Title: The Train: Chapter Four, Part Two
Chapter Four, Part Two
Anton blinked dumbly. “A what?” he asked, not at all sure he was hearing things correctly.
“A murder,” Lord Lumière repeated. “Get dressed immediately. You need to be fast to get an accurate reading of a death miasma, do you not?”
Lord Lumière sighed deeply. “Are you always this slow in the mornings, or is this a particularly bad day for you? Look at me.” He stepped directly in front of Anton and looked him in the eyes. It was a strange feeling, being in the focal point of such an amorphous individual. Anton briefly felt like if he looked away, he might not be shocked to find that nothing else around him was clear any longer. “There has been a murder. Thus far I have been able to keep the curious masses away from the body, but the longer I’m parted from the scene, the less my influence can hold them back. I need you to get dressed, Consul Hasler, and accompany me to the body, where you will attempt to deduce any and all information you can from the man’s death miasma. Is that clear?”
A murder. It was almost too much to believe. Anton had just seen a man murdered yesterday; what were the odds of such a thing happening again, in so short a span? “Consul Hasler was not a specialist in death miasmas,” Anton said, finally reaching for his day clothes and beginning to change. Under less extreme circumstances he might have been a bit shy about changing in front of Camille, but his brain was still working to catch up to his body.
“His specialty was in weaponry, which will still apply here. Moreover, his resume was indistinct, and no one else here should have a working knowledge of it anyway.” Camille was very clearly barely holding himself back from pacing. As soon as Anton’s shirt was buttoned, he handed over his black jacket. “This was hanging up outside the car.”
That had been returned by the porter much faster than Anton had anticipated. He hastily threw it on, gathered up his hat and holdall, then looked at Camille. He was very aware that his hair was still in disarray, his face was stubbled and his eyes still at half-mast from being woken so abruptly. “Will I do?”
Camille’s expression changed to something softer than Anton had seen on him yet. He reached out and turned the collar of Anton’s jacket down, so it no longer touched the bottoms of his ears. “You’ll do,” he agreed. “Now, we must hurry.”
Forcing a path through the throng of people lining the halls should have been nearly impossible, but for such an invisible man, Lord Lumière was frightfully good with his elbows. He pushed his way through the crowd and Anton followed close like a duckling, clutching his holdall to his chest as they went. They passed through the sleep cars, through the dining car, and to the lounge. Several people waited outside the door that connected the lounge car to the suite beyond it: the Viscount’s personal servants, both of them appearing stunned and upset; Monsieur Cassan, the trainmaster; and a small gaggle of black-jacketed advisors, none of them looking satisfied.
“See here, Lumière,” Consul Olivier—naturally it would be him, Anton couldn’t escape him for a bloody moment—huffed. “You can’t expect us to stand around out here twiddling our damn fingers with the Viscount’s body cooling within! We should be working to solve this, man, not wasting time waiting for you to fetch a blooming thaumaturge. I intend no offense of course,” he added in an aside to Anton, “but—”
“You will do exactly as I tell you, sir.” Lord Lumière’s voice was so cold Anton felt the hair on the back of his neck rise. “Otherwise I shall have to charge you with interfering in the emperor’s affairs. Such a thing could be construed as treason.”
Consul Olivier’s broad face went red with anger. “My lord, you cannot—”
But Lord Lumière was already ignoring him, turning back to Anton and speaking in a low voice. “How long do you need with the body?”
Anton stared at him blankly. “The Viscount is the one who’s dead?”
“Isn’t that obvious? How long, Consul?”
Anton fought the urge to slap himself to wake up a bit faster. “Um, a quarter of an hour, perhaps. The spell is fairly easy to cast, but it needs time to permeate the room.”
“May I observe any of the proceedings?”
“The end, if you wish it,” Anton agreed. “Once the spell is cast and extended, I have a brief window in which to activate the observational component of it. I could call you back in for that.”
“Please do so.” He took a key from Monsieur Cassan’s unresisting hand and opened the door. It was dark inside. “And please,” he said softly. “Do not disturb the corpse.”
Don’t tell me how to do my job, Anton almost snapped, but he held his tongue and entered the room. The door shut behind him, and Anton was left alone with the body of Viscount Bonaparte.
It was almost too dark to set up his equipment, but fortunately one of the drapes had been pulled slightly apart, letting in a sliver of sunshine. Anton began by removing his pewter stand and the silver censing bowl that it was made to cradle, setting them up in the corner of the train car. The train was still moving; he felt the rumble of tracks beneath his knees as he set up his equipment, but the motion was dulled by thick, lush carpeting. The viscount lay a few feet away, sprawled out flat on his face, his head closer to the door than his bare feet. Anton could smell the blood in the air, and winced. He wasn’t at all fond of fresh corpses, although they were much easier to get a telling miasma from.
Anton pulled the mix of herbs, spices and slivers of shaved metal that accompanied a spell like this from his holdall and went to work. He had retained his silver wand through the mugging, thank goodness—silver was as neutral a metal as one could use in cases of discovering death miasmas. For any work actually touching the body, gold was a far better conductor, but Anton had been forced to give up his gold wand when it became apparent that his muggers wouldn’t be satisfied with nothing.
He shook his head slightly, trying to push the sound of his attacker’s voices from his head. He had work to do. Work to focus on. His life might depend on how well he performed right now. Anton pulled out his chalk and drew a series of interlocking symbols on the floor around the stand, signaling his alchemical intent. He prepared the match, conjured up the appropriate spell in his head, and spoke it aloud. The match flared brightly, lit by power, and Anton quickly lowered it to the herbal mixture before it could flame out. It caught, and smoke began to rise. Anton removed a fresh paper fan from his holdall and waved it gently, spreading the smoke through the room. As it moved, it began to coalesce around the body. Anton watched as it became vaguely recognizable, began to move, and then—
Curious. He turned and rapped gently on the door. It opened a crack. “Are you ready, Consul?” Lord Lumière asked.
“Come in. Slowly,” Anton emphasized. “Don’t open the door any further than you must.” Lord Lumière slid inside, still perfectly oblivious to the huffs and queries behind him, and shut the door. “Watch,” Anton instructed as his companion came to a stop beside him.
The smoke had been slightly disturbed by the draft from the door, but the image was still quite obvious. The gauzy grey figure emerged from the bed, walked to the center of the room, bent over, and then abruptly collapsed. Curls of smoke crept across the floor, mimicking the living blood escaping from the body, expanding into a broad pool before suddenly the image reset.
“Fascinating,” Camille remarked quietly. “I’ve never seen a death miasma appear in such detail before. You know your trade, Anton.”
The approbation of a man Anton hardly knew shouldn’t have felt so good, but nevertheless, his shoulders straightened some at the praise. “Thank you. It’s rather strange though, isn’t it?”
“It is, for many reasons. What is your observation in particular?”
“Just that…the smoke should have shown signs of any living thing in the room at the moment of death, even those not directly connected to the viscount. The psychic shock usually leaves an image behind, although it would be much fainter. But there is no one else, and he didn’t die of a heart attack, clearly.”
“Clearly.” They watched the smoky figure go through the motions again, and again, until after a few more minutes it dissipated into nothing. Anton exhaled heavily, feeling the spell drawing away some of his reserves as it fell apart, then bent his head and prepared to clean up.
The pressure of Camille’s hand on his shoulder startled him, and he looked up in confusion, ready to ask what else was needed. The words died in his throat as their eyes met, Anton struck dumb once again, but this time from surprise rather than fatigue. “Thank you,” Camille said, and Anton let himself lean into the weight of Camille’s hand as he nodded.
The moment ended when Camille straightened up, strode over to the nearest window and threw open the drapes. Anton winced at the sudden influx of sunlight into the room, then forgot all about cleaning away his equipment as Lord Lumière pulled a measuring string from his pocket.
He stood over the body, taking note of the position it lay in. He stretched his string out over the blood stain, examined path from the viscount must have taken, even stared hard at the velvet slippers at the foot of the bed. “Odd.”
“What is odd?” Anton asked, finally remembering to move. He tipped the ashes out of the bowl into a tiny linen bag, tied it shut and stowed it inside the holdall, then wiped the silver bowl off and set it inside as well. He’d clean it properly when he got back to their car.
“Everything here is odd, but some things do stand out. You say there is no sign of the murderer.”
“No.” Anton was sure about that. “They would have appeared in some way within the miasma, unless,” he let himself chuckle a bit, “unless there was nothing for the spell to detect within them, but no thaumaturge has yet discovered a way to shield someone’s living soul.”
Lord Lumière shook his head in irritation. “There’s no need to get outlandish,” he chided. “But the viscount was shot, straight through the heart. You yourself saw the blood spread across the floor.”
“Then we have a number of apparent oddities in this room. One is the viscount’s manner of death, and how it was achieved from outside the room. Another,” and now he caught Anton’s gaze again, “is what happened to most of his blood. There isn’t nearly enough staining the carpet to account for it.”
Ah, yes. Anton looked over at the pool and realized that the smoke had spread much farther than that. “What else?” he asked.
“Many things, which we shall begin to discover from the crowd in the lounge. Come.” He offered Anton a hand and pulled him to his feet. “It’s time to begin the trickiest part of any investigation: discovering who knows what, and whether or not they’re lying.”