Home > Foul Lady Fortune (Foul Lady Fortune #1)

Foul Lady Fortune (Foul Lady Fortune #1)
Author: Chloe Gong

 

PROLOGUE 1928

 


Out in the countryside, it doesn’t matter how loud you scream.

The sound travels through the warehouse, echoing once over in the tall ceiling slats, booming through the space and into the dark night. When it escapes, it merges into the howling wind until it is only another part of the storm that rages outside. The soldiers shuffle nervously toward the warehouse entrance, pulling at the heavy door until it slides closed, though the rain falls heavily enough that it has already soaked onto the flooring and stained the concrete in a dark semicircle. The faintest whistle of a train comes from the distance. Despite the infinitesimal chance they will be caught by any soul passing by, their instructions were clear: Guard the perimeter. No one can know what is happening here.

“What is the final verdict?”

“Successful. I think it is successful.”

The soldiers are spread out across the warehouse, but two scientists stand around a table at the center. They stare impassively at the scene before them, at the test subject strapped down by thick buckles, forehead beaded with sweat. Another convulsion tears through the subject from head to toe, but their voice has grown hoarse from shrieking, and so their mouth merely pulls wide and soundless this time.

“Then it works.”

“It works. We have the first part complete now.”

One of the scientists, putting a pen behind their ear, signals to a soldier, who approaches the table to release the buckles in turn: all those on the left, then all those on the right.

The buckles drop, metal clanking to the floor. The subject tries to roll over, but they panic, jerking too hard and tipping off the table instead. It is a terrible sight. The subject lands in a sprawl at the scientists’ feet and heaves for breath—heaves and heaves like they cannot fill their lungs properly, and perhaps they never will again.

A hand comes down upon the subject’s head. The touch is gentle, almost tender. When the scientist peruses their work, smoothing at the subject’s hair, their expression is set with a smile.

“It’s all right. You mustn’t struggle.”

A syringe appears. Under the tall lights, the needle glints once as the plunger goes down and again as the red substance inside disappears right into soft skin.

The pain is immediate: a liquid blaze, overwhelming every nerve nestled in its path. Soon it will reach where it needs, and then it will feel like being unmade.

Outside, the rain pours on. It drips through cracks into the warehouse, puddles growing larger and larger.

The first scientist gives the subject one more affectionate pat. “You are my greatest achievement, and greater still is yet to come. But until then…”

The subject cannot keep their eyes open anymore. Weakness turns every limb heavy, each thought in their mind fleeting like ships sighted in fog. The subject wants to say something, scream something, but nothing will form. Then the scientist leans in to whisper into their ear, landing the final strike and piercing the fog as cleanly as a blade:

“Oubliez.”

 

 

1 SEPTEMBER 1931

 


The train corridor was quiet except for the rumbling underfoot. Dusk had already fallen, but the windows flashed every three seconds—a pulse of illumination from the lights installed along the tracks and then gone, swallowed by the speed of the train. Elsewhere, the narrow compartments were crowded with light and noise: the soft golden chandeliers and the rattling of silverware against the food trolleys, the clink of a spoon tapping against a teacup and the glowing crystal lamps.

But here in the passageway into first class, there was only the sudden whoosh of the door as Rosalind Lang pushed it open, stepping into the semi-darkness with her heels clicking.

The paintings on the walls stared as she walked by, their beady eyes aglow in the dark. Rosalind clutched the box in her arms, careful to keep her leather gloves delicate around its edges, her elbows held out to either side of her. When she came to a stop outside the third door, she knocked with her shoe, tapping delicately at its base.

A beat passed. For a moment, only the chugging of the train could be heard. Then the softest shuffling came from the other side, and the door swung back, flooding the hallway with new light.

“Good evening,” Rosalind said politely. “Is this a good time?”

Mr. Kuznetsov stared at her, his brow furrowing as he made sense of the scene before him. Rosalind had been trying to secure an audience with the Russian merchant for days. She had bunkered down in Harbin and suffered the frigid temperatures without success, then followed him to Changchun, a city farther south. There, his people had failed to respond to her requests too, and it had almost seemed like a lost cause—that she would have to go about everything the rough way—until she caught wind of his plans to travel by train with a booking in first class, where the compartment rooms were large and the ceilings were low, where hardly anyone was around and sound was muffled by the thick, thick walls.

“I will call my guard—”

“Oh, don’t be foolish.”

Rosalind entered without invitation. The private first-class rooms were wide enough that she could have easily forgotten she was aboard a train… if it weren’t for the quivering walls, its papered floral pattern trembling each time the tracks grew rough. She looked around a while longer, eyeing the hatch that went up to the top of the train and the window to the far side of the room, its blinds drawn to block out the rapidly moving night. To the left of the four-poster bed, there was another set of doors that either gave way to a closet or a toilet.

A firm thud summoned Rosalind’s attention back to the merchant as he closed the main compartment door. When he turned around, his eyes darted along her person and then to the box in her hands, but he was not examining her qipao, nor the red flowers clipped onto the fur throw around her shoulders. Though Mr. Kuznetsov tried to be subtle about it, he was concerned about the box in her hands and whether she had brought in a weapon.

Rosalind was already gingerly lifting the lid from the box, presenting the contents inside with a flourish.

“A gift, Mr. Kuznetsov,” she said pleasantly. “From the Scarlet Gang, who have sent me here to make your acquaintance. Might we chat?”

She pushed the box forward with a flourish. It was a small Chinese vase, blue and white porcelain lying upon a bed of red silk. Adequately expensive. Not expensive enough to verge onto the point of outrage.

Rosalind held her breath until Mr. Kuznetsov reached in and picked it up. He examined the vase by the lights dangling from the ceiling, turning its neck this way and that, admiring the characters carved along the side. After a long while, he grunted what sounded like approval, walked over to a coffee table between two large seats, and set the vase down. There were already two teacups upon the table. An ashtray lay nearby, dusted with a smattering of black.

“The Scarlet Gang,” Mr. Kuznetsov muttered beneath his breath. He folded into one of the chairs, his back stiff against the upholstery. “I have not heard that name for some time now. Please, take a seat.”

Rosalind walked to the other chair, fixing the lid back onto her box and setting the box beside the chair. When she dropped into the seat, she only perched upon its edge, casting a glance once more at the closet doors to her left. The floor jolted.

“I assume you are the same girl who has been harassing my staff.” Mr. Kuznetsov switched from Russian to English. “Janie Mead, yes?”

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