Monday, February 1, 2016

Untitled: Chapter 14

“If Patrice is on the train, then so is her uncle.” said Mr. Baine.

“Is this a warning, or a plea for help?” said Wendell, holding up the napkin. Despite their modest accommodations in the foremost passenger car of the train, he was grateful for the noise of the engine which helped to obscure their conversation.

“Depends. Obviously, Patrice knows we're on the train. The question is: does Henri? If so, I think he would have acted by now; he did not strike me as a man of patience.”


“Do not forget, there was another man with them.”


Mr. Baine nodded, “Merely an assistant or hired help of some sort, if we're fortunate ...”


“An officer of the peace, if we are not.” Wendell finished the thought.


“Or an assassin. Honestly, I'd prefer dealing with an assassin,” said Mr. Baine.


“Why on earth would you prefer dealing with a professional killer over the law?”

Mr. Baine shrugged, “Nobody's going to ask questions if an assassin goes missing. Nature of the profession and all that.”

Wendell sighed. “That aside, what are we going to do about Patrice?”

“I take it your assessment of the situation is that she needs rescued?”

“You feel otherwise?”

“As I said, it all depends on what Henri knows. That determines if Patrice’s role in this is merely as a hostage or as bait.”

“Either way, she needs help.” said Wendell, “I will not ask you to put yourself in harm’s way, but we should have a plan.”

“Indeed.” Mr. Baine paused for a moment, lost in thought; Wendell imagined he could hear the gears turning within his skull. His mind wondered a tiny bit further and he remarked to himself that Mr. Baine was a man whose gears were probably always turning and, therefore, well-oiled and deathly silent in their continual spinning.

“Allow me to try and glean some information from the conductor,” said Mr. Baine, “The more information we have, the better our chance of success.” With that, he rose and stepped past Wendell into the aisle. Seeing that the conductor was not in their car, Mr. Baine made his way out the back and further down the train.

Wendell leaned back in his seat. He tried to focus his thoughts, to contemplate the situation in calm objectivity, but his mind was a tempest. Complications seemed to be arising unexpectedly and of their own volition - all centered around this young woman he and Mr. Baine had happened across in the forest a mere two days ago.

The monk closed his eyes and modulated his breathing using a technique honed by years of practice in the temple. After a few short minutes of this, he began to feel the ebb and flow of time begin to slow and the noisy clattering rumble of the train fall away; he began to experience a sensation of weightlessness, as if his body were floating inches above the padded bench on which he sat. He was aware of the sensations generated by his surroundings - the noise and pressure of the physical world. But at the same time he was outside of it all, as if existing at a different frequency.

His consciousness flowed and extended into every part of his body. There was a swirling blue sensation as he passed through his wounded shoulder down into the left arm. It was still tender, but almost completely healed. A small scar, no bigger than the bullet which had passed through his body, would be all that remained of the injury before long. Wendell had to begrudgingly admit - though he would never utter the words to his companion - that, yes, sometimes the burden he carried had its benefits. The cost, through, was something with which he would never be at peace.

Wendell felt the pressure in the car change slightly as the door in the back was opened. He finished settling back into himself, felt the weight of stress and the heaviness of his heart settle upon him once more, as Mr. Baine made his unsteady way up the center aisle.

“I have news” said Mr. Baine, falling into his seat, “First, the train will not arrive in Belfort until well past sundown. Unless we plan to jump from a moving train in broad daylight, we'll have to wait, whatever out course of action.”

“It may come to that,” said Wendell, who noticed the serious look his companion still wore, “There is something else, though.”

A grave nod from Mr. Baine. “There's an exciting bit of gossip floating around involving an eccentric man of means purchasing tickets for an entire passenger car near the rear of the train. Apparently, that car is filled with a rather crude collection of men, much to the dismay of some of the other gentlefolk who've had to pass through them in order to reach the dining car.”

Wendell felt a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach, “That … complicates matters.

“It does indeed.”

=====================================

Patrice sat, staring out the single large window of their passenger cabin, and waited. There was little else she could do. The boy in the dining car had not been able to speak with her directly upon his return, as Georges had returned to the table. A quick glance as the lad re-entered the dining car rewarded her with a with a skittish nod. She could only assume that her message - if it could even be considered as such - had been received.

But would it be understood? Mr. Baine struck her as a clever man and Wendell was … Wendell. What did that mean? Patrice was not entirely sure. She considered the monk for a moment, he was certainly unique - a white man from the West who spent a number years living in the Far East, struggling with some curse that threatened to turn him into a monster - but there was more to it than that. Wendell had a presence about him that few possessed.

She remembered their first encounter in the forest; the stoicism he maintained while facing a soulless predator. Even afterward, as he struggled with the change that began to creep over him during the heat of battle, he demonstrated a determination to stay in control of himself. But, did that uniqueness occur because of his condition, or in spite of it?

A rustle of paper drew her gaze as Henri turned the page of a newspaper he had picked up on his way back from the parlor car. Across from him - beside her - Georges snored quietly in the corner. Patrice turned back to the window and continued to wait as the sun began to descend. She waited as the vineyards of the southern Champagne turned into rolling fields of barley and alfalfa. She waited as the fields gave way to foothills, dotted with dense stands of pine. Stars began to reveal themselves in the night sky and still she waited.

No signs had been witnessed, no extra-ordinary happenings or covert messages of any kind manifested. Patrice was losing hope. Perhaps they had not gotten her message and she had mistaken the serving boy’s attempt to be discrete. Perhaps they could not decipher any deeper meaning in a dirty napkin being presented to them seemingly at random. What if they had already tried to rescue her and failed? They might have attempted to pass through Henri’s thugs congregated in the passenger car ahead of them and gotten captured or, worse yet, killed. There was no commotion, though, no breathless messenger banging on their door with news of any sort, so it seemed unlikely.

A cold knot developed in the pit of her stomach and, with the passing of each uneventful hour, grew like a snowball tumbling slowly down a hill. What if nothing was happening because nothing was being done? What if Wendell and Mr. Baine were simply done with Patrice and did not want to risk encountering Henri? She had nothing to contribute to their journey and offered only the risk of being killed for their trouble. What sane person would come for her under these circumstances?

A knock at the door nearly caused Patrice to jump out of her skin. She did her best to maintain the look of bored despair she had settled into for the last couple of hours, lest any hint be given to either of her traveling companions of who - or what, she suddenly realized - may be waiting on the other side of the door. Sure enough, Henri, who had glanced up at the sound, turned to scrutinize her. Patrice tried to look as defeated as she felt, up until a few seconds ago; the last thing she wanted her uncle to see was an ounce of hope in her posture, her face or even her eyes.

Apparently satisfied with what he saw - or failed to see - Henri nodded to Georges, who was now awake, albeit drowsy. Slowly, the hired man stood and reached for the door. He gripped the knob, braced himself slightly, and turned it. Patrice could feel the quiet intake of her breath choked off by her heart, which suddenly felt as if it had jumped up into her throat. The door opened at a glacial pace to reveal ...

“Bonsoir,” said the conductor, with artificial cheer, “We shall be arriving at Belfort within the hour.”

While Georges and Henri visibly relaxed, Patrice deflated like a balloon. There would be no rescue attempt; no one had come for her and no one would. She spent what remained of the trip willing herself to not cry in front of her uncle.

=====================================

Eventually, the mournful wail of the train’s whistle drifted back to them, and they felt the gentle push that came with the gradual application of the brakes as they entered Belfort. Henri rose immediately, opened the door and braced himself within the frame.

“I will be the first off this train,” he said, answering the puzzled looks of both Georges and Patrice, “Georges, you stay in the cabin with Patrice and make sure she does not leave this room!”

“We're not going with you?” said Georges. His disappointment at the prospect of having to stay in the small stuffy, cabin was poorly disguised.

Henri snorted. “After you nearly let her escape at the last stop? I think not.” He shook his head, “No, you will lock the door behind me. No one enters or leaves until I return from searching the station.” Georges nodded sullenly.

“You didn't see them in Troyes, uncle,” said Patrice, “What makes you think they are now in Belfort.”

“I was distracted in Troyes,” Henri said, an edge to his voice, “You'll not interfere again.”

“I thought you would not let me out of your sight again,” said Patrice, falling into the familiar tone with which she often goaded her uncle.

“Priorities, niece.” he said, “I will see to it that there is a reckoning - first for them, then for you.”

With a final loud hiss, the train rolled to a stop at the Belfort train station. Henri stepped into the hallway and turned back to Georges.

“Remember, keep this door locked. Do not let any-”

The cabin grew dim for a split second before the exterior window exploded inward, filling the air with crystalline shrapnel. A figure came swinging in through the window. Covering her face for fear of the flying shards of glass, Patrice could just barely make out a bright orange blur as it collided, feet first, with Georges. The door to the cabin, which opened into the room, banged shut as his limp form slammed against it and crumpled to the floor with a sigh. Henri was knocked back into the hallway as the door slammed - quite literally - on his face.

Wendell got to his feet, carefully shaking bits of glittering glass from among the orange folds of his robes.

“Are you hurt?” he asked.

Patrice, stunned into silence by the sudden transition from unexpected terror to overwhelming relief, could only stammer incoherently. Despite barely knowing the man, Patrice had never been so happy to see someone in her entire life.

The spell was broken by a pounding at the door, which elicited from her a surprised gasp. The door moved in a few inches, but was prevented from opening by the unconscious body of Georges.

“Help! My niece is being abducted!” Henri shoved against the door once more, creating just enough of a gap to get part of one arm into the room. His hand resembled less the appendage of a civilized man than the grasping claw of a savage as the curling fingers flailed blindly next to her. More quietly than his plea for help, Henri pressed his face to the opening and snarled at Georges, “Wake up, you fool! Get out of the way!”

Wendell took Patrice by the hand and led her towards the window where the crown of a nondescript brown bowler bobbed impatiently.

“Hurry girl,” said Mr. Baine, “We're pressed for time!”

Another thump behind them, and Henri had gotten his head and shoulder through the door. He pointed at Wendell.

“Murderer!” he yelled, “You'll not escape justice this time!”

Wendell pulled his cloak down from where it had been tied and used to swing into the cabin. He used it to cover the jagged lower edge of the window and turned, extending a hand to Patrice.

“Wait!” Patrice stepped towards her uncle, grabbed the extended finger and twisted it sideways with a quiet pop. Henri’s eyes went wide in shock; a howl of rage and pain split the air. He began to thrash about.

“Harlot! Sow! You are dead! DEAD!”

Wendell quickly scooped Patrice into his arms and passed her through the window to Mr. Baine. A moment later and she was safely on the ground.

“Hurry!” The monk hopped out after them, and they ran for the nearest exit. Patrice could feel the eyes of everyone in the station upon them. She prayed that the crowd would be so dumbfounded by the spectacle that no one would think to prevent their escape.

“MURDERERS! YOU WILL HANG!” Suddenly, the attention they had gotten from people in the station was drawn back to the train. Henri had gained the cabin and was now leaning as far out the window as he could, his broken finger cradled gently to his chest. “Stop them, you idiots!”

From around the back of the train, brandishing cudgels and knives, nearly a dozen of Henri’s men came charging after them.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Untitled: Chapter 13

Patrice sat in numb disbelief as her uncle devoured his meal with aplomb, his appetite apparently stimulated by his recent … what? What exactly had he done? He left with Pierre, then returned alone. Thrown him from the train, she surmised. But she had witnessed nothing directly. Assuming there was anyone Patrice could report the incident to, she was sure Henri would talk his way out of the situation. Perhaps he would claim the young man attacked him or something equally ridiculous, but his easy lies and his money would see him safely through as it had so many times before.

  “You have barely touched your food, niece,” Henri said, interrupting her thoughts, “Is it not to your liking?” Even seemingly casual comments from the man were delivered tipped with venom.
  
Patrice wanted to reply - possibly even scream at him at the top of her lungs - but whatever words she would have formed seemed to catch in her throat, so she merely shook her head.
  
  “Nothing ever is.”
  
Patrice said nothing. Henri, seeing that his insult would not provoke a reaction, continued, “I must say, while the cuisine is no match for the meals I enjoy back in Paris, the food here is surprisingly adequate. Perhaps if you will not eat, Georges here will be happy to finish it for you.”
  
Patrice contemplated the man dining next to her. There, Georges sat, his arm curled protectively around his plate as he sat hunched over what remained of his meal. His table manners left much to be desired, but Patrice found that she really was not offended; he was not trying to be rude, the man simply did not know any better. A quick glance around the dining car, though, showed that not everyone felt as magnanimous.
  
Georges seemed unfazed by the attention he was getting, if indeed he was aware of the unflattering stares at all. She gathered that this meal was a rare opportunity for Georges, and he was going to make the most of it. She found herself wondering what sort of meals the man was used to. Under normal circumstances, Henri would never have offered to buy food for an employee, much less be seen in polite company with a common laborer. But his determination to keep Patrice on a tight leash won out over any concern he had about any gossip among his peers of sharing a table with hired help. She also could not help but wonder if the high spirits of her uncle after Pierre’s disappearance had prompted him into a moment of uncharacteristic generosity.
  
Lunch was nearly finished when Patrice noticed that the gentlemen from the surrounding tables were excusing themselves and moving to the next car up in the train. Henri had noticed it as well, and it was having a strange effect on him.
  
  “Where are they going?” she asked.
  
  “There's a parlor car in front of this one. They are going for an after-meal cigar, I wager,” he said, his eyes quickly scanning each of the finely-dressed men as they moved past.
  
Patrice finally realized what was happening with her uncle. If there was one thing closer to his heart than the desire to avenge his dear departed daughter, it was money. The men headed to the parlor car were, in all probability, wealthy businessmen - potential clients or future partners in a new venture - and Henri was weighing the cost of staying behind to keep his niece under his thumb.

Henri turned to regard Georges, who was still eating. He frowned. “I have decided to join them. Finish up and take her back to the room.” Mouth full, Georges could only nod in reply.

  “You're not afraid I will escape again?” Patrice said.

  “You didn't escape,” said Henri, more concerned with getting into the parlor than sparring with her yet again, “Besides, I will be on the car ahead of you, and my men are but a car or two behind us - not to mention the fact that we are on a moving train.” That said, he rose from the table and fell into step behind the group of men making their way out of the dining car. Patrice slumped back in her chair, folded her arms and expelled a quiet sigh of frustration. As much as she hated to admit it, her uncle was right; she could see no way out of her present situation.
  
The remaining diners were finishing their meals and began to leave the dining car. Two boys in aprons, waiters’ assistants, began cleaning the tables. One of the boys, working on the table next to where Georges and Patrice sat, turned and asked if he could remove Henri’s setting.
  
  “Is there a bar on this train?” George said. The question was a surprise to both the boy and Patrice.
  “Y-Yes sir,” said the boy, “in the parlor car.”
  “Could you fetch me a beer? If so, I have a franc for you.” said Georges. He caught Patrice staring at him in disbelief. “I'm paid to do a great many things, but I've never been paid enough to pass up a beer. I doubt even your uncle has that kind of money.”
  The boy glanced around, no one seemed to be paying any attention to the conversation. “I … suppose I could,” he said, “What kind would you like?”
  “What're my options?”
  “I honestly don't know, sir, but you can see the bar from the window in the door, if you like.”
  Georges started to stand, but caught himself mid-movement and turned to regard Patrice. “Will you stay put?”
  Patrice shrugged, “As my uncle has pointed out, where can I go?”
  Georges' brow furrowed as he briefly contemplated the situation, nodding to himself as he reached a conclusion. “I only need a moment,” he said, walking towards the door in the far corner that connected the dining car with the parlor.
  
A spark of hope flared briefly within Patrice. This was an opportunity! But what could she do? Where could she go? Her eyes sped across the dining car and finally came to rest on the plate of half-eaten food in front of her. An idea occurred to her.

“Boy,” said she, whispering, “I have a very import favor to ask of you.”

==============================

There was a cheerful fire providing light to the room. The woman sitting beside it was beautiful - for some reason that thought stood out to him; her beauty was familiar, but only rarely contemplated. The lamp on the table next to her gave her skin a ethereal glow. He wondered if the woman knew how beautiful he found her and resolved to tell her more. She was reading a book to a pair of children, one nestled on each side of her. It was an idyllic scene and he stood watching it, fearing that the slightest movement or sound sound might cause it to evaporate suddenly. The three of them stopped their reading to look at him; her gaze was warm and inviting and the children smiled. At first.

Warmth was gradually replaced with puzzlement, which then quickly gave way to fear. What was wrong? He started to move towards her. The children buried their faces in her side, clutching at their stuffed animals and blankets. She was panicked and opened her mouth, drawing a deep breath. She was going to scream. He felt himself rush upon them as they cowered, falling upon them like a tidal wave of darkness.

  “P-pardon moi, sir?”
  
Anger and sadness and fear and loss ...

  “Sir?”

The smell of food.

  “Wendell.”

Something struck his arm.

  “Wake up!”

Wendell sat up with a start and looked around. Beside him, Mr. Baine wore an expression that was equal parts annoyance and concern.

  “Bad dream?” he said.
  Wendell nodded.
  “You were growling in your sleep.”
  
Wendell felt the blood drain from his face as he looked at his traveling companion.
  
  “I thought it was funny, at any rate.” Mr. Baine shrugged, then raised a finger to point past Wendell to the aisle running next to him. Standing there was a boy in an apron looking terribly uncertain. “This young man would like to speak with you.”
  “Me?” Wendell looked at the boy, “Can I help you?”
  “I was asked to give you something, monsieur,” he reached into a pocket on the front of his apron and fished out a dirty napkin.
  
The monk could only imagine the look of confusion he wore as he plucked it from the boy’s hand, but it could not be helped. “Who asked you to bring this to me?”

  “I don't know her name, monsieur,” the boy looked as confused as he felt, “A young woman, in the dining car. She asked me to deliver this to you. She described your 
  orange robes specifically.”
  “Is that all?” Mr. Baine asked.
  “Oui. She said the man in the orange robes would know what to do.”
  “Was she alone?”
  The boy shook his head, “There were two men with her, an older gentleman and another besides.”
  “Two men and a young woman ...” Mr. Baine rubbed at the stubble on his chin.
  “Please, monsieur, I must return to the dining car …”
  “You have done as you were asked, thank you.” Wendell gave a nod, giving the boy leave to hurry out the back of the car.
  “I must say, courting rituals among the French certainly leave something to be desired.” Mr. Baine quipped.
  “This makes no sense,” said Wendell.
  "It's not even clean."
  “It is a message of some sort - a message that could not be written out, spoken or delivered in person for some reason.”
  "Not an environment conducive to messages, then.” said Mr. Baine. “There must also have been a risk of interception ... Perhaps her handlers would disapprove of her contacting you?”
  
Even without holding it to his nose, Wendell could smell the residue of rich food still clinging to the napkin. The odors prompted his stomach to rumble in discontentment, reminding him of the full breakfast they had enjoyed just this morning, and of the lunch they could not afford but a few hours later. And then, just now, was that the smell of … ? Wendell slowly raised the napkin to his nose and inhaled deeply.

  “What is it?” Mr. Baine had sensed the shift in his companion, puzzlement replaced by tension.
  
  “She is here,” Wendell said, “Patrice is on the train.”

Monday, January 11, 2016

Untitled: Chapter 12

If the train ride from to Paris to Troyes had been uncomfortable before, it was unbearable now - thanks in no small part to the tension added by the presence of the young soldier. In order to accommodate Pierre in the small room, and also as punishment for nearly allowing Patrice to escape, Claude had to rejoin his companions in their reserved passenger car further up the train. The man had been surprisingly enthusiastic about the demotion.

The room now contained Pierre, Patrice, Georges, and Henri himself, who made no effort to hide his displeasure at the sudden change to his travel plans. Despite this, he managed to keep his thoughts to himself. A frosty silence has descended upon the cabin, which was just as well for Patrice, as her own thoughts had yet to extend beyond ‘What now?’

She had given up her best - and possibly only - chance of eluding her uncle. The action had not been without purpose, but the solace that provided was tempered by the fact that yet another person had been ensnared in her mess of a life. She found herself stealing the occasional glance over at the uniformed young man sharing her seat. He was not unattractive; given different circumstances, a little flirtation would not have been out of the question ... Patrice shook the thought from her head; romance was most certainly not going to improve matters; at best it would be a waste of time better spent devising a plan of escape.

Patrice reviewed the facts of her current situation: She was on the last car of a moving train, personally guarded by her uncle and one of his hired men; Wendell and Mr. Baine sat oblivious to her presence on the first car; between them was a car full of Henri’s thugs, whose very presence was to help him capture - and kill, in all probability - the two men.

Despite the presence of the solider, she could not seem to factor him into the equation. He was an anomaly, a random element that Patrice suddenly realized she was thinking around. She wondered if her uncle were having similar thoughts about the man as he sat and plotted.

An hour after their departure from Troyes, the ice finally broke.

“Where are your parents?” The question, indeed, the sound of a voice at all, come so unexpectedly that the remaining three occupants of the cabin found themselves starting uncomprehendingly at an increasingly red Pierre.
Patrice’s mind finally processed the question and realized it was she who had been addressed. “My mother is back in Paris with my aunt. My father died in the war when I was little.”
“I'm sorry to hear it.” said Pierre, who then turned to Henri, “Did you serve in the war, monsieur?”
“Briefly.” Henri sniffed.
“Were you there when Paris fell?”
“I happened to be deployed elsewhere at the time.” said Henri, looking out the window.
“I see.” said Pierre. Henri turned to regard the young man; Patrice noted that his eyes narrowed the slightest bit. He took a breath, but Patrice jumped in before her uncle could reply.
“What led you to join the Gendarmerie Nationale?”
Pierre’s ears flushed crimson. “You will think me a fool …” (this prompted a snort from Henri, which he either missed or graciously ignored) “but I grew up hearing women speak of their fondness for the uniformed men … ” Patrice smiled, despite herself. The soldier continued, “In all seriousness, living so close to the border - on the heels of a war, no less - I grew up on the stories of soldiers and being told the importance of a strong military. Enlisting was a natural progression. Only, these days it's not Prussians we're on guard against, but the undead.”

Patrice hesitated before she asked her next question, but decided that it needed to be asked, “Have you encountered any? Vampires, I mean.”

Henri and even Georges, who had been doing his best to appear interested in a book he found somewhere, looked to see what the soldier’s reaction would be. To his credit, Pierre seemed to be perfectly comfortable discussing the matter. “Just once, on a rural patrol. Wretched thing. Putting it down was an act of mercy, though I cannot claim to have delivered the fatal blow. Like most of France’s troubles of late, they seem to have come from the east. Unfortunately, they are not yet considered enough of a threat that the gendarmerie will dedicate the resources needed to eradicating them. Why do you ask?”

“My cousin was killed by a vampire.” The reply escaped her lips before Patrice could give any thought to how her uncle would react.
“NO!” Henri erupted, “Those men you brought into my house killed my daughter! Do not lie to this man to assuage your conscience.” Had the tiny room not been so cramped, he might have stood. As it was, her uncle contended himself with leaning forward to thrust an accusatory finger at his niece.
“How can something that is dead be killed?” Patrice sat forward herself. Perhaps if she could convince him of Camille’s death earlier that cursed evening, then he would call off his blind quest for revenge.
“Because they are not dead - they are infected, you foolish girl! If they were truly dead, then they would not need blood to sustain themselves, would they? Dead things do not eat, they are dead! There are many prominent thinkers who say that the affliction can be cured, especially if the infection was recent.”
Patrice tried to alter her uncle’s momentum, “So you admit that Camille had been turned?”
“I admit that whether she was a vampire or not, those villains had no right to kill her - in my own house, no less! Ignoring everything else, the fact remains, Patrice, that you brought it all to my door!”
“Are you angry because you lost your daughter, or because something unpleasant has occurred in your house?” Patrice said, throwing herself back in her seat and crossing her arms. She knew her uncle despised a particular affectation she sometimes used when she was being belligerent - a tone of voice combined with a shaking of her head - and she made sure to use it now, “You're not angry, nor are you sad - you fear a scandal. The neighbors’ gossip is what you fear.”
Henri was apoplectic. “You insolent little … !” he moved to strike her. Suddenly, Pierre was standing between them, preventing the blow. Henri sputtered; Georges sat up, but made no move against the solider.
“That is enough,” despite the situation, the young man was remarkably composed and maintained a calm - but firm - tone, as he leveled his gaze at the businessman, “I have been tasked with this girl’s safety. You may not strike her. Remember, sir, that I am under orders to give a report of this journey to my commanding officer. I don't think he will react kindly to more evidence of your tendency towards striking young women.”
“I .. I …” Henri was off-balance and floundered. He finally decided to shut his mouth and sat chewing the inside of his cheek for a moment. Pierre remained where he was, ready to weigh the response to come. When Henri next spoke, his voice was in that carefully even tone that always made Patrice uneasy, “I apologize. Clearly, the recent loss of my daughter is causing me no end of torment. I have allowed this girl to manipulate me.” He produced a heavy sigh. “With your permission, I would like to step out to the rear platform. I think the fresh air would help me regain my composure.“

Pierre sat down, allowing Henri room to move, “I think that is an excellent idea.”
Henri stood and made his way to the door. Just before he stepped out of the room, he turned to Pierre and said, “I wonder if you would be willing to join me, perhaps for a smoke? Some polite conversation would be most welcome.”
“I'll go with you, boss,” said Georges, moving to join Henri.
“No,” said Henri, “I asked Pierre to join me.” Georges looked somewhat crestfallen, as he sat back in his seat.
Pierre turned to Patrice. “Are you okay with this?”
Patrice shrugged and nodded, “I will be fine.”
The soldier stood and followed Henri out the door, heading for the rear of the train. Patrice glanced over at Georges, who was wearing a frown.
“Why do you work for him?” she said.
Georges shrugged, “Need the money.”
“But, he is so mean.”
“Guys like me don't have a lot of options when it comes to work. A mean boss that pays well is better than a good boss who don't - or no boss at all.”
“I see.”
“No disrespect, mademoiselle, but you don't see. Not at all.” It was clear that Georges did not want to pursue the discussion further. 

Several minutes of awkward silence passed before the sudden opening of the door startled them both. Her uncle, his hair in disarray, stepped in and picked up the bag of Pierre’s belongings and disappearing again. A brief moment later, he returned. Alone and in high spirits.

“Where is Pierre?” A sick, cold feeling began to percolate in Patrice’s stomach.
“After discussing the matter, Pierre has decided to part ways with us.” Henri said, straightening his hair.
“You … paid him to leave?”
“I didn't have to.” Henri tried and failed to suppress a wicked smile.
“But … his report!” Patrice could not believe, according to the evidence available, had just transpired.
Henri nodded gravely, then brightened as he said, “I have graciously offered to submit the report on his behalf.”
Patrice felt on the verge of tears when a knock at the door suddenly drew the attention of everyone in the room. The tension became palpable as Henri nodded to Georges, who, after a moment’s hesitation, stood and opened the door to find the conductor standing before him. Then tension became even more unbearable as he looked around Georges, then said, “I was given to believe that there were four passengers in this cabin?”
“There were, but our companion decided to get off in Troyes. Not a fan of trains, it seems.” said Henri.
“Ah, well. I just wanted to let you know that lunch has been prepared in the dining car.”
“Excellent. Thank you.” said Henri. With that, the man moved to the next door to repeat the procedure.
“Well,” said Henri, glancing around “Are either of you as hungry as I?”

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Untitled: Chapter 11

“Stop her!”

Henri just missed grabbing a handful of hair as he stepped off the train. It took a moment for Claude to react to what was happening. Disbelief registered plainly on his tired features but was quickly chased away, as he himself began to give chase.
 
Those standing near the last car turned to see what the noise was about. Since the commotion was nearly unintelligible and easily missed in the noisy hustle and bustle of a full train station platform, the ruckus did not provoke much of a reaction. The fancy couple and the group of women, however, watched with nervous interest.

With a narrow lead - no more than a few steps at most - Patrice weaved in and out of the numerous bodies before her, trying to find the nearest station exit. The steam was starting to dissipate, but, coupled with the dense crowd and her limited stature, still managed to disorient her to the point that she was not sure which direction she should be running. At last, a glimpse of a doorway just ahead lifted her spirits. Patrice did not even care where it led, if she could just get through it without Henri’s goons noticing …

A rough hand landed heavily on her shoulder. She tried to squirm out from under it, but the fingers dug painfully into her collarbone; the sensation caused her eyes to water and her knees to buckle. She was caught, her hope of escaping suddenly becoming even less substantial than the steamy haze in which she stood. A moment passed and the hand lifted away. Patrice looked around to discover that the rest of Henri’s men had caught up to them and had encircled her.

Henri, just now catching up, breathlessly shoved his way into the small ring of bodies to stand before her. Red with rage, he raised his hand. Patrice flinched, but the blow never came. She was suddenly aware of someone standing behind her.

“What is going on here?” Patrice turned to find a man wearing the uniform and insignia of an officer of the Gendarmerie Nationale standing there, glancing around at the group of men, his gaze coming to rest heavily on Henri. She wondered how he could appear so casual standing in the middle of group that was, in all probability, hostile. She then caught sight of several more uniforms hovering around the periphery of the circle. The man was not alone. Unlike Henri’s mismatched gang, these men were all of a robust build and moved confidently. No lackeys they, but trained soldiers.

The crimson flush of Henri’s features receded noticeably, but his ears remained bright pink. It was as if the rage was being drained from him, though Patrice knew better.

Slowly, stiffly, his hand fell to his side. “My niece was nearly killed in a riding accident at a young age. The experience addled her brain and made her prone to fits of hysteria.” He spoke in a voice so calm and level that it caused a chill to run down Patrice’s spine in a way that his yelling never had. “Since my own blessed child passed away, she is the closest thing to a daughter I have left, so we are headed to Munich to see a specialist. The poor thing isn't used to traveling abroad, and tried to run off on her own.”

The officer snorted derisively. “A Bavarian specialist. Is there such a thing?” He nodded to the men circling the three of them, “And it takes this many men to escort a single girl?” His skepticism was evident, but not unassailable.

“She is a handful, I will admit.” The pinkness was gone from Henri’s ears now, and his posture relaxed a little, “But no, I am also conducting business there, and do not trust foreign hands to respect my property.” Damn our family’s ability to lie, Patrice thought.

“And she will corroborate this?” The officer said, turning to Patrice, but keeping and sharp eye on her uncle.

“Tell him, Patrice,” A wicked gleam came into Henri’s eye, “Tell him why we are going to Munich.”

“I …” Patrice wanted desperately to tell the soldier what was going on, how her uncle was dragging her along on a mission to kill two men - one whom was a monster of some sort, but kind - who had saved her from her undead cousin after they had foolishly run off to see a vampire for themselves . Running the tale over in head, she realized that the truth was only going to nourish the seed Henri had already planted about her mental instability. “He ... hits me,” she said, “And now he will not let me go; I am nothing more than a prisoner.”

This, at least, produced a frown from the officer. “Is this true?” He said, turning back to Henri.

Henri shook his head as sorrowfully as he was able. “I regret that it is. I know of no other way to snap her out of these delusions.” A heavy sigh, and then, “As much as I am loathe to put hands on anyone, I am more concerned for her safety than her comfort when she is hallucinating. I can only hope the man we are going to see in Munich can put a stop to it.”

The officer crossed his arms and scrutinized Henri for a moment, then Patrice. He seemed to nod to himself before waving one of his men over, a young man with strong features. The officer put his arm around the solider and the two held a brief whispered exchange. The young man paused for a moment, then shrugged and nodded. The officer clapped him on the shoulder as he moved to stand next to Patrice.

“This is Pierre,” he said, indicating the soldier, “He happens to be from Mulhouse - which you will be passing through - and is due for some time off. He will accompany you to the border and see to it that no harm befalls this young woman, by her own hand or that of another.” This last comment was directed squarely at Henri, who - Patrice had to admit - did an excellent job of keeping his thoughts about this unexpected development to himself. Instead, he merely offered the slightest of bows to the soldier. 

“Excellent,” said the officer, “I will arrange for him to board the train.” Then, loud enough for everyone in the circle to hear, he said to Pierre, “I look forward to receiving a telegram when you arrive.”

“Yes, sir.” Pierre made a sharp salute.

The officer turned to both Henri and Patrice, bowed informally and said, “I wish you both a safe and … beneficial trip. Good day.” With that, he turned and made his way out of the circle of men. The other soldiers began to fall in behind him, one of their number making his way to Pierre to hand him a stuffed canvas bag, which Patrice assumed were his belongings.

Pierre thanked his comrade, then turned to Henri and Patrice and said, “Do you have any further business here, or shall we return to the train?”

They turned and looked around the platform. The steam had almost completely dissipated and it was clear that the majority of people left on the platform by this point belonged to Henri’s group. Patrice noted with quiet satisfaction that none of the remaining patrons resembled either of the two men her uncle was looking for.

Georges stepped forward, “Boss, what about …”

“We are done here,” snapped her uncle, “Back on the train. If anyone has need of the facilities,” he said, looking at Patrice, “use those provided on the train.”

==============================================

“What is it?” Mr. Baine asked, settling into his seat in the first passenger car.
“Excuse me?” said Wendell.
“You have a look about you that I've come to recognize, whenever something is on your mind.”
“You are quite observant.”
“I try.” said Mr. Baine, “So what is it?”
“As we waited to board the train, I thought I heard an argument or … something. It was hard to tell over the noise of the train.” Wendell said.
“A distraction? Good.” said Mr. Baine.
“You are paranoid.”
Mr. Baine shrugged, “It's served to keep me alive thus far.”
 
This prompted an eye-roll from Wendell. “Regardless, I hope no one was in serious distress.” He tried to peer back along the platform to see if there were any clues as to what he might have heard. A group of passengers appeared to be taking their time boarding at the back of the train, beyond that, nothing unusual presented itself. A mild shrug and Wendell turned around to settle in for the long train ride ahead.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Untitled: Chapter 10

The monotonous drone of the train as it shook and rattled its way down the track was unexpectedly relaxing. Since none of the three other passengers crammed into the small sleeping car - hard-faced men of varying age and social standing - were inclined to interact beyond hostile stares and surreptitious glances, Patrice found herself drifting in and out of sleep.

During one period of wakefulness, she contemplated the flint-edged scowl that seemed to be etched permanently into the face of her uncle as he sat across from her, regarding the landscape as it spun continuously past the one large window of the sleeping cabin he had purchased for the two of them. The two men he had selected to join them in the cabin, Georges and Claude, sat in bored silence.

Henri had been serious about not letting Patrice out of his sight. They had been sitting in the small room since the train left Paris that morning and, as best she could figure, they would be sharing the cabin as the train traveled through the night - propriety be damned.

Still, she would have a bed. The rest of Henri’s men were occupying a single passenger car, purchased for their exclusive use for the duration of the trip. As far as she could tell, not all of them were aware of their true destination.

“Troyes is not more than a day away by train,” she said, as he purchased their tickets earlier that morning, "Why did you get a cabin?"

“The train will stop in Troyes to fill up on water and coal,” he sniffed, “We will search the station and surrounding area during the stop, as it is likely they'll try to board the train - assuming they have not already boarded one. If we do not find them, we shall continue to Munich and capture them there.” His words were delivered with a barb of irritation, as if he were annoyed at having to explain something so obvious to the girl.

It was a tone that Patrice was all too familiar with. So much so that she had nearly become deaf to it, not unlike a person living along the banks of a rushing albeit ill-tempered river. The intonation simply held no meaning for her anymore. Her two ‘bodyguards,’ hired hands Henri referred to as Georges and Claude, began to nod as if they had been thinking along the same lines the whole time.

As Henri stalked over to the train, Patrice heard one of the men flanking her whisper, “Munich? I thought they were fleeing to Troyes.”

"Best not to question the boss,” said the other.

Patrice could not help but roll her eyes in quiet exasperation. This was a large part of the reason her uncle was now the unbearable, self-absorbed creature he had become - no one was ever willing to challenge him, let alone question a decision he made. He was rich, that was true, but the people he surrounded himself with assumed that because he was rich, he must also be right. Whenever that ‘rightness’ was brought into question, Henri often reacted loudly and, under certain circumstances, violently.Patrice resisted the urge to rub her eye; the extra make-up needed to hide the bruise was making her itch.

I am going to run away.

The thought came to her suddenly as her mind returned to the here and now. She had daydreamed about running away before, certainly, but there was something different about this feeling. There was a finality to it, a sense of resolve that would not - could not - be denied. It was not merely an idea that had occurred to her, or a suggestion; this was a decision already made making itself known.

Patrice weighed her options. Hiding on the train was out of the question, as Henri would simply have his men search each car. The thought of jumping from a moving train was briefly entertained, but a quick glance out the window convinced her that doing so would not only be foolish, but potentially fatal. The train station, then. If the restroom there included a window, she could try climbing out while they waited by the door, though that would likely draw more attention to her than she wanted.

Perhaps, she could try simply blending in the with crowd while they searched for Wendell and Mr. Baine. It occurred to her that if, by some unlikely coincidence, the two men were spotted in Troyes, the ensuing chaos and excitement could be exactly what she needed to escape.

The thought led Patrice into a moment of conflict; could she really hope for their capture if it meant her freedom? She felt like she knew what the correct answer to that question was supposed to be, but could not honestly say she believed it. As the two sides of this invisible conflict vied for control of both her heart and her mind, she glanced over at her uncle. Their eyes met for only the briefest of moments before he once again looked away. The was no love, no hint of compassion in Henri’s venomous gaze; selfish contempt and cruelty were all the man knew.

Within her, the momentum of battle shifted.

==============================================

The ticket seller peered down at the small pile of money on his counter. Using a pencil, he gingerly nudged some of it aside to make sure he had not missed any. Satisfied that everything had been counted, he glanced over at one of several papers posted nearby. Across the counter, two men - one of them oddly dressed - studied a map of the various rail lines running through the north-central region of France as he silently ran the calculation in his head. He could already tell that the shorter of the two, a plain-looking man in a bowler, would be unhappy with the answer.

“Belfort,” he said at last, drawing their attention.

“Belfort?” The men glanced back over at the map, uncertain of just where to look. The bowling hat man made a face, “No further?”

“Non. I am sorry, but this is what you can afford.”

The bowling hat man sighed heavily and looked at his taller companion, who shrugged and said, “We have little choice.”

“Fine.” said Mr. Baine, nodding at the ticket seller, who slid the money into his palm and began making change. A moment later, he handed back a pair of tickets and a few small coins.

“The train will be here in ten minutes,” the seller said, glancing up at a large clock prominently displayed in the station’s waiting area. “It will be departing an hour later, please make sure you are aboard.”

“An hour? Why the delay?”

“We are the last station between here and Munich capable of refilling the steam engine. A few of the other towns along the way can offer coal or water, but not both. It is more efficient to fill up here.”

“Thank you,” said Wendell. As they turned away from the desk to meander around the station, he said to Mr. Baine, “At least we do not have to worry about missing the train.”

Mr. Baine made a dismissive noise, “I would rather not be loitering in one place so long; not until we've cleared the shadow of Paris, perhaps even the country itself.”

“There are a few shops and vendors around the station, why not take in some of the local flavor until the train arrives?”

Mr. Baine jingled the few remaining coins in his palm, “I fear we'll have to content ourselves with merely taking in the local aroma,” he said. Wendell sensed a melancholy undertone in his companion’s words.

“Do not worry, my friend,” he said, “Something is bound to turn up - perhaps when we least expect it.”

“For us, the unexpected is also often rather unpleasant.” Mr. Baine looked at his ticket and groaned, “Not the first car.”

“What is wrong with the first car?”

“It's right behind the coal hopper, with smoke and steam billowing back from the engine. It smells, the scenery will be obscured and ...” Mr. Baine looked around before continuing in a somewhat lower tone, “Everyone knows the first car is where the poor ride.”

Wendell shrugged, “We are poor. Besides, some of the best people I know have little or nothing to their name. This could be good for you.”

Mr. Baine rolled his eyes. “Let's board as soon as we can, at least. If nothing else, I would like to get my pick of the seats before it fills up.”

“Or before anyone sees you enter the dreaded ‘first car?’ ”

“I'd rather no one saw us get on this train,” said Mr. Baine, “You never know who is watching.”

===============================================

A shiver, accompanied by a gentle lurch, emanated back from the engine, causing each car to clack their couplers against those ahead of them, like the popping of a giant metallic spine.

“We are slowing. Troyes must be near.”

The words brought Patrice out of her sullen reverie. The time to act was fast approaching, and she was uncertain of her chances. How would Henri react if she failed to escape? Would anyone at the station - in all of Troyes - be sympathetic to her plight?

Buildings began to fill the landscape outside their window. They would be pulling into the station shortly. Another moment passed and thick white steam began to obscure their view as the engine began to bleed off the excess and apply the brake.

As they began to see aspects of the station around them, Patrice realized with a sinking feeling that they were on the opposite side of the car from the platform onto which they would exit; she had no way of scanning the crowd awaiting the train for Wendell and Mr. Baine. It was a small comfort that Henri would be similarly disadvantaged. Perhaps if she could somehow manage to exit the car first …

The deceleration continued and, Patrice would have sworn, that the passage of time was slowing along with the train; the last few minutes before they pulled into the station made the seconds feel like minutes, minutes like hours. With a final jolt, the train stopped. Billowing clouds of steam belched forth from the hissing engine, drifting the length of the platform.

“Where do you think you are going?” said Henri, as Patrice stood and turned towards the door. Claude and Georges jumped to their feet, one to stand in front of the door, the other behind her. Neither man moved to actually grab her, though.

“To stretch my legs, we have been on this train for hours.” she said.

“And let you run off to cause more trouble? I think not.”

“Am I allowed to use the facilities, at least? Or would you rather we turn this room into a pigsty and wallow in our own filth?” Patrice was surprised at how quickly the anger she felt towards her uncle could flare up.

Outside the door, they could hear the muted knocking and clomping of people filling the central corridor of the car, lining up to exit the train.

Suddenly, there was a hesitant knock at their door. A man’s voice on the other side said, “Boss? The men are ready to start searching.” Claude and Georges turned and joined Patrice in looking at her uncle. She imagined that they were looking forward to getting out of the stuffy cubicle and getting some fresh air themselves.

Lips pursed tightly, her uncle sucked at his cheek and his jaw seemed to roll slightly. Patrice recognized that he was chewing on the inside of his mouth in that annoying manner of his that manifested whenever he was compelled to make a decision sooner than he was comfortable with.

After a moment, which may as well have been an hour, Henri snorted and said, “Fine,” and to each of the men flanking Patrice turned a piercing stare in turn, “But keep her close.” He did not have to add ‘or else.’

They opened the door and made their way out into the cramped hallway. Henri’s men had moved back through the train to the last car and were now crowding the space, waiting for their employer’s instructions, lest they incur his displeasure by presuming incorrectly. The remaining passengers who had not gotten off the train before their arrival were attempting to squeeze out of their rooms and down the hallway past the clot of men who clearly did not belong there.

A handsome couple, followed by another group of well-dressed women were making their way past the door. Upon seeing Patrice, the man stopped to let the young woman and one of her escorts out into the hallway before them. Once she was past, he continued moving forward. Georges was momentarily trapped in the room with her uncle as the trailing group of women followed them off the train. Patrice's heart leapt within her - even a few short feet between her and Heri was enough to lift her spirits and encourage the thought that escape was possible.

“The facilities should be along the wall,” she said to Claude, who had been let out before her, “Do you see them?” The man attempted to peer through the thick clouds of steam to the far side of the platform. As he did so, Patrice scanned the crowd milling about the cars further up the train. It was nearly impossible to make anyone out, certainly not in any great detail.

The steam parted briefly as the locomotive huffed out its final reserve and Patrice happened to catch a flash of distinctive orange fabric peeking out from under a dated traveling cloak in the crowd milling about the lead cars of the train, waiting for the passengers to disembark. Her eyes did their best to avoid going wide, though her stomach had no compunction about dropping into free-fall. They were here. The perfect opportunity to escape had just presented itself on a silver platter.

The women exiting the train behind Patrice had nearly finished filing off the train. Behind them, Henri and Georges were pressing forward as closely as was socially acceptable. If time had slowed to a crawl before, its pace was now positively glacial. She took a second look towards the front of the train, the crowd of people was still there, still waiting - completely oblivious to what might be happening on the opposite end of the platform.

Patrice took a deep breath of the moist, oily-tasting air ... and ran in the opposite direction.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Untitled: Chapter 9

“We have a habit of reaching destinations around sundown,” Wendell said, as he wondered the streets of Troyes, “I wonder if there is any significance to that?”

Walking beside him, Mr. Baine shrugged and said, “Perhaps, but only to someone determined to find it. An unlikely, displaced holy man, perhaps?” Wendell allowed a brief smile to cross his typically stoic facade. He was in a surprisingly good mood, all things considered. Amazing the difference a day makes, he thought.

The weather had been pleasant and the road clear, allowing the farmer to make good time to the city. Wendell and Mr. Baine purchased some of the the food the man was hauling, primarily vegetables and cheese, and filled their bellies. The time riding in the back of the wagon was spent resting; the companions taking turns trying to catch up on the sleep they had lost the previous night. Wendell attempted to spend his time awake meditating as much as he was able, given their circumstances. The last onset of change in the chaos of the night before had unsettled him more than he cared to admit, and he was determined to remain in control should they find themselves similarly pressed in the future. Still, there were no unfortunate encounters on the road - human or otherwise - and, as far as either of them could tell, they were not being followed.

When they finally arrived in Troyes that evening, Wendell felt a measure of refreshment in both body and spirit. Mr. Baine was considerably less grumpy, as well, he noted, which was bound to have helped his own mood. Even the gunshot wound in his shoulder was feeling much improved. The farmer had taken them to a popular open-air market in the city and there they parted ways; he, to stay with relatives who lived in the city, and they to find reasonably-priced room and board for the night.

Due to their dwindling finances, the two men agreed that they should abstain from the comforts of a proper hotel and purchase only the most basic of accommodations. However, the pickings seemed spare in Troyes - at least in the part of the city in which they now found themselves. Wendell began to wonder if they would ever again have the luxury of down comforters and pillows. No, the monk within him spoke up, that was before, you are different now. I don't deserve it anyway, thought Wendell. The beast, for its part, slumbered quietly in the shadows.

The sun had nearly finished its westward trek for the day before Mr. Baine stopped abruptly before a nondescript townhouse with a sign in the window. Wendell could not read it, but guessed at what it said.
“Do they have a room to let?”
“If I'm reading it correctly, they do,” said Mr. Baine. He glanced over the plain facade, “Dare we enter? I don't imagine this to be the lap of luxury.”
“It would require a great deal of effort to turn me away from a bed at this point,” said Wendell. Mr. Baine nodded and the pair ascended the steps. The room was sparsely furnished; Wendell reasoned that this was for the best, given how small it was. To both men’s great relief there were two individual-sized beds; a cupboard, a small table and a washstand were also present.

The woman who owned the house, a middle-aged widow, had not expected anyone to show up so late, and thus had no food prepared. Instead, she directed them to a small cafe down the street from where they were staying that could provided them with a warm, affordable meal. It was a mild evening and the two men elected to sit at one of the tables clustered on the sidewalk, watching the stars emerge.

Draining the last of his wine, Mr. Baine sighed contentedly and said, “Barring the events of yesterday evening, this has not been an altogether unpleasant trip.”

Wendell glanced around at the other patrons, checking to see if any had turned an ear to what Mr. Baine had said. No one appeared to be paying attention. “Perhaps you can handle the next altercation should we stumble across any more … unfortunates.” he said, careful not to let his voice carry beyond their table.

“Unfortunates?” Mr. Baine chuckled at the abstract reference and sat back in his chair thoughtfully, regarding the purple veil that had fallen across the sky and was quickly darkening to a deep blue. After a moment, he sat up. “You know what? I will,” he said, “I have dealt with them before, and I will agree that you have shouldered the burden of dealing with them since we left London.” He picked up a stray crumb from his plate and casually tossed it into his mouth.

Wendell started to protest, to say that he was only picking at his companion, but Mr. Baine cut him off, “No, I mean it. The next one is mine. I've had quite enough opportunity to observe. I need to stay sharp lest I get slow and lazy and become just another helpless layperson. A man who can't defend himself in these strange times, they are the truly 'unfortunate.' ”

“I was not trying to imply such a thing.” Wendell said, feeling at turns guilt and fear. The former, for taking a verbal swipe at the man who had been kind enough to travel with him, taking care of their expenses and providing most welcome support in battling and ultimately seeking a cure for his affliction; the later, for encouraging him to stand in harm’s way out of … what? Pride? Guilt? Whatever the reason, it was Wendell who could afford to take the risk, and not Mr. Baine, who still had a future worth living for. After all, if he happened to be bitten, the end result was simply that two monsters would be put down, rather than one. Should Mr. Baine get bitten, however, two monsters would still fall, but a third would remain, wondering aimlessly for a cure that may or may not exist and always seemed to be just out of reach.

They had not known each other very long, but Wendell had to admit that his relationship with Mr. Baine was, by far, the closest thing to a friendship he had experienced since leaving Songshan several years earlier. Wendell had arrived on his doorstep one day, haunted, road-weary and seeking another. Any rational person would have simply turned him away. In fact, Wendell found himself wondering on more than one occasion if he had found Dr. Henry Jekyll, as he had intended, if he would have been given even a minute to explain himself. The man Wendell chanced across instead, Mr. Baine, had not only listened, but taken him in, worked with him in developing a serum to help fight the change, and uncovered the lead in Munich which they now pursued, but was happy to travel with him and cover their expenses out of his own pocket.

Wendell knew Mr. Baine’s had an insatiable curiosity, which accounted for his willingness to undertake this journey. Wendell was a curiosity; a person who had been places, seen things, and suffered a condition - all of which fell well beyond the boundaries of a normal life experience. On some level, though, he could not shake the feeling that his companion was pursuing something else - a destination or goal that he had yet to verbalize. He could also be presumptuous, tactless, and more than a little abrasive if the mood struck him, but did that warrant a challenge that placed the man in harm’s way? Something in Wendell’s expression prompted a smirk from Mr. Baine, spreading across his face like oil over water.

“One does not need the mysterious ways of the Orient or any supernatural gifts - for I maintain that is indeed what they are - to vanquish these creatures.” He raised a hand to stifle the protest for which Wendell had drawn a breath. “Knowledge and preparedness are all a person of reasonable vigor require. And, rest assured, when the time comes, I will be prepared.”

“I will be there, though, if the situation gets out of hand.”

“Naturally.”


===============================================


They rose early the next morning, before the sun had even begun to crest the horizon. Their host, attempting to make up for her percieved lack of hospitality the night before, prepared a hearty breakfast, which they ate in silence as Mr. Baine poured over a map of France and the surrounding environs. At last the silence was punctuated by a murmur from Mr. Baine.

“We are still a fair distance from Munich,” he said, “A couple days by train, at least.”
“Can we afford that?”
Mr. Baine inspected his wallet, his mouth pulling down at one end. “Part of it, at any rate,” he said after a moment, “but that will pretty much finish off what little money I have left.”
“Perhaps we will find someone in need of hired help along the way.” said Wendell, hopefully.
“I'm not overly fond of the idea,” said Mr. Baine, “but if we must, we must.”
“Have faith.” Wendell said. The comment was made off-hand, but caused his companion to sit up and give him an appraising look. As he did so, Wendell noticed a slight bulge under his jacket that he did not remember seeing before.
“It strikes me as odd that a person in your position would mention faith.” said Mr. Baine.
Wendell glanced around to see if their host was nearby, “My position as a monk or my position as … one afflicted in such a way as I?”
Mr. Baine looked thoughtful for a moment. “Both.” he said.
“ 'Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen,' ” Wendell recited. “I have faith that what we seek is out there, somewhere. No faith, no hope; no hope ... no point in taking this journey.”
“That's not necessarily true,” Mr. Baine shook his head. “I have no idea if there's a cure, but I thought that this was a trip worth taking anyway.”
“Probably because this journey means something different to you than it does to me.”
It was Mr. Baine's turn to glance around the kitchen, but their hostess had left the room, "Is that why you're so insistent that your 'condition' is so terrible - you believe it's a punishment for your sins?"
"I find it hard to believe that the best way to reform a self-absorbed, materialistic fool is to turn him into an uncontrollable killer." Wendell kept his voice low, but his reply came more sharply than he had intended. The question had touched a nerve.
"Mysterious ways and all that." replied Mr. Baine in his typical flippant manner.   
Wendell took a deep breath before he spoke again, "Not everything that happens is the part of some great plan. The key is to find some higher purpose - a means of drawing good from evil."
"But that's why it's so important to learn all we can about it!" Mr. Baine was no longer joking, "If all we do is find a cure and wipe it out, then all those people you've hurt have suffered in vain. However, if we can study it, subjugate it - turn it into a ... a tool, then it can be used for good."
"I am far from being the only one, you know," said Wendell, "Curing me will not rid the world of ... this illness. Study them."
"No, but you are quite possibly the only one I've ever heard of with as much control over it as you have." Wendell could tell Mr. Baine meant this as a compliment, but it felt to him like a confirmation of his existence as a freak, an odditiy - and a dangerous one at that.
Mr. Baine continued, "Most of the poor souls I've read about either take their own lives in a spectacularly gruesome fashion or succumb to it completely."
"It has to be ... drastic," Wendell's voice was barely more than a whisper, "Or it will not work." He absent-mindedly rubbed a thumb across a faint series of lines on his wrist, nearly invisible after all this time.
Mr. Baine's mouth dropped open. "Are you ... do you mean to tell me ..." he leaned forward and hissed, "You? The 'unforgivable sin?' "
Wendell wavied him back, "Catholic misconception. There is only one 'unforgivable sin,' and that is not it."
"Look at you, reading up on the competition."
"You know," said Wendell, "I did have a life prior to training with the monks. The time I spent there changed me, but not in every way. At any rate, I have appreciated your generosity and continue to appreciate your company, but it is because of the people I hurt that I will find a cure, no matter what. Beyond that, who knows?"
“Fair enough.” Mr. Baine shrugged and slumped back in his chair. Once more Wendell found his gaze drawn to the mysterious lump under his coat.
“What are you hiding under there?”
Mr. Baine looked around conspiratorially and, as their host had yet to reappear, opened his jacket to display a leather holster suspended under his arm by a series of straps that wrapped around his shoulder. The lump was the butt of a pistol sticking out from within. “It is a new style of holster from America. They are outlawing guns in public places, so people have taken to concealing them under their clothing.” He grinned. “I told you I would be prepared.”

The pistol was not a surprise, as Wendell had seen Mr. Baine put it into his bag back in London, but he was sure he had not seen the holster before now. Wendell could not help but wonder what other surprises Mr. Baine might have packed without his notice.

“That will certainly slow one down,” said Wendell, careful to avoid any mention of vampires, “But even that will not be of much help, should you find yourself in close quarters with an 'unfortunate.' ”

Mr. Baine cocked an eyebrow and tugged at one arm of his jacket and then the other, turning his palms upward. The ends of two wooden stakes just barely protruded from his sleeves, ending just below his wrists.

“I secured them using some bandages. All I have to do is slide them out like so,” he held his arms together, one above the other, with each hand turned towards the opposite wrist. “I did have to use my saw to shorten them a bit so that the points would not extend past my elbow.”

“Ah, so that explains why it took you so long to get ready this morning. I feared you might have given in to some base desire up there.”

Mr. Baine wore a look of puzzlement for a moment, which was quickly overtaken by one of exasperated understanding. “You have a corrupt mind for a monk - or whatever it is you consider yourself,” he said.

“It must be the company I am keeping,” Wendell chuckled, “Not bad for an unlikely, displaced holy man, eh?”

Mr. Baine rolled his eyes, “Touche.” Making quick work of what food was left on his plate, he said, “Let us finish here and be off - neither time nor trains will wait for any man.”

“I just hope you do not plan on taking your jacket off. I would hate having to explain why you are walking around with a collection of deadly objects strapped to your person.”

“I will make it a point to keep it on.”

The two men finished their meal, gathered up the few belongings they did not already have on their person, and, upon locating their host, thanked her for her generosity. Mr. Baine showed the woman the map he had been studying and asked where they might find a train heading in the direction of Munich. Walking them to the street, she pointed in the direction they should go. 

With handshake from Mr. Bane and a respectful bow from Wendell, the two men resumed their journey, leaving the woman to wonder at the two curious - albeit polite - gentlemen who had lodged with her for but a single night.