Join Jen's mailing list to get it for free:

Chapter 1 of Stone Cold Necromancy:

I stared at my opponents in silence, counting backward from ten. Some expert with a PhD told me that the counting helps relieve anger. That person had obviously never met these two jerks.

They didn’t have eyes, let alone faces, but I’d been living with them for almost 400 years, so I knew they were glaring. If they could make faces, they’d be sticking out their tongues and crossing their eyes. If they had bodies, they’d be turned around, bent over, mooning me in indignation.

Good thing they were just my sacrificial knives.

They glared back at me from the opposite side of the kitchen table, propped upright inside tall glasses. I tapped the Scrabble board a little too hard, jarring the wooden tiles.

Corkscrew, armbar, and headlock skidded across the board as if fleeing the scene of the crime. I hadn’t noticed at first, but thirty minutes into the game, it was obvious my knives weren’t even trying to win. They were simply spelling words that reflected their latest obsession: professional wrestling.

No wonder I was winning so easily.

“That’s not a word,” I said, tapping the tiles I’d just laid out at the request of Number One.

Number One was my first sacrificial knife, best described as an all-purpose knife that could cut through anything or anyone. Its blade was long and slender with two sharp edges. Curvy spell script adorned both sides of the blade. Its handle was matte black and made of something incredibly soft, like the smoothest leather. I didn’t actually know its composition. I’d created it with my necromancer magic.

Most of the magic I’ve learned was taught to me by Number One. Number One is a strange teacher, a macabre cheerleader, and the worst Scrabble coach ever.

A plume of black smoke, littered with translucent particles, wound around the knife from hilt to tip and shot into the air. It looked like it was sending an SOS signal. Foreign thoughts tickled my mind.

Of course it’s a word. Millions of people caught the fever!

I rolled my eyes for the nth time. “Hulkamania wasn’t a flu, it was a love for horseshoe mustaches and spandex. It’s also not in the dictionary, so you can’t use it.”

It was in the internet dictionary. We all saw it!

“The urban dictionary isn’t a real dictionary, and Hulkamania wasn’t a real thing. Pick another word—a word that will help train me for this Scrabble competition. You two aren’t even trying.” I frowned. “I can’t lose this. You know I have to win.”

It was merely a friendly tournament with the Old Dudes and Dudettes’ Scrabble Club, and the winner only got bragging rights, but I’d lived a pretty rough life, and it’s been ingrained in me that losing means death.

True, people rarely get killed in Scrabble tournaments, but old habits die hard. Losing is not an option.

My opponents will be tough. I’ll compete against smart immortals who are fluent in multiple languages. I only know two: Latvian, because it’s my native language, and English, because the Immortal State makes every citizen learn one of three official languages and that’s the one I chose.

That’s why my sacrificial knives are the perfect Scrabble opponents. They contain the knowledge of all knives before them. And necromancy predates human language. The Old Dudes and Dudettes know a lot of words, but my knives know almost every word. When I play Scrabble with my knives, I lose a lot, but it makes me stronger.

This is what a necromancer’s sacrificial knives do—make their necromancer a formidable opponent, nigh impossible to defeat. Except in this case I’m training a deadly vocab instead of stabbing people and blowing things up.

Smoke wound around the second knife. It looked like the first knife, but the blade was wider and nearly two inches longer. It had a flat, blunt edge on one side and a curved, razor-sharp edge on the other.

A second vibration bloomed in the front of my skull.

Let’s vote on this.

Yeah!

All in favor of allowing the religious fervor of the Hulk Machine

With the tag team conversation going, smoke floated up from the knives like a mushroom cloud over my thrift store kitchen table.

The Super Destroyeeeeeeeeeeer

Mister Americaaaaaaaa

Thankfully, my cell phone started to ring. I immediately reached for it.

I only want to hear from two people: my best friend and my girlfriend. Coincidentally, they were both traveling on work assignments. One was keeping the Immortal State population safe; the other was finishing up her band’s world tour.

Sadly, the caller was neither. It was an unknown number with an 804 area code. What city is 804? Maybe it was a potential renter.

I own a variety of properties in downtown Rochester, including a small apartment complex where I live. A management company handles the day-to-day business, but unfortunately, people still get my number sometimes. I’d let the call go to voicemail, but that would mean returning to the knives’ ringside discussion.

Against my better judgement, I held up one finger to request silence and answered the phone.

Like I’d flipped a switch, the knives immediately shut up. They know the power their mental voices have over people. Only necromancers can understand sacrificial knives. Everyone else hears some weird hypnotic noise that compels them to pick up the knife. Granted, the caller couldn’t pick them up, but it was the principle. I don’t have many rules, but they need to be followed.

“Hello?” I said.

I heard breathing on the other end, which meant a human, not an immortal. Short, rapid breaths. It sounded like fatigue from physical exertion. Or maybe they were nervous.

“Is this…” The voice trailed off. They were whispering. I heard jostling noises on the other end. Like they were double checking my name. “Mikelis?”

He pronounced my name incorrectly, but that was pretty common, so I let it go.

“Yes. Who is this?”

He let out a heavy puff of breath. “Your friend is noisy and troublesome.”

I made a face. “What?”

I only had one close friend. He was definitely troublesome to those who broke Immortal State law. Was this guy calling to complain? He had the wrong number.

“Look deeeeeeeep insiiiiiiiide,” he said, sounding like he was trying to haunt my phone, “and wiiiiiiiish to fiiiiiiiind theeeeeem.”

I could sense the knives’ bafflement, which was as strong as my own. What was this person talking about?

Then I realized—maybe English wasn’t their primary language. They’re probably one of my renters, trying to file a complaint about a neighbor. Still, what a weird thing to say.

“You’ve got the wrong number,” I said. “I own the apartment buildings, but you need to call the management office. They’ll deal with your noisy neighbor.”

“What? No. Look deeply.” More jostling. “You have twenty-four hours—”

“I think ‘deeply’ is better, yes,” I interrupted, looking down at the square tiles on the table. How many Scrabble points could I get for the word “deeply”? Probably not many. After we removed “Hulkamania” from the board, I’d be able to play “zaxes” for a whopping twenty-one points plus a double word score! The knives wouldn’t know what hit them.

“Now write this down.” I rattled off the management company’s phone number. “Tell them your building and apartment number, and they’ll handle it within twenty-four hours.”

“Uh…”

“Okay, thanks for calling. In the future, lose this number.” I hung up the phone.

“That was weird.” I picked up a few wooden tiles and placed them back on Number One’s little tile rack. “Now help me train.”

You should do spell drills instead. We used to do them daily, but that’s changed since you got a girlfriend.

Yeah, your necromancer girlfriend has no spells at all, so you have to do double duty!

That’s true. Sort of. She has no spells, but she’s developed a lot of strange tricks that I’ll never have. True, she isn’t great in combat, and it doesn’t help that she hates violence. Her primary tactic is to overwhelm an opponent with shock and awe, and failing that, to make them laugh so hard they wet themselves. I worry about her safety a lot.

“I haven’t abandoned my drills and skills.” I held up my hands, fingers splayed, like jazz hands. “I’m as fast and deadly as ever.”

Doubtful. You’ve missed an entire week of drills.

If you ask me, you even look slower lately.

I refused to acknowledge that last comment. “I missed a week of drills because I’m trying to prepare for the Scrabble tournament. I can miss a week. It won’t affect me.”

You sound pretty confident. Confident enough to make a wager?

I folded my arms across my chest and narrowed my eyes at Number One. I should have known the conversation was leading to this.

“What’s the wager?”

If you can match or beat your best casting time on two offensive spells, we’ll help you win the Scrabble thing.

It sounded challenging, but not impossible. I was pretty confident in myself.

“And if I can’t?”

Number One’s telepathic words were slow and careful. Like the knives had rehearsed this speech a few times.

We get to pick names.

I looked back and forth between the two knives. I shrugged. “Whatev—”

A smoke bomb went off inside Number Two’s glass. It blurted out its feelings, bombarding my mind with its shout.

AND YOU HAVE TO CALL US THOSE NAMES!

Dammit. They saw right through me.

“You already have names.”

Those are numbers, not names!

Yeah, we want good names.

Lately, all my knives have watched is professional wrestling, so I was afraid of what names they would want. But knowing them, they wouldn’t let this go, so I stood up from the table and prepared to beat my best times.

The knives cheered.

I slid my phone back into my pocket and grabbed my jacket. Before opening my apartment door, I checked my death sense—the ability all necromancers have to detect dead things around them. It was very helpful for a magic class hunted by immortals, who count as dead. Some humans have hunted me, but they typically aren’t brave enough.

One dead animal out back and three neighbors. The coast was clear.

The knives exploded with excitement—until I opened the door. Then their mental voices dropped to soft whispers so no one could hear them.

After locking my apartment door, I carried the knives, inside their cups, through the building and into the frosty night air. I jumped off the porch into three inches of fresh snow, then walked behind the building. A thick wood butted against the back of the property. I carried the knives a few feet into the trees and nestled the cups into the thin layer of snow. About fifty feet into the trees was my target: a long steel pole that I’d driven into the ground. Originally, I’d attached targets to the pole, but I got tired of having to replace them. I settled for painting the pole a bright yellow.

It’s the fight of the century! Weighing two hundred and sixty pounds

I gave Number One a dirty look. Everyone knows immortals are denser and heavier than humans. We’re also slower, but much more resilient. Still, that number took it too far.

Two hundred and fifteen pounds?

Better.

I focused on my target, then flexed my hands.

The terror of the Immortal State!

Scourge of the voodoo world!

Destroyer of his girlfriend’s kitchen!

A name that inspires terror, despite how he secretly likes the color pink and romantic comedies!

“Pink used to be considered a very masculine color,” I informed them.

I have a little more than a hundred spells in my arsenal, but most of them are situational. For combat, I have three go-to favorites. They’re fast. They were the first offensive spells I’d received as a new necromancer and I’ve practiced them incessantly. One of them only requires one hand to cast: a flash of simple finger movements and a twist of my wrist. The amount of power put into the spell depends on how big of a twist I give it.

I raised my right hand, flat, fingers pressed together. Tilted in the air, like I was about to use it as a blade. Black smoke exploded around my legs and swirled around me. Ebon markings appeared in the air above, writing themselves into existence—

My cell phone rang.

I dropped my hand, thinking maybe it was Kari. The smoke dissipated. The spell script forming overhead faded away.

BOOOOOOOO!

You suck, Priedis!

I rolled my eyes and grabbed my phone from my pocket. It was that unknown number again with the 804 area code. The renter with the weird noise complaint.

I declined the call, put my phone back into my pocket, and raised my hand again. Another cloud of smoke swirled around me, thick and malevolent.

And the fight is back on!

The Necromancer Savant versus a steel pole!

Who will win this battle royale? My money’s on the pole.

My phone rang again.

What in the actual hell? I grabbed my phone again, ignoring my personal peanut gallery. It was that area code again.

Wait a minute. Was it a different person? I checked my call history to be sure. The area code was the same, but the number was new.

Against my better judgement, I decided to answer. I held up a finger to request the knives’ silence and turned on the speakerphone.

“Hello?”

“Mikelis Priedis?”

I frowned. This was an entirely new voice. Probably female. Strong and stern. No accent. That actually didn’t tell me a lot, since immortals can lose their original accents after centuries of relocation. At least I knew I wasn’t talking to the previous guy.

“You’ve got him. Who’s this?”

She made a strange, soft noise, like a murmur of relief. “This is Daisy Oliver.”

I blinked in surprise. I shifted my feet in the snow, digging in for traction. Despite the sweet, girly indication of her name, I knew she was anything but. She was the lead conservator of the Immortal State’s settlement in Richmond, Virginia.

Immortal Settlements exist within human borders. They’re always staffed with conservators, who enforce State laws and keep people safe. I’d never met Daisy Oliver before, but I’d seen her on Immortal news channels. She was smart, capable, and not lenient with people who consistently broke the law.

She also reported directly to my best friend, the head conservator of the largest territory in the Immortal State. There was only one reason she’d call me: something was wrong. Very, very wrong.

“Hello,” I said. Then I waited.

The line went silent. I guess she thought I was going to say more.

I didn’t.

“Right. I’ll get to the point.” Her voice dropped low. “I’m calling because we lost Principal Conservator Luucas Mikkelson.”

I went absolutely still. “What do you mean you lost Luucas? How in the hell does anyone lose a six foot three Finnish dude who yells a lot?”

“Well, we didn’t exactly lose him.” She paused. “We think the James River Slayer took him.”

.