Shadows of Asphodel Box Set: The Complete Trilogy
EXCERPT (Shadows of Asphodel):
Wendel wasn’t in the cabin. After checking the dining car, Ardis ventured reluctantly into the lounge car. Judging by the forest green carpet, leather chairs, and lingering scent of cigars, the lounge was meant to be a bastion of masculinity. But this early in the morning, there were no gentlemen to request that she leave at once.
Discounting, of course, Wendel—though she wasn’t sure he was a gentleman.
The necromancer sprawled in a chair, a glass of green-gold liquid in his hand. He sipped his drink, then smiled languidly at Ardis.
“Please,” he said, “sit.”
She remained standing, and frowned.
“What are you drinking?” she said.
Wendel lifted the bottle to his face to inspect its contents. The color of the liquor within resembled his eyes remarkably.
“You heard the medic,” he said. “Plenty of fluids.”
Ardis sighed. “Not those kind of fluids. Alcohol isn’t a good idea.”
“Why not?” He sipped his drink. “It helps to dull the pain.”
She reached across and took the bottle of absinthe from the side table, then helped herself to a glass. She kept the bottle. Clearly, he didn’t
“Not bad,” she rasped, and she swallowed a cough.
“Brave of you.” He dipped his head. “I never drink absinthe straight.”
She glanced at his glass, and realized his drink was indeed paler than her own.
“May I recommend a little sugar to cut the bitterness?” he said.
Blushing, Ardis spotted a bowl of sugar cubes on the table, alongside a carafe of ice water and a slotted silver spoon. She remembered there was a ritual for drinking absinthe properly, though she didn’t know how.
“To tell you the truth,” she said, “this is my first time.”
Wendel arched one eyebrow. “An absinthe virgin?”
She grimaced at his choice of words. “Not anymore.”
“You don’t drink much, do you?”
She shook her head. “I don’t drink fancy booze.”
“Booze.” He smirked. “Absinthe is too upper crust to be booze.”
Ardis smiled tightly. “And I suppose you know a lot about the upper crust?”
He shrugged and swirled the absinthe in his glass.
“Perhaps the House of Hohenzollern?” she said.
Wendel looked at her over his glass. “Who told you that? Konstantin?”
“He did,” she said. “Is he wrong?”
She drank more absinthe, and rolled its fire on her tongue.
“Do you want to tell me more?” she said.
A strange look passed over Wendel’s face like a shadow. He set down his glass too hard, and it wobbled before he steadied it with a finger. He mustered something resembling a smile, but she saw the darkness in his eyes.
“What does Konstantin think he knows?” he said.
“He said the Order of the Asphodel has been training a necromancer since he was a boy. But he didn’t say much more than that.”
“The archmages really should hire better spies.”
“What kind of training?” she said, testing him.
Wendel’s false smile vanished. He looked out of the window at the sunrise creeping between the clouds and the fog.
“One more day,” he said, “until Vienna.”
“Do you have family in Vienna?” she said.
He knocked back the last of his absinthe. “No.”
She held out the bottle to him, but he ignored it.
“I don’t exist, Ardis,” he said. “Not to them. You won’t find me on any of their family trees. I’m not a part of their lineage anymore. If I die, they will have an easier time erasing me from their reputations. An easier time forgetting.”
Ardis was distantly aware of her heartbeat thumping, and of a tightness in her throat.
“When a necromancer dies,” she said, “does he die like a normal man?”
Wendel’s eyes glittered with a molten emotion she couldn’t name. She found it hard to look at him, but she didn’t dare look away.
“God,” he said, “I hope so.”
She still held the bottle of absinthe out to him, and when he took it from her, the very tips of his fingers touched hers. A shiver of electricity skittered down her backbone, as if she could feel the latent necromancy in his skin.
For some strange reason, she wanted to touch him again.
Ardis fought the urge, until Wendel looked away and she glimpsed a split second of his face. He was struggling to hide his fear, and this made him look more vulnerable than she had ever seen him before. Deliberately, her muscles tense, she sat in the chair opposite him and touched the back of his hand.
Wendel’s stare snapped to her fingers. “What are you doing?”
“Trying to touch you,” she said.
He looked into her eyes, and his own were inscrutable. “Don’t.”