Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Train: Chapter Three, Part Two

Notes: On we go! Trust me, I know the timetable on this, we're looking at a novella, not a hundred thousand words, but I'm really, reeeeaally enjoying writing this. There may be more. Just puttin' that out there. Thanks for reading, darlins!

Title: The Train: Chapter Three, Part Two:


Chapter Three, Part Two


“What are your conditions?” Anton asked, keeping what he thought was an admirable outward calm, while inside his mind was racing. This man, this lumière, held the literal power of life and death over him. If he reported Anton to the Viscount’s guards, Anton could count on being arrested. If he changed his mind and decided to dispatch Anton at any point of the journey, well, what could he do about that? They shared a room, and Lord Lumière had the Emperor’s blessing to act with near-impunity. All he needed was probable cause, and Anton’s life was forfeit.

Be helpful. Be gracious. Charm him, he told himself. Anton had worked under enough powerful men that he knew how to soothe their egos. And, at times, his soothing had not stopped there. Anton’s genuine preference for his own sex, while not flaunted, was something he shared when he detected a mutual interest. The intimacy had never hurt him, and usually benefitted him. He resolutely refused to consider what his parents would have thought of him essentially whoring himself out for personal advancement, but such activity was safer when the other man had a higher position, and more to lose from a revelation.

Time would tell whether Lord Lumière was that sort of man; it was far too soon to say, and he was clever enough that Anton might never know. But he could not go wrong with remembering his manners.

“There are several: two minor, one major. First: you do what I ask of you, when I ask it, without complaint or question. I have no intention of using you for anything, but should the need arise I don’t want to waste time arguing. Two—”

“What if I find it morally objectionable?” Anton could have smacked himself for interrupting, but it was genuinely important to him.

Lord Lumière frowned. “Give me an example.”

“I would really rather not murder anyone.” Anton could defend himself when pressed—as he had been earlier in the day—but even then, he didn’t feel anything other than sick at the prospect of injuring another person. “Or harm them at all, unless we would otherwise lose our lives.”

“I think I can agree to that,” Lord Lumière said. “Anything else?”

Anton was sure there were other things, but perhaps he could bring them up later. “That’s the greatest of them. Please, proceed.”

The man smiled with just the corner of his mouth. “Very kind of you. The second minor caveat: you play your role to the hilt. If you are Consul Hasler, you are him continually, and our acquaintance must appear to be merely one of circumstance. That will not preclude your use of magic; Consul Hasler was known to be a thaumaturge, although his specialty was in designing and imbuing weaponry.”

Oh, dear. Then he’d likely been killed by his own knife. That was the worst, most shameful sort of end for any thaumaturge: to die caught in a spell of their own making. Many a good practitioner had lost their mind, their health and their life to a simple mistake, or attempting a spell that they weren’t properly prepared for. Anton bit his lip in sympathy.

“Are you well?”

“Hmm? Oh, yes,” he stammered after a moment. “Just thinking, that’s all. It’s nothing. What is the third thing?”

Lord Lumière clearly didn’t believe his attempt at levity, but he graciously let the odd moment pass. “The third, and major caveat: that you cast no spells on me, or use magical devices that directly affect my person, for any reason whatsoever.”

What a terribly odd request. Magic was…basic, a fundament of human existence. Priests worked magic, kings worked magic; everyone alive worked it, to some extent. Thaumaturges had discovered the rules of magic, ways to preserve it, increase it, and direct it, and they had a natural talent for its use. But Anton had never heard of anyone flat-out denying it before. “Nothing?”

“Nothing,” Lord Lumière affirmed.

“What if it might save your life?”

“Not even then.”

Anton was utterly baffled. “Why on earth not?” Perhaps the man had an uncomfortable synaesthetic reaction to it? Such things were rare, but popped up on occasion. “Do you suffer from an allergy, or a phobia?”

“You’re rather blunt when in pursuit of knowledge, aren’t you, Mr. Seiber?”

That was not an amused tone. And the way he said Mr. Seiber let Anton know, unequivocally, that he was not in favor at the moment. He backtracked.

“It’s a bad habit of mine,” he explained, genuinely bashful but playing it up just a bit. “I apologize for overstepping the bounds of polite company. No spells, then. Done. And please,” he added, “call me Anton. At least when we’re in here. Mr. Seiber always makes me think of my father.” And that isn’t such a bad thing, but Anton couldn’t allow melancholia to run off with him now. He needed to stay sharp.

Lord Lumière nodded. “We have an accord, then. And you may call me Camille, if it suits you. But only, as you say, in here.” It was a surprising offer of familiarity, and Anton gratefully accepted.

“So,” he said, mustering some enthusiasm. The ache in his head was finally abating, but the hunger pangs emanating from his stomach made up for it. He hadn’t eaten since early that morning, a pitiful, stale croissant and a cup of weak tea. “What now, Camille?”

Camille pulled a dark grey pocket watch from the front of his vest. The metal was silver, with some sort of engraving decorating the surface of it, but it was so heavily tarnished that Anton couldn’t make it out. The state of the watch was a strange non-sequiter, for a man who appeared to take fastidious care with his appearance. “Soon it will be time for dinner. I recommend you arrive a bit early, so as to pass off to Consul Olivier what he’s seeking.”

Right. “About that…” Anton paused. “Um. I’m not actually sure what he said, to be perfectly honest.”

Camille’s moustache twitched. Anton decided to ignore the fact that he was being quietly laughed at. After a moment, the man said, “Benthic refers to the very deepest area of a body of water, and a cock hackle likely indicates an item adorned with feathers from a cock. I assume it’s some sort of fishing equipment.”

“Oh, that! Anton delved back into Consul Hasler’s valise and emerged with the elaborate fly. “I was wondering why he’d included this in there,” he said. “It didn’t seem to fit.”

“Seem to fit with what?”

“Oh, other paraphernalia more fitting of a political advisor,” Anton said blithely. That wasn’t everything he’d found, of course—the palimpsest weighed on his mind, an energizing problem to be solved. He would tell Camille about it, of course he would, just…after he had discovered how to read it. If he couldn’t do so before they reached Zürich, he would hand it over with no regrets.

Well, hardly any regrets.

“Hmm.” Camille looked at him for a long moment, then nodded his head. “Very well. You’d best head out; tonight we’ll be seated at different tables, but I’ll rectify that situation tomorrow, just in case either of us has need of the other. Don’t forget, you are Consul Hasler: a rural thaumaturge related to the Duke of Liechtenstein, who is barely interested in politics and prefers the natural world above all others. You are here because strings were pulled to facilitate the potential advancement of your immediate family. Do you know anything about fishing?”

“No,” Anton admitted. “Does punting count?”

“I’m afraid not.” Camille shrugged slightly. “Well, do your best.”

On that heartening note, Anton headed out into the hallway and down to the dining car. There was already a bit of a line, but he politely bumped and jostled his way through the crowd as only an Englishman could. Waiters were already passing around drinks, and Anton ordered a scotch and soda and vowed it would be the only one that he drank tonight. He needed to keep his wits about him.

Other passengers weren’t nearly so circumspect. The entire trip was being paid for by the crown, and so the bar was hit hard accordingly. By the time Anton’s tablemates joined him, including Consul Olivier, they were all pleasantly tipsy.

Consul Olivier leaned over Anton’s shoulder and in close to his face, bathing his skin with gin fumes. “Willem! Wonderful, here you are, wonderful!”

“Here I am,” Anton agreed, angling back just slightly. He had never been fond of gin.

“And you have something for me, no? You brought it with you, of course.”

“Oh, of course.” Anton flourished the box containing the fly, then handed it over to a grabby-handed Olivier, who took it with an expression of pure glee.

“Marvelous!” He glanced inside and practically danced a jig then and there. “Look at that beauty! It’s a winner, no mistake! Willem, dear Willem!” He practically fell against Anton in his hurry to embrace him. “You are a man of your word.”

Anton awkwardly patted his shoulder. “I do try.” He looked up to see Camille smirking at him from four tables away; he glared at him as best he could while trying to keep Consul Olivier on his feet. Eventually the man stood, and Anton indicated his seat. “Sit, and tell me about what you plan to catch with it.”

“Oh, sir, let me set the stage.” Conversation devolved into a lengthy diatribe on a mountain lake, home of a rare species of pike that was the “canniest freshwater fish on the continent,” and therefore absolutely had to be captured and killed. The rest of their table carried the conversation along, which gave Anton a useful reprieve, and he listened and absorbed as much of their conversation as he could while devouring his salad, onion soup, creamy chicken piccata and sponge cake with gusto.

None too soon, the Train Master entered the room and rang a small crystal bell. Conversation quickly ceased, and all eyes were on Monsieur Cassan.

“If you have all finished, then please: his lordship requests your presence in the lounge car.” He bowed, and people began to rise.

Anton pressed unsteadily to his feet. His nerves were back full force. If he were to be discovered, if the Viscount realized that something was wrong—

A moment later a warm shoulder pressed briefly against his own. Anton glanced gratefully at Camille, and kept close to him as they continued on to meet the Viscount.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Train: Chapter Three, Part One

Notes: Back and getting my shit together again! Enjoy your introduction to our new protagonist, and don't worry--we'll get back to the action soon :)

Title: The Train: Chapter Three, Part One


Chapter Three, Part One

Anton was briefly tempted to plead ignorance, but the insistence prick of the blade at his back warned him against it. He was already made. There was no sense in pretending any longer. At least, not to this man in particular. That didn’t mean he was finished, though. He simply had to make the man see reason, and to do that, Anton needed to satisfy his curiosity.

And so, in line with his better judgement but hardly easier because of that, he spoke the truth. “My name is Anton Seiber. I’m a journeyman thaumaturge from England traveling to Zürich for the new term, to study at the university there. My business on this train is simple necessity, no more. It’s my only way of getting to Zürich on time.”

The knife didn’t go away, but neither did it penetrate further. Anton decided to consider that with cautious optimism while he waited for Lord Lumière to speak further.

“What happened to the actual Consul Hasler?”

“Ah.” The desire to prevaricate was so strong that Anton had to bite his lip for a moment. “When I found him he was…inconvenienced. I meant to offer him help, and things got rather out of hand after that.”


“Might I do it face to face?” Anton asked. “I’m no threat to you, I promise.”

“That is true, although not for the reasons you think,” the man said cryptically. “But I believe I’d rather have my curiosity satisfied first. What happened when you found Consul Hasler?”

Anton took a deep breath. “He was ill,” he began. “At first I meant only to offer him my assistance. After I ascertained that he was in possession of a ticket for this train, I…I felt that since he clearly was unfit to carry out his duties, that I would…endeavor to carry them out for him.”

A low chuckle curled through the space between them, its timbre so resonant that Anton could almost feel it against the skin on the back of his neck. “That is the most honorable interpretation of a mugging that I have ever heard.”

“I did not mug that man,” Anton snapped. “I was the victim of a mugging not two hours before I met him; I know what that feels like. He wouldn’t even let me lead him over to a place to sit down before he tried to kill me.” The pressure of the blade suddenly dug in sharper, and Anton’s spine stiffened so quickly he thought it might snap.

“Why did he try to kill you?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea!” The attack bothered Anton more than he felt it should, considering what had become of the late Consul Hasler. But while Anton might, just might, have the makings of a thief and a liar lurking in the depths of his heart, he was no killer. The idea that he had done something, with his few words and simple attentions, to make this person try to dispatch him was incredibly unnerving.

“Perhaps because he was a murderous fiend equipped with a magical knife?” Anton continued recklessly. His hands were shaking, but he couldn’t settle enough to stop them. “A magical knife which killed him, I might add. He lunged for me and missed and fell on his own knife, and that it God’s own truth, I swear it. I did not kill him. I don’t have the temperament for that sort of thing, although,” he sighed now. “This is the third time today someone has pulled a knife on me, so perhaps I attract such people.”

Astonishingly, this seemed to be enough to somehow exonerate him in Lord Lumière’s eyes; at least enough that the sharp point vanished. “You have, indeed, had a most trying day,” the man said. “Do turn around, Mr. Seiber. I doubt I’m going to have to ‘dispatch’ you at this point. We might as well be a bit more comfortable while we continue our discussion. Perhaps you should take something for that headache of yours?” Lord Lumière’s hands were empty as he stepped around Anton and over to his bunk, where he began to pull off his thin leather gloves.

Anton stared at his cabin mate and erstwhile assailant, aware that he was gaping but unable to quite stop. “How do you know I have a headache?”

“Oh, the line between your brows, the way you hold your shoulders, the color of your lips.” Lord Lumière shrugged. “Also, I do recall your moment of indisposition outside the platform earlier today. It stands to reason that you would still be feeling a bit…” He considered for a moment. “Fragile.”

If Anton’s head had felt less like an egg with cracks all through its shell, he would have objected to that term. As it was, he had bigger things to consider. “That—that was you, the man who ran into me. I thought I recognized your voice!”

“My apology was meant most sincerely,” Lord Lumière said, a faint smile appearing on his thin lips. “In my defense, I was in quite a hurry.”


“Because I had a train to catch.” He took off his top hat and sat gracefully at the edge of his bed. “I had also just rendered a murderous fiend unfit for his work, and I wished to distance myself from him as quickly as possible.”

Anton frowned. “How did you know what Consul Hasler’s intentions were? Are you an investigator?”

“Of sorts. I’m a Lumière, after all.” He paused, as if waiting for Anton to comment. Clearly there was something he was missing here, some thread he hadn’t caught.

“And…what is a Lumière?” he asked at last.

“I’d have thought you’d know, given your remarkable facility with languages. Or is your device not translating the title correctly?”

Was it possible to be more dumbstruck than he already was? Anton felt as though he were teetering on the edge of a massive crevice, and one more revelation would send him reeling into a place where even the brightest light wouldn’t be able to drag him out again. “How do you know about the Device?” he asked as calmly as possible.

“I knew from the moment I first heard you speak.” Lord Lumière’s voice was unaccountably gentle. “You have a slight lisp that you’re doing nothing to compensate for, the result of an unfamiliar weight against your hard palate. You wear a single earring, not exactly the fashion for anyone not a sailor. Not to mention, your accent is wholly English despite your facility with French, which no one would advertise in Paris unless they had no other choice. That coupled with your obvious heritage, not to mention the challenge you faced by someone speaking in a language with which you were unfamiliar, could only lead to one conclusion.”

“But there is only one such Device! How would you know to expect it?”

“There is more than one way to make a translation device. Your father’s research has been shared around the civilized world by this point,” Lord Lumière explained, and Anton shut his eyes for a moment. “It’s kept very quiet, of course, patent laws being what they are. But yours is the original, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Anton whispered.

“It isn’t obvious,” the other man added, an unexpected effort to comfort that Anton appreciated. “Only to someone who’s seen such things before.”

Anton opened his eyes and made an effort to return his focus to the present. He couldn’t think about his father right now, or the fate of his monumental efforts in thaumaturgy, so much genius distilled into…no, he would not think of it now. “You’ve seen such things before? Where? How?”

“I’ve seen much in the course of my duties.”

“Which are what?” Anton demanded. “What is a Lumière? What are you?”

“Lumières are servants of the Emperor, extensions of his will. We shine lights on the dark parts of the empire, those places that many would prefer to leave unrevealed. I work to ensure the sovereignty of our leader and the health of our empire. At times, that means working as an investigator to uncover plotters and malcontents.”

“What else?”

The man spread his hands. “What more are you expecting?”

“Magic,” Anton said flatly. “You must be very adept at magic, to recognize my Device. A master thaumaturge, I expect.”

Lord Lumière shook his head. “Not at all. I can’t even work the simplest fire spell.”

Wait… “But you made Consul Hasler sick…”

“That was the result of a fast-acting emetic, not magic.”

“But—” Anton waved a hand at him. “You’re wearing some sort of obfuscation device, or a spell, or something. You’re terribly hard to focus on, and I saw other people look right past you as though you weren’t there.”

“Ah.” Lord Lumière actually looked a bit uncomfortable now. “It’s…not exactly a spell.”

“What is it, then?”

“I’ll explain later, if it becomes relevant. For now, you need to tell me how you plan to continue your charade as Consul Hasler, and why I should help you do it.”

And they were back to negotiations. Good, Anton could work with that. “Well, clearly your work isn’t done, even though you got Consul Hasler out of the way. Therefore you’re expecting something to happen on this train between now and Lucerne. I’m experienced in all basic forensic thaumaturgy spells, and I’m adept at adapting them to new situations. If you don’t do magic, as you say, then I might be helpful if a situation arises where you need a thaumaturge’s expertise.”

“Go on.”

“It’s less disruptive for everyone to continue thinking of me as Consul Hasler, so as to prevent them from changing their plans if, in fact, someone is plotting to commit a crime aboard the train. Why risk it?”

Lord Lumière smiled. “Why indeed?”

“Exactly. Also…” Anton didn’t think this man would be moved by compassion, but it didn’t hurt to try. “If I don’t make it to the university by the start of the term, I will lose my scholarship and my position there. This is, in fact, my only chance.”

They stared at each other in silence for a moment, Lord Lumière considering, Anton strangely breathless. At last the man said, “You argue well in your favor. I accept your terms.”

Anton scarcely had a chance to feel relieved before the man stood and loomed over him.

“With a few caveats of my own, that is.”

Monday, April 11, 2016

Twas the night before RT...

Hey darlins,

I'm here! And I'm in my room, chilling, having taken a few aspirin to deal with the dehydration headache I got when SOMEONE *coughSpiritAirlinescough* decided it was smart to charge for everything, including water. And I'm frugal, okay? At least I am when I travel, so...yeah. Fuck you and your three dollars for a bottle of water, I'd rather suffer with pride.

The flight went smoothy, though. Kara Braden and Erica Cameron picked us up at the airport, we did lunch with Anna Zabo and Lori Witt, we walked around a little bit in the cool Vegas evening...it was really nice. Tomorrow one of my best friends and her husband arrive, at which point everything will be perfect. So! Can't complain.

There won't be a Train post, though. I'm so sorry, but I can't muster the will. I'll try to make the next one extra long.

<3 p="">

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

New Release: Tempest

Oh my gosh, Tempest is here at last!

I'm so, so excited about this book. It's my longest one to date, it's an epic m/m fantasy story, it's got magic and mystery and some dark stuff and some funny stuff and hopefully some twists you won't see coming, and it's the only book I'll ever have out with Samhain, so...it has all my love :)

You can find it here: https://www.samhainpublishing.com/book/5760/tempest (its cheaper here)
or here: http://www.amazon.com/Tempest-Cari-Z-ebook/

Love can change a soul. But can it save one life?
Colm Weathercliff is a simple fisherman with an uncanny—some might say preternatural—knack for his trade. He thought leaving his small village to take his father’s ashes to the capital city of Caithmor for a proper burial would be the grandest adventure of his life.
At first, all his hopes seem to be fulfilled. He finds a home where he’s accepted without question, the freedom to use his talent to its fullest effect, and love with Nichol, a man with a longing for the sea as powerful as Colm’s.
But Caithmor holds as many dangers as it does attractions. Colm’s greatest secret turns out to be a dark revelation that gets him and his family shunned—and changes everything he thought he knew about himself.
The truth—about his parentage, his gift, even his physical form—could poison his chance for love. And doom both him and Nichol to a gruesome, inescapable fate.

The Train: Chapter Two, Part Two

Notes: Now we're getting places! I went crazy with terminology this time around, so be prepared. Also, fyi: next week I'm in Las Vegas for RT, so I may not be able to post. If not, I'm super sorry in advance! If I can, though...oh, so many revelations are coming.

Title: The Train: Chapter Two, Part Two


The dining car was an elegantly appointed room, with tables covered by white linen cloths lining the edges of the space, and red leather chairs taking up the center, which was mostly occupied at this point. Electric lights lit the arched ceiling, and the wainscoting beneath the windows was dark and sumptuous. A silent porter offered Anton a glass of champagne, which he took just as silently before settling himself into a back corner of the room. He didn’t wish to move forward and claim one of the remaining chairs and draw attention to himself. Not that he had much to worry about there; the room was filled with the lesser passengers on this illustrious trip, none of the nobility but every advisor and personal servant to the viscount and his coterie.

At the front of the room stood a tall man in a dark blue uniform, a flat trainmaster’s cap perched on his high forehead. He wore a thick, sandy handlebar moustache with panache, the one point of physical vanity on an otherwise unremarkable appearance. Of pride, however, his posture spoke volumes.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said once the flow of traffic had ceased and people were engaged more in drinking than talking. His voice was official without being officious, stentorian without being deafening; it was an easy voice to listen to. He’d likely practiced finding that fine line many, many times. “My name is Victor Cassan, your trainmaster for the duration of our three day voyage to Lucerne. Welcome aboard the Emperor’s Standard, the only train of its kind on the whole of the continent. Our luxury Pullman cars were shipped directly from America and modified by some of the most innovative thaumaturges in service to His Majesty.” That got Anton’s attention, and he straightened his back, ignoring the twinge in his ribcage as he focused on the trainmaster’s speech.

“Every car of this train is equipped with a tank beneath the floor, heated by the same coal that provides our comfortable speed of fifteen kilometers per hour. Hot water circulates constantly through the radiators in each of your sleeping cars, adjustable for your comforts, of course. Your sink is equipped with a spell that sterilizes the water as it flows through the pipes, providing only the cleanest product to bathe and shave with. Our laundry service is continually at your disposal; simply press the button beside the door of your car, and a porter will be with you presently.”

Silver mesh, Anton thought absently to himself, still listening with one ear. Powered by the coal; a simple enough spell of attraction to set in a device, fire signifying cleansing, silver immunity to poison and disease…they must have to be cleaned with terrible frequency, though.

Cassan continued blithely. “Meals will be served at eight, noon, and seven precisely. Each of our tables offers a privacy candelabrum for sensitive topics of discussion. You are welcome at any time to avail yourself of the smoking car, the lounge car, or the library car. The only exception to that freedom rests with Viscount Bonaparte, whose uses naturally take precedence. I understand that the viscount wishes to host all of you for an informal meeting after dinner tonight in the lounge car, so please be prepared to accommodate.

“Feel free to enjoy your drinks here, and don’t hesitate to ask for anything else that our barman might reasonably procure for you. Once again, welcome aboard the Emperor’s Standard.” Cassan inclined his head, and just like that, the brief bubble of silence broke and people were speaking to each other again, the servants clustering around the trainmaster and asking more questions about amenities, and the black coats…

They were speaking to each other, and unfortunately, one of them had spotted Anton. He was already on his way over, and there was no ready escape or excuse. Anton steeled himself and plastered on a ready expression.

“Willem Hasler, I presume?” the man asked as soon as he was within striking distance. Anton let a small sigh escape him; they had never met before. “I would know that insignia anywhere.” He had to be referring to the small red and blue flag beneath the imperial sigil on Anton’s jacket. “Well met, sir!” the man continued, his florid face beaming as he held out a hand. Anton smiled back and shook it. “You’re rather younger than I expected,” the nameless bureaucrat continued. “Looking at you, I’d scarcely believe you were old enough to see action during the Troubles.”

The Troubles, as those within the French empire referred to them, were a series of minor wars that had erupted across the continent a decade earlier. The timing and instigation of them was still something of a mystery, but the uprising had found a voice in the discontent of many of the native populations of Napoleon the Second’s latter conquests. The collectivist theories of Marx and Bakunin rose in esteem, leading to revolutionary ideas of equality between the classes. Former aristocrats and disenfranchised tradesmen alike had fought back against the Frenchmen installed in positions of authority in their cantons, leading to some very humiliating press for the emperor.

Napoleon III’s response had been swift and brutal. He’d sent troops into the capitol of each former nation and principality, their commanders given a mandate to utterly destroy all opposition. They had taken their savage responsibility seriously, and at the end of seven months, over half a million fighters, suspected fighters, outspoken politicians and their families and been put to death. Liechtenstein’s capitol of Vaduz, Anton remembered vaguely, had been one of the cities brought most thoroughly to bloody heel.

“It isn’t the sort of thing one lies about, sir,” he said, hoping his silence on the other man’s name wouldn’t go noticed.

Chance was with him, thus far at least. “No, of course not, of course,” the man agreed. “Indeed, I’ve had such assurances of your competence in all things, I would never dare underestimate you!”

Oh, good heavens. What did this man think he knew about Willem Hasler? “You’re most kind, sir.”

“There’s no need for such formality between us, Willem.” The man leaned in closer. “Especially not when we’ve already given each other such assistance, eh? I’ve upheld my part of the bargain; here you stand, despite the short notice. Now.” He rubbed his hands together. “How about your part, my lad? After all—oh, how does the saying go in your part of the country?” He smiled brightly, then said something that sounded like an incoherent string of syllables tacked together with tongue and spittle.

Oh, no. Whatever this man was speaking, it wasn’t a dialect that the Translation Device could recognize. It was…possibly based in German, with a hint of French or…Flemish? Perhaps? Whatever it was, Anton couldn’t speak it. With the Device sitting heavy against his palate, striving to understand something that had it thoroughly confounded, Anton himself couldn’t force a word from his mouth. This had only happened once before, when he and Caroline had tested the Device with Gaelic and Anton had spouted gibberish in response for a full minute. At the time, it had been amusing. Right now, it was nowhere close.

The man’s open, friendly demeanor was beginning to close off. “Consul Hasler?” he asked more formally, with a bit of frost in his one.

Anton tried to respond, but the Device hadn’t sorted out its difficulty yet, and all that came from his lips was a low hum. The other man’s frost was beginning to transition to contempt. “Sir, I must say—”

“Consul Olivier,” a fresh voice broke in, warm but slightly condescending. It sounded slightly familiar to Anton, and curiosity warred with relief as he turned to face the newcomer. “You must forgive Consul Hasler for being a bit taken aback by your…more spirited than accurate attempt at Walliser.”

Consul Olivier—it was so good to have a name for the man at last—deflated a bit. “Ah. Lord Lumière. I didn’t know you were a part of this trip.”

“I go wherever His Majesty wishes me to be.” Lord Lumière was a tall man made even taller by his silk top hat. His frock coat was a deep navy blue, his ascot and waistcoat were sapphire, and he should, by very dint of his size and handsome fashion, have stood out in the crowd. Yet somehow, even though he was standing right there, Anton felt that if he looked away he might miss him entirely.

“So you do.” The consul licked his lips nervously. “So you do. Well, sir, I…ah.” He looked back at Anton. “Forgive me any impertinence, Consul, it was entirely accidental. I was assured that I had the phrase correct.”

“It’s perfectly all right, Consul Olivier.” The words flowed easily off Anton’s tongue, and the tension in his throat melted away. “You just surprised me.”

“My apologies. But you—you did bring it, didn’t you?” He leaned in a bit closer. “You did promise that you would.”

Bring what? “Of course I did,” Anton said, utterly unsure of what he was committing himself to having but unable to see a way out of it.

“Ah!” Consul Olivier’s expression brightened again. “Wonderful! Bring it with you to dinner tonight, won’t you? I’m eager to see what kind of cock hackle could land a benthic beast like the one you described to me in your letter.”

For a moment, Anton wondered whether the Translation Device was malfunctioning again. Fortunately, Lord Lumière stepped in again. “If you don’t mind excusing us, Olivier, I have a pressing bit of business to conduct with Consul Hasler.” He turned to look at Anton, his dark eyes shining brightly beneath the brim of his hat. “Perhaps in our sleeping car.”

Anton swallowed. “You’re sharing with me?”

“I am if you’re in Sleeping Car Four, Cabin One.” Consul Olivier wandered away, leaving Anton without conversational recourse. This man had business with him? This…strange man, who seemed to have an even stranger effect on the people around him? Because Anton noticed the way that no one was quite looking at them, as though both of them had been obscured somehow. Thaumaturgy? An obfuscation device?

Whatever it was, and whatever the man needed, he obviously wanted to bring it up in private. And he had gone to the trouble of rescuing Anton from a linguistic nightmare. Perhaps it would be something simple.

Lord Lumière’s pleasant voice interrupted Anton’s rumination. “Shall we, Consul?” He indicated the path toward the door with an outstretched hand.

“Of course.” Anton set his champagne flute down on the closest polished windowsill, then led the way down the hallway back to their car. It was a much easier trip with the crowd behind him, and he breathed easier with each step, his anxiety diminishing to almost normal levels once he finally opened their cabin door and stepped inside.

That anxiety spiked dramatically when Anton felt the sharp point of a knife dig ever-so-slightly into the skin just above his kidney. “Now, sir,” Lord Lumière murmured as the door of their cabin swung shut. “You will explain to me who you truly are and what business you have on this train, or I will ensure that ‘Consul Hasler’ is never seen or heard from again.”