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.
To: Viola Mundilfari, The Grand House, 4 Assembly Avenue, Arendelle
From: Peony Sinclair, Marble Hall, 1 Conduit Road, Hong Kong Island
My dear Vi, my Countess Mundilfari.
It’s been many moons since we last exchanged words, let alone met. It seems you’ve had your hands full over in Arendelle, now that you’re that kingdom’s prime minister. You’ve focused our eyes on your leader, Anna, ever since you burned down the Southern Isles. You’re as impulsive and devil-may-care as always. It’s perhaps why His Imperial Highness wanted you to join us, hoping to rein you in as a member of the Exalted.
I, for one, knew that you couldn’t be tamed. There are few nobles in the courts of Asia and Europe more charming and irresistible than you. You’ve left not a few broken hearts and damaged souls – women and men alike – in your destructive wake.
I miss our brief but intense time together. Do you even remember our encounter in that nobleman’s ballroom in Munich? Do you have any memory of the fragrance I wore for you?
A memory for another time, perhaps. I have orders from Lord Yixin.