Infernal – Linsey Hall

There was that smell again. Brimstone and fire. It woke me abruptly, and I nearly fell off the couch, the blankets tangled around me. “Crap, crap, crap.” Heart pounding a mile a minute, I scrambled upright, shoving my messy dark hair out of my face. Early morning sun streamed through the mullioned glass windows, the beams lighting up the ancient room in which I’d been camping out. It wasn’t my home—I hadn’t slept there in weeks—but it looked like it, with clothes strewn over the table and shoes scattered about. I glanced at the clock over the old wooden door. Nine a.m. Damn it, I was late. Librarians should never be late to open the doors. Yet I was. Increasingly often. The ghost that haunted me had driven me out of my own home.

It wasn’t normal to sleep in an ancient library, but then, I wasn’t normal. But it was my best option if I wanted to avoid the shadowy specter that had been stealing more and more hours of my sleep. Frankly, I was reaching a breaking point. The scent of fire surged, filling the air until I almost couldn’t breathe. My throat tightened, fear fisting it tight. It was him. The ghost. The shadow. It had to be. I still didn’t know who he was.

My nana had warned me about him, though. Don’t use your magic. Don’t draw attention. Keep to yourself. Or he will come for you. She’d died before she could tell me any more, which sucked on multiple levels. But he was the bogeyman at the corner of my vision, the monster under the bed. Dark magic. My skin prickled as I crept across the room, slipping my feet into the wellies I’d left by the door. The tall rain boots looked ridiculous with my unicorn sleep shorts and oversized ’80s band T-shirt—Madonna today—but it didn’t matter.

I just needed footwear so I could get the hell out of there. Shame burned at the back of my neck as I slipped down the stairs. The ancient library in Guild City was enormous—several stories tall with a domed ceiling and gorgeous stone and wood architecture. One of the small upstairs rooms had been my refuge these last weeks, and now I was abandoning even that? What kind of coward was I? The kind that’s used to hiding. I stiffened my spine and sucked in a breath. I didn’t have to be a coward. I didn’t have to leave the library. No matter how much I wanted to. This was my home. My responsibility.

The last stair creaked underfoot as it always did, and I stepped onto the ground floor. The tiny anteroom was dark, but I didn’t bother with a light. Didn’t want to blind myself. Or draw attention. Trembling, I pushed open the oak door to the main library, peering out into the hallowed space. Guild City was an ancient town hidden deep in London—built during the time of Elizabeth I, when there were still knights on horses—and this building was a testament to that. With its soaring, intricately carved ceiling and millions of books stacked on gleaming wooden shelves, it awed me every day. Light streamed through the mullioned glass windows, an almost holy thing to witness. It was more cathedral than library, and it amazed me that I was one of the librarians. I eased into the room and between the stacks, grateful that the door led to this part of the library.

The stacks gave me a bit of cover. My footsteps were silent as I walked toward the center of the library, following the scent of ash and fire. Please don’t be alight. The library had never gone up in flames before. The ghost just smelled like an inferno —smokey and hot—it didn’t create one. Please. I felt almost lightheaded as I moved toward the back of the library, passing underneath the soaring domed ceiling at the center of the space. Dark mist crept over the gorgeous stone floor, concealing some of the intricate design work that was the library’s hallmark. I swallowed hard, my gaze riveted to the back where the mist was thickest. Fates, how I wanted to run.

But I’d brought my ghost here. The library was innocent. The books were innocent. Hell, the whole of Guild City was innocent. The shadowy ghost had already driven me from my cute little flat, fear sending me to the library to hide until I solved the mystery of my spectral menace. I didn’t know what haunted me, but I knew it was deadly. My dreams and the words of my old nana—a powerful seer—made that clear. But I wanted to know. Because as much as the dark shadow scared me, I was desperate to discover what it was. Why did it make me hot and cold all at once? Why did it smell like the depths of hell, but in a way that I liked? As I neared the back, I swore I saw a man in the shadow—no, of the shadow.

Like he was made of the dark mist itself. Tall and broad, he appeared at the corners of my vision…watching me. Calling to me. I swore I’d seen him in my dreams before, connected to me in the strangest way. He’d been devastatingly beautiful, like an angel fallen from the highest clouds. It was his presence I felt now, watching me so intently. Warmth crept over my skin, banishing some of the coldness, an unnatural response to a phantom. I turned toward him, and he disappeared as if he’d never been there. What was I going to do if I caught him, anyway? I had magic—plant magic, mostly—but not much of it. And I wasn’t particularly skilled because Nana had drilled into me that using it would draw him to me.

He’d found me anyway. This monster, whatever he was, had such powerful magic that it made my bones shake. My steps faltered, and I nearly turned back. Then my gaze landed on the body sprawled on the floor a few feet away, surrounded by the dark mist. A human-sized body. Fear iced my skin. My mind flashed back to the dead rat I’d found earlier this week. At first glance, the poor creature had seemed asleep—until I’d gotten closer. It was dead, its little body surrounded by the dark mist. I could tell myself that it was natural causes—old age, maybe.

But no. The shadow had killed it. The rat had gotten too close and breathed in that dark mist, collapsing on the spot. And now the mist had claimed another victim, a person with short golden hair that gleamed in the sunlight streaming through the windows. Black motorcycle boots and skinny jeans and a flannel top rolled up to her elbows. Mac. My heartbeat nearly deafened me as my stomach fell through the floor. Macbeth O’Connell, one of my only friends. I held my breath and sprinted toward her, cold with terror. She lay quiet and still, her pretty face slack.

I grabbed her ankle and pulled, hauling her backward away from the mist. My skin burned as if something watched me, but the figure of the man didn’t reappear. I could still feel him, though, and terror drove me. Mac was a dead weight as I dragged her across the library toward the anteroom. My lungs heaved, but I couldn’t help but ask, “Why do you haunt me? Who are you?” No answer. “Why Mac? Why my friend? Haven’t I been alone enough?” Still, no answer. And the dark shadow was gone, the ghost’s presence faded in the early morning air. He’d be back. No question. I shoved away the thought and knelt near Mac, who sprawled on the gleaming stone floor.

Her cropped golden hair was messy, and shadows darkened the pale skin beneath her closed eyes. She was far taller than me, slim and strong. Her limbs splayed out like a broken doll’s, and fear gripped my heart. “Mac.” Gently, I pressed my fingertips to her neck, praying. “Come on, Mac. Please don’t be dead.” A thin pulse beat weakly against my fingertips. Hope flared. “Come on, wake up,” I begged.

She lay there, cold and still, her breathing shallow. I surged to my feet and raced to the small sitting room near the door. Persian rugs provided a cozy base for the plush, old furniture. A fireplace burned, eternally fueled by magic, and fresh flowers sat on the windowsill. Neither I nor the other librarians were responsible for them—they just appeared, fresh and beautiful each week. There were many secrets in the library. Most of them more wholesome than the secret of the ghost who haunted me. I headed toward the small desk near the window. No one had used it in over a century, and the tiny drawers were still full of the bits and bobs of another life. I’d poked around in there once, my curiosity impossible to resist.

Quickly, I rifled through the drawer on the left, finally finding the little vial I’d stumbled upon last year. Smelling salts. Ancient and gross, but hopefully effective. Heart pounding, I raced back to Mac’s side. I fell to my knees, uncorked the vial, and held it under her nose. She opened her eyes and sat up with a gasp, her face wrinkling in disgust. “What the hell?” Her blue eyes flew open, confused. “Seraphia? What’s going on?” I wrapped an arm around her shoulders, supporting her. “Are you okay?” She coughed, looking around the library, her brow furrowed. “I’m at the library?” “Yes.

I found you on the floor.” “Oh.” She frowned, then clutched her stomach and doubled over, shuddering. “I feel awful.” Fear spiked. I thought of the rat who had died after wandering into the mist. “What’s wrong?” “My abdomen. Lungs.” She gasped, trying to breathe. Her gaze flashed up to mine, fear in the depths.

“I remember now. I came to see you, but there was this mist at the back of the library.” “Did it call to you?” In the same way it calls to me? “Um . no.” She shook her head, glancing back toward the rear of the library. My gaze followed hers, searching, though I knew the ghostly shadow was gone. I was attuned to its presence . unfortunately. “It just looked weird, so I went to check it out,” she continued. I hadn’t been friends with her long—I’d been following Nana’s advice all twenty-five years of my life—but that was one hundred percent Mac.

Bold and brave, she was never one to back away from a challenge. “Then what?” I asked. “I felt lightheaded.” She touched her temple, her knuckles bruised and broken. Probably from a fight. She was a bartender at the Haunted Hound, a popular pub in town and one of the magical gates to human London. “Then I collapsed, I think.” Her face turned pale and almost green as she bent over once more. Worry tugged at me. “Come on.

We need to go see Eve. You’re not well.” She nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, good idea.” I helped her to her feet, my own limbs trembling. Why couldn’t the ghostly shadow have gotten me? It was me it wanted, after all. I could feel its desire, cold and hot at the same time. Why attack my friend? Because she’d walked toward it, brave and bold, something I’d never even tried. I was too cowardly, too aware of Nana’s warnings.

She’d taken me from Greece to hide me. Torn us out of our old lives. I’d respected that and hidden, just as she’d asked. Just as she’d trained me. And this was the result. I’m a coward. “You can stay here and work,” Mac said, her voice thready. “I know you’re supposed to open soon.” “Of course not. I’m taking you to Eve.

You look like hell.” She laughed, wrapping an arm around my shoulder for support. “Feel like it, too.” We moved slowly toward the door, and I asked. “How did you get in, anyway?” “It was unlocked. I thought you were open.” “Damn it. I thought I locked it last night.” I was really losing it these days if I’d forgotten to lock up. That was a firing offense, and rightly so.

The books in this library were beyond ancient. Beyond valuable. Not just because of their age and rarity, but because of the deadly spells some of them contained. “You’ve been a bit odd, lately,” Mac said as we stopped in front of the door. “Distracted and . scared, almost. And you would never leave the door unlocked.” “Maybe I would.” “We haven’t known each other long, but I know that’s not true. What’s going on?” I swallowed hard, wanting to tell her.

But what would I say? I’m being haunted by the terrifying shadowy ghost of a man that repels and attracts m e all a t o n c e ? N o p e. B e c a u s e t h a t w a s in s a n e.


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