Chapter Twenty-Six (Part One)
The morning was spent in whatever preparations we could. Lavinia dressed herself, then me, in frilly white and cream lace gowns that she'd chosen, making us look as though we were either dressed for our weddings or our funerals. Which I supposed was sort of the point. Part of the theater of ritual. The gentlemen donned plain black frock coats and waistcoats with matching dark crimson undershirts with wide cuffs.
To Nathaniel and Lavinia, I explained the countercurse and the general properties of the magic as we knew it to be. Jonathon made sure the surveillance properties accessible from behind the library bookcase were in working order.
We tried knots and bindings that looked tighter and more restrictive than they were and set them in place. Jonathon explained any secret passages and their accesses. He and Nathaniel braved the cellar. It was still empty.
Time passed. We swallowed back dread. Jonathon ensconced Lavinia and me in a top servant room where a mirrored trap door offered a view of the downstairs foyer.
At noon the family arrived; the four possessed bodies whose souls languished in the dining room paintings. The wife was a brown-haired woman who would have been pretty if she weren't so vacant and dark-eyed. The husband had prominent jowls and bushy eyebrows that accented the sunken quality of his own eyes, reflecting strangely as he and the wife gazed about, sniffing like animals, behaviors signatory of the possession. The children, a boy in breeches and a girl in a white pinafore stained on the edge with a red substance I shuddered to imagine, trailed behind them like animate dolls, and behind them, additional staff.
A few frightened-looking underclass women completed their entourage. I assumed the lot was there to help with the cooking and preparation. When the paths were clear enough to do so, Jonathon moved Lavinia and me into a secret dining room passage behind the walls that connected in a confining path down the great hall and into the library landing. We watched the staff prepare, moving in and out of the dining room to set place settings and down the servants' stairs to the kitchens, the pathway blocked by a large ornate screen the help would stand behind during dinner so as to be out of sight.
The possessed family that had inherited not an estate but a nightmare moved with a slight unnatural pattern that was impossible to look away from.
Just as Lavinia and I were about to be set into our places, thirteen officers filed silently into the passages, and as they passed I tried to bolster myself with the knowledge that the walls themselves were filled with support.
At five, Lavinia and I emerged in the library and were taken to our positions with a bit of a show and mock struggle. The gentlemen said nothing to us, other than the occasional order that we were to mind our place, lest the possessed bodies of the family tell tales of us that would not suit our plan.
We were placed across from one another at the midpoint of the grand dinner table, and our hands were gently bound behind our backs by our respective gentlemen.
"I am sorry to have to do this, beloved," Jonathon murmured in my ear. "Forgive me."
"I will," I whispered. He stared at me achingly and left the room.
The dining room table before us was set with white bone china and soft linen, a red runner bisecting the wooden length where three golden candelabras glittered with tall tapers that set off the crystals of the chandeliers dipping down from above, making the whole room glow and glitter. While places were set before us, we would not be able to partake unless someone saw fit to unbind us. Lavinia and I stared across the lit tapers at each other. I felt like I was a part of the upcoming courses, there as an appetizer for the demons. I kept reminding myself that the arrests would happen before any malevolent forces were summoned or allowed to wreak any havoc upon us.
The gentlemen took to the front foyer. In time, the summoners of hell arrived. Brinkman was with them. Whatever the Society had over Brinkman was evidently enough to make Moriel feel confident Brinkman was on his side. This leverage hardly bolstered my trust in Brinkman, but I had no choice. I heard voices engaged in a bit of pleasantries, the weather and such, all of it absurd considering the circumstances.
Jonathon, playing as though he remained possessed, a role he had done so well before, led the "Majesties" in, and I quelled my shudder.
A short, thin-haired, bulbous-nosed man I assumed was Moriel entered first. He was too ugly to be so terrifying, and yet there was an air about him of power and privilege that was as undeniable as he was unattractive. His eyes were small, dark and beady. His gaze flitted about and pinpointing his attention like a fastidious but jittery hawk. Everything about him reeked of unpredictable danger, like a pervasive cologne gone putrid.
Another man followed close behind. Together, they made two specimens that had awoken on the wrong side of the genealogical bed. The other Society operative was a taller, thinner, jaundiced-looking man with similarly limp hair. Both men were dressed in ostentatious suit coats and trousers of a loud red and gold, looking like a bizarre graft of king and a court jester from another century that had long since passed them by.
Brinkman and Nathaniel flanked behind. The Society heads immediately stared at Lavinia and me with an odd, unsettling hunger and smiled sharp, crooked-toothed smiles. Jonathon pulled out the Master's chair and then the second-in-command with a bit of exaggerated flourish. They sat.
"Welcome to what was once this body's home," Jonathon said with a little sick chuckle, taking the head of the table opposite Moriel. The vast dining room fireplace behind Jonathon yawned like a great marble mouth, a dark, unlit maw.
"Ah, these morsels will do nicely,
," Moriel said, appraising Lavinia
and me up and down. "Majesty Vincenzi is en route with a third course, a
little fly that wandered right unto his web at the office this morning. Three
does make a more magical number for sacrificial flow. I do hope you've drugged
them, boy. Women can be feisty. Not worth all the trouble, if you leave them
"Ah, no, I've never had a trouble overcoming them, Majesty," Jonathon said, raising the stakes of the Majesty's perversion with an even uglier undercurrent.
"Nor I." Nathaniel matched Jonathon's tone as he moved to take a seat next to Lavinia, leering at her impressively.
"Ah, to be young and virile, then," the Majesty said with a chortle.
I slowly breathed in through my nostrils at this to keep calm. I knew I'd be offended when face-to-face with the "Majesty," and yet I remained impressed—and disturbed—by Jonathon's aptitude for playing the part. Nathaniel's theatrics had clearly rubbed off on his best friend.
I wondered what other poor girl would throw off our number and plan. This was not welcome information in the least. Brinkman surely felt it too, the frustration of another variable in our equation, but he remained visibly unruffled, simply standing to the side of Moriel as if he were a bodyguard, expressionless. Lavinia and I played our worried, scared-looking parts, which was truly not difficult. I tamped down upon my rage for the proper time.
"Come now, gentlemen," the second Majesty said, his voice gravely as if a vocal chord had been cut, reaching into a breast pocket to flourish a small, sharp knife. "Fresh and sweet, give us something to use." He made a piercing gesture that I tried not to jump at.
Jonathon nodded, snapping at Nathaniel. "Of course, Majesty Sansalme."
Both Jonathon and Nathaniel rose, plucking knifes out of their pockets, tucking at their coat sleeves, and came over to us, Jonathon to me, Nathaniel to Lavinia. They bent over us, loosening the bindings of the hands respectively nearest to the Majesties.
"The blood of the martyrs," Jonathon said, admirably trying on the demon's tone. My eyes fluttered shut at the memories of the terror that had breathed down my neck in his visage once before. With a sharp and sudden move, Jonathon drove the knife toward my hand, clutching it between both of his, and I screamed. Lavinia cried out in tandem.
The knife punctured something up Jonathon's sleeve and blood spurted onto my empty plate, and Jonathon moved our entwined hands over the glass goblet before me, filling a few ounces with dark red fluid. He dropped the bloody-tipped knife on the table, and Nathaniel did the same, with a flourish over another goblet. Their bodies slightly blocked us from the Majesty view. Jonathon was the first to rip the lace of my cuff, and he used it to bind up my hand as if stopping a wound. The choice of the gentlemen's crimson cuffs smartly hid whatever telltale droplets sourced the blood. It had to be blood—it looked and smelled of it—I was just wondering whose it was.
I'd been prepared to offer mine in part, within reason and safety. We'd have to see if that was yet further called for. Hoping this was the last of our '"sacrificial'" role, I couldn't help wondering at this impressive sleight of hand but doubted Nathaniel would give up his secrets were I to ask. Blood had been drawn from somewhere, perhaps pre-drawn, as neither of the gentlemen continued bleeding themselves, and though the source had come from them, they disguised it by tying off our hands, letting enough blood to drip around to make the whole thing seem more spontaneous and messy than it was. Jonathon and Nathaniel presented their glasses to the Majesties like an offering.
I thought at first Moriel—and his counterpart Sansalme—were going to drink the glasses and the blood therein.
But neither did.
What they did do instead was just as odd and disturbing...
(End of Chapter 26.1 - 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.
Cheers! Happy haunting! See you next Tuesday!)