This suite did not look like any prison Ciel knew, but the feeling of being caged in was there. If she had been arrested alone she assumed she would not be kept anywhere with anything remotely resembling luxury. In fact, she had expected to be separated from Lady Nyura and locked up somewhere her abilities would be rendered useless. Then again, High Lord Erramun knew her well enough to realize caging her in as this lady’s only companion would be its own special type of torture.
She paced from one end of the suite to the other. The power of her voice was somehow muted in this place. Such a thing was possible, of course, and it made sense that her longtime former employer was aware of it. He was not the sort to leave himself vulnerable, even to someone as loyal to him as she had been.
Even with her power locked away, there had to be a way for her to get out of here. It was not as though they were locked in a cell with iron bars across every potential exit. Yes, they were locked in, and there were guards posted at the door—that was one of the first things she checked. That still did not make this a proper prison cell. Aside from the fact that they were barred from coming and going from the suite, the security measures were only a step or two above what would be expected for an important guest that might be an assassination risk. Ciel had found her way into such rooms before. Surely it could not be all that different to find a way out.
The guards at the door were a problem. They would be listening for anything suspicious happening within the suite. Being cut off from her power was a serious setback as well. She relied on words to weed out the brutes. Until she figured out how to get her magic back she would have to deal with the hired muscle and their more clever superiors the same way. It would not be impossible as long as she was stealthy and dealt with them one or two at a time. Given her current situation, she feared stealth would be her greatest shortcoming.
Lady Nyura was the antithesis of stealth. Leaving her behind might be the only way to get out of this palace alive, but Ciel was not sure how much of a life she could have if she failed the mission given to her by Lady Saras. She would never be able to return to anything resembling her old life with the leaders of both Garon and Vaisha out for her blood. Even if that was not the case, she was not sure she could abandon Lady Nyura like that. She was not fond of the woman by any means, but there was something about the lady’s delusional stupidity that made her want to protect her even while hating to be near her.
Watching Lady Nyura had Ciel convinced now that ignorance really was bliss. Somehow getting locked in this room convinced her the wedding was back on. Ciel tried not to think about the mental gymnastics required to come to that conclusion. Usually she was clever enough to follow along with another’s line of thinking, but in this case, cleverness seemed to put her at a disadvantage.
As long as she was being kept here with Lady Nyura, she felt as though at least her life was not in danger. Keeping Lady Nyura captive was one thing. It gave High Lord Erramun a bargaining chip to force Duke Yuri to negotiate. It was exactly what she had been sent all this was to prevent. She had failed. Yet, for reasons she could not comprehend at this time, she was not dead. Yet.
She knew she was not part of the negotiation. Once Lady Nyura was safely returned to her brother, Ciel would meet her fate.
The suite was spacious. With only the two of them in here, it was almost possible to forget they were trapped if Ciel managed to stay still. Pacing from one room to the next quickly became habitual. If she did not move, she did not feel as though she was doing enough to think her way out of this situation. Today she only stopped to sleep and eat.
Lady Nyura remained completely tranquil. Whether this was due to her delusions or a result of her training to tolerate the life of a proper noblewoman Ciel could not begin to guess. At the moment, she did not care about the reason. She needed to think and if Lady Nyura succumbed to hysterics, nothing would be accomplished.
The best time for her to attempt an escape seemed to be when they were brought their meals. The doors had to open for that, of course, and carrying in the food brought a moment of activity and confusion she could exploit. Once she was out of the suite, things would not be much easier, but she would have options.
It would only take her a moment to orient herself once she was free. The palace had not changed much since she was last here so getting lost would not be as much of a concern as getting caught during the escape. There was no way to tell from here exactly how much of the palace was set up to dampen her magic. She had used her magic freely on their way into the palace so the effect was certainly not applied to the entire property. Once she regained her power, remaining unseen and incapacitating anyone who tried to stop her would cease to be as much of a challenge.
It was a plan, but not a perfect one. Even so, having something to work with allowed her thoughts to be purposeful. She was able to compose herself enough to at least appear as though she was resigned to her fate.
In her opinion, escape from a troublesome situation always went better when she found a way to maintain her calm. Things could still go wrong. Accounting for every variable from this limited vantage point would be next to impossible. The best thing she could do for now was move forward with an honest evaluation of what she could and could not do to get out of this situation.
While she waited, she did her best to avoid being within a radius of Lady Nyura that made it easy for her to initiate conversation. If they had been thrown in an ordinary jail cell, she would have no way to avoid being trapped in a one-sided discussion about the lady’s reinstated engagement. Even with plenty of space to get away from her, it was hard for Ciel to allow Lady Nyura to continue to believe that High Lord Erramun had ever loved her, let alone that their wedding was back on.
Ciel took a seat at one of the windows and looked out over a carefully landscaped and meticulously watered garden. She hoped to see something that would help her get her bearings. As far as she could tell from this vantage point, this could be any one of a dozen near-identical gardens.
She continued to look out the window as it was better than risking making eye contact and initiating a conversation with Lady Nyura. A sizzle of magical energy made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.
Something magical was happening. That should be impossible. Her magic was being dampened. It should apply to other kinds of magic as well. Ciel whirled around to see what was happening.
By the time she made it around there was only a faint shimmer of the residual magic remaining, but two extra people in the room. She narrowed her eyes. She had encountered this kind of magic before. She had encountered one of the newcomers before as well.
At this moment she wished she had her magic more than ever. It was a futile wish, even if it was possible. The young woman who just appeared out of the faded portal was the same one who thwarted her attempts to complete her mission to kill Yuri.
She just barely held back a sneer of disgust. Expressing her animosity toward a girl with such unusual and entirely unpredictable abilities while trapped in such close quarters would not be wise. Instead, it seemed more prudent to bide her time and hope she could find a way to form a sort of truce with her.
Lady Nyura did not share Ciel’s forbearance. She leapt up from her seat, her face twisted into a snarling scowl.
“You,” she growled.
The small, shifty fellow who appeared along with the girl who was now the lady’s object of disdain shrunk back. He seemed to have a talent for making himself appear completely insignificant. Ciel had overlooked him easily enough until he moved and once he was still again, he melded into the background once more.
“Lady Nyura?” The girl frowned and whirled to face the small man. “Barkly! I thought you said we would return in a discreet location.”
Barkly puffed up with anger at her words, making himself appear a bit taller but still far from intimidating in Ciel’s opinion. “Maybe we would have,” he shot back, “if someone hadn’t insisted that this way felt better.”
She smiled sheepishly and turned to look at Ciel and Lady Nyura. “It did feel better, but maybe my instincts were a little off.”
“A little off?” Barkly sneered. “You’ve dropped us into some highborn lady’s boudoir.”
He might be insignificant, but he was not an idiot, Ciel thought. She stepped forward, accepting that she would have to be the one to bring some clarity to the situation as Lady Nyura was too apoplectic for there to be any hope of her talking sensibly on any subject.
“You’re at least partially correct,” she said.
The girl flinched at the sound of her voice. Ciel was pleased to see that the power of her voice was not easily forgotten. She hoped to have it back again before the girl picked up on the fact that her abilities were currently much more limited.
Lady Nyura appeared to be about to interject so she hastily continued. “We’re currently being held prisoner in this suite so while it is Lady Nyura’s boudoir it is also our jail cell.”
“Great,” the girl said with a huff. “I guess we’re trapped here too now.”
“We wouldn’t be trapped anywhere if you’d just followed my directions,” Barkly grumbled.
“I didn’t force you to follow me,” she shot back.
Barkly did not seem to have a retort to that and just muttered to himself and slid back into his original unimposing posture. He did not seem to be all that invested in figuring out a way out of this place. Ciel did not care much about his thoughts on the matter. Whatever skills he might possess, the girl’s were the ones she knew could get them out of this prison.
“So, Willow, did my dear brother finally grow weary of you and send you away?” Lady Nyura asked.
Ciel wished there was an easy way to silence her. They needed to work together, not pick petty fights. She tried to take it in stride. They could still work together to get out of here. This was just a small complication to her original plan.
“Hardly,” Willow shot back. “I went home to visit my family. Now I’m back.”
The situation was already getting out of hand. If their raised voices caught the guards’ attention, they ran the risk of losing a valuable trump card. If the guards found more people in here than they expected, they might end up losing even more. As much as the realization pained her, Ciel knew that she was going to need to be the one to put an end to this nonsense.
“We’re locked in here,” she said abruptly.
Lady Nyura’s retort was cut off. She turned to look at Ciel with tears in her eyes. She acted as though no one bothered to inform her that she was a prisoner rather than a guest. A few minutes ago Ciel might have tried to soften the blow if only to save her own sanity, but now she had more urgent matters that demanded her attention.
Willow looked startled by her statement. She frowned at Lady Nyura but said no more.
“They’ve blocked my magic in here. What about yours?”
“I don’t know. What should I try to do?”
“Why not try doing something about the guards posted at the door?” Ciel suggested. If she could do it, there would be one less problem for her to worry about going forward and if she could not, then they would know they were in more trouble than before.
Willow blanched. “I don’t want to hurt anybody.”
“So do something that won’t hurt them.”
“Okay. I guess it won’t hurt to try.”
Ciel was not sure she liked the sound of that, but she wanted to see how this turned out.
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