Home > Only the Buried (Death Gate Grim Reapers #6)

Only the Buried (Death Gate Grim Reapers #6)
Author: Amanda M. Lee

 

Prologue

 

 

Fifteen years ago

 

 

Frogs.

They were everywhere and I had to catch them.

I wasn’t sure how this had become my life. For a thirteen-year-old, it was the worst of the worst. I, Izzy Sage, wanted more than a life of catching frogs.

“Get moving,” my grandfather instructed as he waded up beside me. We were in his favorite part of the swamp. He always brought us here despite the alligators poking their heads out of the bogs and huffing from behind the bushes. They bothered me less than the frogs.

“I don’t understand why we have to do this every weekend,” I complained.

“I need them.”

“For what?”

“You know what.”

I did. He was a brujo, a powerful sorcerer in the French Quarter. He used the frogs to make tonics and potions and sold them to the more well-to-do residents. Sometimes he even found the occasional tourist to buy his potions, although the majority of them had no idea what they were doing. He could sell them a bottle of swamp water and tell them it was magical and they wouldn’t know the difference. I’d suggested that on more than one occasion, but my grandfather was adamant. He would never sell somebody a substandard product. On one hand, I respected him for that. On the other, it drove me crazy because ... frogs!

“They’re gross,” I informed him, casting a dark look in his direction. “They’re all slimy and stuff.”

Grandpa’s eyes lit with amusement rather than annoyance. “They’re actually not slimy unless they’ve been burrowing in the mud, and unless you’ve completely lost your ability to catch them — which seems unlikely in a week — you don’t have to burrow in the mud.”

“Whatever.” I slapped on a pair of rubber gloves. I hated them. They made me think of the proctology exam jokes I saw occasionally on television. Thankfully, none of my middle school friends — or enemies for that matter — would ever spend their time in the swamp. I wasn’t at risk of anybody seeing me, which is what really worried me.

“You’ll live.” He squeezed my shoulder and then snapped on a pair of gloves himself. “We have a big order coming in. We need double our normal number.”

Oh, well, that just made things worse. “I hate this!” Honestly, I didn’t mean to come off as whiny. I understood we didn’t have the money other families had. Living in the Quarter was a mixed bag. Some families were uber rich and others, like us, barely scraped by. We had a decent house in a relatively safe neighborhood. I should’ve been happy ... and yet my teenage mental defects refused to allow it. “Mom and Dad wouldn’t have made me do this.”

Even as the words escaped, I knew it was a mistake to utter them. My parents had died in an accident on Belle Isle in Michigan years before and my grandfather had taken me in, despite the fact that my aunt wanted to keep me with her in Detroit. My grandfather had put his foot down, and there’d been some sort of fight. In the end, he’d won, and I only got to talk to my aunt once a week or so after I moved in with him. It made me bitter. Of course, calling what happened to my parents an accident was ridiculous. I couldn’t remember everything that happened — my brain refused to show me the memories and I only had a hazy memory where my parents used to reside — but I knew from the whispers that they’d been killed, and not by a human. Something had come through the death gate they’d operated on the island and hunted them like animals. When the dust settled, only I was pulled from the rubble that was our house. I was bitter about that, too.

“Your mother and father likely wouldn’t have made you do this,” Grandpa agreed, using his most reasonable tone. “Your father did this when he was your age, though. He helped me all the time. He understood the value of hard work.”

The statement rankled. “And you’re saying that I don’t understand it?”

“I’m saying that you’ll survive this and be stronger for it.”

“I hate it when you say things like that,” I groused, scuffing my foot along the ground. The movement was enough to shake a frog loose from the nearby weeds and I automatically netted the critter as it tried to escape, sliding him into the pillowcase I carried without giving it much thought.

“I know you do,” Grandpa soothed. He was strict when he wanted to be, but he seemed to understand about teenage angst. He rarely got angry when I was petulant. He saved that for when I didn’t follow through on my magic lessons. “I’m sorry you’re upset.”

It made it difficult to snap at him when he was so reasonable, which was exactly why he reacted the way he did. I wasn’t an idiot. I’d figured it out. “I miss them and yet I don’t remember them all that well.” It was hard to admit. “I keep thinking about where we would be if they hadn’t died, where I would be.”

“And you think you would be better off,” Grandpa mused.

I shook my head. “No. I’m grateful you took me in ... and I love you. I just ... .”

“You can’t help yourself,” he finished. “I get it. It would be natural for you to wonder what your life would’ve been like if ... things were different.” He looked momentarily sad and then shook himself out of the moment of melancholy. “We can’t change things, though, so we have to make do. I think your father would be happy that you’re learning the value of hard work.”

I couldn’t respond until after I’d caught another frog — this one was slippery and almost escaped — but when I straightened, my dark hair falling across my forehead, I pinned him with a dubious look. “I think you’re snowing me.”

He laughed. “And why is that?”

“Because you want me to help you catch frogs and I’m better at it than you.”

His smirk grew more pronounced. “Is that what you think? Who taught you how to catch frogs, young lady? I believe it was me.”

“Yes, but I’ve perfected it.” As if to prove it, I waved my hand and used my magic to freeze two frogs that were racing toward the swamp in an effort to escape. “Can you do that?”

“No.” He chuckled as I tossed the frozen frogs into my bag. “Your gifts are ... impressive. That doesn’t mean you’re better than me.”

“Um, I always catch more than you.”

“That’s because I let your youth lead the way.”

“Oh, that’s convenient.” I huffed out a breath and blew my hair off my forehead. “How about we make it a competition? Whoever gets the most frogs gets to take a break next weekend and the loser has to catch all of them.”

There was little more my grandfather loved than a competition, and the twinkle in his eyes answered my challenge before he found the words. “You’re on.”

“Great.” Even though I didn’t want to catch frogs, making a game of it would at least make the time go faster. “I’m already up four to nothing. Do you want to discount those four?”

“Oh, no.” He took on the singsong quality that I recognized as mirth. “Fair is fair. Let’s get started, shall we?”

“I’m looking forward to it.”

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