Today we enter the fog-enshrouded world of Victorian Lost‘s opening fiction:
Night of the Murdering Shadow
or: “The Tearing Smile”
Being a tale of faeries and nightmares by the esteemed Mr Peregrine, presented in six parts by the renowned publishing house of Thomas and Webb — who accept no responsibility should the reader be overcome by this tale of horror and dark imagination (Part I)
Maggie was lost, but still she ran. The fear of what might follow her had passed beyond mere terror into a dull sensation that was now almost forgotten as she pushed her way through the brambles. Her arms stung from a hundred tiny cuts and tears where the thorns had bitten her. They snagged at her clothing, tore at her face and hair, but still she blindly ran on. She had no idea where she was going. All she knew was that she had to get away and, worse, that something was coming after her.
Her pursuer was more of a presence than a physical shape. The crashing it made seemed so very distant, but each time she slowed down or tried to catch her breath, she felt it brush the back of her neck. Its touch was gentle, even seductive. Maggie felt as if she was being petted, which only made her run more. She was nothing more than a toy to this being, and she would never go back.
As she pushed hard through the stinging limbs of the hedge, all of a sudden she felt it open to her. Letting her arms drop from where they had been protecting her face, she could see a thin path ahead of her. A honey-yellow light rippled towards her from what appeared to be a distant lamppost. She could hear the sound of horses and the rattle of carriages. With renewed hope she threw herself at the pathway, her hands reaching out desperately for escape.
She was close; so close she could see people moving under the shadows of the gaslight. She almost called out to them, but then thick arms wrapped them selves around her waist and the beast that pursued her barreled her to the ground. Maggie was pinned under its weight, and in horror watched as the hedge began to close. She felt the beast’s hot breath on her cheek as it whispered a growl of delight into her ear.
“Maggie, I love you….”
She awoke to find herself sitting in the barroom of the Ten Bells, her head having thumped heavily on the table she was sharing with Liam and the rest of their motley. Liam unwrapped his arms from around her waist as she sat back up blearily.
“… I love you, Maggie,” he said again, grinning. “Only you could doze off in this noise.”
“Aww, she was pretty as a picture sleeping on your shoulder there, Liam,” shouted Tom. “Until she fell off, that is!” Like the others, Tom’s faerie nature was hidden under a mortal seeming, but when he was drunk, the great ram’s horns on his head were a little more obvious. He reached forward to ruffle Maggie’s hair from across the table. She batted his hand away, in her grogginess more annoyed than usual at his antics.
Tom and Liam worked on the docks together, where people asked few questions if you did as you were told. Liam wasn’t any where near as big as Tom, but he knew how to use what strength he had. Maggie had known him to be gentle, his embrace always careful and protective. She knew there was cruelty within him, hidden behind his handsome Irish features, but it had never been turned on her.
Something about her friends’ happiness vexed Maggie. How could they be so insensitive after what she’d just experienced? She tried to shake it off. They hadn’t been with her there, and in reality she had escaped. It had been a year since she had dreamed of Arcadia. So why was it haunting her again now? Why had it felt so real? Somehow it felt like a warning.
As the dream cleared from her mind, leaving an ache where her head had hit the table, everything began to shift back into focus. The three of them were at their usual table, which was just as crowded as you’d expect on a Friday night. It wasn’t the best public house in London, but it was probably the best one to be found in Whitechapel. It served a decent bitter at an affordable price, and had enough space for Maggie’s group to be as loud as they liked without being noticed in the crowd.
Through the haze of pipe smoke, Maggie noticed a thin man in a cheap tweed suit slip furtively into the taproom. Mag gie recognized him as Bill Hatch, another of their kind who worked as a clerk for one of the shipping firms at the docks. He looked around until he caught Maggie’s eye and began sidling towards her, his expression grave. While the Ten Bells was one of the rare places the classes tended to mix, it was unusual to see Bill there. Anticipating bad news, Maggie nervously exchanged glances with Liam.
“They’ve found another one,” Bill whispered as he eased over to their table. His voice hardly rose above a hiss, but his arrival had got everyone’s attention.
“Another what?” asked Liam. Then he realized, with a quiet “Oh.”
“It’s a girl this time. They’ve just found her at the docks, coppers all over the place.”
“Dead, or one of us? Both, I’m afraid, my dears.”
A shudder ran through the group. Changelings were turning up dead and no one knew why. There was a rumor going around that the assassin had a smile that looked like knives, but who would know that but his victims? No one could go to the police. That would bring attention to themselves, and how could they explain the connection?
“I should be getting home,” said Maggie, sleep and a linger ing fear making her eager to be somewhere safe.
“I’ll walk you,” said Liam, suddenly more protective than usual, although Maggie did not find it unwelcome.
They bid farewell to each other quietly, a pensive silence having descended on the group. Together, Maggie and Liam made their way through the darkness of the cobbled alleyways. She hoped that the image of a smile of knives following them was nothing more than imagination.
Read the other five parts of The Tearing Smile in Victorian Lost, now available in PDF and print-on-demand from DriveThruRPG.