Inbetween: Chapter Forty Two

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Getting to Vaisha proved to be easier than meeting with the leader of the nation, Siva. She ran into stumbling blocks as she tried to imagine a meeting taking place. She rarely entered a place without an invitation or an order influencing her actions. She went where her work took her and considering until very recently she was the best at what she did, she rarely had a moment without an order influencing her actions.

Erramun had kept her on retainer for quite some time, and since she had never technically left his employ so much as defected to save her own life, announcing to the elite of the world that she was available for hire was out of the question. Not being on the market as an assassin meant that she was essentially nobody. The last time she had defined herself without referencing who she served she was still essentially a child.

That did not sit well with her. At some point, her work became essential part of her identity. She wore it like armor. If people thought of her as dangerous, deadly even, she was not in danger herself. The trepidation and disdain that followed her kind usually did not extend to her due to her profession and association with people in power. The real monsters were the ones that told her who and when to kill, but as long as people saw her being controlled they felt safer. Being unaffiliated and calling her own shots required her move with greater care.

Just like in Detreya, she lacked the resources to support herself in this country. She needed to move quickly and secure a position for herself. Waiting around would only push her to act in ways that would try the goodwill of the people of this city.

That meant that she needed an audience with Siva today. Getting an opportunity would be a trial in and of itself. The most vital part of her plan was to get to Siva while spreading as little ill will toward herself as possible. It was more difficult than she cared to admit to plan just how she could get what she wanted without using her skills.

Nothing annoyed her like her inability to breeze past the guards barring her way into Siva’s home. She had no information about their shift schedules so she did not know when to slip past them unnoticed. They were wisely working in pairs so she could not use her abilities without risking the other guard raising the alarm before she could disable both.

She hung back, watching and waiting for more information. She was tired, hungry and finding her patience wearing away, but years of practiced self-denial made it possible for her to hold out just a bit longer.

Waiting paid off eventually. One of the guards at the door disappeared and she sprang into action. In just a few short words, she uttered a magic-infused song for the lone remaining guard and he opened the door for her and forgot all about her once she was inside.

Doing this one, minor feat of magic felt like a huge accomplishment. She held herself back for so long that using her abilities again felt like a strange, massive relief.

She knew, of course, getting in the front door would be the least of her problems. Inside, she was someone who did not belong and who would stick out like a sore thumb, particularly while she still wore the clothes, dust, and grime that had accompanied her across the desert. She doubted she would have much success in her mission to ally herself with Siva if she saw him looking and smelling the way she did now.

It was simple enough for her to chant under her breath to make her progress through the halls silent. Without her own footsteps making a sound, the sound of approaching footsteps could be caught earlier.

She stayed away from the servants quarters. Those were easy to pick out from the noise and energy pour out of the areas around the kitchens. Bustling servants would cause her more problems. She needed to do some serious work to make herself appear presentable and the servants quarters would not do much for her in that regard anyway.

What she needed right now were an empty room, a bath, and some clean clothes. Some of those items would be easier to obtain than others, particularly clothing. She would only find something that fit out of dumb luck based on what little she knew about the current fashion in this place.

Excessive caution did her no good in this place. She wanted to credit her vast experience with other palatial buildings with her success in finding an empty hallway, but she knew at least part of it was just dumb luck. She had no plan and no foreknowledge of the layout of this building.

She picked a door at random. Her whispered enchantment caused the door to open silently. Ciel ducked inside and closed the door behind her. Her cloak of silence meant no one could hear her coming, but it did not hide her from sight. She could clearly hear any approach from the distance, but the sound of others in her immediate vicinity was muted along with her so she preferred to have something solid against her back so she did not have to worry about looking behind her.

Luck seemed to be on her side today. Every time she took a risk it turned out to be to her advantage. She tried not to let the luck go to her head. This room was empty, but obviously currently in use.

Even after a maid went through a room there were still subtle clues of current occupation. The energy of a room in use was noticeably different from a room out of commission.

Since no one was in the room she proceeded to find the things she needed. She knew she needed to move quickly to reduce the risk of the occupant of this room returning and catching her.

She explored the room with efficient haste. Behind another door, she discovered a bathroom and felt immediate relief to learn there was running water. She needed to wash up before she made any attempt to present herself as a professional to Siva and this bathroom provided a tempting opportunity. She could not remember the last time she had a proper bath, but even though she had the facilities right in front of her, she did not want to risk being that exposed and vulnerable for more time than strictly necessary.

She reluctantly left the bathroom to look in the wardrobe for something clean to wear. At this point, anything would be better than the clothes she had on, even if the outfit did not fit or was not appropriate for her without alterations.

A sigh of relief escaped her lips when she discovered the clothes were appropriate for a woman. She realized there was an added bonus to stealing clothes from within Siva’s home. She would look more like she belonged here if she appeared in the clothes of the people in this country.

She picked an outfit and returned to the bathroom. She might not have all the time in the world, but she was going to make an effort to clean herself up.

Leaving a mess in the bathroom was the least of her worries. It was unlikely that anyone would dare to throw a fit about it if she was able to attain a position here with Siva, and if she could not, then she would be gone before anyone could piece together that she was to blame.

Having clean running water made all the difference in the world. She had been drinking warm, water stone created water for the majority of her trek and conserving her water supply so washing up had not been a priority. In the desert, she had very little chance to use anything other than her own water supply to bathe.

She knew that she could easily spend hours pampering herself after the ordeal she had just been through. She could barely remember the last time that she had a chance to take care of her appearance and as much as she hated to admit it, even to herself, she would need a lot of time to get back to her best.

She did what she could in a timely manner. It was not much. Travel, harsh weather, exhaustion and stress could not be washed away with soap and water. She gave it her best shot and was not wholly dissatisfied with the final result.

The face she saw in the mirror now was her own again. She might not look perfect, but she at least looked like a person.

Once Siva heard her name, she was sure that he would know just what she had gone through to get here. There was no way her name had not reached the ears of the other powerful rulers after she worked for Erramun for so long. Everyone with power wanted to know what the other people with power were doing and just who they had backing them up. She was sure she was in the dossiers of most of the powerful houses in the world. Fortunately, having her name, face, or description known did not do much at all to slow her down when she wanted to operate from the shadows.

Since she was at least reasonably presentable now, she decided it was time to venture out of the room and find her way into Siva’s presence. She listened to her instincts to follow the hallways to the place where it was most logical for her to find Siva during the day.

She turned a corner which she thought with her luck would surely lead her out of the private quarters and into more public areas of the palace and almost collided with a lady sparking with jewels and followed by an entourage.

She had been too confident, trying to get to the end of her journey too quickly. She rushed ahead without the care and caution that the situation warranted. Now she was exposed, caught off guard and for at least a second, rendered speechless.

The bejeweled lady shooed away the entourage while keeping Ciel pinned to the spot with her intense gaze. When they were alone, then and only then she started to talk.

“And who might you be?” The lady tilted her head and the jewels adorning her ears and neck glittered as the facets caught the light.

Ciel took care and forced herself to speak in the most restrained manner possible. It was not much of an ordeal from the outside, but for her to keep all traces of magic and power out of her words was nearly impossible. It was typically easier for her to play the role of a mute than to go through the effort of keeping all traces of power out of every syllable she uttered. She needed to speak to Siva and using her words was the most efficient way for her to express her usefulness and her need for a safe haven. Playing the part of a mute with anyone in his home would put her off to a bad start.

The words were only delayed for a fraction of a second. “I’m a visitor, seeking an audience with High Lord Siva.”

The lady glittered once again as she shifted her position once more. “Interesting that a visitor seeking an audience with my husband would be wearing the same outfit my friend Jey wore just last week.”

Ciel stepped back, preparing to run. The lady reached a ring-encrusted hand out toward her, pleading her to halt.

“Don’t go” she begged. “I’m Saras, the lady of this house and I can get you an audience with Siva if that is truly what you desire.”

It seemed like this could be a trap. She was unsure what might motivate someone to just offer her help when she had so obviously been caught. The offer certainly felt like a trap to Ciel, but there was no way out of danger now. Refusing Saras’s offer would just as surely lead her to danger as accepting it.

Since it would get her to the place she wanted to be, she decided she would be no worse off if she accepted the offer than if she declined it and turned tail and ran.

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