Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Gideon Nav has tried to escape her indentured servitude in the Ninth House like 87 times. She thinks she's got it this time and is semi-patiently waiting for a shuttle to take her off planet to be conscripted into service because she's not a necromancer, and if all the titty magazines she has are any indication, she's definitely not a nun. The bells start ringing and two of her trainers, Aiglamene and Crux, both come looking for her but no, she's not going. She's getting away. She thinks of all the people and skeletons rushing around now that the muster bells are ringing and how almost none of them are her age because, of the 201 children who lived in the Ninth House, there are only three left. One is a boy many years older and the other is Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter, Lady of the Ninth House, and she seems to get off on torturing Gideon. And now she's summoning her. Fuck.
Harrow obviously knows she treats Gideon like trash, she’s an orphan from another house and not even part of the ninth, but now, Gideon is shocked to find that she is offering her her freedom, with a parchment about her release signed in blood and everything! All Gideon has to do is go to the muster call. Harrow will keep the shuttle there waiting. Nope. Nah, nah dog, not gonna do it. Gideon has forged enough good paperwork and figured out everything she needs to do to get this shuttle here to pick her up, so she’s fine going her own way. Then Harrow offers something better. Training. A title. A real life. That sounds… interesting, but still… nah. Okay, Harrow has one final offer. Win against her in a fair fight, take the signed letter and leave now, no worries, or lose against her in a fair fight, go to the muster call, but then still take the signed letter and leave, no worries. Fine!
Harrow removes all her bone jewelry and bone accessories so she won’t be able to summon any skeletons, which, even for a necromancer, she’s really, really good at. Gideon grabs her sword, ready to literally kick Harrow’s ass for all the terrible shit she’s put her through, but then, as they begin to fight, Harrow starts summoning skeletons from all over the place. That little bitch snuck down the night before, dug a bunch of holes and put bones in them! Gideon can’t take down all the skeletons because there’s a ton of them and she loses, obviously and violently. She threatens Harrow to tell everyone everything she knows, to tell everyone about allthe torture, to tell everyone that one thing that Gideon knows about but no one else does, but none of this works. Fuck. As she was thoroughly destroyed by skeletons, Aiglamene and Crux drag her to the summons.
In what is basically a cathedral full of bones, some living, some not, some animated, some not, Gideon watches as Harrow reads a summons in front of several important people from the ninth house, including her parents, Pelleamena Novenarius and Priamhark Noniusvianus, who have taken a vow of silence and click clack prayer beads while their daughter speaks. The summons is from the Emperor, the Necrolord Prime, the King of the Nine Renewals, the Resurrector, and requires each first child of each house to go to Canaan House to train to be a lyctor and they must bring their cavalier. Harrow’s cavalier is a round mama’s boy who is dreadful with a sword. Said mama wails for her precious son to not be taken from her. After the summons is read and all the skeletons file out, Gideon laughs and laughs.
Gideon is shocked that Harrow has reanimated the corpses of her parents and paraded them around in front of everyone like mummy puppets. She knew they were dead of course, they’ve been dead for like ten years, and she also knew that Harrow has been pretending that they’re still alive, but still. This summons is ridiculous because that cavalier is terrible but none of this is going to be Gideon’s problem soon. Oh wait, yes it is. Her shuttle that’s been waiting for her has just been knowingly burgled by the cavalier and his mommy and now Gideon has to pretend to be Harrow’s cavalier because Harrow has known for a week that Gideon was planning on leaving and now she’s punishing her. Aiglamene is in on this plan and doesn’t like it, but she’s going to teach Gideon how to properly be a cavalier and she’s going to do it very, very quickly. Gideon is furious, but Harrow promises, and Aiglamene makes her promise to keep her promise, that when Harrow is a lyctor and they’re both famous in the first house, Gideon will be released. Now she just has to fake it, which requires her painting her face like a skeleton because that's what all the necromancers and cavaliers of the ninth house have done for forever. Oh fucking fine whatever.
After six months of grueling training, it is time for Harrow and Gideon to leave in a space shuttle to the first house. When they arrive, they are greeted by a frail priest in white robes who prefers to be called Teacher. The other houses arrive, too, and then, one of them collapses and Gideon rushes to her aide. Her name is Dulcinea Septemus of the seventh house and her cavalier, Protesilaus, holds his sword at Gideon. Dulcinea, who has a wasting disease and shouldn't be older than 25, laughs and laughs. The ninth house can challenge the seventh now and they'll probably win! She seems absolutely delighted, but no one will be fighting each other just yet.
All the cavaliers and necromancers gather and Teacher gives each of the cavaliers an iron ring and some information, but not much. Teacher says that the lyctors were not born immortal but came to this place and earned it, and now, through trials and challenges, everyone here has that opportunity as well. They will be given everything they need to survive and servants to wait on them, but they must not use the communication network. They are now here until they succeed or are sent home. The only real instruction is that they never open a locked door unless they have permission. When asked how they train for lyctorhood, Teacher answers that he doesn't know, he's not a lyctor! And with that, he welcomes them to Canaan House, their new home.
The first morning in the first house finds Gideon waking alone. Harrow has gone off to probably do whatever she's supposed to be doing here and left Gideon with several notes of instruction, which include to put on her skull face paint and not talk to anyone, and also one that says she stole the iron ring. Skull on, Gideon goes out to explore and finds a dining hall where she's served her meal by a skeleton. The cavaliers of the fourth and fifth house are here as well but they seem oddly terrified or in awe of her, especially when she doesn't speak thanks to Harrow's note. After her meal, she continues exploring and finds a million doors all over the place, one hidden behind a tapestry, which Gideon hides again before leaving. She comes upon the cavalier, Naberius, and twin necromancers, Coronabeth and Ianthe, from the third house who are all beautiful and golden and petulant. They're complaining about what they're supposed to be doing and if it's all some sort of puzzle, then one of the twins spots Gideon and quietly warns her not to mess with them.
After a lunch of some odd leaves, which Gideon realizes must be a salad, still without Harrow, Gideon continues exploring and finds the beautiful Dulcinea prettily and frailly lounging in a chair and asks Gideon to assist her. Not being able to speak, either by Dulcinea's hypnotic beauty or because Harrow forbade her to, Gideon listens as Dulcinea prattles on about wanting to be a part of the ninth house when she was young and dying so she could die prettily but then she heard about the facepaint and changed her mind. Dulcinea has known forever that she was going to die young, but she's still here, being gorgeous. She asks Gideon to stand and draw her sword, which she does, but apparently not as perfectly as one who has always used a rapier should and Dulcinea somehow knows that Gideon typically uses a heavier sword. Oh shit. Does she know that Gideon isn't really the cavalier of the ninth? Dulcinea’s cavalier, Protesilaus, arrives then giving Gideon time to very nearly run away.
Some days pass and Gideon sees Harrow once or twice but they don't speak. After a meal, Gideon finds herself being dragged off to duel with some of the cavaliers of the other houses. She wins against the kind and charming Magnus of the fifth house almost immediately but technically loses against the third, Naberius, when he disarms her, but she continues to fight and punches him, which makes her the better and stronger fighter.
Even more days pass and this time, Gideon hasn't seen Harrow at all. Her bed hasn't been slept in. Gideon decides she's going to find her and sets off looking. Finally she encounters two voices which turn out to be the cavalier and necromancer of the sixth house, Camilla and Palamedes. There's a sort of barrier between them that temporarily eats Gideon’s hand away, yikes, but then Camilla notices her and attacks. Camilla is badass, but Palamedes calls her off and apologizes, knowing that Gideon is looking for Harrow. The sixth house seems to have been tracking her maybe. They come to a door with blood splattered in front of it and Gideon freaks out and speaks finally, and she's pissed. She tries to open the door but can't until the sixth house opens it with the iron ring they were given when they arrived. A key ring! Inside, they find Harrow in a bone cocoon. Palamedes medically checks her and finds she's probably just exhausted and dehydrated and tells Gideon she needs to rest. He also tells her that she and Harrow should be working together.
When they get back to their room, Gideon tells Harrow she's bored and not doing a good job at pretending to be her cavalier and whatever Harrow is doing down in dusty old basements is going to get her killed, so Gideon is coming with her from now on. Harrow rejects this and then explains what she's been doing. She has searched all over Canaan House and has found and mapped hundreds of doors, only six of which are locked. She has discovered that whoever was here before, presumably the necromancers who became lyctors, left behind their research and odd sorts of trials. Harrow has found one and is desperately trying to pass it, but has lost nearly two hundred skeletons in doing so because she can't see what she's facing. As they look at the map, Gideon spots a symbol that she recognizes as being on the door she found and hid. Well well well, it's good that they're working together now! They might actually get somewhere!
Harrow and Gideon make it to the room that Harrow found with the trial. Gideon goes past a door into a room while Harrow stays outside. With Gideon inside instead of a skeleton, they will soon learn what keeps destroying all of Harrow's minions. It's a giant skeletal construct holding bones that look like swords that constantly rebuilds itself when it takes any damage. They keep resetting the trial and Harrow sends more and more skeletons in to fight until Gideon decides she's going in instead. Remarkably, while Gideon fights the construct, Harrow can see through her eyes and feel as she's fighting. Gideon comes out of the room, still unsuccessful, but Harrow now knows how to beat the trial. She's got to use Gideon's body. They literally have to fight together, but first, Harrow needs to rest.
Upon waking later, Harrow and Gideon find they've been invited to an anniversary party for Magnus and Abigail of the fifth house. Harrow doesn't want to go because she thinks everyone's going to be poisoned and that she's going to lose time in facing the trial, but they go. Some are happy to be there, some are not, some eat way too much, some are bedazzled by Gideon and her biceps. Dulcinea and Gideon spend some time together but then Harrow gathers Gideon and they go off to face the trial again, worried because she overheard that the fifth house has started and will beat them. They travel down to the trial room and, finally, Gideon is allowed to fight for real. As she attacks the construct, Harrow can see through her eyes and tells her where to strike, then Gideon can see glowing orbs at each point Harrow tells her to hit. The construct is finally destroyed and a little door opens to reveal a key, and as they retrieve it, Harrow compliments Gideon. That's really nice!
Before this niceness can last too long, they come across the dead bodies of Magnus and Abigail. All the necromancers gather a little while later to try to resurrect them but no one is successful, until the eighth house arrives. Silas and Colum are a soul-siphoning pair and Silas, draining Colum, manages to raise Abigail for a moment before Teacher arrives, yelling for them to bring the bodies and get to safety before something else fills their corpses. That's… terrifying. They are able to store the bodies in a sort of refrigerator. Everyone argues about what's going on and about all the keys to the rooms, which some didn't know about and some did and already have a few. Some want to work together and some don't, but they all kind of agree to let the others know if they're going to face something terrible in one of the rooms or if they'll be attacked by evil ghosts or whatever killed Magnus and Abigail and Teacher warned them of taking their bodies. Harrow and Gideon leave to go through the door that matches the key they found which goes to the hidden door that Gideon found.
The rooms beyond look like a lab but have a place for two people to rest, presumably a necromancer and their cavalier. They search the lab and Harrow realizes that the two people who shared this room a long long time ago are the ones who created the trial they just faced and they've left instructions on how to pass it and all the science and magic behind it. Harrow takes copious notes while Gideon looks around. She finds a small note and puts it into her pocket. She feels sad about Magnus dying, which Harrow finds strange because they barely knew each other. Gideon says it's because he was nice to her and didn't even know her. Harrow then melts a little and is finally a little nice and decides she's going to earn Gideon's trust which weirds Gideon out. Back in their room, Gideon remembers the note which is nearly incomprehensible, but it has her name on.
The next day, Harrow and Gideon plan to move on to the next trial, but before they can, they are approached by Dulcinea who asks them for help. She, in her weak and frail state, simply cannot pass the next trial because it seems to completely dissolve the body, kind of like what Gideon encountered when she found the sixth house following Harrow. Dulcinea asked the sixth house for help but they refused and then she was going to ask the fifth, but now they're dead. The trial involves siphoning life, similar to what Silas and Colum do, but not exactly the same. Gideon agrees to be siphoned with little fuss and Harrow begins draining her life away to pass the trial. It is horribly painful, having your life drained away, but Harrow is able to pass the trial, get the key and return, completely naked, before Gideon dies… or violently passes out.
She wakes up just a little bit later to find Harrow asking why Dulcinea wants to be a lyctor, because she doesn't want to die, which is fair considering she's so sickly. Harrow doesn't like Dulcinea or Protesilaus and Gideon doesn't know why because she seems to have a pretty serious crush on Dulcinea and her cavalier just seems to be a regular ol' burly protector. They somehow get back to their room and Harrow is upset at Gideon for so easily giving her life away for the trial and she's mad that the trials even exist and says she's got to figure out how to become a lyctor before… not finishing her sentence.
The next day, Gideon finds notes from Harrow similar to the first ones she left, that she has the keys and she's out and not to come find her, but these are a little nicer and include food and a message that she's sending the sixth house to physically check her over. Camilla arrives and is pretty startled that Gideon is alive and not-brain-damaged. The two go to the dining hall and find everyone there discussing the keys and how there's not enough for everyone to have a full set, so they're either going to have to work together to gather the keys and pass the trials or, well, fight or kill each other. The seventh house has already been challenged.
Palamedes then calls for Gideon and Camilla to join him in the refrigerator with Magnus's body. The sixth house's necromancy magic is kind of like reading the thoughts on objects corpses have touched, so he's trying to find out how Magnus came to have his key. While this is happening, they discuss the working-together-or-killing-each-other thing and then discover that Magnus and Abigail didn't fall to their deaths as everyone originally thought, that they are covered in tiny mixed bone fragments which means… something that is unsaid as they suddenly realize one of the teens from the fourth house is eavesdropping.
For some time after this, Harrow does not return and Gideon worries, but then randomly Harrow is back, sleeping in her bed. Gideon wanders around and exercises and eats meals and stuff while Harrow is asleep, but then she's approached by one of the teens from the fourth house. Someone is dead and the necromancer from the fourth, Isaac, asks for help from the ninth house and the third. Gideon and Coronabeth go with the fourth. They, plus like everyone else, rush off to the incinerator where the other from the fourth, Jeannemary, is wailing that someone is dead. There is something gristly in the incinerator, but no one knows who it is.
Later, it starts to rain and Gideon finds Dulcinea passed out and nearly drowned on the terrace. She was out sunbathing and probably reading romance novels as normal but the rain started. Protesilaus never came for her so she tried to walk back inside and fell. Now she's being cared for by Teacher, but Protesilaus is missing. Back investigating the incinerator, all the necromancers who are there decide the remains are too old to belong to Protesilaus, and there are remains from two bodies in there and they have no idea who they are. This is all puzzling and gets everyone upset. There will be a search for Protesilaus, but not in anyone’s personal rooms. Teacher trusts them to look in their own spaces themselves. Everyone is still upset and the second house begins demanding everyone turn their keys over to them for safekeeping, which, no. No one is going to do that. The eighth house has taken Dulcinea’s keys “for safekeeping,” which everyone finds dubious, and then the duel demands start. The second challenges the sixth, thinking that Camilla and Palamedes are weak, but the sixth kicks the second’s ass. Then the third challenges the sixth. The twins of the sixth bicker about this, Coronabeth not wanting Naberius to do it, but Ianthe insisting that he does. Then Harrow says Gideon will fight for Camilla, then Jeannemary wants to fight Naberius, too. Basically, everyone wants to fight everyone, but then no one does.
Everyone leaves except the sixth, fourth and ninth houses. They seem to be the only ones who want to work together. Palamedes has deduced a couple of things: one, that there are only eight keys, essentially one key for each house and based on all the key bickering, there’s only one left, and two, that each of the theorems discovered in each room will stack together to create a megatheorem, presumably how to become a lyctor. Regardless of this, they all think Protesilaus must have the final key, so they decide that they need to find him, but they also need to keep Dulcinea safe. Palamedes, Camilla and Harrow will stay with Dulcinea while Gideon, Jeannemary and Isaac try to find Protesilaus. They travel down to the facilities room where everyone started their trials. As they look around, they see, written on the wall in blood, death to the fourth house. Well, that’s… not good. Then they’re attacked by a giant construct of bones and tentacles and teeth. Isaac does not survive the fight, so Gideon grabs Jeannemary and runs to the laboratory room she found behind the tapestry and locks them inside. Jeannemary is devastated and finally rests, and Gideon does, too, but only for a few moments. She jolts awake not long after falling asleep to find Jeannemary’s body speared through with giant bone shards. Written above her in blood is sweet dreams.
Somehow, Gideon doesn’t know, she and Jeannemary and Isaac’s bodies are back with everyone else. Gideon is feeling particularly shitty and is lamenting about everyone’s deaths with Dulcinea who talks about the feeling of constantly dying since she’s so ill. While they talk, they start holding hands, and then there’s more bemoaning and Dulcinea figures out that Gideon is not actually a cavalier. Then the eighth house arrives and also says that they know this, they know that Gideon isn’t even from the ninth house at all and that she’s an orphan. They invite her to tea and will tell her what they know.
Back with the sixth house, Harrow, Gideon, Palamedes and Camilla talk about the megatheorem again and how all of these challenges are terrible. The sixth house doesn’t seem to think lyctorhood is worth everything that is happening. Talk moves back to the keys and how there’s one left that maybe the third house has and Palamedes says he’s worried about them because he can’t figure them out. Both twins seem to be middling necromancers but one is more dominant than the other. Palamedes then says he needs help picking a lock. He offers all his theorem information to Harrow if she’ll show him the map she created and help him with the lock. They go to the room with the lock, presumably the lock that the third has the only key for, and Harrow discovers that what is blocking the lock is similar to the theorem where she had to drain Gideon’s energy, so Gideon offers it to her again and they are able to unstopper the lock. Palamedes seems to think this isn’t very tasteful. They split up here and Palamedes hints to Gideon about taking care of Dulcinea, which makes Harrow bristle.
Harrow forbids Gideon from spending any more time with Dulcinea, claiming she’s dangerous, but Gideon doesn’t believe this because she’s so, so frail. Gideon nearly punches Harrow, but is afraid if she starts she won’t be able to stop. All the resentment that Gideon used to have for Harrow comes rushing back and Harrow heaps it on by basically telling Gideon she’s worthless and that she doesn’t even remember she exists half the time, which is exceptionally hurtful. Gideon tells Harrow she hates her and says fuck you a bunch of times. Gideon asks to be released from Harrow’s service if she’s so worthless, that she’d rather work for a dying Dulcinea, but Harrow refuses and tells her to go take a nap. Gideon is furious, which never leads to good decision making.
Later, Gideon goes to the rooms of the eighth house where Silas tells her that the shuttle that she was supposed to leave the ninth house in, that the actual cavalier and his mommy left in, had a bomb in it and it exploded. Then he questions her as to why a house would do such a thing, and why a house would kill 200 children leaving behind only Gideon and Harrow. She has no idea. Then he demands she turn over her keys because he will not allow the ninth house to obtain lyctorhood if they would do such terrible things. Colum told her upon her arrival to their rooms that she would face no violence, but now Silas seems to be contradicting that. Colum tells her to leave, because it's likely that one of them will be dying if she doesn't.
Gideon leaves, but doesn't want to return to her rooms with Harrow, so she wanders around to the training room and finds Teacher complaining about hating water and people dying and then finds Coronabeth who is training with a sword. She says she's wanted to fight against Gideon even though she is a necromancer, so they spar, but then Naberius comes in yelling. Gideon leaves and finally goes back to her rooms. Harrow isn't there, so Gideon looks through her stuff and finds, in a box not well hidden in her closet, the head of Protesilaus. She takes it to the sixth house and vomits a lot.
Palamedes investigates the head while Gideon freaks out about Harrow being a killer, vowing to be the one to take her out. Gideon knows that Harrow is terrible, she's been terrible all Gideon's life, but then, she was responsible for her parents' deaths, so maybe it's just. Gideon tells Palamedes about Harrow finding a locked door in the ninth house when she was just a kid that was never meant to be opened. Well, she opened it. Gideon went to tell Harrow's parents, who also seemed to hate Gideon, and then Harrow arrived and Gideon left. She hoped to overhear Harrow getting into lots of trouble, but she heard nothing, so she opened the door to find that Harrow's parents had hanged themselves and Harrow was also standing there with a rope. Palamedes tells Gideon that just because she tattled on Harrow doesn't mean she's responsible for her parents' deaths, but Gideon struggles to believe that.
Camilla arrives soon, chained to Harrow, and they begin discussing Protesilaus's head. They decide that it's been dead for quite some time, so they go speak to Dulcinea, and then everyone else shows up, too. Dulcinea explains that her house is very good at creating beguiling corpses and that since she's so ill, her house created a strong cavalier to protect her. Dulcinea starts coughing and nearly dying, and Palamedes gently cares for her, kisses her hand and holds it carefully. Teacher asks how long she has left, and Palamedes thinks weeks at most. Dulcinea seems to giggle at this, but remains barely lucid. As everyone leaves the sickroom, Palamedes assures Gideon that if Harrow was really going to do anything to become a lyctor, meaning randomly kill lots of people, she'd have done it by now.
Gideon follows Harrow into the hallway and is then led to a giant saltwater pool in the training room. Harrow sets skeletons as sentries, asks Gideon to join her in the pool, and then tells her a lot of stuff that she should have told her a long time ago. Harrow's family has a secret, but because Gideon found the head in her closet, she was afraid that Gideon wouldn't trust her, which is a pretty fair assessment. She didn't know that the Fourth teens would be killed and why Gideon wasn't killed, too, and she doesn't know who is doing all the killings, but she thinks it could be the sixth house, they're the smartest, but they have zero reason to. She just doesn't know. Gideon then asks about the 200 children and the story is gruesome.
Harrow would not exist without the deaths of those children. Her parents sacrificed all of them in order to have Harrow, who is apparently a perfect necromancer, but more on that in a second. Why did they keep Gideon alive if they killed everyone else? They didn't. She was supposed to be sacrificed, too, she was poisoned right along with all the others but… she didn't die and no one knows why. So then Harrow basically tortured her because she felt like garbage because everyone else was dead, which is not a good reason to torture someone, but really, is there ever a good reason to do that?
Now back to the perfect necromancer bit of the story. The day that Gideon told Harrow's parents about her opening the locked door… that's a door that no one's supposed to open because apparently it will start the apocalypse, but Harrow did it. And she traveled down the corridor beyond it, which was packed with so many evil necromancer things that she should have died, but she survived too. At the end of the corridor, encased in ice, is a girl with a sword. Harrow wants to be around if she ever wakes up, which is why she didn't hang herself along with her parents that day. Gideon thinks it's funny that Harrow has a crush on the ice girl, and now, stories and secrets told, she and Harrow are closer than they've ever been before.
The next day, the sixth house and the ninth house go to open a door that none of them have the key for, which is technically against the only rule, but whatever. Palamedes has passed the trial and held the key, so that basically means he deserves it, especially since he has that great power of reading objects and Harrow did that thing where she looked through Gideon's eyes. Using their combined powers, Harrow recreates the key using a bone fragment and they go inside the laboratory. Inside, they discuss the trial that led here, which was just a tooth and a box. The tooth was from one of the skeleton servants, but that's not the important thing. The important thing is that they realize that the skeletons are revenants and that Teacher has been around for a very long time and is himself a beguiling corpse. As soon as they discover this, a fire alarm goes off.
They all run and find the cause of the alarm. All the skeletons are collapsing, including the cooks in the kitchen, mid meal prep, so the kitchen is on fire. There are piles of bones all over the place and they decide to go check on Dulcinea and Teacher, but he's not there with her and the priest who is with her is dead. They go to find Teacher, and when they do, it's not good. The second house went to call for aid and killed him, but he killed them as well, maybe trying to stop them. The sixth and the ninth realize Teacher was a shell and controlling all the skeletons, so when he died, they all did. Also, they learn from the second that help isn't coming. The Emperor is. Teacher gurgles to life a little bit to lament the fact that the Emperor is coming back to a place he must not return to and then he says, "Oh, Lord-Lord-Lord, one of them has come back," which can't be good.
The ninth and the sixth leave the second and Teacher and are met by the eighth who have bad news, which, coming from them, has got to be really bad. They say that the fifth has been defiled. At the morgue, they find that Abigail's belly has been cut open because there was a key inside her. Someone must have really wanted to keep that key safe. Before they leave the morgue, they go to check out the ashes that they found in the furnace. Some of them belong to Protesilaus, some belong to someone else, but no one knows who that is. They decide they'll figure that out later because keeping everyone else alive is more important right now.
They go to the door locked by the belly key and find Ianthe, Coronabeth and the body of Naberius inside and a note, you lied to us, scrawled on the wall, which Palamedes goes to investigate. Coronabeth is crying in the corner while Ianthe is glowing from the inside out, her eyes changing color and her body shifty and jittery. Ianthe has become a lyctor. She completed all the trials and learned the megatheorem from them without gaining any keys or entering any laboratories, except the one they're in right now. She killed Naberius's body and took his soul inside herself, which is how lyctors are made. She reveals all this to the ninth, sixth and eighth houses and also tells them that she's the best necromancer because she's been two necromancers since she was a kid because Coronabeth has no power and so Ianthe's been faking for her all their lives. Silas of the eighth tries to fight her but she uses Naberius's skill to fight him back. Then Colum begins to siphon, trying to drain Ianthe's energy, but that doesn't work. She kills both of them, tells the others that there are worse things than her in Canaan House, then disappears into a puddle of blood. Gideon checks on Coronabeth who isn't crying because Ianthe killed and absorbed Naberius, she's crying because she didn't kill and absorb her.
Gideon, Harrow and Camilla notice that Palamedes is no longer with them and assume he's gone off to see Dulcinea. Camilla tells Gideon and Harrow that the two of them have been exchanging letters for the past twelve years. The ninth finds this interesting because Dulcinea, to them, seemed to barely know Palamedes and treated him like a stranger. Gideon feels terrible because she was horning in on Palamades's girl, so she rushes off to apologize to him. She finds him outside of Dulcinea's room, but then she's frozen in place. Palamedes goes inside and asks Dulcinea where Dulcinea is. Wait, what?
Palamedes, having written to Dulcinea for years and years, has realized that this person in this sick bed is not Dulcinea at all. He's right. That Dulcinea is the other body in the furnace. This person is also from the seventh house and has the same sickness as Dulcinea, but she's had it for tens of thousands of years. She's a lyctor and she's come back to Canaan House to lure the Emperor there to kill him. She's made sure to kill everyone else there too because the Emperor would have used any newly created lyctors to kill her, but now he's got to come here. Palamedes, knowing that his Dulcinea is dead, uses his necromancy abilities to supercharge this stranger's illness, tells Gideon to tell Camilla, then explodes himself and the room that they're in like a star. Gideon runs away as the room explodes but is followed by the stranger who is not injured at all, minus the cancer. She tells Gideon she is called Cytherea the First, necromancer and cavalier, and that she's got to kill everyone there so she can then kill the Emperor, and she's starting with Gideon.
Except Camilla is also there, and she tackles Cytherea. They fight nastily and then the giant construct monster arrives and begins attacking too. Harrow joins the fray, gives Gideon her longsword which they snuck here even though as a cavalier, she’s supposed to use a rapier, and using a regenerating bone technique she learned with the help of Gideon's body like they did in the first trial, pins the construct in place. Camilla and Cytherea are still fighting and it's not going well for Camilla, but then Ianthe also joins the battle. She and Cytherea fight for a while, and both being lyctors, could probably literally fight forever, but then Cytherea starts siphoning Ianthe's energy away and healing herself with it. The construct breaks itself free and comes to attack again, so Harrow builds a bone shield around herself, Gideon and Camilla. They pretty much resigned themselves to die, but then Gideon tells Harrow that, even though she's not really a cavalier, her life is Harrow's. Harrow tells her that she's the best cavalier the ninth house has ever produced, and then Gideon impales herself on an iron spike. Gideon comes to inside of Harrow, who is now a lyctor. Working together, they grab Gideon's longsword, easily destroy the construct and then attack and kill Cytherea.
Harrow wakes later in space with the Emperor. She asks him to return Gideon's soul to her body, but he can't do that without killing both of them. She asks how many survived Canaan House and he says only Ianthe, who is missing an arm. He could not find any other bodies. He apologizes for Harrow having to become a lyctor in order to kill Cytherea and asks Harrow to join him and fight with him. He also offers her the chance to return to her home if she would rather do that. She wouldn't. She kneels before the Emperor and rises as Harrow the First.