From The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker
(A Barnes & Noble Bestseller!)
The year is 1888. London is ghostly and gaslit. What fortune awaited sweet, timid Percy Parker at Athens Academy? Considering how few of Queen Victoria’s Londoners knew of it, the great Romanesque fortress was dreadfully imposing, and little could Percy guess what lay inside. She had never met the powerful and mysterious Professor Alexi Rychman, knew nothing of the growing shadow, the Ripper and other supernatural terrors against which his coterie stood guard. She knew simply that she was different, haunted, with her snow-white hair, pearlescent skin and uncanny gifts. But this arched stone doorway offered a portal to a new life, an education far from the convent—and an invitation to an intimate yet dangerous dance at the threshold of life and death….
From The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker – (Strangely Beautiful #1)...
Excerpt #1 - Prologue - London 1867
The air in London was grey. This was no surprise; but the common eye could not see the particular heaviness of the atmosphere or the unusual weight of this special day’s charcoal clouds: The sky was pregnant with a potent wind, for The Guard was searching for new hosts.
On to London they came, and that wind full of spirits began to course through the streets of the city; merciless, searching. Around corners, elbowing aside London’s commoners and high society alike, nudging their way through market crowds and tearing down dirty alleys, they sought their intended. A candle burst into flame in the window of a marquess’s house. The tiny cry of a young boy summoned his mother into the drawing room. Similar sounds went up in other parts of the city, confused gasps growing into amazed giggles before being subdued into solemnity. One by one the intended targets were seized.
Five …Where is Four? Ah … Four.
Alone and unaccompanied, the children left their respective houses and began to walk.
Searching for the final piece, the greatest of the possessors paused, a hesitating hunter. Deliberate. And, finally … the brightest, boldest, most promising catch of the day..
One, and done!
A sigh of relief. The city’s infamous fog thinned.
Only a bird above espied the six drawing toward London’s center; weaving through a maze of clattering carriages, stepping cautiously over putrid puddles, a sextet of children looked about the cluttered merchant lanes and sober business avenues with new eyes and saw strange sights. There were ghosts everywhere: floating through walls and windows, they rose up through streets and strolled beside quiet couples! One by one, each transparent form turned to the children, who could only stare in wonder and apprehension. In ethereal rags, spirits of every century bowed in deference, as if they were passing royalty.
Drawn in a pattern from all corners of London, the six children gathered in a knot at the crest of Westminster Bridge. Nodding a silent greeting to one another, or curtseying, the youths found each other’s faces unsettlingly mature. Excitement tempered only by confusion crept into their expressions as they evaluated their new peers, in garb ranging from fine clothing to simple frocks, their social statuses clearly as varied as their looks.
A spindly girl whose brown hair was pinned tightly to her head kept turning, looking for something, clutching the folds of her linen frock and shifting on the heels of her buttoned boots. It was her tentative voice that at last broke the silence: “Hello. I’m Rebecca. Where is our leader, then?”
A sturdy, ruddy-cheeked boy in a vest and cap, cuffs rolled to his elbows, gestured to the end of the street. “Hello, Rebecca, I’m Michael. Is that him?”
Approaching the cluster was a tall, well-dressed, unmistakable young man. A mop of dark hair held parley with the wind, blowing about the sharp features of his face, while timeless, even darker eyes burned in their sockets. His fine black suit gave the impression of a boy already a man. He reached the group and bowed, his presence magnetic, confident … and somewhat foreboding. In a rich, velvet voice deep as the water of the Thames, he spoke. “Good day. My name is Alexi Rychman, and this has turned into the strangest day of my life.”
Excerpt #2 - From Chapter One - London 1888
A young woman, the likes of which London had never seen, alighted from a carriage near Bloomsbury and gazed at the grand facade before her. Breathless at the sight of the Romanesque fortress of red sandstone that was to be her new home, she ascended the front steps beneath the portico with a carpetbag in tow. One slender, gloved hand heaved open the great arched door; Miss Percy Parker paused then stepped inside.
The foyer of Athens Academy held a few milling young men, papers and books in hand. Their jaws fell in turn. In the diffuse light cast by a single chandelier they saw a petite, unmistakable apparition. Dark blue glasses kept eerie, ice blue eyes from unsettling those stares that she nervously returned. Much of her snow-white skin was hidden from view by a scarf draped around her head and bosom, but only a mask could have hidden the ghostly pallor of her fine-featured face.
The sudden tinkling of a chandelier crystal broke the thick silence. Percy’s gaze flickered up to behold a young man, equally pale as herself, floating amid the gas flames. The transparent spirit wafted down to meet her. It was clear from the stares of the young men of solid mass, rudely focused on Percy, that they were oblivious. She herself acknowledged the ghost only subtly, lest she be thought distract as well as deformed.
The spectral schoolboy spoke in a soft Scots brogue. “You’d best give up your pretensions, miss. You’ll never be one of them. And you’re certainly not one of us. What the devil are you?”
Percy met the spirit’s hollow gaze. Behind her glasses, her opalescent eyes flared with defiance as she asked the room, her voice sweet and timid, “Could someone be so kind as to direct me to the headmistress’s office?” A gaping, living individual pointed to a hallway on her left, so she offered him a “Thank you, sir,” and fled, eager to escape all curiosity. The only sounds that followed were the rustling layers of her sky blue taffeta skirts and the echo of her booted footfalls down the hall.
HEADMISTRESS THOMPSON was scribed boldly across a large wooden door. Percy took a moment to catch her breath before knocking. She soon found herself in an office filled to overflowing with books. A sharp voice bade her sit, and she was promptly engulfed in a leather armchair. Across the desk sat a severe woman dressed primly in grey wool. Middle-aged and thin, she had a pinched nose and high cheekbones that gave her a birdlike quality, tight lips twisted in a half frown. Brown hair was piled atop her head, save one misbehaving lock at her temple.
Blue-grey eyes pierced Percy’s obscuring glasses. “Miss Parker, we’ve received word that you’re an uncommonly bright girl. I’m sure you’re well aware that your previous governance, unsure what to do with you, supposed you’d best be sent somewhere else. Becoming a sister did not suit you?” Percy had no time to wonder if this was sardonic or understanding, for the headmistress continued: “Your reverend mother made many inquiries before stumbling across our quiet little bastion. Considering your particular circumstances, I accepted you despite your age of eighteen. You’re older than many who attend here. I’m sure I needn’t tell you, Miss Parker, that at your age most women do not think it advantageous to remain … academic. I hope you know enough of the world outside convent walls to understand.” Headmistress Thompson’s sharp eyes suddenly softened and something mysterious twinkled there. “We must acknowledge the limitations of our world, Miss Parker. I, of course, chose to run an institution rather than a household.”
Percy couldn’t help but smile, drawn in by the headmistress’s conspiratorial turn, as if the woman considered herself unique by lifestyle inasmuch as Percy was unique by fate. But the woman’s amiability soon vanished. “We expect academic excellence in all subjects, Miss Parker. Your reverend mother proclaimed you quite proficient in several languages, with particularly keen knowledge of Latin, Hebrew and Greek. Would you consider yourself proficient?”
“I have no wish to flatter myself—”
“Honesty will suffice.”
“I’m f-fluent in several tongues,” Percy stammered. “I’m fondest of Greek. I know French, German, Spanish and Italian well. I dabble in Russian, Arabic, Gaelic … as well as a few ancient and obscure dialects.”
“Interesting.” The headmistress absently tapped the desk with her pen. “Do you attribute your affinity for foreign tongues to mere interest and diligence?”
Percy thought a moment. “This may sound very strange …”
“It may shock you how little I find strange, Miss Parker,” the headmistress replied. “Go on.”
Percy was emboldened. “Since childhood, certain things were innate. The moment I could read, I read in several languages as if they were native to me.” She bit her lip. “I suppose that sounds rather mad.”
There was a pause, yet to Percy’s relief the headmistress appeared unmoved. “Should you indeed prove such a linguist, and a well-rounded student, Athens may have ongoing work for you next year as an apprentice, Miss Parker.”
“Oh!” Percy’s face lit like a sunbeam. “I’d relish the opportunity! Thank you for your generous consideration, Headmistress.”
“You were raised in the abbey?”
“No immediate family?”
“Do you know anything of them? Is there a reason … ?”
Percy knew it was her skin that gave the woman pause. “I wish I could offer you an answer regarding my colour, Headmistress. It’s always been a mystery. I know nothing of my father. I was told my mother was Irish.”
“That is all you know?”
Percy shifted in her seat. “She died within the hour she brought me to the sisters. Perhaps I was a traumatic birth. She told Reverend Mother that she brought me to the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary because the Blessed Virgin herself had come proclaiming the child she bore must be an educated woman. And so she left them with that dying wish …” Percy looked away, pained. “My mother said her purpose had been fulfilled, and, as if she were simply used up, she died.”
“I see.” Miss Thompson made a few notes. It was well that Percy did not expect pity or sentiment, for she was given neither. “Miss Parker, Athens is unique in that we recognize all qualities in our students. We’ve a Quaker model here at Athens. We champion the equality of the sexes and I happen to believe that learning is not bound in books alone. It is my personal practice to ask our students if they believe they possess a gift. Other than your multiple languages, do you have any other particular talents?”
Percy swallowed hard. She was unprepared for this question. For anyone else it may have been a perfectly normal inquiry, but Percy knew she was far from average. “I have a rather strange manner of dreams."
The headmistress blinked. “We all dream, Miss Parker. That is nothing extraordinary. Unless these dreams come more in the manner of visions?”
Percy hoped the flash of panic in her eyes remained hidden behind her tinted glasses. Years ago, when Reverend Mother found out about the visions and ghosts, she’d put aside her shock to caution Percy about speaking of such things. Neither was something the science-mad, rational world would celebrate. Percy knew her appearance was odd enough, let alone seeing the dead or having visions. It was lonely to be so strange, and Percy wanted to confess everything she felt was wrong with her and have the headmistress accept her. But she also recalled the horrible day when unburdening her soul had caused a priest to try to exorcise her best friend, a ghost named Gregory, from the convent courtyard. She’d never find anyone who could truly understand. Thus, she would not associate herself with the word “vision,” and she would most certainly never again admit to seeing ghosts. She cleared her throat. “Those who claim to have visions are either holy or madmen.”
The headmistress was clearly taken aback, as much as her patrician façade might indicate: she arched an eyebrow. “As a girl raised in a convent, do you not consider yourself a woman of religion?”
Percy shifted again. Miss Thompson had unwittingly touched upon a troubling topic. Percy could not help but wonder about her faith. Those in her abbey’s order, the oldest of its kind existing in England, had withstood innumerable trials under the empire. Every novice and sister took fierce pride in their resilience and that of their elders. But Percy, a girl who kept and was left to herself, felt out of place, the colourless curiosity of her skin notwithstanding; her restless disposition had difficulty acquiescing to the rigours of the cloth. Only the presence of a spirit out of its time—such as her Elizabethan-era Gregory—had made her feel at home. No, doctrine could not explain the world as Percy knew it. An unsettling sense of fate made her ache in ways prayer could not wholly relieve. But none of this was appropriate to discuss in present circumstances. “I am a woman of … spirit, Headmistress. By no means would I commend myself holy. And I’d like to think I’m not mad.”
The raucous shriek of a bird came close to Miss Thompson’s window. The sound made Percy jump. A raven settled on the ledge outside. Percy couldn’t help but notice an oddly coloured patch on the large black bird’s breast. Percy didn’t stare further, lest she seem easily distracted. She waited for Headmistress Thompson’s gaze to pin her again, which it soon did.
“Dreams then, Miss Parker?”
“Yes, Headmistress. Just dreams.”
Excerpt #3 from Chapter Two:
From the eternally dim shadows of the Whisper-world a voice resonated like a deep, angry bell tolling three o’clock: “Where. Is. She?”
“I’ve no idea, dear,” replied a softer, feminine voice. “Was I supposed to do something about her? I thought you’ve been looking all this time. While you’ve only just noticed, it’s been eighteen of their years. She could be anywhere. She’s not my responsibility, you know.”
The deep voice grunted. “Do. Something.”
The woman sighed, her fair skin glowing in the moonlight. Placing her hands to her coiled tresses atop her head, she found something sharp. With a hiss, she brought her thumbs back into view; their pricked pads sprouted thick, dark jewels, garnets that began to overflow and weep. Lifting up her hands, she watched in fascination as the crimson trail spread from her thumbs onto her palms. She turned her hands one direction, then the other.
“Hmm,” she said after a long moment.
“Well?” pressed the voice in the shadows.
“London,” she replied.
“Something wicked, then?” the voice gurgled.
The woman turned and smiled, nonchalant. “By all means, let the dog loose.”
There was a grinding of stone. A ferocious growl erupted from the deep, before a barking, snarling, ugly cloud leaped into the sky. It vanished into the shimmering portal opposite the shadows where the woman’s master stood brooding, a portal where now rose the Tower of London.
The voice tolled again from the shadows. “There will be hell to pay.”
Excerpt #4 - From Chapter Five:
It was hard enough for death-white Percy to ignore the murmurs of the living, let alone those of the dead, who also sprinkled the school grounds. She heard everything, despite attempting to hide beneath her numerous accoutrements as she crossed the courtyard. Living students wondered if she was a ghost haunting the academy, while the dead wondered the same. She prayed to someday grow accustomed to this unnerving trial.
Alongside her, nineteen other students shuffled into a chamber that looked more like the nave of a gothic church than a classroom. It was filled with long tables, lined with stone beams and bordered by stained-glass windows of mythical creatures. Sitting near the back, Percy tried to become invisible. However, pale as she was, transparency was impossible.
She wished she could join those around her, the dead floating through the walls. Some spirits paid avid attention to the assembling class; some simply hung in a wandering breeze; while others chattered softly about the woes that tethered them to this world. Percy began to curse inwardly. She denounced the gift that alienated her from both populaces; she cursed her ability to see and hear those she more closely resembled, and also her kinship to the living who would never understand the strange sights that her eyes now found commonplace. It was as if she watched distant members of her family on both sides, but through windows that precluded her from joining them. Yet the family could not be ignored; there was always noise to keep them in mind.
A door burst open, and the assembled company, ghosts included, started. Out from an office at the front of the room strode a tall figure in black, and the ensuing silence was deafening.
The newcomer turned to face his students. Percy’s breath caught. Here stood the most striking man she had ever seen. Lustrous dark hair hung loosely to broad shoulders. A few locks turned out in an unkempt manner contrary to the rest of his appearance, while a few strands clung to his noble, chiseled features—a long nose, high cheekbones, defined lips like a Grecian sculpture and impossibly dark eyes. He was dressed in a long professorial robe that hung open over a smartly buttoned velvet vest, and a crimson cravat at the throat was the only colour this distinguished figure sported.
Percy gaped a moment before coming to her senses and shutting her mouth, her face growing hot. The professor’s hair was not greying, yet a few creases upon his regal forehead betrayed years of deep thought. Percy guessed that he might be twice her own eighteen years—and yet, as she looked around, she found her male peers plain and unremarkable in comparison. She felt a pang of recognition, too, that bothered her greatly. Percy would never have forgotten seeing such a man. And there was something in his personality, in his commanding presence, which was beyond the limits of mortality.
As the two other females in the room appeared wholly unaffected, Percy ordered her heart to stop racing; its intoxicated pace was alarming, and she chided herself for such a foolish, hasty spark. Nonetheless, her distaste for science suddenly seemed an extraordinary misfortune, as she hated the thought of doing poorly in a class taught by someone so breathtaking.
He wrote a name upon the board in scrawling script. His voice took hold of his audience, a richly resonant, unparalleled baritone. "I am Professor Rychman. Welcome to my class.” He swept the room with his eyes, coolly evaluating his new students. When his gaze found Percy, it lingered. Caught in that stare, she shrank into her chair. Though his eyes widened, she could see him make an effort to remain polite. After a moment, Percy realized his expression wasn’t one of disgust, mockery or even surprise; it was confusion. Odd. He began a roll call, managing to steal just one more glance in her direction. Then he arrived at her name. “Miss P. Parker?”
“H-here, sir.” Percy raised her hand.
The professor looked up from his roster. All eyes were upon her. Percy squirmed. The professor nodded slowly, as if he were trying to decipher a riddle. Then he moved on to the next name, and Percy could breathe again.
Class began. Professor Rychman was ruthless with his subject matter, and he flew through what he considered background material and began scribbling unending sequences of letters and symbols in all manner of baffling arrangements. Percy attempted to take notes but was soon lost. Hypnotized by the stern yet melodic sound of his voice, she found herself swept away by the cadence of his speech. Every movement and sentence held impossible confidence. His eyes managed to stare down every student over the course of the lecture, and even when his back was turned, his presence gripped the room. And by the end … Percy had a page full of numbers, dashes and circles, but no a clue as to their meaning.
Over the course of his second class of the day, Alexi repeatedly found himself staring past the spirits that floated through his classroom, focusing instead on a living girl who looked like one of their number. He would never admit to his students that he saw spirits; it was not something a man of science or sanity admitted. Still, he could not help but think Luminous as he stared at Miss P. Parker, imagining her a body possessed. But this student seemed in no distress, other than her nerves, perhaps, and none of his internal alarms was raised.
He wondered at the age of this unmistakable Miss Parker, for while it was clear her smooth cheek was young, there was something that distinguished her from youth, her pallor notwithstanding. A timelessness. It did not signify. The true Grand Work would not involve his students.
Excerpt #5 - From Chapter Seven
"Incredible,” Alexi stated, approaching. “What an omen.”
Alexi and Rebecca stared at the feather of blue fire floating at the center of the foyer.
Alexi and Rebecca stared at the feather of blue fire floating at the center of the foyer.
"Indeed,” Rebecca murmured, following.
"And here we were worried about signs being too subtle to detect.”
Alexi drew close. The transparent feather responded to his proximity, its fire leaping higher. The image danced and shimmered, inviting Alexi to reach out a hand. Rebecca steadied him, cautious, but he shirked her warning and allowed his fingers to tickle the edges, to pass through the phantom image.
Rebecca clamped her hands across her mouth to hold in a cry of surprise. Though she knew her students could not see what she saw, she would not take chances; she had cordoned off the entire floor, claiming repairs. But … Alexi had turned into an angel. Huge, phantom wings burst from his back, made of that same bluish, wispy flame, and he was snapped into place atop the school seal by a force unseen, the feather emblazoning his torso. He stared, wide-eyed, at the gossamer wings and robe whipping about his ankles with great force.
“My God,” he declared. “Perhaps that myth of ours is true after all …”
It was past time for their meeting as they assembled. Five of the six Guard entered the chapel at intervals, filing past the amber stained-glass seraphim in the windows, whispering devotions and phrases in a tongue long unheard and long forgotten. A warm blue glow grew in the air, beginning as tendrils of mist upon the marble floor before lifting like a breeze to the rafters above and hanging there like a cloud.
The five figures soon stood silently at the altar beneath the white bird of peace and closed their eyes in meditation. The stained-glass guardian angels glowed. The blue cloud of power trembled.
The door of the chapel was thrown open, and the formidable Professor Rychman swept in, his black garments accented by a flourish of burgundy at his throat. Six candles upon the altar immediately burst into flame. Alexi’s voice broke the silence. “Good evening, friends. To our sacred depths,” he commanded, “where I’ll tell you of our omen. And perhaps the goddess will return to tell us more!”
With a slight rending sound, the altar became their large black door, bluish light dancing around it, a corridor and staircase beyond. The Guard filed past and down, into their sacred space. A strange music, a low chant of mysterious vintage floated up through the air. Closing, the door once again gave way to a plain altar, and the chapel was left empty.
From the far reaches of the Whisper-world, there came a pounding sound of organic matter against stone. The woman in the silver moonlight winced as the shadows rumbled in anger.
“What to do, then, if she cannot be found?” asked the tolling voice of Darkness.
"Give us time, dear,” the woman answered. “You’ve been without her for many mortal years. You could do with a bit of patience.”
“They. Are. Protecting. Her.”
“I rather think she’s protecting herself,” was the woman’s muttered reply.
“Then we must shake down the city. The world. Until we find her. Undo it. Take down the barrier, rip it open.”
“Really?” The woman brightened, her lips suddenly wet. “Loosening the pins? Why, Master, that’s quite bold of you after all these years.”
“So it would seem!” the woman breathed, excited. “I’ll tell the Groundskeeper to attempt the Undoing. Chaos, heed the cries of waking war!”
Excerpt #6 - From Chapter Eleven
Percy’s latest recurrent vision was a hazy one where she was standing in the middle of a circle, surrounded by shafts of light. Music—inhuman, beautiful, incomprehensible—was everywhere, playing inside of her and out. This music, which she had no words to describe, lingered on in faint strains throughout the day.
It was while Professor Rychman was in the midst of a tutorial lecture of particular eloquence that Percy roused from the vision to find him snapping his fingers in front of her face. She started, fumbled an apology, wrung her hands. “Oh, Professor! I’ve no d-doubt that your patience for me is at an end,” she stammered. “But I swear on my life that I listen to your every word and—”
The professor sighed. “Miss Parker, I wish you felt more at ease here. If you did, you might take to things with more surety.”
"I am, sir. At ease, I mean. Well, I … Oh, dear.” Feeling a fool, she looked away.
“At ease. Indeed?”
Percy folded her hands upon the desk. “I suppose not. Forgive my timidity. It undermines any hope I have for collected composure.”
“Your composure, Miss Parker, is nearly regal,” he replied. “That is, it would be if you stopped hiding.”
Percy blinked through her glasses at him. “Hiding?”
“With your shrouds and your shields I cannot tell when you are comprehending what I say. It is common knowledge that the eyes are the window to the soul, but your windows are shuttered. What they have to say has been muted.”
“But sir, the sun, the light—”
“Does the sun shine here, Miss Parker? You told me you were comfortable.”
“Well, I am, sir. Here the room is perfect but, outside, people stare and—”
The professor interrupted without pity or pause. “Do you include me in that number, Miss Parker? I would hope you realize that I have more important things to do than gawk as if you were a museum piece.” He leveled his gaze at her before returning to transcribing notes from a text.
“Of course, sir,” Percy replied. “Of course I realize that.”
“I call it hiding,” the professor repeated.
Percy let out a brief sigh, knowing she had no choice but to muster a bit of courage. She feared his reaction more than she could say, but he left no other option. “Very well, sir,” she remarked with quiet resolution. She rose from her chair, turned her back to him and began to remove her barriers.
She had not realized the entirety of the feeling of security they gave until she was confronted with her protections’ removal. After her careful hands removed glasses, gloves and long scarf, Percy felt naked. Vulnerable. Indecent. Yet, she reminded herself, it had not been her idea to lower her defenses. If the professor was to be disgusted—which was her greatest fear—it was through no fault of her own. The thought brought no comfort.
Tresses of lustrous, snow-white hair tumbled from their clothbound imprisonment, streaming like snowfall down the girl’s back. In an effort to make his student more at ease, Alexi did his best to appear wholly disinterested as she carefully removed her protections with delicate, private ceremony. But then she turned to face him, clutching those items that had held her unusual features in mystery. He forced his eyes to his book.
“As you would have it so, Professor, here is your pupil in all her ghastliness.”
Alexi looked up. Though Miss Parker’s hands clearly trembled, her voice did not.
His furrowed, generally disapproving brow rose slightly, and he leaned back in his chair and took her in. Luminous crystal eyes held streaks of pale blue shooting from tiny black pupils. A face youthful but devoid of colour, smooth and unblemished like porcelain, had graceful lines as well defined and proportioned as a marble statue. Her long, blanched locks shimmered in the candlelight like spider silk. Upon high cheekbones lay hints of rouge—any more would have appeared garish against her blindingly white skin, but she had been artful in her application. Her rosebud lips were tinted in the same manner.
She was attuned to even the most minuscule response. Her merciless, hypnotic gaze found his and she frowned. “You see, Professor, even you, so stern and stoic, cannot hide your shock, surprise, distaste—”
“Distaste?” he interrupted quietly. “Is that what you see?”
If Percy had taken the time to truly consider his response, she would have noticed that his tone was far from distasteful; it was, in fact, flattering. But she plowed on, choosing hurt. “What else can one feel when they behold living flesh that looks dead?”
"You assume ghost and not angel?”
Those words in regard to herself made Percy’s heart convulse. Surely he could not have intended a compliment. “I … I would never presume to liken myself to anything heavenly, Professor.”
“Indeed? Then it would seem that you, Miss Parker, are more modest than I.” If there had been an admiring look in his eye, it was quickly gone. The professor blandly donned his glasses. “Now, come take your seat. No more hiding, not in this office. Never again.”
“That is still your wish?” Percy asked.
Percy put down her things with a sigh. But as the lesson continued, she began to relax, seeing that he looked at her with no other quality but the expectation of fastidious attention. Once his lecture was complete, she was excused with an assignment and a curt nod. Percy donned her scarf, her gloves and her glasses with delicate deliberation, preparing to walk out again into the world. But halfway to the door after bidding the professor a quiet farewell, books in hand, she stopped and turned around.
The professor, busying himself at his desk, could evidently feel the weight of her stare; he looked up after a moment. “Yes, Miss Parker?”
“Thank you, Professor."
“You are … the only man who has not made me feel as if I were on display.”
The professor blinked, his face expressionless. “You are a student and not an exhibit, Miss Parker. Good day.”
Percy curtseyed in response. Exiting the office, she felt heartened and keenly alive. Her blood murmured strangely in her veins. She wasn’t sure she’d ever been so happy.
As soon as the door closed behind Miss Parker, Alexi opened a drawer, withdrew his notebook and hurled it onto his desk. His pen flew. He did not allow himself to think of the implications of this previously unknown anxiety that was building inside.
“Miss Parker,” he said aloud as he wrote. “A ghost? Not my goddess in colours, but in fact the mirror opposite. Colourless. And yet, uniquely beautiful. Could her ghostly yet angelic appearance actually be a warning? Is she to be trusted or avoided? Why am I not dismissing her entirely, as I ought? She is a student! Why dare I even consider her? More the goddess is that ineffable Miss Linden, with her own clues, all those familiar words … And yet I sense in Miss Parker a gentleness similar to my goddess of two decades past. Which of them is the true seventh—if indeed either? Neither gentleness nor beauty, no matter how unusual, make Prophecy!” He slammed the book closed, knowing the fate of the world rested on his shoulders.
(END OF EXCERPTS)
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