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Chapter Twenty-Six (Part Three)
The late Lady Denbury was the body. She was the amalgam of "parts." She was the reanimate terror. The final, desecrating insult to the Denbury legacy…
A yellowed corpse with matted, dark hair that was tousled in what had once surely been a very lovely funereal coiffure now stood as the next parading terror at the dining room door. She was swathed in black robes synched by a golden belt, the flowing fabric hiding the somewhat disjointed and uneven height of her, as her body would have been pieced together from myriad bodies. This was done so that the unnatural creation would tether as many ghosts to the reanimate body as possible, one ghost per harvested body part, harnessing the most amount of life force possible to make the corpse active.
And then the corpse opened its mouth. Everything in the air screamed in response. This was just like it had been for us in Doctor Preston's hospital before; the unnatural tie of spirits that powered the body, the tenor of the dark magic carved into dead flesh, made the very fabric of the air shriek in a pitch specifically designed to undo the sanity of anyone within earshot. As the unseen ghosts that made the room drastically chill by their presence were worked up into spiritual frenzy in the hellish siren wail, plates and silverware lifted off the fine linen upon which they'd been laid. The poltergeist phenomena of the attendant spirits was now made active. One reanimate form created myriad paranormal problems in its wake.
Lavinia and I winced, shrinking from the noise; Nathaniel clapped hands over his ears, unprepared for this turn. Brinkman closed his eyes and remained calm.
Jonathon stared in horror at the openmouthed creature that bore some slight resemblance to his face. This time, this was not something Jonathon could endure without reaction. He stood and pounded his fists upon the marble-topped table, causing all silverware airborne by spirits' affectation to clatter back down onto the marble. "Enough!" he shouted.
Moriel rose and went to the standing, swaying corpse, taking its yellowed hands in his. "That's enough, dear. You heard him." The corpse shut its mouth and turned to Jonathon expectantly. It just stood there like a terrible statue as Jonathon's knuckles went white when he clutched the back of his chair.
"You will not dishonor the late Lady Denbury so," Jonathon growled. "It is an insult to this house!"
"Well played, Lord Denbury III," Moriel laughed, applauding Jonathon. "You did originally have me convinced. You'll have to tell me how you managed to get yourself out of the painting, I simply must know!" he said eagerly. "And also, what you did, then, to one of my demons! If he is not within you, whatever happened to him? He'd have wanted a new place to stay…"
Maggie piped up with a distant, airy voice. Amid the latest horror, I'd almost forgotten about her sitting a seat away from me. "The demon left Lord Denbury because he wanted to be with me. I kept him… I loved him! He became mine!" She swiveled her head to Moriel, her eyes glassy, her lips dry and cracked. I wondered if they'd sedated her with something, or if her mind had simply gone, all the work in
for nothing. Chicago
"Ah, did he then?" Moriel asked Maggie gamesomely.
"He did!" she insisted.
"Then you do have your uses, little poppet." Moriel laughed. "Delightful, all of this! What discoveries we make! Sansalme, make a note of all this in the book!" The second-in-command pulled out a fountain pen from his pocket and loomed over me, flipping to a blank ledger page and taking notes in deep, iron-red ink…
Maggie swiveled her head back and looked directly into my eyes. Something hardened there. She pursed her lips. She knew me. A fire flickered there. What was she up to...?
Majesty Moriel looked at the dead Lady Denbury and back to Jonathon with a sick smile. "I knew resurrecting Mumsy would put you to the true test, son. I assume your friend here and your baits, then, are plants." Moriel leered at me, then Lavinia. "But good that you brought them. They're pretty, they'll do." Then he whipped his gaze back to Maggie with an altogether darker intent. "Don't you think, Miss Hathorn? You're very pretty, you've done nicely thus far, to trap a demon for your very own?"
Maggie just nodded primly and regained that airy voice that did not sound inhabited as her own. "Thank you, Your Majesty. All for the greater purpose."
"You see," Moriel said to all of us. "You'll all come around to Miss Hathorn's way of thinking. You'll see it is the only way." He looked over his shoulder. "Isn't that right, Mister Brinkman?" Brinkman nodded. I gritted my teeth.
"Do secure Mister Veil there," Moriel instructed of Brinkman before turning to Jonathon. "It was good you tied up your girls, Denbury. Less we have to do." Brinkman pulled a leather strap from his pocket and secured Nathaniel's hands behind his back. Nathaniel started to struggle, but Moriel whipped out a second knife from another pocket, cautioning: "Careful, Mister Veil. I spend my spare hours testing throwing knives on peasant flesh. I doubt your redhead there would look improved with a blade jutting from her gullet, now would she? Let Mister Brinkman do his work."
As Nathaniel quieted and Brinkman obeyed, I questioned the operative's loyalty. I felt everything begin to spin out of control. We weren't going to make it out alive. The fear I'd kept in check threatened to undo me. I tried to hold back tears, but one escaped.
The Majesty turned to the yellowed corpse hovering beside him and instructed: "Go and tie up your son, my love. I don't want him getting rowdy, but I'd like him to see all this. If he's a good boy, I might even deign to adopt him as my own. He should've been mine all along."
Jonathon spit at the wretched man. If looks could kill, Jonathon's expression would have ripped the Majesty limb from limb, slowly and agonizingly.
The hideous form of what was supposed to represent Lady Denbury lurched over and bound Jonathon's hands behind the back of the beautifully carved chair. He would not look up at the thing as it tied him. I did not blame him. I stared at Jonathon, willing him strength and if he could read minds, telling him how much I loved him. Suddenly, for him, I felt invincible, despite these harrowing turns. God had to be on our side. Heaven had to be watching and waiting for us to make our move... For no one should be meant to endure such hell.
Once finished, the effigy of Lady Denbury shuffled back to stand against the wall, leaning against the marble of the mantel, slightly in shadow, as if it needed the corner to prop itself up. Its milky, cataract eyes were unfocused as it stood awaiting its next orders and purpose.
I wanted to look at Brinkman, to demand, with one glance alone, why he wasn't saying or doing anything. Surely, this was all punishable to the death. The Majesties had damned themselves enough, hadn't they? But no, our rule still stood. We hadn't yet done the countercurse and that had to be done to restore the Winsome souls to their bodies, lest that hapless family be caught up in collateral damage. We had to limit the circumference of this ever-expanding circle of woe.
"Now, dinner! Sit and watch your betters eat," Moriel said to the gathered company gleefully. "That's how it should be. How it should always have been. Always should be!"
The family came in to serve the three Majesties dinner, moving in a daze, their possessed bodies less animate and more unwieldy than when the demon had overtaken Jonathon. Aprons were slung over their fine clothes that had begun to tear and fray. I found I couldn't look at the two children. It was too painful. But I couldn't look at the representation of Lady Denbury, either; she was too horrid. So I stared at my empty plate and prayed for our lives. I struggled to keep focused and not give over to panic and futility.
Food was laid before us. Not that I had any appetite. Not that we were free to eat. The laying out of food seemed symbolic, a representative trapping. The Majesties didn't eat, either; they merely drank a dark wine—if even wine at all, something thick and pitch black like tar—in crystal goblets. I didn't want to know what it was. It seemed too viscous and dark to be blood. It left a black stain upon their yellowing teeth. I imagined all this lavish food going uneaten spoke to the Majesty's desire for wastefulness, greed, for lavish loss at the expense of others. I could see them just leaving this whole table to rot. But not while I had breath in my lungs would I be that passive.
I had been given a second chance at my voice. I was not about to lose that power now.
Bound or no, we all still had our voices. Leveling the countercurse would set things in motion as planned. We couldn't have figured the equation changing so horridly with the corpse of Lady Denbury, but we couldn't let that derail us. It was up to the rest of us to stay strong when Jonathon was doing everything in his power to maintain his sanity. He couldn't look at the creature, either. I didn't blame him. He'd never properly mourned. I longed for the moment he could and put all these nightmares at last to bed, with my help.
"The lintel, please, Vincenzi," Moriel said, some of the dark substance dribbling down the side of his paunchy face.
Vincenzi leaned over toward Maggie, and I saw the flash of a silver knife and blood spurted onto the marble table as Maggie shrieked, her finger dripping scarlet in the instant. He grabbed her hand and squeezed it into the goblet before him. "You could have warned me," she pouted to the large man. He sneered at her. She didn't fight him as he clamped her hand tighter, swirling the blood in the glass. I had to remind myself she had somehow come here of her own volition.
The third Majesty rose with the last offering. With the bloody-tipped knife, he carved a horizontal line meeting the two vertical lines in a tall rectangle. He poured the contents of the glass across the line, scarlet blood dripping down the fine wallpaper in dark, garish streaks. I felt the ground tremble a bit. Vincenzi was murmuring to the wall like his counterpart had done. As I blinked my eyes, it seemed the wall itself rippled. Moriel and Sansalme took up murmuring too. Numbers, in a sequence. It was what Crenfall had been murmuring in his madhouse cell. The golden ratio, but the divine pattern uttered in reverse. It was writ on the floor in tar and blood and now murmured actively on their lips.
The first course was being cleared around us. Soon the possessed bodies of the wretched Winsome family would either be downstairs or hidden again. I tried to catch Jonathon's eye. We couldn't delay. We needed to level the countercurse now, while all four of them were in the room. Even though Jonathon hadn't managed to lure out the Society plan for the recorder in the wings as Brinkman had demanded, if what that carving of the wall meant what I thought it might, we couldn't afford a portal... Whatever was being called or loosed in this room... The police couldn't arrest that... A mouth to hell…
But I couldn't do the countercurse on my own, not with four souls and bodies to reunite. We all needed to do our part and all in one concerted effort. I kept trying to get Jonathon to look at me, but he was transfixed at what was becoming manifest behind Moriel.
A dark rectangular shadow opened up, like a door swinging open. Where there was a wall, there was now a corridor. Inside, just like the girding behind the walls of a home, was the framework between life and death. It was an awesome and terrible sight that was impossible to truly comprehend, even when staring into its abyss.
I recognized this from one of my dreams, a corridor between life and death, between forces for light and those for the dark. Wavering threads hovered inside, weaving and moving like a busy
New York street.
The fabric of the very universe was laid bare before us, something we shouldn't
be privy to, but as the Society was tampering with the very tapestry of the world
and tearing at its threads, sticking wrenches into gears, the divine skeleton
was visible beneath the flesh.
Five black, vaguely human forms peeled out from the ether and into our world, crossing the threshold with horrible murmurs rising in the air like the cresting of a storm. They were like shadows without bodies, and they whipped about the dining room like careening ghosts.
They were visible, black holes, obliterating chandelier light, firelight, and candlelight as they passed by it. Fomented misery, they made the air not only frigid, but bitter and malevolent. The taste of unadulterated evil. As Moriel laughed the forms flew faster, dizzying in their movement. These were what possessed bodies. These were the host demons. The sweat of panic dripped down my temples.
The corpse of Lady Denbury began to groan again; at any moment I expected another full-fledged wail. The silverware rattled and lifted, hovering a few inches above the table once more. I wished I could, through force of will, like I had seen spirits do once before, shift all the knives and forks and any pointed object. I wished I could drive everything straight into Moriel's chest.
"Come, come," Moriel cried to the shadowy forms. "I am here to give you life. Soon we'll outnumber our enemies. Life by life, blood by blood. Come! Take..."
"Yes, come!" Maggie cried suddenly, pushing back her chair, rising to her feet. "Come unto me, demons! Fill me! All of you!" Maggie cried. "I want you..."
The shadows pacing the room suddenly turned as if dogs catching a scent.
"No..." I murmured, wresting in my chair. My words fumbled in my throat, my old disability threatening to halt my words as anxiety tended to do. "No...don't…do that..."
"I want you," Maggie continued. There was a horrific and unnatural shudder of her body as the shadows all pounced at once, disappearing into her. The Majesties gazed on with a sick, eroticized hunger.
"I want you"—a sudden, fierce fire leaped into her eyes as she retaliated with a scream—"to go to hell!"
From the pocket of the prim pinafore she'd worn, she withdrew a glass bottle with an ornate cross upon it, clear liquid inside.
I realized dimly she was not cursing us to hell. She meant the demons. The demons that had overtaken her. Or, maybe…that she had just entrapped…
Seizing the bottle of what I realized must be holy water—why else would there be the cross upon it?—she drank it down swiftly, emptying the whole bottle, choking but drinking still. Her face contorted in agony. She crumpled forward in a jerking movement. A wretched gurgle sounded in her throat.
"No!" Majesty Moriel cried, his look of ecstasy suddenly turning to rage. "Traitorous little bitch, what do you think you—"
Brinkman suddenly punched Moriel in the face, and he slumped face first into a bowl of pudding. As the other Majesties on either side rose to fight, Brinkman whipped two pistols from his pocket, one trained on either of the Majesties. My heart buoyed. The man was our side after all. Thank God. He waited long enough to prove it. No. Brinkman was smart, the souls weren't yet back in the painting, and him playing their side had bought him more leverage, to be standing so close to the wretches, able to escape being bound like the rest of us.
Just as I swelled with hope, Maggie started screaming.
(End of Chapter 26.3 - 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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