Tuesday, June 25, 2013


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

Chapter Thirteen
When I thought I had the very worst luck a girl could possibly encounter, the heavens proved me wrong in giving me a helping hand, extending down into my tired, addled brain and granting comfort and a useful turn. God or the angels, or merely my clever subconscious, granted me my wish. Unsure what to thank, I said a prayer of gratefulness to all.

A dream. At last.

A shared dream.

Like Jonathon and I used to have when his soul was bound to a painting and I was his one tether to the tactile world. Some part of that original bond of soul to soul held on and connected. Love and truth will out.

Never mind the dream ended in nightmare. My dreams always did. My dreams forecasted unerring doom on a sliding scale. It would be up to Jonathon and me, our waking selves, to make the tragedy into a happy ending. My nightmares were riddled with roundabout clues, gifted from some power higher than I could give myself any credit for, and their ignominious end, those terrible moments right before I woke, were the worst-case scenario that we had no choice but to risk our lives to avoid.

But what I was presented with in the depths of my fitful rest was no solution, only information. But a tether to a missing lover was far better than no exchange at all.

I was getting very tired of the endless dark corridor in my mind where the dreams and nightmares took place, the narrow playground of terror, the dark, dank space where all things came to pass, where all clues were unfurled amid various horrors, my vulnerable mind unable to suitably brace itself against the inevitable onslaught. I wondered if at some point in my future I would see that hallway in my actual life and I would know that something important, if not abjectly horrible and life-ending, would take place there.

I did not know what of my dreams was clue and what was fancy. I had never known that balance or how to structure it. I dreamed, and then I woke. How else could one live life, but to make sure their waking life was full of love and actions of grace? I could not be held accountable for a mind in shadow that revealed what it would.

But there he was, Jonathon. Paces ahead of me down the dimly lit corridor that had no discernable light source and yet was luminous as if by an eerie phosphorous.

The British lord stood stiffly elegant in his fine black frock coat, navy waistcoat, and an azure ascot, his striking figure a greyscale palette with a splash of blue highlighting the spectacular color of his eyes. He was all the more striking for being against the run-down corridor, like in an old grand house but with wallpaper and paint peeling, wood panels cracked and splintered, foundations slightly askew so that the world was like a carnival mirror.

Jonathon's innate grandeur set against this sickened space made him all the more beautiful in contrast, and I could feel, with a swift punch to my gut, his absence from me. I could feel his distance as though a needle were pricking into my skin and drawing away something precious, threading out my heart in a thin, bloody line of passion.

Immediately, upon seeing him there in my mind's eye, in this corridor where our minds entwined, I somehow knew that he was no longer in New York City. I shuddered as I tried to take steps forward in this rotting corridor toward his handsome form. But my feet were uncooperative and the length of the corridor just kept lengthening, drawing us ever farther apart.

He stared at me longingly, then turned that beautiful head and began to walk away. As he did, a low and rumbling chant began to lift into the air as if a storm were rolling in and fast. I called to Jonathon, and he stopped. He cast a sad look over his shoulder.

"I've gone back to England once more, darling Natalie," he said. With great effort, I raised my lace-swathed arm to achingly reach out to him. He continued, with a weary, grim tone. "I have gone where you cannot follow. There was no time. I was dragged along, bid not to write to you for fear of tracking. But you've got to look to the numbers. The toxin will go wide. There was a sequence. Find it before it finds the city."

And then the corridor around us started to collapse. Jonathon in his paces ahead began running. But not to me, away from me.

"Let me go and save yourself," he cried. If he said anything further, his voice was lost in a horrid din, and I lost sight of him in the shadows.

There rose into the air, filling my ears like a violent swarm of insects, a chant of terrible numbers. A fog of red smoke rolled in like water, filling the moldering corridor. And then the walls came crashing down.

I fell beneath the force of the rubble, and my last sensation was of the life being pressed out of me as my lungs filled with acrid, stinging smoke...

I awoke with the gasping cry of, "I have to go to him."

No one was with me in the room, one of Mrs. Northe's fine guest rooms where I was still bound to a bed. I couldn't be sure when I'd be well, released, or safe around anyone, let alone the man I loved and was desperate to join, no matter the danger. Was I not in danger here in New York? Was I not in danger no matter where I went, where the demons seemed always able to pinpoint me, their insidious instincts by now having trained on my scent?

I closed my eyes, moaning in pain, burning physical aches. I thought about what Jonathon had shared. His words. There was something in them to stir results. I had instructions to give. I couldn't find any numbers or any sequences while tied to a bed. I figured I'd better start being useful by screaming for help.

(End of Chapter 13 -- 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, June 18, 2013


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

Chapter Twelve

Awake or dreaming?
I couldn't tell what state I was in, other than that it wasn't a good one.
All I could sense concretely was that there was pain, throbbing pain as if I were on fire. My mind swam.

I was laid out horizontally, in what I assumed was a bed, from what I could tell by the feel of my back, but I was not lying in comfort; everything was pins and needles. Every sensation felt raw and chafing. I was warm and perspiring, and yet my teeth chattered, and a constant, slow, undulating tremor went up and down my body as if I were my own tide, rolling in and out.

Trying to open my eyes was a gargantuan task I was not suited for. My eyelids would not respond, so I remained in a shallow darkness and tried to discern meaning.

There was the constant sound of screams. Whether the screams came from my mouth, my mind, from others, from nightmares…I was not at liberty to say, for I was not at liberty at all. My faculties were entirely compromised. I was not free. Something had taken over me. Some part of my mind was still my own, as I wondered if this was what it was like when a body was overtaken by a demon.

If I was entirely far gone, or entirely overtaken, perhaps I wouldn't have had a sense of self at all. It was said that people who were truly mad did not ask if they were mad. So perhaps, in this terrible state, there was hope for me.

The first thing I remembered as a product of true awareness, rather than swimming in a timeless sea of discomfort and confusion, was that I was laid out somewhere familiar, and there were voices. Outside of myself. But there remained many voices within myself too. I had to take a moment to sort out one versus the other.

After some time trying to pick apart the noises and distances, I began to recognize the exterior voices. Mrs. Northe. My father. The low, deep resonant voice repeating prayers. Reverend Blessing. He was praying over me. Was I being exorcised? What had happened? Had the demon, in speaking to me through that poor wretch who collapsed on Mrs. Northe's floor, transferred something unto me? Into me?

Was the pain I felt actually all those runes again carved onto my flesh? Was there any hope for me, or was this the beginning of the end? What had I done? Why did my wrists feel so sore?

A particular searing scream from my own mouth shook me fully alert, and I looked up into the dark-skinned face of Reverend Blessing, who was anointing my head with oil and murmuring scripture.

I renounce thee...

I tried to help him in my mind, to echo, to reiterate, to join in the scripture by my own renunciation of the evil that had clung to me, but only unintelligible noises were coming from my mouth. My cheeks burned in shame; it was like the ugly sounds I made when first regaining my atrophied voice...

That's when I noticed I was bound.

What had I done that required that I be restrained? A turn of my head revealed that my wrists were done up in long white strips. Ripped fabric from sheets or pillowcases were wound round my wrist and tied to the metal headboard in one of Mrs. Northe's pleasant guest rooms that at this moment felt very stifling and utterly unwelcoming.

My stomach churned in a sickening roil and clearly that nauseating sense of horror read on my face, for my father rushed to me with an awkward reassurance that was hardly reassuring...

"It's all right, Natalie. You didn't hurt anyone. Too badly." He chuckled nervously, miserably. "Just a...scratch or two, it was fine—"

I made some kind of sound of protest or shame, my blush further ignited by humiliation and frustration.

"Nathaniel and I held you back as you turned, before anyone was hurt," Mrs. Northe added. "You received the brunt of the toxin borne in on that poor fellow... And that stuff...changes people. It makes sane persons into animals."

I wanted again to retch at this, but something stopped me, something small and lovely. Even in my fevered state, I noticed Mrs. Northe take my father's trembling hand in hers, not in a measured gesture of comfort but a motion on instinct, a gentle act that was so natural and intuitive to her that wanted to join in that collective comfort, for us to be a family. Whatever fear and confusion raced inside my scattered mind, those same raw emotions were writ large directly on my father's face... I wanted to be well again for their sakes, for Jonathon's sake; all that was important to me bolstered me. I regained some sense of myself in my regard for my loved ones, as if I touched the foundations of some sacred site and the divine reached down to steady me in return.

I seemed not in a fit state to respond to them, so I merely bit back a sigh, a cry, a heaving and exasperated curse. I felt my body conspire against me and the whispers near my ears threaten to drag me back under into the murky depths once more. Before I lost consciousness again, I overheard Mrs. Northe say something about Jonathon.

His name was the one thing that could keep my eyes open.

"Where?" I managed. Mrs. Northe and my father exchanged a look. The nauseating feeling I was fighting returned in force, but now layered with a fresh terror. "What...what about Jonathon!"

"He's gone. We don't know where. It's been two days."

My eyes rolled back in my head, my whole sense of self and sensation pitching and roiling as if I were tempest-tossed in the worst of seasick throes. Before I lost myself again, I prayed with all my heart, then, that I could dream, and in that dream, find the man I loved and see where he'd gone and what he'd need of me if I could shake off these dreadful curses of ours...

(End of Chapter 12 -- 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, June 11, 2013


(For previous chapters, see right side bar. If viewing by mobile, scroll down from http://leannareneebooks.blogspot.com for all chapters)
Chapter Eleven
The body remained too near to me as it fell flat, but even though I wanted to scramble away, shock and terror rooted me.

There was then, as one might imagine, panic in Mrs. Northe's fine home. A few screams pierced the suddenly fraught room, awash in murmurs and stirrings, our collective trance so rudely jarred into a living nightmare.

Lavinia rushed up to Nathaniel and murmured in his ear. He placed a protective hand upon the small of her back, nodding confidently as she shared something insistent. She drew the tulle veil that spread back from behind her feathered, beaded fascinator around her face and cupped the gathered fabric against her mouth with a lace-gloved hand.

"No one breathe freely," Nathaniel cried, putting his red silk cravat to his mouth, and others followed in his example. Lavinia made a move to withdraw, but he held her close and through the veil, I saw her fair cheeks redden.

"It's the powder to be careful of," Lavinia clarified for everyone's benefit, her usually soft and timid voice now carrying with the weight of necessity and authority. "Take care."

Everyone did as instructed; cravats and silk scarves, shawls and gloves, all created a shield. I did what I could with my sleeve, wishing I had some of the draping, flowing fabrics so many of the Association boasted.

"Stay here," Veil instructed to his crowd. He moved toward the front door in order to survey all of his crowd at once rather than having his back to anyone. "We must see if George was followed, if there were any others targeted. Were any of you approached? Have any of you been pressured by any 'doctors' or anything bearing the seal printed on that original leaflet?" His coterie shook their heads. "Then Lavinia has taken good care of you indeed since the first incident. We must remain vigilant."

"Is he dead? Georgie?" asked a mousy girl draped in black velvet, pointing a satin-gloved finger at the floor. I peered closer. There was a slight hitch of breath from the man's back, barely perceptible but there nonetheless.

"Not dead yet," I stated, hoping to help keep calm, as a death among us might trigger any number of unfortunate reactions. I wiped at my nose with the edge of my sleeve.

Veil gestured to a slender man in dark, embroidered silk whose black hair was slicked back and braided- Chinese, I assumed, though in the cultural fugue that is New York City, one should never assume. The intensely focused man nodded and slipped out the front door, his compact frame tensed. Perhaps he was Veil's bodyguard; this quiet man who I hadn't noticed until that very moment he was drawn out, as he'd blended with the more ostentatious crowd, a good safety measure.

Just then I heard a familiar voice of someone who was clearly surprised by a stranger at her front door.

"Excuse me, and you are? This happens to be my home. Did I summon for a party I forgot having thrown?" Mrs. Northe, key in hand, stood framed in her grand doorway of beveled glass, decorative ironwork, and carved wood.

Just as lovely as her home, she wore a deep green satin dress that was neither casual nor formal, the very definition of elegance in all she presented to the world. Her slightly off the shoulder dress was made more modest by a gray shawl that glimmered with silver beads. Her lace-gloved hands, the only part of her that showcased any tension, were fisted tightly about her keys, fan, and reticule. Were the situation not dire, the look on her face would have been pricelessly amusing as she took in her home overrun by a coven of striking, black-clad creatures positively dripping off her stairs and furniture, filling her halls and parlor, wide-eyed and trembling.

"Well, well," she murmured as she swept in her front foyer, shaking off apprehension so that her presence might command the room in nearly as impressive a manner as Veil. "I've an unexpected murder of crows to host, do I?"

Murder was an unfortunate word for a cluster of ravens, considering the circumstances. I doubt Poe would have written this scene; he'd surely find it distasteful and a bit much.

"The Lady of the Manor, I presume!" Veil cried, bowing, his ascot still cupped to his mouth, though that had no effect on his being heard. His voice could boom no matter what obstructed it. Mrs. Northe gaped slightly. He maintained his bow as he continued. "Nathaniel Veil at your service, madame."

He swept his hand about him, presenting his compatriots. "If you'll forgive us, Her Majesty's Association of Melancholy Bastards here needed to host a meeting for our collective safety…" Veil stood upright again, towering over the woman whose home he had overtaken as she looked up at him blankly. "But as you can see from the supine body of Mister George Fernstock there, our little soiree has been interrupted and compromised. And a damn shame, that, as I was putting on a right good show.

'"Tell me, my esteemed lady, do you advise we call the police on this matter or just hope for the best?" He gestured around him. "Oh, and do be aware of a red powder. It seems to be the culprit of madness. That's a very lovely embroidered shawl you have there, madame, I'd suggest breathing through it."

Mrs. Northe blinked, unable to look away from Veil as if he were a fascinating species of creature she'd never encountered up close. She'd seen him on stage, of course, but close and in person, his quality as force of nature was truly something to be reckoned with. After a moment she brought the shawl draped elegantly over her shoulders to her face. She searched the crowd, met my eyes, and her shoulders eased slightly. I gave her a look that hopefully read how glad I was to see her.

There was a questioning look in her eyes that made me uneasy. I never liked noting her in any attitude but firmly in control, cool and collected and exuding a confident plan. But I needed to remember she was human, not my guardian angel, not my fairy godmother of mythic quests. We were all just trying to stay one step ahead of madmen, to varying degrees of success. And something wasn't quite right—man lying unconscious at my feet aside.

"I do think at this point, Mister Veil," she replied finally to his query, "that the police will need to be involved. My associate in the clerk's office and I have gathered enough information about some of the Master's Society property to prompt proper scrutiny, and I'd rather leave that up to authorities. I am not a vigilante type, and I'd not suggest that course of action for any of your associates either."

The black-clad crowd shook their heads. Like most people I'd ever met, they simply wanted to be left in peace and given leave to be their own masters and mistresses.

Mrs. Northe approached me. She bent, and unceremoniously, she proceeded to draw me away from the body on the floor. Through her intervention I felt able to move, though I was oddly light-headed. The room spun a bit as I stood.

"Have you seen Jonathon?" she asked quietly. "He and I were supposed to investigate a site that may be the very crux of the Society's New York operations, but he didn't show. That isn't his style…" She trailed off, frowning as she stared at me. I didn't like her words, and I didn't like the look on her face even more so.

She wiped something off my lip. There was a bitter taste in my mouth. She brushed her fingertips over my face, and then over my collar. Her lace gloves came away red. I felt a dull sensation blossoming in my stomach becoming sharper as panic opened into full bloom.

"What?" My voice sounded far away to my own ear. "What did you say?"

"Jonathon," Mrs. Northe continued. "Not that you're his keeper, but I thought perhaps he was with you… It didn't seem like him to not turn up… I don't mean to worry you..."

"Jonathon," I murmured. "Jonathon." The sound of his name was an exotic spice upon my tongue. He was the whole of my heart, and he was absent. That was…unacceptable. I cocked my head to the side in an abrupt movement that felt foreign. My breath was heavy and strained against the stays of my corset that were suddenly violently tight against my rib cage.

Damn Jonathon Whitby. Damn his beauty. Damn his hold over me. Were there not greater things to be held in the clutches of?

I heard laughter, low and far away, deep and rumbling, like thunder. It was not mine, and it did not seem like the laughter of anyone in the room, which had dimmed significantly. Whispers coursed past my ear like wind.

Oh, that couldn't be a good sign. Whispers in my mind, unless they were warnings from my mother, were to be avoided. My mother was dead. This was not her whispers. It was a crowd. That meant something else entirely.

I closed my eyes. My body shuddered with strange sensations that were both seductive and vaguely disturbing in their sudden sweeping intensity, as if every inch of my skin were suddenly on fire and sensitive to suggestion. And pain. There was a deep, widening, vicious chasm of pain...

And then the curtain was drawn on rage. A pure, unchecked, heretofore unheard of rage took center stage.

"Where is Jonathon?!!" someone shrieked.

It took me a long moment to realize that someone shrieking was me. I think I tore at something. Or someone.

That's the last thing I remember before darkness overtook me in a swift and obliterating shot.


(End of Chapter 11 -- 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, June 4, 2013


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

Chapter 10:

There was a cluster of dark-clad persons shifting silently in the hall, moving slightly on their feet as if they were a feather on a breeze or a ghost not touching the floor. Others had quietly entered the parlor.

Two waifish, lovely women sat draped on either side of Lavinia, having entered silently while I'd been reading the letter. Their legs were tucked up on either side of the settee but fabrics trailed down to the floor. Lovely heads rested with a preternatural stillness on Lavinia's shoulders. One was raven-haired and the other was dark brown–haired. Their expressive eyes were kohl-rimmed and their lips were painted a dark red. And then I realized what was slightly scandalous about one of the women. She was in trousers. A fine riding suit coat and trousers. And I didn't think she was, like I had recently been, participating in espionage, and so this was simply her choice of evening wear rather than a choice of safety and subterfuge.

"Natalie, please meet my best friends, my kindred spirits," Lavinia said softly, gesturing to the compelling persons at her side. "Raven and Ether."

"Hello, Miss Stewart," Raven replied, in a voice that was a lower register than I'd expect of a rather consumptive-looking woman, and then it occurred to me that Raven and Ether weren't women at all. But young men. I took this in a moment.

They were the ones in my dream. These two were the women outside the White Horse Tavern. I looked at them, one to the other, trying not to stare, trying not to be rude, simply trying to take them in as they would wish to be considered.

I had lived most of my life with a disability. I knew the precise look I did not want to give them, a look of confusion or pity, a look that made them feel as if they were just as much the outsider as I'd always felt, a look that they were somehow wrong… No, I was better than that… This whole company was better than that.

As a child, all I'd wanted was simply to be accepted for who I was, without others' demands of what that might be. If I had never begun talking again, I would still want to live a full, whole life. Not a half-life. Not a cast-off life. Being my own person ran contrary to the idea and expectation that I was to give myself over entirely to the stronger sex and a more dominant will… Clearly these two didn't want to give themselves over to that idea either and instead were presenting quite an uncommon alterative. It was bold. It was something I had never encountered. But lately, the world saw fit to throw me new challenges.

Nathaniel Veil's Association was a safe haven for those who wished to buck society's expectations in an increasingly dramatic number of ways. Raven and Ether could surely see me puzzling through this, over them, and their choices in presenting to the world. They merely returned my gaze with a gentle patience that was admirable, considering that when people had given my inability to speak a similar baffled and pained, pitying expression, I was far quicker to scowl. Their gracious attitude made me want to be more generous in how I looked at others, most especially when surprised.

"Raven, Ether, a pleasure," I finally managed to reply, and smiled a genuine smile. Ether's sallow face suddenly transformed as he returned the smile, all without breaking the wistful pose against his friend's shoulders. Raven's darkly stained lips curled up in an engaging smirk.

"We saved each other's lives," Lavinia murmured. "We'd had a pact, all of us, that if we couldn't see the light, then we'd all die together in the dark."

"But he stopped us," Ether whispered lovingly, nodding toward Nathaniel, who was greeting Associates at the door with handshakes and kisses on cheeks to each and every one, filing them into rows and places.

"He was known as the Dark Angel around London," Lavinia explained. "He'd find out who in our social circles were at their wits end and try to rally them back, by his sheer force of will. Or, if they went ahead and attempted to take their life, if they were unsuccessful but injured, he brought them to Lord Denbury, who would dress the various wounds of the afflicted, and any other family members would be none the wiser, or none the poorer for the service. I came from wealth, but not many of our Association do, and your gracious Lord's clinic saved many a life that London could have cast aside without a second glance."

My heart swelled with pride at this, and I ached for my valiant Jonathon, who had done so much for this world in his young life thus far. I wished so dearly he was by my side, especially as our reconnection after our bit of espionage had been so...passionate. In this place, with these people, we could simply be ourselves and not worry about censure or propriety. We could simply be loving creatures who had become our own Dark Angels to one another.

It was inspiring, the emotions these quiet and sometimes awkward persons around me exhibited merely in their expressions, their choice of dress, tone of voice, movement, words, the interesting weight of their souls, some lighter, some heavier, depending on their inner burdens. We said so much to one another without even saying a word. From years without speaking, I could read bodies, expressions, attitudes and energies, gestures and physical quirks like I were reading books. The stories that these bodies and faces told were amazing novels in and of themselves. And every beautifully dressed person that entered, each with their own distinct style yet all adhering to the mourning dress as a unifying characteristic, was a new story.

But before I knew it, the room was utterly filled with eager-faced persons of dramatically different class, race, creed, and age. The binding factor was the fashion, and the figure before us, and his themes. And Veil, the master, was ready to put on a show.

"My Darling Ones," he boomed, accentuating a London upper-class accent when his own was slightly less defined. "We are gathered here today to reaffirm that we are the masters of our own destiny. You shall not give over that mastery to any other thing, person, rule, substance, or vice. You may only give it over to spirit, to love, to something vital, not something draining or cruel. You may only give over to that which makes you better. Never something that makes you less. My Dark Stars, take your place in the sky. Shall we begin?"

Applause, cries of happiness, gasps, and murmurs, the joy of anticipation launched him into his natural place: center stage of life.

He took stage in the front entrance foyer, visible by all those who had gathered in the parlor, and visible by those waiting on the stair, an impromptu gallery and balcony, concentric circles of dark colors and black crinolines, velvet bands and heaps of ribbons and bows, veils and cloaks.

The keening strain of a violin came from atop Mrs. Northe's grand staircase. From the chair where I sat I could see the musician at the top of the proscenium frame that the parlor pocket doors made. One of his associates, a tall, sturdy woman with skin nearly as dark as the clothing she wore, was playing, her dark limbs, swathed in black lace, moving the bow as if gently raising and closing wings. Her eyes were closed, but now and then when a note hit a resonance that vibrated in our bones, she would flash a slight smile, a bit of white teeth a glint against dark skin, lips, and fabric. That little twinge of joy was the ebbing and flowing crux of Veil's show, and we the audience were caught up in all the sparks of life amid talk of shadow and death.

Veil began to sing, soft and sweet; a melancholy Shakespearean sonnet on themes of pining love. With the violin wafting down to us as if it were from on high, it was like it breathed with Nathaniel's beautiful and resonant voice, vocal and strings equaled one living thing. Several of the audience members clutched at their hearts. Some reached out for Veil with trembling fingers as they knelt in pools of lace and tulle. Some leaned toward him from the banister as if tethered to him by invisible strings.

I must have been more sensitive, far more raw, than when I'd last seen Nathaniel's show, for it touched down deeply within in ways I hadn't allowed it to before. The Gothic themes of his shows, composite pieces of existing text, poetry, and popular fiction dealing with the natural, the unnatural, the supernatural, the veil between life and death, and all the great mysteries, it simply hit too close to home. I think it did for all present, everyone raw and on edge.

But it was just what we needed.

He coursed through his show. I'd never seen the same show twice; he plucked different texts from Walpole, Shelley, and Le Fanu, from the great romantic poets, and of course, a running threaded theme of Edgar Allan Poe, my personal favorite and that of this crowd. If I'd found this Association earlier in my life, perhaps I'd never have had such terrible nightmares, as all my darknesses could have found a healthier home in this circle.

But then again, we are granted the friends we need exactly when we need them. Mrs. Northe had instilled that particular confidence in me. I needed my loneliness; it was how I knew I could survive against other odds. It was how I knew I couldn't just wait for someone or something else to save me. But knowing that I could get by with little else but my own wits and company and then finding community; that was a long overdue comfort.

I could feel the group dynamic breathe and shift like a woman adjusting to the stays of her corset and arranging her skirts, sitting poised and on the edge of delight and discovery, all of us gazing at our captor, Nathaniel Veil, who paced the space at the center of the packed circle like a great and graceful wild animal, clutching us all by the throat with his captivating presence—at one point he did clutch a few people directly by the throat in one of his stints as Vampir—and making every one of us swoon, whether for him or for the gentleman or lady in our hearts, he brought out all the passions within us and exorcised them exquisitely.

And then suddenly the quiet, seductive, safe bliss of the show was shattered by the door flinging open and a flailing form tumbling into the foyer, blowing past Nathaniel, and nearly trampling a few of the youngest Associates who were clustered upon the floor.

A tall, round-cheeked man, marked as older than many of Nathaniel's Association by his graying hair, but similarly dressed in mourning finery, seemed in the throes of agony, droplets of red—blood, surely—staining his face and throat, shining stains upon his black waistcoat, the sight of him evoking gasps and screams from Associate members. He raged and snarled and made a move to overturn the fine table, vase, and mirror near the door, but Nathaniel, who was a head taller than the struggling man, charged up to him and clamped a hand on his shaking shoulder.

"George," Nathaniel said sternly. "This is not you. You've been affected by a toxin." The man, George, gurgled a cry.

"The city can't be safe," George snarled. "For the city is the toxin. Chaos the only cure."

George tried to struggle with Nathaniel, but the imperious actor was stronger than he looked, or he was channeling his presence into brute strength; perhaps seeing that he was the protectorate of this fascinating coven was its own enhancement.

George cried out in pain again before peering a head around Nathaniel's broad shoulder and eerily piercing me with a darkly reflective gaze.

He dropped to his knees, dust flying up, a red dust. Perhaps it wasn't blood all over him but powder that had mixed with his perspiration. I thought of Poe and the Red Death coming into the party...

And then the man spoke. But as he looked up at me with oddly reflective eyes, something green and violet shining in them, reflected in them, the light of my own aura and power, I knew he was no longer a mere man. But something terrible had taken him over.

George flung himself across the open space between us and crumpled before me in a heap of red powder. Before he lost consciousness, he spoke.

It was a voice I knew all too well. The voice of a demon. He pierced me with a phrase the demon had once used to address me:

"Hello, pretty..."

And then his eyes closed and his head struck the floorboards, unconscious or dead.



(End of Chapter 10 -- Copyright 2013 Leanna Renee Hieber, The Magic Most Foul saga - If you like what you see, please share this link with friends! Tweet it, FB, + it! The Magic Most Foul team really hopes the audience will continue to grow and it can only do so with YOUR help! If you haven't already, do pick up a copy of Magic Most Foul books 1 and 2: Darker Still and the sequel: The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and/or donate to the cause! Donations directly support the editorial staff.

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