Inbetween: Chapter Thirteen


Nyura sent Ciel to Asa through her lady-in-waiting. Whether the lady had no more than a rushed explanation to give him or simply had no time to spare, Asa missed his chance to question her. Somehow, Ciel managed to be even less forthcoming. She did not speak to him. He had no idea what he was supposed to do with her. He only knew what he was told. This woman was some sort of expert brought by High Lord Erramun from his domain to help the duchess and now Asa found himself stuck working with her.

If what was happening now could be called working with her. So far she just shadowed his every move. Moments ticked by and before he knew it, nearly an hour had passed since she was delivered to him. He found it unnerving to think of another person as being delivered rather than introduced to him, but she made no effort to communicate with him so there was no introduction so to speak.

He knew her name and her reason for being here thanks to Nyura’s poor haggard lady in waiting who had to take on far too many tasks at the palace, including escorting Ciel to him. Once she left to return to her other duties, Asa had no idea what to do with her.

Was she his assistant? Should he defer to her now? With so little information and none forthcoming, he had to guess and there were not enough hours in the day for these games. He had other work demanding his attention. As much as he wanted to put all of his time and energy into the search for Yuri, he was still the captain of the palace guard and his work was even more difficult than usual. He wanted more time to focus on his search and the stranger things became within the palace the more time he had to spend trying to keep some semblance of order for everyone else.

With Ciel watching his every move and acting as a near perfect shadow, Asa found himself giving his primary job a lot less attention than it really deserved. Being watched without commentary distracted him more than it had any right to. It was not so much the silence that got to him as it was the way he could feel her eyes observing his every move. He wanted to say something, but he was not sure if it would do any good. Her silence made him feel as though he was not permitted to speak to her at all.

Her unnerving presence pushed him to delegate more of his work than ever before so he could move on to gathering more intel about Yuri and hopefully find a way to make use of Ciel before she drove him mad. He hoped finding a use for her would keep her from constantly following him around. Already he started to worry that she would be with him day and night until Yuri was found or Nyura decided to do something to change the current arrangement.

The worst part of all was how Ciel seemed to enjoy his distress. He did his best to tamp it down and act normally. Unfortunately, nothing about this felt normal at all. He forced himself to start talking again to reclaim a small semblance of normalcy.

He could not remember the last time he had been intentionally silent for this long. With other people, there was always at least a bit of verbal communication and when he was alone there was always at least a bit of inner monologue happening. Somehow Ciel’s presence even managed to silence his inner voice.

He cleared his throat and did his best to get his voice working again. “Since you’re here to help with finding Yuri, I guess you can come along while I follow up on a bit of research I started earlier. That way you know what I know and we can move forward from there.”

Ciel flashed a smile at him before settle back into her neutral expression. She seemed unflappable no matter whether he worked silently or spoke up. Meanwhile, she confounded him at every turn. He needed to figure out what she was about so he could pretend they were at least on equal footing.

With the pattern set, he assumed wherever he went she would follow him without question. He did not bother asking her if she was ready to go because he had no expectation of receiving an answer. Instead, he just started walking. Sure enough, she followed just one pace behind him and to the right. Hearing her footfalls just slightly off rhythm with his own and catching flashed of her clothing if he turned his gaze even slightly in her direction unnerved him a bit. He suspected she was doing this on purpose, but he had no way to confirm that suspicion. The sneaking suspicion means that he took a small bit of joy out of taking her out into the city where her shadowing stunt would be nearly impossible.

As soon as they passed out of the palace gates the crowds started to increase. No one out here would ever consider giving them a wide berth just to allow her to continue her little game. Either she would have to adjust to a more natural way of walking with him or she would be lost in the crowds filling the street. At this point, Asa did not care which option came to pass.

To his annoyance, she managed to maintain her shadowing act even on the busy city street. For reasons he could not quite comprehend, people gave her the space she needed. He had to assume other people were just as unnerved by her as he was and that helped clear the way. Having her get her way annoyed him more than it probably should. With such important work to do, his mind needed to be on more important things than trying to unnerve Ciel as retribution for his instinctual reaction to her presence.

Although she had not yet done anything to prove herself, she was supposed to help him find Yuri. Instead of being caught up in this pettiness he needed to find a way to put her to work on their mutual cause. Trying to find a way to get Yuri back was practically a full-time job in and of itself. He should be jumping for joy at the prospect of help.

Part of him could not help feeling suspicious about the timing of her appearance. He felt sure that he was close to a breakthrough. It seemed a bit strange that help would arrive on the very day he was ready to return to see the old priest and learn what his studies of the ancient texts revealed. He had to wonder if there was anything this so-called expert could contribute this late int he game.

He worried that Ciel’s appearance was a display of a lack of confidence in his abilities and what that might mean in his future dealings with Nyura. So far he had been incredibly fortunate in his dealings with the duchess. Many others were now dismissed from their duties within the palace. So far his favor with her meant that he had a bit of sway with her. He managed to save those of his men that he could, preserving whatever livelihoods he could. Some he still could not save and some left of their own volition rather than wait around to see if they met the chopping block at a later date. He did not blame them. The sense of instability within the palace was palpable and those with mouths at home to feed needed to know that they would be able to continue feeding them. He needed to keep his place in Nyura’s good graces to protect those that had nowhere else to go. He might not be able to do much to diffuse the damage done by their new ruler, but preserving the palace guard and finding a way to bring Yuri back kept him busy all the same.

Everyone knew things would get better if Yuri returned. He knew he would feel better as soon as he saw him again. He might even manage to stave off any more damage to the ecosystem within the palace and prevent the problems now at hand from spreading any further out into the city.

Today the people of the city were distracted from the tense political climate by the news of High Lord Erramun’s visit. Whether they had any what of knowing why he was here or what it would mean for them, they were excited by the prospect of having someone famous from the greater world beyond their small city visiting them. They did not have much concern for how the High Lord could further destabilize Nyura’s position as ruler.

On top of all the other worries flitting around in Asa’s brain at the moment, he found himself starting to worry that he might have to defend and protect a ruler he did not particularly support. He knew it was his duty, but until recently the line of succession had led him to believe that this would never be a problem he would personally encounter. He had nothing but admiration for the old Duke and with Yuri lined up to be his heir, Asa thought that his position and his career were safe from tearing him between his duty and his conscience.

All of this might be a distraction from his annoyance at being shackled to the irritatingly enigmatic Ciel, but he knew that he needed to get his mind off of concerns about the future and what might be happening back at the palace. He needed to focus on the present and where he was going right now.

It was only the second time he visited these priests in their less than a conventional looking temple. He knew he would still see it as defying his expectations of a temple while also not blending in with the rest of the buildings around it. Now that he had been inside, the incongruity seemed to fit in well with both the interior and the priests that occupied the building.

At the door, he finally looked back just to confirm that Ciel had indeed managed to keep up with him without any problem. Of course, she was right there, silent as always and still shadowing him with a self-satisfied look on her face. Before they were brought inside he took a moment to explain to Ciel the purpose of their visit to this place. It was more difficult to swallow her irritatingly knowing smile than it was to actually hold a one-sided conversation.

Being escorted inside by the priest that answered the door filled him with relief, but as they climbed the flights of stairs he found himself growing impatient once again. He just hoped that he would get the answers he so desperately needed today. This priest was the first sign of something other than a dead end he had encountered during his entire search. Hope insisted on floating to the surface of his mind, but he tried not to allow himself to be open to further disappointment.

The room full of old, dusty tomes brought him some comfort through familiarity this time. He strode forward with confidence to find the old priest in the maze of books. Finally, the maze of tables and book stacks forced Ciel to move out of her shadowing formation, which brought him a small bit of satisfaction.

The old priest might have been expecting him, but he was absorbed in reading a book when Asa came across him. He looked up, blinked slowly and carefully set his text aside.

“Ah,” he said in the methodical tone of someone unused to using his voice. “I was wondering if you two would ever find each other. At least this way I only have to talk this over once.” The old priest glared past Asa to Ciel. “Are you going to allow this young man to speak on your behalf to spare me from your chicken scratch?”

Asa looked back over his shoulder at Ciel, bewildered to learn that the priest knew her. She flashed a brief, devilish smile at both of them before returning to a neutral expression and nodding her head. He found his list of questions growing once again but hoped that he would also get some answers today. Confronting Ciel might have to wait until later.

The old priest cleared his throat, drawing attention back to him. “I did the research you asked and made a most interesting discovery. There’s an old ritual — centuries old — for forcing open the path between worlds. Unfortunately, the ritual was outlawed almost as soon as it was discovered.”

“Would it be possible for me to take a copy of the ritual with me to show the duchess?”

“If you want it you can have it,” the old priest said with a wave of his hand. “No good can come of that ritual. It was banned for a good reason.”

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