Evidently, the British agent Mister Brinkman was just across the street, awaiting a signal. I suddenly felt that, at any minute, any number of persons could descend upon us from unseen corners. The intimate, singular horrors that the Society had perpetrated upon Jonathon and me were now becoming a crowd sport.
Knowles palmed a small, hand-held lantern that had been sitting as a lit globe upon his desk. He moved to stand before the narrow, tall window to the side of his bookcases, putting a hand to block the orb's light and then removing it three times. A minute later, I heard a key turn down the hall, then the front door open and close quietly and then not a sound until an uncanny apparition was seen in the doorway: a distinct form in a black cape. The man set his hood back upon entering the room. Brinkman.
I wondered how intently the spy had been watching us. Reading lips through binoculars, perhaps, poised and on sharp alert to all tells and ticks? When he crossed the room in a few measured strides, his eyes went right to us as if he'd known our positions. He made me feel as nervous as he did safe. I watched Jonathon's face as he stared at the man, I assumed gauging his aura. As Jonathon remained cool and composed, the man's aura must have remained positive…or at least neutral to us. I took a moment to thank whatever magical offsets had granted Jonathon that ability, as it was one of the more useful supernatural traits our situation could have afforded.
Brinkman could see me examining his oddly handsome face, trying to get a read on him. So many years of mutism had made me uncannily adept at reading moods, bodies, intentions, and more, just by look and physicality. This man was a compelling, blank slate. He simply smiled enigmatically at me, giving nothing away but that he was a man not to be trifled with. A consummate spy. I was no less nervous. But I was just a little bit impressed.
"Miss Stewart," he said, bowing his head to me. I inclined mine in turn.
Knowles busied himself at a vast cherrywood credenza, making sure all the gentlemen had snifters of bourbon.
Brinkman turned to Jonathon. "From what you said upon our return ride from the Society office, it seems you laid the groundwork well, Lord Denbury. I'm hoping this little party will allow me to collar Moriel and his two top cronies. I'd like to cuff his whole cabal of six, but it would seem all the 'Majesties' are hardly ever in the same country, let alone the same room. Hopefully, the Society will fall out from under the top tier once we topple them."
"What brought the Society operatives together in the first place?" I asked.
"The only consistent factor is that they are very old aristocracy from three different country's traditions. Each of their line was at one point disgraced and remains relatively forgotten, with little money. However, they've gained traction in property."
"Making a deal with the devil for a return rise to importance?" Knowles asked, taking his place at his desk.
Brinkman shrugged. "That's the only thing I can figure about their aims."
I heard a key in the lock down the hall and then Lavinia's voice speaking in a pouting tone.
At the sound of movement at the door, Jonathon stalked out of the room and met them, lingering there at the mouth of the hall while Lavinia's voice continued, getting closer as she said: "You do realize how much I've given up, Nathaniel, back and forth with you across the pond. I truly needed just one normal evening with my lady friends. Must we strategize at this hour?"
"We'll address your sacrifices in time, dear," Nathaniel murmured as they neared Knowles's office door. "But that isn't for here and now, with lives on the line. Everyone is here. Please appear as sensible as I know you are capable of being."
Whatever Lavinia was feeling, she put on a calm and brave face when she entered Knowles's now-overcrowded office.
The solicitor gestured to a decanter of some sort of rose-colored cordial and raised an eyebrow at Lavinia and me. Lavinia set her jaw and pointed to the bourbon instead. Knowles grinned and despite the departure in custom, included us both in the gentleman's drink without question, a small courtesy that made us feel involved and respected. These were not times of common propriety. No one was looking to drown their sorrows in any substance; such behavior would not help our cause. But having something to hold and busy one's hands with was a tiny comfort to take the edge off the tension in the room.
"I never thought I'd be grateful for anything that has befallen me," Jonathon said as he reentered the room, stalking over to my chair and standing behind it to voice what I'd been thinking when he examined Brinkman. "However, the ability to see the lit aura, the incorporeal traces of any of my potential enemies is very useful. It would seem no one followed you here. I see no spark in the shadows outside."
"I told you I'd be careful," Nathaniel replied. Jonathon nodded at his friend.
"Friends," Jonathon began, addressing all of us. "Let's get to our points. The Society shall arrive at the estate at six tomorrow. I explained to Moriel that I would leave the proverbial 'bait,' the tokens, bound in the dining room." He squeezed my shoulder over the back of the chair. "Do forgive me, my love, for referring to you as such—"
"I understand, Jonathon. That's how they might refer to me. Not you. You will both have to play the part," I reassured, even while I shuddered at the thought.
"They seem to be interested in blood tokens," Jonathon said, clenching his jaw. "If you are bound at the table, my brave ladies, don't worry what will befall you. Nathaniel schooled me in some sleight of hand. I don't want you dreading anything that will be mere show, but please do react accordingly as though you've been affected."
Lavinia nodded. She was used to this sort of thing more than I; surely, one of Nathaniel's vampire bits on stage had her prepared for necessary theatrics. I swallowed hard and tried not to look ill.
Jonathon continued: "Nathaniel and I will meet the company at the door and lead them in, as it would be best they not find us all fraternizing in the dining room when they arrive. Tomorrow morning the Society said they'd return the staff to the premises to prepare the meal." Jonathon turned to Brinkman to explain in a bitter tone: "Moriel confirmed, laughingly, that the staff they retain are possessed bodies. The family that overtook the estate per the Society's coaxing is now enslaved to it. Moriel has taken those poor wretches on as his personal cook, footman, and the children as veritable slaves."
"And their poor souls are trapped in the dining room portraits," I added. "Before any arrests are made, we'll need to invoke a countercurse to return souls into bodies and trap the demons. It's not something I'd trust to leave to the average police officer. With all due respect."
Brinkman nodded and tried to act as if the directives were commonplace, but his halting speech revealed his discomfort. "If you say so. I trust, then, that... you'll handle the...countercurse?"
"We will, you must leave that to us," Jonathon replied. "Natalie, I'll trust you to later explain the principles of the countercurse to Nathaniel and Lavinia."
I nodded again. I sipped the bourbon, and its sting was a nice offset against nerves.
"I'll need a cue for my men to pounce," Brinkman stated. "I don't want it to come too early, but also not too late. I don't want these bastards to try anything."
"Or to let their magic build," I added. "We can't know just how many demonic forces they have, truly, at their disposal. Those we've seen have been embodied, but what about those awaiting a host?"
"We can't allow anything in," Jonathon murmured. "We don't know exactly where these demons come from. How they summon them. If you've ever had a faith, now is the time to hold to it. We must not give those wretched, soul-sucking entities any room for entry."
I nodded and thought of Maggie. I wondered what on earth could have happened to her. "Maggie's gone missing, Jonathon," I murmured. "No one knows where she's gone. Mrs. Northe wired Mr. Knowles here to tell us. If she or Karen has any clairvoyant indications about what went on, we don't know."
"Well, she let the beasts in, Natalie," he replied with a harshness I understood but didn't expect, "and allowed the forces that tried to kill us to grow stronger by her reverence and favor. We can't help her any more than we did. I can't worry what's become of her now. Not right now."
I looked at the edge of Mr. Knowles's fine desk and clenched my jaw, knowing Jonathon was right but still wishing there was something I could have done months ago to prevent her disappearance now. I said a prayer for her soul.
A slight movement of Nathaniel's hand caught my eye, and I saw him clutching a beaded length with a crucifix in his palm, something he'd wound around his wrist, perhaps a rosary. Anglican England still utilized Catholic-associated tokens as they were very similar in structure, just as Reverend Blessing owed a great deal to the Catholic Rite of Exorcism. Every denomination, at its root, directed back to the same governing principles. Symbols of faith were the touchstones of our own retaliatory magic. Ours was a different color and weight, but no less powerful than the breed the Society perpetuated. I had to believe we were as powerful as demons, so long as we stood up to them.
Brinkman's face was pinched; a slight crack in his facade indicated his own trepidation. I could empathize that a man like Brinkman didn't appreciate supernatural variables in a carefully calculated plan. "My men will be instructed to wait for my whistle," he stated, "but I can't cue immediately. Not until there's a bit of dirt under Moriel and company's nails, otherwise we may not have as flush and solid of a case as we need to ensure their downfall."
"If we're drawing out their plan," Jonathon piped in, "someone must be stationed to record what is said for evidence. If we place your men in my secret passages as we discussed, there is a pipe that's perfect for listening in."
"I'll be sure one of my best court recorders takes notes," Brinkman said eagerly. "If the paranormal aims of the Society are to be believed, we'll need as much in the form of a confessional as possible, the madness and desire for chaos expressly stated so that the threat to queen and country cannot possibly be denied."
"Jonathon," I murmured, a dreadful detail resurfacing. "What about the cellar?"
He swallowed hard.
"What about the cellar?" Brinkman queried, looking from one of us to the other. "I thought you said the estate was empty?"
Jonathon took a deep breath and spoke slowly. "There's also the possibility of a reanimate corpse as evidence. Be advised that the infernal magic the Society uses to reanimate the corpse makes the creatures very difficult to endure. There's a terrible mental strain, an inner sound of screaming, as if they creatures are built to rip apart the very fabric of sanity. A horde of ghosts is tethered to a body to make it come to life. The ghosts are the animate spark."
Brinkman's lips curled in disgust. "How horrid. Ghosts as Doctor Frankenstein's lightning?"
"I suppose. I've never seen anything like it before Doctor Preston's work in
I discovered all the same equipment we saw in New York down in my wine cellar. So I don't
know what to expect." New York
"The unexpected is all we can count on, it would seem," Brinkman replied bitterly. "We'll all have to play it very safe, moment to moment, and very close to the vest." He bowed to us all and moved to the door, his tone allowing for a slight weariness. "Until morning, my motley battalion."
We stayed the night in
one of Jonathon's finer carriages escorting the two couples to the Denbury
flat, an exquisite set of gas-lit rooms in Knightsbridge. The place had a warm
glow about it in all the golden flocked wallpapers, lighter woods, and
gilt-accented furniture, a contrast to Rosecrest's deep, dark Gothic charm. The
flat was that of more modern romantics, more fanciful in color and lush
Nathaniel, being familiar with the flat, led Lavinia off somewhere. I wondered if they'd separate as propriety would dictate or if Lavinia would indeed come away from this a fallen woman. It wasn't my place to judge, she could make her own choices, and I hoped Nathaniel was man enough not to pressure her either way. Women were given little leverage in our world, and a girl's modesty was not something to be given or taken lightly, and men would do best to always keep that in mind.
As I sat upon one of the lavish divans in the main room, I had no idea how in the world I was going to sleep, but Jonathon seemed prepared for that, having stoked a small stove in a rear kitchen and returning to me with teacups in hand.
"Have some tea. It's... powerful tea," he said, handing me a warm cup and saucer.
"What's in it?" I asked, catching a whiff of a foreign scent.
"Some opiates and sedatives. I just took a draught myself. Else I'll never sleep. You and Lavinia can take the far room. Nathaniel is taking my room."
"You may have to untangle them—"
"I'm counting on Miss
to make an honest man out of Nat."
Jonathon chuckled. "I don't let him play Don Juan in my home. I never
have. He knows better." Kent
"Where will you rest, darling?"
"On this very divan, dear. While the draught calmed my nerves, if I need to pace in the middle of the night, I'd best do it away from those I hold dear. You need your rest to be sharp."
"As do you..." I set down the cup and ran my fingers down the sleeve of his magnificent frock coat.
"When I was saving lives in my
clinic, sometimes my clearest
decisions as a doctor came when I was truly exhausted and the drive of panic
kicked in. Trust me, Natalie. I've faced many life and death battles. Just not
necessarily my own. Not those most precious to me," he said, trailing a
finger down my cheek, resting a fingertip upon my lips. I kissed his fingertip
delicately, slowly, and he closed his eyes and let me see the shudder of
sensual delight that coursed down his body. London
"You're very brave," I murmured as he trailed the fingertip down my neck.
He set his own teacup beside mine before moving closer to press his lips to where his fingertip had been. After a slow, languorous kiss he murmured, "Didn't I tell you I learned bravery from the best?"
"You were brave long before me."
"But together..." He kissed me again.
Together is how our fates were determined. The course of my life, since the Denbury portrait had entered into it and I was granted a peculiar magic and agency to save this dear soul, was inextricable with his. Whether brilliant or doomed.
That night, in a lovely guest room done up in a soothing pale blue, grateful for a fresh dressing gown in which to sleep thanks to stores Lavinia brought for us, I tucked a bible under my pillow.
Lavinia, to my chagrin, had no trouble falling asleep across the room, not even bothering to change. She just curled up like a black-winged bird upon a lush velvet chaise and drifted off to some uncharted inner waters. I wonder if she'd been drugged harder. Or if Nathaniel had managed to distract her into bliss that powerfully.
I lay back and murmured what had been my mother's favorite psalm, number twenty-three, over and over again until the opiates finally took hold, first of my body, and then my racing mind.
(End of Chapter 25 - 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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