical gifts were educated. “I have met Mr. Blake on occasion,” Arabella owned. “He’s a pyromentalist, isn’t he? I’ve never seen his salamander, though.”
“He works two stories below me now,” said Trey.
“Did you tell Charlotte about this?” Arabella made an eloquent gesture toward herself.
Trey shook his head. “No. The fewer people who know, the better. All I told Charlie was that I sensed something wrong and tracked it to your house. She didn’t ask any questions, just demanded I do my utmost to help.”
Arabella gave a laugh that was almost a sob. “That’s Charlotte all over.”
A frown deepened between Trey’s brows as he looked at her. “Jonathan Blake’s a reliable chap, and I gave him the details about you. If anything happens and I’m not there, go to the Blakes’ house. He won’t be able to see you, but his salamander will. Ember’s clever; she’ll help you out.”
“What awful things do you expect will happen?” said Arabella. The sinking feeling was back.
“None at all,” said Trey promptly. “It’s just a precaution. Chin up, Arabella. By tomorrow morning you’ll be waking up with a bad headache. You’ll be back to extorting money for Lady Holmstead’s orphans in no time.”
His matter-of-fact tone was surprisingly bracing. Arabella lifted her chin. “I won’t forget those hundred pounds, my lord.”
Trey cracked a smile. “Good girl.” He stood up, stretched his arms above his head, and yawned. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m in need of a few hours of rest.”
“What about me?” squeaked Arabella.
“This house is well-warded. No phantasmists will be able to sniff you out nor any necromancers summon you.” She knew he was pretending to misunderstand. “Just stay here.” He added kindly, “I’ll leave the lights on for you.”
And before Arabella could object to remaining confined in the pentagram, he was gone.
At least he’d left her the chair.
Ghostlight, Book One of The Reflected City, releases May 31st!