Inbetween: Chapter Fifty One

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Ciel did not know how her life could have come to this. She thought that a lot lately, but every new circumstance caught her off guard with its strangeness. So much of her life had been dedicated to the purpose of being a tool of destruction for the highest bidder, even if the individual tasks and missions were varied. That purpose seemed like a distant memory now.

After the trials and tribulations she experienced since her assassination mission in Detreya, she found herself grateful to have any purpose at all. Her new purpose was almost hilariously out of character, but she had a purpose again and she clung to the fact.

Gorane possessed a knack for finding ways to be more active and keep herself entertained without alerting either of her partners to less restful habits. Ciel could not help but like someone who was devious and clever enough to get away with as much as Gorane did while under Saras’s particularly close watch.

Even if her daily activities now consisted mostly of minding balls of yarn and listening to Gorane read aloud, she found having a purpose and some sort of reason to get up in the morning did a lot to raise her spirits. Complacency was a constant concern. If she did not keep her mind honed, she knew she might easily lose the carefully honed reflexes that allowed her to survive in her normal line of work. Of course, the pessimistic voice in the back of her mind chimed in to remind her that there was a distinct possibility that she would never be able to go back to her old life.

These days she mostly only saw Gorane and Saras when she decided to stop by. Gorane seemed to like having her company, but whether she had any notions about detaining Ciel long term or not, she could not guess. Saras, on the other hand, seemed to intend to keep her around.

While Gorane was undeniably clever and possessed a wide and varied education that far outstripped Ciel’s rather limited and highly specialized areas of expertise, Saras proved to have a brilliant mind for politics. Following her line of thinking reminded Ciel of the times when she had been privy to Erramun’s mechanizations. They operated in very different ways, but the spirit behind their enthusiasm for politics was surprisingly similar.

She found it a bit strange that the wife of the High Lord should show so much political knowledge in her own right. In another place, this might not be so strange, but Siva appeared from the outside to be the one in charge. Now that Ciel knew Saras, she was more than a little surprised that she had never once heard her name mentioned alongside Siva’s. She knew her stuff and had an interest in the political landscape so it seemed odd for her to be unknown in other parts of the world.

Strange or not, Ciel was now almost entirely reliant on Saras for news of the world beyond this one small room. Fortunately, she didn’t need to express her interest in hearing such news as she just happened to overhear it whenever Saras came to sit with Gorane.

From Ciel’s perspective, Gorane did not share her partner’s interest in world affairs, but boredom from being confined to her room caused her to latch onto any topic of conversation presented to her. Ciel knew she was a poor conversation partner so this eagerness on Gorane’s part did not surprise her.

Saras took advantage of Gorane’s desperation and discussed whatever happened to be on her mind when she stopped in to visit. When she arrived, Ciel knew she could count on a break from the mundane, at least.

“Well,” Saras said as she sat down on the edge of Gorane’s bed.

As usual, Ciel was mostly ignored during their interactions. This was a bit of a relief to her. She still cringed whenever someone expected her to carry on a conversation in this place. The constant pressure to speak did nothing to increase her comfort when she had no way to escape it. Gorane was thankfully willing to be silent most of the time. Saras lived to talk and seemed to think that others should do the same. She had no qualms about doing everything she could to lure everyone present into playing a part in the conversation.

She waited eagerly with shining eyes for someone to prompt her to continue. She grinned and bounced in place until Gorane humored her and asked her what she had to say.

“I have news, and I think it might be of interest to our dear friend, Ciel.”

Against her will, Ciel perked up at the mention of her name. Saras gave her a sly smile and asked her directly. “You do care to hear news about your former employer, don’t you?”

She wanted to know whatever it was that Saras had to say, of course, but she knew she needed to hear this or it would eat away at her. There was no way she could rest easy if there was something going on with Erramun that she did not know. One thing she knew for sure now was that she was definitely not interested in Erramun personally. At one point that might have been the case, but since he made it clear that her failure would not be tolerated, she gave up any hope of seeing him again on civil terms. What at one point would have been mere curiosity, was now a sort of necessity for survival. She needed to know if he was going to do something that might end up putting her life at risk, even at this distance.

Saras would not continue until she spoke up and expressed her interest in her news. No matter how clear she made it that she would prefer not to use her voice for common conversation, she could not convince Saras to permit her to communicate nonverbally.

“What news have you heard?” she asked begrudgingly. Then, in defiance of her own carefully honed discipline, she asked another question. “Is he still in Detreya?”

Saras grinned. Ciel knew she gave her exactly what she wanted, although even after all this time Ciel could not fathom why she wanted to toy with her in this way. She was afraid whenever she saw that look on Saras’s face that she would decide she had what she wanted and determine that she did not need to provide anything in return.

“Yes,” she agreed after a moment of tension. “He’s still in Detreya and his presence there is what brings us this fascinating news.”

Ciel watched and waited. She wanted to hear this bit of news, but she was caught between trading more conversation for the information and the fear that it would cause Saras to gloat instead of inform.

With an exasperated sigh, Gorane broke the stalemate. “You’re dying to tell us your news so why make us wait? What have you heard about Erramun?”

Saras turned her attention to Gorane, leaving Ciel with a bit of leeway to worry without carefully hiding her emotions. What reason could Erramun possibly have for still being in Detreya? Nyura had been eating out of the palm of his hand from the first day. There had been no reports of anyone trying to question her right to rule, so his puppet in that city should still be secure. He should have moved on and returned to managing his empire by now.

“Rumor has it, Erramun has asked for the lady’s hand in marriage.” Saras leaned in and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper.

“That’s surprising,” Gorane replied with the slightest hint of interest in her voice. “We’d assumed he would be a bachelor for life years ago. There’s never even been rumors of his courting anyone. Now an engagement?”

Ciel was shocked. She had at one time fancied that she felt something like love for Erramun, but always assumed nothing could come of it because he held himself aloof from romantic entanglements as they interfered with his ambition. To learn that she had been wrong about him all along required her to rethink years of her life. She knew better than to think that Erramun would marry Nyura for love, she saw them together and knew there was no attraction, but the fact that he would marry at all when he always got what he wanted through other means left her puzzled.

She took some sort of comfort from the apparent shock Saras and Gorane felt at the news as well. That meant that she was not merely surprised because her own judgment and perception had been compromised.

The gossip and discussion continued, but her mind was too full to follow along. While the others thought Erramun’s impending nuptials were a source of amusement, she could not shake the feeling in her gut that this event had to be significant and the results would be felt even in this distant part of the world.


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