Vivian Xu swore she would never find herself in this predicament ever again. She dug her fingertips into the leather armrests as her heart pounded. Despite the uncomfortable circumstances, she couldn’t complain about the view. Seated across from her in the library was the most exquisite creature she’d yet to consort with. He was an intriguing morsel of a man with well-defined cheekbones, eyes sculpted from ice, and an expression daring Vivian to prove his diagnosis wrong.
Narrow, jade eyes seethed under his brows set against a pale complexion. His black hair was parted in two waves that spilled over his ears but didn’t quite reach past his angular jaw. His lips were well-suited for menacing smiles or bestowing sage words of counsel that drew Vivian deeper into his nexus of dark allure. Vivian supposed this wasn’t the worst way to land back in therapy.
“Can you describe the events that led to your post-traumatic syndrome?” asked Dr. Elijah Merrick. It was a bold question coming from a man who only made her acquaintance two weeks ago. That roughly coincided with the same time when Elijah was invited to stay at the Vesely Manor in Prague. Predictably, he secluded himself in the library like any hermetic intellectual.
Technically, Elijah was a psychiatrist operating in a less than official capacity since his license was revoked. Despite that major oversight, Vivian didn’t mind spending a little quality time with her new roommate.
She could only imagine what Elijah must think of her based on appearances alone. Chinese and Taiwanese blood poured through her veins, but her true heritage was rooted in Prague's cybergoth scene. Never was this more apparent than in Vivian’s face, beginning with the waterfall of scarlet hair tumbling past her shoulders.
A razor-sharp sense of humor and mischief smoldered behind the crimson contacts eclipsing her eyes. Her porcelain skin was rampant with images of Lilith, Victorian lace, demonic eyes, sigils, and alchemy. She was quickly running out of flesh to imbue with tattoos, but that could always be remedied with a corrective laser. After all, what good was flesh if not for modifying?
Her affinity for the decadent extended well into her wardrobe, as she was clad in one of her more striking corsets. She wondered if Elijah paid any attention to the lace overlay, extravagantly stylized to resemble gears and bewildering, industrial elements. As a finishing touch, black leggings dripped down her slender legs before ending in a pair of combat boots.
Vivian scanned the room that would become the virtual arena between her mind and Elijah’s for the next hour.
Chairs lie before ornately carved cabinets stocked with volumes of prose, mythology, and philosophy. Scarlet rugs flowed between the aisles of books, leading any would-be traveler to their next conquest for the arcane.
Manuscripts and old prints composed the vast majority of the library’s collection. Vivian wandered how much of it was dedicated to the occult, which seemed to hold the primary interest of the Vesely bloodline.
Situated to the right of Elijah’s desk was a cabinet of curiosities housing stone effigies, crystals, and books steeped in alchemical lore. Burning incense every morning was one of the few habits that Elijah Merrick carried over from his former life in Thailand, and today was no exception. Fine smoke heralding the scent of sea mist flowed like tendrils across his desk.
Statues and taxidermied ravens sat atop the bookshelves behind Elijah, ever watchful of their eccentric caretaker.
Elijah’s sanctuary, Vivian thought.
“Did you hear what I just said?”
“What?” Vivian said, snapping forward in her chair.
“I asked what you believe to be the underlying cause of your PTSD.”
“Sorry about that, Elijah. My mind has been somewhat preoccupied lately.”
“Yes, that much is clear,” he said, eyeing the newspaper that she hadn’t stopped reading since she entered the library. How could he not notice the lurid headline beckoning him?
The Žižkov Fiend claims a third victim.
“Is this the next fixation of your detective agency?”
Vivian nodded eagerly.
“The police believe this is the same culprit responsible for a killing spree in the Žižkov District stretching back to 1990. The kidnappings and murders abruptly stopped when leads dried up and no more victims were found. However, his signature killings reappeared two months ago and launched a nationwide manhunt. So yes, you could say he has become my primary focus.”
Elijah pensively regarded the incense burner on his desk.
“Why has the news media dubbed him the Žižkov Fiend?”
“The way he goes about killing and disposing of the bodies is truly horrendous. Three investigators have already recused themselves from the case due to traumatic impact.”
“Interesting. So tell me, what has the killer done to the bodies?”
Vivian sighed and leaned back in her chair.
“First, it’s never been replicated outside of museums. The victims are killed and plastinated before being put on public display. That is to say, the killer replaces the water and fat in their bodies with a plastic polymer, turning them into a hardened shell. He also arranges the bodies to resemble something you would see only in a nightmare sequence. None of his victims have been properly identified as a result.”
“That certainly fits the actions of a fiend. What makes you think you’re up to the task of stopping this killer?”
Vivian scoffed gently. Words that were intended as a moment of self-reflection came across as a brazen challenge.
“Aren’t you familiar with my track record by now, Elijah? I’ve brought down two serial killers and I dismantled an organ trafficking ring in the past five. I think I can handle the Žižkov Fiend.”