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Saras refused to leave Detreya. Ciel did not dare ask her why she was lingering so long. It was not that she did not think she would get an answer, but rather that she knew Saras would expect her to continue to have a conversation for far beyond the point Ciel felt comfortable using her voice.
Even she was surprised at her continued resistance to casual conversation. She always thought that she had an aversion to speaking because she managed to so effectively avoid it over the years that she was painfully out of practice. Saras forced her to have more practice than she could ever wish for, but the effort of constantly preparing a response and holding back any magic normally contained within her voice drained her. Practice did nothing to build up her endurance or show her how to find such exchanges enjoyable.
As far as Ciel could tell, Saras was content to remain in Detreya and continue to scheme alongside Alenna. As long as she had a companion in her schemes, Ciel found it hard to complain about their continued presence in Detreya.
Then out of the blue Saras decided to take a trip out of the city without Alenna. The trip in itself was nothing all that unusual, but for Ciel, it was cause for alarm. The last thing she wanted was to go back to the days when she was Saras’s only conversational companion. It would not be so bad if she was not positive her lady found a twisted sort of joy in continuing to make her uncomfortable at every opportunity.
For the time being Saras was content to act without explanation and for that Ciel was grateful. For all her apprehensions about where they were going, she found herself relieved to not have to talk about it for the time being.
Everything remained a mystery until they arrived at their destination. Then, without being told, Ciel knew without being told. Nyura’s country villa was unmistakable once she knew that was where they were going. She had no idea what Saras might want with Nyura now that her power and influence had all but disappeared, but she supposed she would find out soon enough.
It was almost pitiable the way Nyura had been practically left at the altar and then sent away by the only family she had left. Ciel found it hard to pity her, though. It was not that she did not think the woman had been wronged, that much was for certain, but the time Ciel spent in her presence in the past made it easy for her to understand how things had turned out the way they had. Lady Nyura was somewhere between unpredictable on a good day and out of control on a bad day.
She was not looking forward to seeing what sort of chaos would ensue from combining Nyura with Saras in a country villa. Nonetheless, it seemed that was exactly the sort of experiment she was about to perform. She just hoped she still had enough skills to walk away from this unscathed.
From the outside, the villa was beautiful and perfectly tranquil. Ciel could easily envision its original purpose as a place of escape and respite from the frenetic energy of the city. The location probably meant little to someone such a Nyura who spent most of her time in her own fantasy world only tangentially connected to reality, but the peaceful, isolated nature of this home would keep her confusion of truth and fiction from doing serious damage. She felt as though they were about to bring a new chaotic element to a place that was only just containing the chaos already residing there.
The outward tranquility was shattered as soon as they were permitted entry into the household. At first, the reason behind the tense, nervous energy permeating the very air was not revealed to either of them. Ciel knew enough of how the world fell into a specific sort of chaos when Nyura was nearby to notice the tense, solemn silence within the villa was all wrong.
She held her tongue, electing to mind her own business for as long as possible. Saras would certainly get to the bottom of all this in time and when that happened Ciel knew she would be drawn into the drama as well.
Ignoring the strange, tense energy, the villa was truly a haven from the outside world. The air here seemed cooler, even with the sun shining the temperatures did not seem to be climbing toward their summertime high at the same rate as the countryside they passed through to get here. The journey here grew increasingly warm as the day progressed so the cooler temperature was a relief.
Instead of seeing Nyura as would be expected when someone of Saras’s rank visited her home, they were met by Siti. She looked tired, although she was making a valiant effort to hide it. Only the briefest flickers of strain were visible through the stoic mask she wore.
The conversation started off normally enough. Pleasantries were exchanged. Siti was given a high enough position in this household that it was not entirely strange for her to be the one greeting and entertaining guests. The lady of the house was so frequently out of sorts that it was a necessity, even in a home as isolated as this, to have someone able to step in and take charge in the event that Nyura was unable to do so herself.
Ciel was content to stand silently to the side and listen in while carefully taking in as much of her surroundings a possible. Eventually, these niceties ran dry and the question everyone had been skirting around had to be asked.
As soon as Nyura’s name was brought up, Siti’s composure crumbled. The information was slow in coming since the woman was in such a state. Saras was gentle and patient with her, contrary to her usual behavior. Now that Ciel knew she was capable of speaking without constantly teasing, she would have to do more to encourage her to cease her usual behavior.
“Is Lady Nyura not home?” Saras asked, obviously trying to gingerly lead Siti to the obvious answer without causing a complete breakdown.
Siti stepped closer to Saras and spoke in a high-pitched, conspiratorial whisper. Ciel stayed back, not wanting to appear too eager to overhear the rest of the conversation, but she strained her ears to hear every syllable nonetheless.
“She’s gone,” Siti whispered, her voice shaking as she struggled to get the words out. “Lady Nyura has left her home and all her friends.”
Saras looked surprised at this revelation, although Ciel felt certain she at least suspected part of this news. “Lady Nyura has run away, alone?”
Siti nodded. Tears glistened in her eyes but she blinked them back quickly enough to prevent a single tear from falling.
“There was no warning. I’ve interviewed the others and she revealed her plans to no one and took none of us with her. We don’t know where she had gone or what might have befallen her out there in the world all alone.”
Saras gave the teary-eyed woman a reassuring pat on the shoulder but looked about as comfortable in this situation as Ciel felt. These small acts of reassurance and sympathy were strange from Ciel’s perspective. Experience told her that Saras was not one to care at all for the feelings of others unless it was to her advantage. There must be more information she hoped to acquire from Siti if she was treating her so kindly.
“Now that we’re here you won’t have to handle this alone,” she said in a soft, soothing voice.
A watery smile was offered in reply.
“After we change out of our travel attire we’ll all sit down for tea and figure out what to do next. Surely if we put our heads together we can come up with a plan to bring Lady Nyura back safe and sound.”
Ciel doubted such a thing was possible, but Siti seemed reassured. With the promise of help coming in a short while, she became very eager to get them settled into their rooms for the duration of their stay.
There was nothing remarkable about her rooms in the villa. The apartment Saras had arranged for her to have back at the palace was certainly larger with more luxurious furnishings, but her accommodations in this villa had a sort of country charm to them. She pinched herself as soon as she realized she was thinking like some sort of highborn snob. She had stayed in far smaller, more cramped conditions than these and considered them to be far more than she would ever need. A few months of having the best of the best within her reach was starting to go to her head. She would not allow herself to go completely soft. No this soon.
There were some perks that she refused to deny herself, though. Being able to rid herself of dust and dirt from travel was something she always appreciated, but now she had learned the joy of having a wardrobe containing enough outfits to always have something clean to wear. She knew how to tolerate wearing dusty, sweaty clothing for the sake of getting on with her job, but she always tried to be clean and presentable whenever possible. Now it was always possible and she tried to take advantage of that fact.
One thing she would never adjust to was having Saras barge into her room. Probably at the lady’s request, their apartments in the villa were adjoined so Saras was able to drop in without so much as stepping out into the hall. It seemed privacy was not one of the luxuries Ciel would have the opportunity to sample in her life serving Saras.
It did not come as much of a surprise when Saras breezed into her room while still in her dressing gown and made herself at home on the chaise longue by the room’s large window. Ciel did her best to ignore her while she finished dressing. Expressing annoyance at her intrusion would make no difference at this point and would likely only encourage Saras to barge in more often in the future. If she had the choice between the luxury of her provided room or actual privacy in a broom closet, she was starting to think she would rather have the broom closet.
“It’s rather odd, us coming to call on Nyura so soon after she ran off somewhere on her own, don’t you think?” Saras asked in an offhanded way.
Ciel remained silent and focused on brushing out her hair. Fortunately for her, Saras did not need any sort of engagement to keep her end of the conversation going.
“Do you have any guesses where she might have gone?”
Now Ciel was purposely taking her time to avoid having to turn around and encourage Saras’s intrusion. Her hair was completely free of tangles, but she continued brushing instead of pulling it back and finishing her routine. She hoped a few more minutes would be enough to discourage her.
“I have a sneaking suspicion she’s gone after Erramun. His feelings for her evaporated as soon as she no longer brought Detreya with her into the marriage, but I think her love for him has remained as strong as ever.”
The theory intrigued her, but Ciel remained steadfast in her resolve to ignore this conversation.
Saras sighed. She seemed to be getting ever so slightly discouraged by being ignored. It only made Ciel more sure she should continue with her strategy of silence.
“I think you should head west and see if you can track down any trace of the missing lady.”
Now she could not ignore her mistress any longer. She whirled around to face her, opening her mouth to prepare to protest the idea, but Saras continued before she could get in a word edgewise.
“You can head out tomorrow,” Saras said with a decisive nod of her head.
Protesting would do no good. Obviously, her mind had been made up. Getting a mission, a way to put her skills to use and be active was normally something she longed for. Going anywhere near Erramun was something she still desperately wanted to avoid. Now it seemed she would have to decide test the strength of the protection offered by the rulers of Vaisha.
Refusing and running away would only make her more enemies. From her perspective, she had no choice but to do what was asked of her. She would just have to be careful not to let her path cross with Erramun’s.
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