Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Train: Chapter Six, Part One

Notes: We're back! And people are getting shot at! Woohoo! Into the action we go. Please don't kill me at the end.

Title: The Train: Chapter Six, Part One


Chapter Six, Part One


Anton had just finished downing a glass of water and was considering calling the porter to see about having a meal brought to him when Camille returned. A faint smiled curled his moustache upward, and there was an air about him that could only be dubbed ‘satisfied.’ Anton waited for him to close the door before interrogating him. “You look like a cat that got the cream. What did you find out?”

“Did you know,” Camille drawled as he took off his hat and set it on his bunk, “that the water used to supply our rooms comes from tanks set beneath the train?”

“Yes, Monsieur Cassan said as much when he welcomed us aboard.”

“And did you also know that there is a service ladder that passes alongside them, so that they may be reached and worked on more effectively?”

“That…makes sense…”

“And might I add,” Camille went on, his smile growing a bit wider, “that all of the tanks are connected? So that if, say, the train is heading downhill, the water within the tanks surges to the front of the train, leaving some of the rear tanks less full. Likewise, as we ascend, the tanks in the front of the train would empty, if there was not sufficient water within to keep them replete.” He tilted his head slightly, pinning Anton with a heavy-lidded stare that might have seemed lustful, had the subject matter been otherwise. “We entered the foothills late last night. We’re ascending steadily now, and when I tested the faucets in the Viscount’s private bath, they barely ran at all. The tank beneath his suite is likely less half full.”

“Are you…wait.” Anton shut his eyes for a moment, breathing away the tension in his shoulders and considering the issue at hand. Camille was leading him, teasing him with answers, but he could discover them on his own. “You think that Viscount Bonaparte was shot from below.”

“It’s the most logical conclusion from his death miasma.”

“Which means you think that his attacker had to be beneath his car. Actually within the water tank, which would be all right, since there was apparently room to breathe.”

“Each tank has a maintenance hatch in the top of it, large enough for a limber person to enter.” Camille’s smile dimmed a bit. “But I haven’t yet determined how whoever it was withstood the heat of the water within the tank. From what I understand, the spell keeping it warm is powered by the steam engine, so as long as the train is moving, the water must be hot. Almost boiling hot.”

The sense memory snapped into place in Anton’s mind, the wince that came from unrelentingly chill water on his hands. “But it wasn’t hot last night,” he said. “I remember, I had to relieve myself and the water from the taps…it was cold. It stayed cold.”

“Interesting.” Camille sat down across from Anton in one of the little sitting room chairs. He looked slightly odd, folding his long body into it, but he didn’t seem to care about the spectacle he made. “How, do you think, would a person manage that?”

“The easiest way would be shutting down the heating elements of the central spell, but that would be permanent unless you were the thaumaturge who wrought it in the first place. Seeing as we have hot water today, the next best thing would be a temporary glyph drawn on the tank itself. It would have to be big, and it wouldn’t last for long, but…” Anton thought the problem through a bit more. “If it were in chalk, you might have, oh, five minutes? Wax would be a bit better, but on a hot tank I wouldn’t risk it.”

Camille’s smile was back in full force. Anton, so unused of late to obvious approbation, basked in it. “Well-reasoned,” he said. “The next thing to do, then, is to confirm that this is the case.” He stood up and put his hat back on, then held a hand out to Anton. “Are you ready to do a bit of climbing?”

Anton almost reflexively took the hand before his brain caught him with him. “Climb―wait, you want to―”

“Of course. We can’t waste any time.”

“But the train is still moving! And there’s actual snow on the ground outside now.” Spring hadn’t yet caught up to this part of France.

“Then it will be bracing. Come now.” Camille wiggled his fingers and Anton rolled his eyes, then accepted the hand up. Even with the assistance, his head spun a bit as he got to his feet.

Camille frowned. “Are you unwell?”

“Just hungry.” Anton managed a smile. “I’ll go gallivanting beneath the train with you, but after that we’re ordering something to eat.”

“Understandable.” Camille stared at Anton in silence for a long moment, before Anton realized he was still gripping the man’s hand.

“My apologies,” he muttered, feeling an unflattering blush spread across his cheeks. “We should go.”

“We should, yes.” Camille didn’t hurry, though, continuing his perusal of Anton’s discomfort until it had gone beyond the bounds of simple rudeness into something that might, possibly, be fascination. But that was ridiculous, and Anton was starving.

“Shall we, then?”


The passengers knew better than to push and pull at them now as they moved, although several of the other consuls, including Olivier, shot them dark looks. As they reached the front of the train, Camille led Anton down the little hall that led to the engineer’s booth. “The only way to access the ladder that leads to the bottom of the train is through the booth,” he explained as they squeezed up to the front. The air was colder here, evidence of less insulation, and the noise of the engine was far louder. “That is where the shooter must have descended as well, unless he or she is capable of some remarkable feats of acrobatics.”

“Which is possible, with the right spells,” Anton said.

“Possible, but rather a lot of work to go to when the easiest thing is to use the mechanical device provided. If spellwork was used, then it could have been used to trick the engineer into not seeing them.”

“Or he might be in collusion with the killer,” Anton offered.

“Not something we can overlook, but I’ve spoken to the man, and his apprentice, and they both seem genuinely astonished by the turn of events.” Camille shrugged slightly, then rapped on the door to the engineer’s booth. It opened a moment later, revealing a slight young man, hardly older than a boy, in the baggy striped uniform of a train’s conductor. “H’lo, Lordship,” he said, bobbing a little bow as he got out of the way. “Da, Lordship’s back!”

“Good, good.” The actual conductor in charge of the train was only a few inches taller than his son, and brown from the sun that shined through the glass at the front of the booth. “The faster you find what you’re looking for, the faster you gents can be out of my booth, beggin’ your pardon, Lord,” he said briskly. “It’s a mite cramped up here for two—four’d lead to bloodshed in minutes.”

Camille smiled, unoffended. “We won’t be long, sir. If you could open the trapdoor for us?”

“Aye, course.” Rather than reaching down and picking up a panel, though, he pressed down on a pedal. Anton heard something clang, but he couldn’t see it. “You’ll want to head out the left door here,” the man continued. “Hold onto the rail nice an’ tight, and if you need help, call for Bert.” He ruffled his son’s hair. The lad jerked his head back, but he was smiling. “Be careful, sirs.”

“We shall be.” Camille set his hat aside again, and indicated that Anton should do the same. “Come on then.”

Anton tried to keep the astonishment off his face, but he knew he hadn’t succeeded well enough, the way Bert was softly snickering at him. He steeled himself and followed Camille out of the booth, and immediately grabbed onto the polished brass rail with both hands. Bloody hell, it was cold out here. Camille was already rounding the front of the train, stepping carefully down to the nose of the machine, where a neat round hold that Anton hadn’t even realized was there had suddenly appeared.

“Why is this out here?” Anton demanded, shouting over the noise of the wind as he picked his way along the rail.

“Space considerations—the luxury is for the passengers, not the workers,” Camille shouted back as he levered himself through the hole feet-first. “Do hurry up. I need your eyes on this.” Then he was gone, leaving Anton dangling against the side of the train in the wind by himself. He glanced back up at the little booth, where Bert waved cheerfully as soon as he saw him looking.

“Ridiculous,” Anton grumbled, but he followed suit. There was indeed a ladder beneath the train, less something to climb along though, more something to scoot his back against as he slowly made his way. The noise from the engine was deafening, the heat of burning fuel and steam from the water tank a strange dichotomy to the cold he felt on the side that wasn’t closest to them. He made his way laboriously, carefully, and by the time he got to Camille, who had politely made room for him ten feet back, he was more than done with the whole endeavor.

“Any sign of a glyph or sigil?” Anton asked as he cast his eyes along the side of the main water tank. The dark, linked contraptions extended down as far as his eye could see, but this was the largest by far.

“Not that I can tell,” Camille replied. “But it might be that I’m looking with the wrong sort of eyes.”

Wrong sort of…oh. It was one of the earliest things a thaumaturge learned, and one of the few which didn’t take any sort of equipment: aura detection. The ability to see something magical, even if it wasn’t evident to the naked eye. Anton relaxed his jaw, took a deep breath, and let his eyes wander. Nothing seemed to stand out at first, but as he got slightly further into his trance, he realized—

“There.” He pointed. “Black chalk, it’s hard to see against the dirt. It’s been imbued with something that diminishes its aura as well, but I can make it out. A freezing glyph.” Large and powerful and rather sloppy.

“Freezing? Wouldn’t that result in no water at all?”

“Not from chalk,” Anton replied. “It can’t contain the power well enough. It would chill things off, but the heat would return almost as quickly as it left.”

“Interesting.” Camille nodded once. “Give me a moment to confirm.” He vanished further down the ladder, and Anton took the opportunity to close his eyes. His headache was coming back, getting worse. He needed food, and tea, and a few minutes to catch his breath. He’d be lucky if he didn’t tip over into a migraine at this point.

He didn’t even notice Camille’s reappearance until the man was beside him, their bodies pressed together. Camille looked at him tensely, but only said, “We had better get back inside.” He helped Anton along, steadying him when necessary, until they were both upright at the front of the train again.

God, the headache was excruciating. It was all Anton could do to hold on. Camille’s long fingers closed over his on the rail, keeping his grip firm. “Come on,” he murmured. “Just a little bit further, come on.” They shuffled along the train together, but by the time they got to the door Anton felt like his head was going to split in two. Which was―not from a headache. It was the resonance spell, which meant…

He put it together almost too late. Anton jerked his eyes toward the far door, the entrance to the booth, which was open just a crack. The muzzle of a gun protruded into the space, and neither Bert nor his father had seen it. It swiveled toward him and Camille, and Anton reacted violently, ramming his shoulder into Camille so hard they both almost fell from their precarious perch, trying to get them out of the doorway and the sites of that deadly weapon.


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