“Kenneth, what happened?” I asked. I knew the basics, but a mind walk shouldn’t have killed Milton. The healers just fixed him up. He should have been in perfect health.
“The idiot signed a magically binding contract without reading the fine print. By sharing the name with anyone, in any way, he forfeited his life. I only got the first name. He bought the necklace from someone named Noah,” Kenneth explained.
“Cal, bring him back,” I ordered.
“On it,” he said. His magic warmed me as he reached out for Milton’s spirit. I wish it could have comforted me as it usually did.
“Holy shit!” Lee said, stepping back as Milton sat up and looked around the room. He had to have heard Kenneth’s comment about Cal earlier, but hearing someone is a necromancer and watching them raise a corpse are two different things. At least Milton’s eyes glowed with the lilac energy of Cal’s magic instead of remaining lifeless.
“Well, fuck,” Milton said.
“What’s Noah’s last name? Where can we find him?” I asked. With so many questions, I resisted the urge to ask everything all at once.
“Screw you guys. You killed me,” Milton said.
“I’d argue you killed yourself the second you signed that contract,” Kenneth said. His argument split hairs. Milton wouldn’t be dead if he’d never signed the contract, but he also wouldn’t be dead if we hadn’t dug around in his mind.
“Bullshit,” Milton swore. Dying made him bolder. “You ass—“
“Quiet,” Cal interrupted, and Milton’s mouth clamped shut. “You’re not innocent. You were using another person’s soul for your own amusement. If you will not be helpful, I have no reason to keep you in that body. Do you understand?”
Milton didn’t answer.
“Did you break him?” Lee asked.
“Just giving him an opportunity to figure things out,” Cal said. “Speak.”
“Are you gonna let me keep my body if I help?”
“Can he do that?” Lee whispered to me.
I shrugged, not knowing how long Cal could keep this up. I knew that the body wouldn’t hold up if he let Milton leave with it. It would rot with or without him in it. Cal’s demonstration hadn’t sunk in, though. He didn’t have to give Milton a choice. This attempt at bargaining confirmed that he missed the point of Cal silencing him.
“If you cooperate willingly, I’ll give you enough time in your body to get your affairs in order,” Cal offered.
“And then what?” Milton asked.
“You’ll expire again and move on,” Cal told him.
“And you all will be off the hook for killing me,” Milton said bitterly.
“You’re deluding yourself if you think we’ll be held responsible for your death,” Kenneth said.
“You really think a room full of witches can’t make a body disappear?” Summer said.
“You can’t do that. People will look for me. Someone will catch you,” Milton argued. He didn’t sound convinced.
“People go missing without explanation every day,” she countered.
“Not people like me. I’m important,” he said, sounding even less confident. Summer looked at Kenneth, silently asking if Milton was bluffing.
“He runs some tech company,” Kenneth provided. “His disappearance will make the news, but I’m not worried.”
“People knew I was coming here,” Milton insisted.
He could be lying. On the other hand, a wealthy tech executive going missing after coming to a known supernatural market would definitely ping the DPI’s radar. Maybe he’d inspire enough press to make it a high-profile case for them. They needed more of those to justify their funding.
“He’s going to cooperate,” I said.
“Damn right, I’m not,” Milton agreed.
Cal sighed. “I really wish you’d reconsider.”
“I really wish you hadn’t killed me,” Milton mocked.
Something shifted in Cal’s magic. The soothing quality vanished, replaced with an itching sensation. This feeling, like bugs crawling under my skin, was closer to what I expected from necromancy.
“What is Noah’s last name?” Cal asked. I noticed Milton’s irises change from lilac to a lighter shade that nearly blended in with the whites of his eyes.
“Smith,” Milton said, lacking all the emotion from moments before.
“An alias?” Lee asked.
“Ask him if Noah signed the contract,” I requested.
“Answer him,” Cal ordered.
“Yes, we both signed it.”
“Then it’s real. He couldn’t do a binding this strong without giving a piece of himself for it,” I answered Lee’s question.
“How did he meet Noah?” Kenneth asked, and Cal repeated.
“He hosts parties for wealthy buyers. Invite only,” Milton answered.
“How did he know you’d be interested? What made him invite you?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Milton said.
“Where did it happen?” I asked.
“Outside the city,” he said.
“What’s the address?”
“My assistant has it.”
“We need to wrap this up,” Cal told me.
“Did he invite you to any more events?”
Milton’s body fell lifelessly back to the ground before I could ask anything else. Cal’s magic cut off, and the skin-crawling sensation immediately went with it. I looked at him and knew he wouldn’t bring Milton back again. Taking away a spirit’s choice clearly made him uncomfortable and influenced his magic. That shift in his magic gave me a clearer picture of what set him apart from darker necromancers. A lot of witches believed that death magic corrupted people by its nature. Now I saw, like all magic, the affinity for necromancy didn’t impact the witch as much as how they use that power.
“What now?” Summer asked.
“If he was telling the truth about people knowing where he was, DPI might pick up the case,” I said.
“So we cover our bases,” Kenneth said. “I’ll deal with the body. Mr. Gunnarsson, can we edit the security footage? We’ll want it to show him leaving the healer’s tent, and the market defeated but otherwise unharmed.”
“Okay,” Lee said. He sounded nervous about it, flooding me with guilt. I’d put him in an awkward position with the people who controlled his livelihood. Of course, he could set up in another market, but getting established there would cut profits. I doubted he’d want to see me again after this night’s chaos.
“Casper, do whatever you have to in order to monitor this if it comes up on DPI’s radar.”
“That’s all nice and proactive, but what about Noah Smith?” I asked.
“He didn’t give us much to go on besides the name,” Cal said.
“His assistant has the address where Smith hosted the party,” I said, knowing it wasn’t much. I turned to Kenneth. “Did you get anything about him in your mind walk?”
“William Lowell-Bryant,” he answered.
Even with the hyphenate tagged on, it seemed too coincidental for him not to be connected to Donald Lowell somehow. I’d bet that William connected both Donald and Milton to Noah Smith. I needed to find him and figure out what he knew. Peter’s killer finally seemed closer. Even if William couldn’t connect me directly, I had a name now. Noah Smith better watch his back.