Mercy Killing 1: Near-Death Experience

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It was early afternoon when Izuho Taniguchi ended her stay of several hours in the Third Officio's hospital wing. A hulking Eversor with a tendency to loom over her patients, wrapped up in what might charitably be called a costume: An ill-fitting patchwork of dark purple woolen cloth, kevlar and pieces of metal armour. Clearly designed, as she knew all too well, for someone who kept the sort of shape that was generally intended for a human; no longer quite sufficient, but it would have to do. In some ways, it looked like something that might be more at home attached to a siege engine of some sort, but then, she supposed, that wasn't entirely off the mark. Not clothing or even armour so much as a holster for a weapon, in a manner of speaking.

It wasn't that she needed the hospital herself, of course. ...Well, that wasn't entirely true. It was a useful vent, whether that was the point of visiting or not. Find a few of the wounded to apply some of her spare energy to. It wasn't enough, but it took some of the strain off her, and it meant that the Third had almost no need for any other medical care. There wasn't a great deal that an application of pure life force couldn't fix.

Best to spend what she could before it overflowed, anyway.

The last ten minutes or so had been occupied by cleaning up the mess she had left, as usual. Every two hours, like clockwork, she would find an ideally discreet place and... there was really no good way to put it. If an injection was out of the question, it would be a knife to the throat or a bullet through the head. The former, this time. Regular near-death experiences to keep her powers in check, distracted with rebuilding a broken body. Still, it was messy, and needless to say, remarkably painful. Practice made it easier, at least.

"I want to live". Four of the most poorly considered words she had ever said.

The walk down to the Venenum's office – as per the instructions on her phone – earned her a good few stares, but then, so did just about every waking moment. A massive, somewhat misshapen Eversor was enough of a sight, even when she didn't have, say, a vestigial hand growing out of one elbow on that particular day, to take one past example. Overflowing life force tended to find its home in no end of regenerative mutations. Her veined eyes and the bags under them testified to no end of sleep deprivation, even if that no longer affected her health. Not much did. It was still easier than passing without notice outside, at least.

Not having to wear a cloak to cover all the partial and broken weapons sticking out of her was, after all, something of an improvement. She settles down on a bench along the way and opens up her lunchbox – something of a misnomer with how rarely she used it to store food these days. Instead, she picks out three grief seeds, grimacing slightly as she looks them over. It was inevitable, of course, with the sheer amount of magic she expended just existing. The details were beyond her, but Harumi had suggested that it was unwise for anyone in this profession to go without grief seeds for long if they spent as much power as she did.

Now, if only she could use them normally. Still, beggars couldn't be choosers. She swallows one after the other, wincing slightly at the sharp sting. Why did they have to be so sharply pointed? At least it would dissolve quickly enough. Funny; somehow, swallowing a tiny sphere with a spike on the end made her more uncomfortable than slitting her own throat. Maybe she could look into another way, one of these days, to get through her dosages.

The Venenum's office lay ahead. They had belonged to the same officio for a while, but not had a great deal of time to speak before, and now she had an outright request to enter the laboratory. Curious and, given that she had largely supplanted the work any healer might have at the Third, more than a little awkward. It might have been strange to feel a sort of faint guilt over treating the wounded, but then, there was so much in this life that made little sense.

The door was plain enough, wooden and adorned with a brass plate: Penelope Baines, Venenum. A scratch reaches across the name, and under it, an addition in black marker, in the sort of handwriting that spoke of the highest levels of medical enlightenment: 'Penny Dreadful'. She'd heard the title before, certainly; that it was at the Venenum's insistence was news to her.

The woman was a knight, she was certain of it; all the more reason to look forward to this meeting. The profession was, to her faint embarrassment, among her long-standing fascinations. One of the Knights Hospitaller, perhaps. Those still existed, didn't they? She was almost certain she had read something to that effect before. Of course, some would tell her Britain was no longer a land of knights – that she was pinning some entirely unreasonable hopes on one of the Third's few foreign members – but the existence of the Second made her point for her well enough, or so she liked to think.

It only left the question, really, of why she was being brought here, but that question would be answered soon enough. She brushes a little strand of blue out of her eyes, and knocks on the door.


She missed the cauldrons, she really did. It had to be vats, lately. Sanitary reasons, they had said, as well as ensuring consistent results. Well, maybe that was for the best; the less they tried to look like witches, the better. The cat stayed, though, for as long as it could keep itself out of an accident. A bedraggled half-stray tabby that spent most of its time bumping into equipment or table legs head-first, and occasionally biting her leg.

As cats went, Rags was not an especially good one, but this one was hers. At least, the cat seemed to think so, and she was in no hurry to correct it.

Now, sprayer in working order, vats bubbling – she had always set the spare ones to bubble, just for the look of the thing – and the remainder of the chemical stocks were churning in a way that vaguely implied progress. Fooling around with schematics would have to wait a little longer, but that was alright, she had enough to occupy herself with.

She would need names, too. They didn't have names yet for half of her concoctions, and as much as the implications from that pleased her, it was all a little inconvenient. Except for the barrel of warm, thick yellowish liquid behind her, of course. Everyone recognised custard just fine, even if she didn't let most of them dip into her personal supply. What if she went sharing it around and needed a fresh batch for herself in some sort of emergency? What then?

She would be able to imagine just that sort of emergency some day, she was sure of it. Everyone had their vices, and this was hers. Well, this and unspeakably noxious chemicals.

The Venenum climbs up a ladder, cracking open a tall container of some roiling acid and scooping up a cup of it. The cup would hold for a while, at least; meanwhile, she leans in to take a long sniff of the gasses that stung her eyes and burned her skin. Nothing she could ever get away with as an ordinary human, as she would happily admit, but she enjoyed the smell, and a little burning never killed anyone. ...Not anyone like her, at least. Just one of the job's little perks.

Transforming on her way – might as well make the right sort of impression – she goes to answer the knock at the door, right on time, swinging the door wide open with such speed that it slams into the wall, before greeting the newcomer with open eyes and an ear-to-ear smile.

“Yer richt on time! Come in, come in! Welcome to tha lair o' Penny Dreadful!” She leaned in to add a little conspiratorial whisper, as if sharing her greatest secret with the recently arrived Eversor. “M.D., o'course.”

“Er... good afternoon, Miss Baines”, came the answer, the guest lumbering into the laboratory with all the nervous caution of a frightened mouse, trying her best not to knock anything over. A guffaw from Penelope is the only answer she receives for this.

“Aye, aye, guid affie an' whitnot. Nae need ta be so stiff, Izzy. Didna think ye'd be sae quick! Most keep me waitin' for yonks, jes' dinna ken how to hurry! Real treat, it is.” While the Venenum was hardly imposing – slightly rounded and strutting about her laboratory in a sweater and jeans, with a mop of orange hair – she certainly made every effort to intimidate. She wore a bright red, chemical-spattered coat and a black hat more at place on a highwayman, like a tricorne that woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Her pockets practically overflowed with rusted, blood-encrusted scissors and scalpels, while a bulky tool belt held no end of vials, as well as a pair of wickedly sharp claws.

Then there was the grin, right under a pair of uncannily bright green eyes; Izuho, at least, was rather certain that it would have made a shark uncomfortable.

“M.D.? So you're-” she asked, before being cut off. 'Penny' seemed inordinately pleased by the question, as if she had been waiting for it.

“Mean an' devious”, she answers with a little cackle. “Dead chuffed tae meit ye.”

Peeling her eyes away from the gallery of toxins and acids around her, not to mention its caretaker, Izuho forced herself to focus, though not without being a little mystified by the entire experience. Certainly, from what she had heard, the Venenum had been in Japan for some time and should be able to speak the language without difficulty, but every word was wrapped up in a nigh-impenetrable accent, and that was before she started bringing in words that could only be guessed at. It didn't quite add up, or so she liked to think.

Then again, it was getting harder to put anything past the chemist with every passing moment.

“You needed me for something, Miss- I mean, Penny? If this is about the hospital wing, then I'm sorry, but-”

“Naw, I dinna care fer havin' ta deal with doctorin'. Fykie business. Ye took a right heavy load off me back, mm? Naw need tae g'won aboot wark; ye want a tour o' th' lab?” An eager, pointy-toothed smile for the newcomer, as she gestured towards the labyrinth of nightmarish chemicals ahead.

Before she knew what she was doing, Izuho had agreed. Curiosity got the better of her.


“...An' that one's th' sprayer, loaded up with a noo batch. Reckon that's it! Anythin' ta speir at me over?”

“Is it true that you came from the Second?” The chemist blinked once, twice, apparently not expecting the topic, then burst into peals of laughter. It takes a while for her to wipe her eye with a slightly seared plastic glove, calming down enough to answer.

“Naw. Sec'nd disna tak thugs, y'see? All about bluidlines an' whitnot. I got na bluidlines, jes' a wrench an' some poison.” Another of her grins as she waves a surprisingly normal wrench about, retrieving it from one of her pockets. “Willna take me, an' that's foyn. Came here instead; Mita-whatsit's a guid toun.”

“...Ah.” Well, that explained a few things. “Er... what did you need me here for, again?”

This time, Penelope was far more eager to explain than before, hefting the large, chrome-plated chemical sprayer and its pair of sloshing canisters up in her arms, giving it a meaningful tap as she looks at the Eversor.

“Gotta fresh batch of th' mean stuff right 'ere, brand noo mix! So I tole me phone, 'git th'... th' lairge one, th' melty lassie, Izzy. Naw one o' th' wee 'uns.”

“I'm not really sure how-”

“Wir project, aye? Jes' wirs.” A hurt glance meets Izuho's faintly skeptical look. “Oof, dinna lookit me like that. Nothin' daft, just hafta make guid an' sure th' whole barrae's all richt.”

“...How do I come into this?” The Eversor asks, with a faint sinking feeling.

“Bin nearly two oors by noo, mm?”

“...Ah. Thank you?”

“Ye're walcome, think naethin avvit!”

The next ten minutes passed in a blur, which was perhaps for the best. When any sort of clarity returned to the world, the testing area was drenched and covered in smoke, while most of Izuho was reduced to a collection of bone and chemical burns. She couldn't help but be a little impressed despite herself, both by the effect and the sheer power of the painkillers she had received beforehand. A shame that the latter kept her from being able to walk just yet.

“Guid wark, guid wark. Hol' still, aye? Looks like I skailed some of th' ole nasty bubblies. Dinna want tae touch it. Wad keep yerself t'gether till ya can move richt again. Got somethin' for ye in a second. ...Ah! Y'need any scran, Izzie?”

The baffled look must have been taken as agreement; it did not take long for the Venenum to return with a bowl of what looked to be, of all the things she might find in a lab, custard with pieces of fruit floating in it. Presented, admittedly, with a cheery warning to avoid getting any on the currently-exposed portions of her skull.

Well, that would heal soon enough.

“An' while I mynd, I've got some o' these for ye.” A small box lined with, as far as Izuho could tell, syringes. “Will nae even sting! Jes' a little tickle, real tidy!” She gave her visitor – and until a moment ago, test subject – an enthusiastic pat on the back, only to pull her partially skewered and bloody palm away. She should have noticed the exposed blade, really. Best not to mention it.

In passing, it occurs to the Eversor that she should have felt perhaps a little less grateful to receive a boxed set of lethal injections. Then again, there was no arguing the convenience of it; it was some sort of consideration, after a fashion.

“Oh! Dinna forget to bring th' greetseeds in the morn's morn, now! Gotta grind 'em up for ye, see if we can see how t'make...” She thinks for a moment, then chuckles. “I dinnae ken, some kinda sad milkshake?”

Staggering out of the office ten or twenty minutes later with – of all things – repeated thanks to Penelope despite herself, she could only wonder what she should expect of their next meeting, and if, judging by what she had heard, every Venenum was...

It takes a moment to realise that her last question had been said out loud, and then only by the laughter behind her?

“Barmy? Jes' Vennies? Hah! Maun be noo 'ere. Dinna ken much aboot th' job yet? All guid, ye'll learn.”