Chapter Three of Dead Magic

dm-preorder

Since Dead Magic will be coming out in a little over a month, I thought I would share the first few chapters here to wet your appetite for its release on November 10th. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be releasing a few more of the opening chapters. I hope you enjoy!
If you missed it, here are chapter one and chapter two.

Chapter Three

 The Junior Curator

 Looking up from his research notes, Immanuel Winter bit down a grin. Everything was falling into place. After only eight days in London, he found that he suddenly had everything he always wanted. He had moved in with Adam Fenice, he had a job as a junior curator at the Natural History Museum, and he never had to set foot on Oxford University’s grounds ever again. Immanuel leaned back in his chair, arching his back as he ran his hands through his hair and stretched. Wayward blonde curls sprang to life at his touch. The best part of this transition from student to professional was the privacy. No longer did he have to contend with constant rabblerousing from other students or having to find a secluded spot in order to work. Now, he had an office with a door he could close and like-minded employees who were, for the most part, peaceful.

His office was just how he had pictured it when Professor Martin told him that he had called in a favor with Sir William Henry Flower at the museum and secured a position for him in the zoology department. Most of the room was taken up by his desk, which was already covered with stacks of paper after only four days of work. Behind him and in the space between the door and the windowed wall were shelves and drawers for taxidermy creatures, fossils, and jarred specimens. The office’s previous occupant had been with the museum for years before it moved to South Kensington and had accumulated a veritable cabinet of curiosities and a small library of texts. At times, Immanuel felt as if he was merely borrowing the old curator’s office, but he was glad he hadn’t moved into an empty room, knowing he would have had very little to add besides a handful of textbooks from his time at Oxford. Even if the office didn’t have any personal touches yet, it was bright and clean and his.

Something shifted in the damaged side of Immanuel’s vision. He turned in time to watch a three foot swath of pale green wallpaper flop off the plaster. Immanuel sighed. That was the third time that had happened since he moved in. He opened the drawers of his desk one at a time, searching for anything he could use to secure it. Pins. He had seen dissection pins the other day, but where? As he yanked the bottom drawer, he heard the familiar tinkle of dozens of small things sliding together. Inside, surrounded by hand-written research notes and correspondence was a wooden box no bigger than a tea chest. Pulling off the lid, he snatched his hand away. Where he had expected to find a jumble of loose metal pins, he found a pile of bleached bones. Immanuel carefully lifted the box onto his desk, tipping it sideways to coax the bones to slide away from the skull. A blank-eyed face stared back at him with fangs bared. From the size and shape, he knew it had once belonged to a decently large housecat.

Immanuel stared down at the disarticulated creature. Its vertebrae lay scattered across the bottom of the box alongside ribs and leg bones, which had separated long ago. Why had the previous curator kept a cat skeleton in his desk? It wasn’t as if they were rare or that the museum didn’t already have a specimen on display. He chewed on his lip with his eyetooth, his eyes locked on the cat’s empty sockets. The longer he stared, the more clearly he could imagine its pointy ears and the curve of its tail. Since he gained a hint of Emmeline Jardine’s power, he had touched far too many corpses not to expect the cat’s death to be gruesome. When he touched the dead, he witnessed their final moments, and most specimens’ lives ended with the distant retort of a gun, the beast blissfully unaware while Immanuel screamed in his mind for them to run. Now that he was preparing his own lunch and helping with dinner, he often found his latent talents showed him the moment of squirming agitation before a chicken’s head was lobbed off or a cow’s throat was cut. It was enough to make him consider becoming a vegetarian.

He sighed. He had to know if the cat had met an unseemly end. If that was the case, at least he could bring it back to Baker Street and give it a proper burial. Adam wouldn’t mind, and if he did, he would simply wait for him to go to work and bury it anyway. Drawing in a deep breath, he braced himself for whatever godawful fate the cat could have suffered. Immanuel reached into the box and gently stroked the smooth spot between the cat’s ears. The bright office dimmed into a darkened bedroom. The moon peeked through the bed curtains and a fire crackled somewhere nearby, but the sound was drowned out by the rhythmic gurgle of purring. Ahead of him, he could make out a pair of fuzzy legs with the ink-dipped markings of a Siamese. A wizened hand lifted the sheets and pulled them up to the cat’s chin.

Immanuel released a breath as his lips curled into a relieved smile, but it quickly faded as a wave of grief washed over him that he hadn’t anticipated. The skeleton cat had been a beloved pet, one the previous curator had apparently kept until his own death. Maybe he should bury him after all. As he closed the box and carefully placed it back in the bottom drawer, he made a note to ask someone about the old curator. Opening the cabinet behind his desk, he found the jar of t-shaped pins he had been searching for. Immanuel dragged his chair over to the wall with the fallen paper. Taking a pin, he twisted it through the thick wallpaper and into the plaster, but when he tried to secure the other corner, the pin refused to sink in. With the heel of his hand, he hammered it home.

“Mr. Winter!”

Immanuel whipped around in time to meet the penetrating gaze of Sir William Henry Flower. The swivel chair spun beneath him as he tried to step down. Stumbling forward, the museum director caught his arm. Immanuel’s face reddened, turning a deep shade of scarlet at the sound of pins tinkling behind him followed by the flop of paper. Sir William Henry Flower stared down his patrician nose at the young curator. He stood only an inch taller than Immanuel, yet his air of authority gave him a presence that made Immanuel wish he could disappear into the wallpaper.

“Is everything all right in here?”

Swallowing hard, Immanuel straightened and nodded quickly. “Yes, sir. I— I was just trying to secure the paper.”

“We could hear you trying in the hall. Have Miss Nelson contact the maintenance staff to fix it.” The museum director’s light eyes roamed over the shelves before coming to rest on the jumble of books and papers across the desk. “How is the research coming? Have you found everything you needed?”

Immanuel pushed his chair back to the desk, suddenly aware of the chaos in which he had been working. Every inch of the six foot long tabletop was used to hold an open book or allow him to see multiple pages of notes. If he had another two feet of space, he knew he would have filled that, too. He hadn’t even worked there a week, yet he was already making a mess. Drawing in a long, silent breath, he banished all thoughts of being fired. At least one of his colleagues had to be worse.

“Yes, sir. I’m still getting the lay of the land, but the librarians have been very helpful.”

“Very good. It may be a good idea to check the specimen room in the storage cellars and take some measurements and notes yourself.”

“I will, sir. I didn’t know if I was allowed to do that. Touch the specimens, that is.” He swallowed hard, hoping he could hold off visiting the basements until he could bring a pair of gloves from home.

“Museum staff can borrow whatever is needed to further their research. If you have any questions about protocol, Mr. Winter, just ask one of the other curators or librarians. As you may be aware, there is a staff meeting today at one in the Shaw Room. You haven’t been with us long, but I think you should be present to see how things operate. Do you know where that is?”

“Yes, sir.”

Giving Immanuel a firm nod, Sir William turned to leave but stopped on the threshold. A wave of nausea rippled through Immanuel’s gut as he realized the older gentleman’s gaze was resting on his brown-blotted eye.

“I have been meaning to ask, but have you had your eye examined by a physician?”

The urge to run his fingers over the bump of raised skin that bisected his right brow was nearly irresistible. Immanuel’s hands twitched at his sides, but he quickly clasped them behind his back.

“Yes, sir. I was under a doctor’s care after the—,” he paused. What could he call it? Even after six months, he didn’t know what to say when asked about how he received the scar that clouded one blue eye with a half-moon of blood-brown. Immanuel’s jaw tightened and his eye burned. He wished he could pretend it never happened. “After the incident.”

“Was it treated?”

“Sort of. At the time, there were more pressing injuries to treat. The doctor couldn’t completely restore my sight in that eye, but it doesn’t trouble me much. I have grown accustomed to it,” he replied, his voice tightening.

“Very well. Remember the staff meeting is at one in the Shaw Room.”

Holding his breath, Immanuel watched Sir William leave, shutting the door behind him. At the sound of the glass rattling in its frame, Immanuel darted to the window. He wrenched open the pane and leaned out on his elbows. Summer air flooded his lungs as he exhaled the vision of Lord Rose looming over him and breathed in London’s unique perfume to keep his mind from conjuring the demon’s smoky breath. The earthy fragrance of Hyde Park down the road brought him back to the reassuring pressure of his office’s wooden floorboards beneath his feet and the paper on seal physiological evolution flapping against his desk behind him. Immanuel raked a rain-spattered hand through his hair. If Sir William had continued to question him, how long he could have lasted before the memories tore him from reality? Lord Rose is gone, he reminded himself as he did nearly every day. Lord Rose is dead and gone.

 

***

 

Walking down the wood-lined hall, Immanuel’s gaze traveled over the engraved brass signs beside each door. The Shaw Room, he repeated to himself as he made it to the end of the hall in less than a dozen long strides. It had to be there somewhere. He should have asked Sir William where it was. He thought he had known, but there were so many rooms named for founders, and after a while, they became as tangled as the streets he tried to memorize on his way to work. Rounding the corner, he resisted the urge to check the time. He didn’t want to know how late he was. Immanuel’s pulse fluttered at the thought of being dismissed in front of the senior and junior staff. It would take all his strength not to walk off London Bridge— if he could find it.

Why had they even hired him? It was something he had wondered since he received the news that the famed museum director had agreed to take him on as a junior curator sight-unseen. He had a hard time believing that Sir William had taken Professor Martin’s word about his student’s intellect and ability to articulate a skeleton as if by instinct. Perhaps it wasn’t often that Elijah Martin called in favors, and it made him wonder what Martin had done for the director.

Upon meeting him on the day Sir William had agreed upon for him to start his duties, the only thing the director had asked was his position on evolution. Satisfied with his belief in Darwin’s theories, he passed him off to the nearest curator, who happened to be Peregrine Nichols. At least it had been Nichols and not one of the museum gentry who were as white-haired and stoic as Sir William himself. Nichols was a junior curator, too, but had been hired a few years earlier in the botany department. He stood over a head shorter than Immanuel with boyish brown hair and long, dark eyelashes. Even if he was half a decade older, he had the fragile, delicate features of a child and the rapid-fire speech of a sideshow barker. As Mr. Nichols led him past cases of specimens, pointing out the ones he worked on along with those Immanuel would have to update soon, he caught him up on museum politics.

“You’re lucky you weren’t here for it. It was chaos, utter chaos for months when they left. Most were junior curators and assistants complaining that they couldn’t pay for their wives. Pfft, a crock. You know how people are, they always want more money than they could hope to get. We get paid well for what we do. By the by, do you have a wife?”

“No,” Immanuel answered a little too quickly as they skirted a mass of schoolchildren who stared up at the stuffed elephants in awe.

“Well, then I guess I don’t have to worry about you running before you even get settled. It would be nice to have someone to talk to who didn’t live with one of these,” Peregrine said with a chuckle, hooking a thumb toward the mastodon skeleton. “Your predecessor, Mr. Masters, was nice enough, a bit eccentric. You will have to get accustomed to that. There isn’t much that’s normal in a museum. Anyway, just stay out of Sir William’s way and do as he says. He’s been eagerly awaiting your arrival.”

When Immanuel’s eyes lit up, Peregrine continued, “Albert Günther, the old Keeper of Zoology, retired early after a fight with Sir William over the theory of evolution being forced upon the new exhibits. If you can’t tell, old Günther was more than a little agnostic when it came to evolution, and Sir William can’t stand that. It’s black or white with him. Anyway, he’s been forced to manage zoology along with his duties as the director, but now, you’re here to help bear most of the burden without the higher title.”

“Do you have any advice? Is there anything I should know?”

Peregrine tilted his head in thought, his pink lips pursed. “You went to Oxford or Cambridge, right? Well, then you know it’s all politics. It isn’t just what you know but who you know. The good thing is you seem quiet, trainable, and you’re replacing another German, so you should fit right in.”

More than anything, Immanuel hoped he was right.

Immanuel froze at the brass plate marked, The Shaw Room. Taking a calming breath, he adjusted his notepad and smoothed a wayward curl over his scarred eye. As he scooted inside, a dozen grey heads turned toward him, murmuring half-hearted greetings before returning to their conversations. It was like being back at Oxford. The entire room was lined in richly polished woods from the far-reaches of the empire and smelled faintly of leather and brandy. An oil painting of the museum’s founder, Sir Hans Sloane, hung over the hearth. The man’s curly powdered wig hung down in long heavy locks like a spaniel, his eyes staring ahead impassively as his hand rested on a book of botanical prints.

Before Immanuel could locate a free seat around the long, mahogany table, Nichols caught his eye and pointed to the chair beside him. Immanuel didn’t know how he missed Peregrine. His blue suit shone against a sea of somber blacks and greys, reminding him of Adam’s penchant for flashy fabric. Adam. He suppressed a smile at the thought of what waited at home and shimmied behind the senior staff to the empty seat. The moment he sat and tried to steady his breath, Sir William called the meeting to order with a rap against the table.

“I’m certain you all know why I have called a meeting today. The gala is in less than a fortnight, and we have plenty of work to do. The invitations, food and other sundry have been taken care of, but all of the specimen tags in the museum must be up to date, especially in the great hall and the ancient botanicals exhibit.”

A silent groan passed through the room while Immanuel and Peregrine stayed silent.

“Everything must be in top shape. You never know who will show up. We must present ourselves as if we know Her Majesty will be there. Mr. Glenmont, are the preserved plant specimens ready?”

A middle-aged man with gold-rimmed spectacles lurched awake. “Huh? Uh, yes, sir. The live specimens from the horticultural society are also ready to be picked up.”

“Very good.” Sir William raised a white brow at the little man nearly bouncing beside Immanuel. “Mr. Nichols, do you have everything under control with the specimen cards?”

“Yes, sir, completely done. Well, except for the silphium, but I’m nearly done. The Earl of Dorset sent me his notes, but they are rather hard to read.”

Immanuel’s ears perked at the familiar name.

“Mr. Winter, do you have something you would like to add?”

At the sight of everyone staring at him expectantly, he opened his mouth, then closed it before uttering softly, “I— I would like to help if I could. I particularly liked botany and did well in it.” He licked his lips. Should he say it? “The Earl of Dorset is my flat-mate’s brother-in-law, so I could possibly speak to him and clarify any questions we have.”

Immanuel paused as a murmur passed through the room.

“You know him?” Sir William said.

“The earl wrote his own notes?” one of the curators asked over him, his hoary beard in stark contrast to his lilting voice.

“I— I would assume so, sir,” Immanuel replied, his eyes sweeping from face-to-face before returning to his lap. “From what my flat-mate has said, Eilian Sorrell is a well-respected mechano-archaeologist and researcher. He found the silphium at his estate in Dorset.”

“Well, I’ll be. Never thought you would know an earl,” Mr. Nichols added with a shake of his head. “I would greatly appreciate Winter’s help if you can spare him, Sir William.”

Sir William thought for a long moment, his eyes flickering between the two young men. Immanuel resisted the urge to shrink beneath his hard gaze. Had he overstepped his bounds?

“It’s a bit irregular, but I don’t believe the zoological specimens are too out of sorts. Be sure to read and alter the cards for the pinnipeds. You are our resident seal expert, Mr. Winter.”

Immanuel inwardly sighed at the title. That probably meant more nights coming home smelling like decomposing walrus. Poor Adam. Perhaps a trip to the arctic would be his punishment for not knowing his place or for ruining the gala with poorly written cards. As Sir William moved on to other topics of greater interest to the rest of the curators, Immanuel replayed the conversation over in his mind. His heart thundered in his ears, blocking the men’s urbane, muted voices. It was like being before the dons and professors at Oxford. Every word had to be scrutinized to decode layers of forethought, alliances, lies, and useless politics. That wasn’t his way. It was hard enough to remember to refer to Adam as his flat-mate after months of waiting to share a bed, but that was a matter of life and death.

“Meeting adjourned. Mr. Winter, please stay behind. I would like to speak to you for a moment.”

Immanuel’s eyes widened, but as he looked up, Peregrine caught his gaze.

As Peregrine pushed away from the table, he gave Immanuel a half smile. “I wouldn’t be too worried,” he whispered. “If he was going to sack you, he would do it in his office.”

Swallowing hard, Immanuel clutched his notepad to his chest, waiting for Sir William to approach. When the last man filed out, the museum director turned to him, his face unreadable.

“You said your roommate is the Earl of Dorset’s brother-in-law?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Are they close?”

“Yes, but—” It dawned on Immanuel where this line of questioning was going. “Yes, sir, he is the only family the countess has left. Adam Fenice and I spent Christmas with the earl and countess in Greenwich last year, and I believe they have gone shooting together as well.”

Sir William nodded, running a hand over his bearded chin thoughtfully. “I will have to extend an invitation to Mr. Fenice. If you and the countess are going, he may feel slighted if he is overlooked.”

“His cousin and her husband are going as well,” Immanuel added, staring at his feet.

“Who?”

“The Hawthornes, sir. Dr. Hawthorne is the Coroner to the Queen.”

“Very well. The earl made a sizeable donation along with the silphium, and I won’t lose their patronage over a slighted relative. Give my secretary his name, and I will make certain to personally invite him.”

“Thank you, sir. I’m certain he will appreciate it.”

When Sir William turned his attention to the snifter on the sideboard, Immanuel slipped out. A wry smile crossed his lips as he passed the men who had just been in the meeting. Their gazes fell upon him with a newfound respect. No longer was he some no-name German boy. He knew nobility and that would establish him better than age or experience ever could.


If you enjoyed what you read, you can pre-order Dead Magic here and have it delivered to your Kindle on November 10th. Paperbacks will also be available closer to the release date.

Stay tuned for more chapters and previews to come.

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3 Comments

Filed under dead magic, Writing

3 responses to “Chapter Three of Dead Magic

  1. Pingback: Chapter Four of Dead Magic | Kara Jorgensen: History & Horror With Heart

  2. Pingback: Chapter Five of Dead Magic | Kara Jorgensen: History & Horror With Heart

  3. Pingback: Chapter Six of Dead Magic | Kara Jorgensen: History & Horror With Heart

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