Jian’s stony expression didn’t change, but I could have sworn there was an added sparkle in his gaze. Without further comment, I turned on my heel with as much dignity as I could inject into the movement and marched up to the target board.

Andreas tied the blindfold around my head, then bent to whisper, “I’m sorry for stealing your brooch earlier… it’s a trick I’m still working on. I swear I would have returned it to you.”

“Make sure Jian doesn’t slip, and all will be forgiven.”

He patted my arm and adjusted me so I was standing in profile against the wooden board. I didn’t so much as breathe too deeply when he stepped back and Jian yelled out, “Get ready!”

My palms tingled. I swore I suddenly needed to either use the loo or sneeze or scratch some phantom itch on my arm. My muscles were so tightly locked I started to think maybe they weren’t still at all, but shaking from the effort of not moving. Before I could work myself into true hysterics, I felt the swish of air near my ankles followed by a thwack as the blade drove into the wood.

I exhaled and nearly sagged with relief. It was a good thing I hadn’t had time to take a deep breath; in rapid-fire succession, three more blades whizzed by my body, embedding themselves into the wood with splintering efficiency. One near my knee, the next just below my hip, and the last one near my ribs.

“Fire!” Jian shouted. I sincerely hoped he was throwing the last of his blades and that I hadn’t magically found a way to self-combust from fright.

Thwack. Thwack.

Two more blades flew by, the slight breeze of them startlingly close to my sleeves. Grateful this so-called lesson was over, I made to remove my blindfold when another knife sailed through the air, pinning itself into the ribbon I held. Warmth dripped down the side of my face, and I ripped the rest of the blindfold off, eyes wide as I lifted a hand to my ear and it came back wet with blood.

Jian shook his head. “I warned you not to move.”

Without so much as an apology, he gathered up his knives and left the practice room, leaving Andreas to fuss over my superficial cut. As he raced around the trunks, searching for a bit of cloth to dab the remaining blood, I couldn’t help but wonder what other messes he might clean up for Jian.

I crossed my arms over my chest and planted my feet solidly. “There is no good reason for you to hold his signet hostage, Cresswell.”

“I disagree. Respectfully so, Wadsworth.” Thomas lifted his chin, stubborn as a mule. “It may be useful as evidence. We cannot simply give it back because he asked nicely.”

I gritted my teeth. “You’re being immature and you know it. This has nothing to do with the case and everything to do with your dislike of Mephistopheles.”

Something that appeared close to annoyance flashed in his eyes. “Is that what you think of me now? That I’d withhold someone’s possessions out of jealousy?”

I lifted a shoulder. “You haven’t given a better reason for keeping the ring.”

“You’re getting too close to this case,” he said, inspecting me. “Whatever bargain you’ve made, it’s time to break it. We’ll solve the murders another way—you needn’t be so involved.”

“I’m sorry, Thomas, but I have to see this through.”

He shook his head. Before he could say anything more, Uncle and Liza hurried around the bend, spotting us near the bow and increasing their pace. Tear streaks glistened down my cousin’s cheeks in the late-morning sun, setting my emotions in a flurry. Abandoning my disagreement with Thomas, I rushed forward, clutching her hands in mine. “What happened? What’s wrong?”

“It’s M-Mrs. Harvey,” she half sobbed. “She’s missing.”

“What?” Thomas’s voice rose before he reined it back in. “Have you checked her cabin? She’s always napping.”

Uncle shook his head. “It was the first place we’d looked. We also checked the breakfast room, saloon, women’s parlor, and the starboard promenade.”

Chills whipped down my spine with the breeze. “Surely she must be somewhere.”

“We’ve searched everywhere.” Liza’s lower lip trembled. “She’s simply gone.”

Without a parting word, Thomas took off running down the deck, a hand clutching his hat as he raced toward his chaperone’s cabin. It took every bit of restraint I possessed to not go charging after him. I could not fathom what his emotions were—he’d never said so, but Mrs. Harvey was the closest thing to a mother he’d had, and he would be broken if anything happened to her. My own heart ached at the thought of her meeting a wretched end. I quite loved Mrs. Harvey and her traveling tonic and kindness.

A dark feeling slithered through my core. If Mrs. Harvey was missing… that could mean the murderer had specifically chosen her to inflict the most damage on my friend. If Thomas was rendered unfit to use his skills, whoever killed those young women might go free. While I didn’t want to think Mephistopheles was to blame, it was the sort of cunning plan he’d come up with. He’d already manufactured a lion attack for reasons I still didn’t understand—for all I knew he might have also left his signet in the sword container, hoping Thomas would take it. Was each odd detail something painstakingly thought out, wished for, all leading to emotional entanglements and missed connections?

I held my cloak tighter, and looked around. Hardly anyone was out today—either too afraid of the bodies that kept being found or of the impending storm.

“Let’s hurry.” I clutched Liza’s hand and moved quickly down the promenade, hoping I didn’t sound as scared as I felt. Uncle was two steps behind. “Tell me everything from the beginning. How did you discover she was missing?”

“We were to eat breakfast together.” Liza sniffled. “I promised to give her a tour of Harry’s equipment and introduce them afterward…” Her voice trailed off almost subtly, making me wonder what she wasn’t saying about Houdini. “She was so excited, I cannot imagine her missing it. For some reason she kept asking if he’d be practicing for another aquatic act.”

That certainly sounded like Mrs. Harvey. I patted Liza’s arm, trying to steady her without causing further distress. The motion also helped keep me calm and focused. I needed to remain in control if Thomas fell apart. “Were you to meet her at our cabin or hers?”

“We were supposed to meet outside the breakfast room at quarter past eight.” Liza drew in a ragged breath. “I was running a little late myself, but by quarter to nine, I decided to check on her rooms. I wasn’t sure if she’d overslept. When I got to her room and knocked, no one answered.”

“You weren’t in our cabin?” I asked. Liza shot me a look but didn’t elaborate.

Uncle kept pace behind us, remaining silent but watchful. It was impossible to discern what his feelings were—unsurprising, since he was the man who’d taught both Thomas and myself the importance of divorcing emotions from both murder scenes and investigations.

“I went to fetch you, but you were out, so I ran to Uncle.” She glanced over her shoulder, either assuring herself he was still with us or hoping he’d not overheard my earlier question of where she’d been. “I found him en route to the captain and we started searching everywhere.”

I tried not to let my own fear show. It would have taken something extraordinary to keep Mrs. Harvey from being introduced to Harry Houdini. “She’s probably chatting with one of the other ladies. You know how distracted she gets.”

I could no longer tell who was pulling the other down the promenade faster, Liza or myself. We rounded the corner and practically ran to Mrs. Harvey’s cabin. The door was ajar, and Thomas was standing in the center of the room, fists clenched at his sides.

“Have you—”

He held a hand up. “One more moment, please. I’m almost…” He abruptly walked over to her trunk and popped the lid open. “Her cloak is missing, as are her gloves. There’s nothing out of place, which means she was likely interrupted on her way to breakfast.”

“How did you know where she was going?” I asked. He hadn’t been present when Liza offered that information.

“There. The tea in the cup on her nightstand is ice cold to the touch.” He pointed it out. “Under the saucer is a paper with this morning’s date on it, meaning she’d had the tea delivered when she woke up. Since there’s no sign of a meal, it’s not a stretch to assume she was heading to breakfast with your cousin. She is acting as a chaperone, so another easy deduction. Now then”—he spun on his heel, eyes darting over everything once more—“who would have enticed her enough to not send word of her being late?”

I felt Liza’s awe fill the space. Uncle’s was there as well but was a bit more tempered, as he’d witnessed Thomas’s deductions firsthand several times. For Liza it might be akin to seeing a circus monkey speak English. Or perhaps watching a magician who truly could make miracles happen. Thomas was every bit as incredible as the ringmaster, if not more so. Mephistopheles was amazing at engineering tricks, but Thomas unearthed truth by using his intellect.

“Come,” Thomas said, abruptly moving out the door, “let’s pay a visit to Mephisto. Wadsworth? Lead the way to his lair.”

We rushed past third-class passengers who crowded the deck, my pulse galloping faster than any racehorse the closer we drew to the workshop.

There were many more people out than I’d seen on our way to Mrs. Harvey’s cabin. Some of them appeared stricken, faces pale as the frost creeping up the ship’s railing. My body thrummed with warning—something had happened. Something that created an uncomfortable buzz and a glazed-over look of worry. Or was I simply imagining things? I slipped over a section of slick walkway, and Thomas’s hand shot out, steadying me. I gripped his arm, noticing Uncle had also taken Liza’s as we picked up speed. Each step forward filled me with more dread.