The story so far: The Countess has been captured. The wounded and exhausted Mundilfari head now finds herself at Thomas Hunt’s mercy as she’s taken by carriage to a secret location in London. Here, Hunt’s cultists are preparing to consign Vi and the kidnapped Tess to the same fate as the other murdered women of the East End. A hideous ritual, in which they’ll be killed and their bodies merged as one, is underway.
Will Vi and Tess escape in time and defeat Hunt? Does Vi have a hope of returning to Arendelle and to Anna’s side? Or is this going to be their last Christmas?
Brunette hair matted and messy, Vi stirred, her eyelids fluttering groggily as she moaned, her wounded leg still throbbing with pain. She could hear faint, murmuring noises all around her.
Vi snarled in surprised outrage as a cultist’s rough hand clapped her across the cheek, forcing her from her stupor. She swore at the sting spreading across her face as she focused her gaze in the dimly lit hall. She quickly assessed her physical position – arms and legs spread out, tied with rough and coarse rope. She resisted the impulse to break free, stilling her frantically beating heart, and looked down. As she suspected, she was suspended vertically on some kind of large wooden board, her purple dress torn and shredded. She’d been manhandled – she’d probably resisted as they brought her off the carriage, but she didn’t remember. She’d been knocked unconscious. Her arms stretched at an angle above her, and her bare legs spread with high heels long gone, she couldn’t move, so contented herself with allowing her crimson eyes to adjust to the dimness.
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.
The story so far: With all her political pieces in place to draw out the Eviscerator, Vi moves to confront the Ravager first, preparing to board the Necropolis Rail with Tess Gaunt in tow. She has little idea of the horror, however, that awaits her on this train, which is bound for Brookwood Cemetery, the resting place of many of London’s MPs, captains of industry, and other figures of note.
Will she finally be able to confront the Ravager, one of two criminals she’s determined to find? And will they find any clues to the mysterious figure of Thomas Hunt?
It was the dead of night at the Waterloo train terminus. The butt of Vi’s sword stick bashed once, twice, then thrice against the window to one of the carriages, rupturing the glass and sending dangerous shards tinkling all over the train floor. Despite her fragile dark purple dress, she smoothly found a foothold and, in one coordinated move, vaulted and slipped into the carriage without so much as nicking herself from any shattered pieces of glass. Her high heels landed quietly on the creaking floor. She raised her head, looking up at the train’s ornate ceiling. The entire room was suffused in eerie red light. The lacquered walls were festooned with elaborately carved heads depicting Cyclopean, horned, and demonic monstrosities. She wrinkled her nose. How utterly tasteless, typical of cultists trying to impress whatever dark god they’d sold their souls to. She could relate.
She could hear a tooting far up front, and the floor creaked. She swore quietly to herself. The Necropolis Rail was setting off to Brookwood Cemetery, where no doubt more bodies that had been loaded onto the Rail would be somehow acquired by whoever was fusing body parts and reanimating them into horrific monstrosities. Vi, Tess, and their allies in the press and parliament, Skinner and Fullerton, deduced that the Ravager was stealing the corpses of illustrious, recently deceased men and women that could afford to be buried in Brookwood. For their part, the Eviscerator was murdering young women of much less fortunate social standing and economic circumstances in the East End. The four theorized, unpalatable and sinister though it seemed, that it was increasingly likely the reanimated, misshapen lumbering creatures wandering East London were composed of the body parts from both the Ravager’s stolen bodies and the Eviscerator’s victims.
1841. Before Anna became queen, and before Vi became Mundilfari clan head
Viola Mundilfari hated visiting the Celestial Empire, and not because it was so far away. Oh, it wasn’t because China was necessarily an unpleasant place to go sightseeing. The Qing heartland was vast and ancient, thousands of times larger than Arendelle, and blessed with five millennia of civilization and dynastic splendor.
But she hated setting foot in the Forbidden City, and she sure hated being called to the Summer Palace – the regal, jaw-droppingly majestic headquarters of Yixin. It was all because Yixin had summoned her here for the most unpleasant of reasons.
She stood before the Summer Palace’s throne hall, a uniformed Commander Hilde standing quietly at attention beside her. Vi’s face was curled into a contemptuous grimace as she felt her host’s serpentine eyes run over her with matching disdain.
Vi was looking at a distant gold-wreathed figure, which rose from its chair and stood aloofly. He was at least twelve feet away and held an open red fan covering part of his face.
“Why am I even here, Manchu overlord?” called out the Mundilfari noble to the distant throne, smirking darkly. “I gave your retainer a clear answer a few weeks ago, but you don’t seem to want to accept it.”
“Step closer,” echoed the hiss of the Qing prince regent, the leader of the shadowy Exalted cabal of global rulers.
The story so far: Countess Vi has made her move. She has recruited the assistance of Home Secretary David Fullerton and London Age editor Boyle Skinner to pass a bill that would forbid the trafficking of women under eighteen into the East End, disrupting the “supply chain” of human bodies for the Eviscerator and forcing the criminal to strike at her directly. Yet three big questions remain.
How are the Eviscerator and the Ravager, the body snatcher aboard the Necropolis Express, related?
Who is behind them?
And how are they related to the Exalted?
It had become a regular kind of thing. That was, killing demonic creatures sewn together from the body parts of commoners and the illustrious alike.
For the past few weeks, every night at the strike of twelve sharp, Vi would stand guard among the brothels and “fallen houses” of the East End, and somehow they always appeared at the same time, lurching from the shadows of back alleys or emerging from behind decrepit walls. It was the same story for these horrors every evening: slice them apart, ensuring the heads were severed from the bodies. They moved fairly slowly, so unless Vi was careless enough to get caught in their crushing grip, there was little chance they could even touch her. Ever elegant and calm, she always swung her sword stick with gusto, flair, and energy, spilling open the innards of the composite beasts and severing their deformed limbs from their bodies. She painted the streets, brick walls, and alleyways red and green with their gore, but after more than a fortnight of protecting the East End from this never-ending night army, she began to feel her own body straining from eve after eve of combat.
1839. The year Anna turned 18 and Iduna and Agnarr were lost at sea…
For years, Commander Hilde had watched over the dark countess and heiress at school, protecting Viola Mundilfari from the cruel bullying of other girls for her otherworldly yet beautiful red eyes. It was a painful childhood, during which Vi was still angry and upset about the destiny chosen for her. A destiny forced on her by a demon that held her family in thrall to generation after generation of servitude in return for near-limitless wealth and power.
Hilde had watched over Vi ever since the latter began her training. She’d watched Vi master the Ulv (Wolf) school of Arendellian fencing, becoming one of the kingdom’s best duellists. She’d kept Vi company as the other threw herself into the ancient aristocratic traditions of the Mundilfari Viking clan. She’d helped Vi memorize tomes of dark lore and learn the Mundilfari way of politics, manipulating the dukes, popes, and kings of Europe from behind the scenes. And, of course, she’d watched Vi learn to communicate with Mephistopheles, though Vi was humiliated and rattled every time she spoke to him. For he never missed a chance to remind her that her soul belonged to him unless she was able to give him the power of Northuldra’s five elemental spirits. That was the primeval promise made by the first Mundilfari noble, which had never been fulfilled. So, until that day, Vi was Mephistopheles’ property. His plaything.
The Countess was disgusted with herself, ashamed for her family, and heartbroken about her future.
The story so far: Countess Vi and Tess have struck up a bond, with the Arendellian prime minister needing a local pair of eyes and ears and Tess needing a protector. Vi has identified three people that will prove crucial to her forcing the Ravager and Eviscerator into the light: David Fullerton, Britain’s Home Secretary, Boyle Skinner, editor of the London Age, and Dr. Seymour Lane, the Chief Surgeon. But even with these men, the forces behind the unnatural horrors wandering London and disappearing bodies of the well-to-do may well outpace the Countess…
The train that arrived at the station a few yards from Brookwood Cemetery looked like something from a feverish nightmare. Shrouded in shadow, it hissed and groaned, its carriages full of coffins that carried the rich and powerful to what was dubbed “the London Necropolis.” The undertaker, an imposing, pale man that towered over the graves he tended to, was waiting at the head of the train, staring up at its ominous, Cyclopean front. Like a great mechanical psychopomp, a messenger from another world to this one. He waited for several minutes, then began pacing back and forth, wondering what was taking so long. Then a young man of stepped out one of the carriage’s doors, his clothes grimy from hard work and exposure to unclean matter. “We’re in trouble!” he called, jumping down the steps and running to the undertaker, his eyes nervous. “There’s several bodies of lords, ladies, and other respectable names missing. At least four cadavers.”
The story so far: Countess Vi has arrived in London with the assignment to hunt down two possibly connected criminals. She’s just saved a young woman, Tess Gaunt, from certain death at the hands of mysterious creatures sewn together by different body parts. As Arendelle’s prime minister begins her investigation, she realizes that Tess and the mysterious horrors that stalked her might lead her to her next clues…
London is filthy. I always knew it was grand – many, many times larger than Arendelle – with its population greater than that of our entire kingdom. Yet it’s only now, having been to the East End, that I’m exposed to the immiserating conditions of its poorest. I’ve been scouting around the area in my hooded cloak, struggling to get used to the smell and the awful sights. It’s overwhelming.
They live in ways that not even the humblest Arendellian family would find acceptable. They’re crammed up in hovels or squeezed into small rooms, with up to nine people making up one impoverished family. The British call some of the structures in the Whitechapel slums “common lodging houses,” of which there are about two hundred. Our caretaker, Mr. Grey, told me that these can house over eight thousand homeless and destitute every night. Every night!
And forget about the hygiene we Arendellians are used to. Keeping my identity private, I paid a tenant to show me around one of the common lodging houses, and there was barely any ventilation: one window for an entire floor. I’m told cholera and dysentery is common.
I hope you’re having a slightly more pleasant time with Mattias and working on the kind of reforms that our military needs. I wish you were here protecting me, but Arendelle needs your stewardship while I’m away – especially with Anna facing such trying crises on all fronts.
My instincts warn me that this isn’t just a random assignment Peony has forced on me. It’s somehow connected to the Exalted themselves.
But that will be a consideration for another time. For now, I command you not to worry about me, focus on helping Anna, and rest assured I think of you and your werewolf eyes every night.
Blistered, bare feet pattering on the dirty, mud-stained pathway, Tess held on to her rags tightly as she ran for her life, not daring to look back at her pursuer. Her heart felt like it was in repeated spasms as it beat wildly and relentlessly one moment from all the sprinting, before being frozen in abject terror the next in realization. Realization that this prowler could well be the psychopath murdering her friends in the Whitechapel area. No. No, she thought in panic, as she found herself staring at the dead end of an alleyway that had long been sealed up. She couldn’t think like that. Not when she had the girls of the Boudoir to return to. Milly, Florence, Christine, Julie…
Anna stood outside the stately teak door of Vi’s Grand House. The entrance to the townhouse stood on an elevated porch, leading to a long foyer that opened up into the living rooms. She sighed to herself. The Countess’s background, dark style, and sheer charisma often made Anna feel like Vi was the one holding court. That was part of her charm. Anna knocked lightly on the door, and it swung open, revealing Hilde in her fully decked military garb. “Your Majesty,” acknowledged the Von Altheim, saluting.
“Hey, Hilde,” said Anna glumly. “Is she in the living room?”
“Yes. Come in,” replied Hilde, her yellow eyes looking at Anna sympathetically. Today’s meeting wasn’t going to be a comfortable one.