Inbetween: Chapter 102

 

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Lady Saras was a fool for wanted to go out into the field. Ciel had already been there and had written a detailed report of what she had seen and experienced. However, it did not seem that her word was enough for Saras. She wanted to see for herself and Ciel saw no point in wasting her energy trying to change her mind.

As much as she wanted to avoid unnecessary danger, Ciel found herself accompanying Lady Saras. Obedience had somehow become a habit of hers. Lady Saras had that effect on people. Ignoring her made her even more impossible to deal with so obedience became a way to make life tolerable. Somehow she had grown accustomed to behaviors that used to be anathema to her.

She was painfully loyal to her current employer. The only person in the past to come close to eliciting this degree of loyalty from her was Erramun. Following Saras into an army camp was strange enough, but knowing their enemy was Erramun made it all that much worse for her.

Although they were going into a military camp during a war, Lady Saras did not seem to be concerned about their safety in the least. Since her mistress had no concern for her safety, Ciel took on the responsibility on herself. It was not her usual sort of work, but it was something she was more than capable of doing. With Lady Saras recklessly rushing through the camp with no regard for the danger they might encounter, she had little choice. It was either react defensively or risk life and limb.

It seemed as though Lady Saras knew what she was doing, contrary to the impression she gave with her tendency to start a new project on a whim. As they traveled through the camp, she seemed to evoke a renewed sense of purpose in the soldiers. Ciel had no idea how she did it, but she made it seem effortless.

If it were up to Ciel, this excursion would be limited to the camps far away from the skirmishes taking place far out in the desert. However, Saras did not share her opinions on the need for caution. She acted as though her position and authority was a shield.

Ciel knew better.

There was no reason for Lady Saras not to believe her position offered her certain protections. Ciel thought she just was not considering the possibility of someone of similar standing to her acting as an opposing force.

Lady Saras knew what she was doing, but Ciel was the one who knew what Erramun might be doing. Being out here was a risk. Erramun’s reach was not unlimited, but it was further than most would anticipate. He was not without supporters in Detreya. He might have used his influence to garner support even further in the east. Ciel knew what he was capable of, but not what he might have actually managed to accomplish. No matter how confident Saras might feel, she was still putting herself at risk by mingling in such a public space.

She remained alert and aloof while Lady Saras made her rounds. It might not be possible for them to be completely safe, but Ciel felt she had to try.

Everything was completely, almost mind-numbingly peaceful. Even Ciel’s mind was starting to be lulled into complacency until she spotted a face she recognized from a long time ago.

He was no one important. She could not name him, but now that she saw him, she knew he worked for Erramun. Her mind had been drifting for a while now, but she snapped back to attention. He did not belong here. She knew instinctively, without a doubt, this man had not defected from the Garon camp. Something was wrong.

She looked at Saras, not trusting her voice when she was so suddenly distressed. Although she managed to briefly lock eyes with Saras, she was afraid she did not understand her concern. Just as she started to summon up the courage to try using her voice against her better judgment, she saw Saras break away from her current conversation and look to her. She motioned for Lady Saras to follow her away from the others. The last thing they needed was for someone to overhear and start jumping to conclusions, no matter how correct Ciel might know those conclusions to be.

“What’s bothering you now?” Saras asked. Her lips were pressed into a thin, tight line and her posture had lost the congenial grace she had bestowed upon each and every one of the soldiers she met.

For a second Ciel felt as though she was back in service to Erramun. Saras was capricious, but never prone to bouts of anger before now. She often found it hard to summon the right words, particularly after a long stretch of disciplined silence, but now she was too startled for words. Time was not on her side now. She took a second and gathered her composure. Then she forced herself to speak, even if it was likely to anger Lady Saras further.

“I saw someone I think might be a spy of some sort just now,” she said softly and quickly to prevent her words and the nature of their conversation from being heard.

Saras grinned. Ciel waited. There had to be a reason for her up and down emotions. It was not like her to be so unstable.

“Fascinating,” she said with a decisive nod. “I have a job for you that might be of interest to you.”

It was not as though she had a choice regardless. She remembered all too well how hard life was for someone like her while masterless. Enduring some indignity and tedious, irritating work was a small price to pay to have the protection and stability that came along with having a patroness.

She nodded and caught herself just in time to avoid being chastised for not speaking. She kept her voice low and fought back the instinct to weave a song of silence in with her words. With Lady Saras in such a volatile mood, she did not want to risk finding out how she might feel about magic being used around her without express permission.

“What is it you would have me do?” she asked in the quietest of whispers.

“Follow that man you saw. If he does anything to that seems even slightly suspicious, kill him. Discretely.”

Those words could easily be a joke coming from Lady Saras, but her tone was deadly serious. The average person might be appalled by such an order, but for Ciel, it was a breath of fresh air. It was dirty work, but it was the sort of work she excelled at.

She bowed to indicate her acknowledgment of her new mission and was on her way to track the man down. He could not have gone far, but the camp was by no means compact. Even with a few moments head start, he could be almost anywhere. It was a challenge, but it felt good to have to make an effort again.

Overthinking this situation would get her nowhere. She just needed to act so she started off walking in the direction she saw her target going. The habits from her former life came back to her easily. She summoned up a few words and cloaked herself in silence. No one would hear her coming and she could move through the space between groups of people without drawing too much attention to herself.

In addition to her cloak of silence, she wove in a spell to enhance her own sense of hearing. She could not be everywhere at once and she could only look in one direction at a time. Relying on sight to track him would make it easy to lose track of her quarry. She could cover a lot more ground if she could just listen for him.

It was more than a little overwhelming to suddenly hear so much. She always had a reasonably acute sense of hearing in the first place. That came with the territory for a songstress. She just needed a bit more concentration to block out the extraneous sounds. Then she could listen only for the sounds she was looking for without the ambient sounds of the camp distracting her.

She had never heard the voice of the man she was following so she had to rely on hearing or seeing something out of the ordinary to know she had found him. The odds were he knew she had noticed him and took measures to hide himself from detection. He would not be a very good spy if he did not at least try.

However, even a spy could not be expected to contend with the likes of her. When she tracked him down, he was trying to hide. He might have even succeeded if she had not done such a good job with her spell.

As her orders were to only act once he exposed himself as a genuine spy, she stopped and waited. She watched as he finally decided to move on and she was able to follow after him. It was just a matter of time until he made a mistake and she could not wait for it to finally happen.

She kept her distance as she tracked him. The camp was busy but not bustling with foot traffic so she needed to stay rather far back to avoid being noticed. Finally, he entered a rather large but otherwise unremarkable tent which allowed Ciel to move in closer. It would be possible for her to eavesdrop from a greater distance, but she would not need to sort through as much extraneous noise if she was close by. Closing the distance between them did put her at greater risk, but she had every confidence she could handle whatever this spy might try to throw at her. Her confidence was bolstered by the presence of so many soldiers around her in the camp. She had no doubt she would have more help than she could possibly use if she found herself in trouble. One spy or even a small cohort of spies would not stand a chance once exposed within an army camp.

The spy was talking to someone inside the tent. So far the conversation was completely mundane. None of what was being said could be used as evidence of his spying, but Ciel was certain it was just a matter of time until she could catch him. The banal conversation lulled her into a bit of a trance. It was easy to assume this conversation was not going to be fruitful.

Then she heard a voice respond to the spy prattling on and she froze in fear. She almost did not believe her ears. However, she knew better than to distrust her own senses when everything still indicated what she was experiencing was reality. She swallowed hard and listened some more to get all the facts straight before she jumped to any major conclusions. If she went back to Saras with this news and no real evidence, she would never believe her. She needed proof and solid conviction in what she heard.

A few more words solidified her belief. Somehow, and she could not explain how it could be possible, Erramun was here.

She would know his voice anywhere. She had listened to him so many times over the years she could not forget the timbre of his voice.

For a few seconds, she was too shocked to actually process what was being said. Every fiber of her being screamed for her to run, but she was frozen in place by an overwhelming sense of terror. Her legs would not move. Her voice died in her throat, leaving her virtually defenseless. It was not as though her songs had much of an effect on Erramun even when she could use them.

Time seemed to slow down as she tried to come up with some sort of plan. Lady Saras needed to know. More than that, Ciel needed to get out of this place. Considering she had slipped through his fingers the last time, she did not think he would bother with imprisoning her again.

She turned to walk away. She needed to warn Saras more than she needed to gather more evidence. Just then a hand grabbed her by the shoulder and jerked her backward.

“Hello, Ciel,” a deep voice said into her right ear.

Erramun had found her.


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