The letter came at ten AM.
Harrow was there to recieve it at ten AM because she doing her morning prayers, her knees pressed into the cold floor, her fingers running again and again over the ridges of her knucklebones. She preferred to wake earlier than ten for her prayers - five thirty, for instance - but some stupid idiot had decided to swing her big stupid sword into an old coffin, and Harrowhark had stayed up late fusing the ancient bones back together.
The envelope was sturdy and creamy, proper paper, something that Harrow hadn’t felt in ages. She ran a sharpened fingerbone across the top of the envelope, pulling the embossed piece of flimsy from inside. It glimmered with dark red ink, and it read Necromantic Scion & Cavalier Primary of the Ninth House and was signed with a simple II.
Gideon Nav came into her room without knocking, per usual, holding a sword. (Per usual). “So you finally got your invitation to the Creepy Bone Convention?”
“No,” Harrow said, slipping her knucklebones into her pocket along with the paper and flimsy. “And it’s none of your business.”
Gideon reached over and snatched the flimsy from Harrow’s fingers before it could make it into her necromancer’s robe. She laughed. “It really is an invitation. How are your friends at Creepy Bone Con?”
“It’s not Creepy Bone Con, and you’re a sneak.”
Gideon glanced down at the flimsy. “You’re bringing Ortus to this House meet-and-greet?”
“Who else would I bring?” Absentmindedly, Harrow tapped her fingerbone-knife, playing with how long she could stretch out its filaments before it snapped. “Ortus is dry, but with any luck, they won’t ask him about his poetry, and everything will be fine.”
“You’re right. Boring old Ortus will make a fantastic impression on say, the Sixth House. They might be as boring as he is,” Gideon scoffed, dropping the flimsy and letting it flutter to the ground. Harrow glared at her.
“Who else would I bring? Aiglamene? That old sack of bones -”
Gideon’s face contorted into something terribly enraged. “You say one more thing about Aiglamene.”
“That old sack of bones?” repeated Harrow, letting a smirk pull at her lips.
Gideon took a long step forward, and her eyes were tawny and menacing. “I’ll fucking kill you.”
“You haven’t yet.”
“I’ll fucking kill you.”
They stared at each other for a few long seconds, the necromancer and the misplaced Ninth girl, and finally, Harrow relented. “Fine. Aiglamene would make us seem weak.” Gideon opened her mouth to say something angrily, but Harrow interrupted her. “Not because she’s weak. Because she’s about ninety years old.”
Gideon rolled her eyes. “Sure.”
“I’m going to bring Ortus,” Harrow said, and the conversation was over.
Two months had passed, which meant the date of Creepy Bone Con was inching nearer and nearer (Gideon wouldn’t stop calling it that, and now Harrow couldn’t stop calling it that, and everything was basically hell).
Ortus was ridiculously boring, still. Harrow didn’t know who to talk to about her insecurities, so she ended up talking to her own empty room.
“Everything’s going to go horribly,” she said, lying on her bed and fidgeting with a shard of bone.
“Probably,” said a too-familiar voice from her doorway.
“Go away, Griddle.”
“Go away yourself.”
“It’s my room.”
No response to that. Harrow probed at the bone in her hands with her necromancy, trying to identify it. Metacarpal? No. She hoped that Gideon had left.
No such luck. “You’re right. Ortus is completely awful.” Gideon came into her view and sat at the foot of her bed. Harrow closed her eyes so she wouldn’t have to look at her, then opened them because Gideon would probably use her temporary blindness to murder her.
Harrow grunted in agreement. Carpal, maybe? A little shaving of it. No, no, it felt too long - a distal phalange, then.
“What?” Harrow must have misheard her. She dropped the phalange and let it tumble to the floor; she had no use for it, anyway. “Bring you?”
“Yes. I’m not terrible at fighting, am I? And I’m certainly not a bore. They never have to know I’m not the cav primary of the Ninth House. And what, it’ll last three days? I’m not that much of an idiot to -”
“I’m not taking you,” said Harrow, but Gideon’s logic made a disturbing amount of sense.
“Take Ortus, then.”
“Take me, then.”
Both options were awful, and Harrow knew which was the lesser evil. “Maybe,” she allowed, hating the word passing her lips.
A smile spread across Gideon’s mouth. “See.”
“Yes, whatever, problem solved.”
“You’re worried about something else?”
“I don’t need your advice, Griddle.”
“If I’m going to be your cav, you better learn how to talk to me.”
Harrow pursed her lips. Today was some sort of mixed-up fever dream, if Gideon was right about two things in a row. “Fine. It’s going to go badly.”
“No, it won’t -”
“I don’t need your advice!”
“Fine, you don’t. It’s going to go completely terribly, and you’re going to be the worst at necromancy - at bones, even - and everybody’s going to hate you. Sound right?”
Harrow admitted to herself that her worries sounded silly spoken aloud. She didn’t say it to Gideon, though, not wanting to allow her another victory.
“And you’ll have the worst robes, too. And they’ll all have better hair than you. And they’ll all hate your perfect tiny mouth and your -” Gideon seemed to stop herself here, and Harrow sat up and stared at her for a little while.
Harrow flopped back down and exhaled loudly. “I have nothing to worry about.”
“Not really what I was implying, but sure.”
The shuttle to Canaan House, which had been the address on the invitation, was impossibly long. Gideon discovered the provided snacks halfway through and spent hours pelting grapes at Harrow’s face. Harrow spent hours retailiating by throwing tiny chunks of cheese at Gideon’s face.
Eventually, Gideon snuck off, probably to read her Fifth pornographies, and Harrow was left alone with her nervousness and terrible thoughts. Gideon was going to say something idiotic in front of the Fourth - no, worse, the Second - and ruin everything.
Harrow opened a book that had been left by the previous inhabitants of the shuttle and turned to a random page.
“Yes, but our romance is… forbidden!” cried Eliana, her hands fluttering at her lily-white breast.
Cyrus nodded solemnly. He knew their romance was forbidden, for he was the necromantic scion of the Second House and she, the cavalier of the Sixth.
Harrow looked up. “Why the fuck is this romance forbidden?” She was beginning to sound like Gideon, and she heard it in her word choice. Well, fuck Gideon.
She kept reading, despite the ridiculousness, due to having absolutely nothing to do (except for stress, and that hadn’t gone well).
“But I don’t care,” declared Cyrus, pulling Eliana close and embracing her. “Eliana…”
Eliana turned her head up, her eyebrows crunching together. Cyrus loved her eyes, those beautiful blue eyes. “Yes, my dear?”
“I love you,” said Cyrus, and kissed her passionately.
The only way Harrowhark would appreciate this book was if both Cyrus and Eliana died horrible, gruesome deaths and never sighed or swooned or made observations about the colors of each other’s irises again.
Unfortunately, Harrow was pretty sure that the book would end with lots more sighing and swooning and eye colors, and possibly marriage, but she had nothing better to do, so she resumed reading.
The shuttle docked at Canaan House with a jolt, waking Harrow from her romance-novel-induced nap. She tossed the book to the floor. “Griddle, where are you?” she shouted at the rest of the shuttle.
Gideon appeared from behind her and stuffed a handful of flimsy into her big black trunk, sitting on the floor next to Harrow’s feet. “It’s go time. Ready, Deathgirl?”
They stepped out of the shuttle and onto the landing dock.
Canaan was a fantastic thing, gabled and windowed, but it wasn’t what drew Harrow’s eye. Instead, Harrow was watching the mismatched group of people stepping off their shuttles, talking to each other and looking around.
Harrow felt uninteresting. She was glad she’d decided to bring Gideon and not Ortus, even if it meant spending extra time with the former. (Bonus: minimized time spent with the latter).
A short girl with short dark hair and not-modest muscles approached the two of them and squinted at their faces. “Ninth.”
“How could you tell?” said Gideon dryly.
“Camilla Hect, Sixth cav.” The girl held out a hand and stared at Harrow with naked curiousity and brashness.
“Harrowhark Nonagesimus, necromancer of the Ninth House.” Harrow took Hect’s fingertips in her own and gingerly shook them up and down. Then she quickly withdrew her hand and felt like an idiot.
“Gideon Nav, Ninth,” said Gideon, and waved.
Camilla’s gaze flicked from Harrow’s face to Gideon’s, and back to Harrow’s again. “Okay,” she said finally.
“They’re afraid of us,” Gideon whispered.
“Good,” Harrow muttered back.
A very strange man appeared, clothed in strange priest’s robes and with an unnaturally wide smile. He nodded at each group in turn. “Second.”
Two tall women with starched Cohort uniforms saluted in unison. Their only difference were one’s sword and one’s necromancer collar. Their faces were nearly expressionless, betraying only a small emotion that Harrow could not identify.
Third House consisted of three people, not two, and they were all wearing similar golden colors. Two wore necromancer robes: one of them was objectively beautiful, violet-eyed, golden-haired. The other bore great resemblence to the first, but was faded in her beauty, her eyes purple, her hair straw-yellow. The final figure was the cavalier, probably, and possessed dramatic waves of brown that were probably hair, but also possibly a very posh hat.
A pair of scrawny teenagers awkwardly waved. They were built like fused-together sticks, all lanky and pointy. They didn’t look anything like each other, but at the same time, they seemed nearly identical, with their matching crossed arms and wary glances.
The Fifth House consisted of a woman and a man, both wearing clothes that were simultaneously casual and approachable, and businesslike and formal. The man affected a wide smile and the woman was jotting down notes on a tiny book of flimsy.
A lanky boy with clumsy glasses, his necromancer’s robes a little short on the sleeves, looking slightly overwhelmed. Hect stood with him, and she shot a tiny grin at Harrow and Gideon.
Seventh was a frail girl and a hulking man, but the girl was somehow more intimidating than the man. The girl looked entirely indecent, an energy that was created by the insubstantial teal dress fluttering around her knees.
Nobody answered the man this time.
“Eighth is not present, then,” said the man, sounding slightly disappointed, but his smile didn’t shift an inch. “Ninth?”
Harrow inclined her head, noticing the widened eyes and whispered comments rippling across the flock of cavaliers and necromancers. Gideon whispered “I don’t think they like us,” from the corner of her mouth. Harrow let herself grin.
“Fabulous,” said the man. “I’m Teacher. Welcome to Canaan House!”
Chapter 2: 2
Canaan House, Day 1
Gideon couldn’t take her eyes off the Seventh House necromancer, and it was beginning to become a problem.
Not for her. Gideon was absolutely fine with staring at the Seventh necro forever - her bloodred lips, her caramel hair, her perfectly curved brows. But Harrow was beginning to have a bit of a problem with Gideon’s ogling, from what Gideon could tell, although she didn’t know why. Pay attention, Harrow hissed several times, the demand paired with a sharp step on Gideon’s toes.
Teacher was giving them a short tour, but Gideon had missed about fifty percent of it, and the pieces she did catch were entirely unhelpful. (“Ah, but the skeletons can prepare different recipes?” asked the Fifth cav, while they were not at all in a kitchen. “Yes, if they’re provided with the proper ingredients,” Teacher answered cheerfully.) (He seemed to be cheerful a lot, especially considering he was in the presence of six - seven - awkward necromancers and their six restless cavaliers).
The Seventh necro took a few steps back and offered Gideon a wavering smile. Gideon wanted to die for her.
“This is all very exciting, isn’t it?” she said, wrapping her arms around herself as if freezing cold. “All these necromancers, in one place.”
Gideon nodded, not trusting herself to speak, lest she blurted something stupid like You might be the prettiest person I’ve seen in my life.
“Dulcinea,” said the Seventh necro, holding out a slim and quivering pale hand.
“Gideon,” Gideon managed, eagerly shaking it as normally as she could, and forcing herself to reclaim her own hand after only a few short seconds.
Dulcinea. Gideon repeated the syllables in her mind, rolling them around and repeating them until they lost their meaning. It was a beautiful name, especially with her experience of Harrows and Cruxes and Ortuses.
Teacher clapped as they came into a large empty room with clanky, squeaky chairs set up in a circle. They were marked with numerals and cav or necro, II necro/cav all the way to IX necro/cav. Gideon sat down at IX cav, which was unfortunately close to IX necro. Because VIII necro/cav weren’t there, only two empty seats seperated her from Dulcinea.
Gideon grinned at Dulcinea. Dulcinea winked back and rendered Gideon into a puddle of blushing goo.
Teacher stood in the middle of the circle, grinning like an idiot, arms splayed out. “Welcome, welcome, to Canaan House and our new set of activities to help cavs and necros bond, and different Houses to form meaningful relationships!” He sounded like he’d memorized a flyer with all his necessary information, and was now reciting it wholesale, without any interesting inflection or emotion except for his terrifying optimism.
“Our first activity this week will be a game called Late For Work!”
Gideon met eyes with one of the Third necros, the brighter one, and the necro’s eyes rolled. Gideon supposed that a burning hatred of icebreakers was universal.
“First, could one of you volunteer to leave the room?”
Nobody raised a hand. It was a slightly intimidating suggestion, seeing as the rest of the activity hadn’t actually been described yet. Gideon would like to not participate at all, if possible.
“Shall I choose for you?”
Scared looks were exchanged. Perhaps this really would form relationships, between the Houses that disliked icebreakers.
“Alright,” said Teacher. “Miss Coronabeth, please?”
The beautiful Seventh girl stood and sighed dramatically. “Where should I go?”
“The hallway will be fine, Miss Coronabeth,” said Teacher, who seemed to think he was being especially generous.
Coronabeth walked out of the room, looking more like a swan gliding across the unbroken surface of a pond than a human being moving their legs and transporting themself somewhere.
“Now!” Teacher said, looking overly enthusiastic. “I need somebody to play the boss, and somebody to play the employees.”
No responses. Gideon wondered what Coronabeth was getting up to.
“Would you like me to go through the rules of the game?” said Teacher, sounding absolutely dumbfounded that they could ever possibly want an explanation!
“We would,” said the Sixth necro, taking off his glasses and wiping them with his robe. “Please,” he added, as if slightly frightened by the very strange man in front of them. (Gideon was, too).
Teacher sighed heavily. “Fine. Miss Coronabeth plays the unfortunately late employee. One of you - say, Miss Camilla?” Camilla shook her head adamantly. “As an example, Miss Camilla. We shall pretend that Miss Camilla will play the employer, who is understandably frusterated by Miss Coronabeth’s tardiness. And there will be one or two of you - Ninth?” Teacher paused, his eyes scanning Gideon’s face. She squirmed. “- the Ninth will play the -” Teacher looked strangely at Gideon again. “I’m sorry, you’re not Ortus Nigenad.”
“You only just noticed?” Harrow said. She cleared her throat and said, “Ortus was… otherwise occupied. He couldn’t make it.”
“Hm. All right. Well,” Teacher continued. “We’ll pretend Ninth will play the other employees. And everybody else, you will be the audience. Before I call Miss Coronabeth in, and explain to her the rules, we will all collectively come up with the answers to two questions.
“First, why was Miss Coronabeth late to work; and secondly, on what did Miss Coronabeth arrive?” Teacher spread his arms wide again. “Anything goes.”
“Corona was late because she was putting on makeup,” said the other Third necro, dryly.
“Let’s be a bit more imaginative than that, Miss Ianthe?”
“Coronabeth was late because skeletons stopped her!” exclaimed Camilla.
“Coronabeth was late because a snail stopped her,” giggled the Fourth cav.
Dulcinea cleared her throat weakly. “Coronabeth was late because an octopus stopped her,” she suggested.
Teacher pointed at Dulcinea excitedly. “Yes! Good job, everybody. An octopus? How do we feel about an octopus?”
“Sure,” said the Sixth necro who had asked Teacher for the rules earlier.
“This is stupid,” muttered Harrow, but Gideon didn’t miss the slight, joyful crinkles to the corners of her eyes.
“Now. What did Miss Coronabeth ride on to arrive, finally, at her job?” Teacher asked.
Your mom, thought Gideon, snickering.
The room exploded with offered ideas, everybody sounding very carefully underwhelmed, but Gideon could tell they were having fun despite their calculated efforts to seem like they weren’t. Necros are so boring.
Gideon pitched in herself, her suggestion being “A snowball” which was very thankfully ignored.
“I heard a unicorn. I like that,” said Teacher. “Do you guys like that?”
“Now, how are our former roles that I decided? Miss Camilla, Miss Harrowhark, I’m only asking to sound nice… you don’t really have a choice…. All right, now we have that decided. Fabulous. Miss Camilla, you will question Miss Coronabeth about why she is late and how she got to work. Ninth, you will stand behind Miss Camilla and your job will be to act out a unicorn and an octopus, to try and get Miss Coronabeth to catch on to the answers to these questions.
One more thing - Miss Camilla, if you wish, you may turn around to try and catch your employees in the act of pretending to be a unicorn or an octopus, and they must try to explain their actions to you. If you catch them several times, you may fire them and replace them with other guests, if you’d like.”
The necros and cavs of the Emperor’s Nine Houses blinked at Teacher, who had transformed into an improv teacher before their eyes, and came to a collective and silent agreement that a) he was absolutely insane and b) this was terrible, stupid, and very slightly - only very slightly! - fun.
Teacher said, “I will go fetch Miss Coronabeth, now,” and left.
One of the Second House - the necro - said, “This is all very odd.”
Harrow grunted in agreement, and said to Gideon, “I’m not working together with you,” out of the corner of her mouth.
After a few minutes, Coronabeth came in with Teacher, and Teacher waved Camilla, Harrow, and Gideon to their positions. Camilla stood facing towards a very confused Coronabeth, and facing away from very annoyed Harrow and Gideon.
Camilla said, completely deadpan, “Coronabeth of the Third House, you’re late to your job as a barista at Bonebucks.”
“Sorry,” said Coronabeth, not sounding sorry at all. “Should I get to work making my bone dust art on bone juice lattes, for our beloved customers?”
“Sure,” said Camilla, and Teacher shook his head. “Sorry, I meant, no, you have to tell me why you’re late.”
Harrow looked at Gideon. Gideon looked at Harrow. Their eyes were both extrodinarily wide. With a completely straight face, Harrow began waving her arms around in the air.
“A hula dancer!” shouted Coronabeth the bone barista.
“No!” shouted Camilla the Bonebucks boss.
Camilla shrugged. “How would a hula dancer stop you from getting to work? Try again.”
Gideon stepped behind Harrow and waved her arms too, so together, they had eight limbs. “What are you doing?” Harrow whispered.
“Trust me. Keep octopus-ing.”
Harrow stepped on Gideon’s foot, muttered “sorry” but didn’t sound sorry at all, and continued to octopus (which was now a verb).
“Two… hula dancers?” guessed Coronabeth, who obviously wasn’t very good at this.
Camilla shook her head. “No hula dancers.”
“The ocean?” Coronabeth said.
“Not the ocean.”
“We have to try something else,” said Gideon. “I’m going to put you on my shoulders.”
“What? No. What?! Why? No,” Harrow stuttered, her face going uncharacteristically pinkish. “Absolutely not. How would that help anything?”
Gideon didn’t respond. She simply picked Harrow up by the waist and placed her on her shoulders. Harrow was scrawny, as were almost all of the necromancers in attendance, and even lighter than Gideon had expected (not that Gideon thought about picking her up often). “Octopus,” she commanded.
Harrow wiggled her arms and legs in a vaguely octopus-like way.
Coronabeth said, “A surfer? Swimming? Is it swimming?”
Camilla sighed, exasperated, and turned on her heels. “Bonebucks workers, what are you doing?”
“I’m… helping… her….” stuttered Gideon.
“Get something off the top shelf,” said Harrow quickly. “Return to your questioning, if you may.”
Camilla shrugged and turned back around. “All right, Coronabeth, any last guesses?”
“Last? Uh, an… octopus?”
The rest of the Houses applauded her, and Coronabeth bowed dramatically to her loving crowd. “Thank you, thank you -”
“One last question,” said Camilla as Gideon lowered a bright red Harrow to the ground. “How did you get to work?”
Harrow held out her pointer finger and pressed her knuckles to her forehead, creating the very marginal impression of a unicorn. Gideon said, “Gallop.”
Harrow made a galloping motion with her free hand.
“Horse,” said Coronabeth.
“Not quite,” said Camilla.
“Horse that’s been shot through the forehead with an arrow?” guessed Coronabeth, which made Gideon wonder if all necromancers were so prone to such morbid thoughts.
“What the fuck,” said Camilla.
Gideon copied Harrow’s motions, trying to look as not-forehead-arrow-ish as possible, and Coronabeth (finally) exclaimed, “Unicorn!”
More applause. Teacher walked up and said, “Very nicely done, everybody. Is anybody hungry? I think it’s time for lunch!”
Hi!! A very short chapter here but with lots of drama. Anybody wondering why Cam/Dulcie is a tag...
will now find out
Palamedes Sextus was absolutely terrified.
There is, as every anxious person knows, a point where the small and unimportant words of stress and anxiety are more accurately described as pure and undiluted fear. Palamedes had passed this point approximately a million years ago.
When Palamedes was eight, there was a boy.
He was three years older than Palamedes, which gave him immediate coolness points, and he was absolutely beautiful. His hair was always brushed in front of his eyes, and Palamedes often spotted him with the sleekest leather bookmarks and shiny XI earrings.
At eight years old, Palamedes couldn’t care less about the necromancers and cavaliers of the other Houses - he simply knew that he was the necromancer of Sixth and his cousin was the cavalier, and he didn’t need to know anything else. But Irenaeus cared. Irenaeus was the one who asked, and looked up, and dared Palamedes to write a letter to the prettiest necromancer they could find: Dulcinea Septimus of the Seventh House.
Palamedes wrote the first letter.
Palamedes was the one who started it all.
But Camilla Hect was the one who found Dulcinea’s response, and scribbled out another note. Camilla was the one who kept up their correspondence, even when Palamedes found out and deeply discouraged it. Camilla was the one who Dulcinea had fallen for, eventually, but it was all under Palamedes’s name.
Which is why Palamedes had started to fiddle nervously with his glasses when he recieved the invitation to Canaan House. And why he kept feeling his face go warm when he saw the Seventh House necromancer. Before he’d left, one of Irenaeus had told him several times that he was being overly nervous. Camilla had agreed. Neither of them properly understood the horror that stirred in his breast when he thought of Dulcinea finding out.
Lunch was one of the most awkward things Palamedes had ever lived through, which was saying something, considering that his first kiss had been more of a first natural disaster. Irenaeus mocked him about it, still.
Thank God he was seated with Camilla, and Camilla alone; he didn’t think he could stand Dulcinea’s coy winks any longer. Cam, at least, offered sympathy for his plight.
“This,” she said with a mouth full of flaky white fish, “Is the best food I’ve ever had.”
Palamedes didn’t have much of an appetite himself, so he just said, “I’ll have to trust you on that.”
Never mind. Camilla offered no sympathy for any plight of her cousin’s, which was unsurprising but still disappointing.
Palamedes scooped up a tiny bit of fish and stared at it. A bit fell off the side of his fork, and he watched it with little emotion.
“You’re still upset about that Dulcie thing?” Camilla said, taking another huge bite of fish.
“Yes! I’m still upset! I’ve not been upset long enough for you to be mad at me,” said Palamedes, defensively.
“She’s kinda hot, at least,” said Camilla. “You’re upset about a hot woman liking you, Palamedes, listen to yourself!”
Palamedes had been listening to himself. Yes, Dulcinea was attractive, but she wasn’t quite Palamedes’s type (his type was: reads too much, arranges their bookshelf in a specific order, is interested in researching the other necromancers and cavaliers and then forcing him to write letters to them).
“Now be quiet, please, and let me pretend to eat, will you?”
The icebreakers were neverending, and Teacher swept them into a new one as soon as everybody was done eating. Palamedes made sure he shrunk to the back of the crowd, avoiding Dulcinea’s very blue eyes.
The smaller Third necromancer had the same idea, and she was fiddling with her sleeves nervously. “Hello,” she said.
“Hi,” said Palamedes.
“Ianthe Tridentarius,” she said.
“My sister was the Bonebucks employee,” she said. There was an extraordinary resemblence between the two Third House necromancers, even though they seemed like polar opposites. Palamedes wasn’t interested in seeing Coronabeth’s necromancy (he guessed it would be very pretty-looking, not scientifically innovative, but he thought Ianthe’s might be quite interesting.)
“Ah, yes, Coronabeth?”
Ianthe nodded. “What do you think he’ll make us do this time?”
Palamedes swallowed, hard. “Hopefully nothing…” That makes me have to converse with Dulcinea Septimus. “…Too embarrassing, right?”
“Yeah. Corona was wondering, by the way… what’s your cav’s name?”
“Camilla? Didn’t Teacher say it during the game?”
Ianthe twirled a strand of hair between two fingers. “Don’t expect Corona to be paying much attention. You heard the horse with an arrow through its forehead thing.”
Palamedes had heard the horse with an arrow through its forehead thing and thought it had been a reasonable guess, but he didn’t say so. “Seems like a necromancer way to think, at least.”
“Necromancer, yeah,” Ianthe said, which was a weird thing to say. She didn’t elaborate. He didn’t ask her to. Maybe the Third House was just a strange place. Two necromancers was strange. Ianthe was strange. Coronabeth was strange. Naberius seemed a bit bland, but Palamedes hadn’t really spoken with him yet.
“Necromancer. Yeah,” said Palamedes lamely, and the words hung in the air.
The room that Teacher had apparently designated for icebreakers now had a sheet in it, which made Palamedes quite possibly the most intimidated person by a harmless piece of fabric lying on the floor.
They sat in the rickety chairs again, and Palamedes’s fingertips returned to the anxious marks he’d scratched into the side of his chair during the Bonebucks fiasco. What is it this time?
“Please, everybody, say your name?” asked Teacher.
They did, and Palamedes was unsure how many of them he’d remember. He was, however, absolutely sure he would end up calling Abigail “Jeannemary” or Gideon “Judith.” They all seemed rather nice, except for Harrowhark and the Third twins, and the Second a little bit, but Palamedes was definitely not set at ease. Not with Dulcinea only a chair away.
Teacher held up the sheet and waved Palamedes to one side. Palamedes couldn’t see who was on the other side of the sheets, but they looked like they were wearing necromancer robes and possibly feminine.
He heard a strangled gasp that sounded Camilla-ish.
“When I drop the sheet, whoever can say the other’s name first wins!” said Teacher.
Everything after that happened in very quick succession, and within three seconds:
The sheet dropped.
Palamedes saw Dulcinea Septimus on the other side.
Dulcinea shouted “Palamedes!” joyfully.
And all Palamedes could think to scream was “I’M NOT IN LOVE WITH YOU.”
“Huh,” said Camilla. Then she added, “drama.”
Teacher thought it would be best for Palamedes and Dulcinea to sort out their problems in a seperate room, by themselves, as he led another icebreaker with the others. Palamedes thought it was very sweet of Teacher for him to think either of them was good at resolving conflict, let alone talk about their emotions.
“Look,” said Palamedes for the sixth time in as many minutes. “I… never mind.”
“Please say something, or I will.”
Dulcinea adjusted her hair and said, “The Sixth House seems to like facts a lot, so I will list the facts that I’ve understood to be true until today. First of all, I’ve been recieving letters from Palamedes Sextus for a very long time.”
Palamedes nodded, disjointedly.
“I told you my worries. My secrets.”
Palamedes nodded again. You. Camilla could never just tell anybody what they needed to know.
“Who did I fall in love with?” she said, softly. “Who fell in love with me, Palamedes, if not you?”
Palamedes took a long, quivering breath, and said, “My cousin Camilla. She’s the one who wrote you… most of those letters. I’m sorry, I wanted you to know.”
Dulcinea’s face was unreadable, and Palamedes chewed his lip.
“I’m so sorry,” said Palamedes. “I mean, I know - and lying is, well - and Cam, I -”
“Honestly, I was always surprised a man wrote those letters,” said Dulcinea, bursting into infectious laughter. “God, Camilla was my confidante for so long. I told you - her - everything. I thought I was going to marry Palamedes Sextus.” She laughed harder, presumably at that very thought.
“I am sitting right here,” Palamedes said.
“I know - I know, I’m so sorry,” Dulcinea said through choked giggles. “God, Palamedes… Hah.”