As you have probably seen in early posts, Selkie Cove (IMD #5) will be out July 25th. I’m super excited for you to read it, and if you would like, you can pre-order it here. Paperbacks will be available before the release date.
If you missed chapter one, you can read it here.
Sigils and Seals
Immanuel closed his eyes, drinking in the crisp autumnal air as it blew in from his window and ruffled the page that contained a sigil he had been working on to conjure wind. For most of the morning, he had barely gotten a stir of air. It wasn’t until he stopped picturing hurricane-force winds and replaced them with birds soaring and the smell of rain that he felt the kiss of Hyde Park’s earthen perfume brush his cheek. Opening his eyes, Immanuel found a loose Celtic knot beneath the nib of his pen. A smile flashed across his lips as he quickly jotted down his thoughts and results beside the sigil before they could sink beneath the sea of the research he was doing. For hours he had been gathering information on Arctic mammals from half a dozen books from the museum’s library, and he desperately needed a break from penguins and whales. Immanuel shuddered at the thought of having to dissect the latter beast and studied the new sigil’s form. While magic had only been part of his life a short while, it was proving to be as interesting a discipline as science.
Immanuel eyed the tea cup resting at the edge of his blotter and chewed his lip in thought. He had at least fifteen minutes before Sir William Henry Flower finished his weekly meeting with the heads of the museum’s departments. Anyone with any authority would be in the Shaw Room, which meant there would be time to try a trick he had been working on. Placing the cup before him, Immanuel drew in a slow, steady breath. With his eyes locked on the cold tea, his finger traced a whirl that grew into a deformed star on the tabletop. For a moment, nothing happened. He pictured water rolling over his back, the sensation of water dripping across his skin, the call of the ocean lapping against the shore. A ripple passed from his mind to the tea’s surface. The harder he stared, the rougher the waves became until the tea nearly sloshed over the edge of the china. When it reached a peak in the center, Immanuel’s mind snagged it. The sigil evolved beneath his hand, twisting into a lattice of peaks and valleys as the surface rose high above the cup until—
“What the devil do you think you’re doing!”
Immanuel jumped and the peak of liquid plummeted into the cup, shooting tea across his blotter and papers. Scrambling to keep the ink from bleeding into an indecipherable blur, Immanuel looked up to find Peregrine Nichols glaring back at him from the doorway. The junior botany curator’s sharp brown brows furrowed as he slammed the door shut with his foot and stood at the end of Immanuel’s desk. Despite being over a head shorter than Immanuel, the Peregrine had a commanding air he couldn’t hope to emulate. He had seen Peregrine take down a revenant with a pry bar and an incantation when he could scarcely will his body to move. Carefully, mopping his notes with a handkerchief, Immanuel avoided Peregrine’s gaze.
“Are you out of your bloody mind, Winter?” Peregrine hissed. “What if someone saw you? How would you have explained your levitating tea to them?”
“It wasn’t levitating, I was merely experimenting with— I didn’t think anyone would barge in.” Immanuel’s face reddened against his will as he held the handkerchief over his paper and hoped he hadn’t ruined the wind sigil. “Sir William always knocks.”
“But not everyone does. That’s the point. If you’re looking for a way to get on Elliot’s bad side, provoking a modern Inquisition by being careless is a good way to start.”
“I didn’t mean any harm.”
“It doesn’t matter. One slip up and we’re all pyre fodder. So, have you come to an answer yet? She’s even started nagging me to find out.”
A wave of guilt rippled through Immanuel’s gut as he broke from Peregrine’s hard gaze to shut the window and put the wet pages on the radiator to dry. He still didn’t have an answer. After discovering he had extranormal abilities and helping to foil a witch hell-bent on bringing an otherworldly creature to London, he had been offered the chance to join Her Majesty’s Interceptors, a sort of Home Office to deal with England’s overlooked world of magic. It had been tempting, but— Immanuel wasn’t certain what the “but” was. With all that transpired since he had been given a second chance at life, he was tired, and he savored the peace that had finally fallen over his life. His job as a junior curator and his relationship with Adam were all he could have wanted. Becoming an Interceptor would change all of that.
“I will get back to her soon. What is it you need?”
“For you to not do magic at work,” Peregrine snapped, keeping his voice low. Releasing a sigh, the impish curator stepped around Immanuel’s desk to inspect the drowsy pink orchid blooming on his shelf between an ammonite and a sea urchin’s shell. “This is Hexalectris colemanii. Where did you get it? They’re exceptionally rare. I tried to get one, but it arrived dead.”
Immanuel met Peregrine’s umber eyes before quickly averting his gaze back to his papers. “I— I didn’t think you wanted it anymore.”
“So you fished it out of my rubbish bin?”
“I… Well, yes. I thought it might be pretty, and I wanted to see if I could revive it. It was an experiment, really. You can have it back if you want.”
“Thanks,” he replied tartly as he stood on tiptoe to pull the plant down. Hugging the orchid to his chest, he turned on heel to make for the door. “Oh, Sir William wants to see you in the loading dock, and may I suggest you put your papers away before you go.”
The moment Peregrine shut the door behind him, Immanuel released a slow breath. Carefully moving the drying pages behind his desk, he blocked them from sight with a stack of books. He rushed down the hall and hoped to god Sir William hadn’t been waiting long. The last time he did, he became the liaison between his boss and the British Museum, which really meant a month of being a glorified errand boy. Darting down the back steps, Immanuel nodded to the archivists at the front desk before slipping into the storeroom’s maze of dusty wooden shelves. His heart thundered in his throat as he crossed the boards, focusing his attention on the shelves of specimens and bones. It had been months since he was attacked between the stacks by Lord Rose, but each time he ventured into the vast storeroom without a companion, he found his mind grasping to relive those dark moments. More than anything, he wished he knew how to make it stop.
As he grew closer to the loading docks, an unintelligible mix of men’s voices rose through the stillness. Ahead, a crane swung, dangling a long box the size of a coffin. Sir William stood near the controls, watching the crate with an eagle eye as he fed the crane-operator directions. Spotting Immanuel step from the shadows, Sir William stared down his patrician nose at the lanky young man, his gaze lingering on Immanuel’s scar and blotted eye. Immanuel shifted beneath his gaze before clasping his hands behind his back to stop his fidgeting form.
“I beg your pardon, sir. I got caught up helping Peregrine.”
Ignoring him, Sir William turned and gestured for Immanuel to follow him the way came. “A specimen has arrived that I need you to examine. I know it to be a the work of a mountebank, but it came from a well-respected benefactor who claims it to be genuine. We obviously cannot have forgeries in the collection, which is why I would like you to give it the time and attention it deserves. Very little. But make the report detailed, so I can present it to them with little conflict. Do you understand what I’m asking of you, Winter?”
“Yes, sir. I believe so, but what is it?”
“A charlatan’s creation.” Stopping beside man-sized crate covered with a canvas sheet, Sir William released a huff. “Here it is. Put the report on my desk when you’re finished, so I can review it. No matter how foolish this is, we must take care not offend our donors.”
The breath hitched in Immanuel’s throat as the director tossed back the sheet and his eyes fell upon the creature. Floating within the glass-walled case was a seal-like beast. While the skin retained the smooth, grey speckled fur of a harbor seal, the face and body had the unmistakable profile of the human form. Its arms were short, as if stunted, and ended in a webbed hand tipped with sharp claws. Spotted hooded lids covered the creature’s large eyes, which peaked out beneath long lashes, but the longer Immanuel stared at it, the more he feared it would turn its gaze to him. A twang of recognition rang through him, touching the deepest parts of his mind. All thoughts escaped him as he took in the creature’s bisected tail and elongated human torso. With a tut, Sir William tossed the sheet back over the glass coffin, hiding the creature from view as a dockhand passed.
“Take this up to Mr. Winter’s office and let no one else see it.”
Before Immanuel could speak, the direct snapped his fingers for one of the dockhands to fetch a cart. Whatever the creature was, Immanuel had the sinking feeling it wasn’t as unbelievable as Sir William thought. The director turned and headed back to the dock, leaving Immanuel standing mute as two rough dockhands swept in. The wooden dolly yawned beneath the weight of the beast and the gallons of fluid surrounding it. Immanuel flinched as the gruff men rammed in the cart into the doorframe on their way to the upper floor before shoving the corner further into the elevator with their scuffed boots. Following close behind them, Immanuel stood silently in front of the elevator doors, staring down at the shoes Adam had polished for him the previous night. The men beside him spoke of a new freak show opening in Piccadilly one of the other men had seen. Immanuel’s scarred eye burned as he clasped his nervous hands behind his back. Would they call him a freak if they knew what he truly was? That with a touch of his hand, he could see the last moments of the creature at their feet’s life, if it really was a creature at all and not some amalgamation of body parts, or that he taught himself to manipulate water. Would they call for his demise if they knew all the ways he went against nature?
With a ding, the elevator doors creaked open, and the men rolled the box down the hall to Immanuel’s office. Immanuel inwardly sighed, standing out of the way until, with a few more bangs, they left him alone with the veiled creature. Ignoring the glass box taking up most of the space between his desk and door, Immanuel shimmied behind his desk to gather up the papers and fallen books the men had scattered in their wake. His eyes roamed over the sigils and notes. The ink had bled in a few places, but overall, his work appeared to be legible. He carefully tucked his the papers into his notebook and turned his attention to the pile of letters sitting on his blotter. As he turned over the first envelope, his eyes lit up; the seal was from the Royal Zoological Society. Immanuel’s hands shook as he ripped open the seal and pulled out the letter.
Adam watched from the threshold as Immanuel scanned the letter in his hands. His bichrome eyes widened, and a wide smile brightened his features. Immanuel bit his lip and reread the letter again, the look of glee refusing to leave his face. Swallowing hard, Adam lightly wrapped on the door with his knuckles. Immanuel jumped, but upon seeing Adam, relief spread washed across his face only to be replaced with the previous unbridled happiness.
“Adam, I got in,” Immanuel said, beaming. Standing, he held the letter out for Adam to take, but his companion didn’t move from his place near the door. “Look! I got into the Zoological Society. Read it. Tell me I’m not imaging this.”
“Congratulations. I’m very proud of you,” Adam replied, his voice tight.
“Thank you. I can’t believe it. I was certain my paper wasn’t good enough. Walrus evolution isn’t exactly interesting, but—” Glancing at the clock above his door, Immanuel paused as he stuffed the letter back into the envelope with trembling hands. “You got here quickly. I wasn’t expecting you for another few minutes.”
“Mr. Bodkin let me out early.”
Immanuel gaze drifted to the letter again but caught himself. “That was very nice of him.”
Stepping out the way of the coat rack by the door, Adam kept his eyes locked on the knotty floorboards. How could Immanuel not notice the strain in his voice or the tightness in his features? Immanuel walked toward the door but returned to grab the letter of his desk. Adam drew in a breath and steeled himself. Happiness could blind as much as anger, and it wasn’t his place to ruin Immanuel’s day. It wasn’t his place to ruin anything for anyone. Clearing his throat, Adam turned to the cloaked crate inches from his ankle.
“What’s this?” he asked, nudging the box with his foot.
Immanuel glanced toward the window for any sign of rain before grabbing his top hat. “A specimen Sir William wants me to take a look at after lunch. A seal of some sort.”
“Great. The flat will stink like dead fish.”
Adam turned at a gentle squeeze of his arm. Immanuel let his hand linger as he met Adam’s gaze, a fleeting embrace before they had to pretend they were nothing more than friends. Most days he would have relished such an allowance in public, but today he wanted nothing more than to peel his lover’s fingers off. His coat.
Staring into Adam’s eyes, Immanuel whispered, “It’s nothing a bath for two can’t fix.”
He should have smiled, he should have done something, but all Adam felt was the gnaw of dread hallowing his chest.
Immanuel wouldn’t stop rambling. It was a habit Adam normally found endearing, that his happiness could send his mouth and mind spinning out of control, but after the day he had, Adam wished he would shut up. Sitting in a leather-backed booth at Benekey’s, Adam rubbed his brow as Immanuel prattled on about walrus anatomy between bites of fried fish. His head pounded with clank of glasses and silverware, the din of voices all around them, and the haze of cigarette smoke drifting in despite the high walls of the booth. A plate of roast beef sat untouched beside a glass of wine he hadn’t intended to order. It would turn his face red, if it wasn’t already, but perhaps it would make denial that much easier.
Adam snapped out of his thoughts as Immanuel’s hand brushed against his under the guise of chasing a loose chip.
“What’s wrong? You’re very quiet today,” Immanuel said softly, his mismatched eyes wide with concern. “Tell me about your office. Any interesting clients?”
Resisting the urge to scratch his wrist, Adam tapped his nail on the base of the glass and kept his gaze on the merlot within. Ruin it, his mind whispered. “I was fired today.”
“You were wha—?” Immanuel’s mouth wordlessly opened twice before he shook his head and put his hand over Adam’s. “Mein Gott, why didn’t you say anything? I’m so sorry, Adam. If I had known, I wouldn’t have—”
Adam ripped his hand away and picked up his knife. “It’s fine. I don’t want to make a thing of it.”
“Can you fix it? Can you prove to Mr. Bodkin that whatever it was, was an accident? You always seemed to get on so well, so maybe he would listen after given the chance to rethink his decision.”
He swallowed against the knot in his throat and tried to keep his voice level. “It wasn’t due to a mistake. They needed to make room for the boss’s son, so they gave me the ax.”
“Oh.” Immanuel’s expression lightened as he leaned back in his seat. “Then, it shouldn’t be too hard to find new employment. You didn’t do anything to deserve it. There must be other offices looking for accountants.”
“Yes, but Ellis… Ellis owns half of them. The others are either friends of his or they wouldn’t hire me because I don’t think he will give me a reference. Bodkin never mentioned it and I forgot to ask. That’s what happened when Reynolds was fired last year. He was blackballed. Last I heard, he had to take a position in Edinburgh,” Adam replied, his voice alien, tighter but calmer than he anticipated.
“But— but why wouldn’t they give you a reference if you were let go due to nepotism?”
“Because I don’t fit their aesthetic,” he spat as he turned to watch his reflection in the smoked glass mirror beside them.
“What do you mean by ‘aesthetic’?”
His henna-red hair and blue eyes flared, taking on an unworldly hue under the dim electric lights. “I think you know what I mean.”
Dropping his voice, Immanuel pushed aside his plate and leaned closer. “That you’re— you’re,” the word escaped him, “schwul? There’s no way for them to know that for certain. You’re so careful.”
Ignoring Immanuel’s doe eyes upon him, Adam ground his jaw and began hacking his roast into cubes. “Apparently, they suspect it. It seems no matter what I do, people still see through me.”
“Even so, I’m sure you’ll get a new position before you know it. You’re pretty perfect to me.”
“Unfortunately your opinion matters very little.”
Adam looked up from his now blood-ringed plate to find Immanuel glaring at him. His blotted blue eye glistened with moisture while his lips sealed in a hard line. On the table beside his fork, Immanuel’s finger itched with the urge to draw a sigil. For a moment they merely stared at each other as Adam waited for something on his side of the table to go flying with a twist of his lover’s finger. Let him, he thought bitterly.
“I understand that you have had a very trying day, but could you please not take it out on me. I have done nothing to you, Adam.”
“My apologies. It’s just that while I was on the train, I realized I can only be without work for two months before we’re in the red. My sister’s toy business has been slow since she married, and I only have a little over a month’s worth of pay in reserve.”
When Adam’s gaze returned to his plate, Immanuel asked, “Have you spoken to Lord or Lady Dorset? I’m certain they—”
“I’m certain they would too, but I’m not going to sponge off my brother-in-law for the rest of my life,” he snapped.
“It would only be for a little while.”
“I said, no.”
“Then, what do you plan to do? You act like you won’t be able to find work as an accountant, but you couldn’t possibly ask your sister for help when you need it. If your fears are correct, you may not have an income. Then what will we do? My wages at the museum…” Immanuel drew in a tremulous breath. He liked living on Baker Street in their own flat where they could do as they please without fear. “I suppose I could ask Sir William for a raise… or an advance. If I tell him the circumstances, then—”
“Don’t you dare. I don’t need everyone knowing my business.” No one would discuss how far the countess’s brother has fallen behind his back.
“Adam,” Immanuel pleaded, shaking his head, “what do you expect me to do? You act like you won’t be able to get work, but you act like we should do nothing to stay afloat. I’m certain Hadley—”
“Don’t bring up my sister. I don’t need help.”
Immanuel sat back, watching Adam stab a piece of beef and twirl it on the tip of his fork without bringing it to his lips. “Are you really going to let your pride sink us? This doesn’t only affect you, Adam.”
For a moment, Adam merely scowled at him, but in an instant, his hand was on his coat and his hat was on his head. Immanuel scooted out of the booth after him, calling his name as Adam cast a burning glance over his shoulder. Standing next to their table, Immanuel watched Adam cut through the crowded restaurant and disappear onto the street. Tears burned the backs of Immanuel’s eyes at the sudden sensation of falling. He blinked until his clouded eye cleared, stuffing his hand into his pocket for coins. The cool metal with its familiar striations and reliefs brought his mind back to the smoke-hazed room clattering with men. Drawing in a long slow breath, Immanuel released it as the panic momentarily receded.
Paying their bill, Immanuel slipped onto the street hoping to see Adam leaning against the brick façade waiting for him, but when he reached the corner, he knew for certain he had gone. Fear welled in his breast, compelling him to run home to make certain his lover was all right. Immanuel stood very still until with each breath and droplet of rain pattering against his face, the feeling finally relinquished its hold. Adam would be fine. He was a reasonable man, who had shown no sign of wanting to hurt himself. He would be fine. Pulling out his pocket watch, Immanuel clicked open the cold brass face. Even if wanted to, there was no way he could make it to the house and return to the museum without arousing suspicion at his tardiness. There was only one thing he could do: go back to the museum and carry on as if Adam Fenice’s troubles weren’t his own.
Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think, and if you’re interested, you can pre-order Selkie Cove.