It would seem that my nightmares waited to strike. At least, during the course of our time within the estate, which was drawing to a close for the evening.
However, I refused to get too comfortable. My nightmares weren't to be dismissed so easily. The worst kind of terrors were those that lay in wait.
Jonathon and I returned to the dining room. With determination, I went up to the paintings and examined them. They did not change for me this time, but they were still beseeching in the same pose as before. That was problematic, as it indicated a presence had been in the house. The Society would realize some sort of unknown variable. They might not trust Jonathon's invitation. I glanced behind each frame.
"Runes?" Jonathon asked. "Carved into the frames?"
"Indeed." I replied. "It's all looking just the same as it was done for you, to you. I imagine that once the devils realize what worked in your case, they would not have deviated in others. It seems like the same pattern, perhaps the same poem driving the spell, I'm not sure. I can only hope the countercurse will still drive to the heart of the matter, no matter what the runes truly say. I wish I'd brought the translation book—"
"We'd not have the time even if you did. We'd best not stay here any longer and should not be caught here sleeping. Back to the cottage we go, and on to
in the morning." London
I stared back at the paintings. I couldn't leave them like that. Jonathon watched me, sensed my thoughts or emotions, and took my hand.
"You can't help them right now," he murmured gently. "Not tonight."
Something occurred to me. "I know. But I think I can give them hope. And you know better than anyone how desperately their trapped souls need it. Paper and pencil. Can you get that for me, quickly?"
Jonathon didn't question me; he just darted off. And for that, that simple respect of my agency, for his trust in me and my wits, I was grateful.
When he returned with page and pencil, I wrote a note and held it up for interminable moments before each portrait. The note said: Return to your positions. Help is on the way. Patience.
Due to Jonathon's internment and my experience within his painted prison, I understood the basic principles of what the suspended lives of these subjects were like. Sight beyond the frame was somewhat hazy but possible. I patiently waited before each portrait until the bodies returned to their poses as originally painted. The children were the last to return to their stasis.
When they did, I scribbled. Thank you. Keep patience and faith.
And then I walked out without a second glance behind me, as I could not bear their pained eyes. Neither could Jonathon, even though they were the unwitting souls who had usurped his property. They had been duped. We'd all been victims. But I didn't want to relegate myself to that and neither did Jonathon. Neither did any of us fighting the good fight.
We found Lavinia and Nathaniel sitting on the wide window ledge of the downstairs foyer, bathed in a shaft of moonlight that made them look like they were in a stage photograph, all in grayscale and silver light. Their hands were clasped together. All I heard was Lavinia respond simply.
"You didn't drag me into this. Our Association was sought out."
"I dragged you into this,” Jonathon declared. “All of you. Though I certainly didn't do so wittingly. I promise I will repay you however I can for all we've endured. Come, let us return to the cottage. A night here is…" He looked about. "Unwise. But, give me a moment. I've something by which to cheer us."
He darted off past the dining room, and I heard a door open, heard feet down stone stairs, and there was silence in the house for long, interminable moments before a slow tread up again, a door closing, and footsteps upon the wooden hall led Jonathon back to us once more.
He appeared in the moonlight of the foyer with a bottle in his hand. But he was ashen faced, changed in the silver shadows, a haunted look on his face I knew all too well. In his other hand, he'd drawn his pistol.
"What… What did you see, Jonathon?" I asked, dread in my tone. He gestured to keep voices down.
"We need to leave," he whispered. "Come on. Keep quiet." He gestured Nathaniel and Lavinia back in the direction of the library, and they quickly moved on ahead, impressively keeping the noise of footfalls at a minimum. I rushed with them, Jonathon at my side, back past the dining room once more where I refused to look even past the threshold.
"What is wrong?" I whispered again as he grabbed my hand and we darted back to the library. The maw of the door that was a bookcase opened on its side to reveal the secret passage stood before us; the dim golden torchlight of the underground corridor beckoned eerily from below. Jonathon shut the door behind all of us, gesturing for us to go on ahead, Nathaniel in the lead. We were many paces into the earthen and stone corridor before Jonathon answered.
"What we saw in
office," he replied gravely. "That's what was down there."
"Oh God…" I swallowed hard. "They've a corpse below? One they're trying to reanimate?"
"No corpse. But everything else was there. The table. All the wiring and equipment. And small, suspicious boxes. Bottles of fluids, medical and funereal. The scent of decay. All in my bloody wine cellar," he said, spitting out the words like venom as we darted up the long corridor.
The scenes of
basement hospital wing, yet another dread corridor, came back to me in the
forceful way terrible memories resurfaced. Either they were preparing to
reanimate a corpse and tether numerous spirits to its form to power the animate
force of the thing, or they had already done so. And if they'd done so, the
whereabouts of the creature were cause for great concern.
Finally, we resurfaced in the cottage. Jonathon bolted the iron door behind us. Next he checked the whole of the cottage, pistol drawn, then surveyed outside. Nathaniel joined him outside, going to check on his horses.
I sat down upon the dusty but plush velvet window seat of the bay window and looked through the glass, trying to appreciate just how beautiful the moon was.
Lavinia went searching about for something. I wasn't sure what, until I heard a "pop." And then the clink of glasses. She returned to me, two wineglasses filled with deep, dark red in her hands. She handed me one.
I had never been one for alcohol, save in communion at church, but this seemed the thing to do right now. One glass to calm the nerves. Some distraction. Some reminder that we were with friends and lovers. I was in a new country, something I'd never done before. I wanted to feel like there was some excitement. I was engaged to the man I loved. I smiled at Lavinia, feeling some of my tension ease before I'd even begun to sip the glass.
The gentlemen soon returned to us. Lavinia had poured for them, and they glided, as if magnetized, to two more crystaline goblets she filled upon the golden lacquered center table that she'd cleaned of its layer of dust, leaving the surface to glimmer in the candlelight.
"To sending devils back to hell," Jonathon said, lifting his glass and looking each of us in the eyes, mine last. We all toasted gladly to that. His eyes burned into me, and I felt the pledge of our engagement swell in my heart. I thought about telling Lavinia and Nathaniel about it in the moment but thought better of it. Somehow I knew it would sting Lavinia, and I couldn't have her feeling insecure when she was called upon to do something so brave.
"It's a good thing this bed is enormous," Jonathon stated nearly draining the glass in a few long drinks. "Because I'm not sleeping on the floor." He grabbed me around the waist and dragged me to the grand alcove where the vast four-poster bed was visible behind its open red curtains. I let him. He spoke over his shoulder to Nathaniel. "Come on, you two, there's room for all on here. And that will force us to behave ourselves."
"Normally I'd object and find some dark corner to drag this one off to," Nathaniel replied, grinning at Lavinia. "But I'm deathly tired. I'm sure we all are."
It was true. I was utterly exhausted, and I allowed myself to acknowledge it, finally, as I felt a modicum of security. The cottage did feel safe, an unused place the Society clearly hadn't gotten its hooks into, a piece of lost history, a secret put to good use as an encampment before an upcoming battle rather than a clandestine affair.
The temperature was nearly perfect, and so I didn't need to crawl under the velvet duvet. I simply allowed Jonathon to drag me onto one side of the bed, and I lay back in his arms. Sleep overtook me almost immediately. The ability to breathe deeply in a setting that didn't have all my hairs on edge, coupled with the glorious protection that was being in his arms, was enough to sweep me into much-needed rest.
-- (End of Chapter 23 - 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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