Ten (2)

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A fierce headache woke Vita up. She shielded her eyes against the morning light spilling in through the window and moaned.

"Good morning, my lady."

She cracked an eyelid open. Louise tidied the bedroom, putting away the records mysteriously scattered across the carpet and straightening the piles of books and correspondence that had been knocked over.

"What time is it? Where is Pixie?"

Vita's tongue was dry and heavy.

"Breakfast is ready," Louise explained. "Mr. Hunt is already downstairs, and he took your dog for a walk earlier."

Vita buried her face in her pillow, the events of the previous night coming back to her. The man smoking in the park. Mr. Lawrence organising a search party. Archie arriving in the middle of the night.

The stranger hadn't been found and they'd all gone to bed at dawn. If Mr. Lawrence hadn't seen the man too, she'd have considered dismissing it as a vision born from her drunken state.

Unfazed, Louise displayed Vita's day outfit on the chair next to the folding screen. They were returning to London today, as planned. Archie's men would watch Weatherly in their absence, in case the trespasser came again.

With a heavy sigh, Vita pushed the covers away and let her feet dangle from the bed.

"I need aspirin," she said.

"I'll go and fetch that for you right away, my lady," Louise replied. "Will you be all right getting dressed by yourself?"

Vita pushed her hair out of her eyes and squinted in the daylight.

"I'll do my best."

With quiet footsteps, her maid left the room. Vita closed her eyes for a minute, then willed herself to stand up. A wave of nausea made her gag, but she took in deep breaths to suppress it. She slipped out of her nightgown and walked in her undergarments to the clothes Louise had picked out for her. As she made her way across the room, she caught sight of her silhouette in the full-length mirror by the folding screen and stopped dead in her track.

The black marks on her forearms now extended to the rest of her body, spidering up her arms and down her chest, coiling around her legs and spreading on her back. Her feet were as black as her hands, with her toenails hard and shiny as well. Her neck and face were the only parts that had been left unmarked.

Transfixed, Vita stared at her reflection, her mind reeling. What sort of creature was she turning into? Memories of shimmery scales, black claws and a wolf-like head flashed before her eyes. What had those scientists done to her?

A soft knock at her door startled her. She was shaking all over, and she dived behind the folding screen before allowing Louise to come in.

"Just put the tray anywhere," she called out to the maid. "And tell Mrs. Philip I'll be down in a minute."

She waited until Louise had left again to get dressed. With unexpected foresight, the maid had laid out a long-sleeved cashmere dress from Callot Soeurs. It was embroidered with gold thread and had a mid-calf length which covered most of Vita's body. She put on a pair of nude stockings to hide the markings on her legs and slipped on a pair of beige gloves. Hopefully everyone at breakfast would be too troubled by last night's intruder or rumours of her drinking to notice.

She attempted to freshen up in front of her mirror, but there wasn't much she could do to hide the dark circles under her eyes. So she combed her hair, drank her aspirin and gave up.

In the corridor, the smell of cooked eggs wafted up the grand staircase. Queasiness gripped her again as she walked down the stairs, but she swallowed it down. To her surprise, she wasn't able to reach the dining room.

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