When last we left our heroes: Beset by a crisis of faith, stage magician Victor Terranove visited his comrade in arms, Sir Charles, who had developed a strange navigational device for use tracking the Minotaur. To Victor’s surprise, the scientist shared his belief in the impossible and an odd friendship began…
While the magician and the scientist discussed matters of belief, elsewhere on the speeding train, Kenneth Valence, the Lord of Marston, was also out of his room. A bottle of white wine in one hand, his other knocked quickly on the door to Mrs. Cassandra Chatterton’s berth.
“Mrs. Chatterton? Cassandra? Are you awake?” he asked in enough of a whisper to avoid drawing attention.
The door opened, and there stood the Society’s sole lady adventurer, a marvel of femininity in a green dress that offset her auburn hair so as to take Kenneth’s breath.
“Why, Lord Marston,” she said wryly, “to what do I owe the… well, hm… ‘pleasure’ might be too strong a word?”
Despite desperately wanting to take up the gauntlet, he reminded himself that he had a particular reason he was here this night. “Might we put the verbal sparring aside for just a moment or two? I need to ask a favour of you first.”
Cassandra leaned against the door frame, taking a pose of relaxed nonchalance that Lord Marston wished he could breathe in like a scent.
“You should be familiar enough with my favours by now to know that you hardly need ask, Kenneth.”
“It’s not about that,” Lord Marston said. “It’s about Colonel Durant.”
Mrs. Chatterton crossed her arms and the nonchalance left her pose, replaced by a steely prickliness. “Oh yes, do let’s talk about that doddering old ament. That’s certain to stoke my coals.”
“Cassandra, Colonel Durant is one of the most dedicated members of the club. His support made it possible to resume these expeditions. Expeditions, I need not remind you, that do serve to stoke your previously mentioned–and needless to say lovely–coals.” When she didn’t respond, Kenneth continued. “He’s still very perturbed about the troll incident. An apology might not be entirely out of order, my dear.”
Rather than nod and agree, as Lord Marston had hoped, Mrs. Chatterton rolled her eyes and exhorted, “Oh, by God’s wounds! I have no need to rationalize my actions to someone who…”
“…who saved my life in Madagascar?” Kenneth interjected.
“It’s going to be a very perfunctory apology,” she finally said.
“That would be just spiffing,” Kenneth smiled, lifting the wine bottle hopefully.
Mrs. Chatterton slitted her eyes at the gesture. “And I’m not coming back to your compartment afterwards. You’ve put me off terribly.”
She stepped backwards into her berth and slammed the door.
Lord Marston sighed and looked down at the bottle. “I suppose some things must take precedence in a gentleman’s life over women and wine,” he sighed, before adding under his breath, “thank the Lord I brought a terrible amount of wine this trip.”
The alluring green dress had been replaced with a high collared purple one and her long locks had been fastidiously pinned up in a severe bun. Mrs. Chatterton reached out one white gloved hand and rapped twice upon the door to Colonel Augustus Durant’s room.
“Colonel Durant?” she asked.
“The door’s locked!” came a gruff voice from inside.
Mrs. Chatterton paused a moment, offering up a prayer for tolerance.
“I know the door is locked,” she said. “That is why I am knocking on it. May I please come in?”
There was nary a moment before the voice growled, “No.”
“Oh, that’s very diplomatic,” she muttered before raising her voice to a pleasant tone. “I… I’ve come to apologize.”
“Accepted,” the still-locked door said.
Mrs. Chatterton closed her eyes and unclenched her fists, once, twice… she was determined that she would show Kenneth that she could play nice, but the old man was trying her nerves greatly.
“I’d feel a little better about going out on this limb if you would actually speak with me face to face, Colonel.”
“Can’t right now,” came the surly voice, though perhaps Cassandra noticed in it a small note of… regret?
“Oh? And whysoever not?” she demanded.
After a long moment the unsatisfactory reply came.
“The door’s locked.”
Cassandra pinched her eyes shut. That was enough. She turned on one bootheel and began the angry walk back to her compartment.
“That had damned well better count, Kenneth,” she muttered to herself. “I’m not doing this again.”
Had she been able to see beyond the locked door, however, she might have had more patience with the ex-big game hunter Augustus Durant. The old man lay on his bunk, curled up around his right arm… or what had once been his right arm.
The entire forearm had been replaced with a chitinous gauntlet of bone, scrimshaw-like carvings running in deep furrows up and down the limb. Blood ran slowly up and down those channels, yet none ever dripped out. Durant’s fingers were more like claws, and they twitched hungrily. Two long sharp spurs ran down from his wrist, and it would be oh-so-easy to command them to spring forth…
“No,” Colonel Durant whispered to the lethal arm. Tears ran down his craggy face into his white mustache. “Never again…”
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.