The ride starts out rather swimmingly. Transportation seems to get faster without losing the comfort as time goes on. The tickets to Fantasia say little about the timing or location. I surmise it is meant to be a secret, seeing as how exclusive they seem about this affair. Our cabin is rather quiet, save the noise of the moving contraption. Victorique and the young master are silent, seemingly bored. Kujo is leafing through the paper he'd picked up from the station. Our mysterious occult schoolteacher Irene is still observing Victorique now and then, peeping up from her notebook. Jacques seems to be trying hard to sleep at the other window seat, ignoring his surroundings for the most part with a tight lip. The food trolley drops by our compartment not too long into our journey.
"Anything from the trolley?" The face of a middle-aged mustached man pokes in.
The young master grunts slightly, "What do you have?"
"Oh, this and that. Canapes, some warm hors d'oeuvres and sweet bites. We also have a menu from the dining car if you wish."
"We will take that, thank you," I say with a smile.
Victorique looks curiously at the cart, but Kujo blocks her view.
"I bought something so we can save on the money," He sighs, "So just sit tight, alright?"
The trolley man hands me a thin menu card. Irene declines anything from the trolley and he leaves promptly. I hand the card to the young master. He glances it over idly in a second before tossing it back to me flippantly.
"We'll go have tea when it's my elevenses."
"Very good, young master."
Kujo takes out a small box from his travel case and opens it to reveal two layers. I recall seeing this sort of thing from Tanaka's belongings. In the Orient, I believe these are called bento boxes. They are rather compact and handy. When opened, he reveals a neatly and tightly packed arrangement of various colorful foods. They smell sweet on a whiff. Victorique's eyes light up immediately.
"What are they?" She asks, a child utterly enraptured with wonder.
"Wagashi also, but a different kind!" Kujo says with slight pride, "There's a wide variety of them that we eat with tea, so no two types have to be the same!"
He then goes to take out a thermos of tea. Victorique plucks up a small circular sweet and a translucent cube confectionary.
"Such strange detail put into these... Not unlike a petit fours I suppose but..." She pops the circle in her mouth, chewing thoroughly with a pensive expression, "As expected, the texture is entirely different..."
"... So, you teach the occult," The young master moves his idle tongue, glancing at Irene, "How did you get aboard this stuffy affair?"
"Pardon?" Irene looks to him quizzically, "Oh, well, I suppose I was always fascinated with the forces here in the Old World. But my mum is friends with one of the members in the core Atelier, and my parents were both supporters of the Ministry of Occult. I suppose it was only a matter of time for me! But they're both too old to attend this year. Such a shame..."
"You must know a lot about the Atelier."
"I have never missed a Fantasia! I skipped the last Phantasmagoria though. Heard that was quite the ruckus... Can you believe that the Ministry of Science would stoop so low as to infiltrate our meetings to undermine our values?!" She huffs, "They can't win unless they play dirty. They know the power within ancient blood and soil and they're rightfully scared of it!"
While it is true that we demons and the reapers would probably overwhelm this world and all its devices, it still seems rather foolish of humans to place so much faith in something they do not understand. But then again, faith is something we do not understand either.
"You mentioned though, the power witnessed of science itself through the Great War," The young master says with a slight yawn, "I doubt anyone since the time of the Lord has seen destruction of that degree."
"See, that's what everyone thinks! But they fail to notice the signs..." Irene gives a triumphant smile, "Have you ever read anything from the fellow Lovecraft? He's an American. His work is quite marvelous, and dare I say, prophetic!"
"Oh? No, I haven't heard of the bloke. An American, you say?"
"Right. He has written some very intriguing work on the true nature of the forces of the universe, even ones planted in our very earth!"
"Hm. Can't say I've kept up much with American literature. The most interesting thing I've heard was about that one murder back in the 90s."
"You mean the Borden murders?" Kujo looks up from his tea, "Those were never solved, right?"
"Indeed!" Irene scoffs, "Even with all their special technology, they still can't solve the inexplicable!"
"I suppose the occult has an explanation for this," Victorique says in a dismissive tone, enjoying her sweets.
"Indeed! There are signs all over the story of the crime, don't you know? The Ministry is highly convinced that all signs point to angels," Irene nods affirmatively, "That's right, god's messengers themselves. I'm sure you're all familiar with the story of Samael, angel of death, who massacred the firstborns of Egypt? Well, this is another example of such justice!"
Jacques opens one eye slightly at the story and seems to restrain himself from voicing any objections.
Victorique mutters, "Would that if I could have gone, I would have reconstructed that chaos..."
Irene seems too caught up in her explanation to notice as she continues with her long spiel, "Lizzie Borden was likely a person sensitive to the occult. She had kept pigeons that were her messengers to the other side. Her father, Andrew Borden, killed those birds just days before the murders. Thus, she had to take revenge."
"Take notice that he was killed with eleven blows to the head. Eleven! That is the number of reciprocities, as punishment for what he did to her pets! As for her mother, the number nineteen is one of change from perfect judgment. It's the number of kings Israel had before they fell to the Assyrians. Lizzie was a spinster who was pestered by her mother, and so she exacted that same punishment onto her. Put the numbers together and you get thirty, the number of self-actualization. The murders were a sign of Lizzie to the world that she had realized her purpose to higher powers, don't you see?"
She sounds incredibly mad. Kujo manages an awkward smile in response.
"That doesn't explain her clean dress after the bloody murders though, now does it?" The young master taps the arm of his seat with slight boredom.
"An angel does not get bloody, even when they murder. She had their same veil, you see? That righteousness and surety in her actions is why she was also able to escape sentencing unscathed! And now she is an heiress who no doubt has to pay back the dues to the providence which provided for her," Irene lectures as though in class, "It isn't a simple affair, but there is a clear line of logic the occult can find, see!"
"Uh huh, haha..." Kujo says as he returns to his paper, "That sounds really... out there, Miss Irene."
"Hmf, con comme un balai..." Victorique mutters. Irene doesn't seem to notice the insult. Done with her tea and sweets, the girl takes out her pipe and bites down on the lip.
"Oh, wow it's already been two years," Kujo remarks as he looks over his paper, "The Hinterkaifeck murders, remember?"
"Hm?" Young master perks up slightly, "What's that?"
"Oh, you didn't hear? For a while it was all the news talked about. Two years ago," Kujo shows us the pictures in black and white on the page of a farmhouse, "There was a murder in Germany. The entire family was killed. But they haven't found anyone yet and the case is going cold at this rate."
"The quiet town of mice wouldn't let a peep out, and they didn't discover the crime until 4 days after the time of death," Victorique says with clear displeasure, "By then, many shards of chaos had been lost."
"Hmm, that's quite interesting," The young master says in half-boredom, "No suspects at all? Not the usual jealous neighbor even?"
"The neighbor, Lorenz Schlittenbauer, is one of the suspects of the Munich Police. But they don't have a very good body of proof. People are even suspecting the missing husband…"
"There are a lot of variables, I see…"
"Tut tut! The Atelier is quite certain of this! The answer is indeed the missing husband! But rather, his vengeful revenant who had returned, to be exact!" Irene points her nose upward as she elucidates, "The powers of war have made many strange things seep out of Gaia and her bosom. And none other is a greater power than that of necromancy!"
There is a slight noise from Jacques as he continues doing a horrible job feigning sleep. It sounds like he is suppressing a laugh. To cover for it, he emits a loud snore. What a buffoon.
"You don't have any counter theories on these?" The young master looks to Victorique, almost with a challenge.
"Hmf, what a silly bunny rabbit," She scoffs, "Theories I have, though I would need to go to the scene to be sure, and both have been incredibly compromised as it is."
"Ehh, I thought you could solve anything, Victorique!" Kujo says with slight exclamation. She squarely stomps on his foot, making him flinch, "OW!"
"Hm," I look to the girl with slight amusement, "Pray tell then, what do you think?"
"… It is highly likely that the perpetrator was one of the family members initially," Victorique says slowly at first, "And they therefore killed the other five, living with the bodies for three days. But by now the time of death would be muddled on that. The neighbor is probably also involved, perhaps the one who murdered the one who was still alive out of rage, as he did have a relationship with Victoria."
"What?" Irene looks with great interest at the girl sleuthing, "Oh my, I'm seeing a grey wolf at work!"
Victorique ignores her and continues, "The town is secluded, and the family reflects that. There was likely information they left out of the entire telling. The large sum of money was also most likely recently acquired. Thus, the noises in the attic were likely created to scare away the ones who were deigned inappropriate to have it. So that means that Gruber was probably one of the victims of that phase."
"Wait… what? Then one of the women in the house killed everyone…?" Kujo says with slight disbelief, "But that sounds so bizarre…"
Victorique shakes her head, "Gruber may have been made to think he was going insane, but that doesn't mean he is innocent. I suspect he found out that one of the women in his house actually were trying to drive him out. He found out and murdered them all."
As they speak of these grotesque details, Kujo seems to shiver a bit. It is rather interesting, how such macabre things, even when merely spoken, have such power. Ghost stories and the like are able to chill one physically as well as strike fear into hearts. Tis a strange phenomenon with humans. Perhaps it is the same way things like passion and faith can make one feel "warm."
"So… Gruber killed his family, lived with their bodies… and then Schlittenbauer killed him? But the police couldn't place him anywhere in the murder…"
"Missing details, probably," Victorique says, a pensive expression on her face, "I speculate the town was not entirely fond of Gruber. They may have helped cover up the whole thing, you know. Anyway, there is too much evidence that is lacking. The closest I can gather with these meager shards of chaos is this theory."
"Yeesh…" Kujo shivers a little, holding his arms, "It feels a bit chilly in here all of a sudden."
"As expected of a grey wolf!" Irene regards Victorique with glittering eyes of adoration, like how one sees a cute kitten, "That was an absolutely riveting dissection!"
"Oh, do you buy her theory over the occult?" The young master glances to the schoolteacher.
"Well, even grey wolves can be incorrect with faulty information! But that doesn't discredit their magical blood's reputation!"
"Uh huh… So, what of the Borden murder then, wolf? After this, I'll go for tea," The young master gestures for my pocket watch.
"Now, now, young master," I open the clasp on my watch, "You mustn't call ladies something so beastly as a wolf. Tis nearly eleven."
"Oh, go stuff it."
"For the Bordens, it is likely Lizzie did commit the murders. And she had the maid's help. The two kept their testimonies consistent so the maid would not be suspected of her 'nap.' Thus, getting rid of her clean dress and the weapon would have been easy with the two of them conspiring," Victorique says simply, "And before any of you ask for motive … I suspect the maid to have closer ties to Lizzie and her sister than the rest of the family. The issue came up a bit from some speculation, but it's not complete hogwash. It is possible that all three of them plotted this."
"Eh, what basis is that, Victorique?" Kujo scratches his head, trying to keep up, "The sister was out of the house and the police never found any connections between them during the time of the murders, or her and the maid really…"
"I'll bet her secret is well hidden in her own devices… But there isn't going to be anything found until people look into what was going on inside the house," Victorique pauses and adds, "Before the murders, that is."
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"Lizzie was a known spinster around town. She probably didn't get along well with her parents or their faith as a result. So that angel theory is complete nonsense."
Irene huffs a bit indignantly here.
"The shards of chaos aren't complete, but there is a big gaping hole there in the family. All that's really reported is that they were rich. In the future maybe Lizzie will do more telling, and then the truth will be revealed," Victorique puffs her pipe, "But I am certain if we looked through her diaries and letters there will be evidence of this conspiracy."
"Hmf, well that was a fine thread of babble," The young master now stands, "We should be in time then for tea."
"Of course," I follow with my briefcase and open the compartment door for his leave. Before I take my leave after him, I look back in briefly, "We shall return posthaste."
Kujo nods, "Enjoy your teatime."
"Hey, hey, how about this mystery theory I have jotted down?" Irene is too busy trying to show Victorique something in her notes, and the latter is occupied trying to tune her out.
Surprisingly, the reaper chooses this time to break his façade.
"Ohhhh, mm!" He yawns loudly, melodramatically, "Oh I am positively starved! I shall come with you to the dining cart, monsieur."
"… Very well."
The dining cart is not as wide as I had seen on some other trains, but it is furbished very well. There are two dining carts on this vehicle: one for the upper-class tickets and one for the others. As our tickets only go so far in permissions, we had to settle with the cart for everyone else. Yet, here is nowhere as shoddy as the lower-class deck on the Campania.
The dining booths are divided into three sections, with two-seat tables on the side by the windows and a line of four-seat tables down the middle, with narrow walkways to the sides. I would have expected wooden benches and planks. Waiters go up and down the walkways, delivering the fares to the patrons. At this hour, it was becoming more crowded with persons.
"Oi, mon dieu! Could you not have cut that sordid story time and come take me away earlier from those mortals? My goodness they grow curiouser every century with things beyond their rea-MMPH!"
I shut his mouth with a grab of my hand. Smiling, I say in a low voice, "Then maybe you shouldn't be so loud announcing that, hm?"
He seems annoyed after I let him go. We find a table behind some rather large men in trenches, whispering furtively. There are notably some eyes which turn our way. If they notice who we are now, it would be a rather nasty situation. But I suppose we didn't entirely care about being discreet.
"Hello sirs," A young waiter comes to our table, "Can I get you anything?"
"A negroni, merci beaucoup" Jacques says with some relief, "Finally some class!"
"Uhm, sorry, but that's only deluxe passengers," The waiter smiles, "Could I interest you in Swiss beer?"
"Bière?" The reaper seemed appalled at the idea.
"Don't mind him," I smile to the waiter, "He's not right in the head."
The waiter seems assured by my words but he then looks a bit confused seeing me take out the young master's tea, "So... do you want anything?"
"Ah, we only received the drink menu. What do you have in the kitchen?"
"Some lard, sandwiches, mash, and pea soup. Does any of that catch your fancy?"
"What sort of sandwiches?"
"Perfect for tea. Roast beef, tomato and cucumber."
"Is the lard streaky bacon?"
"Very well, one of those and a sandwich then."
"Very good sir," The waiter nods lightly and goes off without asking Jacques again for his order.
"Ugh, these roturiers..." The reaper plops his head on the table. How depressing he acts is certainly an interesting change from the manic nature of Grelle and the calculating William.
I take out a sheaf of note paper and a pencil from my briefs and slide it to the young master. He takes it and begins scratching down English shorthand before slipping it back to me. I read and write back a short correspondence. We communicate thusly for a few exchanges.
There' definitely some ears on us.
Indeed. Shall we hijack the train?
I don't really care what they do. So, let's just watch a bit.
I glance over my shoulder slightly to see some other riders avert their eyes. It seems most of them are aware of each other's allegiances. In that case, our flimsy cover won't suffice.
Our food comes out rather quickly. Such fare is typically prepackaged to be heated quickly on the road and eaten on the go. How hard it is, a life of the workingman. Even technological advances are merely to make them more efficient engines for their masters.
Jacques seems to be rather averse to eating food of the common man. Such entitled people they can be, reapers. Although, human food doesn't really register the same way to us all I suppose. Sweet things are quite disgusting, frankly, though some demons like the novelty. We prefer the taste of a soul opposed to anything material. Perhaps it is the same for the reapers. I, for one, do not really recall seeing them eat. Even when Grelle served under Madame Red, he only ever served to us in his disguise.
The conversation from those around us is all prattle about common things, with a sprinkle of the arcane here and there. People gossip about the old magic's effect on their lives, from bloodlines of ancient families, to strange but explainable phenomena in their fields and shoppes. Local politics contain drops of poisonous emotion as "they" seem to be encroaching and destroying "the Old Land." I can only surmise they mean the Ministry of Science. They are like obedient sheep of the Atelier. However, there is no particular mention of the Occult Ministry.
For mere formality, I partake of the sandwich given to us. After the first bite, it becomes obvious there was something in the food. It is odorless and tasteless, but the effect seems quite potent. Some sort of poison, likely. A shame it doesn't work on us. While we can feel the effects, like that of mustard gas, we are ultimately immune to somniferous and death by earthly substances. I see the waiters glancing over at us with slight confusion on their features, not well hidden. They nervously scurry back to the kitchen, likely to check their dosage.
The young master scoffs with a bit of snobbish triumph beside me. I scratch a quick message on the note paper.
The other two may be vulnerable as well.
I doubt it. The prat girl seems to have some sway over them.
Nonetheless, he does stand.
I nod and stand. Jacques perks up seeing us leave and sighs as he also stands.
"I didn't get a peck of food down...!" He laments.
"Workingman fare is unfortunately all we can afford here it seems," I glance over at his stupid expression, "Do stop complaining."
As we make our way back to the compartment, we see a couple of men seemingly taking a smoke in the hall before our door. They were likely watching the two students inside. Before we had approached them too close, I see one of their lips move from their prior quiet conversation. He says "grey wolf." Such a hive-minded fascination with all too similar subjects.
"Hello gentlemen," I say with a plastered smile, "You might want to smoke elsewhere. There are two ladies inside."
"Hmf," One grunts, "Smoking car's full."
"Go do it over your food in the dining car then," The young master says dismissively as he goes to enter.
The men do not leave after we have filed in and closed the door. The smell of smoke is not in fact very strong. The smoking is a front for them to eavesdrop on us, and perhaps even lurk and ambush if needed.
"Oh, you're all back fast," Kujo says, seeing us enter.
"There isn't much for the non-deluxe riders, unfortunately," The young master shrugs and sits, "And what have you three been up to?"
"The mind of a grey wolf is so fascinating!" Irene squeals a bit, jotting in her notebook.
"They were playing some riddle games," Kujo says with a slight smile.
"Hmf. I shall die before we reach Fantasia at this rate," Victorique grumbles beside him.
"Your food did not look very sufficient for two growing children," I smile and hand Kujo the wrapped half of the beef sandwich.
"O-oh, thanks! I'm pretty well off with just the tea, really! It can be quite filling..." His voice trails a bit as he unwraps the beef sandwich. He glances over the message I wrote inside the wrapper quickly.
"Are you sure?" Irene looks to him, "They don't serve food at Fantasia, you know..."
It is possible she is also in on what is happening throughout this train. Perhaps our chance meeting in this compartment was also in fact machinated.
"... Mm," Kujo does a good job keeping his face neutral as he re-wraps the sandwich, "Yep, I'm all good."
There is suddenly a call from the attendant down the hall.
"We shall be arriving shortly at Fantasia!"
"Finally...!" Victorique grumbles.
Outside, the scenery shows the afternoon light across what seems to be a field of tall grasses. Against the backdrop of mountains seems to be a small structure, like a manor, with something like a large tent. Both are dark colors of purple, black and red.
"Is that it?" Kujo peers curiously out.
"Looks a bit drab," The young master yawns.
Irene's eyes glitter, "Yes, that is Fantasia."