Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Chapter 6 (For previous chapters, please see column at right side of the blog or visit http://leannareneebooks.blogspot.com and keep scrolling down for previous posts)

A hallway again. Of course. The general palette of my nightmares, the backdrop against which terrible things would be painted. In this shadowy realm, I often saw things that would come to fruition. I didn't know that at first, suffering riotous nightmares during Jonathon's ordeal within the painting, but I'd soon found out as murders corresponded with names and terrible images I'd foreseen.

My subconscious had inextricably become riddled with clues, and rather than merely being assaulted with them, I was determined, this time, to utilize them as information that might keep us just one step ahead of the enemy. At least, that’s what I told myself when I woke. While dreaming, I was merely terrified, and the idea that this foresight was some kind of gift to fight our enemies was difficult to take comfort in.

The hallway wasn’t like that of a house; it was more like an alley, bricks and archways to either side of me, the shadows deep and shifting, the second life of a city once the sun descends. The myriad sounds of a thriving metropolis filtered through to my ear but as if from far away or as though I were hearing them through glass.

And then a horse nearly ran me down. I only heard the galloping at the last minute.

There was a flash of light, a seizure of fear, so many things collided in that moment as I felt a hand shove me  against the hard brick wall at my back and a stern voice saying my name. My mother. Saying my name. Pushing me out of the way, just like she did to save my life at age four… Would I always need her to rescue me? Waking, dreaming, always rescuing me.

There were tears in my eyes, for the idea that Helen Stewart was strong enough in life and in death to continuously come to my aid, as her spirit had been forceful enough to do even outside my dream realm, made me feel as though she were not dead at all, really, just in a different place than my corporeal reality. But still, in her way, she was very much alive. We knew so little, really, of divine mystery and the Undiscovered Country. Those two worlds were closer in distance, perhaps, in dreams. But my mother's whisper crossing the boundaries of life and death to be with me was the stuff of happiness, not nightmare.

But then I heard screaming.

My nightmares liked to remind me what they were, lest I ever be lulled into something pleasant.

As the riderless, unbridled, unsaddled horse ran free, tearing ahead, clattering down cobblestones and its white form faded into the darkness ahead, I found myself walking inexorably forward, toward a building from whence the noise and commotion were coming.

A lantern swung in the wind of the horse's wake outside a wide-paneled glass window. Within, I saw a figure struggling, wild haired and wide-eyed as if his body were battling with itself, his black-clad form writhing against the wooden bar of what I assumed was a tavern. There were ledges where gentlemen stood with glasses around the perimeter of the bar, and tables of people, all of them looking on in horror.

Two young women, also in elegant mourning-wear, stood at the entrance to the tavern, looking on and screaming. I recognized them from the swaying, enchanted crowd thronging the orchestra pit of Nathaniel Veil's shows; they were members of his Association. I scanned the crowd; all were staring at the struggling gentleman, now a second one beside him in similar throes, a fine-looking man of business, not a youth of the Association. The patrons of the tavern were looking around wildly, as if anyone around them could be suspect. Across the room, leaning against a wall, was a somber-looking fellow, the only one who didn't seem surprised. He was in a long beige coat, the pale color standing out against all the dark din. He stood with a doctor's bag. Stevens. This was another instance of "The Cure" going horribly wrong.

And then the man turned to look at me. With dark, reflective eyes, shining like an animal's in the night. He smiled a sharp-toothed smile, and his visage flickered as if it were in a flip-book where static images simulate movement if turned in quick succession. In this dizzy shift, I no longer saw a man's face but the gargoyle-like, horrid, twisted features of the demon's pure form, the ungodly picture my mind had attached to the raw, dark energy that had twice physically attacked me. In terms of the demonic possession we had encountered in our ordeals thus far, the senses were not always to be trusted. The man, or creature, reached out a hand, staring at me through the glass, his still and static form so eerie in comparison to all the tumult around him...

A pressure around my throat, all too familiar, had me gasping and choking and bolting up straight into the blinding moonlight as white as the horse that nearly ran me down.

Puzzling over these things as I woke, I jotted down everything I could remember in the beautiful leather-bound diary that had been a gift from Mrs. Northe. I must have slept in past breakfast. Considering I was known to be a fitful sleeper, Father generally didn't wake me and simply let me sleep my fill. We'd not stood on much ceremony over meals through the years; my inability to speak had always made that time somewhat strained, and now, what was there to talk about but the pall cast over us until the evils of the Society were put to rest?

Still, Father and I had gained so much ground in love and trust, and I was determined not to lose it. I was also determined to carve out my niche at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, having been "apprenticed" to the Acquisitions department—which really wasn't an appointment so much as an appeasement of my stubborn spirit, which wanted something to do. Still, even though I'd not been given any real responsibility, I would show up as if I had .

But I arrived to find my father kept in a private meeting where it was obvious that a young woman's presence was not welcome. So I then wandered the museum itself, which had always been, since its recent opening, one of my very favorite places, very nearly as sacred to me as the park in which it was ensconced. I was determined not to let the horror that had happened within the building's basement rooms in the dead of night mar the whole of that beautiful institution. I strolled the halls, lost in the beautiful art, drinking in every corner, crevice, and open space of the grandeur of this building founded by all kinds of wealthy New Yorkers dying for this city to rival the great European metropolises. I steered clear of the basement vault rooms where memories lurked like spiders hanging from webs in dark spaces.

Once Father was free, he searched out my restless spirit until he found me in the exquisite company of the sculpture wing. Bidding us take tea in one of the meeting rooms, he excitedly shared the latest plans for funding and expansions at the museum and mentioned a horde of upcoming galas he would need to facilitate and attend. I nodded eagerly at the mention of his various events.

Father busy at the Metropolitan meant fewer eyes upon me and all that I may be called upon to do that he'd hardly approve of. He was sure to add that Mrs. Northe would see to my chaperoning, which he said with some trepidation. He probably realized at this point that the woman he was painstakingly courting—though he and I both faced the daunting class and wealth differential between our respective prospects—was as much an enabler as anything. Still, as long as we went through all the motions of propriety, in this there was some consolation for a man who had always struggled to know what to do with the headstrong girl so much like his late wife. A man who found himself again in the thrall of someone as imperious as Mrs. Northe. My father the mouse, my mother the hawk, Evelyn Northe the eagle... Perhaps the species could get along, like in the visions of God's kingdom...

"Evelyn has invited us for dinner this evening," Father added. "She might be out when we arrive, but she's instructed us to make ourselves comfortable in our various spheres."

My father did enjoy a fine cigar, and there were no shortage of those in the late Peter Northe's study, which was kept lively by the comings and goings through her home. I'd have no problem entertaining myself in her massive library, wondering if I could pick the locks on some of her glass cabinets of the rarer and potentially scandalous kinds of books a good girl was not supposed to read, like advanced physics and mechanical engineering and maybe the odd book on the occult. I would, of course, hope Jonathon would be there. He had yet to report on his scouting of the addresses. I had a great deal to share with him in turn. I would have to do my very best to make sure there was no awkwardness, to assure him that I wanted us to move forward as a team, a couple, betrothed...

I smiled and took Father's proffered arm, hoping warmth could offset the dark circles beneath my eyes from a sleep full of harrowing dreams. My quiet demeanor and pleasant expression seemed to placate him. I would do what I could to maintain that facade for the man who only wanted my happiness. Truly, I knew that was his foremost concern, hoping for a less paranormally augmented life for his daughter than had been granted by fate. He didn't ask about any news, evidence, or anything about Jonathon at all. I was sure he'd pressure the proposal still, but perhaps he was giving us a bit of breathing room, and for that I was grateful.

No one seemed to be home at the Northe residence but a new maid I didn't recognize—perhaps with all the entourages of various guests in her home, she'd hired more staff. The Irish woman, Sally, (who was surprised that I asked to address her by name) said she'd likely be home soon so I could wait for her in the parlor, as there were always "people that Mistress would be expecting," and I was one of them.

And so I did. At first I just sat, taking in all the fine things of the room, the brocades, the flocked wallpaper, and richly paneled wood, the fine curtains with tassel and trim, the marble fireplace with a mantel topped with stained-glass lamps and two dancing bronze sculptures, the fine curio full of delicate china and figurines, a lacquered harpsichord in the corner I wondered if she knew how to play, and of course, a lavish writing suite.

There was a letter laying out upon on her desk. I stood. I knew I shouldn’t spy or pry. But knowing you shouldn’t and actually stopping yourself from reading what’s lying out in the open… But the first sentence caught my eye:

“My dear niece Maggie,

It’s up to you whether the devils will have you or not…

And then I was absorbed in all that Mrs. Northe hadn’t wanted to tell me, but what she'd clearly left out for me to see…

(End of Chapter 6 -- 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!)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Chapter 5.2 (For previous chapters please see links on the right column)

Crenfall kept counting the bugs on the sill of his cell.
It occurred to me after a while that it was in a sequence, and it didn’t necessarily match the creatures on the sill. I'd never been particularly gifted at mathematics, but I did take note of it, and Mrs. Northe seemed to as well. But I wished to write down the numbers.
That I hadn't traveled with a diary frustrated me. Mere months ago I'd have never been without paper, to write things down to communicate as my voice had been absent for so many years. What a strange thing to have taken for granted. How interesting that I'd so readily abandoned such an intrinsic tool of survival. We are adaptable creatures. Well, some of us. The man before me hadn't adapted. He'd broken in two...

Mrs. Northe repeated what she'd said, that she had questions, and the clouds of madness seemed to part and an eerie lucidity shone through like a jarring ray of sunlight.

"You've questions?" he said in wispy voice. "About why I'm here?"

"Yes, please. Tell us why you're here."

"You cannot beat the Majesties, you know. You'll fall under the Master in the end. Everyone will," he said matter-of-factly.

"I'm sure that's true," Mrs. Northe said softly, with a quiet conspiratorial air. "And I've been wanting to know why I've been chosen to see and know some of your secrets." Crenfall narrowed his eyes at her. "I brought Lord Denbury's portrait into the Metropolitan, Mister Crenfall. I've been trying to learn the ways of this society, but I cannot do that without a guide," she murmured, playing as though she were excited. Crenfall puffed up his chest proudly. "What we should expect and welcome from these Masters?"

"Expect that the gentlemen will want everything. You can welcome his taking of what is rightfully theirs. They are not hasty. Their revolution is quiet and dark. The minion and I were sent from London. Ahead of operations.”

"The minion. Lord Denbury, you mean?" Mrs. Northe clarified.

"No." Crenfall grinned. "But he looked an awful lot like him, didn't he..." The man's ugly, raspy laugh bounced about the dank stone space.

"What sort of operations?" I hissed through clenched teeth, balling my fist, wanting to lash out at his casual reference to what had been an experience of unmitigated hell for Jonathon.

"You know, business," Crenfall replied, turning a sick smile to me. "New business. Pretty business."

I shuddered. The demon had liked to use the word "pretty." A demon who had gotten far too close... I shoved the memories back.

"How many people were sent here?" Mrs. Northe continued.

"Just the inhabited young lord and I first. A Majesty will follow. And soon. A shadow has already been cast over doctors. More experiments, you know."

"Business...and experiments, these will be wholly in New York? Or more places?"

"To take preeminence anywhere, one must certainly have deep roots in New York City," Crenfall stated as if that were obvious. "Grand and central, all tracks will lead home."

The word home seemed to set him off, he winced and something darkened. "The abyss. We come from the abyss. We return to the abyss. In the end the dark will always take you so take it first and it will be kind, a soft touch, gentle decay, nothing to fear. The paths are worn deep with heavy tread, those we serve, those who have come before to do the dirty deeds. Such dirt. We are filthy creatures, mankind..."

It was hard to follow, his mental landscape a tangle. He repeated a few choice words, touching upon abysses and filth, eventually leaving his ode to pierce us again with wide, terrible eyes. He continued more lucidly: "Here the new world order shall unfold. The old order. The old shall be new again. The dead, alive. The peaceful, militant. The leaders restored. The striving, crushed. And the content, terrified."

And then suddenly, he rushed at us, shrieking. We scrambled backward, startled by the extreme outburst. The orderly was instantly upon Crenfall, who murmured apologies as he retreated back into his corner once more. "I get these fits, madame," Crenfall whined to Mrs. Northe, sweeping a terrified gaze to me, then to the orderly. "Please, I'm sorry. I'll be better..."

"It's all right sir, thank you." Mrs. Northe placed a calming hand on the orderly's forearm.

Crenfall begged again, cringing. "Please understand. I did not start this with the desire to hurt anyone. I only wanted to serve. For the world to be sorted properly. But once you choose a path and walk it a while...there is no turning back."

Mrs. Northe stood her ground and maintained her gentle but unequivocal tone. "Tell me where your associates meet. Names, if you can."

Crenfall looked at us helplessly, murmuring, wide-eyed, "They're all Majesties. We don't know their true names. Such power in names, you know. Their blood is the finest. And they will situate themselves among the grand and glorious, the central and the vital. Better to seize the heart of the city."

"He's raving, madame. I hope you've sense enough to see that," the orderly growled, his fist still threatening. Mrs. Northe offered the orderly a reassuring gesture.

"I'm trying... I'm trying to serve," Crenfall murmured, offering up a soft plea. "Please bestow your grace upon me...for I do grow scared of the dark..." And he was off again, counting the insects round his window bars, only with a few more tears on his cheek, and no other urging from Mrs. Northe garnered any response.

Mrs. Northe turned to me, and I saw a tired, old pain I was seeing more frequently. Or perhaps I was simply more insightful. She spoke softly as we left the cell. “I realize that this branch of doctors, scientists, and analysts are called Alienists because these people are alienated from society, from everything we think of as capable and compatible with our average existence. But their patients are still human. They are not so alien that I cannot still feel them, straining at my mind, their souls reaching out as their hands do. For something. Someone. For a shred of light, sunlight, quiet...anything to grasp.”

This was my thought as I walked away, the head Alienist waiting for us, having listened in, his face contorted in disapproval that he thankfully kept to himself.

We made our way back toward the entrance, past chambers of experimental operation, activity that appeared on all accounts to be somewhat medieval and torturous. If I strained to hear it, I wondered if I’d feel the heartbeat of misery. Surely Mrs. Northe did, for it seemed she could not help herself, lashing out at the attending Alienist. "As a rule, are you cruel?"

The man just stared at her as if he didn't understand her question.

As we made our exit, a young man in a black suit, with pale skin, dark eyes, and an arm held at an angle entered. Palpable sadness was writ wide within his dark eyes. The crash of water sounded nearby. Likely a man strapped to a chair plunged into a submersion tank, as I'd seen in passing. "Barbaric," he murmured.

"Yes, doctor, so you've said," came the weary reply from the warden at the door. "Do open your own institution then instead, will you?"

I couldn't help but turn to the slight man whose presence was magnetic, whose eyes were so fierce, and smile. He returned it, an action that transformed his face, removing his hat as he bowed his head to me and then Mrs. Northe before walking away, making us all passing strangers once more.

“I was about to decry that there were no persons of true feeling I’d yet seen in a place like this,” Mrs. Northe murmured, nodding after the man. “Perhaps there is hope for the hopeless. I always say that there is, as a general rule, but sometimes…those are just hollow words.”

Hope for the hopeless. That made me think of Maggie, and as we stepped outside those doors, straining toward that open lawn beyond, I blurted:

“Please tell me Maggie won’t be brought to a place like this. What happens when she’s well enough?”

Mrs. Northe sighed as we climbed again into the calash that she had instructed come back around for us to take us again to the small steam ferry that would chug gladly back to Manhattan. We sped away from the looming complex, and I did not look back. She turned to me with a withering stare that caused me to shrink back in the bouncing seat.

"Do you really think so little of me that I'd let Maggie, my niece, misguided as she is, be swept away into these terrible systems?" she asked, her voice pained. "These days a woman can get committed for reading a romance novel, let alone "witchcraft," and I swiftly put my sister's vain head out of that notion. It's no wonder Margaret was seeking something more meaningful out of life. Her mother seemed more concerned with the family reputation than whether or not her daughter was well. I'm sending her off to Chicago, to be looked after by one of my dearest friends in all the world, Miss Karen Sheldon. She and my dear Amelia, the one that died, are...were...bosom friends. Maggie will be in the best of care and company with Karen."

"And yet you opened your home to Lavinia Kent, but not your own niece—"

"My sister wanted Maggie sent away. This was the compromise. Please don't question me," Mrs. Northe snapped. "I would hope you know enough by now that my friends, to the last one of them, are incredible, I daresay magical people. Karen is...inconsolable in losing Amelia, they lived together since they were girls in school, and this mission might just save two souls at once. Karen is very gifted empath and will seek out the root of Maggie's trouble and return her to us well again."

Boarding the steamboat, sprawling Manhattan lay ahead of us, and as always I was stunned by the skyline, the looming towers of the mid-complete Brooklyn Bridge, a behemoth of gothic stone straining to the sky, the churning industry along the river, the bobbing masts of countless ships and the puffs of constant steam engines. Busy, churning, burning New York. A devil in your midst wants to eat you whole. But does it not underestimate you, grand city?

"So did we gain anything?" I asked, turning the subject away from Maggie. I was relieved by Mrs. Northe's assurances but still not sure what to think, wondering if Maggie would ever recover, if there was anything left for us as possible friends, even after all the stupid things she'd done.

I thought of what had struck me in Crenfall's words, words that may have meant something. I had grown accustomed to picking apart single words as clues; the magic that had imprisoned Denbury worked off specific words, a direct spell. Words had far more power than people gave them credit for. As a girl who'd spent a good bit of her life mute, I appreciated that fact more than most. "The grand and the central," I stated. "Do you think there's something going on near the Depot? Grand Central Depot?" I wanted to compare that area to the addresses Brinkman offered Jonathon and see if there was any rhyme or reason to them.

"I do, yes," Mrs. Northe said, nodding, her expression fixed in concentration. "And then there were the numbers. And then the reference to Majesties. High-born folk, which would explain the connection with the English, who have more stratifications that we'd like to think we have here, though they merely take different forms, and the discussion of what seemed to be a societal shift. And the ancient power of the name once more. If there are further spells afoot, we must keep that at the core. I ought to have written those numbers down. There is code in madness, and sense in code. Incredible works of scripture and art have been written in odd sequences and fantastical scenarios. But it was familiar to me. I think it may have been related to the golden ratio. But rearranged...”

I blinked at her, hoping she’d explain. She smiled. “I thought your father may have explained that one to you at some point. The golden ratio is a mathematical concept that can be applied to art. It’s thought to be divine, a ratio of composition and proportion that is thought to be most pleasing to the eye, a pattern that repeats in nature, something Godly. Ah. Yes, that’s why it was odd.”

“Crenfall was doing it backward, then,” I offered. “Inverted.”

“Precisely.” She chuckled mordantly. “At least these wretches are consistent in their disregard for the proper order of things. It would seem they’d prefer the world be inside out.”

“Just chaos?” I asked. I thought about what we knew so far, the demon’s insinuations of a new dawn. “Surely they want more than anarchy. What does mere chaos buy them, other than perhaps entertainment?”

“Oh, there is a greater agenda, but the true scope of it seems to elude me. All the paranormal experimentation has to be leading to something, but I’m just not sure exactly what. I believe they seek weapons of control and terror, the soul-splitting and the reanimation and the chemicals are part of that quest, but to what end they'll be used I’m still not sure.”

Having transferred to a trolley car and after a two block walk to her townhouse, Mrs. Northe brought me into her parlor, and I, of course, looked around and listened for any signs of Jonathon's presence, but there were none, to my great disappointment. I'd become used to catching him up on information immediately, and the thought that he was out and about without me was a fresh torture, the kind I'd only felt when he had gone to England to attempt to sort out his affairs.

When I'd first met him, our souls had communed through a painting, and with a flood of guilt, I realized I'd liked it—or at least felt more confident—when he was trapped, as it was a measure of control I'd had over the situation. I didn't like that at all; the realization looked ugly to me when I pondered it within me. I needed to allow him to affect his situation for the better on his own. I'd seen the sort of revitalization of his spirit that his own direct action had wrought. Being his savior had been delicious for me, a power like I'd never known. I craved that sensation again and empathized with the addict of some powerful drug.

Mrs. Northe waited for her maid to leave before she continued with her thoughts, proffering the tea that had been prepared for us. "I've been worried that Crenfall is a liability to us, that if a Master's Society member were to interrogate him it could jeopardize us. But it would appear Crenfall and the demon were lone operatives without a direct overseer. At least not one who could have foreseen the final business with the painting. Considering the timing, Crenfall couldn't have managed to see the portrait in pieces, so I doubt he could be an informant, though we might want to make your father aware that the Metropolitan might be a source of intrigue, if any of them still think Lord Denbury's painted prison still hangs there, and not in pieces."

I stared at my hands, the worn lace gloves I needed to mend a couple of fingertips of, and felt overwhelmed as how could we pick out Society operatives in a city thronged with people. Anyone, anywhere, on any street, could be looking for us. It was maddening. I picked up the teacup and forced myself not to shake; trembling was tedious to me at this point. I dearly did not want to appear as fragile as I felt. I felt Mrs. Northe's eyes upon me before she continued:

"I can't imagine it would have occurred to 'society operatives' that a mute girl would speak the counter-curse to set Lord Denbury free, so you may yet be safe while his cover may have to remain carefully in question. We don't know what could have gotten back to London. I made sure that Mr. Smith cleaned up everything around Preston's hospital wing. The staff there was informed of his suicide, and no one seemed very surprised, glad to have the wing reopen without his morbid presence and constant séances."

Well. His suicide wasn't entirely a lie; Preston had most certainly brought on his death himself. It was just a bit more complicated, with reanimate corpses and ghosts holding surgical scalpels. The thought of Mrs. Northe's personal guard Mr. Smith stalking about in his eerie, quiet way, tying up loose ends and settling matters with unsettling efficiency, brought a perverse smile to my face. He was the most inscrutable man I'd ever met, but I trusted him.

Mrs. Northe, seeing that there were no more queries or answers for the day, knowing we already had plenty to think about, had a carriage brought round to my home. I entered a quiet house with Father quiet in the study, went quietly to my room in the quiet way that was so often comfortable between us. Then, as I sat gingerly upon my bed, there came the terrible question of what to do with myself next.

My thoughts turned dark, and I knew, before I even closed my eyes, that a nightmare would come.
And I knew it would be one for the record books.


(End of Chapter 5.2 -- 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 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!)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Chapter 5.1 (For previous chapters, please see links at right)

I watched from the window of my small upstairs room for Mrs. Northe's fine carriage and magnificent mare. When they came around the corner of my block, I darted out to the door. Bessie asked nothing of my business—Mrs. Northe's wealth and high social status offered us that privilege—so I hurried down to the street and hopped in as soon as she opened the door from inside. Before the driver could climb down to assist me, I had already clambered up in a swish of skirts far less fine than those opposite me. I threw myself into the seat a bit like Brinkman had the day prior. It was an impressive skill I wanted to practice.

She opened her mouth as if she were about to reprimand me, likely ready to remind me that wasn't how Lady Denbury should behave, yet she only chortled.

"This is the first moment we've had in a while to just catch up, you and I," I began. "I do hope you'll be less cryptic about Chicago and many other things you've been cagy about."

She chuckled again and looked out the window as the carriage sped downtown down an oddly clear Second Avenue. I could tell the chuckle masked grief. I could tell she didn't want me to see the pain in her expression. She kept her voice impressively steady. "My friend was dying, that was no lie. She was a woman of visions. When she bid me come see her onward onto the Undiscovered Country, she told me that she'd seen things I needed to know about. I confess, I wasn't eager to hear them."

There was a pause. The clatter of horse hooves and wheels upon cobblestones was a lulling pattern of sound for several blocks. I patiently waited, but I kept my eyes trained on her so that she knew I was expecting more out of her.

"Every mentor has to step out of the way, Natalie," she added finally. "And allow her protégés to fight their own battles."

I caught my breath, trying to let that declaration and all it may portend sink in. "That's why you went to Chicago, when Jonathon and I, with the help of friends, had to deal with Doctor Preston's reanimated madness on our own? I confess, I didn't like feeling abandoned."

"And I remain torn," she countered. "What my friend saw predicts dark futures ahead. I was hoping she'd reassure me that I would, as I like to do, play the role of guardian angel effortlessly, flawlessly. I can't promise that will be the case, Natalie. So look sharp. Stay safe. And don't look to me as the answer for everything," she said, her tone terribly sad. She kept her gaze trained out the window.

This wasn't something I wanted to hear out of a woman I'd once thought invincible, infallible. But she was human. Just like the rest of us imperfect creatures that fate had bound together against a dark force we still struggled to comprehend. I hope at least fate knew what it was doing even if we didn't.

I opened my mouth to ask about Maggie, for last I’d heard a doctor had been tending her at the Hathorne residence, but I doubted life would simply continue on for the misguided girl—a young woman who was my peer in age, though I was not her peer in wealth—without some sort of judgment, punishment, or internment. I wasn’t sure what stopped me this time. But the overwhelming task of what we were up against had me at a loss for words, my occasional difficulty with speech notwithstanding.

A lack of confidence is what had me often fall back into my old patterns of silence. I decided to focus on the task at hand. One task at a time, this day was for information gathering, else I'd lose my mind with worry and wondering. When we disembarked for the small steam ferry and I saw the dreary round island ahead, positioned amid the East River, a place I'd thankfully never had cause to go, there was nothing to do but wrestle with the pit of dread in my stomach. While boarding the small boat, we had to brace our hats—Mrs. Northe's feathered piece far more elaborate than my felt and tulle one—against the river winds, feeling the boat struggle against strong currents as if it didn't want to cross either...

Good God, what a miserable place. A long, sprawling castle of dark brick out on Wards Island that picked up the howls of patients upon the East River winds. I glanced at Mrs. Northe as I first spied the long, rounded edifice, curving in like a vast crescent. Any hope of getting honest information paled. I wondered if the man we sought would even be recognizable in this gargantuan estate of insanity.

Crenfall, the broker who had seen to the transfer of Lord Denbury’s portrait from England to New York—with his soul trapped inside—was an odious man, leering and unseemly. But I couldn’t imagine that even the most deserving of creatures would fare very well in this purgatory, just one step away from hell. I couldn't imagine that anyone with a shred of sanity would keep it in a place like this; from the cries and screams I heard the moment the scowling ferryman mounted a rickety calash to drive us up the long winding path to the front doors, it seemed no one had.

“I have to utterly shut down any of my heightened senses, any ability to pick up on another person's thoughts or emotions. It's too painful, scattered, and raw,” Mrs. Northe murmured to me as we stepped down from the creaking calash that was all too happy to tear away again, the driver not looking back. I stared up at the towering, formidable building before us as she continued: “I know that Crenfall was an accessory to murder and justice must be served. Still, I feel a pang of pity for those confined here.”

An attendant in a dreary gray uniform, a solemn-looking man strained around the eyes, opened the door before Mrs. Northe had even lifted the knocker. He stared past us, out into the wide, vacant lawn, as if ready to run. We stepped inside the daunting doors, and the sounds were far worse within than without. I could not blame the man for yearning for that free open space behind us, in such contrast from the overwhelming weight and gloom of the place.

The warden, a stern, broad man dressed in the same somber gray as everyone that could be seen anywhere in the vast open foyer and halls leading off in either direction, looked up in surprise at our arrival. A large ring of keys clinked at his side as he approached. "Can I...help you...ladies?"

"I seek an interview with one of your patients," Mrs. Northe said.

"An interview?" The man's eyebrows seemed ready to launch off his skull.

"Yes. Someone who was recently convicted and placed here in confinement, a Mr. Crenfall."

The warden chuckled. "You want information out of him? Because all you'll get is some babbling murmurs about a Master."

I fought back the urge to shudder at that word.

Mrs. Northe was swift to answer. "I'll take what I can get," she replied, her tone not to be trifled with. "It's to do with an investigation."

The man sneered, and I distinctly didn't like him. "Since when did the police let women do their work?"

"They don't," Mrs. Northe replied crisply. "And yet we do. Sir. Do their work. Every day. It just isn't our job. But we do, in our way. Now please be so kind as to do yours in turn and show me to the prisoner. An attendant guard would be kindly appreciated."

That I wanted to grow up to be just like the woman at my side was hardly lost on me in moments like this. I fought back a haughty look I wanted to give to the man.

"I've got to ask the boss. As this is hardly custom," he said with an exaggerated bow, flashing jagged teeth first at Mrs. Northe, then at me. I quelled another urge to shudder and had to keep it still at bay when I saw the Alienist in charge approach; he was a towering, sour-faced, balding man in an ill-fitting brown suit, the sort of character who looked more like someone the Master's Society would choose as a lackey than the kind I'd like to see tending the mentally ill. The warden was speaking to him quietly as they approached us, and then he walked off, leaving us there in the cold, drafty hall with the head of the place.

"You wish to...interrogate Crenfall?" the man asked with blatant skepticism.

"I realize his lucidity may be limited," Mrs. Northe replied, "but if he's speaking in puzzles, even they, sensible or not, may be of use."

"May I ask what you're working on, and why you've a young..." He turned to me and fumbled for words. "What are you, miss? An...apprentice?"

That the world seemed so baffled by a woman of agency such as Mrs. Northe was far more irritating to me than a man being baffled by my presence. I typically ought not to be in the situations I'd been finding myself since encountering Jonathon's haunted portrait, but with every new situation, I felt more and more entitled to my purposes and would stand strong, haughty, even, against the withering stare of the disapproving who wanted me to be seen and not heard, home and not out, soft and not strong.

"I wish I could explain our positions and duties, but I'm under orders not to say," Mrs. Northe said with a kindness to her voice that made her less threatening, a good tactic, one that appeared to placate but was unapologetic. "If you've any concerns, I've government contacts to vouch for me, men who will most certainly appreciate your efforts to both allow us to complete an interview whilst ensuring our safety."

I was fairly sure she meant Senator Bishop; he seemed a very useful man to know, and one that was on our paranormal side, a side few seemed brave or open-minded enough to entertain. The doctor shrugged and gestured we follow him into the heart of the gray maze laden with bars and wailing voices.

Dank halls, dirty linens... the men within the cells seemed creatures, not humans. It was a brick building of long, caged hallways. It was a prison, yet worse; they weren't merely being held, they were being worked on. Whatever efforts had gone forward since the Civil War to make sanitariums seem more amenable must not have affected this place for the better.

The doctor seemed to be deploying a host of new advancements, operations, serums, and "therapies" upon his patients that seemed more like abuse from the looks of it as I passed cell after cell of misery. One man was strapped to a chair while attendants dunked him face down into a vast basin of water. I opened my mouth to ask what the point there could possibly be in such treatment when the doctor supplied:

"One has to employ every possible tactic if one is to get anything out of the mad. One never knows what will break them open, what will lead us to another discovery in the great uncharted territory of the human mind. You never know what will lead to progress."

I could see both Mrs. Northe and myself fighting back the urge to argue with the man, but we truly couldn't afford to make any enemies in so miserable a place. Through a metal door was a small rectangular window, and through that smudged frame I saw Crenfall leaning up against the stone wall of his cell in a baggy gray shift, looking up to the tiny rectangular window that let in a sliver of wan light. The Alienist motioned an attendant to open the door and enter with us, standing to the side but between us and the madman. I noticed then that Crenfall was counting the flies hovering about the window, murmuring numbers.

Crenfall looked up sharply at the sound of the metal door, his beady eyes focusing right upon me, like an animal. A sudden, complicated rush of emotions hit me;  if Jonathon hadn't been so strong, if he'd have been more weak-willed, more easily influenced and manipulated, I could be staring at him right now. Thinking of Jonathon, of his inherent worth, how strong he'd been through his own attack, internment, and onslaught of dark magic steeled me, calmed me, and allowed me to focus in on this tragic creature.

"Mister Crenfall, I've some questions for you," Mrs. Northe finally began.


(End of Chapter 5.1 -- 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 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!)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Chapter 4 (For previous chapters, please see links on the right column)

The next morning I rose early, ate well, and read the paper, glad not to answer to anything. Bessie, a long-time friend of the family who had served as housekeeper since her husband died and our families bonded in grief, was out for the morning. My father and I had enjoyed comfortable silences for far too many years due to the Selective Mutism I had now nearly entirely overcome. But old habits and all... The silence was actually a bit of a comfort, a reminder of when times were simpler. A time before Jonathon.

However, I'd not go back to permanent silence ever again, nor would I ever regret the lord that overturned everything, curses in his wake. Times may have been simpler, but I baffled my father then just as much as I did now. Someday I'd make him proud, just never in the ways he'd imagined. I kissed my father's cheek as I saw him out the door to the Metropolitan, and the bright green eyes I inherited from him glittered. He might never have known what to do with me, and that was likely the same with Mother, but he loved us unconditionally, of that I was certain. Once he was off, I was then free to be consumed with one name, one mission.


No, this English spy wouldn't be expecting me. But it was good to meet things unexpectedly. Often a person's true colors shone through in moments of surprise, and Jonathon might see a chink in Brinkman's armor if things didn't go to his plan.

I was glad to walk the many blocks to Mrs. Northe's home, hoping the activity could focus my nerves. Jonathon had been inspecting apartments in Greenwich Village for possible purchase, fancying a home in both Greenwich territories on either side of the “pond,” but nothing had been settled. So he remained with our most generous benefactor. I forced aside any jealousy that Lavinia and Jonathon would be under the same roof with one another. Lavinia was utterly preoccupied and over the moon about Jonathon’s best friend, Mister Veil. Still, the uncertainty of my relationship with my dear lord brought a heretofore unknown paranoia to my already industrious imagination.

The maid let me in, gesturing me to the parlor where I was relieved to see Jonathon awaiting me. He looked, as usual, dapper and stunning. Having procured finances from his trip to England, he must have gone to the very best in men's shops here in New York for fresh suits, nothing too flashy, everything dark and elegant. This was a charcoal suit with a black waistcoat and deep blue cravat, his blue accents always setting off those heart-stopping eyes. Maggie would've known the brand and store of his attire, surely. She had a nose for such things. I'd have to learn, if I wanted to truly understand Jonathon's world. So many daunting tasks, from the more mundane function of the ways of the elite to the gravest of hard work ahead: dismantling a deadly secret society. Surely the infamous and aristocratic "Majesty" that had been giving Jonathon orders as if he were still his demon-possessed self would know where Jonathon's suit came from too.

Upon my entrance, Jonathon bowed his head and said not a word as he rose, a walking stick in one hand, top hat in the other, and gestured toward the door. I saw no sign of Mrs. Northe or Miss Kent. Perhaps they were out bonding in the same ways she and I had done months prior. I tried not to fear for my favored place at the center of things, but jealousy has its ways.

“We’ll only volunteer vague answers to Brinkman’s questions," Jonathon instructed. "Wait for him to volunteer information first.” I nodded.

We took the elaborate route Brinkman had instructed in his note and kept silent the whole way. I'd seen Jonathon play his demon doppelganger eerily well and so was fully prepared for him to take the lead with his countryman. But I palmed the hilt of the small knife I stowed between the stays of my bodice and the corset beneath, accessible via a partly opened seam. This action steeled me. If the spy proved a turncoat, I'd draw and defend Jonathon in a heartbeat...

We were making the last turn of the particular route, the park ahead of us, when a flurry of action at the door to the carriage had us exclaim in alarm. My knife was out in the instant, but so was Brinkman inside in the same, with a cry of, "If you've weapons put them down, I'm on your side!"

The door yawned open as the man's hands were planted upon the roof of the cab and his feet were up and between Jonathon's and mine before a lanky body lithely followed. In another smooth motion, he threw his weight to the side, plopping next to Jonathon. He then bent to draw the flapping door shut once more and turned to both of us with a wide and winning smile, plucking a black wide-brimmed felt hat from  his head.

He was dressed in a fine black suit and grey striped waistcoat and white cravat, all well-made and tailored but not ostentatious. His features were nearly weasel-like in their somewhat pinched quality, and yet somehow their arrangement was disturbingly attractive. His dark brown hair was slicked back, a few ends turning out in defiance, his eyes were a sky blue, a shade darker than Jonathon's strikingly pale ones, but that just didn't seem fair, as I found Denbury's so hard to look away from.

"Gabriel Brinkman at your service, Lord Denbury," he said in a gently refined accent that I guessed came from a London elite. Though I knew little about England and its regionalisms, I could tell upper class from common well enough. "And who might this feisty young lady be?" he asked, offering a dazzling smile that dimpled lean cheeks. "I saw a telling flash of silver." He bowed his head to me. "An impressively quick draw, miss." He then turned to Jonathon. "Hiring a female body guard? Very clever and very good cover, sir."

Jonathon offered a slight smile, but I could tell he wanted to laugh. I said nothing and tried to look menacing. I doubted it worked, but both gentlemen seemed to enjoy it. Jonathon introduced me only as "a colleague" and gave no name. If Brinkman was a good spy, he'd figure it out. Brinkman narrowed his bright eyes at me. And did.

"You must be Miss Stewart. I had a look through the files pertaining to your portrait, Lord Denbury, and the goings on surrounding it. Sergeant James Patt seemed all too glad to have your nonsense wrapped up and to have pinned the blame on someone, batty Mister Crenfall, eh?"

"Well, he was an accomplice," Jonathon replied. "He was the broker who facilitated the transfer of my portrait and...incapacitated body onto these shores. Justice was served in his arrest, certainly."

"Indeed." Brinkman nodded. "As for the rest of the justice... You've taken that upon yourselves, have you?" While his tone held no judgment, neither of us were sure how we should reply. Brinkman continued. "Patt gave me leave to peruse your diary, Miss Stewart. And am I to presume that it is true?"

I blushed. He'd have read all the kissing bits in that diary. That was so unfair.

"It is," I said through clenched teeth.

"I stake my life on it," Jonathon replied. "The life that is wholly in her debt, you'll know from having read her accounts."

Brinkman smiled at me again. That didn't help the blush. "You're a very good writer, Miss Stewart." Even worse. There went the heat of my cheeks a few degrees further. He released me from his stare and turned again to Jonathon. "My contact, Mister Knowles, tells me you met a certain 'Majesty,' and there has been correspondence." Jonathon nodded. "May I see it, please? Do you have it with you?"

Jonathon reached into his breast pocket and withdrew a letter with the familiar, insidious red and gold seal of The Master's Society, the one he’d withheld from me pertaining to the offices and looking in on Stevens. "They have three avenues of experimentation," Jonathon explained. "Splitting the soul from the body, I was the unfortunate test on that. Reanimation had us dealing with poor Doctor Preston. And now, pharmacology, with the chemical given to Veil's Associates." He lifted up the note and proffered it to Brinkman for perusal. "This may have come before what you assume was the undoing of my cover in Doctor Preston's death. How should I proceed with this Doctor Stevens? I went to the offices herein, but there is nothing there.”

“Are you entirely sure about that?” Brinkman asked.

“Indeed. I’ve a way of…seeing things," Jonathon replied carefully, keeping the particulars of his new gifts out of the discussion. "No living soul was present there.”

Seeing things?”

“Keen eyes, Mister Brinkman,” I offered quietly. “I do hope you have them too.”

“Things are never exactly as they seem at first glance with the Society,” Brinkman replied cryptically.

“And you? Are you as you seem at first glance?" I queried. "What reason do we have to trust you?”

Jonathon flashed me a warning glance not to be too harsh and was quick to add: “I’ve my reasons for why I will trust you, Mister Brinkman. But I also have ways of knowing if you’ve betrayed me to my enemy, so I’d truly not suggest you do so. Are you saying I should try these addresses again?”

“I think you might find evidence there. Persons, no. The Master’s Society manages to operate with scant personnel that don't keep regular patterns, the bane of any spy.”

Brinkman held up the Master's Society letter to the light. He fished in his own breast pocket and produced a small vial with a sponge on the stopper. He uncorked the vial, brushed the damp sponge over the paper and something bloomed forth in response.

My mouth hung open a bit at this magic, and Brinkman smiled again as he explained: "Sympathetic stain. Terribly useful in espionage. Your American Revolutionary rings, that Culper set, were quite fond of it. Your troops gained many advantages passed through unsuspecting pages." He glanced down at what had been revealed, then passed it to Jonathon. It was a date. The following Tuesday. "It is likely Master's Society protocol, then, to encode something important within the letter. Something is obviously scheduled."

"Another experiment?" Jonathon posed. "Should we expect for another 'outbreak' like what happened with Nathaniel's Association?" He turned to his countryman. “We believe we need to find their center of operations to terminate the beast at its source. I hope you’ll help us in that quest, Mister Brinkman.”

“It changes, they’ve several offices. I’ve only pinpointed two, there may be four. They seem to like to commandeer grand spaces.”

At this, Jonathon's jaw clenched, and his crystalline eyes darkened. "I don't suppose you've any news of my Greenwich estate."

"The situation will have to be...addressed, Lord Denbury. I don't believe the tenants who overtook your manor are fully in control there; Knowles informed me that he thinks something is a bit off."

"Could that be a center of operations?" I asked.

"In part, perhaps, though their focus seems to zero in on a few cities, London, New York, Chicago. That your estate got swept into this is rather an outlier, my lord," Brinkman replied. Jonathon's leather-gloved hand clenched, and I resisted the urge to put my lace-gloved hand over his. There was no avoiding Jonathon's return to England. This time I wouldn't let him go without me.

“I’d like to know those addresses, and also, do elaborate on how you know someone is ‘coming for me’ as your note intimated,” Jonathon said carefully.

“The former? Intercepted mail. The latter? Let’s say instinct. And I was trying to get your attention.”

“Idle threats may get attention but not trust,” Jonathon countered.

“If I knew exactly who or what or when something was coming for you, my lord, I’d have left you an itinerary. But I do believe they’d rather kill you than wait to see if you bested them, especially without word from Doctor Preston directly. So be on the lookout for anything and everything. Where are you staying? I’m sure I could arrange for protection.”

“I am well protected,” Jonathon assured. I wondered if Mrs. Northe had increased guards around her home. If so, they weren’t visible. The woman was artfully subtle. Brinkman bowed his head. “How can I find you, Mister Brinkman, if I have information to give you or questions to ask?”

“Here is what I know of possible property in Master's Society hands," the spy replied. "And don’t worry where to find me, I’ll find you.” And with that, he was again out of the still-moving carriage, the door slamming behind him.

“Well,” Jonathon and I said at the same time.

“He didn’t have any aura of the demon about him, but then again, he didn’t have any light at all. Generally speaking, when people will be of particular help, they’ve a soft white light about them. You, of course, were colored in the exact inverse hues the demon sported; thusly, I knew you could stand in direct opposition to its magic. But this fellow, curiously nothing, and for him to be so involved, I’m not sure what it means.”

“Could he be a possessed body?” I asked.

“Generally, the possessed have a flicker of fire about them, that odd sulfuric haze. I saw none of that. What do you think, were the eyes off? Did they have that dog-like reflective quality?” Jonathon replied. I shook my head. He shrugged. “Perhaps it means he’s neutral.”

“You mean he won’t help but won’t harm?”

“That’s all I can think of it.”

“Well, that’s disappointing.” I folded my arms, elbow brushing the knife hilt I’d returned to the unconventional sheath of my corset.

“And troubling,” Jonathon added, “if his allegiances are easily swayed.” He unfolded the paper.

“You’re not going alone,” I cautioned. “That you went, with that note, and tried to find—”

“That I did anything without you truly disturbs you, I realize. But you cannot mother me through everything, Natalie,” he said, an edge to his tone.

“Mother you? No, I…” I felt sounds die in my throat. Come on, Natalie, words. Words to fight what isn’t fair.

He sighed. “I’m not ungrateful for anything, Natalie, but I also need to be able to do things for myself and on my own. Not only because I worry for your safety, but also because this is, at heart, my own personal vendetta and the only thing that sets my mind at ease is constantly thinking of the next step to best them. I will try to involve you if it seems plausible. Allow my independence, as you would wish I allow you yours, Miss Natalie,” he said, driving home the point of my femininity, of the world that sought to confine me and offer me no independence whatsoever. He didn’t say it with cruelty, but with a worldliness I could not deny. I had to tread carefully with him. I could lose him at any moment, and while I was not one to beg or plead for anything, I truly wanted him in my life.

His words were not to be argued. But I did take the paper from his hand to examine the addresses before he could yank it back away from me. One was on the Upper East Side, Park and 66, the other downtown, in an area I was fairly sure was industrial, off 14th Street.

“Tomorrow?” Jonathon queried. “Shall we scout?”

“No, tomorrow I’m…busy.”


I considered a moment whether or not I’d tell him, but there was no sense in secrets. It was all for his benefit; to set this madness to rest once and for all. “Mrs. Northe and I have a date with a madman. Crenfall. Mrs. Northe thinks she might glean some sort of clue from him about what to target in the city.”

Jonathon made a face and was silent. He helped me down from the carriage as it let me out near the red-brick Romanesque façade of the Metropolitan, a grand building quickly outgrowing itself, where I would go check in on Father so that he could feel as though he were checking in on me. It was now more important than ever that I keep my freedom by making Father think I were subject to his constraints as any good unmarried girl should be. Jonathon bowed his head to me before turning away. The gesture seemed too formal. If the forced intimacy of having met soul to soul receded into the cool detachment that supposedly came with “mature” sentiment, I couldn’t bear it. I was passionate, and I wanted to live, and love, passionately. Mutually.

“Do you want to come tomorrow?” I blurted, not wanting him to go, wishing we could replace our last day in the park with a better one, one where everything was said exactly so and unfolded as any girl might dream.

“I doubt a madhouse will do me good, Natalie. I will walk by the addresses Brinkman gave—” He put up his hand as I opened my mouth. “I’ll not make any attempts at entry or contact. Merely surveillance. Allow me this while you see what can be gleaned from that wretch who helped imprison me,” he muttered, grinding out words through clenched teeth. “We’ll be more productive if our team splits up.”

I prayed he didn’t mean that in terms of our relationship as well, and the fear of this had me blurting again. “I love you.”

His beautiful face, as world-weary as it had been in the painting when he feared all was lost, brightened a bit. He took my hand and kissed it softly. My entire body reacted in a sweeping thrill. And then he turned away, gave Mrs. Northe’s cross streets to the driver, and climbed in, disappearing behind the lace curtain of the carriage window. Perhaps his wounded pride still sought to punish me a bit, and so he did not return my words of love, but I would relive that kiss upon my hand until he could.

I watched the carriage turn town a side street, waiting for him to look out the window at me. He didn’t. I waved at the carriage anyway, biting my lip. I doubted a madhouse would do me good either, but I'd rather I suffer it than Jonathon. He was truly alone in the world save for me. The young man who had yet to grieve his murdered parents and all that had been taken from him was doing the very best he could in a land that was not his own, and I had to be the best I could be, for his sake. For our sake. Tomorrow might bring us one step closer to answers and closure.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day till the last syllable of recorded time… My Shakespearean life would yet unfold day by day, in an inexorable march toward the undiscovered country.


(End of Chapter 4 -- 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 Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and/or donate to the cause via the donate button on the sidebar! Donations directly support the editorial staff. Cheers! Happy haunting! See you next Tuesday!)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Chapter 3.2 (For previous chapters, please see the links on the right sidebar)

Maybe Jonathon felt it was only the little lady who should keep her head down while he was out playing double agent. I balled my hands into fists in the lap of my skirt, glad for the lovely lace tablecloth to hide my gesture. Perhaps he wanted revenge against my refusal of his proposal and was reasserting his own ability to take actions apart from me.

Would he go meet Brinkman on his own? No. I'd seen the route. I was not about to let him edge me out of this. I hadn't saved his life, risked my life, nearly died twice, and undergone a host of nightmares that would make Poe envious for their morbidity.

I realized my soup spoon was loud against the bowl, that I'd merely been turning it, not eating it, and thankfully it was cleared for some sort of poultry in a fine glaze that I'm sure would have smelled and seemed delicious were I in a mood to enjoy it.

"We'll have to face them eventually," Jonathon declared. "With what weaponry, I've no idea. But I feel the pall. I know their demonic forces are poisoning the city. I've seen flickers of red-gold fire across the jagged skyline, treetops, bridge spires. The city will fall to the whispers of demons if we're not careful."

"Yes, it will," Lavinia said, in a frightfully certain murmur.

"Only if you stop being vigilant will the city fall," Mrs. Northe countered. "You, yourselves, have always been the weaponry. Guns or blades may not help you. You know your best arsenal. You must be blindingly bright," she commanded. "Defiantly radiant."
I scowled. "How can I after all we've endured?"

Mrs. Northe's nostrils flared, and she pounded her gloved fist upon the table, rattling all her fine china settings. "Because now, right now, is when you need to shine the brightest! Now is when the enemy expects you to be dim, broken, helpless, and afraid!" Her passion was sudden, her words tremulous, eyes hard as she drove a rapier point home to its target.

"If you do not blaze like a dying star, my child, then you might as well be already dead, no longer glittering in the sky of promise God intends for you. You must be spectacularly luminous. Burn far hotter than you're able. Beam for your dear life, child. The world is nothing but shadow and dead ends. Only your own fire can light a way out of the maze."

"Amen," Reverend Blessing murmured.

The rest of our meal was spent mostly in silence, with a bit of small talk about art and a few amusing Washington anecdotes from Senator Bishop. He was savvy enough not to bring real political issues to the table.

But all I could think about was what lay ahead and if Jonathon and I could remain the solid team we'd been thus far in trying times. I was a woman of faith who was full of doubt. What could a ragtag band of Spiritualists, a senator, exorcist, a British Lord, a museum curator, and whatever I was—some Lutheran magnet for nightmares and the fancies of demons—do against a wealthy, resourced secret society who distributed murder and mayhem like a calling card to calling hours? I wanted to see a way out of the maze, but for the life of me, and maybe yet the death of me, I couldn't.

As per tradition in fine dinner parties, the men went off to the dark wood and leather of the late Mr. Northe’s study to smoke cigars and talk about being masters of their domain or some such masculine chatter, and the ladies went off to the soft, lace-filled parlor to do the same. From Jonathon’s reports, that male-driven room had been immaculately maintained and kept nearly overstocked with all kinds of fine liquor and exquisite cigars.

I wondered how often Mr. Bishop was over to partake of these treasures as well. Peter Northe had been gone for at least seven years if I remembered correctly, but it would seem his favorite supplies would be refilled in perpetuity. Perhaps his widow felt some part of him lingered on in the fine things enjoyed by the other interesting men who entertained at her home. I wondered if she heard his spirit speak, what he’d think of the growing closeness between my father and his widow, or just what the presence of Senator Bishop meant, as they too appeared far too familiar for mere friends. The energy between them seemed sibling in nature, but then again Mrs. Northe was a mystery. Just another question to add to my growing tally.

“You’ve a lot on your mind, Natalie,” Mrs. Northe murmured over her shoulder as she led Lavinia ahead of her to the parlor where the maid had set out tea and aperitifs. Lavina floated ahead as if she were a ghost, her thin frame alighting upon a divan, black layers splaying out, her eyes downcast, her expression lost in some reverie.

I set my jaw, wishing I could better hide things from her, as this was not the time, in a stranger’s company, to unload all that gnawed at me. “That I do.”

“Whatever you think I may have neglected, I hope you’ll do me some credit and believe that I have taken actions on all counts that require concern.”

I looked into her steely eyes, bright and powerful, and somehow I was sure she was talking about Maggie. I hoped she’d elaborate at the appropriate time. She then leaned close and murmured, “I’m going to interview the madman Crenfall to see if I can get a hint from him about the root of Society operations in the city. I don’t expect much, but any lead is better than none. Care to come with me?”

And in one swift rush, all my doubts and my frustrations were forgotten in the excitement that was being included in secret operations by this most compelling woman. I was under her thrall yet again.

“Yes, I’d like that very much.”

“No, you won’t like it at all. Asylums are horrid places, but—”

“But I can’t bear being useless.”

“Indeed, I figure you’d be less trouble if I took you with me. Tomorrow?”

“No, we’re…” I looked up in her eyes, and I felt my cheeks color. I was not a good at lying if I was quite sure my lie would be discovered. It was so hard to be artful around a clairvoyant. “Busy.”

“Indeed. Not tomorrow? The day after, then. I’ll tell your father we’re out for lunch. I’ll indeed feed you, though I’m not sure we’ll have much of an appetite after we’re done with the place.”

I just nodded, feeling a bit helpless and useless, wondering if, like the times before, the dark magic was just waiting around another corner I hadn't anticipated. But at least my next two days would prove eventful. It was true, I was less trouble if I was busy. After a moment I realized Lavinia was staring at me with an intense scrutiny that surpassed custom.

“You’re well intentioned, Miss Natalie. Worried you’ll fail, but well intentioned,” Lavinia said quietly, before turning to Mrs. Northe and elaborating. “It’s odd, ever since the incident, I smell things about persons, subtle scents, but suddenly I feel like I know the truth of their heart. You and the senator are powerful and inscrutable, but similarly well intentioned, though world-weary. I can sense it as if I were to taste the salt air of a long sea voyage.” She stopped herself as if she took a moment to truly listen to her own words, unsettled by their odd poetry.

“No, I don’t think you’re mad, before you ask,” Mrs. Northe reassured the girl before she could even think to mitigate her words. That sounded familiar. In the early days of our acquaintance, when I was convinced I was seeing the painting where Jonathon's soul was imprisoned move, Mrs. Northe had said the same thing to me, bless her.

“Jonathon sees that in auras," I offered. "The ability to judge character that you describe. Those of us who have been targeted by the Society end up, it would seem, coming away with more than we bargained for, but something that can be useful in the right circumstances, as long as you’re brave enough to use it. I look at it as God trying to give us an advantage, a weapon borne out of toil and pain.”

I'm not sure Mrs. Northe had ever given me such a proud look as she did just then. I suppose I sounded sort of like her.

Lavinia stared at me, seeming to gain the kind of strength and sense of purpose I felt when I was called to save Jonathon, me and me alone. I found myself liking this girl who seemed to wish to rise to the challenge, not hide from it in fear. But the struggle was there in her pale eyes. I knew that too.

Of course a thoughtful, complex girl like Lavinia Kent would be Mrs. Northe’s new project instead of her entitled, narrow-minded niece. Still, I’d have to see if there was something I could do to help Maggie, even if Mrs. Northe wouldn’t. The idiot girl had nearly gotten me killed, but I had the sense that I owed her some sympathy and aid. Maggie was a product of her age, her family. When I lost my ability to speak as a child, I'd become an outcast, I had to think of life differently, fend for myself differently. Miss Kent chose an outsider's perspective due to her interests. Maggie was the sort of girl society expected her to be, until she toyed too close to the fires of dark magic and got us burned. But I was stronger than Maggie. I had to earn Lavinia’s sense that I was well intentioned. Not only for myself, but for others.

We sipped some sort of sugary liqueur, and Lavinia drank in Mrs. Northe’s next instructions as if they were gospel. “Now, my dear girl, you must reach out to the rest of the members of your association and make sure none of them are trying to get ahold of the substance again, and if they are, we need to intercept those channels. Can you do this?”

Lavinia nodded. “I’ll make my rounds tomorrow.”

Tomorrow. Day by day, fate unfolded. Carefully, wrought with the terrible dread that hell would suddenly open before us. I feared the Master’s Society had been busy creating pitfalls for us, traps for us to walk into… My morbid imagination had been given such fodder in the past months that anything was possible and all I could do was pray. But even prayer felt like flimsy comfort against a widening net that sought to catch us up and feed…

Before long we parted our ways with pleasantries I hardly remembered; they all felt a bit forced, all of us sensitive and aware enough that we sat in the eye of the storm, a maelstrom underground, swirling around us, ready to drag us under like Hades did Persephone.

That night I wondered if I’d dream, all sorts of things having been stirred up. For the past two weeks, my nightmares had been dormant, meaning we did at least have some effect on pushing the dark magic back from whence it came. There were flashes in my dreams, nothing concrete, just vague shadows and the back of Jonathon. Walking away from me…and the hollowness that remained in his absence...


(End of Chapter 3.2 -- 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! Please pick up a copy of Magic Most Foul books 1 and 2: Darker Still and The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and/or donate to the cause via the donate button on the sidebar! Cheers! Happy haunting! See you next Tuesday!)