- Project: Inbetween
- Chapter: Fourteen
- Word count: 3,097
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When Erramun transformed her from an assassin to some sort of detective with a single comment to the duchess, Ciel never expected to find her new role to be so easy. It turned out that she did not even need to do the work herself. After being delivered into the care of the captain of the palace guard, she had nothing to do other than follow him around and wait for an opportunity to act.
She realized everything had fallen into place with no additional effort on her part when Asa was delivered the answers she needed. It turned out that he would be of use to her after all. She had not expected that in the least.
The priest gave him the research without so much as a second thought. The trust the priest placed in this man stunned her. She knew it would not have happened if she had been the face of the operation. The captain might be somewhere between oblivious and boring, but she thought now he might have a purpose after all.
Unfortunately for him, his brief moment of usefulness to her had passed. She had what she needed within reach. Now she just needed to work out the timing for getting that information out of Asa’s hands and into her own.
She had plenty of practice in the art of patience. Her usual work required it in spades. Most of her time was spent biding her time until an opportunity presented itself, although the part that really got her paid was typically the flurry of activity at the end.
Even with all of her experience with the wondrous world of waiting, she had not yet found a way to enjoy it. Knowing how to wait and being a patient person were two distinct traits in her opinion. She knew all about waiting, but she only knew how to do it impatiently.
Like everything else, she had become quite skilled at hiding her impatience beneath the surface. Outwardly, she appeared completely calm. She hoped that she would even be eerily serene if anyone took the time to bother observing her closely.
When their work for the day was done, she found Asa’s relief to be palpable. He wasted no time in getting away from her once it was clear their work was done for the day. She considered getting ditched by the goody two shoes to be the first victory she experienced all afternoon.
She could hardly believe that all of this had happened in one day. This morning felt like it happened a fortnight ago. The fact that her day was not yet over left Ciel feeling painfully tired.
Knowing she had a room in the palace waiting for her only added to her desire to rest. Since she needed to wait a little while longer, she decided that she had no real reason to deny herself the opportunity to rest.
Getting to her room proved to be another ordeal in and of itself. She had some knowledge of the layout of the palace, but knowing exactly how to get to the rooms belonging to the duke and his heir and various exits from those places did not give her a comprehensive understanding of the various corridors and wings in the palace. She needed to ask for directions, which meant finding someone who could read or correctly interpret her gestures to direct her.
It certainly made the process longer than it would have been otherwise, but she knew that she would cause herself almost immeasurable amounts of trouble if she elected to speak instead. Hiding her ability caused her far greater indignity than this in the past. Her current role did not allow for her to kill so she could not cover her tracks if anyone found out about her, even if all they knew was that she was capable of speaking it might be too much information if it wound up in the wrong hands.
Finally, she made it to the room she had been given. It seemed far too nice for someone of her station, although her current station remained elusive even to her, but she chalked it up to being in Erramun’s retinue. A small duchy like this one would pull out all the stops when it came to hospitality for a visiting ruler from a country that controlled close to a third of the entire known world.
Her fatigue prevented her from taking the time to appreciated her surroundings. Once she ascertained that the room was safe, her body would not allow her to admire the decor. She knew a nap would allow her to better carry out the rest of her duties later. Since she needed to wait until the rest of the palace was asleep to perform the next step, she had enough time to close her eyes for a little while. Waking up at the right time would be her only difficulty, but she felt sure that she would not fall into a deep sleep in a strange place like this. Her survival instincts were too well honed to allow her to relax that much in a new place where she knew she was unguarded and vulnerable.
She planned to doze for a while, wake up and complete the next step of her mission. Although she had no seen him since she had been escorted out of the throne room, she was sure that Erramun expected her to produce evidence of progress tonight. She would be sure to do just that. After her previous failure, she knew she needed to prove her worth to him once again. The consequences for failing now would be infinitely more unpleasant than they might have been before.
Even with these thoughts weighing on her mind, she found it easy to fall asleep. Her day had been eventful and she had spent a great deal of it walking. A couple hours of rest would do her wonders and she would be sure to get the results she desired after she awoke.
Ciel awoke when the palace grew quieter. Her mind snapped back on and she hastily made herself presentable once again.
No one would know she was out wandering the halls so she needed to rely on her memory of the way back to Asa’s office. Fortunately, with no one around her occasional wrong turn went unnoticed. Without too much delay she returned to the palace guards quarters.
The door to the office of the captain of the guard was locked. With the skeleton crew that patrolled the palace at night all out on their rounds, no one was around to see her break into the office. The lock on the door was sturdy, but not particularly complicated. Obviously, it was more to discourage brute force entry than to actually keep out anyone with an understanding of how to break and enter with more finesse than a battering ram.
Once the lock was dispatched, she slipped into the room and carefully closed the door behind her. The room within was very dim, but not completely dark. A window on the far wall allowed enough light from the night sky in to prevent the room from falling into total darkness.
As long as the sky did not grow overcast, Ciel knew she would have enough light to conduct her search without lighting a lamp. The document she needed was not in the place she last saw it on Asa’s desk. She resisted the urge to curse and set something in the room on fire in the process. Doing so might be therapeutic for her, but she needed to attract as little attention to herself tonight as possible.
She cleared her mind and settled back into a more serene mindset. Time was on her side at the moment. As long as no one heard anything suspicious, it would be hours before anyone tried to enter this office. In the meantime, she could intensify her search. If it was in this room she would find it tonight.
Under her breath, she whispered the words that would surround her in a bubble of silence. Even if someone were to press their ear up to the door they would not hear so much as a sheet of paper rustling within. For this time of night that would be perfectly normal, which worked out well for Ciel.
A cursory search of the rest of the desk led her to discover one drawer that happened to be locked. She had a feeling this drawer would produce results for her. The rest of this room was physical proof the trusting nature of the owner. The lock on the door was customary and hardly capable of doing anything other than deterring someone with no intention of breaking and entering from walking into the room. Everything else was openly exposed, indicating Asa typically felt he had no reason to hide or lock up the contents of his office. The locked drawer on the desk was an odd exception.
Everyone and everything in this place seemed to indicate that this city was an extremely peaceful place. There were guards, of course, but things were so rarely kept under lock and key. Anytime something was actually locked up and kept hidden away in this place it was a big deal. The shift in her mindset took a bit of adjusting, but now that she had made the mental shift, she was able to pick up on the cues.
This drawer might not seem like much of anything to anyone under what Ciel considered to be normal circumstances, but here this meant there was a big, important secret within. The drawer’s lock proved to be a little bit more delicate than the one on the door, and since she did not want to leave any clues to her interference behind, she needed to take a bit more time and care in picking the lock.
Knowing that no one would bother her here took the pressure off and Ciel was able to unlock the drawer with ease. All-in-all, this entire city proved to be an unchallenging disappointment. The only thing about this entire city that so far had challenged her in any way was Yuri and she was not sure she could consider his mysterious disappearance as a challenge. Normally, such a thing would only be an inconvenience, but these bizarre circumstances caused her to redefine her expectations.
Just as she expected, the documents she needed were in the locked drawer. Accurately predicting everything started to disappoint her, but she had a feeling things would get a bit more interesting soon. With the documents safely hidden away on her person, she exited the office and headed to rendezvous with Erramun.
As always, High Lord Erramun kept Ciel on her toes. She valued her life so she tolerated the eccentric demands of her employer. Seeing him alone reminded her that she was completely disposable and Erramun was more than capable of snuffing out her life. Usually, the presence of others kept her safe. He was ruthless, but he still had a reputation to uphold with the rest of the world and murdering a subordinate personally would not send the right sort of message. She sensed an undercurrent of lethality coming from him whenever they were in the same space. If she displeased him and he had the chance, he was more than capable of disposing of her himself.
The emptiness of the palace late at night meant Ciel could easily enter Erramun’s suite unnoticed. She knew this also meant no one would suspect she was alone with him tonight and he could do as he wished with her and she would be almost helpless to stop him. He already made it abundantly clear that he could completely nullify her abilities. With her voice always serving as her best and most powerful weapon, she knew she was unlikely to be able to physically overpower him.
Ciel knew all this when she entered the room, yet she went in anyway. She wanted to think she did it out of loyalty and obedience, but the reality of the matter was that she liked feeling the danger. She had been missing the thrill of a dangerous situation for weeks now. Finally having a chance to feel it again reminded her just how much she thrived on the adrenaline rush.
Erramun seemed to be waiting for her. He never appeared to be caught off guard by anything she did, even when she appeared without an appointment, he seemed to have been expecting her. It was a quality she did not know of anyone else to possess. It caught her off guard and to a degree, she reveled in it.
“So you got what you needed?” Erramun asked.
She nodded and held out the document with a flourish.
Erramun frowned. She winced inwardly, barely maintaining her outward composure. Either something she had done in a scant few seconds displeased him or she had the terrible luck to walk into him in a bad mood.
He rose from his seat and stalked across the room to her. A part of her mind that had no concerns other than her survival screamed at her to run and she just barely kept the fear out of her eyes.
He drew up next to her and leaned in to whisper in her ear, “We’re alone here. I want to hear you speak.”
The last time Ciel spoke had been weeks ago. Silence served as her shield. His demand to hear her voice was an order to tear down her defenses. Whatever his reason might be, he forced her to become exposed and vulnerable while also putting himself at risk. His own strength of will and magic had always made him invulnerable to her voice which made her the only one really taking a risk here. With him standing close enough for her to feel his breath on her ear she knew without a doubt that displeasing him would end in pain for her.
She swallowed hard. Her voice had been used over the past few weeks for a couple incantations, but no matter how much practice she might get, talking to another person always felt a bit strange.
“I have the ritual,” she managed to croak out. “I didn’t think I’d get it so fast, but the captain of the guard took me right where we needed to go this afternoon and the fool of a priest just gave it to him.”
Once she started talking she found it hard to stop. Her nerves were shaken more than she would like and she could tell that Erramun knew it.
The High Lord had stepped back to hear her speak and his amused expression told her that she had rambled on a bit too long.
“And you managed to get it away from him and bring it to me.” The words could have been a question, but the tone with which he spoke made it clear that e was making a statement.
She nodded before she caught herself. “I snuck in after hours and took it.”
“Ah. You’re a thief now too.”
He smirked. His scrutiny of her actions struck a chord in her. It was not as though she felt any shame for what she had done tonight, and she knew she regularly did far worse things for her work. It was not her actions that made this difficult or uncomfortable, but the way Erramun seemed to relish every opportunity to drag her out of her comfort zone threw her off her game.
Once again he invaded her personal space. She resisted the urge to back away or say anything that might protect herself and rebuff him. She watched him carefully and caught him watching her just as carefully. Even though she knew he was not susceptible to the spells crafted by her words, she did not want to risk him interpreting something she did or said as an attempt to cause him harm.
She knew she was overpowered and outmatched in this situation. The way Erramun pressed her made it clear he not only knew this but enjoyed it. He asserted his dominance by constantly reminding her that she had no power.
As much as she tried to remain impassive when facing this particularly difficult opponent, she was not made of stone. He moved in closer, reaching out toward her and she flinched and backed away. Her gaze darted from his face to the hand reaching out toward her and back to his now smirking face.
“What do you think I’m going to do?” he asked as his lip curled into a sneer.
This was one question in particular that she did not feel at all equipped to answer. No matter how badly she wanted to speak up to defend herself, she could not find the nerve to do it now. The smirk he wore on his face told her he did not expect an answer from her this time.
He plucked the information from the priest from her hands in a smooth motion of such speed that she hardly realized he had done it until he stepped back and started reading. She felt shocked, numb and more than a little intrigued. Every moment around Erramun made her feel helpless. She hated the loss of control, but a part of her reveled in the novelty of it.
Usually, she knew her abilities would serve as a last ditch secret weapon in any situation, but she was constantly reminded her voice was just a voice with Erramun. Her words held no more power than anyone else’s. He stripped her of her last resort and she found the sensation of being completely ordinary equally exciting and terrifying.
Erramun read the pages of the document at a brisk pace with an unchanging, neutral expression. Ciel waited and watched for some sign of whether what he read pleased him.
He lowered the pages and leveled his gaze on Ciel. “Meet me at the west gate of the palace an hour before dawn. I’ll make the arrangements tonight.”
She nodded and bowed before turning to leave.
“And Ciel,” he said before she could reach the door, “be sure to have that voice of yours in good working order.”
“Of course,” she replied. She somehow managed to keep a waver out of her voice even as she realized he intended to have her finish the job she was originally hired to do in a matter of hours.