Tuesday, May 28, 2013


(For previous chapters, see right side bar. If viewing by mobile, scroll down from http://leannareneebooks.blogspot.com for all chapters)
Chapter 9.2

I blinked a moment, staring at this imperious man before me, and debated just how much cheek I'd give him.

"Neither Mrs. Northe nor Lord Denbury seem to be in at present, Mister Veil," I said in response to Nathaniel's insistent belief that I should know the whereabouts and goings-on of my suitor at all times. "So we'll just have to wait."

"Unless they ran away together," Nathaniel said dramatically. Lavinia snorted.

I didn't bother replying. Considering Mrs. Northe was the wisest woman I knew, I didn't think she was the type to run off with someone who could be her son, no matter how attractive he was. But then again, jealousy was a funny creature and flared up at the most inopportune moments. She had always been keenly interested in his welfare and well-being…

Before the green-eyed monster could entirely run away with my sensibilities, the maid I recognized as having been with Mrs. Northe for years, a thin woman who must have been hiding from all the commotion, bobbed her head at me before handing me an envelope. I could feel Nathaniel's keen, dark eyes upon me like a hawk.

"This place is full of secrets and missives!" he exclaimed. "I felt, from the moment I entered this fine house, caught up amid plots and espionage!"

Lavinia leaned forward from the settee, a fond smile on her face as she said in a stage whisper: "Everything, even the smallest thing, feeds his imagination."

"Oh, but it is espionage, Mister Veil," I replied with a wink and opened the note.

"Ha!" he exclaimed, seeming rather delighted. But my humor was short lived.

My heart faltered a bit. The letter was from Maggie. Nathaniel and Lavinia were lost to a bit of banter as I was lost to the words of the misguided young lady who was as much enemy as friend, yet a girl whose destiny I felt was awkwardly entwined with mine.

Dear Natalie,

I write this to you from Chicago, which is an odious place compared to New York City. It's crowded, loud, smelly. Not that New York doesn't have its foul districts, but this swine-butchering city seems so uncultured comparatively. But Karen is trying to endear Chicago to me, and day by day she wins a bit of it over to me.

I'm sure this letter sounds very frivolous thus far. That's probably what you think of me. Frivolous, shallow, with no idea what I've done.

But I do know. Please don't think the worst of me. I realize I nearly died. And I nearly dragged you with me into the madness.

I realize I nearly killed you.

I do not know what else to say but that I am sorry. And I am so very glad that you, Jonathon, and Rachel, and whatever forces were on your side, managed to save us. I owe you my life, misguided as it is. But seeing as I'm still alive I might as well make the best of it. Though the fashion here in Chicago is at least a year behind New York. Not that I've had much time for shopping.

Karen is teaching me myriad mysteries I don't even begin to know how to describe to you. Perhaps you will see them in person. I long to return to New York, but I am advised that the dark magic needs space and separation. Something you probably already knew.

But things are afoot here in Chicago, Natalie. There are other '"doctors'" doing other '"experiments'." Auntie was out here, having left us to our own devices, and her and Karen and the late Amelia did a bit of snooping, and it seems there's a subterranean racket of missing bodies and body parts, of possessions and soul-ripping. Karen said other recent instances might also be related to the collective trying to grab hold in the strangest ways.

But really, is what they're doing entirely evil? Is there not a point to experimentation? Asking questions? Seeing what the limits of the body, mind, and spirit may be?

I wonder these things, and then I wake with carvings on my arms and Karen has to bless me and wash my arms down with holy water. Karen says that Amelia is watching over me, she's sure of it.

I cannot help but wonder if Karen and Amelia were more than friends and were actually in one of those "Boston Marriages." Could you imagine? How scandalous. You should ask Auntie about it, though I doubt she'd tell me the truth. She never did like me being nosy in other peoples' business. I can't blame her. It has gotten me into trouble.

Karen said that Auntie told her that you suffered the same markings as I have. Runes? Some ancient language repurposed for something terrible? Perhaps you can share with me your thoughts and how the terror of it made you feel, for right now I am feeling rather put upon and wholly alone. I've never done well with solitude. Perhaps that's something I could learn from you too.

Not that you're alone, now, with Lord Denbury… I burn with shame. I don't know what else to say upon that count. That's another apology and contrite plea for forgiveness for another day. Though I doubt it would surprise you to hear I'm still rather jealous. What woman wouldn't be with such a catch as he?

Rachel has been by to check on me, not that we can communicate other than by notes we write one another. I can't imagine what it would be like not to be able to speak, and yet she is full of joy and hope, the sweetest soul. I can learn a lot from her about being grateful. That's another thing Auntie always said about me. Ungrateful. But not Rachel, who bears her burdens lightly and with grace.

Rachel says- well, she wrote, rather- when she came over for tea, that she's very busy putting all the souls to rest that were pulled to the reanimate body that a researcher here was working on. She says she feels a sense of purpose in fighting all this dark nonsense and that sense of purpose is something I'm trying to cling to.

What about voices? Do you hear voices, Natalie? Whatever you can tell me of your experiences with the forces that Karen refers to as "the Society's darkness," will likely be of great help.

Or, you might tear this letter up, wanting nothing to do with me ever again, and I could not blame you for that, even though I would be sad. I might not have ever been a good friend, but maybe, in the end, I can be.

With hope,

Margaret Hathorn

The letter shook a little in my hand as I gripped the paper and sat with these words, a ponderous weight upon my heart. I wasn't sure whether to be amused or appalled by Maggie's flippant, socialite tone shifting so effortlessly between gossip, deadly matters, and plaintive soul-searching. I went back and reread her previous paragraphs.

She was so close to what I would consider a redemptive tone, and yet she still justified the experimentation. Until she entirely denounced the Society's aims and actions, it was likely that the dark magic would still cling to her, call to her, and worse. It might still work through her.

I had denounced the demons entirely, and yet the runes had still managed to invade, carving their ways onto my arm as the dark magic sought me out. What was it doing to her, when she so clearly was still tainted?

I had been staring so intently at Maggie's words, as if I could somehow will further meaning, insight, and direction from the paper itself. Frankly I wasn't sure how much time had passed. But at the sound of rustling fabrics and soft murmurs, I looked up.

The number of persons in the room and milling in the halls and stairs beyond had increased dramatically, though the sound had not. Mister Veil's Association could be an eerily quiet bunch.

"Oh..." I murmured, my cheeks burning from the realization of sudden, further company. "I see it is time for a show..."


(End of Chapter 9.2 -- 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 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!)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Ministry Initiative Kickstarter Blog Hop!

Taking a break from serializing THE DOUBLE LIFE OF INCORPORATE THINGS to welcome you to Ministry Protocol: The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences blog hop!

We're here raising awareness about the amazing project that is the brainchild of Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine, authors of the popular Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, who are putting together a RP game set in the world as well as a spectacular Ministry-based anthology that I'm thrilled to have a story in!My short story "The New Recruit" is ghostly and endearing and wins the honour of making Pip Ballantine cry. You have been warned.

About the initiative:

Galileo Games and Imagine That! Studios have teamed up to bring you an ambitious steampunk project! The Ministry Initiative is a two-part creative endeavor that will not only premiere new fiction from the steampunk world of the Ministry but also present a brand new role playing game from the makers of Bulldogs! and the ENnie Award winning game Shelter in Place. Thrill to the tales in Ministry Protocol anthology, or join in as an Agent in The Ministry Initiative RPG.
Find out more about this endeavor and support the Kickstarter here: http://bit.ly/ministry-initiative

Goodies for you as incentives to chipping in and spreading the word about this fabulous project, dear reader:

As we raise awareness for the kickstarter campaign, I'm offering up 2 goodies!

1: The prize of a free electronic copy of my short story in the anthology, this entry is open internationally.

2: I'm offering one signed copy of The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart, the most recent release in my Gaslamp Fantasy series, the Magic Most Foul saga, which is currently enjoying a serialized finale via this very blog! The signed copy of Twisted Tragedy is open to US residents only.

To enter: please leave a comment here with why you love Steampunk and/or Gaslamp Fantasy or if you don't know the genre, why you'd like to try it out, please include a Twitter handle or an email address so we can contact you if you're the winner. (Emails will not be added to a mailing list, but you're welcome to join Leanna's mailing list at http://leannareneehieber.com ! ) And please subscribe to this blog every Tuesday for the free serialization of THE DOUBLE LIFE OF INCORPORATE THINGS, the finale in the Magic Most Foul saga! Come join the adventure in Gothic Victorian Fantasy right here, serialized just like the Victorians did!

Cheers and happy haunting!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


 (For previous chapters, see right side bar. If viewing by mobile, scroll down from http://leannareneebooks.blogspot.com for all chapters)
Chapter 9.1

Jonathon and I shared a hired carriage back to our respective residences. I doubted he’d have to sneak back into Mrs. Northe’s in the way I’d have to sneak back home; men did not have to answer to their whereabouts. Lord Denbury was lord of his own domain, and that would never be questioned. A young woman was not afforded such freedom of destiny.

But the particulars of freedom were lost to me the moment that Jonathon closed the cab door behind me, shutting us into the dark compartment. Somehow being truly alone together in full cover of night gave us permissions we hadn't allowed ourselves of late. The intense situation we had just shared brought us back to one another, to the partnership and perils we had become so familiar with. With those perils also had come passion. He and I must have been of a mind, for the moment I reached for his hand, he took the opportunity…

“Will you permit me a moment of not being entirely gentlemanly, Miss Stewart?” he asked in a hot murmur in my ear. "We've been trying to be so proper and behaved—"

“You're permitted,” I nearly gasped. He tore the cap from my head and entwined his fingers in my hair. Pulling me into his arms, he kissed me deeply, again and again, hands roving, until the carriage slowed its pace. East down the block stood my home, and I could not remain locked in his embrace indefinitely.

With a reluctant groan, he released me to catch my breath. I was just as woeful to be let go. But the driver wouldn't just sit there without question or further payment, and we did not dare to be suspect in our actions. Silent as I descended the carriage—I was afraid my voice would tell tales of me—I donned my cap once more, hoping no one was watching the front door of the divided townhouse, and that I could quietly ascend to our top floor rooms as undetected as I'd descended. I was in luck in returning to my bed unnoticed, though the eyes of Stevens still haunted me, as if I could see him hovering at my window like some creature in my beloved Gothic yarns. The sorts of tales that had once so titillated me left a far different taste in my mouth now that I was living what would only be believed as fiction.

That night came a nightmare, as if the night's victory was just a tease, as if I couldn't possibly be afforded a sensual dream of Jonathon's kisses alone, heaven forbid. Just as I was beginning to feel we were gaining ground as lovers and partners once more and winning against enemies in our waking hours, the dread fear and reality of his looming departure was writ large over my unconscious hours and the dread I could not entertain while awake had full reign while asleep.

This time the dream was shared with Jonathon, as we used to when our souls met in the painting and our consciousness was linked in dreams, a life-saving particular his curse could never have predicted. I was so glad to see him in my mind's eye, thrilled that he had returned to my resting self, but it seemed he didn't see me down the hallway from his striking silhouette. He was preoccupied on something before him, far, far away down the endless corridor that was such a continuing construct of these dreams. Always a corridor, with different particulars. This time it was the long hall of a house. A fine house. Perhaps his...

Something was calling him, voices, murmurs. From the empirical evidence of our horrors thus far, I knew that a swarm of murmurs in my mind meant that the dark magic of demons was amassing, building, coalescing, drawing him out and away from me...

This was the darkness gripping hold of him as he'd intimated to me at the tavern, and I called out:

"Jonathon, don't follow shadows..."

He looked over his shoulder, back at me. His bright eyes were at first pained, but then flashed oddly, like the demon's once did. He turned back, away from me once more, and kept walking. Ahead of him was a familiar old room, his study, in Greenwich, England. The study he had been painted into, a painted prison we had both become all too familiar with. I couldn't think he was walking back into it willingly... Forces would fight for him, yet, would he ever fully be free and could he ever regain his home? Could that place ever feel safe? What place could feel truly safe again when demons invaded with little care for doors or decorum, rejecting the sovereignty of soul? But thankfully, even though the devils wove their way into my dreams, so did the angels.

Jonathon cried out far ahead of me, there was a burst of light, the door to his study splintered. He cried angrily and ran off into the darkness, pursuing something as all the gas lamps around me suddenly lowered their flame.

They're coming for you... A warning whisper in my mind.

If the devils had anything to do with it, they would part us. Separate us and pick us off one by one because as a team, we were invincible. Or, at least, had been thus far, thanks in no small part to some divine intervention. In our separation would lie our downfall, I was sure of it. Why in the world had I turned down his proposal? It was just what the devils wanted. Maybe they were at work within us more than we knew.

The nightmare meant that in the morning I rose at the time my father rose. He always did take to the morning better than I. Before I could face anything or anyone, I jotted down the details of the dream in my diary; purging the images was cathartic, and yet I still had to log details of the dream as potential clues.

I'd been careful to take the time to be fond with Father, and with Bessie, our housekeeper who moved in after her Irish husband died building the foundations of the Brooklyn Bridge. A friend of my mother's from protestant civil liberties circles, Bessie had angered both her own family and her husband's by the sheer fact she was black and he was not. She hadn't had options, resources, or legal recompense when he died, and being a friend of the family, she filled a necessary void here, my widower father not knowing much what to do to keep the house when I'd been away at school learning Standard Sign.

"I assume you'll be going over to Mrs. Northe's today?" he asked, when I knew the question really meant if I would be seeing Jonathon.

"As one would only expect, and as she should," Bessie said matter-of-factly, shifting a piece of bread from her plate onto mine when she saw I'd taken to my food rather quickly. I caught her winking at me. I returned a wink when Father wasn't looking.

Bessie must have been encouraging Father not to be so worried about Lord Denbury's proposal, as he simply didn't press the issue further after her comment. She knew all too well the damage various familial pressures could do to true love across boundaries. Father shifted the conversation to acquisitions, and I mentioned what I thought the collection lacked, and then we were all off to our respective duties and errands.

I spent a little longer on my appearance, pinning up my hair with seed pearl pins Mrs. Northe had gifted me, sure to wear the nicer of my two lace-trimmed cream blouses, noting the slight tear in the sleeve had been repaired. Bless you, Bessie. I wore my best overskirt with its slight bustling at the back, a deep plum, my favorite color, with a little matching plum vest trimmed in mauve that made the piece seem like a whole ensemble. After the delicious kisses he gifted me the night prior, I wanted to be at my feminine best, though my best dresses were ball gowns I'd been given as gifts. A mere trip to Mrs. Northe's parlor did not necessitate a ball gown, fine as the parlor was.

The maid let me in, gesturing me into the parlor, and ran down the list of who was in, who had been in, and who was out. It was quite the rotating guest list. Mrs. Northe and Lord Denbury were both evidently out, but Lavinia was looking a bit lost in the parlor. The maid was quick to fetch us both tea. The black-clad girl, hair partly up and partly streaming down her back in a fetching deep red stream, looked like a Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood painting in mourning.

"Natalie, I'm very glad to see you. I wanted to tell you something I heard. One of my associates dropped this note for me." She referenced a small card in her lap. "He was out at the new White Horse Tavern, downtown, and he thinks he got a sense of the man who was behind the substance. And he said he thought someone looked familiar, someone who...interrupted the man in question, just as he was pressuring a group of lads. I don't suppose...Lord Denbury is on the trail of anyone, is he?" she asked hopefully, as if my Jonathon could be the hero she seemed to need.

I shrugged. I wasn't sure that we were letting on any word of our activities to anyone. It wasn't that I didn't trust Lavinia, there was something about her that compelled me, but I would let Jonathon be the one to share what he'd been up to. I assumed perhaps he was taking Mrs. Northe to the location in question, from whence he'd followed Stevens. Before Lavinia could press me further, there was some commotion at the front door.

Suddenly, I heard a familiar British accent crying out: “Darling, I’ve come for you!”

Lavinia looked up, wide-eyed, partly in ecstasy, partly in shock, as if she couldn’t believe her ears. And then her cheeks turned as red as her hair. We both knew exactly who that voice belonged to.

Nathaniel Veil had returned from England. And it would seem he was on a mission.

I could hear the maid protesting with him that he needed to be announced, but he charged right into the parlor in an imperious swoop of black fabric and flying locks of hair, not bothering to take off his cloak, tossing aside his top hat onto a nearby chair, and practically diving across the parlor and onto his knees before the divan where Lavinia perched so gracefully.

Enter Nathaniel Veil.

Tall and wild, the Gothic actor—all in the finest black, tailored vestments—did not leave his persona behind on the stage once he took his bow. Instead, he lived his theatricality in every moment, to the fullest, the energy and powerful presence entirely overtaking a room. I had to stop myself from laughing, not because I found him foolish, but merely because I was so entertained by his full commitment to being unquestionably dramatic. It was contagiously delightful.

And Lavinia’s expression was rather priceless. I could see the joy on her face, but as he took her hands in his and kissed them with flourish, a fierce pain took over, and her whole demeanor darkened.

“Ah, you finally pay attention to me now that I’ve gone and done something terrible?” she murmured. “You fly to the side of your injured toy?” He looked up at her in horror. “And you might want to be just a touch less rude, Mister Veil,” she added, “and say hello to Miss Stewart, who does happen to be in the room with us at present.”

“Hello, Mister Veil," I said gently from across the room. "It is so good of you to come. I am sure your Association will derive great comfort from your presence.”

Veil sprang up and instantly was across the room and back down on his knees again, taking up my hands in his this time. He did not kiss them, thankfully, for poor Lavinia’s sake, but he did hold them to his breast and spoke with absolute earnestness, his accent every bit as delectable to me as Jonathon's was. “Miss Stewart, I am so frightfully glad to see you, too, have you been taking good care of my dove here and my best, bosom friend? Where is that glorious cad Den, anyway?”

“I… You mean Lord Denbury?” I said, trying to hold back a chuckle, having forgotten Veil’s pet name for Jonathon, a name I was not allowed to utter under any circumstance. Ever.

“Yes. Where the devil is the man?” Veil jumped back to his feet again. A towering presence, he paced a few steps before throwing himself onto a pouf. I opened my mouth to answer, but he was onto another subject, addressing Miss Kent. “I’ve sent a call to round up my Association. We can’t have anyone trying to take advantage of them again, so we’ll rally the troops here. How are they, Vin?”

It seemed everyone important to Nathaniel had a pet name. I cringed at "Vin". He dared not call me "Nat"; he could save that nickname for himself, surely.

“They are all passable. Trying to mitigate any damage done,” Lavinia answered, her tone even. “As Miss Stewart said, your presence will do them good. However, I suggest setting a firm tone. We can’t have this seem like errant behavior will make you come running.” She stared into her teacup. “And before you ask or assume, I was not trying to do that to you. I was genuinely interested in…options.”

Veil crossed the room to her again in a mere step. Even though there wasn't room for him, he sat down beside Lavinia, edging her over, her own skirts spilling over his trousers, the two of them a streaming splay of black fabric. If his next words were an act, then he was a very good actor indeed, for he seemed utterly sincere. There was nothing he did by halves, but his truly contrite and earnest tone could not be denied.

“Promise me you’ll talk to me before you turn to anything else,” Veil said gently. “All of you. I want all of you to feel supported. Is that clear, Vin? I didn't start my Association out of ego. I started it to save lives. Do you remember how many near suicides we had our first year as acquaintances, all brought together by some old dark loneliness that was sown down deep in our bones?”

"I do remember," she whispered, barely audible.

"The point is we have each other, rather than substances, rather than drastic measures. In the Association, all are cared for," he murmured. Lavinia wouldn’t look at him, merely nodded. He took a black-gloved finger and placed it under her chin, forcing her to look up at him. “And some are cared for more than others.”

“Nathaniel, please don’t,” she murmured, even though he had turned her face to him, her eyes still refused to meet his. Blushing furiously, she was surely uncomfortable that I was in the room still. This kind of intimacy was rather shocking to be shared with an acquaintance in the room, but Veil didn’t seem to care; he flaunted custom regularly, the whole of his life and his actions public and unapologetic. I was amenable to honest conversation between lovers, but Lavinia didn’t know me well enough to know I would not judge her for it.

“Where are you and your Association meeting, Mister Veil?” I asked, lest he try to press the intimacy issue further and publicly kiss her, a shock indeed.

“Why here, of course," Veil replied as if that were obvious. "Mrs. Northe did say I was welcome in her home when she wired me.”

“Ah. Yes." I smiled. "But does…Mrs. Northe know about potential…company?”

Veil blinked a moment. “You don’t think she’ll mind, do you?”

I took a moment to choose words carefully, stifling a surprised chuckle at his oblivious regard for anyone but himself and his own. “I’d think she’d appreciate a bit of an advanced notice, as would the staff, Mister Veil,” I finally replied.

Lavinia just stared at me with a wide, horrified stare, trying to mouth an apology. It only made me want to laugh again, until I imagined what it would be like if I were the staff. Maybe I’d go help them. I had benefited from Mrs. Northe’s acquaintance, learning how the upper echelon lived, but when one was as distinctly middle-class as I was, life could go either way and so would my empathy.

“Yes… I suppose you’ve a point there, Miss Stewart…” Veil murmured. "Did I mention you're looking lovely? Purple. Suits you. One of the rare colors I'm fond of."

He bounded up again and darted into the hall; it was impressive how quickly he moved, preternatural almost. It fit with his persona eerily well. I heard him call into the hall: “Lovely young miss who I entirely, rudely, bowled past at the door, would you do me the kind favor of preparing for guests?”

My jaw hung open at the sheer cheek of the man.

“How… many…” I heard the poor, beleaguered young maid reply.

“Oh, I’d say about forty,” he offered cheerfully. “Give or take a few.”

“For…ty…give or take…” came the frightened response. There was a scuffle down the stairs to the kitchens below, and I heard a clatter of a few pans and fire irons.

“Thank you, beautiful!” Veil cried after her, and bounded back again to Lavinia’s side. She had been able to do nothing but stare after him, helpless to stop the tumbling, sweeping force of nature that was the man she so clearly couldn’t help but adore. “So. Darling,” he said, edging back onto the seat, practically in her lap. “I think just a good meeting, all of us, among friends, would do a lot for morale, don't you think?”

Lavinia nodded.

Veil then looked over at me, remembering his earlier question that had gone unanswered. "I say. Where is that charmer of yours, Miss Stewart?”

"I appreciate that you think I'm the keeper of Lord Denbury's whereabouts, Mister Veil,” I said with a chuckle. "But I haven't a clue."

"Well, would you find a way to fetch him?" Veil said as if exasperated. "Otherwise, he'll miss a bloody good show! Impromptu parlor shows are my favorite."

(End of Chapter 9.1 -- 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 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, May 14, 2013


(For previous chapters see right side bar, if viewing via mobile, visit http://leannareneebooks.blogspot.com and scroll for previous entries)

Chapter 8:

I'd done this before: dressing in men's clothing in order to investigate a scene.

Last time I'd ended up in a part opium den, part brothel in the Five Points, on the trail of a murderer, trying to protect innocent victims. It was certainly one of the braver things I'd done.

This time, simply donning men's clothes so as not to be questioned or accosted while I examined a mere tavern near Greenwich Village after dark seemed like far less dangerous quarry. Still, upending my gender and pretending to be something I'm not has its anxieties.

I stared at myself in the mirror, dressed in one of Father's plain brown cast-off suits that I'd had secretly tailored down to fit me during my first foray into subterfuge, back in the days when saving Lord Denbury's soul was a methodical process.

Looking at the youthful creature in the mirror, my auburn locks tucked and pinned up beneath a newsboy's cap, I felt far less certain  about the exact right course of action. Though my instincts were strong, I now had experienced more trials and errors by which to second guess myself.

The fact that I'd survived against all odds with the help of God, mentorship, love, and some benevolent spirits didn't make me feel much better about tempting fate once again. At what point would God deem me foolish and stop watching out for me when I was obviously putting myself in situations where I might need divine intervention?

The danger of crying wolf seemed a distinct possibility here, and yet I didn't know any other way to confront the clues granted to me in my dreams but this. If I did nothing, I was a coward without a gift. This was a way of taking my knowledge into action without dragging anyone else along with it, in case my dream world was entirely wrong. I didn't want to make anyone else liable for my mind's unpredictable eye. Along with any sort of power, a great responsibility comes hand in hand. That was surely a certainty for the ages.

I stared at myself in the mirror in the same way I'd done when I'd first donned men's wardrobe for the sake of espionage; surprised at the young boy before me, I knew that I  was me, and yet here I was certainly not as society would have me. It was a nice blending wardrobe, nothing too fine, nothing too shabby, brilliantly and forgettable in the middle-class range.

I snuck out of the house by ten, blessed by early and heavy sleepers on Father and Bessie's count. I was far more the night owl. Watching men's gaits to try to embody their strides, I went out to Lexington Avenue to hail a cab. My allowance for penny candies, ribbons, and newspapers had been increasingly co-opted for spy-craft. I corralled a downtown-bound hansom cab, and the small compartment clopped and bounced down cobblestone blocks until the streets went at odd angles, and old New York streets took over, donning family names and early histories, banishing the numbered grid to the uptown streets it had served since the beginning of the century.

The White Horse was as you'd expect of any tavern: loud, raucous, filled with liquor and men. I sidled up to the wooden bar and ordered a drink in a low voice, whatever I'd heard the man a few steps ahead of me order. I knew nothing of liquor or beer; I'd sip the glass and not drink it as I scouted for my target, not wanting any substance to make me any less sharp. It didn't take terribly long to find the man in question.

I nearly physically recoiled at the sight of him. Somehow my dreams had foretold enough about the man that even though the description hadn't been clear, my gut knew exactly who it was. The predatory nature about him, his stance, his eyes, the way he seemed to sniff more than breathe, all of it had the air of animal more than human that spoke of a possessed body. His behavior wasn't overtly so, otherwise no one would entertain his presence, but it was subtle enough for me to feel and see that something was a bit off. But obviously the man was targeting those with little to lose, easy prey, who tended to overlook such things as eyes that shined a bit too oddly and movement that was a little too much like a puppet.

He was holding court, it seemed, looming over a table of bleary-eyed young fellows who were considering the man's words, one with skepticism, another with hope, one with desperation, and one who seemed a bit too intoxicated to focus. I wondered if somehow I could distract them, break the spell this man seemed to be casting over them like a pall. But then directing the man's focus onto me seemed like a bad idea, considering the dream. I knew I was staring at all of them a bit too intently, rudely, but hopefully from the shadows I kept to, no one would notice.

And then I felt arms slide around me from behind, and just as I jumped, about to cry out, I heard a familiar, delectable British accent purr my name. The whisper in my ear stilled me immediately.

"Shh... Natalie. I know it's you," came Jonathon's murmur and the action of his arms and the murmur of my name made me weak in the knees. "The trouble with disguises," he continued with a bemused chuckle in my ear, "is that, when it comes to me...I can always see your light. You can't hide the vibrant color of your soul. Not from me."

I drank in his words. We'd had such awkwardness, such distance, I was afraid the kind of dreamlike words and intense passion our relationship had been built upon had been banished to the world of his painted prison, I feared our poetry was lost in the '"real'" world. It would seem he still had fine words for me. Perhaps it took a bit of unexpected espionage for them to return. Thankfully we had magic to bring us home. He could see the colors of my aura, the clue that had allowed his soul the agency to communicate with me even in his prison. And it would seem I was illuminated by magic still...

"I love it when you find me, Jonathon," I whispered back to him. "And I always want you to…"

He kissed my temple, breath hot against my ear as he murmured: "You ridiculous thing, you, what on earth are you doing here?" My body thrilled from head to toe. I relaxed in his hold and leaned against him.

It was good that we were wholly in the shadows, considering how I was dressed. The bohemian freedom championed by such circles as Nathaniel Veil's Association had no precedent here, and so two men embracing in this sort of intimate manner was simply not allowed in society at large.

Maybe someday it would be. For my part I didn't see anything wrong; love was love, a soul was a soul, I'd learned first hand that the spirit defines the person, not the body it was in. But society, I knew well enough from the disability that still cast its occasional silent shadow over my life, didn't like things to be anything but '"normal'," expected, traditional, unquestioned. But considering paranormal had become my normality, all things had to adjust accordingly. I could only consider my own spiritual, psychological, and physical well-being and say my own prayers, knowing I'd gotten this far by a faith that was larger than the time and the constraints in which I lived. I couldn't count on society to know how to adapt alongside me.

"How did you know to come here, Jonathon?" I murmured, turning my face to graze my nose against his fine cheekbone, warmed also by the fact that he wanted to touch and be close to me no matter the clothes I was in, a reassurance that reached across myriad boundaries.

"I asked you first," he countered.

"A dream. Foretold," I answered. "You?"

"I followed him." Jonathon indicated the man in question, who was ordering a round of drinks for his captive audience. "From one of Brinkman's addresses. He was coming around from the back of the building. I saw a sparkle of the red and gold of the demons' light bounce about him, the color flashing out of the corner of my eye. No other addresses seemed to wield anything of particular interest or note. I'd watched each for many hours. I didn't really think, I just came this way."

"Same, once I put the pieces of the dream together enough to evince the clues as leading to this location, I donned this disguise and made my move."

"Is this what you wore the last time you went someplace a lady shouldn't go on her own?"

I nodded. Jonathon held back a laugh. Whether I was or wasn't convincing, he didn't say, and I didn't get the chance to ask before the man we were watching pulled a few glass vials out from his long, pale coat pocket and put them on the table, where the youthful audience stared at them with a mixture of hunger and apprehension.

Jonathon seized my tall glass of stout and a second glass of ale that had been abandoned upon a nearby ledge. Gesturing for me to stay put, he then suddenly he stepped out from the shadows. I noticed he'd dressed down considerably, to mere shirtsleeves, suspenders, and trousers like a regular factory worker. A grubby cap with the brim pulled low concealed his fine black locks and a bit of soot was smudged over a chiseled cheekbone. It's true that his more lordly appearance might have given him away, and in this case he didn't seem to wish to play the demon to this Stevens fellow, just in case he was being sought as such. We both had come in covert costume, it would seem.

Jonathon stumbled artfully forward, careful not to tip the glasses, until he jostled toward the table. He ran right into Stevens, first spilling the dark stout  onto the man's beige coat, then spilling the second glass  over the glass vials, overturning them, sending a tiny puff of red powder near Jonathon's face. He batted the particles away with a faux drunken movement. I wasn't sure how potent or volatile the substance was, and I hoped there was no effect from his proximity to it.

Disrupting the whole scene rather brilliantly, causing far greater hubbub and commotion around him, Jonathon fumbled over an apology—in an impressive New York–styled accent—before stumbling on to say he'd go get someone to help clean it all up. Stevens barked after him not to bother, the man's dark and troubled eyes flashing, his drawn face scowling as the youths at the table blinked and reacted.

Jonathon circled round the tavern, I lost sight of him in a cluster of bodies for a moment, and suddenly he returned to me in the shadows. Upon his return, he was sans cap and wearing a dark black jacket, blending into the shadows with me.

"Where did you..." I gestured to the coat.

"Hung upon a coat tree in the back of the bar," he replied. "Brinkman wrote me a note with a few tips. Useful things, really." Before I could ask further about fresh communication from the spy, Jonathon continued. "Watch for any changes or anything to do with those vials or the content. I'm going to speak to the management about someone coming and trying to make sales of products that were not sold by the tavern itself, something that might keep Stevens watched, and hopefully  reported to the authorities." He stalked off, and I watched the unfolding reactions at the table.


The four youths seemed to have broken from a trance. They stared at Stevens and at the dripping mess before them alternately, their brows furrowing. Three of them stood to clean themselves off and walked away as if they weren't exactly sure of themselves; one just turned from Stevens but remained sitting, using a kerchief to wipe down the surfaces directly around him, his shoulders hunched, either tired, drunk, miserable, or all three. Stevens clenched his jaw and turned to pace in the dim light of the tavern lanterns, thinking no one was watching.

Just as the group dispersed and the moment was foiled, I noticed two young black-clad women in short black cloaks and hats with net veils peering in through the tavern window from the street beyond, arm in arm. They waved at one of the young men within, and his visage brightened at the sight of them.

My heart pulled, as all of them reminded me of the characters in my dream. In my dream, there had been screaming as young men were turning into monsters, transformed by insidious means, dehumanized to wretched experiments meant to keep the victims in fear. Here, there were only smiles. I wanted to cry out in triumph. We changed the fate of the night...

Inside, Stevens turned, his sallow face hard and haunted. I wondered what drove that man. Was it as misguided as it had been with Doctor Preston, reanimating out of love? What made Stevens want to alter a person so? Or was he merely a possessed body, the actual original researcher having long ago been dispatched?

He stole a glass from a ledge where a few smart-looking fellows were hotly debating politics and downed the beverage. His fist clenched and his arm raised, seeming ready to throw the glass before he then thought better of it as one of the staff approached him. I overheard the manager gruffly ask about whether he'd been trying to sell products in their establishment. Stevens was immediately contrite and ordered more alcohol. I wished in that moment this '"doctor'" of questionable repute would have picked a fight so that a local police officer would have been called to take him in. I thought about throwing something to seek escalation, but escaping a bar brawl wasn't in my particular expertise.

Confident the doctor wasn't going anywhere as he sat back at the table now wholly abandoned, defeated, a glass of liquor in each hand, I took my eyes off the man and searched for Jonathon. Feeling so vindicated by Stevens's failure to incite another incident, I turned to Jonathon upon his return to the shadows surrounding us and nearly threw my arms around him. Instead, I merely stood very closely, hoping to regain the scorching intimacy we'd had from the moments our souls had first met within the magic of a canvas...

"Let's not be strangers, Natalie," he said, reassuring my foremost concern as if he'd read my mind.

"Let's not," I replied eagerly. "I've been so worried, can feel you withdrawing—"

"I've a lot on my mind," he interrupted, his voice hard. "Dark things, Natalie. I don't want to burden you—"

"I want—need—to know everything. I want to bear the weight of that burden with you, just like when your spirit kept darkening that painting."

He sighed heavily. "Home is calling me, Natalie. I'm going to have to return to the estate at some point. I can't avoid it any longer."

"I'm coming with you," I declared.

He just gave me a pained look.

"I don't want us to be apart," I insisted. "I want us to be together and for everything to be perfect, never pressured, never looking over our shoulders, but just perfect."

He stared at me, and I could see the flicker of doubt in his eyes. "So you will accept me? If I were to ask...again?"

My heart jumped at this, but it still had to be for the right reason. "If you ask for no other reason than for your own desire. Not because anyone forced you to. I've never wanted to say yes to anything more," I whispered, achingly. He nodded, biting back a smile, seeming in part placated, in part still nervous. "Besides," I added, "don't you think the forces at work would like to see us split apart? We can't give them that opportunity."

"True," he agreed. "Tonight, I do think a crisis may have been averted."

We had intervened before further victims had been ensnared for Stevens's experimental purposes, sowing seeds of chaos. I felt a proud surge flood my body. We were clever, resourceful, and gifted. We were more than the enemy would expect of us.

As we left, for we could not stay out into the night indefinitely, we had to step from the shadows and into the brighter gas-lit entryway. I cast one look back over my shoulder. The man, Stevens, was staring at me. Right at me. Through me. His eyes flashed oddly, unnaturally.

And suddenly I didn't feel so clever anymore.


(End of Chapter 8 -- 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, May 7, 2013


(For previous chapters, please see the links on the right column or click http://leannareneebooks.blogspot.com and scroll down through previous chapters)

Chapter 7:

My curiosity about the letter overtook my propriety. Mrs. Northe knew me. Quite well. If that was lying out in plain sight, I was meant to see it. At least, that's how I justified sitting down to read it.

“My dear niece Maggie,

It’s up to you whether the devils will have you or not… Karen tells me that you seem detached from the reality that you are in, in that you are not taking responsibility for your actions but are blaming them on others. Me, for one. Natalie, another, Mr. Bentrop and that book still more...

Here is where I have failed you. I didn't know about that book until it was too late. But some part of you had to know it wasn't a good book, Maggie, didn't you? You've insisted on trying to get information out of me. Why wouldn't you have brought that book to me? Mr. Bentrop turned you against me? Over the course of a couple of dinner parties? He is not a nice man, Maggie, nor are his associates. They are trying to pave roadways for the type of terrible energy that nearly killed you, the kind you willingly brought into your own home, resurrected in an altar in your closet.

I beg you to see that I dissuaded you from the wrong types of paths; I encouraged you to sit with our simple, quiet séances. But they were not flashy enough for you. It was not exciting enough, it seemed, to merely set a soul to rest. Power was more entrancing for you, and parlor tricks to charm a crowd. There are plenty of charlatan spiritualists out there who can train you in the ways of the trick table to create knocks as if a spirit were corresponding. That isn't my brand, it isn't my way, and I'll not encourage mere theatrics. I've told you this countless times. But I want you to see these convictions of mine in print, on paper, here in this vulnerable hour, I want you to understand the difference between the type of evil you courted and the type of peace and light in which I strive to live. And, yes, of course, there is a harrowing gray area between.

I know that you are jealous of what Natalie and I shared. I am fond of Natalie, and I always will be. She was called by God to do something very specific. She had to be the one to rescue Lord Denbury's soul. You must accept that as fact and move on from it.

And now you, dear Maggie, are called to turn your life around.

In doing so, I daresay you might be far more powerful than you could ever have imagined. For you stared down the Devil, after inviting him in and now you have the chance to repent and say no. It is brave to recognize you made a mistake and to devote your life to a different path. There are two paths. Two walks in this life, and in the life of a soul beyond its body. This is the point at which you must choose.

You must take Karen's words deeply to heart. She and Amelia were the two brightest spots of my youth, and when all of us were beset with dark energies, we pulled each other through into the light. I have to believe Amelia is there as a guardian angel, willing you into that same better day; she was always powerful in spirit.

Please don't ever think you haven't been important to me. Your soul was crying out for attention, and I was fixated upon Natalie's particular dilemma. For that I apologize. But I did trust that you were strong enough to not be overcome by darker whims. Prove that to me now in showing me you know the difference between the darkness you courted and the light that your family and friends offer you. Don't worry about the retribution of your family, you leave that to me, I'll make them come around.

I hope you might be moved to write back. Natalie has asked after you; she wants you to be healthy and happy as much as I do. If she can forgive you, seeing as she almost died due to your lack of understanding, you are further along your path toward a greater power. Embrace it.

Your aunt,


I set down the letter and sat slowly upon the nearest settee, my heart very full. I prayed very hard for Maggie. For Mrs. Northe. For myself. I sat in silence until Mrs. Northe swept in, all grace, graciousness and grandeur.

Dinner was quiet and lovely. Lavinia had dinner sent to her room as she was tasked with correspondences to all of her Association, trying to make sure no further lambs were lost in the dark wood of chemical temptations offered by wolves. But my dream haunted me and I wondered if I should warn her. But what could she do? She was already trying to asses the damage done, and she was perhaps psychologically still at a critical juncture. Jonathon was again out. With no explanation as to where. The thought that he may be avoiding me made my stomach twist in a terror as gripping as my nightmares.

Home once the sun set, I returned immediately to my room. Diary in hand, I sat at my window, looking out at what I could of the city, the avenue beyond. It was all right that I was restless. So was New York. The city had always, in its own way, understood me. Then I looked down and examined the words I had written.

White Horse.




Bits of conversation came back to me as I stared at the first two lines of my notes. The new White Horse Tavern. I'd heard my father's friends at the Metropolitan talking about its recent opening. That would be the site of the next attack. And if I knew my dreams, the result would be within days of the dream. I had no time to lose; I had to investigate.

(End of Chapter 7 -- 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!)