Read The Alchemist's Flame Online
Authors: Becca Andre
Table of Contents
The Alchemist’s Flame
Copyright © 2015 by Becca Andre. All rights reserved.
First Kindle Edition: 2015
Editor: Shelley Holloway
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
practicing alchemist doesn’t spend all her time indoors. The profession offers many opportunities to escape the confines of the lab. There are ingredients to be gathered, potions to be delivered, and as was the case today, necromancers to spy on. Purists may not lump the last into an alchemist’s job description, but I found myself in this position so frequently that I had begun to think of it as part of the job.
The low rumble of male voices carried through the trees and seemed to be moving closer. I ducked behind a large oak and leaned against its rough bark. My breath plumed in the cold air and I shivered, wishing I had worn a heavier coat. I hadn’t expected to get stuck outside on this cold February morning. I had intended to use the woods behind the Deacon’s house as a way to get onto the property and into the mansion unseen. I figured we would be creeping through his basement. Necromancers were fond of basements.
Ian stepped up beside me and crouched down before peeking around the tree.
I lowered my voice to a whisper. “Is it Xander?” I wouldn’t expect him to be out in the cold.
“I’m not sure.” Ian’s breath didn’t fog the air when he spoke because the air he expelled wasn’t warm. Ian Mallory was lich—a dead man with his consciousness still intact. He was also an alchemist and my business partner.
After weeks of chasing dead ends, I had decided to chance a visit to Xander’s home. It was risky to bring Ian with me. Xander Nelson, aka the Deacon, was a powerful necromancer. If Ian got too close, Xander would feel him. But I needed Ian’s help. I was trying to find Megan Fields, a reporter who had given the magical community—including Xander—all kinds of trouble. I knew that he had killed her, but I had no evidence. I intended to remedy that today.
Ian rose from his crouch and took a step toward the voices.
I caught his arm. “If those are necromancers, they might sense you.”
“I failed to mention,” Ian whispered, “there is a small cemetery ahead. No one will notice me.”
“Xander has a cemetery in his back yard?”
“Most necromancers do. I did.”
I let him go, following in his footsteps. Like the man we sought, Ian was a powerful necromancer. Far more powerful than Xander, but being dead put Ian at a disadvantage: other necromancers could control him.
Ian was right about the cemetery. We came across the perimeter of headstones while still under the cover of the trees. Most of the headstones were worn, the information carved on them almost illegible, but I made out a few dates. These were from the late 1700s and early 1800s.
I glanced over at Ian and wondered if he knew anyone buried here. After all, he had been born in 1791.
Ian gestured for me to follow, then crept into the cemetery.
Keeping low, I trailed after him, careful of my foot placement. Surrounded by mature forest, there were plenty of roots to trip me up and scattered sticks to step on.
When I caught up to him, he put his finger to his lips urging quiet, then pointed. We were crouched behind the remains of a monument, its base covered by a dense thicket. A perfect spot to identify the men and listen to the their conversation. I gently parted the branches and peeked out.
Huh. It was Xander. He stood on the far side of the cemetery, his face visible in profile as he spoke to—
I pressed my hand to my mouth to contain my gasp. Xander’s companion was Neil Dunstan, my colleague from my days studying at the Alchemica. Former colleague and current nemesis. Though he is quickly climbing from nemesis to enemy status, given his repeated efforts to kill or defame me. What was he doing here? It was my understanding that Xander had disowned him.
“But you named me heir,” Neil said.
“Yes, and you know why I took it from you. You’re stunted. How can you be heir, and eventually Deacon, when you can’t touch your magic?”
I didn’t like Neil, but I still flinched at the cruelness of Xander’s tone.
“I won’t be stunted for much longer,” Neil said.
Xander frowned. “I’m growing concerned about your sanity, my nephew.”
Neil returned the frown. “I know the Final Formula.” He patted his left biceps, where beneath his sleeve, he lacked only one tattooed band. The tattoos were a symbol of rank at the Alchemica. One band for each discipline mastered. Neil was a master alchemist—like me.
“The what?” Xander asked.
“The Elixir of Life.”
Xander stood straighter, and I had the impression that Neil now had his undivided attention. “You’re talking about immortality.” Xander’s tone grew reverent.
“And youth. You’ve seen Amelia, Addie Daulton.”
“The Flame Lord’s alchemist?”
I glared at Xander. Why couldn’t my name stand on its own? Why did it have to be linked with Rowan’s before anyone gave me credit?
found the Final Formula. An accomplishment that no other alchemist had ever achieved.
“She’s in her forties,” Neil said to Xander.
“Are you serious?” Xander considered this a moment, then snorted. “I guess I can’t accuse him of robbing the cradle—that much.”
“Ha ha,” I whispered. I wondered if he had teased Rowan about our romantic relationship. Rowan was in his fifties—though his magic made him appear decades younger—and I appeared to be in my twenties.
“I took the formula from her,” Neil said.
“Commendable.” Xander gave him an approving smile that made me want to punch him. “Though I’m disappointed that you didn’t design it yourself.”
“Designing potions is not my strength. Adapting them with necromancy is. Let me show you.” Neil spread his arms, allowing the split sleeves of his black alchemist’s robes to part and reveal the tattooed bands on his biceps: four on the left, five on the right—like mine. “Heel!”
Ian gave a soft snort of disgust, then whispered, “Showman, just like his uncle.”
I pulled in a breath as a portal opened beside Neil. Red eyes glinted in the darkness, then a form leapt out.
Xander took a hasty step back, his wide eyes on the naked man crouching at Neil’s side.
My eyes were just as wide. It was Brian Huntsman, one of James’s three brothers. All of who were supposed to be locked up by the PIA. The Paranormal Investigation Agency took care of magical problems, and James’s brothers certainly qualified.
“Let me introduce you to the grim,” Neil said.
“What?” Xander took another step back as Brian rose to his feet.
I tried to puzzle out what Neil had done. Had he given Brian a new skill or was this all just for show? But who had opened the portal? Ian had once told me that Neil was strong enough, but being stunted prevented it.
“Uncle, this is Gavin Huntsman.”
“Say what?” I whispered.
“Nice to meet you,” Brian answered, his voice oddly deeper and accented. He turned his head and his eyes locked with mine—glowing red eyes.
I gripped Ian’s sleeve.
“He’s dead,” Ian whispered.
Brian—Gavin grinned, exposing a mouth full of canine-like teeth before he turned back to the necromancers.
“You found the grim,” Xander said.
“And bound him to me. He only answers to my commands.”
“You did this with alchemy?”
“Alchemy and necromancy. The power in my blood has only grown stronger.”
Xander studied Gavin for a long moment. “Leave us.”
Gavin lifted a dark brow but said nothing.
“Only me,” Neil repeated.
Xander’s faded blue gaze shifted from Gavin to Neil. “Impressive.”
“Impressive enough to give me a shot at Deacon? I won’t be stunted for much longer. Once I take the Final Formula, I will be whole.”
“Why haven’t you taken it?”
“One ingredient is time dependent. I cannot brew it until spring.”
Xander studied the two men in silence for one long moment. “There is something you can do. A way to prove yourself worthy to meet him.”
Deacon? You’ll introduce me to Alexander Nelson?”
The air stilled in my lungs. Ian hadn’t lied. Not that I thought he had, but having it confirmed that his old nemesis still walked the earth made me feel better about the risk I was taking.
“Yes,” Xander answered Neil.
“What of my cousin?” Neil asked.
“I’ll leave it to Alexander to decide which of you will one day take my place. Douglas is a highly skilled necromancer, even if you do have more power. It won’t be the cake walk you seem to think it will be.”
“I don’t think that, Uncle.” Amusement shaded Neil’s voice. He was up to something.
“Besides,” Xander continued, “I haven’t agreed to take you to him…yet.”
“What is this task you have for me?”
“It’s a bit of short notice. Only five days from now. But with your new acquaintance,” Xander waved a hand at Gavin, “I’m sure it will be a simple matter.”
“Join me for brunch? We can discuss the details where it’s warm.”
“That’s very generous, Uncle. Thank you.”
The two necromancers turned and headed toward the house. I longed to follow them, but there was a problem. Gavin. Neil had walked away, leaving him alone among the headstones. He was once again watching me.
“Hello, alchemist.” Gavin’s voice sounded as it had within the portal.
Goosebumps pebbled my arms beneath my sleeves. Xander and Neil were out of sight, so I rose to my feet. “How did this happen?”
Gavin gave me a smile with Brian’s face and took a step toward us.
“Stop,” Ian said.
Gavin’s red eyes shifted to him and his lip curled. “Necromancer.” He took another step toward us. “You have no power over me.”
I had accepted that Xander couldn’t control Gavin, but if Ian had failed, then Neil really had used alchemy to bind Gavin. Impressive. I wondered what formula—
A hot gust of air stirred my hair from behind. I didn’t need to look to know that Ian had opened a portal behind us.
Gavin grunted. “You’re as strong as the girl.”
Ian hesitated. “What girl?”
I stepped into the portal, pulling Ian with me. He seemed to get the hint when Gavin lifted a hand, displaying a wicked set of ebony claws.
The portal winked closed in my face, stranding us in the land of the dead. At least, that’s what the necromancers called this place. I rubbed my eyes, encouraging them to adjust. Not that there was anything to see. A dark, featureless plane rolled on forever beneath a black sky. A dim red glow provided some light, but I couldn’t decide where it came from. It simply was.
“He can follow us,” I said.
A bright doorway opened into our lab. Necromancers with Ian’s power could actually use the dead realm to travel between points on the mortal plane. It was handy—for escaping grims and saving on taxi fare.
I hopped through the opening and hurried to the shelf in the corner. The shelf that held my potions that weren’t for sale. What did I have that would prove effective against a grim? I had never prepared anything like that. The only grim I knew was my best friend, James.
“Addie?” As if my thoughts had summoned him, James stepped through the curtain from the front room.
“Oh God.” I ran across the space that separated us and wrapped him in a tight hug. He had been missing for five days. We all feared the worst: that a necromancer had found him. It turned out that was exactly what had happened, but James insisted that it was all a misunderstanding. At least, that’s what he had said when he called in the wee hours this morning.
I opened my mouth to speak, to tell him about Gavin—and Brian—when the curtain parted again and two blonde women followed him into the room. The taller of the pair I knew well. Era was Rowan’s sister Element. She had called this morning, as well, after she found James—sound asleep in his apartment, curled up in bed with his captor. Either James was telling the truth, or he had a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome going.
I glanced at the pretty girl who stood beside him. Elysia Mallory. James’s captor and Ian’s great-great—I wasn’t sure how many greats—granddaughter.
“You said he wouldn’t be here.” James glared at Ian.
Oops. James had asked me to send Ian away before he brought Elysia over. Her family history didn’t paint a pretty picture of him. I had planned to do as James asked, but time had gotten away from me.
She moved closer and I studied her face. Like Ian, she was good-looking and had his golden hair, but the sunglasses she wore kept me from seeing a stronger resemblance.
“Mattie?” Ian whispered his daughter’s name.
The hairs on my arms rose. Okay, maybe there was a resemblance.
He took a step toward her.
James moved at the same moment. “Back off.” He snarled the words, a glow kindling in his eyes.
“James?” Elysia gripped his arm.
I nudged Ian with my elbow. “It’s not Mattie,” I whispered. “Chill.” Forcing a smile, I walked over to greet her. James let me pass, but he stayed close. “You must be Elysia,” I said.
Her brow wrinkled. “And you must be the alchemist.”
“Most people call me Addie.” I offered her my hand, and after a short pause, she took it. “James told me you had a run-in with Neil.” And he would be giving me all those details shortly. It couldn’t be a coincidence that Neil now possessed Gavin. But first, I had to undo Neil’s handy work and earn Elysia’s trust. “He hit you with a potion.”
“Yes.” Elysia released my hand and reached up to pull off her sunglasses. Her white eyes met my own. “James said you could…fix me.”
Era gave us a frown, then pulled out her phone and walked into the front room. She had made it clear during her call that she didn’t trust Elysia.
“Addie, what’s going on?” Ian asked. He had been downstairs in the lab when James and Era had contacted me this morning.
I waved him to silence and retrieved a capped vial from my workspace. I had brewed it right after James called.
“The antidote.” I offered the vial to her, but it was James who took it.
“You’re sure this will work?” he asked.
I arched a brow. “You’re doubting me?” My tone was teasing, but I was also surprised. James never doubted me.
“You don’t know what formula he used,” James said.
“Neil is not the sort to design a formula from scratch. Most of the ones he uses are mine.” I gave James a frown. “Do you want to see my notes? If I had known you were going to be this distrustful, I would have waited and brewed it in front of you.”
“Hey.” Elysia gripped his forearm. “It’s okay. You said she’s your friend, that she wouldn’t deceive us. I trust your judgment.”
I watched the exchange, noting the way she slid her hand down his arm to take his hand. With her power out, I didn’t think she could influence him, but I could be wrong.
James looked up, meeting my eyes. He handed her the vial.
Guilt wormed its way through my gut, and I considered telling him exactly what I had done. No, I didn’t know Elysia. She might not be the good person that James seemed to think she was. Perhaps things would have gone differently if Neil hadn’t stunted her. I had to look out for James’s safety, especially if he wasn’t.