Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Chapter 3.2 (For previous chapters, please see the links on the right sidebar)

Maybe Jonathon felt it was only the little lady who should keep her head down while he was out playing double agent. I balled my hands into fists in the lap of my skirt, glad for the lovely lace tablecloth to hide my gesture. Perhaps he wanted revenge against my refusal of his proposal and was reasserting his own ability to take actions apart from me.

Would he go meet Brinkman on his own? No. I'd seen the route. I was not about to let him edge me out of this. I hadn't saved his life, risked my life, nearly died twice, and undergone a host of nightmares that would make Poe envious for their morbidity.

I realized my soup spoon was loud against the bowl, that I'd merely been turning it, not eating it, and thankfully it was cleared for some sort of poultry in a fine glaze that I'm sure would have smelled and seemed delicious were I in a mood to enjoy it.

"We'll have to face them eventually," Jonathon declared. "With what weaponry, I've no idea. But I feel the pall. I know their demonic forces are poisoning the city. I've seen flickers of red-gold fire across the jagged skyline, treetops, bridge spires. The city will fall to the whispers of demons if we're not careful."

"Yes, it will," Lavinia said, in a frightfully certain murmur.

"Only if you stop being vigilant will the city fall," Mrs. Northe countered. "You, yourselves, have always been the weaponry. Guns or blades may not help you. You know your best arsenal. You must be blindingly bright," she commanded. "Defiantly radiant."
I scowled. "How can I after all we've endured?"

Mrs. Northe's nostrils flared, and she pounded her gloved fist upon the table, rattling all her fine china settings. "Because now, right now, is when you need to shine the brightest! Now is when the enemy expects you to be dim, broken, helpless, and afraid!" Her passion was sudden, her words tremulous, eyes hard as she drove a rapier point home to its target.

"If you do not blaze like a dying star, my child, then you might as well be already dead, no longer glittering in the sky of promise God intends for you. You must be spectacularly luminous. Burn far hotter than you're able. Beam for your dear life, child. The world is nothing but shadow and dead ends. Only your own fire can light a way out of the maze."

"Amen," Reverend Blessing murmured.

The rest of our meal was spent mostly in silence, with a bit of small talk about art and a few amusing Washington anecdotes from Senator Bishop. He was savvy enough not to bring real political issues to the table.

But all I could think about was what lay ahead and if Jonathon and I could remain the solid team we'd been thus far in trying times. I was a woman of faith who was full of doubt. What could a ragtag band of Spiritualists, a senator, exorcist, a British Lord, a museum curator, and whatever I was—some Lutheran magnet for nightmares and the fancies of demons—do against a wealthy, resourced secret society who distributed murder and mayhem like a calling card to calling hours? I wanted to see a way out of the maze, but for the life of me, and maybe yet the death of me, I couldn't.

As per tradition in fine dinner parties, the men went off to the dark wood and leather of the late Mr. Northe’s study to smoke cigars and talk about being masters of their domain or some such masculine chatter, and the ladies went off to the soft, lace-filled parlor to do the same. From Jonathon’s reports, that male-driven room had been immaculately maintained and kept nearly overstocked with all kinds of fine liquor and exquisite cigars.

I wondered how often Mr. Bishop was over to partake of these treasures as well. Peter Northe had been gone for at least seven years if I remembered correctly, but it would seem his favorite supplies would be refilled in perpetuity. Perhaps his widow felt some part of him lingered on in the fine things enjoyed by the other interesting men who entertained at her home. I wondered if she heard his spirit speak, what he’d think of the growing closeness between my father and his widow, or just what the presence of Senator Bishop meant, as they too appeared far too familiar for mere friends. The energy between them seemed sibling in nature, but then again Mrs. Northe was a mystery. Just another question to add to my growing tally.

“You’ve a lot on your mind, Natalie,” Mrs. Northe murmured over her shoulder as she led Lavinia ahead of her to the parlor where the maid had set out tea and aperitifs. Lavina floated ahead as if she were a ghost, her thin frame alighting upon a divan, black layers splaying out, her eyes downcast, her expression lost in some reverie.

I set my jaw, wishing I could better hide things from her, as this was not the time, in a stranger’s company, to unload all that gnawed at me. “That I do.”

“Whatever you think I may have neglected, I hope you’ll do me some credit and believe that I have taken actions on all counts that require concern.”

I looked into her steely eyes, bright and powerful, and somehow I was sure she was talking about Maggie. I hoped she’d elaborate at the appropriate time. She then leaned close and murmured, “I’m going to interview the madman Crenfall to see if I can get a hint from him about the root of Society operations in the city. I don’t expect much, but any lead is better than none. Care to come with me?”

And in one swift rush, all my doubts and my frustrations were forgotten in the excitement that was being included in secret operations by this most compelling woman. I was under her thrall yet again.

“Yes, I’d like that very much.”

“No, you won’t like it at all. Asylums are horrid places, but—”

“But I can’t bear being useless.”

“Indeed, I figure you’d be less trouble if I took you with me. Tomorrow?”

“No, we’re…” I looked up in her eyes, and I felt my cheeks color. I was not a good at lying if I was quite sure my lie would be discovered. It was so hard to be artful around a clairvoyant. “Busy.”

“Indeed. Not tomorrow? The day after, then. I’ll tell your father we’re out for lunch. I’ll indeed feed you, though I’m not sure we’ll have much of an appetite after we’re done with the place.”

I just nodded, feeling a bit helpless and useless, wondering if, like the times before, the dark magic was just waiting around another corner I hadn't anticipated. But at least my next two days would prove eventful. It was true, I was less trouble if I was busy. After a moment I realized Lavinia was staring at me with an intense scrutiny that surpassed custom.

“You’re well intentioned, Miss Natalie. Worried you’ll fail, but well intentioned,” Lavinia said quietly, before turning to Mrs. Northe and elaborating. “It’s odd, ever since the incident, I smell things about persons, subtle scents, but suddenly I feel like I know the truth of their heart. You and the senator are powerful and inscrutable, but similarly well intentioned, though world-weary. I can sense it as if I were to taste the salt air of a long sea voyage.” She stopped herself as if she took a moment to truly listen to her own words, unsettled by their odd poetry.

“No, I don’t think you’re mad, before you ask,” Mrs. Northe reassured the girl before she could even think to mitigate her words. That sounded familiar. In the early days of our acquaintance, when I was convinced I was seeing the painting where Jonathon's soul was imprisoned move, Mrs. Northe had said the same thing to me, bless her.

“Jonathon sees that in auras," I offered. "The ability to judge character that you describe. Those of us who have been targeted by the Society end up, it would seem, coming away with more than we bargained for, but something that can be useful in the right circumstances, as long as you’re brave enough to use it. I look at it as God trying to give us an advantage, a weapon borne out of toil and pain.”

I'm not sure Mrs. Northe had ever given me such a proud look as she did just then. I suppose I sounded sort of like her.

Lavinia stared at me, seeming to gain the kind of strength and sense of purpose I felt when I was called to save Jonathon, me and me alone. I found myself liking this girl who seemed to wish to rise to the challenge, not hide from it in fear. But the struggle was there in her pale eyes. I knew that too.

Of course a thoughtful, complex girl like Lavinia Kent would be Mrs. Northe’s new project instead of her entitled, narrow-minded niece. Still, I’d have to see if there was something I could do to help Maggie, even if Mrs. Northe wouldn’t. The idiot girl had nearly gotten me killed, but I had the sense that I owed her some sympathy and aid. Maggie was a product of her age, her family. When I lost my ability to speak as a child, I'd become an outcast, I had to think of life differently, fend for myself differently. Miss Kent chose an outsider's perspective due to her interests. Maggie was the sort of girl society expected her to be, until she toyed too close to the fires of dark magic and got us burned. But I was stronger than Maggie. I had to earn Lavinia’s sense that I was well intentioned. Not only for myself, but for others.

We sipped some sort of sugary liqueur, and Lavinia drank in Mrs. Northe’s next instructions as if they were gospel. “Now, my dear girl, you must reach out to the rest of the members of your association and make sure none of them are trying to get ahold of the substance again, and if they are, we need to intercept those channels. Can you do this?”

Lavinia nodded. “I’ll make my rounds tomorrow.”

Tomorrow. Day by day, fate unfolded. Carefully, wrought with the terrible dread that hell would suddenly open before us. I feared the Master’s Society had been busy creating pitfalls for us, traps for us to walk into… My morbid imagination had been given such fodder in the past months that anything was possible and all I could do was pray. But even prayer felt like flimsy comfort against a widening net that sought to catch us up and feed…

Before long we parted our ways with pleasantries I hardly remembered; they all felt a bit forced, all of us sensitive and aware enough that we sat in the eye of the storm, a maelstrom underground, swirling around us, ready to drag us under like Hades did Persephone.

That night I wondered if I’d dream, all sorts of things having been stirred up. For the past two weeks, my nightmares had been dormant, meaning we did at least have some effect on pushing the dark magic back from whence it came. There were flashes in my dreams, nothing concrete, just vague shadows and the back of Jonathon. Walking away from me…and the hollowness that remained in his absence...


(End of Chapter 3.2 -- Copyright 2013 Leanna Renee Hieber, The Magic Most Foul saga - If you like what you see, please share this link with friends, Tweet it, FB, + it! Please pick up a copy of Magic Most Foul books 1 and 2: Darker Still and The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and/or donate to the cause via the donate button on the sidebar! Cheers! Happy haunting! See you next Tuesday!)

1 comment:

houndstooth said...

Well, it seems that if someone is trying to divide Lord Denbury from Miss Natalie that they're doing quite a job of it! I hope they wise up!