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Chapter Twenty-Two (Part One)
As he righted himself, I curtseyed deeply. "My esteemed Lord Denbury, it is an honor to be here," I replied with soft earnestness. He broke into a smile. A genuine smile like I'd not seen for some time, a flame of his pride returning, and it was as if one of the gas lamps had been lit in the room. But it was only his eyes. The moonlight did all the rest. "I love the name of it," I added eagerly. "Rosecrest..."
"Dates back in something of our lineage to the War of the Roses. I'm not sure what's fact and what's familial aggrandizing." He chuckled.
And at the mention of family, there again came the pain, like a veil being drawn over those seraphim features of his. He reached up to turn the key of a gas lamp before thinking better of it, keeping signs of activity at a minimum. There was moonlight enough.
We set to wandering the quiet, dark, enormous old house. To say it was eerie was perhaps the understatement of my life.
And yet it was so arrestingly exquisite. Eerie didn't bother me. Eerie was enticing, the kind of setting where a soul could give over to romance, a place for passionate whispers and stolen clutches in dark corners, surrounded by shadowed beauty on all sides. Frightening was a different story, a shade darker on the palette. At the moment, we were firmly in the color of eerie, and I was content to stay in its entrancing hue.
Rosecrest was the kind of grand, palatial manor that would be its own character in a famous tale. Old and mid-eighteenth-century Gothic, it was everything a Brontë would have written about and that in any other case or company, I'd have unabashedly swooned over.
But I didn't need to make a show of any of that here, as it would have been a bit much. For Lavinia soon caught up with us and took that particular helm, her black layers as slightly askew as her coiffure, Nathaniel looking a bit smug behind her. His long black coat swept the floor as he stalked into the main foyer, making him look like these surroundings were one of his stage sets. As my far more theatrical compatriot, Lavinia did all the sighing and exclaiming over the manor for me. Nathaniel was quite used to the place but seemed to love seeing it through Lavinia's eyes, and their impassioned, nearly childlike wonder was so refreshing against the anxieties that had my shoulders so tensed.
Allowing for momentary curiosity, I watched them. After that furious kiss of theirs in the underground corridor, I wondered if Nathaniel Veil, the Gothic Don Juan, was growing to favor Lavinia in the ways that I hoped, as I wanted her to be his foremost paramour. She was too much of his kindred spirit not to be, and her unbridled rapture at the estate was endearing and contagious. After a particularly rhapsodic ode where Lavinia exclaimed about the moonlight through the massive, arching window that illuminated the grand wood and marble staircase to upper floors "as a portal into the night court of the realms of faerie," I did feel compelled to add my own compliments to her panoply.
"It is so very beautiful, Jonathon," I murmured. "Breathtaking. All of it. And it is yours. That must not be in doubt. I know everyone involved will make sure justice is served for you and for this wondrous place," I reassured with all the confidences I could muster. I was sobered by how hard this all had to be for him. I reached out and pressed his hand in mine as he took us through the length of the main foyer.
"Why would the Society just abandon this treasure?" Lavinia exclaimed.
"Oh, they haven't abandoned it, it was overtaken by a nouveau riche family that fancied themselves landed and titled—or at least are trying to be—in a home they had no right to buy as it was stolen not sold, though they changed our family crests anyway," Jonathon growled. "The Society acts as landlord. Per Brinkman's exterior surveillance, it would seem that both the family and Society persons do come and go, but no one here has kept any permanent staff on retainer," Jonathon replied. "Considering the Society's penchant for experimentation, we need to be prepared for any number of things to be taking up space in my estate." The grim resignation in his tone spoke again of his amazing resilience. I took his hand again, and this time I just didn't let go of it as we continued the tour.
Thankfully, there were no obvious vials of "The Cure." No apparent wires leading to reanimate corpses stowed away in any of the upstairs guest rooms, fine set after fine set as they were. It would seem the Society kept the grand home as it was, rather than using its great resources as another testing ground. At least we hoped. Jonathon and Nathaniel ran downstairs to the kitchens and cellars and came back up shrugging, the place empty. For Jonathon's sake, I was so glad, though it continually felt like a calm before a storm. Like we were missing something.
I grew utterly overwhelmed by the vastness of the place, two long wings of bedrooms, studies and sitting rooms interrupted by the occasional alcove or balcony that looked down over the main foyer or the elegant ballroom, the whole of the house done up in a synthesis of dark, carved wood, archways, and stained-glass accents.
Eventually, we descended to the west wing and swept into the dining room. It was lavish, immense, full of dark woods and sparkling crystal, hard to take in at once for all the details and finery.
But it was all the portraits lining the walls, hung above the wooden paneling in grand, gilt frames that caught my eye.
It was a family, a well-heeled gentleman of middle age, two youths standing as if they were already men to his left, bookended by a woman in lavish gown that seemed to be trying a bit too hard. It was a bit too ostentatious to be tasteful, a sign of the striving classes I'd learned from one of Maggie Hathorn's rambling monologues.
I blinked. And in that moment, my vision swam a bit, as everything went out of focus within the frames. My throat went dry.
"Oh no, Jonathon," I said, suddenly dizzy with the further descent of dread that pitched my stomach. "The house isn't empty."
I pointed to the paintings. All of which had changed when I blinked. Each stoic form had suddenly shifted. All of them reached out their hands, open palms, desperate. Reaching out to me. Souls reaching out for help. Just as Jonathon had done when he was imprisoned in canvas. So the Society had brought its evil unto Rosecrest after all.
"This house isn't empty at all," I said in a choking whisper. "It's full of trapped souls."
(End of Chapter 22.1 - 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.
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