The Mind of Lady Locust
Session 1: Their Children
The dead air of her basements against my bare skin.
The dim darkness of her hospitals, the cold metal of her surgeons on my wrists – in my wrists – in my blood.
The sound of breathing, fading. I feel my heartbeat. I feel my blood, changing in my veins. I see my father’s face. I feel… nothing.
Close your eyes, and sleep.
They are behind me. I can hear their wings, beating in the dark, their clicking mandibles, their hideous song. It’s a strange kind of clarity, and it surges through me – I’m aware of my body, naked beneath my skin; blood, bone, fat, tendons. I am meat. I am prey. I am a nursery, a womb, a haven for their larvae. Their children will burst from my cheeks, my tongue, my bosom, my eyes.
And so I run.
The forest around me is dark, darker than any I’ve seen. The branches beat against my… flesh? skin? clothes? It doesn’t matter. I feel nothing. I bleed, and it slows them down; they stay to feast. I run. They will find me. They will eat me alive from within.
I don’t even see the light until I’m almost in it; a pinpoint first, then a glow illuminating the forest – how did I get here? How did I-?
There are others. There’s not supposed to be others in a nightmare. This is mine; this is personal. I’m somehow offended. I want them to die. But then I realize – they are here for reasons of their own. Not to watch me, to see my skin rot and my flesh laid bare. They are here to flee – or to fight. They have monsters of their own.
I draw my sword. It surprises me that I have it, and I realize I’m no longer naked flesh and sinew. No longer meat. It is… empowering. I want to laugh, but I do not. I wait for the swarm.
But there are others, and they have monsters of their own. They look hazy to me – an officer. A gentleman. A child. A child?
It comes from the dark as wreathed in blackness, a hellcat of shadows, a creature of death. It’s going for the girl. Dear God, it is going for the girl. I move as a drunkard, lunge at the hellcat, drive it out of the light, into the darkness. The officer is with me. He will care for the girl. I turn…
…and I see the swarm.
I understand now, Father. I will forget when I awaken… but I remember it now. And I smile, and my lips part, and I plunge my sword into the heart of the swarm. And it enters my mouth, and my nose, and my eyes. I take it inside me and I swallow it all and I take her children and I make them mine. The insects settle underneath my skin. Nesting in the warmth of my body. Nobody will hurt them now. They are safe. I am safe.
I feel a sense of deep and utter satisfaction as I return to the slaughter, and just as my joy is the greatest I remember that it’s all just a dream.
The monsters are dead. The officer put a bullet through some hideous simian; the gentleman has ripped apart a rat the size of a horse. The hellcat is gone – simply gone – and for the better. We are dreaming, and we speak – but there aren’t any names, not here.
The dream gets… hazy. A lieutenant, a doctor, and a girl. They are coloured by the monsters, claws like a rat’s, a cat’s whiskers. The lieutenant looks human, like me. What is it that’s inside of him? I toy with the idea of cutting him up to see. We walk. We have… a conversation.
There’s a lodge, and an old man. He welcomes us inside, talks of a Hunt, he speaks of blood and sacred profanities, and of Vengham. The blood rituals of Vengham, half-remembered from my childhood. There are introductions. Doctor Reed. Lieutenant Croft. Miriam Gainsborough, the sweet-eyed child of the Earl… I met her once, long ago. It is curious I should dream of her.
There are insects crawling underneath my skin, my naked skin, full of needles. I’m asleep.
The dead air of her basements against my bare skin.
Air. I struggle to fill my lungs, my body resisting. Up. Live. Head swimming. Heart almost stopped. Not good. Not good. Blink, clear your eyes. Dreams, fading fast but lingering in certain details.
Tubes and needles pop from my arms as I stagger to my feet, and I see her on the slab before me – Miriam Gainsborough, the Countess from my dream. She’s naked, or nearly so. I hurry towards her, try to take her hand. A man shouts. I reach for my sword to kill him but find only my petticoat. How dreadfully embarrassing. The man – Lieutenant Croft – turns away. Doctor Reed inspects the needles in his arms. How do I know these men?
The girl points out that I’m indecent. I’m still heavy from the treatment, my head is swimming, and I want to slap her for the indignity – but she’s right. I am. We all are, stripped to the waist. Memories resurface – vaccination – an experimental procedure. My body feels heavy, as from a long stillness. Drugs make it hard to feel the damage. Croft shouts, again, tells us to get dressed. I snap back at him; ill advised. Military men take poorly to women snapping. Await a reaction. His back is turned. Make note of the anatomy of his ribs; he’s quite a handsome man, well built. Buttocks are probably the best cut though, firm. He does not lash out. Almost a pity.
I dress. Something beneath my skin disturbs me, like a strange tingle, and my clothes do not feel comfortable. They chafe.
I inspect Countess Gainsborough as she pulls on her ratty shirt. Thin frame, narrow shoulders, budding breasts; a child in bloom. Beautiful, sweet, and angelic. Pale, tender flesh, if probably a bit lean, wearing misery and rags. Dirt on her face. I will want to ask her later, but for the moment I turn to Doctor Reed, who confirms that he is, indeed, Doctor Reed.
It takes him a while to dress, for he’s busy inspecting the instruments. I can make neither heads nor tails of his cut; muscular, yes, but knotty, tough, resistant. A strange man, stranger than any other man I’ve sampled. He says that the idea of a shared dream is scientifically unprecedented, although the drugs involved are known to cause hallucinations. Yet he confirms that he knows me from the sleep, as well. He has come to Vengham in search of a solution. I can use him.
I turn back to the girl. The Countess Gainsborough, it seems, is quite contrary. She explains that she’s dressed like an urchin for her travels, and that she’s been to France – but not to Paris or even Marseilles, to the countryside, dressed like a little orphan. I cannot help but adore the childish romance of it all – dressing as a boy, living some pastoral fantasy life and imagining it charmed. I wonder how long it took before the lice and the starving drove her back to England? She is lucky Mr. Lyons did not find her first.
Lieutenant Croft scoffs at the French. I would argue, but it would not go over well. I flirt instead, and it relaxes him; it gives him the most boyish smile, delightfully appealing.
Miriam (for Countess or no, she is only a child), hears something above, and my intercourse with the officer is rudely interrupted. She ascends the stairs, and I must follow – I know… somehow… that these men are important, though they can take care of themselves. Or else die. But the child…
Lieutenant Croft barges through a door like only a soldier can. It flies open, and there on the ground is Dr. Drummond, or what remains of him. A hideous wolf-man stands above him, eating his entrails. Dr. Drummond, our dear vaccinator, the only man in Vengham who might possibly explain whatever hideous concoction it is coursing through our veins. God damn him and his insufferably bad sense to die mid-procedure. Well. He served to slow down the wolf.
I have my sword, and Lieutenant Croft finds his gun. We make short work of the creature. Drummond’s body itself is totally destroyed, and worthless, but the contents of his pockets may hold some clue, I suppose – so I draw my skinning knife and liberate him of his coat, belt, and other possessions, handing them to Doctor Reed.
A phial of blood is all of value. It’s been ministered; treated with some procedure to turn it into a remedy. I recall my father’s practices in the basement, and his blood-red roses in the garden. Doctor Reed seems ecstatic and indignant at once; a reaction common among men of science, I suppose. He pockets the vial for future study, and we search the hospital for our own possessions and anything of value.
Outside the moon hangs high in the sky. Who knows how long we’ve slept. My head is still heavy but my body’s waking up. I… feel an itch beneath my skin. I ask Doctor Reed about the dream. He is vague, noncommittal. I ask him why he’s in Vengham. He’s searching for a cure, so I tell him of my father’s practices – not entirely scientific, perhaps… but they will do to win him over to my side. Lieutenant Croft is here due to sheer bad luck, after a trip to Africa.
Miriam, lastly, is in Vengham in search of a friend. He is likely dead, and I inform her thus; she’s not deterred. Very well. I shall find some suitable carcass to convince her, and then she can be on her way from Vengham. It isn’t safe here for a child.
Session 2: From The Cocoon
I cannot deny it; something in the city speaks to me. I had forgotten so much, dismissed it all as dreams and childish memories… but it is here, all around me. It’s in my blood. I feel the city crawl beneath my skin, simmer in my veins, turn inside my stomach and creep inside my fingers. By the prickling of my thumbs…
I take my thoughts elsewhere. I speak with Miss Gainsborough. Miriam. The Countess. I can’t say what to call her. She defies all reason; a countess yet an urchin, a girl yet a woman. She’s twenty years of age, she informs me, and I’m shocked and befuddled. This isn’t the toying of some child who doesn’t know her own good – it is wilful idiocy, plain and simple. But I hold my tongue. It isn’t polite to point out the eccentricities of ones’ betters, after all, and she’s in good company here in Vengham. We’re all mad here.
The city wends and worms its way around us, like a beehive of stone. We walk along the gorge, and look down upon Old Vengham, where the Irish live. She is burning, fires tearing through her wooden shacks, smoke blurring our vision. Without any authority, and with the plague tearing through the commons, it must have turned into Hell on earth. All it lacks is brimstone. We tear away from the sight, move on along the gorge, towards the church and Cainhurst. To my home. I ask if anyone needs directions from the locals, but they all decline. A good sign. They trust me.
We stop a moment. Doctor Reed offers to share his stash of medicine. ‘Tis some greenish, sluggish concoction like a syrup, capable of mending wounds. Considering Venghamese hospitality, I take a flask and advise Countess Gainsborough to do the same. One never knows. One never knows. And just as I think so, there is the baying of hounds and the barking of men, and something catches our scent, and we are being hunted. They’re men with dogs. I never cared much for dogs, filthy things, and considering the Countess we’d best avoid them. So I send her ahead, and the Lieutenant goes with her; and if the men with dogs catch us, I shall feed the former to the latter. The Lieutenant keeps a good pace, dragging the poor girl with him, and I shut my lantern and stalk away behind them, the doctor by my side.
Once more I chance to study his physique; it is strange I should not find him more appealing. Strength in his posture, a sprightly step – by all my observations a healthy man, of good fortitude and excellent flesh. Yet he fails to spark any instinct whatsoever. It is as if there is poison within him – a vile toadstool or a toxic frog – not truly a man, or at least not an Englishman. I wonder what’s made him this way.
‘Tis not until we reach a staircase that Croft comes to a stop. He’s hesitant. As I peer over his shoulder, I see what’s slowed him down – a sight that is alien to me, yet somehow familiar, strangely Venghamese. Blood on the cobblestones. Fire in the streets. Four men have lit a pyre, and have crucified the body of a beast, and set it alight. Flames dance before my eyes and in my mind, and I remember Father’s execution. But this is nothing like that; these men are nothing like him. I consider, briefly, of speaking to them, of asking what is afoot – but Croft gestures that he’s nervous. I let him take charge. He’ll feel better that way.
We move in the light of the fire, behind the men’s backs. They never turn, too caught up in rapture as they stare at the charring flesh of the beast-man, and I wish I could join them as a celebrant, for it’s a fascinating thing to see. But we move on, and Vengham closes around us, and the fire fades from sight. No matter. I shall see burning flesh up close ere long, I’m sure.
We make our way up the winding stairs of the hills of Central Vengham, reaching the fenced walkways that look down upon the plazas, where throngs of plagued madmen wander far below. I recall, dimly, the clamour of the city when it was still alive – the merchants in the plaza. The thieves they would hang. Now only thieves are left; thieves, rapists, murderers, madmen…
My gaze is on the plazas, and not on the towers – so when Miriam calls out, I snap to attention. There’s a figure in a tower, a dark, shrouded creature. It sees us, and I make ready to kill… and then it leaps. To its death, I’m sure – but then its cloak unfurls, and it sails towards us on wings of night. A hunter. Huntress. ‘Tis a woman’s voice coming from beneath the beaked mask, her forms shrouded in heavy clothing. They are enough to conceal the nature of her sex, but not of her… affliction. Her toes bend like an owl’s talons around the wrought-iron fence, and her voice is raspy, squawking like a parrot. She doesn’t attack, but her countenance is hostile. Her name, she says, is Alice. She postures herself as a predator, her motives impossible to read, her tone faintly threatening. Well then, madam – come, let us play. She claims to know the city, claims to know the Hunt – but she wasn’t born here. The spider eats the fly, the sparrow eats the spider, the raptor eats the sparrow… and some eat what they please. Would she please me, I wonder? Perhaps I shall taste you yet, little bird.
Doctor Reed takes to trading with her, curious as ever in the alchemical arts. They barter for some time, and Lt. Croft has his hand on his weapon. She knows she is outnumbered; she will not move against us. She has other prey to hunt. And so, when she leaves, she glides over the plaza below, dropping her alchemical concoctions on the rabble, setting them aflame. ‘Tis a beautiful sight; they burn as fine as Old Vengham. But we leave – pressing ever onwards – before we see the flames devour them. No matter. We shall meet Miss Alice again, I should think. The doctor holds up two vials of vapours, the prizes of his trade; some type of stimulant and an opiate. He has no need of them himself, so I take the opium in the event of injury, and leave the stimulant to Miriam – she should enjoy the experience, I think.
But I don’t need drugs to feel rejuvenated, not as we continue our stride toward the cathedral. I feel ten years younger; it’s as if Vengham herself has awoken something in me. Not the innocence of girlhood, no – but the passion of youth. It lifts my spirits, makes my blood rush faster. The doctor doesn’t seem quite so unappealing, and I carry on conversation with him in an idle manner; his dour façade never cracks, but I can tell I at least amuse him. And so we go, through the streets of Vengham. Miriam and Lt. Croft keep their distance, stalking ahead – ‘tis sensible, I argue, placing them out of danger.
And I am soon proven correct.
The unmistakable sound of a flint-lock, pulled back into position. I freeze, knowing instinctively it’s pointed at my head. Vengham. Where else do you aim a pistol at a lady? My heart rushes faster; my instincts perk up; but I will not give him the satisfaction of fear. I smile, and look upon my assailant. ‘Tis a brutish man, with a Scotsman’s accent and a Frankish name. Gasquain. At least he has the courtesy to introduce himself. Whatever mongrel sort he is, he’s a man of faith, of the Vengham church. The church that killed my father. I smile more pleasantly.
His eyes search me, and I recognize the cold. That dispassionate gaze that sees through clothes and flesh to stare at the soul beneath. A sinking feeling; I shan’t be able to outwit him, not without aid. Well. I have seen his ilk before, men of iron faith and razor conviction. And so I scatter lies and truth at him, too many for him to pick them apart I hope. I give him my married name and state my loyalty to the Countess. I do my best to soothe him, and I think I succeed. I get unexpected help; dear Doctor Reed has hatred in his eyes, hate and vengeful anger, but he stays his hand for now. Good. This Mr. Gasquain shan’t make a sheep of him… nor of me. Nor of the Lieutenant, who seems to distrust him on principle.
The preacher says the Cathedral Ward is full of dangers, and he is headed there himself. He offers to be our guide. He can hardly make it alone, so the offer is a veiled request. Pride, Mr. Gasquain, is a cardinal sin… and commonly goes before a fall. But I’ll play your game for now; coddle your childish ego in its iron fortress of faith. Four men guard the bridge. They have dogs in cages. Mr. Gasquain claims they’re in our way. He has designs to kill them all. At least his faith has not made him soft. I draw my sword – -
Lieutenant Croft smells of manliness and fear. Miss Gainsborough’s hands tremble. The Doctor feels like nothing before, his nature turned to violence. The dogs come toward me – and the world is in flames. I see the charred flesh as in a dream, smiling serenely at the acrid smell. Burning bodies up close, at last. The dying critters try to snap at my skirts, and so I kill them. A man comes after them, so I kill him too. Blood and flame become partners in a beautiful dance, taking to the air, carried on the wind. It feels right. It feels right.
A man takes a shot at Doctor Reed. I see it, and I shout at Miss Gainsborough to shoot him. She hesitates – quivers – but then I see the doctor. A change is upon him. His victim’s head is torn from the neck, by the strength of something… beautiful. I see him burst out into his true strength – I was wrong – it wasn’t his inside that was poisoned, just his outside, an ugly shell around a gorgeous man. God, those claws, drenched in blood and intestines… that savage beastly face, with its unrepentant fury. That virile torso, twisting to discard the severed head… Oh, my. I feel hot all over.
No, that’s not quite right.
I feel… constrained. This skin is too tight. I hear the buzzing of wings. Shells glisten. Maws click. Their children in my cheeks, my tongue, my bosom, my eyes. Tear it off. Tear it off. TEAR IT OFF.
Session 3: Blood For My Eggs
There is blood on the wind.
Countess Gainsborough asks if I’m all right. I nod in the affirmative, though I feel the crawling beneath my skin. I say nothing; I don’t want to alarm her, dear girl. But then I bring a hand to my face, and feel… chitin. Cold, hard chitin where the skin around my eye has peeled off. Oh. I suppose there is no hiding it, then. Well. I feel comfortable now, the itching gone, the instincts settling. The skin I wear will grow back in time, I’m sure.
Only now do I notice the changes upon Miriam; mismatching eyes, strange whiskers, a feline, predatory aspect to her features. It does not look unseemly, but I comment on it nonetheless. It doesn’t seem the poor girl knows. She, like the rest of us, has Vengham in her blood now. It worries her, makes her uneasy. She petitions the Doctor, who explains the theory of evolutionism. I’ve encountered it before, behind closed doors in Paris, used as an explanation – nay – as an excuse for the debauchery of wealthy elites, preying on immigrants and urchins to satisfy their lusts. But of course… they were merely men. I smile, knowing without doubt that Doctor Reed is correct. We have evolved, and at our feet lie the mangled carcasses of those who were less fit. I touch my face, and I shiver with pleasure.
Gasquain speaks up, his hoarse grating tone ripe with disapproval. He owes us for the help, and he knows it – but he says that we are done, and departs. Good riddance; his path takes him toward the bridge, but not across it. Seems his business lies below, at a staircase descending into the gorge, into Old Vengham and the flames that engulf it. Go to Hell then, preacher, as you will. It will be far sweeter on you I. He says a few parting words, directed at Doctor Reed – some chalice the clerics found, the source of Vengham’s panacea, last seen inside the church. The Doctor is excited; there is a cold mirth in his voice, a scientific fascination, and he looks more alive to me than before – perhaps more alive than he has been in years. His hands are blood-red claws, sinewy and bending like a rat’s paws, and hair grows from his brutal frame, his shoulders twisted into a hunchback’s posture, his brow furrowed, his eyes hungry. I can almost smell his raw ravishing brutality, and my knees weaken and my heart beats faster. Lieutenant Croft on the other hand looks… like nothing. I could have sworn there was something different in his stride, but ‘tis gone, and next to Reed he looks now like a twelve-year old boy. Disappointing. He is eager to move on, perhaps squeamish, perhaps afeared of Vengham’s beasts. Or perhaps simply impatient. I can’t say.
I did not listen very closely to Mr. Gasquain, but it seems Doctor Reed has a destination in mind. I am here for reasons entirely mine own; but there’s grim determination in the doctor’s eyes now, a kind of singular purpose which I cannot ignore. I fall back, and let the men take point across the bridge. As I have matters on my mind, I chat with the Countess; she blushes like a schoolgirl at the mere mention of gentlemen’s features, so I let the subject slide.
And then, we hear it scream.
‘Tis an awesome sight. A monstrosity, eighteen feet tall, leaping across the bridge-gate with unearthly, savage elegance. What manner of beast it is, I cannot say – like something out of the mad dreams of Hieronymous Bosch, claws, fangs, antlers, misshapen arms and twisted legs, screaming in agony and despair, an avatar of suffering and plague. It lands with such force that the solid stone bridge shakes underfoot. A shaggy appendage reaches for Doctor Reed and sweeps him into the air before we can even react. I leave Miriam behind – she’s safe where she is – and dash forward, drawing a knife and hurling it at the beast to get its attention. I’m unsuccessful. It slams Reed down into the ground with force enough to snap a lesser man’s neck, and a twisted inhuman howl bursts from its wretched throat. I feel my heart catch in my throat, my instincts fighting against me, and nearly lose control. For a moment I feel naked, helpless, tiny, insignificant. For a moment, I’m afraid.
“For England”, he shouts, and a shot rings out. He is beside me, firing at the beast, a visage of resolve and iron fortitude. Not a boy now, hardly – Lieutenant Croft, his eyes fixed on the enemy. No. On the prey. I draw my sword.
The world blurs at the corners of my vision. It swipes at me with its free hand, but misses; I sink my sword into its thigh, and hit true. The femoral artery opens, and the world turns red. It stands above me, so tall I barely reach its hideous testicles, but I have its attention now. I roll aside ere it crushes me beneath a clawed foot, and barely avoid it. My skirts rip, and a moment I think I’m hit; but no. I raise my sword and open another artery. Blood fills my eyes, my nose, my mouth; I can scantly breathe, and am forced to swallow. It feels… good. Empowering. And then – a shot rings out, and the creature… flees, a trail of blood behind it. Killing instinct takes over. I follow it blindly, almost literally, blinking to clear my eyes. Croft makes it before I do; his pistol rings out, and the creature, dying, pulls its way into the Cathedral.
We’re across the bridge. Reed is barely shaken by the experience, it seems; but I’ve no time to admire his resilience. The prey must be brought to ground. We stalk through the cemeteries and wards of the church, ere we reach the door. A heavy wooden cross comes flying through it, shattering against the cobbles; Croft responds with a bullet, and the beast – finally – collapses at the altar. Our prey… is dead.
I have blood in my mouth. It’s seeping inside my dress, trickling down my back, dripping from my thighs. We gather around the carcass of our fallen prey, watching it solemnly as if this means something, as if this is more than just a monster slain… and I suppose it must be. ‘Tis a quarry brought to ground. ’Tis a bounty to be shared. Above us, the church bell tolls.
I ask Reed if anything from the creature is of scientific value, and he affirms, cracking open its hand to extract both blood and marrow. But I… I recall other practices. Older, stranger practices. And I recall some of the words of the old man from the dream. Thus I plunge a dagger into the creature’s heart, and I pray. Not to the name of any god or savior, but to the Hunt itself – and I am answered. It rises from the creature’s blood, pooled in the baptismal font, a malformed childlike being from the dream we shared, a messenger, an angel of predators and beasts. I am surprised, taken aback by its appearance, but Lieutenant Croft simply steps forth, ever the pragmatic. He asks for his luggage, left behind God knows where, and I remember the words from the dream – their missive is to aid us. In whatever way they can, provided we bring our prey to ground. Everything from my hair to my boots is soaked in blood. It seems prudent to ask for something fresh to wear.
I barely have time to phrase the request ere Doctor Reed steps forth, brashly, somewhat disbelieving in this peculiar phenomenon, but at the moment he does not appear to care. He’s looking for the chalice. ‘Tis not here. The angel cannot bring it, but it offers him some clue, pointing to the depth below the church. A basement? Or the burning ruins of Old Vengham? Whatever the case, the Doctor seems satisfied, and the blasphemous creature sinks back into the gruesome womb from whence it sprang, and is gone. I didn’t expect I should participate in occultism… but if it helps my dear Doctor, I suppose ‘tis no ill thing.
Weariness sets in. I can feel it, but moreover I can see it in the faces of the men. Night is almost over, and daylight brings exposure to the beasts. Silently, the Doctor and the Lieutenant begin to barricade the door, making good on an unspoken consensus. It seems we’re staying here to rest.
I stride into the vestry, conscious of the way my torn skirts leave a bloodied trail across the ground. Gainsborough follows me, like a mewling kitten, asking if we oughtn’t help the men. I dismiss her silly notions, telling her instead to sit down and have a rest; but she refuses. Very well then. I find a journal, and direct her to read it – it might offer some clue about the chalice, and it’s at least more proper a task for a lady. I busy myself searching for water, my bloodied, sticky clothes clinging to my skin. I find none, and so consign myself listening to Miriam recounting the journal’s contents – seems the old bishop went mad, slowly overcome by the plague. He put Old Vengham to the torch more than a year ago, and she’s somehow burning still. As for the man himself… it seems what’s left of him is rotting at the altar and slowly seeping down between my buttocks. I’m overcome by a sudden urge to vomit.
Croft and Reed go to investigate the belltower. Someone – or more likely, some thing – must have rung the bell. I would stay behind to watch the Countess, but I cannot bear the disgust any longer. There should be a well nearby. I bring her with me. The well is not far, but ‘tis an old rusted crank, and it takes time to get the bucket to the top. Once I do, I don’t stand on ceremony; I empty it over my head, and ice cold water takes the place of lukewarm blood. I shall have to bring water inside to clean more thoroughly… but ‘tis a start, and a relief. Alas, I scant have time to rub my face and hands before Miriam calls, and I rush to investigate.
A lumbering beast-man, infected by the plague, lurches from a distance – drawn by the creaking of the crank, I’m sure. ‘Tis unwise to draw it back to the church, where we’re busying ourselves making a haven – so I stare it down, and await Countess Gainsborough’s bullet. None comes. The wretched thing comes ever closer. It vaguely resembles a man; is that enough for her to hesitate? How soon will she fire? Will she fire at all? My hand trembles as it looms above me, taller than I, and raises a gigantic weapon to attack. I’m beginning to regret testing her like this. Finally she shoots. A grazing hit, merely a distraction. No killer instinct whatsoever. Disappointing. I draw my sword and end its miserable existence.
Lieutenant Croft shouts down to us from a roof, nowhere near the belltower. I’ve no idea what he’s doing there; nevertheless, I suppose he comes in handy. Thus I leave the dead beast where it falls, and instruct the Lieutenant to assist me in carrying water back to the church. ‘Tis evidently not safe to wash here. I claim a room for myself and the Countess, whilst the men wash up in the vestry; I chance one last glance at Doctor Reed’s beautiful bloodied claws before I close the door and begin to undress.
It turns out I cannot remove my clothes, not without assistance. Fingers slip over bloody knots that I cannot untie. Countess Gainsborough, without any care in the world about protocol, offers to help. I suppose I have little choice; so she peels petticoat after bloody petticoat from my body, until I’m quite nude but for the gore. ‘Tis a time-consuming process, and I take the time to talk with her of matters great and small… until my body is revealed, and she notices the scars. She’s shocked, and I see infantile sympathy and horror in her eyes. Oh, my sweet summer child… I really cannot afford to coddle you any longer. ‘Tis time to make a decision.
I show her the scars of the whip on my back, and the cigar burns on my breasts. I tell her about Paris, and what my husband did to me there, and had other men do to me. And I tell her of Mr. Lyons, and what becomes of errant orphans that fall into his hands, that make Mr. St. Clair seem a saint in comparison. She’s shocked, overwhelmed, afraid… frail. That was Paris. This is Vengham. Oh God. I ask her if she’s ever killed a man, even in self defense. Never. Not once. God, if Paris is unkind on virgins… what of Vengham? No, no, it cannot stand. It absolutely cannot stand.
I grab a knife. I seize her by the hair and bring the point to her eye. I tell her to squeal like a little bitch, or I will take it. I do my best to break her. Let’s see who you are, Miriam Gainsborough.
She kicks me hard in the stomach. Lieutenant Croft bursts into the room, pointing a gun at my head as I double over in pain. I’m too dizzy to hear what he’s shouting, but I don’t care. She’s learning. There are tears on her cheeks, but I saw it in her eyes; for just a brief moment, she wanted to kill me.
There is hope for you yet… my sweet summer child.