Ivy Gamble was born without magic and never wanted it. Ivy Gamble is perfectly happy with her life—or at least, she’s perfectly fine. She doesn’t in any way wish she was like Tabitha, her estranged, gifted twin sister.
Ivy Gamble is a liar.
When a gruesome murder is discovered at The Osthorne Academy of Young Mages, where her estranged twin sister teaches Theoretical Magic, reluctant detective Ivy Gamble is pulled into the world of untold power and dangerous secrets. She will have to find a murderer and reclaim her sister—without losing herself.
The library at Osthorne Academy for Young Mages was silent save for the whisper of the books in the Theoretical Magic section. Honeyed sun poured through two tall windows onto rows of empty study tables, which still gleamed with the freshness of summer cleaning. It was a small library—each section took up only a row or two of tall metal shelves—but it was big enough to hide in. Sunlight from the windows along one wall of the library spilled between the shelves, casting long shadows. None of the students had come to linger, not in the first week of school—they’d dashed in and then out again, looking for friends or for classes they’d never been to before. Now they were all downstairs at the welcome-back dinner, an all-staff-all-students meal that marked the end of the first week of classes. They’d joke there about house-elves and pumpkin juice—or at least the freshmen would. By the time they were sophomores, that vein of humor was worn beyond use.
Mrs. Webb was not at the welcome-back dinner, and neither was Dylan DeCambray. One was hunting the other, a familiar pastime for both of them. Dylan was hiding in the stacks— specifically, in the Poison and Theoretical Poison section. He had tucked himself into the shadow of a returns cart, his legs cramping as he listened to Mrs. Webb’s measured footfalls in the next section over: Electricity, Theoretical Electricity, Electrical Manipulations.
“Mr. DeCambray, let’s not have another year like this. You’re a senior now. I’d have expected you to be more mature than you were as a freshman.” Her voice was thick with age. The condemnation of immaturity might have moved another student to self-immolation, but Dylan had a higher purpose. He would never let an authority figure stand in the way of that purpose, no matter the depths of their misunderstanding.
Mrs. Webb rounded the shelves into the Poison section. She moved slowly, deliberately—she’d often told students that hurrying was a fool’s errand. If you need to hurry, her oft-repeated saying went, you’re already too late. The early-evening shadows cast by the drooping sun should have deepened Mrs. Webb’s wrinkles, but, as she turned, the golden haze that made it into the stacks hit her profile just right, illuminating the young woman she once had been. In that moment, only white hair, sculpted as always into a perfect bouffant, belied her eighty-six years. A few more steps, and her face was in shadow once more. Mrs. Webb was just a short distance from the returns cart, close enough for Dylan to inhale the faint powdery smell of her perfume.
Dylan took a deep breath, then cupped his hands and blew into them. He waved them in front of himself, a mime smearing grease across the inside of his invisible box. Mrs. Webb walked a few feet in front of him. Her sensible black clogs brushed across the industrial gray carpet tiles with a steady, rhythmic shush-shush-shush. She peered around the returns cart over the top of her red horn-rimmed glasses, looking straight into Dylan’s face. He could have counted the black freckles that dotted her dark brown skin. She hardly had to stoop to be at eye level with seventeen-year-old Dylan; when he stood at his full six-foot height, he towered over the tiny woman.
He held his breath as she straightened and continued stalking between the shelves of the Poison section. His concealment charm had held. Mrs. Webb had looked right at Dylan, and she had not seen a pale, stretched-out seventeen-year-old with unruly brown hair and the hollow, hungry face of summer growth spurts. She had seen nothing but a few cobwebs and a row of books about the uses of arsenic.
“Mr. DeCambray, honestly,” she called out again, her voice weary with exasperation. “I don’t know what you’re thinking you’re going to find in here, but I can assure you that there are no mysteries to be solved, no conspiracies to be unraveled. Whether or not you’re the—oh, hush,” she snapped at the books in the restricted Theoretical Magic section. But their whispering didn’t stop—if anything, it increased, the books murmuring to each other like a scandalized congregation of origami Presbyterians.
Mrs. Webb paused at the end of the Poison section, looking toward the Theoretical Magic section again. “Mr. DeCambray, please. Just come down to dinner. This is foolishness.” She rounded the end of the shelves, and the murmurs of the books grew loud enough that Dylan couldn’t quite make out what she was saying anymore. But that didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was that she was no longer between him and the library exit.
Dylan rose and made for the door, victorious: he had dodged her. He could make his way back to the dinner, and when she came to the dining hall to admit defeat, he could say he’d been there all along. It was a good way to start the year. This was going to be his year, Dylan thought. He eased the library door open, slipping his narrow frame through and closing it without so much as a silencing charm to cover the snuck sound of the latch. Triumph.
Dylan’s shoes squeaked on the linoleum of the hallway as he ran. His too-long legs tangled, and he was about to catch himself midstride, about to make it to the end of the hall and the stairs that led down to the mess—but he skidded to a stop.
A scream echoed through the corridor.
Crap. His heart was pounding wildly—was this it? Was it finally time? Dylan DeCambray was torn between terror and elation. It’s happening, it’s really happening—he pelted back toward the library, toward the sound of Mrs. Webb screaming over and over again. He knocked over a chair or two on his way to the section where the screaming was coming from—the chairs weren’t really in his way, but the moment felt so urgent that it seemed wrong to leave things undisturbed. A small voice inside him whispered, Now, now, it’s happening now.
He pulled up short at the Theoretical Magic section, gasping for breath, his hands braced on the shelves at the end of the row. His foot crunched a sheet of copy paper that read “Reorganization in Progress: Do Not Enter Without Protective Equipment.” The wards were down. The books, which had been whispering so insistently when Dylan left the library, had gone silent. They seemed to stare at the tableau in the center of the section.
Dylan stared too. Then his brain caught up to what his eyes were seeing. He turned, still clutching one of the shelves, and vomited. When he thought he could stand it, he tried to straighten—but then he saw what was in the aisle, and his empty stomach clenched, and he heaved again.
In the middle of the section, Mrs. Webb stood with the sun at her back. One hand clutched her cardigan closed over her throat; the other held an old, crooked birch wand high over her head, amplifying the sound of her screams to an inhuman volume. Her voice didn’t break or cease—the screaming filled the school like a strobing siren.
She took a step backward, mouth open, still screaming, when she saw Dylan. Her shoes sank with a sick sucking sound into the soaked industrial carpet, which had turned so red as to look nearly black. Every time Dylan allowed his eyes to fall below her knees, he tasted fear-bitter bile rising in the back of his throat.
It was next to her feet.
At first Dylan had taken it to be two very slim bodies, facing away from each other. There were two fanning sprays of white-blond hair; there were two wide, pale green eyes staring up at the shelves out of two familiar profiles. But, as Dylan had noticed just before his stomach had twisted for the second time, there were only two long-fingered hands. Two total.
The woman on the floor had been cut in half, right down the middle, and laid out like a book with a broken spine. Her blood had soaked into the carpet and spread far enough to touch both bookshelves, a moat between Mrs. Webb and Dylan DeCambray. As Mrs. Webb’s voice finally began to crack with the strain of screaming, the books in the middle of the Theoretical Magic section of the library at Osthorne Academy for Young Mages began to whisper once more.
Excerpted from Magic for Liars, copyright © 2019 by Sarah Gailey.