Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Chapter 5.2 (For previous chapters please see links on the right column)

Crenfall kept counting the bugs on the sill of his cell.
It occurred to me after a while that it was in a sequence, and it didn’t necessarily match the creatures on the sill. I'd never been particularly gifted at mathematics, but I did take note of it, and Mrs. Northe seemed to as well. But I wished to write down the numbers.
That I hadn't traveled with a diary frustrated me. Mere months ago I'd have never been without paper, to write things down to communicate as my voice had been absent for so many years. What a strange thing to have taken for granted. How interesting that I'd so readily abandoned such an intrinsic tool of survival. We are adaptable creatures. Well, some of us. The man before me hadn't adapted. He'd broken in two...

Mrs. Northe repeated what she'd said, that she had questions, and the clouds of madness seemed to part and an eerie lucidity shone through like a jarring ray of sunlight.

"You've questions?" he said in wispy voice. "About why I'm here?"

"Yes, please. Tell us why you're here."

"You cannot beat the Majesties, you know. You'll fall under the Master in the end. Everyone will," he said matter-of-factly.

"I'm sure that's true," Mrs. Northe said softly, with a quiet conspiratorial air. "And I've been wanting to know why I've been chosen to see and know some of your secrets." Crenfall narrowed his eyes at her. "I brought Lord Denbury's portrait into the Metropolitan, Mister Crenfall. I've been trying to learn the ways of this society, but I cannot do that without a guide," she murmured, playing as though she were excited. Crenfall puffed up his chest proudly. "What we should expect and welcome from these Masters?"

"Expect that the gentlemen will want everything. You can welcome his taking of what is rightfully theirs. They are not hasty. Their revolution is quiet and dark. The minion and I were sent from London. Ahead of operations.”

"The minion. Lord Denbury, you mean?" Mrs. Northe clarified.

"No." Crenfall grinned. "But he looked an awful lot like him, didn't he..." The man's ugly, raspy laugh bounced about the dank stone space.

"What sort of operations?" I hissed through clenched teeth, balling my fist, wanting to lash out at his casual reference to what had been an experience of unmitigated hell for Jonathon.

"You know, business," Crenfall replied, turning a sick smile to me. "New business. Pretty business."

I shuddered. The demon had liked to use the word "pretty." A demon who had gotten far too close... I shoved the memories back.

"How many people were sent here?" Mrs. Northe continued.

"Just the inhabited young lord and I first. A Majesty will follow. And soon. A shadow has already been cast over doctors. More experiments, you know."

"Business...and experiments, these will be wholly in New York? Or more places?"

"To take preeminence anywhere, one must certainly have deep roots in New York City," Crenfall stated as if that were obvious. "Grand and central, all tracks will lead home."

The word home seemed to set him off, he winced and something darkened. "The abyss. We come from the abyss. We return to the abyss. In the end the dark will always take you so take it first and it will be kind, a soft touch, gentle decay, nothing to fear. The paths are worn deep with heavy tread, those we serve, those who have come before to do the dirty deeds. Such dirt. We are filthy creatures, mankind..."

It was hard to follow, his mental landscape a tangle. He repeated a few choice words, touching upon abysses and filth, eventually leaving his ode to pierce us again with wide, terrible eyes. He continued more lucidly: "Here the new world order shall unfold. The old order. The old shall be new again. The dead, alive. The peaceful, militant. The leaders restored. The striving, crushed. And the content, terrified."

And then suddenly, he rushed at us, shrieking. We scrambled backward, startled by the extreme outburst. The orderly was instantly upon Crenfall, who murmured apologies as he retreated back into his corner once more. "I get these fits, madame," Crenfall whined to Mrs. Northe, sweeping a terrified gaze to me, then to the orderly. "Please, I'm sorry. I'll be better..."

"It's all right sir, thank you." Mrs. Northe placed a calming hand on the orderly's forearm.

Crenfall begged again, cringing. "Please understand. I did not start this with the desire to hurt anyone. I only wanted to serve. For the world to be sorted properly. But once you choose a path and walk it a while...there is no turning back."

Mrs. Northe stood her ground and maintained her gentle but unequivocal tone. "Tell me where your associates meet. Names, if you can."

Crenfall looked at us helplessly, murmuring, wide-eyed, "They're all Majesties. We don't know their true names. Such power in names, you know. Their blood is the finest. And they will situate themselves among the grand and glorious, the central and the vital. Better to seize the heart of the city."

"He's raving, madame. I hope you've sense enough to see that," the orderly growled, his fist still threatening. Mrs. Northe offered the orderly a reassuring gesture.

"I'm trying... I'm trying to serve," Crenfall murmured, offering up a soft plea. "Please bestow your grace upon me...for I do grow scared of the dark..." And he was off again, counting the insects round his window bars, only with a few more tears on his cheek, and no other urging from Mrs. Northe garnered any response.

Mrs. Northe turned to me, and I saw a tired, old pain I was seeing more frequently. Or perhaps I was simply more insightful. She spoke softly as we left the cell. “I realize that this branch of doctors, scientists, and analysts are called Alienists because these people are alienated from society, from everything we think of as capable and compatible with our average existence. But their patients are still human. They are not so alien that I cannot still feel them, straining at my mind, their souls reaching out as their hands do. For something. Someone. For a shred of light, sunlight, quiet...anything to grasp.”

This was my thought as I walked away, the head Alienist waiting for us, having listened in, his face contorted in disapproval that he thankfully kept to himself.

We made our way back toward the entrance, past chambers of experimental operation, activity that appeared on all accounts to be somewhat medieval and torturous. If I strained to hear it, I wondered if I’d feel the heartbeat of misery. Surely Mrs. Northe did, for it seemed she could not help herself, lashing out at the attending Alienist. "As a rule, are you cruel?"

The man just stared at her as if he didn't understand her question.

As we made our exit, a young man in a black suit, with pale skin, dark eyes, and an arm held at an angle entered. Palpable sadness was writ wide within his dark eyes. The crash of water sounded nearby. Likely a man strapped to a chair plunged into a submersion tank, as I'd seen in passing. "Barbaric," he murmured.

"Yes, doctor, so you've said," came the weary reply from the warden at the door. "Do open your own institution then instead, will you?"

I couldn't help but turn to the slight man whose presence was magnetic, whose eyes were so fierce, and smile. He returned it, an action that transformed his face, removing his hat as he bowed his head to me and then Mrs. Northe before walking away, making us all passing strangers once more.

“I was about to decry that there were no persons of true feeling I’d yet seen in a place like this,” Mrs. Northe murmured, nodding after the man. “Perhaps there is hope for the hopeless. I always say that there is, as a general rule, but sometimes…those are just hollow words.”

Hope for the hopeless. That made me think of Maggie, and as we stepped outside those doors, straining toward that open lawn beyond, I blurted:

“Please tell me Maggie won’t be brought to a place like this. What happens when she’s well enough?”

Mrs. Northe sighed as we climbed again into the calash that she had instructed come back around for us to take us again to the small steam ferry that would chug gladly back to Manhattan. We sped away from the looming complex, and I did not look back. She turned to me with a withering stare that caused me to shrink back in the bouncing seat.

"Do you really think so little of me that I'd let Maggie, my niece, misguided as she is, be swept away into these terrible systems?" she asked, her voice pained. "These days a woman can get committed for reading a romance novel, let alone "witchcraft," and I swiftly put my sister's vain head out of that notion. It's no wonder Margaret was seeking something more meaningful out of life. Her mother seemed more concerned with the family reputation than whether or not her daughter was well. I'm sending her off to Chicago, to be looked after by one of my dearest friends in all the world, Miss Karen Sheldon. She and my dear Amelia, the one that died, are...were...bosom friends. Maggie will be in the best of care and company with Karen."

"And yet you opened your home to Lavinia Kent, but not your own niece—"

"My sister wanted Maggie sent away. This was the compromise. Please don't question me," Mrs. Northe snapped. "I would hope you know enough by now that my friends, to the last one of them, are incredible, I daresay magical people. Karen is...inconsolable in losing Amelia, they lived together since they were girls in school, and this mission might just save two souls at once. Karen is very gifted empath and will seek out the root of Maggie's trouble and return her to us well again."

Boarding the steamboat, sprawling Manhattan lay ahead of us, and as always I was stunned by the skyline, the looming towers of the mid-complete Brooklyn Bridge, a behemoth of gothic stone straining to the sky, the churning industry along the river, the bobbing masts of countless ships and the puffs of constant steam engines. Busy, churning, burning New York. A devil in your midst wants to eat you whole. But does it not underestimate you, grand city?

"So did we gain anything?" I asked, turning the subject away from Maggie. I was relieved by Mrs. Northe's assurances but still not sure what to think, wondering if Maggie would ever recover, if there was anything left for us as possible friends, even after all the stupid things she'd done.

I thought of what had struck me in Crenfall's words, words that may have meant something. I had grown accustomed to picking apart single words as clues; the magic that had imprisoned Denbury worked off specific words, a direct spell. Words had far more power than people gave them credit for. As a girl who'd spent a good bit of her life mute, I appreciated that fact more than most. "The grand and the central," I stated. "Do you think there's something going on near the Depot? Grand Central Depot?" I wanted to compare that area to the addresses Brinkman offered Jonathon and see if there was any rhyme or reason to them.

"I do, yes," Mrs. Northe said, nodding, her expression fixed in concentration. "And then there were the numbers. And then the reference to Majesties. High-born folk, which would explain the connection with the English, who have more stratifications that we'd like to think we have here, though they merely take different forms, and the discussion of what seemed to be a societal shift. And the ancient power of the name once more. If there are further spells afoot, we must keep that at the core. I ought to have written those numbers down. There is code in madness, and sense in code. Incredible works of scripture and art have been written in odd sequences and fantastical scenarios. But it was familiar to me. I think it may have been related to the golden ratio. But rearranged...”

I blinked at her, hoping she’d explain. She smiled. “I thought your father may have explained that one to you at some point. The golden ratio is a mathematical concept that can be applied to art. It’s thought to be divine, a ratio of composition and proportion that is thought to be most pleasing to the eye, a pattern that repeats in nature, something Godly. Ah. Yes, that’s why it was odd.”

“Crenfall was doing it backward, then,” I offered. “Inverted.”

“Precisely.” She chuckled mordantly. “At least these wretches are consistent in their disregard for the proper order of things. It would seem they’d prefer the world be inside out.”

“Just chaos?” I asked. I thought about what we knew so far, the demon’s insinuations of a new dawn. “Surely they want more than anarchy. What does mere chaos buy them, other than perhaps entertainment?”

“Oh, there is a greater agenda, but the true scope of it seems to elude me. All the paranormal experimentation has to be leading to something, but I’m just not sure exactly what. I believe they seek weapons of control and terror, the soul-splitting and the reanimation and the chemicals are part of that quest, but to what end they'll be used I’m still not sure.”

Having transferred to a trolley car and after a two block walk to her townhouse, Mrs. Northe brought me into her parlor, and I, of course, looked around and listened for any signs of Jonathon's presence, but there were none, to my great disappointment. I'd become used to catching him up on information immediately, and the thought that he was out and about without me was a fresh torture, the kind I'd only felt when he had gone to England to attempt to sort out his affairs.

When I'd first met him, our souls had communed through a painting, and with a flood of guilt, I realized I'd liked it—or at least felt more confident—when he was trapped, as it was a measure of control I'd had over the situation. I didn't like that at all; the realization looked ugly to me when I pondered it within me. I needed to allow him to affect his situation for the better on his own. I'd seen the sort of revitalization of his spirit that his own direct action had wrought. Being his savior had been delicious for me, a power like I'd never known. I craved that sensation again and empathized with the addict of some powerful drug.

Mrs. Northe waited for her maid to leave before she continued with her thoughts, proffering the tea that had been prepared for us. "I've been worried that Crenfall is a liability to us, that if a Master's Society member were to interrogate him it could jeopardize us. But it would appear Crenfall and the demon were lone operatives without a direct overseer. At least not one who could have foreseen the final business with the painting. Considering the timing, Crenfall couldn't have managed to see the portrait in pieces, so I doubt he could be an informant, though we might want to make your father aware that the Metropolitan might be a source of intrigue, if any of them still think Lord Denbury's painted prison still hangs there, and not in pieces."

I stared at my hands, the worn lace gloves I needed to mend a couple of fingertips of, and felt overwhelmed as how could we pick out Society operatives in a city thronged with people. Anyone, anywhere, on any street, could be looking for us. It was maddening. I picked up the teacup and forced myself not to shake; trembling was tedious to me at this point. I dearly did not want to appear as fragile as I felt. I felt Mrs. Northe's eyes upon me before she continued:

"I can't imagine it would have occurred to 'society operatives' that a mute girl would speak the counter-curse to set Lord Denbury free, so you may yet be safe while his cover may have to remain carefully in question. We don't know what could have gotten back to London. I made sure that Mr. Smith cleaned up everything around Preston's hospital wing. The staff there was informed of his suicide, and no one seemed very surprised, glad to have the wing reopen without his morbid presence and constant séances."

Well. His suicide wasn't entirely a lie; Preston had most certainly brought on his death himself. It was just a bit more complicated, with reanimate corpses and ghosts holding surgical scalpels. The thought of Mrs. Northe's personal guard Mr. Smith stalking about in his eerie, quiet way, tying up loose ends and settling matters with unsettling efficiency, brought a perverse smile to my face. He was the most inscrutable man I'd ever met, but I trusted him.

Mrs. Northe, seeing that there were no more queries or answers for the day, knowing we already had plenty to think about, had a carriage brought round to my home. I entered a quiet house with Father quiet in the study, went quietly to my room in the quiet way that was so often comfortable between us. Then, as I sat gingerly upon my bed, there came the terrible question of what to do with myself next.

My thoughts turned dark, and I knew, before I even closed my eyes, that a nightmare would come.
And I knew it would be one for the record books.


(End of Chapter 5.2 -- 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! The Magic Most Foul team really hopes the audience will continue to grow and it can only do so with YOUR help! If you haven't already, do 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! Donations directly support the editorial staff.

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