The thought was tinted a dusky violet, the color of the vestiges of sunset over the sea with a storm rolling in. Alice stretched casually, glancing around the room. Bookshelf, bed, desk, wardrobe, her plants. Nothing unusual.
'Whatever it is, it's a construct. It's unlikely to be visible.'
Verity's annoyance was a prickle down the underside of Alice's skin, as if someone had run a nettle across her nerve endings. Grace shushed her with cool, blue-gray sympathy, and the sensation subsided.
'Ignore it for now. Deal with it when it starts causing problems.' The suggestion was the pale green of a demand, and Alice turned her attention back to her history text.
'It's uncomfortable, though.' Verity underscored this observation with a wriggle of something slimy curling down Alice's spine.
'Focus.' came the imperiously fuchsia reply, and Alice finally turned the page.
The Complete History of the World (Abridged) wasn't the best text she'd ever studied, but it wasn't the worst either, and Verity found its inaccuracies soothing. Seeing them, and being able to identify them, meant that her education up to this point had been worthwhile, no matter what her classmates said.
It was a pity that this was a new edition. Books gained souls fairly quickly, and always knew exactly where the information they contained was, which would have made studying so much easier.
They were like plants that way, becoming more than just fibers and glue in a matter of years instead of decades, like most things did, which was nice. Houses could take over a century, and Alice had never been comfortable around things that couldn't, metaphorically, speak for themselves.
"Alice?" Her mother's voice, sweet and rich and nervous and annoyed at something, broke into her reverie, and her hands flattened on her desk. Mother calling her outside of her very carefully arranged schedule could mean absolutely anything, as it was technically Mother's schedule, and Mother disliked drawing anyone's attention, much less her only daughter's.
"Mother?" Her own voice was high and clear, though she'd never, ever tell anyone that the only reason it didn't shake like a leaf was because she had spent months talking to her mirror. It was the same with her new height. The first time she'd tripped over something, she'd gotten books on dancing out of the library and spent the next few weeks using every spare second to twirl and step all alone in her room.
"Your lesson with Master Nichols has been moved up. Get your things, we're leaving in ten minutes."
Well, that explained the annoyance. Mother hated when her schedules were disrupted by things she couldn't control.
Alice shut her book with a sigh, bowing her head over its cover for one long moment.
'Why does he keep moving lessons?' Verity's annoyed confusion was a slippery caress down the insides of both Alice's wrists, and she absently rubbed the feeling away. 'It annoys Mother, and it doesn't do anything useful.'
'It's his prerogative.' Grace was primly lavender in her reply, touched with the palest flush of resigned blue-gray. 'Though I do wish he'd decide this at the end of previous lessons, not just before current ones.'
Alice stood up and replaced the book in its place, removing her copy of Throckmorton's Integrated Codex of the Living and the Dead instead. This book had belonged to her great-great grandfather, the only other necromancer in her family as far as she knew, and it was a touchy thing that wouldn't open for just anyone. Alice was glad it liked her enough to let her read it at all.
She tucked it into the bag that already held most of the things she needed for her lesson, just candles, though in eight different sizes with twelve different additives, and chalk today. She was to take her journeyman trials in three weeks, which meant extremely fast paced revision, and lots of it.
The only thing left to do was change, from her ordinary, if somewhat uncomfortable, jeans and t-shirt, into her dress. Unlike most professions, necromancers wore their uniforms based on practicality and a very real sense of danger, not just tradition. Long hemlines meant more fabric, which meant more space for the myriad protective sigils that were necessary to survive an encounter with an enterprising revenant, or anything nastier.
She stripped perfunctorily, tossing her clothes into the hamper, and started dressing. Stockings first, cream with red edging from where the original cuffs had given out and been replaced, then shift, falling over tiny breasts and awkward hips, two quick tugs securing it around her elbows. Over that came the long black dress, remade from Great-Great-Grandfather's old robes, clean sturdy wool shortened with wide hems and neat tucks across the shoulders, the red stitches of his masterwork replaced with her own apprentice black. It fastened up the front with 106 tiny buttons, more hidden in the hems to be let out when she grew, each one carved with a different symbol, and she wondered, as she always did when she made her careful, methodical way up the band, how his thick fingers had managed them. Then there was just the pin at the base of her throat, red and gold with the black lines of a sigil she didn't yet know inlaid across the face, and she was ready.
There was a moment of hesitation, before she grabbed her apron as well, even though it really wasn't necessary, and threw it over everything, crossing the straps and tying the bow defiantly. She was crossed-class, after all, and it was time that Master Nichols remembered that. Being a midwife held just as much honor as being a necromantress, and took just as much work.
The sky outside threatened snow, so her boots and coat replaced her lighter outerwear. She disliked the coat, as it had been made by her grandmother, who had threatened to curse her if she ever tried to come in her house again, back before she'd found out, and it reminded her of things she'd rather forget.
Alice looked at the clock. Two minutes, and her plants could use some water. She could use the comfort as well.
Plants had always been preferable to human beings. They were simple things, concerned with light and water and air, easily contented and nonjudgmental. Smaller specimens, like the ones she kept in pots on her sill, gained souls in weeks, the process fast enough to watch, if one was observant, and their entire lives were spent peacefully, from first sprouting to final wilting. They sang, too, when they were happy, simple little songs about growth and sun and clarity, and they loved her, in their own small way, which was more than could be said for anyone else she knew.
She was greeted by a chorus of happy hums as she carefully poured water into each pot, stroking the edge of a leaf here and the top of a stem there to hear it more clearly. It was times like this that she wished she was a bioturge, that she could put some of herself into them to make them grow faster.
Sensation prickled at the back of her neck, and Alice's small smile fell away. The construct had come out, and it was time to deal with it. She turned around and crossed the room.
The mirror didn't show her own pale face. A man, a good head taller than she was, barefoot and raggedy, stood in her place, smiling. He was dark skinned, with a round face and broad cheekbones. His eyes were a warm, friendly green, shaded by curly, walnut colored hair. He looked like everybody's best friend, like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. Alice didn't trust him at all.
"You've been watching me." She had to look up to meet his eyes, and it hurt the back of her neck.
"Yup." He winked at her, and she frowned.
"Well, you're an interesting little thing, aren't you? And I'm a curious sort. Never could resist a mystery. Call me... Hmm... Mudd sounds good today." He grinned cheekily and gestured at the ground. "Shall we sit?" He stepped sideways, so that he and her reflection stood together, and placed a hand on her shoulder before dropping to the floor.
Alice's knees buckled.
"There. That's better. Now we're eye to eye." He flashed her a smile and patted the top of her reflection's head.
"What do you want." She ground out, severely discomfited by the situation. Verity was screaming in the back of her head, standing every hair on her body on edge, while Grace failed to either shut her up or identify the thing in the mirror.
"Now, that's not very nice. Aren't you going to introduce yourself?"
Her mind raced, Grace turning over every possibility she could actually say.
"Anne. You can call me Anne." She said after a moment, heart hammering.
"That wasn't so hard, was it?"
"What do you want!" She was practically in tears, which was unusual. Most of the time she couldn't agree with herself long enough to show any emotion, much less cry.
"Oh, not much, Anne," he said, stressing the name she had given him. "Just a little favor. You see, my dear, sweet sister, I hear she's going by Lady Ink at the moment, accidentally broke something. Nothing huge, just something I like to call the Book of Stories. It's not really important, just the reservoir for every story ever told, ever written, ever lived. Yours, too. If it ceases to exist, so does everything else. I need you to help fix it."
She stared at him. He patted her reflection's shoulder again, and grinned.
"I don't get a choice in this, do I?"
"Clever girl. I'll give you a prize."
He stood up and walked to her desk, rummaging through her drawers and returning with an ordinary ballpoint. He sat by her reflection again, and held it in front of her nose.
"You're already half represented, so I'll just complete you. This" He waggled the pen "is Truth. Use it well." It changed before her eyes, from black plastic to a sleek gold fountain pen with a wide silver nib. He leaned over her to slip it in her reflection's pocket, and it was heavy against her hip when he pulled back. He smiled sweetly, if mischievously, at her, and then his hands were on her shoulders and he was shoving her into the slivered glass.
"Good luck!" He called cheerfully as she fell through it. "Do take care of yourself!"
And then she was tumbling into nothing, and she heard no more.