(For previous chapters, see right side bar. If viewing by mobile, scroll down from http://leannareneebooks.blogspot.com for all chapters)
The body remained too near to me as it fell flat, but even though I wanted to scramble away, shock and terror rooted me.
There was then, as one might imagine, panic in Mrs. Northe's fine home. A few screams pierced the suddenly fraught room, awash in murmurs and stirrings, our collective trance so rudely jarred into a living nightmare.
Lavinia rushed up to Nathaniel and murmured in his ear. He placed a protective hand upon the small of her back, nodding confidently as she shared something insistent. She drew the tulle veil that spread back from behind her feathered, beaded fascinator around her face and cupped the gathered fabric against her mouth with a lace-gloved hand.
"No one breathe freely," Nathaniel cried, putting his red silk cravat to his mouth, and others followed in his example. Lavinia made a move to withdraw, but he held her close and through the veil, I saw her fair cheeks redden.
"It's the powder to be careful of," Lavinia clarified for everyone's benefit, her usually soft and timid voice now carrying with the weight of necessity and authority. "Take care."
Everyone did as instructed; cravats and silk scarves, shawls and gloves, all created a shield. I did what I could with my sleeve, wishing I had some of the draping, flowing fabrics so many of the Association boasted.
"Stay here," Veil instructed to his crowd. He moved toward the front door in order to survey all of his crowd at once rather than having his back to anyone. "We must see if George was followed, if there were any others targeted. Were any of you approached? Have any of you been pressured by any 'doctors' or anything bearing the seal printed on that original leaflet?" His coterie shook their heads. "Then Lavinia has taken good care of you indeed since the first incident. We must remain vigilant."
"Is he dead? Georgie?" asked a mousy girl draped in black velvet, pointing a satin-gloved finger at the floor. I peered closer. There was a slight hitch of breath from the man's back, barely perceptible but there nonetheless.
"Not dead yet," I stated, hoping to help keep calm, as a death among us might trigger any number of unfortunate reactions. I wiped at my nose with the edge of my sleeve.
Veil gestured to a slender man in dark, embroidered silk whose black hair was slicked back and braided- Chinese, I assumed, though in the cultural fugue that is New York City, one should never assume. The intensely focused man nodded and slipped out the front door, his compact frame tensed. Perhaps he was Veil's bodyguard; this quiet man who I hadn't noticed until that very moment he was drawn out, as he'd blended with the more ostentatious crowd, a good safety measure.
Just then I heard a familiar voice of someone who was clearly surprised by a stranger at her front door.
"Excuse me, and you are? This happens to be my home. Did I summon for a party I forgot having thrown?" Mrs. Northe, key in hand, stood framed in her grand doorway of beveled glass, decorative ironwork, and carved wood.
Just as lovely as her home, she wore a deep green satin dress that was neither casual nor formal, the very definition of elegance in all she presented to the world. Her slightly off the shoulder dress was made more modest by a gray shawl that glimmered with silver beads. Her lace-gloved hands, the only part of her that showcased any tension, were fisted tightly about her keys, fan, and reticule. Were the situation not dire, the look on her face would have been pricelessly amusing as she took in her home overrun by a coven of striking, black-clad creatures positively dripping off her stairs and furniture, filling her halls and parlor, wide-eyed and trembling.
"Well, well," she murmured as she swept in her front foyer, shaking off apprehension so that her presence might command the room in nearly as impressive a manner as Veil. "I've an unexpected murder of crows to host, do I?"
Murder was an unfortunate word for a cluster of ravens, considering the circumstances. I doubt Poe would have written this scene; he'd surely find it distasteful and a bit much.
"The Lady of the Manor, I presume!" Veil cried, bowing, his ascot still cupped to his mouth, though that had no effect on his being heard. His voice could boom no matter what obstructed it. Mrs. Northe gaped slightly. He maintained his bow as he continued. "Nathaniel Veil at your service, madame."
He swept his hand about him, presenting his compatriots. "If you'll forgive us, Her Majesty's Association of Melancholy Bastards here needed to host a meeting for our collective safety…" Veil stood upright again, towering over the woman whose home he had overtaken as she looked up at him blankly. "But as you can see from the supine body of Mister George Fernstock there, our little soiree has been interrupted and compromised. And a damn shame, that, as I was putting on a right good show.
'"Tell me, my esteemed lady, do you advise we call the police on this matter or just hope for the best?" He gestured around him. "Oh, and do be aware of a red powder. It seems to be the culprit of madness. That's a very lovely embroidered shawl you have there, madame, I'd suggest breathing through it."
Mrs. Northe blinked, unable to look away from Veil as if he were a fascinating species of creature she'd never encountered up close. She'd seen him on stage, of course, but close and in person, his quality as force of nature was truly something to be reckoned with. After a moment she brought the shawl draped elegantly over her shoulders to her face. She searched the crowd, met my eyes, and her shoulders eased slightly. I gave her a look that hopefully read how glad I was to see her.
There was a questioning look in her eyes that made me uneasy. I never liked noting her in any attitude but firmly in control, cool and collected and exuding a confident plan. But I needed to remember she was human, not my guardian angel, not my fairy godmother of mythic quests. We were all just trying to stay one step ahead of madmen, to varying degrees of success. And something wasn't quite right—man lying unconscious at my feet aside.
"I do think at this point, Mister Veil," she replied finally to his query, "that the police will need to be involved. My associate in the clerk's office and I have gathered enough information about some of the Master's Society property to prompt proper scrutiny, and I'd rather leave that up to authorities. I am not a vigilante type, and I'd not suggest that course of action for any of your associates either."
The black-clad crowd shook their heads. Like most people I'd ever met, they simply wanted to be left in peace and given leave to be their own masters and mistresses.
Mrs. Northe approached me. She bent, and unceremoniously, she proceeded to draw me away from the body on the floor. Through her intervention I felt able to move, though I was oddly light-headed. The room spun a bit as I stood.
"Have you seen Jonathon?" she asked quietly. "He and I were supposed to investigate a site that may be the very crux of the Society's
operations, but he didn't show. That isn't his style…" She trailed off,
frowning as she stared at me. I didn't like her words, and I didn't like the
look on her face even more so. New York
She wiped something off my lip. There was a bitter taste in my mouth. She brushed her fingertips over my face, and then over my collar. Her lace gloves came away red. I felt a dull sensation blossoming in my stomach becoming sharper as panic opened into full bloom.
"What?" My voice sounded far away to my own ear. "What did you say?"
"Jonathon," Mrs. Northe continued. "Not that you're his keeper, but I thought perhaps he was with you… It didn't seem like him to not turn up… I don't mean to worry you..."
"Jonathon," I murmured. "Jonathon." The sound of his name was an exotic spice upon my tongue. He was the whole of my heart, and he was absent. That was…unacceptable. I cocked my head to the side in an abrupt movement that felt foreign. My breath was heavy and strained against the stays of my corset that were suddenly violently tight against my rib cage.
Damn Jonathon Whitby. Damn his beauty. Damn his hold over me. Were there not greater things to be held in the clutches of?
I heard laughter, low and far away, deep and rumbling, like thunder. It was not mine, and it did not seem like the laughter of anyone in the room, which had dimmed significantly. Whispers coursed past my ear like wind.
Oh, that couldn't be a good sign. Whispers in my mind, unless they were warnings from my mother, were to be avoided. My mother was dead. This was not her whispers. It was a crowd. That meant something else entirely.
I closed my eyes. My body shuddered with strange sensations that were both seductive and vaguely disturbing in their sudden sweeping intensity, as if every inch of my skin were suddenly on fire and sensitive to suggestion. And pain. There was a deep, widening, vicious chasm of pain...
And then the curtain was drawn on rage. A pure, unchecked, heretofore unheard of rage took center stage.
"Where is Jonathon?!!" someone shrieked.
It took me a long moment to realize that someone shrieking was me. I think I tore at something. Or someone.
That's the last thing I remember before darkness overtook me in a swift and obliterating shot.
(End of Chapter 11 -- 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 sequel: The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and/or donate to the cause! Donations directly support the editorial staff.
Cheers! Happy haunting! See you next Tuesday!)