Featured image art by PURY (@puryartist)
The story so far: With the Ravager dead and the Necropolis Rail safe, Vi turns her attention to flushing out Thomas Hunt and his remaining minion, the Eviscerator. With Fullerton and Skinner finally stopping the trafficking of young women into Whitechapel, Vi has the Eviscerator in her grasp. Yet the stakes are higher than ever as she confronts the prospect of facing down the exiled British member of the Exalted while protecting Tess Gaunt’s life. One wrong move could mean not just an innocent’s death, but someone close or even herself. Countess Vi must stop Hunt’s cult, once and for all.
Dr. Seymour Lane, the pre-eminent surgeon of the human body in Britain, shook his head in wonder in his vast experimental room, with at least a dozen corpses laid out on benches before him. The stench of rot and open flesh was overwhelming. All of the bodies were stitched together from different parts one way or another, and all of them were once seen wandering the alleyways of Tess’s home, Whitechapel. Standing in the room with Lane, Vi held her nose in revulsion, as did the newspaper editor Skinner, who cowered behind the MP Fullerton. He fainted easily at the sight of blood.
“What can you tell us about the bodies the Countess has collected, good doctor?” asked Fullerton.
“Nothing that the press or the public would believe, let alone Her Majesty’s government,” said Lane, moving over to the corpse of the Ravager, gazing at his fusion face of a young girl and old man. “These are composite bodies, fused together by some supernatural, infernal means and reanimated with black magic.” He peered at the Ravager’s dissected body. “By some marvel, the people behind this have managed to make organs from different people work in the same engine of flesh and tissue and marrow. It really is a scientific miracle in every sense. Yet they’ve been used for something so horrible, to terrorize and murder.”
He turned to Vi. “You must stop this heinous operation.”
Vi crossed her arms. “I’d always thought a man of science like you would only say such words ironically.”
“It’s because I’m a man of science that I know when I can’t explain something with my limited toolset,” said Lane, “and this – this I can’t explain.”
Vi narrowed her red eyes. The cult of Thomas Hunt sounded like a perverse movement trying to make a political point. They were stitching together corpses whose former owners were from radically different backgrounds. Prostitutes from the East End, combined with revered politicians and captains of industry. Why were members of the Exalted, both former and current, always so weird?
“I’m so close. Now, with Skinner and Fullerton lobbying Parliament successfully to legally ban trafficking in the East End, the Eviscerator will be desperate for fresh corpses. I’ll catch and destroy him, and I’ll finish off Hunt at last,” declared Vi. “When does your Act against Trafficking of Virtuous and Misfortunate Women get that crucial vote?” What an awful name, but I’ll take it, she thought to herself.
“Today, and we’ve whipped the votes. It should pass with a majority,” said Fullerton. He smiled at Vi. “I can’t guarantee the law will be easily enforced. I respect you, so I’m being honest and not treating you like a child. You know how much profit there is to be made from human trafficking, especially in London: there’s not only prostitution, but also pockets of slavery here and there despite us having outlawed it. But rest assured that I’ve come to grudgingly admire your drive and ferocity, and I think channeling it in Parliament has helped to move things along, even when there’s a time to be patient as well.”
“And I can tell you that public opinion is shifting on the fates of these once-ignored women,” said Skinner, rubbing his hands together. “I don’t have legislative power like Mr. Fullerton, but given time, our paper can make the trafficking of women a social shame no reasonable person would dare to partake in. For the fools that persist at their own risk… well, I’m sure Your Excellency will have allies in the police force by then to take them on.”
Vi looked at Lane, Fullerton, and Skinner. “Excellent work, gentlemen,” she said. “You’ve gone above and beyond what I expected of you when I first reached these shores. When I first arrived, we were disconcerted and fearful of this murderous force. Yet we’ve worked well together, and I’ll soon bring Thomas Hunt’s sorry story to a close.”
She raised an eyebrow at Fullerton. “I expect you to say good things about me to your patron, Miss Sinclair. After all, she’s the reason why I’m here, and why I’m going to finish this job before I return to Arendelle in time to defend my home against the Russians – an invasion that your colleague, Lord Palmerston, has refused to publicly denounce,” she said dryly, before turning away to leave.
Taken aback, Fullerton hastily nodded, staring at Vi’s retreating back. “Peony Sinclair? Of course, of course – she’ll be sure to know of your success here.”
It was an hour past midnight, and supper had been most enjoyable. Hot chocolate with indulgent cookies and a tonic. What could be better? Returning to Arendelle, perhaps.
“This whole sordid mess ends soon,” murmured Vi, staring at the cracking fireplace while Tess massaged her shoulders from behind. “I predict that the Eviscerator will need more bodies for Hunt tonight. I’ve killed the Ravager. His compatriot’s going to get sloppy. And I’ll be waiting.”
She sighed in satisfaction. “Skinner has promised to campaign on behalf of Whitechapel’s impoverished women, and Fullerton will make it a cause of his country’s Conservative Party to fight human trafficking. A fitting cause to take up after abolition. Once I kill Hunt, I’ll have done my job here. It might even be over by tonight.”
She glanced up at Tess. “I’ve told my lawyers that from here on out, this townhouse is yours.”
In her white frilly nightdress, Tess stopped her massage, her green eyes wide in shock. “What?”
“It’s time that you started thinking about your future beyond my time in Britain. This is a Grosvenor Square property, so it’s worth a substantial amount of money. You can either move in and bring your friends with you, or sell the home. I don’t really care either way. What matters is that you’d have enough to sustain you for several years and the assets to help you launch a new life beyond the brothel.”
“No,” said Tess, shaking her head, “no, no, no, no, no – ”
“You could at least pretend to be a bit grateful,” snapped Vi, looking annoyed as she turned her head slightly. “Do you want me to also gift you my houses in Amsterdam, Venice, Paris – ”
“You’re rich beyond belief – I get that,” said Tess, putting a finger on Vi’s lips while her fingers sifted through Vi’s brunette tresses. Her breath was hot against Vi’s ear. “It’s not that I’m not appreciative.”
Tess walked around to face the blushing noblewoman. “Please – why don’t you take me with you?”
Flustered, Vi stared at her. “To Arendelle?”
“Yes, love. Across the seas to where you live, or to anywhere you’ll be. As long as you’re there.”
Vi lowered her head, smiling. “Hilde might be jealous. And… ” She hesitated. “Perhaps I’m just stubborn, but I was never sure if you were serious about letting me bring you back.”
“Is Hilde all that’s stopping you? Maybe we can share you.” Tess drew closer, and when Vi didn’t resist, she slowly eased Vi into an embrace. “Hey. I love my friends here in London. But… if my heart’s honest, I have to confess that I want to come with you more than anything in the world. To Mundilfari Keep, to wherever your precious Anna stays, I don’t really mind.” Her lip trembled slightly, in shyness but also in desire. “Isn’t it time someone took care of you? Really took care of you?”
“I’m so tired,” admitted Vi after several moments. She closed her red eyes as Tess cradled her head in her bosom, whispering comforting words. “I… I came to London because I’ve done not a few awful things as the head of my family. I’ve hurt many people in the name of escaping my curse. Anna helped me realize that I was just looking for excuses. And I… ” She felt strangely emotional as she opened up to Tess for the first time – to anyone – in a long time. She’d never even let Anna see her like this. “I thought that when I was asked to come to London, I’d be able to atone in my own way. To help Anna as her prime minister. To turn my power outward to help others.”
Tess gazed into Vi’s vampiric eyes, playing with her choker and running gentle knuckles along her neck. Vi shivered in unfamiliar pleasure. “You’ve helped me, that’s for sure. In ways unimaginable to me just months ago.” Her green eyes glimmered affectionately. “For being you. For who you are. I don’t care if you’re cursed, or if you’ve done some bad things, or… anything, really. I just wish to thank you. For everything.”
“I was jesting before. I already know you’re grateful.”
“No you don’t, silly. You have no idea.”
Vi marveled at how beautiful Tess was. At how nice she smelt, fresh from a soaking bath in rose petals and scented hot water. She smelled of wild flowers, the Countess of vanilla. “I don’t know if… ” She couldn’t finish as Tess drew just a couple of inches closer and kissed her, forcing her to savor her delicious, soft, warm lips. Their brown and blonde locks entwined as Tess silenced her, playing with and exploring her until Vi was completely still, helpless and putty in her hands. Tess slowly withdrew, marveling at the languid gaze of Vi. For the first time, her vampire-like irises reflected her complete vulnerability.
“Thank you,” moaned Vi weakly, her voice incredibly cute and adorable. There was always a hard edge to Vi’s beauty, a sense of danger and tension. Not this time. It was all… soft. Supple. Inviting. “You’re quite something, Tess Gaunt.”
“I’m a prostitute,” joked Tess, smiling. “I’m good at what I do.” She pushed back her hair, licking her lips. “You won’t judge me, will you?”
“I’ve spent my whole time in London watching over you. So, no.” Vi felt her barriers falling as she stared up at Tess’s face, suddenly so full of nurturing desire and compassion for her protector. She slipped off the top of her purple dress, feeling the cool air in the house and the warmth of the nearby fire on her skin. She took Tess’s wrist, throat dry and unable to speak. “What now?” she asked, a shade of red creeping across her cheeks. Despite her sex appeal and her willingness to weaponize it, she wasn’t an overtly romantic person. She’d had suitors, dozens of them, in fact – but no one had ever loved her.
Tess laughed, breaking the tension. “Now, my dear, supposed mistress of darkness – ” she climbed atop Vi, cupping her face in her gentle hands and planting another tender, loving kiss on her lips – “you relax.”
Their thighs sandwiched together, skin pressed against each other, Vi closed her eyes and obeyed, her arms wandering up and clutching Tess’s back so hard that her manicured nails dug into Tess’s flesh. They breathed sharply, hearts pounding more rapidly as they suddenly yearned to explore more. Vi felt hunger like never before. It’d been so long since she’d ever reached out for the touch of another. Mother, perhaps? Her sister? Well, it didn’t matter. She’d killed them all to survive, and as such she was the last Mundilfari alive. But here, in this moment, there was no anger, no conflicted feelings, and no confusion. Just the pure wish for Tess to hold her and do anything she wanted to her.
For now, she obeyed the touch of the other, and just thought of nothing as she let Tess take her to somewhere blissful.
The Countess hoped that Tess was sleeping well. The last hour had been a blur. She’d allowed herself to just obey Tess, sinking into an oblivion of mutual sharing and loving. She hadn’t even really been keeping track of Tess’s hands, her lips, her…
Did she love Tess? Certainly not like Hilde, who’d been her own protector throughout her childhood. Perhaps she was seeing Tess the way Hilde saw her. Tess was right. They’d make a curious threesome. It might be rather amusing to try to make work. But that would have to be back in Arendelle, and after Imperial Russia had been beaten back. Otherwise there’d be no Arendelle for Tess to build a new life in.
I should start teaching her Arendellian, thought Vi to herself, as she slipped back on her deep purple dress and adjusted her pink choker. You can get by with speaking English for a few days in our kingdom, but not as a resident.
She glanced back at the sleeping blonde on the lily-white bed and smiled, before hurrying downstairs and taking her private carriage to Whitechapel once more. The full moon was out over London as she rode across town. As she predicted, there was something different in the cold night air today as she stepped out of her transport, her high heels landing on the cobblestone path of the poorer neighborhood. She breathed in the early morning mist as the carriage horse trotted away. She drew her sword from her cane sheathe, snarling.
“I knew you’d be here, Eviscerator.”
Vi turned around to stare beyond the alleyway behind her. There lay two female corpses, their midsections torn wide open in a bloody, horrific mess, and to her rage Vi realized that they might be two more of Tess’s associates. There was a shape walking towards her: that of a tall male, wearing a top hat, a long coat, and holding a large butcher’s knife in one hand. His face was hidden, wrapped in white bandages that, disturbingly, seemed stained with blood and other excretions. “At last,” declared Vi, “your reign of terror among the innocent ladies here ends with your head in my hand.”
He didn’t make a sound, but simply gathered pace as Vi licked her lips and hurled herself into the shadows. Without barely an introduction, they began their final duel, steel against steel as Vi entered a berserker’s trance with her Ulv (wolf) School style of fencing. The Eviscerator fought back, his movements also trained and quick, slashing in narrow but efficient arcs at Vi force her to parry. Vi spun and dashed forward, trying to catch the Eviscerator off-guard with an especially aggressive lunge. He sidestepped just in time, suddenly thrusting his knife at her. She quickly pushed herself off the ground with one hand and launched herself away, lightly rolling on the ground and dancing back up. She brushed herself off. “Filthy streets,” she said to the Eviscerator coolly. “This place doesn’t deserve Tess. When I ground your neck under my heel, I’m taking her away from this horrid neighborhood, to a place of gently sloping hills, clear fjord waters, and scenic mountains and forests – ”
The Eviscerator suddenly lunged at her again, hacking and slashing with his knife. “Hey – screw you!” screamed Vi, as she barely managed to fend off his lightning-fast cuts with her sword. “I was in the middle of a speech!” She slipped past his larger frame, counterintuitively drawing closer to the physically intimidating man, and elbowed him in the face. He reeled back, and Vi lashed out with a leg, sweeping his unbalanced form off the pavement and sending him crashing to the ground. He couldn’t scramble away in time, and Vi pointed her sword at his face, still hidden under that bloodstained white cloth.
“Now,” she said in triumph. “If you wish to hold on to your miserable, meaningless life a bit longer, you’re going to take me to Thomas Hunt – ”
The Eviscerator seemed to want to speak, but he simply let out a helpless gurgle as a loud BANG rang out through the East End. His head exploded in a haze of brain matter and shattered bone as Vi whipped around, too late to react as another shot from the unexpected revolver found its target: her calf, shooting cleanly through and piercing bone and muscle. Blood spurting from her crippling wound, she screamed in agony, eyes clenched in searing pain as her legs buckled, no longer able to support her body as she fell to the ground. She clutched at her leg, swearing and crying, as she looked wildly around for the culprit. She began to panic. She was helpless, and someone knew she was here.
“I suppose you’re thinking now, in desperation, that you can’t die here,” came a silky man’s voice. Tears of pain streaming down her face, Vi turned her head to see a cloaked man holding a revolver. He wore a black mask that covered his eyes, but the rest of his handsome face was exposed – as was his sadistic smile. He stowed away his revolver. “The Eviscerator served me well, but now that you’re here, that combined cadaver, like the Ravager, is no longer required. I can always make more. But you… you’re going to make a unique masterpiece. Thomas Hunt at your service, Countess Viola Mundilfari. And you’re right. You shan’t die here. You’re the only one who could have marshalled the resources, strength, and wits… with a touch of demonic help, admittedly… to come so far and finally distract me from my wonderful work.”
“Your… wonderful work, Hunt?” gritted Vi in realization, dragging herself along the ground, her sword forgotten. She was caked in blood and filth, but she no longer cared. “You mean the Ravager’s and the Eviscerator’s horrific crimes of body snatching and murdering innocents, so you can fuse their bodies together and send their desecrated carcasses out on to the streets?” She glared up at him. “Why?” she cried.
He cackled, spreading his arms. “Why, unity, of course! What better way is there to unite people who couldn’t be more different than in death, their bodies, once never even seeing the other, now one!” He pouted, his black mask hiding his eyes’ emotions. “Unity and balance… everything the Exalted wanted, true world unity. Instead, I was cast out and banished for believing in what must ultimately be done between human beings… the art of life together after death!”
“That’s ridiculous and demented,” barked Vi, feeling faint as she felt the blood loss affecting her vision. Her world was turning black. “I hate the Exalted, but now I see why they saw you as a revolting, embarrassing, piece of – ”
Hunt held up a finger, wagging it at Vi. “Ah-ah-ah, but tonight’s fun doesn’t stop yet,” he declared. “See, I still have contacts within the government, and I know where your townhouse is.” A chill ran down Vi’s spine as she realized what he was about to say, and she so didn’t want to hear it. “I know that you and that East End girl, Tess Gaunt, couldn’t have come from more different backgrounds. So it’s fitting tonight that my cultists captured her, and are whisking her to our sanctum as we speak! Shall we pay them a visit too, so that we can… reunite you two?” he chuckled.
“No. She’s my friend,” moaned Vi. Her hand tightened into a furious fist. “She’s my friend! You won’t touch her!”
“Of course, of course. Then why don’t we unite the two of you into one flesh – literally?” laughed Hunt, snapping his fingers as two hooded figures emerged from the shadows. “She’s bleeding too much, Brother. I want her conscious when I perform the procedure,” said Hunt to one of them coldly. “Retrieve the bullet.”
Vi’s red eyes widened as a cultist, wreathed in shadow, loomed over her. “No. NO!” She screamed helplessly again, her tormented cries echoing through the quiet Whitechapel area, as the cultist plunged his hand into her leg and dug into her ruined flesh, before finding the bullet and pulling it out.
“Bandage the leg,” demanded Hunt, staring pitilessly at the whimpering and convulsing Countess. “She won’t be able to walk or run now, and that’s perfect for what I want to do to her and Tess.” The cultists grabbed her arms, hoisted her up, and dragged her towards a carriage pulled by two dark horses. “Let’s have fun together, Viking noblewoman of Arendelle, unwilling emissary of my onetime Exalted comrades.”
“I’ll tear you limb from limb!” wheezed the barely conscious Vi, even as she was carried away and shoved into the back of the carriage. She was feeling woozy and about to go to sleep any moment. But she still had plenty of profanities and raging threats for Hunt. “I’m going to rip your head off and feed it to my dogs! I’m going to – ”
“You’re not going to do anything. Not until you and Tess are reunited, your dead flesh as one.” The arch-cultist spread his arms happily.
“Now your corpse can be fused together with your precious ward, and your combined cadavers sent onto the streets just in time for Christmas! What festive cheer! Hallelujah!”
COUNTESS VI: GOTHIC – TO BE CONCLUDED!