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The Weight of Soul

The Joffre

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a part of The Weight of Soul, by bethelit.

In character main plot.

bethelit holds sovereignty over The Joffre, giving them the ability to make limited changes.

1,766 readers have been here.

Copyright: The creator of this roleplay has attributed some or all of its content to the following sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/the_empire_of_corpses

Setting

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SEPTEMBER 2, 1941

The Joffre is a French train re-purposed and commandeered by the Waffen-SS. The train carries two Char D2 tanks and two Flakvierling artillery units. At the moment, the Joffre is en-route from Calais to Vienna.

To view images of the train's interior, exterior, and culture, please click here. The GM has assembled a Pinterest board that will include more images as the story progresses.

. . . .


Carriages
- Baggage car (complete 101 ton) - [W-SS]
- Sleeping coach with 14 beds (with bogies) - [W-SS]
- Restaurant coach - [W-SS]
- Baggage car (complete 101 ton)
- Sleeping coach with 14 beds (3 axles)
- Flatcar (Flakvierling Anti Aircraft)
- Flatcar (Char Renault D2)
- Flatcar (Flakvierling Anti Aircraft)
- Full map image

. . . .

Cultural/Historical Notes: Occupied areas of France have been largely repaired and rebuilt. The Germans are efficient in their renovating efforts, and behave cordially towards the peoples they have occupied. Immense care has been taken to please the French people and to show that German and French culture are not only essentially harmonious, but complementary.
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The Joffre

In character main plot.

Minimap

The Joffre is a part of 1941, World War II.

7 Characters Here

Amelia Renard [23] North Wind | Unseen Espionage (Research)
Claire Stanfield [18] West Wind | Combat
Miyoshi Kazetani [17] East Wind | Unseen Espionage (Spirituality)
Hélène Köhler [16] North Wind | Candid Espionage
Maria Calag [16] South Wind | Spirituality
Cyril Noël [16] North Wind | Combat
Geoffrey Lee Walker [9] West Wind | Combat

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Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyril Noël Character Portrait: Maria Calag
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#, as written by Jedly
It was but an average tranquil start- rays of the morning sun poked into the passenger car and rested on the carpeted flooring, envoys underscoring the beginning of yet another day,.

”Fuck.”

Avians soared gracefully through the sky above and trailed the locomotive as it ventured forth on its railed journey.

”Son of a cat shit.”

Yet another harmonious beginning to what would surely be a day empty of strif-

”Whoever the fuck designed these curtains should have never been conceived.”

Well, unfortunately, not everyone wins. Hence the existence of the concept losing. Cyril, in this case, had drawn the short straw, comparatively diminutive than his will to act upon his agitation. The Belgian reluctantly stirred from his sleep and massaged his temples before letting out a blatantly obnoxious yawn, without the slightest regard for any of the booth’s other passengers. His eyes lethargically panned about the room, taking in every facet at his morning stride pace. In reality, Cyril had slept fairly well considering the events of the prior night. When ones childhood is spent in an orphanage with a cash flow of the occasional franc, a humble outlook on life is furnished. While the accommodations were by no means exemplary, they undoubtedly sufficed, even though they dwelled in comparison to the treatment his teammates in the former cars were receiving. Though as painful as it may be, to some of the aforementioned comrades, even the embellished arrangements could be considered a downgrade.

But there was no time to dwell on the monetary disparity between paychecks and familial wealth, a few issues that could potentially detriment the Joffre’s commute and their mission stilled remained.

First, his branch senior and his spectacled companion were nowhere to be seen. Since they were a long ways from the outback, there wasn’t the slightest of a chance they had wandered into some monstrous concoction of nature. Perhaps they were deemed suspicious and found out, and as a result were escorted to a more secluded car. With them gone, contact with the other team was effectively cut off. Well ain’t that fucking grand.

Second, the driving force behind the events which transpired last night still looms in the shadows, just out of the waiting eye of the Saniwa. It was a power to be reckoned with, having escaped both Maria and Cyril’s gaze. And with a vendetta against trains, it was evident that the Saniwa had to act rather than stagnate.

A sudden knock at his door wrenched Cyril from his internal mulling, followed by the sound of paper crinkling through the crease of the booth’s door. After checking the state of the room’s other denizens, the Saniwa decided to follow his task instead of defaulting to the more alluring option, which was drifting off back to sleep. Cyril casually removed himself from the bed and scrutinized the scrap. He only found a curt message surely written with a cursory hand.

The Aussie’s former booth.

”Wulf?”

Silence.

”Wulf, quit licking your palms.”

”I beg your pardon?” The reply finally resounded in a peeved tone.

”Is the tarsier out of her enclosure?”

Cyril proceeded to prepare himself for the day, starting with the necessary attire.

”Yes, she left the booth in a hurry. Thankfully, Gammond made it through the night.”

Cyril wasn’t exactly sure if that was anything to be thankful about, but he decided to not step on the feline’s tail.

”We’re meeting in booth 2. Last one there covers the bar tab for the next month.”

Well, it works out that Cyril is the only flow of income in the Noel household, or perhaps it was the fear of covering the guy’s monstrous appetite for alcohol, but Wulf was already outside of the booth well in advance. The latter opened the door and let herself in, leaving a space for her Saniwa. Cyril gregariously closed the door behind himself, ascertaining their privacy, and took his seat. ”It seems we have a few matters to squabble over. Maria, being the verbose individual you are, I believe the honor of spearheading this befalls upon you.” With a blatant cop out to speaking more, Cyril reclined in his chair, awaiting the arrival of his comrades.

”How was your sleep, Cyril?” Wulf poked to fill the silence and to kill time.

”Sufficient. Yours?”

”The child and I rested quite well, thanks for asking~!”

Ack.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Hélène Köhler
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Do you know the answer to B2?”

There was a heavy pause in the air as Samael scanned the page. The sudden question had truthfully caught him off-guard, and he was not foolish enough to believe that Basilio had suddenly gathered an interest in word games. He feigned searching the page, running a finger across the coarse surface as if his sight hadn’t passed over the offending column several times already. He mused on the question, knowing that the crossword answer he could currently provide would not be the one that Basilio was searching for.

The silence grew in weight and size, seeming to suffocate the two of them - seemingly statues frozen in time, both searching for the same answer. Wait too long, and it would look conspicuous, as would asking Basilio to clarify what he meant.

The word. Verstehen. To understand. Samael spoke confidently, much more comfortable in his native tongue than the other artifact. He offered a genuine smile to the other man, continuing, It’s a common word, but I had trouble with it as well, my friend.

Little else was exchanged between them as Basilio seemingly lost interest in continuing the conversation. Had he provided the answer? Was understanding an answer? What did they need the fair-haired man to understand? Was there new information? A new threat? Did he have to carry a message to Amelia? Could she help him figure this out? He could feel her mind in the back of his - dim and muted while she slept. She needed the rest, he shouldn’t wake her unless he was absolutely sure.

He stood up despite the fire growing in his legs. As he stepped away from the seat, he folded the newspaper under an arm, pacing about the car to work out both the knots in his leg and mind. These thoughts did not anger him - he was fond of puzzles, but he knew the longer he paced without the solution, there could be a risk to the others.

Another passenger began eying him with curiosity. Samael had likely been walking in a circle for a few minutes, so to avoid attention, the man turned his path towards the car door - the Joffre’s narrow aisles guiding his steps. He slipped through the brisk air from the crowded passenger car to the darker quiet of the sleeping car.

Perhaps they had found the Australians. Were they suspected by the passengers on the car? Any number of things -

A brief movement near one of the sleeping booths caught his attention, two figures slipping through a doorway, their movements hidden from most by the dim lighting. Their movement seemed familiar - was it the two Saniwa?

Dread - not from fear of a threat or danger - welled up within him as he approached, seeing the duo disappear inside a carriage. Even with the lack of light, he could easily read the polished silver lettering next to the door.

B2.

I am -

A tad foolish. You… you should have told me sooner, rather than walking about clueless like that. And it’s even incredibly simple, yet you thought of every other… other possible and incorrect solution beforehand. Amelia’s thoughts - jumbled and disoriented as they were, fresh from awakening flew crudely from her consciousness to her partner’s. Yet, with her irritation, she could only feel bemusement from Samael on her status of mind. He knew she coped poorly with mornings - and even worse when she was quite so exhausted.

An unforgiving, cold breeze graced Amelia’s features as she sat up. Her body felt restrained by the chains of her sleep, aching with pains that had no physical mark. Her mind was unwilling to separate with its rest, even with a natural awakening. The events of the previous day had left her drained, in no small part due to her artifact’s ability.

She released her grip of the pistol under her pillow, observing the room around her, much grander than she was personally used to - but she was sure it likely felt spartan to those such as Hélène. As her senses slowly recovered from sleep, Samael passed along the information he had gathered earlier in the morning.

The Australians were missing or captured. A poltergeist held at bay, the possibility that the poltergeist might be a distraction for something much worse - a threat that Maria previously detected in a far end of the train. A revenant who was able to nearly kill Stanfield and Kazetani - apparently a second, unheard-of assassin. Plus, a man with red eyes and pale features in uniform who seemed to recognize the Saniwa, and actively avoided them. Other things - minor details that would be slipping her fatigued mind.

She rubbed her temples in a vain attempt to minimize the throbbing in her forehead. Her vision was blurred from fatigue. Yet, Samael was helpfully quiet, his thoughts and words filling the gaps and lapses in her’s.

There were too many variables to keep track of - especially with how little Amelia knew. Those in the civilian car had been updated, and now, it would fall to her to both relay the information and to squeeze the two men for more. What was a simple errand had turned into a dangerous proceeding, and Amelia did not enjoy her lack of control and information on the situation.

Those in the civilian car had been updated with all that Amelia knew. Now it seemed the task of relaying information and also keeping the mission on track fell to her, granting her a much stronger grasp over the situation than she had expected.

. . . .


Hélène slowly drifted up from the depths of sleep, listening to the muffled clatter of the train rushing along the tracks. Keeping her eyes closed, she savored the simple rocking of sleeping car. Despite her sound sleep the night before, her mind still felt dumb with exhaustion and bright flash of emotions that usually accompanied her waking hours were clumsy and muted. With a puff of air to cover her displeasure, she reluctantly pushed herself up from where she had been curled to glance across the small room.

Across from her, her companion had already risen. Amelia sat straight, having already adorned a pale azure dress, with three buttons fastened at her neckline. Her hair was slightly damp - the curls carefully maintained. However, her features seemed pallid, with dark circles barely concealed beneath her eyes, and in her lap sat an already spotless Gandor pistol, cradled in an oiled cloth. Her hands continued with the careful and practiced work of the various parts and small, minute tools needed for its maintenance.

Hélène eyed her companion, politely keeping her silence as the Frenchwoman eyed her back, hands ever busy. After a moment the German woman shuffled off the bed, gathering a clutch among her things before leaning against the far wall next to the window. She stooped a bit, and began prying it open. The rushing of the train sounded more clearly as cold, wet air wafted in, replacing the vague smell of dust and stale air in her nose. Hélène carefully opened the clutch, and after a quick glance at Amelia, pulled out a lighter, small metal case, and a long cigarette holder. Placing the bag down, she took a cigarette out of the case, placed the end in the holder, and deftly lit the end. Quickly, still leaning on the wall and slightly hunched over to reach the window, she angled the lit end carefully towards to open window. She closed her eyes and took a slow, deep breathe, shoulders relaxing and face smoothing as she pressed her face to the window gap as she exhaled. Muscles held more languidly, she leaned back a little and slowly shifted herself around, crouching to keep the cigarette near the window opening and absently smoothing her night clothes down.

The rattle of the train and the quiet sound of Amelia’s movements created a lull of soothing white noise. Softly, Hélène began to hum as she watched the countryside rush by. The further into the song she progressed, the more defined her singing, until she slowly wound back down to a thoughtful silence. Glancing down at her still burning cigarette, she barely held back a regretful grimace before taking a deep lungful of smoke and plucking the remaining barely burnt stick and flicking the entire thing out the window and into the wind.

She quickly straightens, carefully putting everything back to rights, rubbing her right hand against her night clothes as she turns toward her companion.

“I’ll assume the night didn’t treat you well.” Amelia said, the slide locking into place with a click. Satisfied with the action, she folded up the small cloth on her lap, concealing the small, oily tools within.

Heading back towards her luggage, Hélène prepares for the day as she gives a slightly bitter laugh, Ja, truly awful for the throat but sorely needed nonetheless.” Grimacing as she pulls out more German fashion, she heaves a sigh and begins assembling herself a suit of armor, an article of clothing at a time. Regretfully passing over her makeup and perfume, the German woman expertly styles her hair before turning to take stock of her roommate.

“Ready to face the machinations of men?” Hélène asks with a sardonic smile, eyes jaded but with a playful tilt to the corner of her mouth.

“For a few hours, now.” Her companion replied, allowing herself to smile in kind as she opened the door.

As Amelia steps out into the hall, Hélène adjusts the fall of her dress and smoothes out her face. The cheerful face and bright eyes of yesterday are back, and she goes to join the beautifully severe woman now stepping out into the morning sun. With the singer following closely behind, Amelia opens the door to the dining car to see the almost empty car, and expectations cloying along with the smoke in air as they carefully seat themselves in the open seats of the booth.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Amelia Renard Character Portrait: Hélène Köhler
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The morning and scenery both pass by in a fitful alternation of sturm and drang, the window permitting view of a colorless scene through fogged glass and heavy rain. Crushed raindrops gather and flood the remnants of the French countryside. There’s nothing to be admired beyond the glass, Miyoshi thinks. Its canvas creates no impression that the world can change at all.

He hasn’t told his companions, but a month ago, he’d boarded a commandeered French train not unlike the Joffre. While the train was engineered as a luxury experience, it was not any more beautiful. The food situation was pathetic -- passengers were allowed 1200 calories a day, very little bread, and a suspicious amount of tobacco and wine. All of it to feed the occupying forces, and to reassure the French that they were cared for. The Joffre is hardly dire, but Miyoshi dislikes it equally much. So far, the cohabitation is bearable due to the good discipline of the occupying forces and his own country being allied with Germany. Regardless, all false benevolence comes to an end. After some time, the Germans will become more reluctant and aggressive, and be more vocal of their suspicions. Miyoshi remembers how Neumann looked at them.

Silent and watchful and unblinking.

Yes, he thinks. We must tolerate the Germans for a night longer, although France must endure them for many more.

The door swings open, and the women emerge, snapping him out of his thoughts. There, enhanced by the glow of natural light, Helene settles across from him, Amelia sitting beside her. Even in the bleak morning, Helene’s delicate countenance remains unruffled.

“Well,” the singer starts, some intrigue in her tone. “This is the officer’s table.”

Amelia looks on in mild bemusement while Claire flushes to match his hair. Miyoshi smothers the urge to glower at Claire’s embarrassment. That fool, of course this is all intentional. Instead of answering, Miyoshi pushes the women cigars before leaning into his inhale. It is a slow, oppressive morning, and he expects things to follow suit.

“Well, Herr Kazetani?” Amelia questions, critically examining the cigar, before choosing to light it.

“I didn’t make a reservation.” Miyoshi parries, keeping his aplomb in place. “This conversation is not long enough to warrant one. That is, if Ms. Renard will cooperate.”

At the sound of her name, their eyes meet. The Frenchwoman warily studies him as if to say, Well, go on.

Miyoshi doesn’t mind her scrutiny, and scrutinizes her right back, brown eyes with a touch of frost. In truth, his genteel guise prefers silence, but Amelia’s provocation compels a reply. He breaks the tension and removes his pipe.

“It’s a setup,” says Miyoshi, releasing a rank cloud. “We are three members short and Gammond has yet to be killed. Is this not a strange affair? Were the Australians planted by the enemy? Can we even trust either of you?”

It isn’t unlike the Germans to arrest without apparent reason. In fact, Miyoshi is positive that the Australians had been sent to an unknown destination, or shot without explanation, accused or suspected of being communist collaborators or saboteurs. His own kind would have done the same. There is no room for clemency in the kempeitai.

A hand tensely wraps around his wrist. Claire’s fingers are ice cold.

“Hey Mouse, don’t go around assuming thin-” Claire breaks in, but his companion barely flinches.

“Wrong. We need to assume that anyone could betray us. I need to be sure, is all.” Miyoshi sharply remarks. “For all we know, this could be sabotage.” Every nerve in his body has lost its patience, earlier from Claire’s carelessness, and now from having to repeat his knowledge. However, he’d been taught how to curb his own tells. His pale face betrays a smile, but his eyes and brows cease all activity and become rigid.

“It’s all just given me a great deal to think about,” he says after a moment. “And I’d reckon the two of you know something that I could not. I felt an otherworldly presence at dinner. It was in the room after Claire and I left.” Curiosity wins over his impatience. He keeps his gaze turned towards the women. “And so? Did you see anyone? If you lie, I will know.”

There is a brief silence. Then, a flicker of annoyance crosses Helene’s Aryan features, only to be replaced by a calm tilt of her head. The quieter of the two chooses to speak.

“I hadn’t assumed there was any trust, Kazetani.” Amelia begins. “We cannot sabotage a mission we know nothing about. However, Ms. Kohler did mention seeing a particular gentleman.”

The Frenchwoman’s features remain unreadable, but Miyoshi detects her control. She remains utterly still, and Helene blossoms and animates.

Helene says, “I saw a red-eyed man at supper. Rather peculiar, and only for a moment. He arrived after you left, and departed as soon as he'd come.”

“I saw him late last night,” Claire interrupts, “White hair, fiddling with somethin’. He had Spiritual energy. You wouldn’t have to be a Kazetani to feel it. Those glowin’ red eyes looked straight at me when I asked if he wanted a light. There’s trouble coming.”

He seems to read Miyoshi’s mind, and adds, “The women could take care of him.”

“Yes.” Miyoshi agrees. “In the East Wind, we quite like them, because they have the ability to pass unnoticed where a man would be stopped and suspected. If Claire and I were anywhere near the others, we would be likely be detained. But the two of you are special. You could simply be ‘lost.’”

“You imply that Ms. Kohler, Germany’s darling, would escape notice on this train?”

“Of course not. I’d never have you go fishing without bait. What did you think Ms. Kohler was here for?”

At this, Amelia smiles, but she neither agrees or disagrees.

Why isn’t she proposing her own plan? Why does she continue to divert attention to Ms. Kohler? Miyoshi wonders, watching. Europe is her domain — she should have advanced intelligence on these men. Following the events of last night, we’re hardly in proper shape to be without a plan. We’re inventing a fire, not building it. Did Nikolai put her up to anything? Or was she offered as a rogue element?

No, that he cannot believe. The war had not changed the Head Priest’s conservative proclivities. The people of Moscow responded to the initial German attack with a flood of volunteers to join the North Wind. Volunteers came from the intelligentsia, from factories, and from schools. Most did not have adequate training, and were little worse off than soldiers in the regular army, who were equally poorly equipped and trained. It is in his nature to assign high-ranking Saniwa sparingly, so Amelia and Cyril could be considered generous, and even superfluous. Perhaps then Miyoshi measured Amelia incorrectly. Just what is her purpose?

Helene, on the contrary, seems keenly aware of hers.

“I’ll be of no use to anyone if I can’t be myself. I’ll do it.” Helene curtly says, though Miyoshi isn’t convinced she dislikes the prospect.

“Not a bad idea,” Claire nods. “last night everyone was all over you. I’m for it, Mouse.”

Miyoshi does not have to fake a smile. The words come easily. “Very good, it’s decided then.”

A pause. The blowing of smoke.

“And by the by, were any of you aware that the Australians are missing? Detained, perhaps. Shot, I think.”

The quiet is fretful, unnatural. But created for Helene.

Other than himself and Maria, Amelia would be the first to discover the Australians’ disappearance. But would she tell Helene? He watches the singer for confirmation, and takes pleasure in the fruits of his labor. He sees it in the way the color drains out of her cheeks. The skin around her eyes stretches wide. She’s consumed by the revelation’s gravitas.

Nien! She gasps, posture rigid with distress. She goes on with strained agitation: “But— it’s only been a single night!”

This hardly seems to bother Claire, and he looks inquiringly at Miyoshi, but the latter is preoccupied. Swirling his contraband tea leaves, he’s reminded that duplicity lives everywhere. Good. Amelia does not trust Helene. The women share an empty bond.

Setting down his pipe, he exhales and rests his eyes. Very softly, he speaks without sympathy.

“Well, now you know.”

A worn smile rests around his eyes, but disappears at the sound of Claire’s voice.

“So Helene wasn’t told.” Claire, accustomed to the machinations of spies, pushes his hands through his thick, red hair. “That Ms. Austerlitz is next.”

This interjection gives Miyoshi pause; he reflects on Amelia's vulnerability. If her Australian accessories were detained, she would not be far behind. The winds are favorable, and the Germans are on his side. Surely, Richter would be glad to drive a bullet into her brain. Perhaps the Frenchwoman should fear him most. Miyoshi could expose her. As kempeitai. Or better, as a tool of Japanese foreign policy.

The image of ordinary citizens, hopes crushed like black velvet, lie bare for him to see. His mentor’s voice fills his head. Yakumo’s baton is marked with brutality, his eyes rimmed with an impression of invincibility.

Give them oxygen to burn, Kazetani. Yakumo says. Give them enough oxygen to burn, and they’ll snuff themselves out.

Allowing someone like Amelia to flame unchecked, watched with concern only by that which she was tasked, would be sufficient. If she betrays them, Nikolai would assassinate her, and if she survives the Nazis, she would create her own undoing. He could wait to see what she will not show him.

His fingers dig into his knees.

This is good. This is excellent.

Miyoshi keeps his voice polite. Patiently, as if time is a faraway concept, he pours himself tea.

“Well. Then isn’t there somewhere,” he says. “she needs to be? It’s almost time for our hosts to join us.”

When he finishes, he wipes his mouth. He folds his napkin and places it beside the window. His hands are flat on the table. Neither of the women say anything. Even Claire is silent. No one is smiling now.

Had he expected them to be openly informative?

Of course not.

With the slip of his tongue, Miyoshi rearranges the glyphs of power. A lone camellia doesn’t wait for opportunities to bloom. One might think him frustrated, but his true opponent is time. Now, seconds slip beneath his feet. A vault of darkness hangs overhead; the combined efforts of himself and Kimura must not go wasted. The Germans must be pleased. All light would be snuffed out.

The decade-old knots inside Miyoshi begin to loosen. Some unexpected steel emerges in his voice. “I’ll have Kimura transferred to the Maria Calag.”

He looks up, some gland within him leaking fatalistic abandon.

“I’m sorry?” Claire chokes.

“Yes. I insist. Kimura shall be of better use there. Report nothing to my father.”

He smooths his face into porcelain dispassion.

Each time he faced his father, Miyoshi could not help feeling that the man was a dissimulating demon or a kami efficient in judgement. In the space of time Miyoshi had joined the East Wind, he had of his own accord as good as destroyed half his life. Always, the absence of personal freedom separated him from a life without neurotic suffering. But the past is only a ghost that cannot be exorcised, drifting, wailing, and vulgar when given attention. And so, Miyoshi cannot help but feel as if a stage in his life has ended. A fog has lifted. He will be thrillingly alone.

Tapping the bowl of his pipe, Miyoshi says without hesitation, “Kimura, you’re dismissed.”

“Now? Are you certain?”

Kimura’s surprise comes across perfectly natural. If he dislikes the arrangements at all, he hides it masterfully.

“Yes.” Miyoshi says with iron certainty. ”Postponing the inevitable bores me.” Then transitioning into Japanese, Issun saki wa yami.

A pregnant pause fills the air. Kimura looks knowingly at Amelia. Then, he solemnly answers, “Very well.”

The Artifact rises, his defiance well-masked, and begins to shift, stone turning to flesh. He bows gracefully at his Saniwa superiors and briefly pauses before his master. There is a faint glint to the Artifact’s eyes, a ghost-light disappearing as quickly as it appeared. Miyoshi does not look at him. He already knows what Kimura sees. What Kimura feels is always the same: sadness, bitterness, but never resentment. The insolence that Kimura thinks, however, comes as a start.

It’s too early, master. You know this.

Their eyes meet, but Kimura doesn’t linger for long.

The Artifact retreats; the Saniwa mentally paces.

Miyoshi tugs at his collar and tries to swallow. He can feel the lymph nodes on either side of his neck compressing in consequence to Kimura’s distance. He rights his tie. In a few minutes, he is standing.

Saying that he has business to attend to, the Spiritualist curtly makes his leave. A constant stream of officers pass him, nodding as they come. He makes to the empty sleeping car before the first cough erupts.

Wiping his mouth, he thinks, Tonight will be the beginning.

Ikuzo.


A feeling of infernal responsibility stirs inside him. Always, the weight in his soul swings pendulously. Slowly. Impossibly. His heart scrambles to deliver oxygenated blood as he recalls an excerpt from the American Naturalist: Even the heart, which in higher animals, when agitated, pulsates with increasing energy, in a snail, under similar excitement, throbs with a slower motion. . .

But this agitation is preternatural: going beyond nerves and stimuli. It’s the deep rush of a rising concerto, the rills and crescendo of something with an unstoppable desire to burn. If his body is a shrine, his heart is the pale fire of mokurō candles, singed through the wick. The pulsing in his ears resurrects an abyssal feeling he thought was dead. Like a man possessed, he can only breathe, hear, and listen.

Listen to this, Miyoshi thinks. This is me.

The rhythm plays on, blood continues to build within his throat, and the cough that inevitably comes feels like a joyful spring. Seizing his breath, he swells with life. A feverish fit of hacking explodes from inside his chest. His face remains pallid, but there’s a crimson mess on his handkerchief. No, a red camellia. An imperious symbol. One that can be destroyed.

Vengeance begins with expulsion. It’s born from immortal hate, and sponsored by the study of revenge. It flushes a wronged soul with the blood of its bloom and makes him new again. Violently. Obsessively. Makes him whole.

Suddenly, Gammond’s death feels unimportant. Something else has become bigger.

Maybe the diviners were wrong.

He was perhaps more like samurai than priest.

. . . .


Without his conscience, he’s left with only his nerves. But oh, how strange it was to see himself now, standing absolutely rigid before his own death throes.

Before him, the door to his room swings open, the lights blink on, yet he hesitates before stepping in. To ease his headache, he focuses his gaze on an alabaster Madonna -- Claire’s religious aid -- lying idly by the gramophone. Was it there before? Something is off.

Concentrate. Look for clues. What’s different about the room from before we left it? Claire’s belongings have been moved. No. That’s not it. Searched? No. Perhaps. What?

The blood pooling in his veins violently quivers.

Sending Kimura Asagi away prematurely was a poor gamble. He feels a stabbing, paralyzing pain in his skull, and an intense buildup in his throat. The absence of his Artifact feels more significant with each ragged breath. He’s quick to clamp his hand over his mouth. When he peels his hand away, his lips are freckled with blood, and red discharge swings between his tongue and palm.

His hand is now stained with old, congealed blood, and the new signs of the fresh.

It isn’t supposed to be so soon, he thinks. But I have my bodyguard. He will follow.

A large hand presses into the small of his back, catching his fall. The rain outside spills so softly, almost soundlessly, but to Miyoshi, it begins to roar.

When Miyoshi’s vision returns, he finds that his throat is dry, and that he is not alone in his room. A presence unlike any he’d encountered tugs at his soul. Playfully, almost. His blood burns like an open fire.

Looking up from the floor, he sees an unfamiliar shadow. “Where is your companion, Herr Kazetani?” comes a voice that does not belong to Claire. Deeper. With a purr. Thickly accented English. Rain hums loudly against the roof and walls.

Despite his dread, Miyoshi’s blood boils with adrenaline. His facial expression, his eyes, the power concentrated in the depths of his thoughts, everything that fuels him to this point -- fills him with euphoria, and perhaps, savage joy.

Slowly lifting his head, he meets the eyes of a beaming Karl Neumann.

Yes. This could be it. He could kill me here, but would that truly be interesting?

“The bloody hell should I know,” the Kazetani grins, and spits a mouthful of clot and cuor. This time, if he does not reveal his true self, he will not get away at all.

What follows next can only be described as a blur. Five bashes and leaking liquid. Karl Neumann stifles a scream.

Outside, the rain tumbles like laughter, the sun bleeds through, and the clouds fold in rapture.



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A/N: I was fed some lines by Eva, Alligot, and Sophie; they allowed me moderate control over their characters for this scene. Therefore, this doesn't count as a collaboration post.


Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Cyril Noël Character Portrait: Maria Calag
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

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Maria enters the booth later than expected, having taken a brief detour to distract prying eyes. She slips into B2 quietly, but confidently. Anyone watching her might assume she’s simply retreating into her private quarters, but the true owners’ whereabouts are currently unknown. And that troubles her.

She greets the combat Saniwa and his Artifact with a small tired smile, slipping into the seat across them. She says nothing for the moment. Wulf looks expectantly at Maria while Cyril continues to read. Just before she opens her mouth to speak, the door opens to reveal a not quite familiar face.

“Hullo, Ms. Calag.” Kimura Asagi says lamely. If he isn’t content with his transfer, he veils his displeasure well. The Artifact’s gaze is softer than his Saniwa’s. He acknowledges Basilio, Cyril, and Wulfetrud with a polite nod, but doesn’t immediately seat himself. Instead, his eyes are fixed on his shoes.

The Spiritualist waits a heartbeat, but he continues to stand and stare at the floor. She finds herself looking down to see if something is there, but she finds nothing amiss. Understanding finally dawns, and she gathers her skirts then pats the seat next to hers. “You can sit here.”

Meanwhile, Wulf notes the sheepish spirit of the new arrival. In an effort to coax the young man into the car, the girl gives her newsboy cap an amicable tip. She offers a warm, greeting smile to account for Maria’s tired disposition, “Good morning, monsieur! Come on in, we don’t bite! Well… maybe Cyril will.” It is difficult to discern who was Saniwa and Artifact between them.

“Thank you,” Kimura sheepishly says, and sits upright in a manner reminiscent of his master.

As he takes his place, Maria brings out the contents of the small box she’d received. Supplies for the battle ahead. The thought is grim, but she thinks it appropriate all circumstances considered. “Kimura Asagi, you can have these.” The Gandor pistol she hands him looks new, as if it had never been fired. “Both Basilio and I are poor shots.” She says, answering the unspoken question.

She hands the ammo right after. Thin lips harden into a line as she stares at the weapons, reluctant to give up her last means of defense, but acknowledging they’d be better in other hands. Basilio, sensing her distress, picks up their tether.

“Are you sure?”

“And on the likely chance he gets damaged if left unarmed, how do I explain myself to Kazetani? You felt it.” She could still feel the remnants of that presence; the feeling of disgust sits on her gut like lead.

Basilio shifts in his seat, equally uncomfortable with the idea of leaving his Saniwa at such risk. But she had made up her mind; her Artifact knows better than to press. Maria feels him retreat, and she grits her teeth. The last item in the box is a small packet of medicine. She pockets the amphetamine tablet, begrudgingly acknowledging the drug’s advantage.

She looks at Cyril, who’d spent most of the past few minutes reading his book. Irritation colors her voice as she threatens him. “If you keep reading, I’m going to throw that out the window and laugh while doing so.”

This earns her a faltering smile from Kimura, and he peers curiously over at the Belgian boy and his companion.

The agitated words fall flat of their target. As if to spite the petite Saniwa, Cyril’s eyes remain glued onto the pages before him. His gaze then flicks up to his co-worker, stepping out of his sect off mental bubble to regard her existence, and without missing a beat, dives back down into the scripture. “If you did that, we would be at a substantial loss, Maria.” Cyril finally said.

Brown eyes look to him in question, but no sound leaves her lips. Wulf shifts her weight onto her partner’s shoulder and cranes her neck to indulge in the book’s context. She focuses and narrows her eyes in a manner completely identical to the other reader, a habit from an evident source. “Huh. For once, he’s not closing himself off into escapism reading.” She announces with an unsettling level of earnest surprise, reading along through the pictorial passages of the compendium.

If the comment had irritated him, Cyril gives no explicit sign of it. Then again, he has definitely grown used to such playful jabs. “I am trying to find spirits that are related to Dames Blanches and have an affinity for manipulating entities,” He states coolly. While his voice gave no hint at his progress, his body language spoke volumes. With a posture shittier than usual and a few rustled blond locks, it was clear that Cyril had made little headway. One could go so far as to say that he was stumped, but his internalized pride would never allow him to say it.

“One thing is for certain, we’re definitely dealing with a B, perhaps even A class spirit here. To boot, we’re also down a couple heads.” Cyril scans over faces of the other unofficial denizens of B2, taking in their individual reactions to the crossroads before them.

At this, Kimura frowns, and looks sharply at Cyril.

“I should say, Mr. Noel, when you mention ‘down a couple heads,’ do you mean that you know what happened to the Australians?” He pauses for an instant. For a moment, he seems to vacillate about whether to press for more information. Then he turns to Maria, looking somewhat pliant, and adds, “My apologies for being so forward. But if either of you know anything, please tell me.”

As soon as he asks his question, he appears to regret it. Although Kimura carries himself with cool efficacy, he seems like a child who spoke out of turn. Ironically, Miyoshi’s absence gives the Artifact an impression of lost agency. In the short time that he became acquainted with Maria, Cyril, and their Artifacts, he displayed a surprising amount of hesitation. Kimura’s behavior is unexpectedly old-fashioned and obligation-bound, and he assumes none of his master’s contemporary flair. The old-world element to Kimura’s conduct feels natural yet his self-sufficient demeanor is mechanical. Very rapidly, he appears increasingly aware of his position, and finds the mettle to remark about the killer at large.

“Someone had already attempted to kill my master last night by sending a Revenant; that someone has not been found. My master believes we are being set up. We are at a loss, I suppose.”

He looks down at his hands gravely; his glance is not untinged with concern. While Artifacts are incapable of fatigue, Kimura seems to be suffering from the exhaustion of mind and spirit, no doubt an extension of his master’s own. The Saniwa beside him studies Kimura quietly, thin lips pressing into a hard line at both the news and his current state. It explains much, yet more questions open at the supposition.

After processing the display ranging from fraught inquisition to internalized despair, all Cyril and Wulf can visibly respond with is a few blinks.

“I don’t know whether to dogeza or seppuku.”

“Cyriiiiil, I feel like a samurai is going to bust through the door at any moment! This is the forties, right.”

Cyril clears his throat to detract himself from the mental exchange and get his mind back on the Joffre’s track. The Saniwa takes in Kazetani Junior’s familiar in an effort to determine the most pragmatic manner to proceed. The guy was without a doubt more polite than his master, lacking his shrewd outlook on reality, but seems to be substantially bound to his master’s side.

He pauses and earnestly fixates his vision on the new arrival, “Right. Neither of them can be located, and they were absent from their quarters last night,” Yet the news of a setup was rather confounding, even to somebody such as Cyril, who typically has a glass half-empty perspective of people, “Due to this revelation, we can assume that our comrades were either captured, fled, or worse…”

The Belgian’s words trickle off his tongue, like a faucet running dry, as he recedes into a momentary muse. Even Cyril feels a ping of remorse, especially after the fact that he had hoped to garner even a few iotas of advice from his senior, especially one with a comparatively decorated career. This mission was, much like for a number of his teammates, their first endeavor that carried such gravity to it. A loss on the first night, in conjunction with a supposed setup, only leaves a bad taste.

“Well, we encountered a Dame - <a Baguette Blanche> - yes, a Baguette Blanc-” Cyril narrows his eyes at his fiendish partner and deeply exhales, “We exorcised a Dames Blanche last night that could have potentially been connected to Gammond. While this observation bears some weight, what is truly of a greater importance is the spirit’s passing words,” He spoke sternly as he recounted the previous night’s events, his spine still chill to the bone after the experience, “The Pissed Former Housewife alluded to a master behind her efforts, and that this soundly moving train is doomed to burn, under the ‘weight of soul.’ Disconcerting, no?” Whether the wry comment was necessary is up in the air, but for certain, both groups experienced encounters involving a mastermind. “Does that suffice, Kimura? I am certain Maria can fill in the gaps, as I was a bit preoccupied with being thrashed around.” Visibly tired from expending the effort to divulge the information, Cyril returns to the compendium.

“Your explanation of events was adequate, though not said in the words I would have used.” Maria turns to her left, where the Artifact absorbs the information provided to him. She awaits his reaction, curious to see how much of the Kazetani is in the bashful man beside her.

“That’s quite alright, if not concerning.” Kimura murmurs, paling slightly. “But the poltergeist identified Mr.Gammond by name. It’s all so queer.”

He interlaces his slender fingers, blinking. Then, realization dawns upon him, and his breath hitches with a start. Turning to Cyril and Wulfetrud, he confides his fears. “Whoever installed that spirit means to mark us. Choosing the...Baguette—“ he pauses, coloring slightly. “...the Dames Blanche was intentional. They all speak, you see. Every Dames Blanche has two goals — to be heard and to be pleased. She’s the first messenger, and I’ve no doubt there will be more.”

He shakes his head — gently pained. “Ms. Calag. Do you have anything you wish to add?”

“Yes. Let me collect my thoughts a moment.” Though distress clearly reflects in her eyes, the Spiritualist manages to keep it out of her voice. She understands that much of the decision-making falls on her now. While not usually uncomfortable in a position of leadership, she understands the gravity of the situation. She meets their eyes one by one, though Cyril firmly decides not to meet hers while he peruses the compendium. For once, she lets him be, knowing any information he might find could be beneficial to their rather dire straits.

With her second of reprieve done, she speaks. “If she means to mark us, then Cyril, Wulf and I have long been identified as members of the House. Suffice to say our covers our blown to whoever sent her.” Maria scans the window, as if expecting to see another Blanche. “In addition to all you’ve shared, there is one last thing.”

She bites the inside of her cheek, uncertain of how to deliver the news. Straightforward would be better, she thinks. The Spiritualist straightens in her seat and closes her eyes, trying to recreate what she’d felt as she spoke. “Something’s at the back of the train, towards the tanks.” An expression of disgust tinged with trepidation forms on her face without her awareness. “I think sending Wulf and myself would be best.”

She slumps, and speaks honestly. “It scares me; the fact that it does means it should be investigated with caution. If it’s our…” Maria pauses, reluctant to say murderer. “Our target, then we have no choice but to leave it alone and follow the trail. But if it’s another party, we have to stop them from interfering.” Again, the thought of leaving Gammond to die makes her sick, but she breathes deeply to force herself to calm.

Weary from the night and the news of the set-up, she turns to Kimura once again. “I assume you weren’t just sent here to act as messenger though.” Kazetani wouldn’t send his Artifact for something so simple, and she berates herself for not realizing it earlier. “Does he need something that he thinks would require assistance?”

“Your insight is as good as Rani says. On the contrary, my master sent me here for my protection.” Kimura says easily. “Sometimes the eye of a hurricane is the best safe harbor.”

While it might not be the truth, Kimura makes a convincing display of it.

Maria’s expression speaks volumes of what she thinks of that statement. If the Artifact had been Cyril, she’d have left it at that and he’d explain himself soon enough. But this was Kimura Asagi, not the Combat Saniwa across them.

“You have more of your Saniwa in you than I thought.” The fact both irritates and amuses her, though more of the former than the latter at the moment. “But if we’re the eye, that means the wall is nearby. Kimura Asagi, what does your master want?”

“Truthfully, I wish I knew.” Kimura replies. This time, he doesn’t seem to be lying.

That earns him a wry smile from the Southern Saniwa. She pats his arm—a rare gesture of comfort and solidarity. “If he’s sent you here, I assume he expects something to happen. With that in mind,” Her tone becomes brisk. She looks to the pair in front of her, looking to Wulf in particular. “As said earlier, Wulf and I will investigate. I think it’d be best if Samael and Kimura stand as guard.”

Her thoughts stray to her own Artifact. “Basilio’s ability to discern spiritual energy exceeds my own if activated. I can send him to make rounds and see if anything is out of place.” She speaks nothing of the strain it will leave on her. If anyone thinks of it, her steely gaze is enough to stop the comment.

“For Cyril,” He does not even look up from the compendium. “He’ll remain on standby should Wulf and I require assistance. In the meanwhile, he can continue his search for information.”

The plan gives her some semblance of control of the situation; Maria grabs onto it like a lifeline. It reassures her, even if the unknowns and uncertainties continue to outnumber what they could manage. “I believe that’s it. Cyril, Kimura, what do you think?”

“It’s sensible,” says Kimura. Some surprise colors his features, but his tone conveys relief. He turns to the Belgian boy seated across from him, waiting expectantly.

Before even a flicker of awareness lights up in Cyril, another present soul takes the initiative. Wulf, who had been quietly digesting the discourse between the missing link between Saniwa and Artifact and their team leader, finally breaks from the hushed composure identical to her partner’s and pipes up, “While it is a pragmatic decision to have Basilio as insurance, I do not doubt for even a moment that someone with veterancy such as your own isn’t aware of the drain such extensive deployment would have on the mind and soul,” The girl meets the Saniwa’s gaze and reveals a warm smile befitting of a former abbess, “And if you’re going to have my back, I need both of those in one piece.”

She sounded like a nun offering advice on how to reach His grace, but that’s just the kind of sheepish yet doting combatant Wulfetrud was. Following up from this advisory, Cyril merely nods in affirmation, equally with the plan as with his Artifact’s words. It was evident that he was by far more engrossed with the scripture before him- in fact, the air around him felt charged, almost as if he was… stumped. But refusing to even budge, the designated reader read on, yet presents the self-control to shove an extra magazine Wulf’s way.

“Keep her safe.” Cyril brusquely says before delving back into the literature.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Miyoshi Kazetani Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield
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The rain had subsided. The sun shines bleakly through the thin curtains, beaming slits of sunlight when Claire swings the door to their room open. It surrenders easily, the knob colliding softly with the wall. The bland decor and clashing fabrics are a welcomed sight for once, giving the Irishman ample time to decompress from his earlier engagements.

What ought to have been an easy trip proved to be more of a petting zoo as Claire navigated the dining halls of the upper class car. Matches were in short supply and a source of community for smokers of any nationality and even he had to concede that they (the “they” referring to every European) were treating him better than the first night. Maybe they finally know who they’re dealing with a small part of him thought, or perhaps they merely wanted to practice their English.

Every “hallo, American man!” was met with a gruff “hey”, but the few women were met a more cheeky “what’s buzzin’, cousin?” Well, the brunette ones anyway. His own car consists mostly of men and it seems that the few women who are there are either maids, rich debutantes, or the blonde duo. Not too many interest him, but a breakfast of awkwardly conversing with the Germans (the few that weren't patrolling the cart) has helped him acclimate to showing off his humorous side.

Nonetheless it did not prepare him for what lay directly under his eyeline--a body by the name Neumann.

“Mouse what the fff-” he silences himself before turning over and closing the door.

He scurries toward Miyoshi, his hand cupping around his own mouth.

“Mouse what the fuck happened?” Claire whispers harshly as he points an open hand at the unconscious body, “don’t you think there was another way to handle...this.”

“No,” Miyoshi says, without looking up. He licks his teeth.

Claire squats down to observe the body, grabbing Neumann’s right hand.

“We’re going to have to get rid of this,” he asks, raising it to inspect the damage, “they can’t know he was here.”

“Very good. Ave Maria, I suppose.” comes Miyoshi’s lackadaisical reply. He tosses the Madonna in a single dispassionate movement.

I leave you alone for ten minutes and you knock this Nazi out cold, Claire thinks, though he can’t deny a twinkle of pride when he sees the statue tossed away in his peripheral vision.

If Miyoshi was telling the truth then they would need to act quickly to prevent themselves from being discovered or worse, having the Germans turn on them. He brushes his fingers over the broken knuckles with some curiosity as he tries to formulate what plausible explanation he might have to drum up should anyone be on the other side of the door, but finds himself at a loss. Maybe they dropped a piece of furniture on his hand while they were rearranging the room? No, the better course of action is preventing any further slip ups.

Claire chews on his lip before standing up and reaching into his pocket to pull out the compact from the previous night.

“Big Brother, you’re awfully early toda-!”

This time Claire has the foresight to preemptively clamp his hand around Mary’s mouth before whispering slowly in her ear.

“Mary I’m going to need you not to scream because there is a bad man passed out and we’re going to need you to shield this room. Now are you not going to scream when I let you go?”

A vigorous nod allows the redhead to let go before Mary darts around the room, flailing in a mixture of frustration and shock as she sees the unconscious soldier.

“That’s the bad person!” Mary hisses before covering her mouth again, “what did he do?!”

“That is what we are trying to find out,” Claire sighs, rubbing his temple, “I need you to cover this room and make sure that nobody can see or hear us. I don’t want anyone else getting hurt okay? It will be just like all those other times.”

Mary pauses for a moment, turning back at her redheaded companion. “You aren’t going to kill him are you? He’s just a human after all.”

“Don’t worry,” Claire smiles reassuringly, gesturing for the ethereal girl to float down to his level, “he will be fine. We just need to scare him a little.”

“Oh well I can do that!” Mary grins before holding her hands up like claws, “boo!”

Claire can’t hold back a chuckle. “I know you can and you are real scary but we don’t know how much he knows about us so we can’t risk him runnin’ around screaming about a ghost on the train. Next time okay?”

“Fine.” Mary folds her arms and turns away, “But just because he’s knocked out already.”

As opaque fog covers the walls of the room Claire shoves Neumann onto the nearest chair and binds the German’s hands together with his belt. Like all supplies, they were, unfortunately, in short supply of either rope or Artifact.

Don’t worry he’s a Nazi just like all the rest of ‘em. He’s more dangerous to us if he escapes,, Claire thinks to himself as he pushes the Nazi to the center of the room. He does not want to break the man’s foot, Nazi or otherwise.

He knows nothing about enacting interrogation nor does he want to. Hearing one of his former mentors talk about the mythical “third degree” of interrogation was enough to turn him off from such missions, along with the subsequent resistance training that followed his Rank A promotion.

Though his experiences with water curing, sleep deprivation, suspension and ice showers never left any scars they validated his decision to never enter the world of espionage.

The West Wind is clever like that, showing easily you can break a guy without even leaving trace, he thinks before frowning at Neumann’s broken hand.

They are far past that point now.

“Hey wake up,” Claire grunts as he lightly slaps Neumann awake.

“Herr Kazetani!” the German jolts awake only to be met with a grab.

“Hey you aren’t talkin’ to him. You’re talking to me!” Claire warns, jerking the German’s head to him, “what do you know about the contents of this train?”

From the corner of his eye, the Irishman sees Miyoshi approaching and crouching beside him, eyes glinting with a wicked curiosity.

“They are German supplies and armaments,” Neumann replies evenly, “was this not what we discussed at dinner?”

“Then...” Claire pauses for a second before standing to his full height, “let me rephrase that. What sort of people are on the train, besides the civvies, the us, the staff? Is there anyone or anything important that you Germans are holding onto?”

“There are at least fifty people on this train Herr Stanfield. I cannot be expected to know everyone’s name,” Neumann responds, “was this not what we discussed at dinner?”

“Answer the question!” Claire punches the Nazi’s stomach, “where were you after dinner ended? Did you see anyone?”

“I-“ Neumann lets out a large series of coughs before doubling over. Heavy breaths leave his mouth as he gasps for air, unable to contain himself before Claire delivers another to his jaw.

He hears a subdued shriek from the corner and internally winces but keeps his face steeled.

“I was reading Volk ohne Raum in my room. I can show you if you doubt me,” the German wheezes.

Claire narrows his eyes before pulling out a cigarette from his pocket and lighting it, taking a long drag. Clearly, a direct line of questioning is not going to work.

He isn’t creative either, not like Miyoshi.

Glancing back, the Japanese Saniwa gives Claire an expectant nod towards the chair before stepping back towards the door.

If he’s going to let me be, I’ll need to let him be, the American shivers, closing his eyes for a second. He hates that look, but he is sure he hates Neumann more.

“So you were in your room the entire time? No bathroom breaks? No late night cigars?” Claire asks, smoke billowing from the corners of his mouth.

“What-” Neumann huffs before taking another breath, “-do you want me to say? I am a lark,”

“That’s fair, I used to be an earlier riser too,” Claire admits, “how early would you say you slept? Nine? Ten?”

Neumann glances up for a second, licking the blood from his lips. He mimics his interrogator’s grim expression.

“It’s hard to remember. I only read a few pages before sleeping,”

“It must not be a good book then. Do you remember anything else about last night?” Claire inquires, leaning closer to him.

“You seem irritated, Herr Stanfield,” Neumann raises a brow, “Are you looking for something?”

In an instant, Claire pulls the cigarette from his mouth and drives it into the Nazi’s neck before it drops to the ground.

“Don’t get smart with me,” he hisses through gritted teeth, “what did you hear last night? What did you see?”

“I told you I was reading, I could hardly hear anything besides the rumbling!” Neumann exclaims, wincing from the red ring forming on his neck.

“So you heard rumbling?” Claire calms, “can you describe the rumbling?”

Neumann knits his brow, his lips in a thin line.

“There was a fair amount of thudding but I assumed they were nothing more than raucous passengers.”

“Did you hear any names?” Claire inquires, “I’m more of a faces guy so you will have to forgive me.”

“Where are you leading me Herr Stanfield?” Neumann deflects, “as I told you before I have no inkling of when I fell asleep. It could have been at any time.”

“Well do your best to remember because your next answer is going to be mighty important if you don’t want that burn on your neck to have a friend.” Claire replies as he grabs Neumann by the hair.

“I give you my word,” Neumann sighs, rolling his wrists against his bindings.

“Try feeding him a tab,” Miyoshi smirks. “Just my guess.”

Claire raises a brow before his face lights up in realization. He lets go and reaches a hand into his overcoat pocket. Pulling out a tin box, he pops the cover to reveal several white tablets.

“Have you seen these before Neumann?” Claire asks, holding up one of Miyoshi’s pills to Neumann’s line of sight.

“This is your big question? I thought you had something more important in mind Stanfield,” Neumann responds before narrowing his eyes, “I am not one for foreign med-. ”

“If you want to keep breathing you’ll do your best to swallow,” Claire snaps, shoving the pill into the soldier’s mouth and clamping his jaw shut.

With his other hand pinching Neumann’s nostrils Claire’s hands remain taut as his eyes move toward the tied man’s throat. Miyoshi watches his partner with a bizarre sense of adoration, keeping his eyes fastened on Claire’s moving fingers.

As a lump slides down his throat, the Irishman forces the German’s mouth open.

“Tongue up,” Claire orders, inspecting Neumann’s mouth for any traces of white.

Were it not for Claire’s fingers in the German’s mouth he likely would have heard Neumann saying “I told you I would keep my word”, but instead both of them settle for waiting until the redhead slinks his away out of Neumann.

For once he keeps silent, crossing his arms as he watches Neumann for any movement.

I hope he is right about this, Claire thinks as he glances at his partner, he can’t keep doing this.

As much as he despises Miyoshi’s usage of the soul tablets he knows that now is not the time to be glad he is one step closer to depletion, especially when they are still in danger.

Turning back to Neumann, low breathing turns to deep gasps of air as he beings shaking against his bindings. As his shoulders popped and legs trembled as small movements turned into large, jerking convulsions.

A cry of pain erupts as the Nazi topples over, curling and unfurling at the stomach.

“What did you-”

“Karl Neumann!” Claire exclaims, as if to drown out the sobbing in the background, “Nazi soldier, German, and judging by your reaction a Saniwa.”

A fit of coughs only seems to confirm his, truly Miyoshi’s theory as Claire walks over to the prone soldier and gives him two kicks to the abdomen.

“How many corpses are in the cargo hold Neumann?” he yells as pulls the chair upright, “we know that there are revenants on this train!”

Neumann suppresses another cough, drool pooling down his uniform. “That has nothing to do with me. I am here strictly on military act-!”

Before he can finish, a cry of pain escapes his lips as another punch hits his stomach.

“Don’t lie to me,” Claire commands as he takes hold of the Nazi soldier’s collar, “Miyoshi may have broken one hand but you still a whole body.”

Neumann hitches his breath.

“If you were just here on orders you wouldn’t have popped into our room and my partner wouldn’t have had to defend himself now would he?” Claire asks, hitting Neumann square in the jaw.

“I…” the German grits his teeth, head swaying from a mixture of the drug and the swirling in his stomach.

“Who is reanimating those corpses Neumann?”

“I-” He holds his breath but is unable to stop the flood that exits his mouth. The smell of blood and acid fills the air as Neumann retches across his lap. As the color drains from his face, his body slumps over, intoxicated by the strain and the bruises blooming across his body.

“Son of a bitch!” Claire curses, recoiling to avoid the mess. He kicks the chair down, knocking Neumann to the floor before delivering a swift kick to the top of the German’s bowed head.

First he deflects, then he lies, and now he has the audacity to vomit all over him?

“Get. Back Here. And. Answer. The. Question!” Claire huffs, kicking the Nazi harder with each word.

You have to be kidding me, we were so close! Claire groans, his hands balling and unfurling.

He turns around for a brief second but finds no reprieve in the calm Miyoshi whose smarmy grin only widened.

If there were a way for him to punch Neumann back to consciousness he would be all for it. Unfortunately, those unaccustomed to soul tablets are not so lucky and most certainly (Claire bites his lip) he had gone too far in driving the answer out of Neumann.

Perhaps today is just another day for the Spiritualist and IJA member but his throbbing knuckles and acrid arm are no more glorious than Drusilla or even the Nazi he beat senseless only moments before. To what end did he need to keep kicking him when a single soul tablet ultimately gave them their answer?

He glances back to find Mary’s fog still present yet her figure is nowhere to be seen nor her voice despite the earlier attempts to block it out.

“Mary are you still here?” Claire whispers, only to be met with silence.

“Mary we’ve got everything we need. You don’t need to keep shielding the room,” he tries once more.

“Why, Big Brother?” the young ghost squeaks out, “you never told me what he did.”

“I told you he’s a bad man.” Claire as he reaches for the ghost’s compact. “He isn’t one of us. I was trying to-”

“You were being a bully!” Mary yells, finally reappearing, “you said he was a Saniwa too like you and Uncle Miyoshi!”

“That doesn’t mean he’s on our side!” Claire presses his lips together before producing a weak smile, “Please, everything is over now so you can rest easy.”

He opens the small, pink compact only for Mary to float into the leftmost corner of the room.

“No! I don’t want to go back with you! You killed the revenant and now you killed him too!” Mary sobs.

“Neumann isn’t dead Mary, he’s...” Claire trails off, opting to to open the mirror and setting it away from him, “you don’t need to come with me but I do need you to go back inside. We still don’t know who else is on this train and I don’t want you to get hurt. I swear it’s for your own good..”

“How can I trust you?” she shrieks, “how do I know that you won’t just smash it like you did to him?”

“You’re right,” Claire sighs, “I’m not trustworthy, but I would never do something like that. You are a sister to me. Everything I’ve done I’ve done to protect you...because I care about you. I promise I won’t ask for anything else I won’t even touch you. You’ll stay in here until the mission is over and I will hand you over to someone...who isn’t a bully. Someone better.”

Not waiting for an answer, he walks to the opposite edge of the room before turning around and holding his hands up. For what feels like an eternity he hears nothing until a chills whip past his neck and the temperature undulates through the room.

Perhaps he ought to have let Mary take the reins on this mission.

After Claire hears the compact snap shut, he moves to pick it up and drops it on his bed before approaching Neumann’s drenched form.

Despite the shallow breaths indicating signs of life, Claire hardly feels any less remorse or disgust while digging through the unconscious, odious man’s pockets. Cigarettes, wet matches, a gun, a deck of cards, all standard fare for a soldier.

Laying the items out on the desk, he frowns and spreads the deck apart, fingers moving from card to card before finally pushing out a King of Hearts that appeared a bit thicker than the rest.

At first glance it appears to be a defect yet the rip in the corner tells him otherwise. Peeling away at the back of the card, Claire finally lets out a gasp as he pulls out a small red card with a black border.

“Hey Mouse, what does this mean to you?” the redhead asks, holding the card up to full view.

Two chrysanthemums and a purple ribbon across the center.

At first, the Japanese man does not speak. Claire sees Miyoshi’s fist curl and unfurl.

“Hanafuda group,” Miyoshi says, voice thick with something other than blood and bile. “They are here. We are not the only Saniwa organization aboard this train.”

At this, Miyoshi falls into his usual muffled, breathy laughter. He’s shaking, and for all their years of friendship, Claire cannot fathom if the laughter stems from insanity or mirth.

“See,” the Spiritualist finishes, wiping a palm across his mouth. “We’ve captured one.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Claire Stanfield Character Portrait: Hélène Köhler
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One after the other, her breakfast companions begin to depart, hurried and purposeful. The air swirls the last plumes of smoke from the ashes in the tray on the table, and for a moment Hélène contemplates the visual as she grapples with her mounting fear. The heavy weight of panic presses in on her, unseen danger coming from all sides, and for a moment she almost can’t breathe.

But just as quickly as her dread overwhelms her, it lifts again, problems and plots successfully shoved into a dark corner to contemplate later. There are enemies on all sides, now. I longer have the luxury of indulging my distress. Failure is not an option. The manta helps to settle her, the familiar thought a double-edged sword. She had almost forgotten, in her preoccupation with the games of the House. To lose three agents in a single night alone meant the deck was no longer stacked in their favor, that the Kazetani’s accusations held far more weight than she initially thought. If they were compromised now, among enemies seen and unseen, it would do well to keep together where they could, out of fray where they couldn’t, and unmask their enemies when possible. They were, as her countrymen say, in des Teufels Küche sein.

Looking up, Hélène regards the American across from her, his red hair fiery and his eyes bright. He would need to follow in a moment, and she had the dubious pleasure of covertly interviewing as many officers as she could find, in hopes of running into her proverbial needle in the haystack.

“Before you leave, if you could tell me more details on your encounter with the red-eyed man? You mentioned seeing him late last night,” she interrupts the slight lull with a business-like focus she did not show the night before.

“I told you everythin’ I had to say. He had red eyes, white hai’,” Claire stops before clearing his throat, “‘scuse me. Red eyes, white hair, and this powerful aura like nothing a normal guy would have. I was taking a smoke break in the hallway of our car before heading back to me and Mouse’s room when he was just standing there. I offered him a match and he just stared at me, not saying a damn thing.”

He shakes his head.

“I didn’t want any trouble so I just let him be,” he finishes with a sigh.

Ach,” she says softly, “I see. Thank you for the detail, Herr Stanfield. I will do my utmost to uncover him.”

Hélène’s mind spins with new information, the rising panic that this unknown Saniwa was just outside the door while she slept last night all together too daunting to fully contemplate. Her thoughts stutter with fear for a moment, and she lets the redhead go with an absent minded farewell, still turning over the facts in her mind. The singer rises from the table, mindful of the censure she might receive at seating herself at the officer’s table even as she worries at this new issue.

He was dressed in an officer’s uniform, appearing at dinnertime in this dining car; It follows he should be taking his meals from here. He left immediately after seeing Frau Austerlitz and I, but he left the way he came. Did he he wait us out in the passenger car? He must have… and ran into Herr Stanfield on his way back. She snorts, a little incredulous as a plan coalescences into shape. It seems I will have to smoke him out of the passenger car at very least, and besiege this car too. She smiles wryly to herself, I haven’t yet had the opportunity to starve out an officer before, this is a mission of firsts.

Plans made, her thoughts turn darker and closer to home. She had lightly thought Amelia a gamesmaster, but to hear second hand such vital information… perhaps to be in the grace of a Frenchwoman was a poor place indeed. With how precarious the woman’s position had become in just a night, Frau Renard and her vague promises of alliance the evening before cast a more sinister light on her offerings of friendship, and her tight-lipped hoarding of intelligence even more still. Paranoia rearing, Hélène wanders with purpose out of the dining car, through and pointedly past her shared sleeping space and out into the whipping air between cars.

With a firm tug she opens the door to the passenger car, steely purpose filling her as bolsters herself for the charming mask she doesn’t quite feel, and a naivete she can no longer cosset.

. . .


Some interminable hours later, having faithly made small talk and covertly attempting to poke at various officers’ backgrounds while seeming to invite flirtation without quite encouraging it, Hélène’s resolve feels less like steel and more like badly made ersatz meat, watery and bland where it should be supple and flavorful. For a moment she thinks mournfully of the day’s meals, while not quite awful even with the company she had had to endure, disappointing all the same.

The day had past more slowly than she’d hoped but more quickly than she had been prepared for, and now here she sat, leaning against the wall of the dining car at the same table she had started at, an odd sense of symmetry. She plays at leisure, resting her head against palm and idly watching the night fly by through the window. Her inattention is, of course, only a ruse to discourage any other enterprising individuals from joining her at the her now empty table. It had been full and lively only a couple hours before, her company at dinner a popular commodity, but as it had grown later and later the car had emptied out again as the men had left for their duties or their beds. Hélène leans a little harder into the wall, and sighs quietly, the vision of the sweeping darkness outside blurring as she eyes the lightly rattling door at the end of the car through her lashes. None of the men she had meet today had matched Herr Stanfield’s description or her memories even remotely, and blurring of her thoughts made it clear that her need for sleep was a looming threat she could no longer ignore.

The impotent frustration of her failed hunt mixed quietly into the dread of returning to sleep, creating a muddy anxiety that crawled through her bones. Discovering what would be waiting for her in her sleeping quarters was a double-edged sword she was not ready to catch. The truth of her roommate’s fate was an ultimatum she was too exhausted to receive, but time waited for no man and certainly never any women. Achingly she admitted defeat and strolled out into the bitter night as fear and adrenaline wound through her guts.

. . .


Stepping in from cold, Hélène softly shut the train door behind her, blinking into the deeper shadows of the sleeping car. Movement out of the corner of her eye jolts her, and she spins to face it in surprise.

Red eyes blink back at her from pale, handsome face, and before she can stop herself, she blurts out in astonishment,
“Ach! It’s you! ”