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Chapter Twenty Six (Part 5)
Mrs. Northe, seeing that we had the family well in hand, turned her attention to the wavering wall portal, staring at it with concern. She began murmuring another iteration of numbers, but this time, from what I could guess, it was a sequence in the proper golden ratio, as high as she could think of and starting back again at a low number. Reclaiming the divine patterns, wresting a semblance of peace from the grip of malevolence. The edges of the carved wall, now cleansed of the blood tokens, flickered back into becoming a wall once more.
I stayed focused on the shifting paintings and the struggling possessed bodies, though I wanted to see the look of surprise on the faces of the two conscious leaders. None of them could have possibly known we could directly reverse one of their most consistent magics. I deserved a self-congratulatory moment of pride, but I didn't dare take my eyes off my targets.
Nathaniel rose to grab the little girl, even as a shot rang out. There was a scream and a clatter of a gun. One of the Majesties was clutching a bleeding forearm, blood all over the white tablecloth. It would seem Vincenzi had tried to fire a weapon, trying to take advantage of the chaos of wind, still-hovering objects, and the maddening whispers that summoning demons produced in the air, but Brinkman got to him before he could fire, a wisp of smoke floating up from Brinkman's own pistol.
Vincenzi was too late. The countercurse worked its magic.
There was a crackle of fire, and a fresh new screaming in the air added to the ongoing wail of Lady Denbury's ghostly retinue. In a huge, roaring pop, the paintings all came off their hinges and slid to the floor, leaving tracks of greasy, bloody paint along the wall as they descended; the canvasses were wet with indeterminate moisture. Trapped now in the frames leaning at odd angles against the wall were horrid forms, twisted and nearly gargoyle-like. Indistinct, demonic heads topped the fine clothes that were warped and dripping. Only the most ugly ephemera remained; an evil imprint, oily and greasy, a sheen of bloody perspiration bubbled up on sulfuric canvases.
So too did the bodies fall, slumping to the floor as if marionette strings had been cut. We knelt with the families as they began to rouse, terrified, but as Jonathon did, having some sense.
Brinkman took one look at the horrid exhibition against the wall and blew his whistle loud and several times, until the room crawled with officers. He instructed them to get the Winsome family to safety and explained in no uncertain terms who was friend and who was foe. The family was all too happy to exit the premises. The little girl threw her arms around me. The husband scooped up his son in his arms and seemed too ashamed to look at any of us who had helped him. The mother collected her daughter and murmured to me as an officer ushered her out: "I don't understand, but thank you…"
Above the din of the police, Reverend Blessing continued the exorcism rite, and this seemed to give comfort to the pallid officers, coming into the scene with no idea what to expect, but seemingly glad for some kind of spiritual offset. If the officers were uncomfortable taking blessings from a man of color, they didn't show it. I think they knew, seeing this scene, what was right to fear and who was a mere brother in humankind.
Blessing clutched the Society's insidious '"book of death,'" and between scriptural declamations he continued to read off names within, bidding that the souls mauled by the claws of the Society find their deserved rest.
"Spirits who weep here, heed me," Blessing bellowed into the foul air, his deep, rich voice captivating and compelling. "These men seek to gain power through methods of torturous unrest. Be their downfall by granting your own souls the peace God wants for you."
There was still a wavering line where the portal had gaped wide. Mrs. Northe was facing it, her arms out, her body fierce and taut, proclaiming scripture at the portal to try to shut it at last. Wrestling against the closing of the door, a black form darted out from the portal and careened into the hall. A demon on the loose.
"No!" Jonathon cried and ran after the wretched thing in the instant.
"No!" I cried and ran after him. I didn't think twice any more than he did. I just pursued.
Dimly, I realized the force was headed for the study, snuffing the lights out down the hall as it passed. Light by light, the vile force plunged our surroundings into darkness. We pursued it into the study where one gas-lamp chandelier remained dimly lit, casting the room into an eerie glow.
But the moment we both crossed the threshold, the door slammed shut behind us of its own accord and the gas lamp guttered into a pale, sickly blue pilot. Now it was just us in the dark. And a raw, untethered demon.
Jonathon went to the desk and turned a lamp, which illuminated for us that the black form stood in front of the window where beyond, the night was cool and dark, but the demon was blacker than the black night, its form not richly beautiful in night shadow, but empty and void of all life.
Jonathon and I stared at one another helplessly, and in the instant we both started crying scripture at its chasm-like form. Jonathon threw himself in front of me as the form floated closer. I struggled to put myself in front of him instead, but he kept me behind him. If such a thing inhabited Jonathon again, my mind would crack under the strain.
I withdrew the sharp scissor point from my bodice. But what a blade would do against an incorporeal force was laughable.
A wave of anger and despair washed over me, perhaps the effect the presence had upon us. Suddenly I wanted to shove Jonathon away from me. To be anywhere but near him. Ugly sounds gurgled in both of our throats. Snarling, animalistic noises. It would turn us against each other. In a locked room. While chaos still reigned in the rest of the house.
Down the hall I could hear that the wailing had resumed. This time, it had more voices.
The siren that was dead Lady Denbury had all the officers screaming too. It was, in the end, too much for us.
The spirits animating the corpse, the open portal, the lingering dark magic, all the amassed horrors the Society had brought upon this house, down into the floorboards and mortar, it was in the end too much for a few stalwart souls to close up and shut down. We needed an army of those as experienced as Blessing and Mrs. Northe. The rest of us were too beaten down, our reserves tapped by so many facets of this unexpected war. We'd fought a good fight. But now…
Our shoulders sagged as Jonathon and I both choked and shook. We were paralyzed by the dread and horror that was the core of the demonic presence. I felt a hand clamp around my neck. It wasn't Jonathon's. It was my own, the terrible force eating us inward, turning our own tired selves against us. We sunk to our knees, both of us gasping and snarling. I tried to rally, to reject the presence. A choking "I renounce thee..." afforded me one deep breath before the suffocating darkness threatened to overwhelm me once more.
I clutched the small scissors in my hand. Whispers careened around my ears. They urged me to drive the blade into my own flesh. To just give up. To let them in. To give them room. The point of the very sharp scissor point pierced my wrist, by my own doing. A drop of blood welled up. I remembered the runes that the magic had carved into my flesh, and I found myself making a line up my wrist, searing, burning pain sharpening every sensation.
"Natalie," Jonathon choked. A tendril of black shadow sweeping out from the demon's wake was wound around his neck, manifest evil taking shape and wielding violence.
I stared at the line of blood seeping from my wrist, my heart racing from the burning pain of it. I couldn't give up like this. This incorporeal beast before me was just that: incorporeal. It needed to be shot down with a bullet of light, faith, hope, and determination.
I pulled upon everything that had brought me to this point in one final shrugging off. I thought of all the sacrifices, Maggie's lovely, bloodstained face flashing before my eyes as if I were praying to a saint. She was a saint here today, and I was stronger than this. If she could take in five of the beasts, I could take on one. The worst wretches of the corporeal and incorporeal world always underestimated determined young women.
I remembered the cross that burned upon her, and with one even slice of the open scissor blade, I intersected the bleeding line up my wrist with another one, to make a cross. I lifted up my wrist, blood pooling in the lace at my cuffs. "I renounce thee!" I cried as the black silhouette of the demon advanced upon me, hovering.
I flung myself back, giving myself space from the beast as I plucked the cross I wore beneath my layers out into the open. It was a small, elegant cross my mother had given me after I'd gone through my confirmation classes at Immanuel Lutheran. I thought of Mother, of Father, of the beautiful fiancé before me, and suddenly I felt like Joan of Arc must have felt before going off to war, surrounded by saints.
But like Joan, I needed more armor. I looked around wildly for something else. I picked up the inkwell on Jonathon's desk, and I plunged my finger into it, making the sign of the cross upon my forehead as if it were Ash Wednesday. From dust we were made and unto dust we would return. But not today.
"I renounce thee!" I shrieked again. Jonathon was trying to close the distance between us, and I fell to my knees before him, using the inkwell to paint a messy cross over his brow. "We renounce thee!" Our rejection caused a tremor in the room. Books rattled on their shelves. The expensive trinkets from around the world shuddered on the marble fireplace mantel. The window panes shivered.
Jonathon shook his head, as if tossing off a terrible dream. He narrowed his eyes at the hesitating, pulsing dark form. "Upon the graves of our beloved mothers," Jonathon bellowed, "we renounce thee!"
A sudden burst of light had us blinking and wincing, and suddenly between us and the horrid, silhouetted form of congealed evil, floated the bright white forms of two beautiful women. Angels called down to the fight. I recognized one of the angels as my own. And the second one looked a great deal more like Jonathon than that thing wailing down the hall did.
"You leave our children alone," the spirit of my mother said to the vacuous silhouette in a venomous tone. "This is the end. Your kind has failed. You cannot win against such wondrous love as this." She turned her beaming, beautiful face upon us, and tears of amazement rolled down my cheeks.
"Did you hear that?" said the second spirit, a beautiful woman in a lavish gown, in a vicious hiss In the name of God the Father, of the Son, of the Holy Ghost. In the name of all the saints, the host of angels, and everything that is holy, get out of my house!" shrieked the spirit of Lady Denbury.
Lady Denbury was not tied to that body in the dining room at all but instead tied to her beloved son. Her spirit was resilient and made new again in the fight. The bright, transparent form of Lady Denbury lifted an elegant hand into the air and sharply backhanded the inelegant, tar-black form before her, and it splintered into a spattering mess, wet ashes upon the fine rug, nothing but ugly residue.
Jonathon seized me and stepped back so that none of the demonic muck could land upon me, all the while staring up at the ghost of the mother he'd never had time to grieve. The two ghostly women looked down at their embracing children.
"Don't go, Mother," Jonathon gasped, his tears flowing as freely as mine. "I never got to say good-bye, I—"
"I love you too, my darling, perfect boy," Lady Denbury said with a dazzling smile. "And you needn't say good-bye. I'll always be with you."
"I am so sorry, Mum," Jonathon said in gasping breaths. "I should've done more, I should've saved you—" He tried to reach out and touch her, hold her.
"You've done everything you can," Lady Denbury replied. "Look at all you've done. You've done more than you even know, my darling. I am so proud of you."
"Both of you," my mother added. "Don't they make a perfect couple, Lady Denbury?"
"Indeed. She's Lady Denbury now." Jonathon's mother smiled at me. "And I couldn't rest happier."
"Be well, darlings," my mother said as she and her friend in heaven began to fade. "We're never far, we live within you, and in any darknesses, we are with you. Never forget. Live in the light."
"I love you," both Jonathon and I blurted to our mothers simultaneously before they faded entirely. We swayed on our feet, breathing heavily. The study door swung open again of its own accord. There was no more screaming anywhere. Just the murmur of activity. Of cleanup. Of a battlefield victorious.
Somewhere I could hear Moriel raving as he was being led away, leveling threats and decrying the undeserving underclass. There was another loud smacking thud, and I suspected Brinkman had knocked him out again. It was admirable Brinkman hadn't killed Moriel, really. I'm sure the government would have given him leave to do so; however, whatever secret Moriel held had something to do with someone Brinkman loved. Human beings could do amazing, nearly inhuman things for love. This was something the Society seemed keen on subverting though they seemed unable to understand it. It was not something they could overpower. That was their ultimate hubris.
I heard Mrs. Northe calling for us.
"In here," I called into the hall with the last of my energy, allowing Jonathon to gather me up into his arms, sinking with me again onto the floor, our backs against his beautiful bookcase.
We were bloody and drenched in sweat, ink, and water, our clothes torn and besmirched. Bruised, battered, alive. Grieving. Joyous. Relieved. Exhausted. Alive. Jonathon tore his black silk cravat and made a bandage for my wrist.
Suddenly there were shouts and screams once more. Did I rejoice too soon? I smelled smoke. And burning flesh.
The dining room was on fire.
Brinkman popped a sweaty, smeared face into the study, standing wide-eyed at the threshold. "The corpse. The corpse of Lady Denbury… It..."
"Went up in flames," I finished. "The spirits will have their revenge. Let them combust the body. It's part of resolution…"
"My men are instituting a bucket brigade from your rear well, Lord Denbury," Brinkman said. "We'll do what we can to save the building. You've a haven at a safe distance, yes? We should evacuate you and your friends from the estate at last."
Jonathon nodded. "Up the earthen corridor behind the library. A cottage."
"Go on then, quickly." Brinkman shooed all of us into the hall and toward the library. I saw my four friends going on ahead, with Reverend Blessing carrying Maggie's corpse in his strong arms. The sight made tears spring forth again. Nathaniel and Lavinia directed them toward the library, and they disappeared into the next rooms.
"Do hurry," Brinkman insisted. "After all we've been through, I'd hate for a lowly fire to take you down. I'll join you once I see to it the men are at work with the well."
"Thank you, Mister Brinkman, for everything," Jonathon called. Brinkman batted a hand in the air and ran off.
Jonathon Whitby, Lord Denbury, III, paused in the middle of his corridor, watching flames licking out into the hall from Rosecrest's lovely dining room. Jonathon stared at the flames of destruction. "Sometimes," he murmured in a haunted, sad voice that was elder than his years, "some things are best left to burn."
He grabbed me by the arm, and we darted toward safety.
(End of Chapter 26.5 - 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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