Tuesday, July 30, 2013


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

Chapter Seventeen (part 1)

What happened to get me onto this steamer was an elaborate process that I undertook without pausing for reflection or consideration. Lavinia and I agreed to banish sentiment and second-guessing, like discarding excess ballast from a ship, in order to make ourselves light, efficient, dynamic, and quick. Uninterrupted by fears or beset by counterproductive worry.

She had planned this out on her own, and I was not a hindrance to that plan. Rather, I think my presence emboldened her. Having spent a life without speaking, I was quite used to doing things on my own, and where Lavinia faltered, I stepped up with confidence. Where I was out of my league in the business and details of international travel, Lavinia filled the breach.

We passed the few hours until the next boat out with one of Lavinia's Association friends down near Pearl Street, a convenient walk from Cunard offices for the tickets. From there, it was a brief jaunt to the pier and then out on the first express steamer possible. I kept looking around for Mrs. Northe, or my father, fully expecting either of them to try to intercept us there—it wasn't like steamers to England kept their schedules private.

Part of me wanted them to stop me. But the rest of me knew this, just like everything else the dark magic had wrapped us up in, was inevitable. Mrs. Northe was likely still recovering from what had been a somewhat violent-looking channeling, and my father was still asleep. I promised myself I would write and wire him whenever possible. I owed him that much and so much more than my circumstances allowed me to give.

I moved, acted, and reacted as if I were a horse with blinders, staring straight ahead at my next immediate objective, unable to heed my mind's various cries, denying the sense memory of what it was like to have that dark magic breathing down my neck and prickling upon my skin. Though those discomfiting sensations threatened to overtake me one by one, I beat them back with sheer will. I drove myself like a draft horse pulling weight, moving onward toward a specific task.

It was the second or the third day in—the days began to blur immediately—that I allowed myself to truly pause for breath, staring out over the vast and unfathomable Atlantic Ocean under a brilliantly moonlit sky that I hadn't seen quite so unhindered in some time, due to Manhattan's constant gaslight. I permitted a moment to take stock of myself and my state. My anxiety kept pace at a dull thrum to match the steam engines decks below my boots. I had hoped against hope the steamer would make a bit better headway and arrive to port a bit ahead of schedule.

This large, impressive boat made me nervous. While the view above me and around me remained spectacular in theory, the truth of it was terrifying. I had never been this far out on the ocean, and I didn't realize how much it would unsettle me until it was far too late to turn back. The steamboat was indeed a wonder, but its behemoth engines were also like strange monsters of this modern world that seemed at any moment able to turn into dragons that could eat us all alive. My father was right. My imagination was far too fertile.

Every now and then I felt tears itching at the very back of my eyes like small pixies, emotional imps demanding I pay attention to all the things I refuse to face. All the potential realities. All the potential finalities. But I bit everything back. Perhaps the rolling crest of seasick nausea was its own blessing, for it was quite a distraction.

In the pocket of my modest linen pinafore, I palmed my notebook in a trembling hand. That simple action allowed for my tensed shoulders to fall just a fraction. Each of my notebooks through the years always proved such a comfort as they were the infallible way I communicated with the world. On a page, I could converse and present arguments with my inner self that needed to externalize its thoughts. The written word had proved in my life to be far more reliable than speech ever was. I'd had far more years writing and communicating in Standard Sign than I'd had actually speaking. The written word held a power that the ephemeral spoken word did not, and I valued the written word like I would a vow.

I flipped through to the latter pages of the notebook, where I'd managed to write down Mrs. Northe's final warnings. I knew better than to ignore or disregard anything out of that woman's mouth, especially if she were in contact with the spirit realm.

A book. A sequence. Whatever had overtaken Mrs. Northe zeroed in on those items. I wondered if any of what had come before, the counter-curses we'd learned, the ways of a split soul, beating the Society at their own games and particular experiments would serve us anymore, or if we were instead dealing with another layer of puzzles. The aforementioned clues would crop up, surely, and I hoped I would know them when I saw them and have an instinct as to how to solve their mysteries.

But first, the only sight I was desperate to see was Jonathon Whitby's beautiful face. I wondered if he missed me. If he'd propose again. I'd not hesitate. I'd say yes. Every moment away from him, every circumstance keeping us apart, proved that I simply didn't want to live a life without him. Here I was placing myself in danger just like I'd always done for him, because I simply couldn't take a reactive stance. I had to do something, and it was for his sake, because he was such a good soul. And I'd seen it, held it, cherished that soul. I'd never met another quite like his. Never would. Never needed to.

Everything around Jonathon had been targeted, as the powers of evil always gravitated toward the brightest lights. And we now sought to control the epicenter of that outbreak. I wondered if there was yet a reason to be revealed as to why Jonathon and his family had been chosen as an initial point of entry for the Master's Society, besides Jonathon's inherent goodness. What of his family? The Denbury lineage? Was it as noble and good as its heir?

The fleeting thought crossed my mind that Jonathon might be dead. I swiftly blocked that from even being a possible reality. Not only did I pray for God's help but I demanded of God's will that Jonathon lived. I needed to dream of him again, to keep me going, to remind me why. I needed him to be there when I landed. I needed something solid.

And then, at the corner of my ear, came a whisper; a tiny kiss of sound upon the wind, a flicker of white at the edges of my vision. Mother. Mother's whisper, that had haunted me so beautifully since I lost her so early in my life.


She was there to remind me why too. From her perspective, she didn't want any more demons walking the earth than I did. She was protecting not only her daughter, but the whole fabric and web of life around me. While I might need something solid, so too did I need a shade.

There was so much of the spirit world to cherish and appreciate. It was not all a world to fear. It was a world that had helped me against the demons as much as the living had. Somehow my close contact with the spirit of my mother made death's sting less terrifying. The demons counted on fear, fear of them, fear of chaos, fear of death. My mother vastly mitigated my risk, and the demons had vastly underestimated us.

In that moment I truly understood the lesson my soul being split from my body had taught me. There were two worlds at work every moment of our lives: the tactile and the spiritual. Each and every one of us lived a double life. Body and spirit. Solid and shade. And there was, of course, a constant battle over them. We needed to make friends in both worlds, because there were enemies in each.

And just because Mrs. Northe saw death, it didn't mean it was mine. She specifically couldn't pinpoint the future. And that was for the best. I needed to believe in the power of free will as much as I needed to believe in God. Being a puppet of a divine puppeteer never suited me; it would be with God's help and my own will that we would conquer the problems laid before us. I didn't overestimate myself. But I was damned sure of my calling.

I'd not risk anything before finding Jonathon. We were a good team, and we couldn't dare be separated further. 'That's when the demons had leverage. But the demons hadn't accounted for my guardian angels that had passed on. I was reminded I was not alone. I had friends in both worlds.

The wind took a stronger turn, and I felt the need to retire, and I ducked down the narrow stairwell and down two levels toward our room. Lavinia had procured us distinctly middle-class comportments. She denounced first-class passengers as a nosy lot that would ask too many questions, but that steerage would simply be too miserable. Middle class was all I'd ever known so I simply tried to move as invisibly through this trip as I'd moved all my life as a mute female. I'd been cast out of '"proper society'" so long ago, frankly it afforded me far more freedoms than the scrutiny Lavinia had to seek actively to avoid.

It unsettled me that at dusk the dimly lit corridor leading unto our bunks resembled the constant corridors of my nightmares. As I opened the narrow door to our tiny room, Lavinia was laying on her stomach on the top bunk in a pool of sumptuous black fabrics, writing. She nodded to me as I entered and kept writing.

The realization about the familiar corridor must have affected me on a conscious and unconscious level for sure enough, that night a nightmare came in all its resplendent horror.

Why couldn’t I simply have a pleasant dream about nothing at all. That might be the greatest gift my mind could give, an entirely mundane dreamscape. What a lovely interlude. Maybe, some night, I would be granted that simple pleasure. Tonight was not that night...


(End of Chapter 17.1 - 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, July 23, 2013


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

Chapter Sixteen

Lavinia and I had agreed upon a time. We had packed what we could.

In each of our respective rooms, the bedclothes molded under the covers of each bed looked convincingly like a sleeping body.

We thought we were very clever.

We met in the hall at the appointed time, using the soft chime of the grandfather clock at the end of our corridor to mask the sound of the opening doors, the jostle of bags and the hatbox that served to carry far more than a hat, and our careful tread. Sneaking down the staircase as the bell continued to softly toll, we were painfully aware of every creak and slight murmur of the house, wincing at any and every sound.

We reached the downstairs landing. Turning to one another, I could feel the tension thick in the air. This was it. The point of no return. We were going forth unto an unknown world, an uncertain destiny, a future from which there might not be any coming back… And yet neither of us felt we had any other option. That was what the demons had done, propelled us forward on a terrible course that we could not begin to fathom the end of.

And then there was a movement from the shadows, blocking our path.

"Oh, no, you don't!" Mrs. Northe scowled, turning the gas-lamp key of a front door sconce and throwing us into illumination.

So much for clever.

She placed one arm on either side of the doorframe to block us; the lavish bell sleeves of her thick satin dressing gown trimmed in fine lace spread and unfurled like formidable wings.

Lavinia shrank back, her shoulders falling, and she stammered in an effort to defend us, though her tone was one of distinct guilt. "Mrs. Northe, forgive me, you misunderstand—"

"No, she doesn't misunderstand," I murmured gently, ruefully. "She knows exactly what's going on. Clairvoyance, and all…" I set down the hatbox before I went to her. I took one of her hands in mine, moved by the fierce quality upon her face, the face of a mother protecting her brood from leaving the safety of a den to run directly toward predators. "What? What is it that you see that has you so concerned when you know that avoiding the inevitable does us no good?"

"Death," she choked.

I swallowed hard. "Death if I go, or death if I stay?"

"I...don't know," she said, looking at me helplessly. A helpless Mrs. Northe was one of the more terrifying things I'd encountered. Lavinia just looked from one of us to the other worriedly.

"I can't take the risk of staying behind," I said finally.

"How can I bear the risk of letting you go? I can't let you. When I went Chicago to help my Amelia pass onto the next plane, she warned me that death lay ahead. I can't allow you to doom yourself—"

"But the doom will find me if I am marked for it, you know that. It will find a way, but so will I. You know me—"

She closed her eyes as if the threat that next came out of her mouth was as intolerable to her as it was to me. "I could have you sent to an asylum—"

"You wouldn't dare," I said.

"I'd dare anything to protect you—"

"You have." I fought to keep my words gentle. "You always have protected me. You always will. Just...let us choose our paths."

"Your father will—"

"Never know, because you'll make up something brilliantly creative—"

"Natalie, I sense death," she cried. "You're not prepared—"

"Do you see my death? Or simply death?"

"Not precisely, no, I can't forsee a specific fate, but danger and death is a certainty, I cannot risk you—"

I sighed heavily. Lavinia was ashen pale at my side and yet still resolute. "I've faced death awake, I've faced it dreaming. I don't like the idea, but I've a strong notion it will come for me regardless. I'd just rather it not be expecting me."

There was a very long time where Evelyn Northe and I simply stared at one another.

"You realize you're the bravest girl I've ever known," she said finally.

I felt tears threaten to sting my eyes, but I fought them back. "I learned bravery from the mother who pushed me out of the way of a carriage and was run down instead. I learned bravery from a stepmother who doesn't flinch at dark magic."

She blinked a moment. Then she realized that "stepmother" meant her, and it was then her turn to blink back tears.

But the moment of deep sentiment was short lived. Mrs. Northe's expressive hazel eyes rolled back entirely, and her tall, slight form began to shake uncontrollably. A voice came from her that was not entirely her own, it was singsong and eerie. "They've gone to the house and it is ashes…ashes…"

"What…what's going on…" Lavinia said, looking at Mrs. Northe and then to me, terrified.

"I think… She's channeling something," I said slowly. "I hope it's a spirit…"

"Let's go," Lavinia said and stormed to the door, blowing past our suddenly incapacitated hostess. "Natalie, come on. This is our chance—"

"But we can't leave her—"

Lavinia rushed back into the base of the landing to emphatically ring the maid's bell, picked up my hatbox from where I'd dropped it and shoved it at me, grabbed my hand, hoisting her satchel over her shoulder, and we flew out the door.

Out the front door, I heard Mrs. Northe cry out: "Beware…all ye who journey there..."

It was hardly the parting words I wanted to hear. I wanted benedictions, not warnings. But then came a telling, shrieking addition:

"Heed the sequence," Mrs. Northe cried, from whatever forces were utilizing her. "The order. The book."

And that, I knew, was a clue. This was too chilling of a note to leave my mentor and spiritual warrior upon, but as Lavinia was physically dragging me away, I'd take whatever help I could get.

I paused outside just a moment, to see if there was anything else to be gleaned, but the maids had descended about her then; I heard fussing, and I could see the grouped shadow inside the beveled glass of the door. I was confident she'd be taken care of. Hopefully her staff would call Blessing, or maybe that senator, one of her powerful friends—if she didn't come to after some time entranced.

At least the spirits were trying to help us.

At least I hoped it was the spirits speaking through her and not something else…


(End of Chapter 16-- 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, July 16, 2013


(For previous chapters, see right side bar. If viewing by mobile, scroll down from http://leannareneebooks.blogspot.com for all chapters) 
Chapter Fifteen part 2

I stared at the lovely red-haired young woman, framed in the doorway, clad in a black velvet robe that was somewhere between a dressing gown and a priest's habit. She appeared like a fraught archetype that one of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood's painters might have dreamed up, perhaps a rendition of her own ominous name utilized in one of Shakespeare's most gruesome tragedies. But since I'd had plenty of experience with cursed paintings, I'd take Lavinia's three dimensions over canvas any day, though the reality of her panic and worry cut straight to the bone, her passionate heart exposed for all to see.

"And do you have any idea where your dear Mister Veil may have gone to?" Mrs. Northe replied, rising to her feet and going to the door, keeping utterly calm in the face of Lavinia's panic. "It seems we've a rash of handsome Englishmen disappearing out from under our noses."

"No," Lavinia fumed. She began pacing in the hall, like a nervous raven, black fabric swirling as she stalked. "I do not. But I have my suspicions. I believe he has returned to England. He said he wanted to help Jonathon. He was looking all over for him yesterday. So I assume he's at least part way across the pond."

My heart seized with many emotions, firstly hope and pride that Jonathon had such good and loyal friends to rally around and help him. But I simultaneously seized up in pain, for I was not there, not a part of the chase, not immediately following after. After all, I had as much of a claim to him as a friend had... I was his love... I wanted to be his wife... Why the hell was I still in New York when my heart traveled across the Atlantic? My whole body ached to run out the door and down to the piers right that very moment...

Mrs. Northe was eyeing me, and I had to keep my calm, for she was gauging me and I had to keep in her good graces. There would be no going anywhere if she suspected me...

I spoke very gently in my most reasonable tone. "Do you happen to know if Jonathon told Nathaniel he was leaving for England? Because he didn't give me any clue—"

"No," Lavinia replied, stopping her pacing to come into the room and speak with me. "He said he was hoping he'd have seen Jonathon but was struck by a memory of the persons who targeted the Denbury clan to begin with, a night he still feels guilty about. And I'm sorry to be so rude and think only of myself and my heart... But are you...feeling better, Miss Stewart?"

"Do call me Natalie, I insist, and yes, I am, thank you. Thank you for helping keep order in the house, I understand it was...difficult. I am sorry for—"

"You apologize for nothing. It was I who brought this whole terror upon us—"

"The Society targeted you, you couldn't have known—"

Lavinia's bright eyes flashed darkly. "I should not have let anything in," she moaned. Shame made her cheeks burn nearly the color of her hair. "I should not have given a substance faith that I didn't have in myself. I should not have allowed my Association, my treasured comrades, think, for even one moment, that there was a shortcut to their health when we've all taken such great and measured strides together." She clasped her graceful hands together. Her every move was theatrical, whether she knew it or not, and yet all of it entirely sincere. "Proven medicine for ailments is one thing. Risks like what I undertook? No. I hope one day I'll forgive myself, but today is not that day. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to write some letters of inquiry on Nathaniel's behalf." She bowed her dark red head and disappeared.

Mrs. Northe was about to open her mouth and comment on the situation when the doorbell rang and the door was opened unto my father, who was shown upstairs, and soon after, the maids rushed about to make sure all of us had tea in nearly the blink of an eye. None would look at me. Surely they were frightened. And yet they remained in this house. Mrs. Northe created that kind of unbreakable loyalty.

"I... I'm so relieved you're recovered," was all my father could manage, coming into the room. I struggled to stand for the first time in what had evidently been a few days, wincing from the aches, but it felt so good to be upright.

When my father looked at me, he still blanched, as if he were staring at a ghost. Mrs. Northe had been through enough séances and exorcisms, it would seem, to not have been phased by the toxin's effects upon me; she treated me no differently, and for that I was grateful.

But for my father, though the inexplicable things that had followed Jonathon and then, by default, me, become commonplace, they could never be fully understood, never fully accepted. And yet, despite this, he cared enough for me and for Mrs. Northe, for this family of fate, to try his best to stare it all fully in the face even though I knew how utterly terrified he was. I wondered if he heard my mother's whisper, ever, in his mind, and if it steeled his gentle heart that was so full of love it sufficed for strength. I'd like to think he did.

We stared at each other for a long moment, as if summing one another up. My heart twisted in anguish for what I knew I had to do, break his heart all over again and disappear once more. He might never forgive me. I had to take that risk. And looking at the kind, distinguished face of a man who simply wanted to love me, for me to be happy without threat... It nearly made me ill, sick, and enraged all over again. What right did any evil force have to try to sunder something so lovely as the persons I had in my life?

I thought I was going to finally go home with Father. I hadn't had the heart to ask precisely how long I'd actually been Mrs. Northe's crazed invalid...but he stopped me as I started gathering whatever of my things sitting around the vanity had been brought from home during the interlude.

"Natalie, not that I don't want you home, but perhaps one more day under this roof? To truly make sure you're...yourself again? I just..." And he looked at Mrs. Northe with a mixture of fear and wonder. "I feel you're safer around Evelyn than you would be around me. She can...protect you better than I could. She knows... I was helpless. I suppose your Jonathon knows too... I just...wouldn't... I don't know what to do..."

He was the same man who desperately wanted the best for me despite his own personal cost. When faced with my disability, when I stopped speaking after Mother died, he sent me away from home to the finest school that the country offered so that someone more skilled could help me. I only just now understood, looking into those eyes that seized my heart with the force of their love, that cleaving me from him for my own good was the hardest thing he ever had to do. He'd lost his wife, and here his daughter kept needing expert care that he could not provide. And yet he did not let his pride withhold what I needed. What trust in grace. What wondrous love.

I moved to my poor, overwhelmed father, and embraced him. Hard. "Go home and rest, Father, you look like you haven't slept in days."

"I haven't," he admitted.

"I'll be fine. I've gotten this far, haven't I?" I said, offering him a smile that he returned.

"By the grace of God," he murmured, kissing me on the head and slipping quietly back down the stairs. Mrs. Northe escorted him to the door, and I heard him thank her gently in the downstairs foyer. "I'm sorry for all the trouble, Evelyn," he added.

"You're quite welcome, Gareth," I heard her reply. "And no trouble was had. But if there had been, your family would be worth it."

There was a long moment before I heard the front door close. I actively did not think about what that long silence might have meant.

Mrs. Northe did not come back upstairs. Perhaps she was pondering the same things I was, how beautiful and rare it was that a loving gentleman left the women he cared most for in the world to their own devices. Not because he was not interested, or thought himself above the goings-on. But because he trusted us. Despite all we'd both done in direct opposition to what would have engendered trust. Surely, the late Helen Stewart was somewhere helping our family cope... Or, maybe, my father didn't need any help at all, he was just very gifted at letting people do what they did best and caring for them as they did so.

I was left alone. I found I didn't like that fact, as I felt as though I might jump out of my skin, impatient and restless. So, as with anything I didn't like, I sought a remedy for my state. I poked my head into the hall. Down the lavishly papered and plush-carpeted hall, Lavinia's door was open. I padded down to its frame and left one rap upon the dark wood.

At the sound, she looked up from a small Turkish suite where she sat writing by the lavender light of a gas lamp with a purple glass shade. It make her look oddly spectral, slightly ghastly. 'I was sure she'd like the effect, provided it was in her control. It was clear the Association appreciated theatrical morbidity but wasn't fond of violence or actual threat. They sought to make light of death, not actively court it. That's where the Society had misjudged them.

Lavinia gestured me in and rose to close the door behind us.

"So," she murmured. "We're in a similar boat, are we not?" As she emphasized the word boat, I wondered if Lavinia was, in fact, thinking exactly what I was thinking.

"I'll never be let out of here at this point, I fear," I replied. "Mrs. Northe knows me too well. But I have to escape. I have to get on a steamer, and I have to get to London. To Greenwich, to his estate, wherever he is... The trouble is," I said, wringing my hands, feeling helplessness rise inside me like the raging tides so recently had, "I don't know the first thing about England, or international travel."

"Well. Good thing I'm British, then, isn't it?" she replied. "I'll take you to England, Natalie. I have to follow the man I love. As do you. And I feel much better about it not undertaking it alone. Everything happens for a reason, so they say, and one cannot fight the types of battles we've been chosen to fight on our own." I stared at her. Her lovely face, one I'd seen so often scared and nervous, was stalwart and resolute. I wondered if I'd looked the same way when I'd made the dangerous decisions I had in protecting Jonathon in any number of ways. Do not stand between a resolute lady and her love, that's for certain.

I nodded, squeezing her hand. "Yes. All of this, yes, Lavinia, thank you. And I hope to leave as soon as possible—"

"Tonight. I've packed a bag, I've secured money. I knew my parents were tiring of me long before they cast me off, so I've gathered and saved a considerable amount, and I've been clever about it, lest I lose it all to one unscrupulous thief on the boat."

I stared at her, impressed. "Your parents were wrong to cast you out merely for company you keep. I think the Association is wonderful, creative, and true to themselves, and there's nothing inherently broken about any of you. It's the world that needs assimilation when the individual needs only one's self. I am glad that if I've been subjected to the hells I've been subjected to, that it's been alongside fairly spectacular company."

She beamed. "There's an early-morning steamer, but we'll be seen by house staff in the morning, so we'll leave tonight, at midnight, prevail upon a friend of mine who lives not terribly far from the Cunard offices, wait out the midnight hours, and tomorrow morning, we begin. It takes too many days to cross the Atlantic to waste a single one more. Go to your guest room and gather what little useful you can. We'll have to procure other items in transit." She moved to the large mahogany wardrobe across the room, opened it, and handed me a hat box. It wasn't luggage, but it would have to do.

I nodded at her and moved quietly into the hall. I remembered what had felt best when anything frightening had been placed in my path, and that was to move around it. To act. Paralysis would kill me. The only thing to fend off any recurrence of the madness that had overtaken me was to again stare the demons down, one by one. The Master's Society and all its misguided experiments preyed on a mixture of fear and chaos leading to conditions for domination. I had to hope the demons and their agency hadn't factored in the spirited rebellion of those they crossed. But it did make us marked targets.

I hoped that night I could dream, to pluck details from Jonathon's innermost mind, wherein I would also see, surely, clues to my own doom. I had to believe those warnings could be avoided. If some increasingly slippery part of this ungodly puzzle would come for me regardless, I might as well meet it in battle...
(End of Chapter 15.2 -- 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!)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


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

Chapter Fifteen (part one)

"Yes," Mrs. Northe agreed to my prompt. "Yes, we do need to think about those numbers. About any and all connections we can draw. Let's apply our thoughts to the paperwork I've managed to get hold of in the past few days."


She smiled craftily, rising from my bedside and going toward the door. "It's good to know people in clerks' offices. For the devil is often in the details, my dear." She disappeared into another upstairs room and returned a few moments later with a few brown folders with papers inside.

"It would seem," she began, taking a seat beside me once more, "the Master's Society has been making major investments in New York City, by all kinds of means. Some over-handed, most under." She held up a stack of deeds, receipts, and a ledger. The top papers were stamped with the distinct gold and red dragon-flanked crest. "These transfers of assets, and general encroachment, have been happening within the past few years. A great deal of the property is centered around Grand Central depot. If you recall, that poor madman Crenfall was on about the 'grand and the central.' When Lord Denbury and I were out examining various suspected Master's Society properties before he disappeared, we concluded there must be a hub of something that will either be built or will occur around that area."

"I hope it's enough to take to authorities to examine? What can people like us do about mere property? Will anyone believe the underhanded aims of the Society enough to, what, what would we even suggest, raid these premises?"

"I'm not sure if the truth of the Society will be believed, if my dealings with the New York City Police Department are any indication. They don't take kindly to the idea of the paranormal. Well, they're not particularly hostile, they just don't believe—"

"At their own risk," I grumbled, and Mrs. Northe scowled.

"Well, yes, but you tell that to the sergeant who still has your diary in custody."

I felt my face go hot again. I'd truly like to get that back… There were so many personal details that just should not be public record…

"I've been discussing all this with Lavinia, to see if she has any insights," Mrs. Northe mused, gazing out the small window that presented a tiny sliver of a courtyard between her property and the townhouse beside. "Somewhere, between all of us, we'll figure out the chink in the demonic armor. She needs to feel empowered by what has happened around her, and not a victim. What happened here in my house, with all of the Association present, to that poor fellow George, and then to you, it dealt Miss Kent a bit of a regressive blow. 'She's not been seen out of her room much. I think she still feels this is somehow all her fault."

I sighed angrily, trying to move. "It isn't, none of this is anyone's fault but the fault of evil—"

"She'll appreciate hearing those reassurances from you, and I encourage you to tell her that."

"I don't suppose you'd like to let me up?" I said, shaking at my bindings.

"Ah." Mrs. Northe flushed, embarrassed. "Yes. I'm sorry. You do seem to be behaving yourself, so I suppose it's time…"

I looked up at her, trying to honestly remember the extent of the madness I'd glimpsed, those indistinct hours that were taken from me. It was all so hazy. But I'd never forget feeling so horribly compromised. Having a distant sense of faculty and having control taken away from you was, as Lavinia had said, the most horrible cruelty. "Was I really that awful?"

"I'm sure you could have been worse, the effects could have been worse. You could be like that poor George and still be comatose." Mrs. Northe sat upon the edge of the bed, leaning over to undo the bindings upon my wrists.

As I turned them and winced, rolling them in an aching stretch once released, Mrs. Northe picked up a minty salve from the bedside table, gently rubbing and treating the raw skin, mothering me as she continued. "The toxin is not to be trusted nor believed. Turns lambs into lions. Thank goodness it managed to stay contained within my house and we cleaned up the residue without much damage, else I'd not have had a house left."

Mrs. Northe helped me up to a seated position against the headboard, and I groaned, all my muscles aching and on fire from the lying down without being able to turn and all the struggling I must have done. The way she tended to me, I lost all the resentment about being bound up; she'd done it for my safety and for that of everyone around me. She had such a maternal way about her, and part of me wanted to ask about children, what she really thought about not having any, even though she sort of had surrogates in me, in Miss Kent, in Maggie...

Maggie... I hadn't told Mrs. Northe about the letter. There wasn't anything in it that was particularly private or damning; it was mostly just Maggie being her usual self, but it was worth mentioning the fact that I read her as still hovering on the edge of vulnerability and needing all the prayers and support she could get. She was precarious, and while I felt I should write back, I wasn't entirely sure what I should say. I was precarious too. Hardly confident. False reassurances from my sickbed would be of no use, the ailing counseling the ailing...

"What is it now?" Mrs. Northe asked, looking at my expression, which must have been telling. That, or her extraordinary depths of perception would have allowed her to feel the shift within me as much as see it.

"In all the madness," I began with a sigh, "I forgot to tell you a letter arrived from Maggie. While you're looking at paperwork, you might as well read it. I would like to know if you think, as I do, that she still has a ways to go until we would call her recovered... The letter is on your writing desk in the parlor if you'd like to take a look."

Mrs. Northe nodded. "I will." She exited to collect it and any other extraneous evidence.

The desire I had to help Maggie, wayward as she'd been, was nothing compared to the wave of panic that again crested inside me when I thought about Jonathon, out there on his own.

Mrs. Northe would not let me go anywhere, without a fight. My father… Well, of course in his mind anything remotely questionable, much less outright dangerous, wasn't an option. But I would go one way or another. Better to ask forgiveness later than permission now, especially when I knew the answer would be a resounding no... The hesitant forgiveness given from others would be nothing compared to the lack of any I'd ever give myself if I lost Jonathon. If the worst came to pass and I didn't try to find him… I was not worthy of the divine intervention I had earned thus far.

Not to say I was infallible, invincible, immortal. I was, most certainly, mortal. And here I was, ready to tempt every fate I'd yet encountered. How reckless. How necessary.

I simply had to go... It was inevitable, truly, and I'd learned that there was a certain magnetism to inevitable things. Once I knew something had to be done, it simply had to be so.

Whenever I could be assured that the sequence Jonathon warned me about would lead to one mystery solved, he himself would be my next case. I just had to figure out how a young woman traveled across the Atlantic unaccompanied... I'd have to put on the suit again, pretend. And I'd also have to steal some money... I wondered how much a steamer ticket to England would cost me...

Lavinia Kent interrupted my musing machinations with a desperate cry, wild-haired and wide-eyed at the door.

"Nathaniel's gone! Utterly gone! It isn't one of his tricks, he has vanished."

(End of Chapter 15.1 -- 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, July 2, 2013


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

Chapter Fourteen:

The sound of my screams certainly sent the house staff scrambling.
The door to my guest-room-prison was opened, and two starched-hatted maids in black dresses and white aprons peered blanched faces at me before darting down the stairs in a cumbersome tandem, gingerly calling for the lady of the house.

I heard Mrs. Northe muttering under her breath as a swift tread up the stairs came closer and closer.

"I have to go to him, Jonathon," I cried. "He's in England." I could feel my panic rising, calling out to her even before she entered the room. "He said to let him go and save myself, I don't know what to do, what he'll do, I have to—"

"You're not going anywhere, Natalie," she murmured, her tone more weary than I'd heard it for some time as she turned the corner into the room. She was dressed down; in a plain workaday linen skirt, white blouse with sleeves rolled up, and an open linen vest, she must have been at work on something. She moved to a water basin by my bedside. She dipped a cloth in water and ran it over my forehead that I only now noticed was warm for the contrast of cool water.

The next piercing physical sensation was how much my wrists hurt. I must have been wresting against my restraints in whatever level of precarious state I'd been in. The sight of the bonds made me freshly fierce.

"I will find him, I will find Jonathon," I cried. A wave of anger that felt foreign and reckless, huge and unwieldy, crested inside me like a cat extending claws. While the impetus of emotion was mine, it's scope was something that I could only imagine that the Master's Society would want to exploit in their endless drive to further misery... I tried to trade the anger for pleading, thinking I might get further on that sentiment, staring up into Mrs. Northe's wide, piercing hazel eyes that missed no detail and seemed to know me too well. "I know where he is, he told me, I have to go—"

"You know I can't enable a mere sentence from a dream," Mrs. Northe said gently. "But tell me more about the dream." She dipped the cloth again and soothed my brow, fussing over me but making no move to undo my restraints. "I do appreciate that you often reveal clues—"

"Don't treat me like a prisoner."

"Tell that to the man you threw a punch at before Nathaniel managed to wrestle you to the floor downstairs," she replied. I could feel the color drain from my face. "Not that it was your fault," she added, "but we must take the greatest care. I think you're in the clear now, my dear, and I'd like to unlash you, but let's be careful here, let's see how you deal with what you're telling me, let's just talk a bit, you and I, so I can ascertain your mood and your physical reactions."

"Did...did the demon overtake me?" I asked sheepishly, trying to think back to what I dimly recalled as maybe having been an exorcism... "The demon, the one we destroyed, it...it spoke to me through that poor man George... At least, I thought it did..."

"I believe you were merely in the grip of the toxin. Parts of you remained distinctly...you. Stubborn. Passionate. Opinionated. Hating to be restrained." She chuckled. "Reverend Blessing was here with me as I would suffer no possible risk to your soul. Your father was relatively terrified, but seeing that you had a small army around you, save Jonathon, he knew you were being taken care of. It didn't follow that you were actually possessed. Truth be told, I think you're too spirited for anything to have room in there," she said smiling, tapping me on the sternum.

I felt a partial smile break through my anxiety. I tried to get a read on my body, my heart rate, my skin, the parts that ached, what seemed natural or unnatural. I tried to breathe and relax as she spoke. I needed to appear well. I needed to be well. Mrs. Northe continued, maintaining a calm, soothing tone as if her words were extensions of the cool compress.

"And I'm not sure we should be thinking of the demon as just one, but rather, a negative force. I've been in my study, writing letters to my gifted friends to see if they've wind of a shift in their séances or communications with the dead. I've been trying to make contact with spirits myself, to seek a window in, to see if a whole army of hell is upon us or just isolated bodies of negativity seeking hosts—"

"Mother," I blurted. "Did you speak with my mother?"

Mrs. Northe shook her head. "She remains elusive. Not out of love, I'm sure, but..."

I looked away, another wave of emotion threatening to drag me under. I needed to remain sane. I needed to get out of this damned bed, and no further fits would get me out of it any faster. Mrs. Northe took her cue and changed the subject.

"If something was possessing George, it left with George, who remains comatose in a nearby hospital, with a police officer on guard. It would seem the toxin does like to feed upon emotion. Hence Veil's Association being quite the group to target. Lovely people, truly, though I had to eventually insist they all leave my home after all the events."

"Did they overstay their welcome?"

"Ah, no, they just like finery as a whole, it would seem, and I'm not sure any of them are much used to fine homes, so they were a bit entranced here. I admit, I did, once you were seen to, have quite a wonderful conversation with Mister Zhee about Peking. Amazing city, Peking. I'll have to take you sometime." Mrs. Northe said this so casually as if China were not on the other side of the world but just a train ride away. I supposed, for the wealthy, distances were not as long or as implausible. She was examining my limbs and skin as she continued speaking.

"He misses it very much. His wife, of course, he misses more so. What a shame this country won't let the women of his country in. Who can begrudge a man for taking work when it's offered and wanting to be with his family while he does it? Is this not a city were the world comes to make their way?"

This was news to me that only men of China were allowed here and not the women. How painful. Mrs. Northe seemed satisfied with the look of me; at least I couldn't discern any concern on her face, and while she did not unwind my bindings entirely, she did loosen them as she continued:

"It seems one of the Association members managed to extract Zhee from a crime syndicate that kept him as if he were a slave. Frightening what people will exploit from the needy. That Association"—she shook her head in amazement—"is filled with amazing stories of resilience and reinvention. No one there is exactly as they seem, and every last one of them has a fighting spirit in them that utterly defies their romanticisms. Zhee is now a valuable asset to Veil, a guard and friend, teaching Veil about the East and about the various disciplines he practices. Veil is like a sponge. I've never seen anyone drink up and absorb more details; he is an endless student of the world. Ridiculous and irascible, but what a good heart inside that restless, attention-seeking body. Maybe one day he'll even commit it to that poor, pining Lavinia." She chuckled, leaning close to murmur the last, as Lavinia was likely in the house, still '"recovering'" until she made her own way.

I hoped, for Lavinia, that Veil would do just that, help them build a life together now that she'd lost her parents' blessing, good will, and fortune. Fortune.

"Now, can you speak about the dream without an adverse reaction?" Mrs. Northe prompted.

I took a deep breath. I thought of that terrible corridor and tried not to relive the horrible sensation of its collapse, of being trapped, of watching Jonathon disappear from me...

"Jonathon is gone," I managed to say after a moment. "Back in England or at least en route. He was telling me I couldn't follow, and something about numbers, about the sequence, about that being important."

"Would he not have told us he was traveling again? He said nothing to me, were you informed—"

"I think the spy must have dragged him away before he could write," I replied. As Mrs. Northe's eyebrows raised, I bit my lip. I remembered we hadn't ever told her about Brinkman. I swallowed hard. "Oh. Yes. There was a spy in town."

"Really? Is that so? And when were you going to mention that to me, pray tell? Were you ever going to—"

"For his safety, we thought we'd not—"

Mrs. Northe batted her hand to stop me. "Well, Rupert—Senator Bishop," she hastily corrected herself from the easy familiarity, "will want to know that. I knew you were hiding something, something important, but I thought maybe it was just that Jonathon had stolen your virtue or something—"

"No!" I protested, my face growing hot with a furious blush. "He's a gentleman—"

"A spy,” she continued, as if she hadn’t even heard me. I blushed even brighter but lest she think ‘the lady doth protest too much’ I let the matter go and she continued; “How very interesting. Espionage. And you think this spy made off with Jonathon?"

"Why else would he not leave a note? Or send a telegraph via Morse, for transcript from the steamer? Relying on our dreams for information shouldn’t be trusted without circumspection. I'd like to think he'd not hide his exit from me unless it was hasty, and that he was in danger. Society operatives must have trailed him and found him, so he ran. I hope I can trust Brinkman to keep him safe in the meantime. Until I can get there."

"You're not getting there, Natalie, I can't possibly—"

"You can't expect me to just lie here—"

Her hazel eyes now flashed at me like lightning. She was shaking. "I could never live with myself, I...I just can't, Natalie. There are things I know, things that Amelia told me before she passed, things I've intuited—"

"About what? You can't play that game with me again; you withheld things from me before, about what the spirits said, about what my mother's spirit said—"

"The simple fact is if you go to England, your father will never trust me again for putting you in direct danger. And he'd never again trust you. And he shouldn't—"

"Why? Why do you even care about my father? More so than me?" I blurted finally. She turned to me and smiled, and in that smile and the soft, nurturing look in her eyes, I felt the full breadth and scope of my youth in comparison to the life she'd lived, and I felt very small.

"Natalie Stewart. Let's not play games with who has more of my affection."

"What do you even see in my father?" I grumbled, suddenly very resentful I woke up screaming and he was not there, as if this whole maddening part of my life just didn't include him at all. "When I went under, did he just stand in the corner being terrified, when you were doing things, or did he step up and acknowledge what's going on? Where is he now?"

"He is at work, so you can keep the roof over your head—"

"But truly, I ask you, what do you see in him, he's not of your league—"

"Natalie Stewart, you listen to me right now! Don't you dare for one more moment let that toxin inside of you make you more ungrateful than you already are." I'd never heard her take such a scolding tone, and I was taken aback. She took a deep breath. "Your father is a quiet, kind, intelligent man who treats me not as an inferior species. You'd be surprised how rare that is. While aware of my wealth and status, he does not put me upon a pedestal, for that is just as alienating. He meets me eye to eye and mind to mind. He shares his thoughts and is interested, genuinely, in mine. He has a quiet confidence that does not seek to dominate me but allows me my strengths as I would allow anyone theirs. This is a very difficult quality to find in men of this age, my dear.”

Her tone shifted from this spirited defense of my father to something more gently world-weary. “You've been spoiled by Jonathon, a man of a forward mind, dear. You don't really know the sorts of gentlemen that are out there, seeking to strangle a woman and keep her forever at heel, forever seen as solely domestic, forever out of realms of thought, employment, rights, and issues considered too intense for our 'delicate' sensibilities.” She bit upon her words as if they were sour. “Delicacy be damned. Delicate is for lace, and I look damned fine in lace, but my spirit should not be confused with what I wear."

I sat with all these words a moment, utterly taken aback by this chastisement, surprised by the depth of response, and suddenly I felt a pride in my heart for the man who had always tried to do right by the women of his life. I imagined, from what I'd heard about my mother, she'd have said something similar. Seeking out powerful women only meant he was confident enough in himself not to have anything to prove. Nothing but love. And the pursuit of art. Ah, what a poet's soul I'd come from. The emotions that had been so thick and violent within me now made me want to do nothing but weep. I had to hold myself together.

And I had to do right by my father. I couldn't just disappear to England, even if I did manage to escape from under Mrs. Northe's watch and board the next steamer. I owed him more than that. But he'd never let me go. And yet I had to go. Would it come down to choosing which of the men in my life was more important? The man who raised me or the man I hoped I'd someday marry? That wasn't fair, was it, to have to choose?

I looked up at her pleadingly, and that was no ploy, it was simply how I felt. "I have to do something. I can't just lie here... Surely there's something to do, to stop the evil creeping in..." I trailed off, remembering what else Jonathon had said. "The numbers. The numbered sequence. I think he might have meant that sequence that Crenfall was repeating. It's important. Very. I truly think lives hang upon us knowing what it refers to."

The look on her face proved she was taking this as deathly seriously as I was; altered state or no.

(End of Chapter 14 -- 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!)