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Selkie Cove: Chapter Five

With Selkie Cove coming out July 25th, I’ve decided to post a chapter a week until it comes out. My apologies for not posting another chapter earlier in the week, but it was my birthday and I was spending it at my favorite place on earth, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If you haven’t pre-ordered Selkie Cove, you can here.

Just as a heads-up, if you’re a paperback fan, they will be out by the end of the month, but they will not be available on the 25th (due to my own incompetence). I will let everyone know when they are ready to order.

Catch up on:


Chapter Five

Evolution

When Immanuel surfaced from the creature’s corpse, the blackbirds and robins outside the alley window had begun their morning trills despite the brumous day. Squirming on the narrow stool, Immanuel cracked his back and neck as he leaned back to examine the creature, which now lay in pieces. She was real. At lunch the day before, he never would have thought it possible. Even after seeing her final moments, he was hesitant to believe it hadn’t been a hallucination, but after working on the dissection all night and carefully documenting the anatomy of her organs, he knew he had found a human-pinniped hybrid. If only he had a microscope and supplies at home, then he could prepare slides and study the creature’s microanatomy. He had only studied human tissue under a microscope, but if he could get his hands on some seal samples, then he could—

“There you are!” Adam called as he threw open the workroom door but immediately brought his hand to his eyes. “Dear Lord, it’s bright in here.”

A weary smile spread across Immanuel’s features as he watched his companion grimace and squint. Serves him right, he thought, eyeing him warily for any sign of drink. Beneath Adam’s blue silk robe, he still wore his shirt from the previous night, but now, it had been buttoned to his collar. His hair had been brushed down, and without pomade to keep it in place, it stood out in floppy waves around his bloodshot eyes. As Adam took a step forward, he yelped a curse as Percy darted in, nearly knocking him over as he flew past. At the edge of the worktable, the cat wiggled his hips and flipped his tail. Adam reached for him as the cat dove for the liver sitting in the nearest metal tray.

“No! Don’t you dare!” Immanuel cried as he swatted at the skeleton cat.

The cat’s eyes locked on the liver as he took a slow step back. His tail wiggled and snapped, but when he pounced, Immanuel caught him, the scalpel clattering to the floor. Grimacing at the cat’s claws sinking into his wrists, Immanuel shoved him into Adam’s waiting arms.

“Take him, please. I’m not finished yet.”

“Fine, fine. Just stop yelling. My head is killing me,” Adam grumbled as he held Percy at arm’s length. “Ugh, he smells like a corpse.”

“I’ll bathe him later. Just put him in the kitchen.”

Tossing the cat into the other room, Adam shut the door and stood at Immanuel’s shoulder as he settled back into his work. Adam’s eyes flitted over organs he vaguely recognized before landing on the nearly empty cadaver. He had hoped that what he had seen the day before had been a nightmare from far too much gin, but even disarticulated, he recognized its mermaid-like form. While its hands still reached for something unseen, Immanuel had cut along its forehead and peeled the skin back to reveal a nearly empty human skull, its sightless eyes hidden beneath the flap. Adam shuddered at the thought that this nightmarish being lived inside of him, and one day, it would live on without him. Averting his gaze, he meandered around the room, looking through Hadley’s remaining tools and bobbles before turning to the gleaming wall of windows.

When his eyes started to burn and his head pulsed in time with his heart, he sat at the work table and began picking through the pages littering the table. Immanuel’s notes ranged from drawings as detailed as Da Vinci’s notebooks to page upon page of observations written in tight lines of German and English. Pushing through his hazy mind, Adam calculated the time he thought he fell asleep to when he came downstairs and divided it by the speed of dissection with pauses for reflection and study.

“Have you been at this all night?”

Immanuel continued working with his head down.

Adam frowned. “Why didn’t you go to bed? You have to go to work soon, don’t you?”

“I told Sir William I would be working from home today,” Immanuel replied, his accent formal and clipped. “He agreed, so long as I have a report on the deceased by this afternoon. If you don’t mind, I must get back to work.”

“I see.”

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Adam tried to remember what had happened the night before, but it only came in smatterings and blurs. He remembered the creature, he couldn’t forget that even if he wanted to, but what had happened to make Immanuel cross with him? It wasn’t like him to be so curt. He had awoken with the taste of stale gin on his lips, a splitting headache, and the only body in his bed an undead cat nestled on Immanuel’s pillow. As he stared at Immanuel’s notes, a pit formed in his stomach at a vision of Immanuel’s face breaking with hurt. Adam tried to remember what exactly he said, yet all he could see was Immanuel. What had he done?

“I made an ass of myself last night, didn’t I?”

“You could say that.”

Adam drew in a slow breath and winced as he scratched his wrist. Blood coated his nails, but he tucked his injured arm out of sight before Immanuel could notice. “I don’t remember what I did or said, but I am sorry I took it out on you, Immanuel. You must believe me. I would never try to wound you.”

Immanuel paused, his pencil hovering above a sketch of the creature’s lungs. “I know, but you did.”

Putting his work aside, he swiveled to face Adam. Their gazes locked, and the silent regrets snapped between them like a tether. In that moment, Immanuel wanted nothing more than to take Adam into his arms and kiss him until they both forgot the previous day’s trials, but he couldn’t do it. There had been a moment of alcohol-induced abandon when Immanuel felt the threat of impending violence. He swore Adam might hit him, and he couldn’t live with that fear. He refused to.

“Promise you will never do that to me again,” Immanuel said, keeping his damaged eye locked on Adam’s face even as it clouded. “I have to be able to trust you, Adam. I have been able to count on you thus far, but I can’t live with uncertainty when it comes to you. If you’re going to drink like that…” He shook his head. “I’m not trying to be dramatic. I just can’t do it after all that’s happened.”

Even if it means losing you. The words hung in his throat, but Adam knew they were there. He lowered his eyes to the floor and fingered the loosened scab on his wrist.

“I don’t know what to say, except that I will try not to do it again. I didn’t think it would upset you so. I thought it would take the edge off. It’s what I’ve always done.” He closed his eyes as Immanuel stroked his cheek. A little voice told him to tear his face away. He didn’t deserve it. “Anyway, after I get cleaned up, I’m planning to visit Hadley. I don’t want a position out of pity or loyalty, but the earl has connections and it would be foolish not to use them.”

Immanuel nodded, but as he turned back to his work, Adam put his hand on his arm and carefully turned him until they were face-to-face again.

“Immanuel, please trust me. I’m going to try to make things right. I promise I’m not going to let us sink.”

Drawing closer, Adam gently pressed his lips to Immanuel’s, his fingers sweeping his lover’s hair from his brow. Adam pulled him in deeper with the touch of his tongue upon his lips and a hand on his back. Entering his mouth, Immanuel could taste the tang of last night’s gin, and he wondered if Adam noticed the salt of the sea clinging to his teeth, a remnant of the dead woman’s final moments. Adam leaned between Immanuel’s legs, brushing his thighs as they parted. Heat sparked in Immanuel’s core as he rose upon feeling his lover’s hands squeeze his shoulders and slip along his side in time with their lips. He wanted to hate him, he wanted to be angry, but it seemed impossible to sustain.

“Am I forgiven?” Adam asked between kisses.

“We’ll see.”

Adam’s arms closed around him, hugging him closer until their bodies were flush. Stumbling back, Immanuel braced himself against the workbench as Adam’s lips skimmed the delicate flesh of his neck, sending a shudder through his form. As his palm brushed a metal dissecting tray, Immanuel stepped away and carefully guided Adam back toward the empty wall where crates of finished automatons had once sat. His lover’s hands kneaded Immanuel’s sides and back, cupping his buttock as his back collided with the wall. Immanuel lightly ran his tongue along Adam’s lip, eliciting a rough laugh from his companion as he tugged Immanuel’s shirt from his trousers. Before he could reach for his belt, Immanuel gripped Adam’s arm and slowly pulled it away. He stared at him through hooded eyes, his breath coming in heavy puffs as he steadied himself.

“We can’t,” Immanuel said, his voice hoarse with desire. “After, we will, but I need to finish this first.”

Disappointment flashed across Adam’s features, disappearing as quickly as it materialized beneath a concessionary nod.

“And I stink like a fishmonger. Please, Adam, I promise we can, but later.” Immanuel kissed him again until the tension released from Adam’s arms. “Later.”

Clearing his throat, Adam looked around the workroom as if seeing it for the first time. “I guess I’ll leave you to it, then. I’m going to take the train to Greenwich. Hopefully I can catch Hadley before she goes out for the day. Would you like to come? I could wait for you to clean up.”

“I would love to, but…,” he gestured to the glistening organs littering the table. “Send Hadley and Lord Dorset my love.”

Wiping his lips and straightening his clothing, Adam slipped out of the room. As the door shut behind him, a knot twisted in Immanuel’s stomach. Even if Adam had kept his head out of his cups long enough to think straight, there was something Immanuel still had to do. Reaching into a cabinet, he hefted a typewriter onto the only clean corner left on the workbench, a gift from Adam’s cousin and her husband upon his graduation. Carefully arranging his notes, he pecked out a report that would hopefully satisfy Sir William Henry Flower. He stared down at the page, rereading his half-truths and outright lies until he steeled himself against the knot in his stomach. If this plan was to work, he would need enough room to weave his story. There was only one missing component.

Reloading the typewriter with paper, Immanuel pulled his notes closer and hammered them out word-for-word. Judith Elliott asked for a comprehensive report, and he wasn’t going to fail his first mission as one of Her Majesty’s Interceptors.

***

Standing outside Miss Elliott’s door, Immanuel’s hand hovered, poised to knock. For a long moment, he merely stood in the hall, trying desperately to remember if he had brought everything he might need. During the entire journey to the Inner Temple Gardens, Immanuel had rehearsed all that he wanted to say, but the moment he reached the main hall with its sundial floor and practioners rushing between destinations like a swarm, his mind seized. What was he doing here?

After being attacked by Lord Rose in its courtyard and returning after the disastrous affair involving Lord Hale, he told himself that he never wanted to step foot there again, yet every few weeks he managed to slip in during his lunch break to exchange books with Judith Elliott. As he wove between Interceptors and made his way up the iron steps, he felt the deep resonance of magic reverberate through his bones like the hum of a hundred tuning forks. There was a whole building of people who in some way were just like him. He bit his lip to suppress a smile at the thought. Even after working at the museum for months, he still felt the distance of being an outsider. He was younger, quieter, less charismatic, less sure of his convictions, less accomplished, and certainly less English than any of the other curators. From what he had seen of the Interceptor Headquarters, there were plenty of young people and even those with darker complexions and accents that betrayed their origins. When he left Germany, a little part of him thought it would be a grand adventure. Maybe he needed to listen to that voice more. Immanuel tugged at his collar and straightened the strap of his leather satchel before knocking.

“Come in, Mr. Winter.”

Immanuel froze with a frown. Pushing open the door, he found Judith with her head bowed and her eyes on the paper in front of her. “How did you know it was me?”

“I could see you through the glass. Besides, no one who works here waits or even knocks. If you don’t barge right in, you aren’t an Interceptor.”

Barely raising her gaze, she motioned to the seat in front of her. Immanuel sank into the chair, clutching his bag as his eyes ran over the whitewashed cabinets lining the walls. Judith Elliott always seemed at odds with her surroundings. Her dark blonde hair had been expertly pinned and tightly bound in an elaborate chignon that hovered above the mandarin collar of her military-style jacket. Lining the perimeter of her office were display cases and art nouveau wallpaper that led the eye from shelf to shelf. Sunlight from the tall window behind her desk glinted off the crystals and artifacts locked within the cases. He wished he could borrow her powers just for a moment to understand how such a martial woman could own such a feminine space.

Finally surfacing from her work, Judith gave him a slight smile. “So how may I help you, Mr. Winter? Come to trade books?”

“No, I— I finished the report you wanted.” Immanuel reached into his bag and pulled out his sketch pad along with the packet of typed pages. “I tried to be very thorough, as you asked.”

“I can see that.”

Taking the papers from his outstretched hand, Judith flipped through them. Immanuel watched, holding his breath as her eyes skimmed over his notes before traveling to the black sketchpad between them. She returned back to the page, but every so often her gaze flickered from the rickety type to Immanuel’s face. After a moment, she cleared her throat and set the papers aside.

Folding her hands on the desk, she said, “This is all rather technical for me. Tell me, what did you find regarding our dead selkie?”

“Selkie?”

“My apologies, I meant to tell you, but I didn’t want to influence your findings. Selkie is the common name for what she was. Sometimes the Scottish call them maighdeann-mhara. I did some research on our friend after she arrived. According to several legends, selkies are creatures with the ability to take on two forms: one human and the other seal. I’m sure you’ve heard of sirens or mermaids in fairytales. Much like them, selkies are often described as beautiful women who lure men to their deaths or fall in love with humans and shun their true, animal form. Some folklore talks about how their magic resides in their pelts, which allow them to slip between forms or, like werewolves, they may be merely shapeshifters. It’s still unknown.”

“Did— did you say werewolves? Are they real, too?”

“Don’t fret about them, Mr. Winter. They are of little consequence at the moment.” Leaning forward, she tented her fingers and focused on Immanuel’s bisected eye, her mind’s probing tentacle nudging at Immanuel’s thoughts. “So how did the selkie die?”

“She was murdered.” Immanuel fought his mind as it threatened to travel back to that awful moment under the silty green water. “She saw something. I’m not certain what it was, a sunken ship or a foundation, but as she approached it, she was attacked by someone.”

“Was it another selkie?”

“No, I’m certain it was a human or at least close to it. I didn’t feel the same sensation I felt when I saw her for the first time.”

“A sensation?”

Immanuel chewed on his lip and watched Judith warily. Something about her made him nervous. Even if he was telling the truth, he still felt as if she might uncover a secret he never intended to hide. It made it harder to think, to find the words he needed to make sense.

“It’s like what Nichols described to me when he talked about meeting another person with magical abilities. It’s like an itch or a frequency resonating in my bones. I felt it at the museum when Sir William showed her to me.”

“Interesting. Tell me more about the murder and the murderer. Thus far, we know the perpetrator isn’t a selkie nor a practioner. Even so, we could still have an incident on our hands that could result in an uprising. These situations are touchy. Go on.”

Immanuel swallowed hard. He rested his hands on the cool wood of the chair, fighting back the sensation of water burning his throat. Closing his eyes, he rubbed his brow as pain constricted his temples. “She was stabbed, but when she tried to fight back, I think— I think she began to transform into a human. Then, she pulled the blade out. I don’t know what kind of blade it was, but it was long and thin, on a handle. It only took a few seconds for her to begin to bleed out. When I examined her, I found a tear in her heart and a matching wound on her chest. I couldn’t tell whether she bled out or drowned first due to the preservation fluid.” As he released a tremulous breath, he bit down on his lip until the pain blossomed anew. “Her thoughts… They were so human. She was scared in her last moments for the others. Does that mean there are others of her kind?”

“Oh certainly,” Judith responded as she flipped through the collection of sketches. Her mouth parted in surprise as she turned to the two page sketch of the selkie’s body exposed for examination. “She was mid transformation. Do you realize how rare this is, Winter? To see a selkie transform is a once in a lifetime opportunity. They don’t change in front of humans, that’s why there’s pelt versus shapeshifter confusion. A selkie mid transformation,” she repeated, turning the page to study her organs and bone structure, “what luck. The cryptozoologists will be beside themselves at the news.”

A pang of guilt rang through Immanuel’s gut. “Is this really something to celebrate? She’s dead, and it felt like my body was ripping in half when she transformed. Changing like that—“

Immanuel rubbed his arm where pain had radiated from the marrow as every bone broke and regrew in an instant.

“You felt it?” she asked, the joy sapped from her voice.

He released a tremulous breath and squeezed his arm to remind his mind that the visions of her underwater tomb were only a memory. “I feel and see everything they do as if I were in their bodies. It was excruciating. Her transformation, her fear, her death. Please understand that seeing their last moments is rarely a cause for celebration.”

“My apologies if I sounded insensitive, Winter. You must understand that we are an agency that studies these creatures, and selkies have been rather uncooperative and elusive despite living right off our shores. Don’t think this creature’s death was in vain. We can learn a lot from it. We already have. Your dissection findings and her remains will be preserved for future study, and who knows what we may learn from them given weeks or months to do so.”

Was she merely a specimen to them? Immanuel licked his lips before slowly meeting Judith’s eager gaze. “Miss Elliott, I’m not certain how to phrase this, but do you—and the Interceptors—view selkies as human?”

For a long moment, Judith merely studied him, her brassy curls blazing gold in the afternoon sun. The tendrils of her mind fell away as she said, “Cryptids, creatures of that nature, are not my area of expertise, so I claim no intimate knowledge of selkies. The Interceptors are divided on what constitutes a human being or, for lack of a better word, personhood.”

“I see.”

Clearing her throat, Judith rose. “Well, Mr. Winter, if that will be all, we greatly appreciate your time and help in this matter. We will send someone to investigate the case, but if we need any more information, we will contact you. May I borrow your sketches to have photographs taken? It will only take a few moments.”

“Yes, but—” As she reached for the doorknob, Immanuel opened his mouth twice, the words refusing to issue from his lips. He had to say something, for the selkie’s sake if not his own. Finally he called, “Miss Elliott, I would like to continue investigating this case.”

Judith stopped, her back ramrod straight as she looked back at the young man hunched before her desk. Despite her hard hazel gaze, Immanuel never wavered. She motioned for him to wait. Calling down the hall, Cassandra Ashwood appeared at the door. The dark-haired woman in her smart gown looked over Judith’s shoulder and spotted Immanuel as she gave her instructions. With a wave and a wide grin to Immanuel, she took the sketchpad from Judith’s hands and disappeared down the hall. When Judith turned back to Immanuel, her features were caught between annoyance and amity. Perching on the corner of the desk closest to him, Judith folded her arms across her chest and searched his face.

“So you want to join the Interceptors now. Why the sudden change in heart?”

Clasping his shaking hands in his lap, Immanuel fought to keep his eyes on hers. “I thought I could join unofficially for now. I would like to see if this is what I’m looking for before I agree to anything permanent.”

“You cannot possibly think you can join un—”

“It was in the contract. Read it for yourself, and you’ll see that I can be called upon to continue an investigation.”

“At our discretion.”

“At your discretion. You said it yourself that a scientist who is also a practioner isn’t easy to come by.”

“Yes, but we have everything we need from you. You finished the autopsy.”

Immanuel’s throat tightened. “I don’t know why the Interceptors want me and Adam to join together, except that you said we were more powerful together. It sounds like we would be an asset to the organization, and if they want us as badly as you make it seem they do, I’m hoping they might be willing to work with my terms.”

A faint laugh escaped Judith’s rouged lips. “Does Mr. Fenice know about your proposition? I seem to recall he was a tad skeptical of magic.”

“He has come around, but no, I haven’t told him yet.”

“That could backfire on you.”

“I know.” But both of them had so little to lose now.

“I’ll tell you what, I will plead your case to my superiors and get a file together for you. They may not agree, but there have been several discussions about how to bring you around,” she replied with a knife-sharp smile. “Now, you must know that a practioner doesn’t simply join the Interceptors like one joins a club. There are certain protocols that must be followed, especially regarding your and Mr. Fenice’s connection.”

“But I thought you said the Interceptors were tolerant of…”

“Not an emotional connection, a magical one. We can discuss that later. In the meantime, I would suggest you start figuring out what you will say to Mr. Fenice should they agree to your proposal. While you have your strengths and unique abilities, they want you and Mr. Fenice. You won’t get in by yourself.”

“I don’t mean to be forward, but why? What makes us so special together? Adam…” He paused for a moment, struggling with how to phrase it without coming off as insulting. “Adam isn’t a practioner.”

“Yes, but every practioner is better with their amplifier. Let me explain. You know that Cassandra is my partner in multiple ways, much like your Mr. Fenice, and she is a normal person. The reason why an Interceptor really needs a non-practioner partner is to ground us. They will see things we miss because we are too wrapped up in using our extranormal abilities. In your case and in mine, your partner is an amplifier, which means, as you have probably guessed, they can elevate your abilities by simply being in your presence. After the ceremony I mentioned before, Adam’s connection to you will be even stronger.”

“But what makes him an amplifier? Is it merely because we’re companions?”

“Well, a bond is necessary, but his alignments are the opposite of yours. You know about batteries and magnets, Mr. Winter?”

“Yes.”

“Then, you understand the power of opposite poles. What happens with extranormal abilities is that we tend to align with a specific element or pair of elements. In my case, mind-reading aligns with air while Cassandra’s personality is very much grounded in earth. Therefore, we are opposites.”

Immanuel fingered the stitching on his satchel thoughtfully. His mind reeled at the thought of the four ancient elements having any sway beside the growing periodic table. He wanted to reject the notion as superstition, but he had seen so much those past few months that sent his mind spinning yet it all proved true.

“What element is my ability? Air as well?”

“You,” she paused, “you are a strange breed, Mr. Winter. You have two elements. Which two do you think are most needed for life?”

He blinked, hoping the answer on his lips wouldn’t prove him to be a fool. “Water and air.”

“Precisely. My theory is you were born with the ability to manipulate water since you mentioned your alchemical heritage, but after suffering through a series of traumas, your body took on air as a way to adapt to your needs. It’s your wyrd.”

“Excuse me?”

“Your wyrd. Your fate. Your trauma shaped your abilities. It’s fascinating really. There are several known cases in ancient writings.”

For a long moment, Immanuel merely glared at her through his clotted eye. He had never found his traumas to be fascinating. Did they see him as another exotic specimen like the selkie? Swallowing down the thought, he added, “So that would make Adam fire and earth?”

“Perhaps. Though, he only needs one opposite element to boost your abilities. It would be ironic, wouldn’t it?” she said with a smirk. When he didn’t respond, she continued, “Adam, the Biblical figure was born of clay, and the name itself has its origin in the color red, which is your Adam’s most prominent feature.” With a dismissive wave of her hand, she added, “The point is by having Mr. Fenice with you, he will amplify your already unusual abilities, and the Interceptors won’t need to find you a partner. Trust me, Mr. Winter, you don’t want to have to tell your partner that they have been replaced by your lover. Peregrine can attest to that.”

Peregrine. Immanuel snapped open his pocket watch and nearly propelled out of his chair. “My apologies, Miss Elliott, but I have to go. I have an appointment with the director at the museum, and I didn’t realize I had been here for so long. If I don’t go—”

“Go on, then. We will be in touch about when the handfasting will be held, and I will have your sketchbook delivered to your address.”

As Immanuel reached the threshold, he felt the familiar touch of Judith’s powers knocking at the back of his skull. “Did I forget something? I really must go.”

“No. I was merely wondering what you’re planning to tell Sir William about the sideshow spectacle I brought him.”

“That it isn’t real, but the skin is. There’s a seal somewhere missing a pelt, and it’s possibly a breed I’ve never seen,” he replied slowly as her hold nudged deeper despite his futile efforts to keep her out. “That way I can keep the body a while more.”

“Very smart. You may want to start thinking of excuses for missing work.”

Immanuel cocked his head.

“You’ll need it if they agree to your terms, won’t you?”


Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think, and if you’re interested, you can pre-order Selkie Cove on Amazon.

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Selkie Cove: Chapter Four

SelkieCoveLH

With Selkie Cove coming out July 25th, I’ve decided to post a chapter a week until it comes out. That’s how excited I am for you to read it. I’m still copy-editing, so please pardon any typos. If you’re interested, you can pre-order it here.

Catch up on:


Chapter Four

Postmortem Examinations

The house stood dark when Immanuel arrived home. The only sounds were his grunts and strained breath as he struggled to push the creature in its glass coffin over the threshold. Kicking the door shut behind him, he straightened and wiped the hair and sweat from his forehead. For a moment, he merely listened for any sign of Adam, but all he could hear was the sound of blood rushing through his ears.

“Adam! Adam, if you’re home, I could really use your help for a minute.”

When no answer came, Immanuel sighed and pushed the veiled crate onto the carpet runner and shoved it with all of his strength. His ribs and back cried in protest while the box barely budged apart from the slosh of liquid within. It had been surprisingly easy to get Sir William to consent to letting him study it in the seclusion of his home, but it had taken several men and a cart to get it out of his office and into the backseat of a steamer cab. The driver had looked at him like he was a madman and nearly pulled away from the pavement upon seeing his cargo. It was only at the promise of a generous tip that the driver hopped out to help him. Immanuel hoped the specimen was a fake just so he wouldn’t have to take it back again; he didn’t know how many more times he could afford to pay for an expensive cab ride.

Once they hit the bare wood floor of the hallway, the coffin picked up speed and Immanuel pushed it the rest of the way to the workroom. Even though Hadley had been married months ago, remnants of her life at Baker Street remained in disarticulated automatons and boxes of spare parts stashed in the corner behind her battered work table and stool. Adam had told him to throw it all away, but having remnants of someone else’s life in the room made it feel less vacuous when he was still tentatively curating his new life. Immanuel shoved the creature all the way to the cast iron slop sink on the far wall. Leaning against the sink to catch his breath, Immanuel’s eyes trailed to the cloaked specimen.

What was he going to tell Sir William? If he told him that the beast was closer to human than he cared to admit, he would be laughed out of the zoology department even with the body as evidence. Pulling the gloves from his pocket, Immanuel carefully removed the box’s fragile lid and averted his gaze from the seal-like creature’s vacant eyes. At Oxford, he had been forced to debone a walrus and a Caspian seal for the university’s museum, and even when he was in better health and shape, the corpses had been impossibly heavy. He couldn’t imagine how bad it would be now with his misshapen ribs and miserable constitution. Immanuel reached into the shallow layer of alcohol and was about to slip his arms beneath her neck and tailfin when a shadow fell across the doorway.

The breath caught in Immanuel’s throat as he stood. Adam leaned against the door with his shirt open far enough to expose the henna hair dusting the firm planes of his torso. His carefully pomaded coiffure hung askew in a wayward wave that made him look like some debouched Brontëan rogue. Immanuel would have abandoned the creature in an instant if it hadn’t been for the glazed look in his lover’s eyes and the red flush that hid his faint freckles. It was only then that he spotted the glass in his hand and the clear liquid within.

“Bringing your work home with you again?” Adam asked, his voice uncharacteristically languid as he drew closer. Leaning in with his drink clutched close to his chest, he wrinkled his nose and tapped the box with the end of his boot. “What is that thing?”

“I’m not certain yet.”

Before Adam could straighten, Immanuel snatched the glass from his hand and dashed it into the sink. The sweet, acidic tang of gin burned his nose as it splashed up.

“Hey! Why did you do that?”

Immanuel’s body shook against his will. “Because you don’t need it. How much have you had?”

“What do you care?” Adam cried as he pulled the glass from Immanuel’s hand but refused to meet his gaze.

“Adam, just tell me.”

“I don’t need your permission to have a drink. I’m bloody old enough to make my own decisions. I did so for quite some time before you got here.”

As Adam turned to leave, Immanuel whipped off his gloves and cut in front of him. He blocked the door with his body, knowing his thin form would do nothing to stop Adam if he wanted to leave. “Is this what you have been doing all day? Drinking yourself into a stupor? I thought you were going to look for employment.”

For a long moment, Adam merely stared at him. His lips nearly disappeared into a tight line as he glowered at Immanuel with an intensity he had never seen. His blue eyes flared with fury, and for an instant, Immanuel feared Adam would shove him or strike him. His hands twitched at his side, but he quickly folded his arms over his chest and rested on his heels, waiting. Immanuel stepped out of the way to let Adam storm past him. The redhead clomped up the stairs with Immanuel a step behind him. When Adam reached their bedroom, Immanuel expected him to slam the door in his face, but instead, he walked over to his desk near the window and grabbed his journal. Flipping through the pages, he turned to the last one and shoved the it at Immanuel’s face. The page had begun with a list of law offices, accounting firms, and various banks before becoming jumbled with row upon row of numbers.

“This is what I’ve been doing all day,” Adam spat, shoving the book into Immanuel’s hand. “I have been all over town speaking to anyone I thought could help me. I went to a dozen places, and you know what I found? One position. One! And it was for a clerk, a clerk. I have been an accountant for four years. I can’t be a clerk again. I can’t afford to be a clerk.”

“But at least it would be money. We wouldn’t have to—”

“No.” Grabbing the open bottle of gin from his desk, Adam poured another glass to the brim. “Let me have some semblance of pride, Immanuel. I have worked far too hard to settle for a position I had when I was seventeen, but you wouldn’t understand, would you? Uncle Elijah handed you a lovely position at the museum the moment you were out of Oxford. Well, some of us aren’t Oxford boys with connections and cushy lives.”

Adam’s mouth hung open, as his hand came to his lips. Slowly, he raised his gaze to Immanuel’s face, which had blanched apart from his reddening eyes.

“Oh, Immanuel, I didn’t mean it. I…”

“You have had enough,” Immanuel rasped, his voice tight. Without waiting for a response, he took the glass and bottle from Adam’s hands and set them down on the dresser. “You’re done.”

Blinking, Adam stared at his feet and rubbed his wrist. He winced as his nail dug into the leaking wound that had grown to the size of a coat toggle. “It used to help. Before you— before Hadley found out, it worked.” He wanted to say something. Words should have been easier, as they had been a moment before, but they never were when he needed them. “Sorry.”

Secrets stayed secret when they could be drowned, but much like Immanuel, they always managed to rise and beg for life.

***

Hunched at the window, Adam seemed so small. Usually, he was larger than life, a handsome face in a suit made to draw the eye to the beauty of the fabric and flesh beneath, but as he stood staring ahead with his blue eyes dark, it dawned on Immanuel just how young they both were. After all they had been through, it felt as if years had passed, and while they had been together less than a year, Adam had been there for the entirety of his new life. Immanuel drew closer, gently stroking Adam’s flushed cheeks until the redheaded man slowly met his gaze.

“I love you, but gin won’t helping anything,” Immanuel whispered.

“It might make me forget. I don’t know what else to do to make it easier.”

The words died in Adam’s throat. He wanted to snatch the gin and down it until the tears looming behind his lids dried. Alcohol fed the fire, and as long as he kept it stoked, it was impossible to feel anything more. That was one of the things he admired about Immanuel, he faced his problems. He wasn’t a coward, like him.

“Let me make you some tea, and we can talk about it,” Immanuel said with a faint smile as he brushed the hair from Adam’s face. “How does that sound?”

 Crossing his arms, he nodded, refusing to meet his love’s gaze

Gently kissing Adam’s forehead, Immanuel snatched the leftover glass and gin. Halfway down the hall, he ducked into the bathroom and dumped the remaining liquor down the drain. In the kitchen, after setting up the kettle on the stove, he rooted through the cabinets until he found every bottle of champagne, sherry, and cognac he could lay his hands on. One by one he emptied them into the sink, listening for the satisfying glug as the last of it swept away. He loved Adam, but he didn’t need this. If Adam wanted to drink himself to death, he would have to leave the house to do so. Sinking into one of the kitchen chairs, Immanuel’s eyes trailed down the hall to where the light from the workroom spilled into the hall in a golden pool. As the kettle whistled and his mind trailed back to the creature in the tank, Immanuel wished he could hop into the nearest steamer and drive to Greenwich or Folkesbury or even back to his office at the museum. He would go anywhere if he thought he could have some semblance of peace for a while. After everything that had happened with Lady Rose and the late Lord Hale, getting entangled with the Interceptors once again, and Sir William had running him ragged, this was the last thing he needed.

With a pit growing in his gut, he loaded a tray with biscuits and tea and mounted the steps, but when he reached their room, his frustration quickly sank to guilt. Adam sat upright in bed with his head resting against the headboard and his face lax. Leaving the tray on the nightstand, Immanuel perched on the edge of the mattress and watched Adam’s chest rise and fall in a sleepy rhythm. He planted a kiss on his gin-tainted lips, but he never stirred. Careful not to disturb him, Immanuel padded across the room and shut off the light. Lingering at the threshold, he waited a moment to see if Adam would call out to him. When he didn’t stir, Immanuel snuck downstairs.

***

Dragging the stool to the workroom sink, Immanuel stared down at the creature—the woman—lying prone before him. Even though the visions had never occurred twice, Immanuel kept his gloves on as he hesitantly reached for the scalpel in his dissection kit. No matter how many times he had participated in autopsies and dissections, it never got easier. People like Dr. Hawthorne or his mentor at Oxford, Dr. Martin, were able to separate the body from the person, but once Immanuel saw their last moments, that became nearly impossible. As he pulled the stool closer with his foot, he heard the gentle tap of cat claws.

Percy bounded in, his bone tail swishing as he surveyed the room until his eyeless sockets fell upon Immanuel. A small smile crossed the scientist’s lips as the cat rubbed his nose and back against the hem of his trousers. With a twitch of his hips, he was in Immanuel’s lap with his feet resting on the lip of the sink.

“No. Not for you, you greedy bugger,” Immanuel said, watching Percy sniff the air. Holding him to his chest, Immanuel scratched Percy’s neck and gave him a kiss on the head before putting him outside the workroom door. “Go find Adam, Percy. Go ask him for pets.”

Shutting the door, Immanuel returned to the creature. How could he pretend she wasn’t a person? Perhaps he shouldn’t. “My apologies, he doesn’t know better. You aren’t food, and you certainly didn’t deserve this.” Immanuel paused, his chest tightening at the phantom sensation of drowning. “I don’t know what you are, but you didn’t deserve the agony you suffered.”

As expected, the woman never stirred.

“Unfortunately, I need to do worse than he did. Perhaps not worse, but I don’t like doing it.”

Immanuel carefully parted the fur near the creature’s armpit, and after a moment, he found what he was looking for: a gash that went down to the muscle and bone beneath. The wound was an inch long, and as expected, there was no healing or indication that she had been given aid. Immanuel drew back, biting his lip as he stared down at the lethal blow. It had taken so little to end her life. Raising the scalpel, Immanuel murmured an oath under his breath as he did before every dissection and carefully cut from neck to tail. He winced as the reek of alcohol, fish, and the coppery stench of cadaver wafted out with each inch he cut through her thick, blubbery hide. Immanuel glanced over his shoulder at the door and hoped Adam wouldn’t come down. There was nothing he wanted to do less than clean up gin-laced vomit. Making a cut across the midline, Immanuel grabbed a handful of pins to hold back the creature’s flesh and expose the organs.

The moment he pulled back the skin, the breath hitched in his throat. Shaking his head, he counted her limbs before turning his gaze back to the thoracic cavity where two elbows rested on either side of her ribcage. Immanuel grabbed the scissors from his kit and cut along the creature’s arms until he reached her shoulders. It was as if the outer seal-like hide had grown over a set of gracile human arms. Peeling back the skin of her tail, he found a pair of human legs, folded under her as if she had been kneeling in prayer.

Immanuel’s heart pounded in his throat as he pulled off his gloves and grabbed his sketchpad from the work table. With an artist’s skill and a scientist’s eye, Immanuel sketched every detail of her form, carefully labeling each bone and ligament he could identify. Most were clearly human and instantly recognizable, but as he delved into the layers of organs, it was clear the evolution had taken a strange turn back to the sea.


Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think, and if you’re interested, you can pre-order Selkie Cove on Amazon.

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Selkie Cove: Chapter Three

SelkieCoveLH

With Selkie Cove coming out July 25th, I’ve decided to post a chapter a week until it comes out. That’s how excited I am for you to read it. I’m still copy-editing, so please pardon any typos. If you’re interested, you can pre-order it here.

Catch up on:


 

Chapter Three

The Curiosity

On the walk back to the museum, Immanuel replayed what had happened at Benekey’s over and over, looking for a way he could have made Adam stay. He had been looking forward to his lunch date with Adam all week, so why wouldn’t it somehow end badly? Reaching the museum’s familiar Gothic façade, Immanuel stared at the masses of people tittering within. He swallowed against the tightness working its way from his throat to his chest and ducked around the side to take the servants’ entrance in. As he climbed the back stairs up to his office, he dreaded running into another curator as much as what awaited him at home. Adam was angry, and rightly so, yet the thought of wrangling with Adam’s vile stubbornness was more than Immanuel could bear. Whatever the solution, it would have to be Adam’s idea.

At the top of the stairs, Immanuel froze with his hand on the worn door. Someone was in his office. A shadow passed behind the mottled glass, disappearing near his desk. Immanuel’s heart pounded in his temples as the urge to run overtook his muscles and set every hair on end. Drawing in a steadying breath, he tried to banish all thoughts of Lord Rose. It had been months since he was attacked and Lord Rose’s soul was sealed in a lead tomb in the bowels of Interceptor Headquarters. Lady Rose supposedly shared a similar fate, but as the shadow paced past the glass again, Immanuel caught the unmistakable shape of a corseted waist. Could she have gotten free and come after him?

Slowly ducking back into the stairway, Immanuel fumbled through his leather satchel for his vivalabe. The moment his fingers brushed its cool, brassy surface, a wave of calm passed over him. The brass ball was the size of a compass and weighed twice as much. If he took it out at night, he could hear the steady cadence of its clockwork heart, ticking in time with his own. With two clicks of a hidden button, the ball’s lid fell back to reveal an etched face lined with minute chips of colored stone. In an instant, the marbles scattered like billiard balls, leaving only three clustered together: a white, a green, and an amber. Immanuel released a tense breath, letting his head fall back against the cold stone in relief that Lady Rose’s red stone was nowhere to be seen. He stared at the amber stone and bit his lip. Why would Judith Elliott come to see him at work?

Stuffing the vivalabe back into his bag, Immanuel smoothed his heavy wool coat and pushed a wet blonde curl from his forehead. Even if Judith would ultimately discern something was amiss, he didn’t want her to read it on his face. If she wanted to know, she would have to work for it. In three long strides with his eyes cast to the floor, Immanuel reached his office and slipped inside. Judith looked up from behind his desk, her hazel eyes meeting his without hesitation. With a knowing smile, she studied his latest sigils with a gold magnifying glass hanging from a chain around her neck. No matter where he saw her, Judith Elliott was unmistakably American. Where the British embraced etiquette to the point of meekness or passive aggression, her intentions were always as straight and loud as a gunshot. If he hadn’t known any better, he would have assumed it was her office by the glint her eye and the self-assured way she stayed rooted in his seat even as he hung up his bag and coat.

“Your sigils are quite interesting, Winter. Very complex for someone who has only begun. Did you know that no two sigils are exactly the same? Every practioner leaves their mark, their own mental baggage. Did the books I lent you help at all?” Judith asked, her blonde hair glinting in the electric lamps as Immanuel switched them on.

“Somewhat,” he replied, shifting uncomfortably beside the veiled specimen. “I’ve been trying to expand my knowledge outside of life and death magic, and it’s given me plenty of ideas. Some… some I can barely read. It doesn’t seem to click no matter how hard I try.”

“Too many archaic rules?” A smile quirked across her lips as she looked from the water-stained paper to Immanuel’s downcast brows. “Don’t be sheepish. It happens more often than most of us would care to admit, especially in the beginning. Some things won’t work for you. You’ll find magic is more of an art than a science.”

“The strange thing is, the techniques… It felt like a lot didn’t apply.”

“You’re an evolutionist, so it stands to reason that magic has also evolved over the centuries with human need and understanding. It morphs with geography, time, beliefs, and of course, the practioner. What worked then, doesn’t necessarily work now, and plenty of practioners made rules to prevent novices from getting any farther than the basics. I know some of the writings are dense, but I thought they might, inspire your work rather than act as a guide. Stop by Interceptor headquarters, and I’ll have the librarians give you some texts more suited to your interests.”

Immanuel stood at the end of his desk, watching Judith study his work. “I don’t mean to be rude, Miss Elliott, but what are you doing in my office? Does the director know you’re here?”

“Sir William was more than willing to let me speak to the curator who will be handling my prized specimen,” she replied with a flourish toward the creature.

His eyes widened. “That was you?”

“Technically yes, though it really belongs to the Interceptors. We heard from our sources off the coast of an interesting specimen that was to be sent to the Royal Zoological Society. The box mysterious disappeared and ended up at the museum with special instructions to have their resident seal expert examine it.”

“Fantastic.”

Judith chuckled at Immanuel’s grimace. “Finding a scientist who has a foot in both worlds is incredibly difficult. You should be flattered that we chose you, especially when you don’t officially work for us. I had to fill out a lot of paperwork to get an exception to involve you.”

“You believe the thing is real?”

“Despite what Sir William told you, there is more in this world than what your books lead you to believe. You of all people should understand that. What we need you to do is study the specimen, analyze it, dissect it, and tell us how it died. The latter may require you to use unconventional means. Before I leave you to it, I need you to sign the paperwork promising that you will not divulge what you find to anyone outside of the Interceptors, including Sir William.”

“Don’t worry, I have no intention of telling him any more than I have to.” Being the laughing stock of the department was the last thing he wanted to be if the thing turned out to be genuine.

Reaching into her reticule, Judith retrieved a folded wad of paper and smoothed it across the desk. She handed the pen from Immanuel’s blotter and pointed to each place he should sign. Immanuel released a soundless sigh at the magazine-sized stack. He should have read it, but he had neither the time nor the patience on a good day. Near the bottom of the fifth page, Immanuel paused. Any party involved may be recalled to carrying out a further investigation on behalf of Her Majesty’s Interceptors if Her Majesty sees fit. As he reread the minute type, Immanuel felt the nudge of Judith’s energy caressing the edge of his mind like the invisible arm of a jellyfish. If he let her, she would slip into his mind, probing through his thoughts until she found what she sought.

“You could have asked first,” he replied, ripping his mind away from her grasp with a turn of his head. Hastily signing the last of the documents, Immanuel pushed them back to her and dropped his pen into his breast pocket. “Will that be all?”

“My apologies, Winter,” she said, her eyes traveling over his scar before lingering on his crooked frown and faraway gaze. “I didn’t mean to offend you, but you don’t seem yourself. Is everything all right or have I come at a bad time?”

“I received some bad news at lunch, but I will have my report to you about,” he paused, trying to picture the creature trapped within the glass coffin, “whatever that is, by the weekend.”

With a nod, Judith tucked the contract into her bag and slipped past him. At the door, she stopped to watch Immanuel collapse into his chair. “There’s one thing I have been meaning to ask since we last spoke. Have you given any thought to becoming an Interceptor? You never gave me an answer.”

Immanuel stared at the pages of sigils littering his desk alongside his acceptance letter into the Royal Zoological Society. His nights were spent trying to manipulate cups of tea when he should have been knee-deep in research. He had a career now, one that he was actually decent at, and yet— He frowned, averting his eyes from Judith’s. Yet he still felt out of place at the museum. Every day he feared that at any moment he would be unmasked for the imposter he was. Something was missing. At times he wondered if it was the absence of fear now that Lord and Lady Rose were gone, but there was a bigger void that research and recitation, or even Adam, couldn’t hope to fill. And that terrified him.

“I fear I still don’t have an answer for you, Miss Elliott. I haven’t ruled it out, but I don’t know if I’m ready to take that step.”

“Fair enough. If you should change your mind, you know where you and Mr. Fenice can find me.”

Immanuel licked his lips and hesitantly asked, “Your… Your offer is still open to both of us?”

“Of course. Your earnest relationship makes you stronger than the sum of your parts.” She flashed a good-natured smile even as her power nudged at his mind. “Good day, Mr. Winter, and give Mr. Fenice my regards.”

With a final nod, Judith slipped into the hall and disappeared. Immanuel melted deeper into his chair, letting his head fall over the low wooden back. As his chair lazily spun, his eyes fell upon the dirty sheet covering the crate. Peace had sounded like a wonderful thing to have, but with most of his life, peace was fleeting. It had been foolish of him to expect that Judith Elliott wouldn’t come barging back into his life after all that happened. But did peace even matter now that Adam lost his job? Equilibrium had been destroyed by the time the creature reached his office.

Tucking the sigils back into his desk drawer, Immanuel withdrew the pair of gloves he kept tucked beside his sigil journal. He slipped on the elbow-length leather gloves and stood beside the crate. Immanuel drew in a long breath, steeling himself against whatever nightmare he was about to uncover. In one swift motion, he ripped off the canvas and tossed it aside.

Staring back at him from beneath the bath of embalming liquid was a seal with a human’s face. For a moment he merely stared at it, his mind unable to grasp how the mismatched pieces fit together so seamlessly. While the body retained the shape and grey spotted fur of a seal, the creature’s face appeared out of place with its sharp cheekbones and Cupid’s bow lips, but what held him wholly was the creature’s eyes. They were wide and round like the seals he had studied the past few years, yet they retained the colored rim of a human. Hers were the steely blue of tossing waves, now unnerving in their stillness. Immanuel lowered his gaze, following the curve of the creature’s body until he reached its hands. Hands. Where there should have been bow-legged fins, there were fine fingers jutting from a meaty furred palm. Backing up, Immanuel looked at her feet to find only a tail and nothing more.

Carefully opening the lid of the steel and glass box, Immanuel leaned closer until the embalming fluid bit at his eyes and left the unforgettable tang of death and alcohol on his tongue. With his nose scarcely a breath above the surface, Immanuel’s gaze probed the monster’s fur for any sign of stitches or manipulation from a charlatan. The Fiji Mermaid had been the talk of the scientific community until they realized Barnum had sewn a fish to a monkey in an attempt to dupe the public and scientists alike, but this was different. This wasn’t some poorly crafted hybrid freak, no matter what Sir William thought. Gathering his tools, Immanuel threaded tubes through the glass case, letting the preservative fluid drain into a large bucket until the creature beneath was laid bare. He locked eyes with the creature as he hesitantly squatted at its side. At any moment, he feared it would turn toward him with its sightless eyes and release some ungodly sound he only knew in nightmares. Carefully removing his gloves, Immanuel let his hand hover over the beast’s brow. He bit his lip, knowing that in a moment, he would see the last moments of a seal or a human or some strange life form in between. Drawing in a constrained breath, skin and fur met.

Water flooded every orifice, filling them with the cold salty murk of the sea as he hung weightless. His mind fought the unnatural sensation, but the body whose eyes he saw through merely twisted toward a dull hum thrumming somewhere nearby. He and the creature glided effortlessly toward the vibration. In the distance five massive  brown contraptions rose through the silt. He thought it could have been a sunken ship or the remains of some ill-fated dirigible from its steel frame and wire umbilical cords running up to the surface. As they grew closer, fear bubbled in her breast. Someone was supposed to be there. She had sworn she heard the call crying out to her beneath the waves with its hypnotic resonance. Watching the swirls of silt, a soft note wrapped around their mind. It spoke to a part of her so deep she felt it in her core and drew her closer to the forest of metal.

Immanuel felt it before they saw it: the thrust of water crashing into them followed by the sudden blossom of pain that started at their armpit and spread to every cell in their body. They thrashed, catching sight of a long pole and the faceless brown beast at the end of it, its face caked with mud and weeds. An indescribable feeling pass through their body. Something beneath the surface peeled away as pain tore through their arms and crept into every bone until their body screamed once more. In an instant, where there had been grey flippers upon the pole, now there were hands, but before Immanuel could stop them, they tore it out. Blood dribbled out, flooding their vision as a weight fell over them. Their mind reeled at the disorienting constriction of the net as their body seized with the current and they sank beneath the mass of their misshapen body. Their heart sputtered and their vision spotted. He was coming. The brown beast was coming for them, looming over them with its hooded, faceless head and hook at the ready. They drew in a breath, lungs convulsing against the alien burning of salt water. The others, she thought as the world darkened to a pinpoint of dim light.

Immanuel fell back, landing hard on his side as he gagged and wheezed. His lungs tightened as he released another dry heave despite tasting the brine of the ocean on his lips and deep in his throat. His stomach and lungs spasmed while his mind sought to save him from drowning on land. Resting his head against the cold planks of his office floor, Immanuel swallowed and fought to slow his breathing until the urge to vomit passed and all that was left was fatigue. The strength had been sapped from his body as if he had spent the entire day fighting the tide. Raising his gaze to the door, he made certain no one was coming before closing his eyes. His hands shook as he rubbed his forearms to silence the burning that had flooded his body accompanied with the deep cracks of tissue restructuring. He was fine, he reminded himself over and over until his body quieted enough that his mind could believe that what he had seen had happened to someone—something—far from himself. It had seemed so human. The thoughts felt more like his own than any cattle or chicken’s ever did.

Immanuel slowly climbed to his knees, fighting his trembling limbs as he used the desk for support. Squeezing his eyes shut, Immanuel wished Adam was there to anchor him to reality, to rub his back and make him tea to help the shakes subside, but then he heard the chatter of the curators outside his door and remembered there were hours to go before he could see Adam again. He staggered forward and knocked the lid of the glass coffin closed with the back of his hand before tossing the sheet over it to hide the creature’s lifeless features and half-human form. Sinking into his chair, Immanuel grabbed his pen and quickly scribbled out the details of the vision.

If he waited too long, there would be no proof of the beast who killed her, and Immanuel wasn’t going to let that happen.


Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think, and if you’re interested, you can pre-order Selkie Cove.

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Selkie Cove: Chapter Two

SelkieCoveLH

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.


 

Chapter Two

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.

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