Hello everyone~!! :D
Long time no see! (^^)/
Well, it's been a long, long wait of many months (who am I kidding? it's been over a year! D:) but finally, the new chapter is here!! Thank you all so much for your patience! (^o^)/
There are so many reasons why this chapter came so late but the main one is just a lack of free time … and then when I finally got the time, I forgot what was supposed to be happening in the story (thank goodness for scribbling notes!) OTL I'm incredibly sorry it took so long to get this chapter done… I hadn't realised I'd left the last chapter on such a cliff-hanger! :O I don't know if my writing style has changed or not over the past year (I get the feeling it may have) but hopefully it still mostly matches up with previous chapters~
Warnings: As always, it's set after the Indian arc, so it refers to characters/events that have happened before then… although by this stage everyone already knows that, but I feel obliged to mention it anyway… OTL
Disclaimer: Kuroshitsuji is not mine, has never been mine, and looks pretty unlikely to ever be mine in the future – that happy pleasure will always belong to Toboso-sensei. On the other hand, Argentine, Randall and Vincent are all characters of my creation, which does make me wonder if Ciel and Sebastian are going to hold me to account for all their actions so far… Scary thought. O.o
Author Ramblings: I say it every chapter and I mean it every single time, but a massive, heartfelt THANK YOU!! to everyone who reads this story, especially those of you who take the time to also review or fave it ^^b You've been patient with me for this last year and continued waiting for the next chapter, even though sometimes a massive hiatus like that can lead to a story being abandoned… and for that, I am eternally grateful. May the next chapter not take such a long time to write! (-/\-)
And as always, many thanks go to my beta, Nanaga, who has helped me dig my way out of the plot holes I kept digging myself into. Thanks, Nanaga! :D
Anyway, enough of my rambling, I've made you wait long enough already. Hope you enjoy the new chapter and thanks for reading! \(^o^)/
At Night: That Butler, Counterattack
Sometimes we must lose our way
Before we can find it
His decision and the thoughts leading to them had taken place in such a short amount of time that it almost reached the level of a demon. Randall's order still hung in the air even as another three-word order left Ciel's lips to seal his fate.
"Renew our contract."
Something cleared in Sebastian's face; the red irises gleamed like new stars, his mouth stretching into a wide smile.
"Yes, my lord."
To Ciel, it seemed as though the next few moments took place in eternity, though in reality the demon was moving so fast it was almost a blur in order to prevent any interference. Sebastian stood up swiftly, moving to stand behind Ciel as he pulled off his left glove, exposing the contract seal marked on his flesh. Was it wrong, to feel relief that he had been accepted back? Not forgiven; far from it – he had seen the burning anger flicker through Ciel's eye.
Perhaps it was not relief that he had been accepted back, but that his aesthetics, his reputation, were safe. He had not broken their contract. Ciel had not demanded it over. He had not lost the boy's soul. Yes, that is it, Sebastian told himself, ignoring the voice inside him that suggested he was not quite being truthful. Why should I be relieved that a human brat renewed our contract?
Sharp teeth bit into his thumb, teasing crimson beads from the skin until they began to flow freely from the deep wound: a superficial wound would heal too quickly for what he was about to do. The pale hand slipped over Ciel's shoulder, reaching across to caress the boy's cheek as Sebastian leant down to whisper in his ear. Ciel flinched at his touch, but nevertheless remained standing straight.
"Would you put your faith in me, Young Master?"
Sebastian's low whisper, almost a purr, made Ciel shiver as the demon's breath tickled his ear. Surprisingly, it was Argentine who spoke next, pale eyes fixed on Ciel.
"He could steal your soul here and now with what he's about to do, brat."
Yes … he could have done it at any point before this … but he chose instead to ask again for a binding between us? What is Sebastian playing at? Confusion mingled with his anger, diluting it into annoyance. It doesn't matter in the end; I must escape from here, by whatever means. If that meant trusting his life and his soul to the demon once again, so be it. I have no choice.
Sebastian's grip tightened for a moment, nails pressing against Ciel's skin. Ciel could feel the demon's lips stretch into a smile over those sharp teeth, a predator's grin at catching his prey. With a spark of irritation, Ciel lifted his chin, meeting Randall's disbelieving face squarely, although his words were addressed to Sebastian. "Stop playing around. Hurry up!"
The demon's grin widened at the familiar impatience in those words. Yes, Ciel was still the same as before. "Understood."
His hand shifted, thumb wiping over the drooping eyelid that had once held Ciel's eye and leaving a trail of dark blood behind. Ciel had paid in blood the first time around; now it was his turn. Though not, he mused, for the same reasons. Demon magic was powerful, yet to do some things it required more power than others. His palm came to rest against the empty socket, feeling the wet touch of his blood and the dried blood of Ciel's that still remained there. Long fingers threaded into ash-coloured hair. The contract mark emblazoned on his hand aligned directly with the absent mark that should have been in Ciel's eye.
Ciel heard Sebastian whisper something, too low to hear properly though it didn't sound like any language he had heard before. Burning pain ripped through his head, agony driving him to bite his lip and draw blood. He thought he heard someone scream. The demon's hand was like fire, searing through his flesh to the very bone beneath; new strength washed through him, driving away the pain and the weariness and the hurt –
Then suddenly, it ended; the flow of fire ebbed but the strength remained behind. Ciel swayed slightly and felt Sebastian steady him with a hand on his shoulder as the demon's other hand fell away from his face.
"Young Master, are you alright?"
Am I alright? Ciel wondered blankly. He truly didn't know. "What did you –?" he asked slowly, reaching up to his face. He stopped abruptly as his fingers brushed his right eyelid. It felt like – "How did you –?"
Sebastian straightened as Ciel turned to look incredulously at the demon. The sapphire gaze caught sight of the contract mark on the demon's hand glowing like the midday sun, so brightly that even the glove Sebastian tugged back on failed to conceal it. Red eyes met blue and a flicker of a familiar mocking smile curved the demon's lips.
"As the Phantomhive butler, what would I do if I couldn't even accomplish something like this?"
The Phantomhive butler, huh?
"Sebastian! What the hell do you think you're doing?! Kill him now!" Randall's scream echoed around the room. The red-head was clutching at his eye with one hand, lines of pain etched across the visible side of his face. It was Ashford who had screamed earlier in the midst of that wildfire.
The edges of Ciel's mouth curved up in sardonic amusement. This is the end of your game, fools, not mine. His eyelid lifted, slowly at first, to reveal a new eye etched with the shining contract mark, glowing as brightly as the one on Sebastian's hand. A rush of power flowed through him in the strength of that purple luminesce. "Sebastian, this is an order. Destroy them!"
A wide, sadistic smile spread over his butler's face and the scarlet eyes glowed brightly with fiendish glee. "Gladly, my lord."
Von Barrett and Randall were mere humans, unable to keep up with a demon's movements. It was only Argentine who reacted in time, shoving the low table in front of him with a boot towards the oncoming demon, overturning it and sending plates, cutlery and food flying. Another booted heel caught the table mid-flight with enough force to snap it in half, pieces falling to either side of Sebastian as the satisfying crack widened the demon's grin. Claws came slashing out of nowhere towards his face and Sebastian dodged it with a neat backwards somersault. Argentine ducked under the demon's kick, letting it whistle over his head before lunging towards the demon once again, claw-like nails outstretched.
Randall had finally broken out of his stunned paralysis with the destruction of the table, jumping over the remnants with one hand as his other reached for the knife hidden in boot. Let Argentine fight the demon; Randall had been trained to see the key in every situation and right now that key was the boy himself.
Ciel, distracted for a second by the vampire's attack, failed to see Randall's approach until a strong arm encircled his body, pinning his arms to his side as cold steel kissed his throat. He froze instinctively, mentally cursing himself for not seeing this coming. To have to rely on Sebastian again…
"Don't move, brat," Ashford hissed in his ear, the sharp knife pressing against Ciel's throat. In a louder voice, the red-head noble called out, "Stop that this instant, demon."
Sebastian half-turned his head, most of his concentration on maintaining his grip on the vampire's arms as those claws strained to reach his face. He frowned as he took in the situation, annoyed with himself for letting this happen once again. Red eyes flickered between Argentine and Randall, calculating.
"Move an inch, and your precious master dies along with your contract," the red-head hissed. Blood poured from his closed right eye like macabre tears. "Are you daring to break our contract? You will stop this foolishness immediately!" The closed eye opened, and now twin purple eyes stared at him. Two souls linked to him with his seal; though only Ciel's was a true bond.
"My apologies, Lord Ashford," Sebastian replied calmly, showing nothing of the strain he was under in holding the vampire off. "However, you and I do not have a contract. My true master is Ciel Phantomhive, and I am his pawn to move as he pleases until the very end." Red eyes fixed on Ciel's mismatched eyes, waiting. A thin grey eyebrow was raised in reply. What are you waiting for?
Hmph. Sebastian brought his foot up and kicked Argentine as he released his grip on the vampire, shoving him backwards into Von Barrett with enough force to send them both tumbling to the ground. At the same time, Ciel rammed his elbow into Randall's chest, catching the older man at the base of his ribs and forcing him to drop his knife with a gasp. Sebastian noticed this with amusement as he took care of the rest, knocking Randall backwards into a bookcase. Books rained down on the red-head as he tried vainly to protect his head, blood now pouring from both mouth and eye.
"You're getting slow, Sebastian," Ciel said with a mocking smile. "Must I do your job for you?"
"My apologies, Young Master. I was intrigued to see how you would deal with it, since you always seem to end up in situations where I must rescue you." A gloved hand brushed the side of Ciel's neck; the thin line from the knife closing up beneath the demon's fingers. Had the demon always had that ability? Ciel wondered in the back of his mind, but it was the sting of the demon's words that he felt most. I always have to rely on him to rescue me …
'Just what good are you without the demon, brat? You amount to nothing … Without him, you're just a snot-nosed human brat.'
I am not powerless.
Von Barrett had disentangled himself from Argentine and looked over to where Randall was staggering to his feet, books scattered around him like fallen leaves. This could be more difficult than we ever imagined. If by chance the Phantomhive boy wins … "Randall! Go and destroy any evidence you can find of our plans! Argentine and I will stay to fight them!"
Randall blinked at his friend, wiping his mouth free of blood. About to protest, he realised Vincent's plan. After all, the information is in our minds, so it doesn't matter if the written records are destroyed. If that brat managed to get solid evidence of our plans … "Right."
Sebastian went to follow the red-head as his coat disappeared out of sight through the door, but Ciel grabbed his arm. The butler glanced down at him, confusion furrowing the demon's brows. "Young Master?"
"I'll go." I cannot depend on you for everything. "You stay here and stop Von Barrett and Argentine." I have unfinished business with the Baron, anyway… for stealing my eye.
"We can't allow Ashford to destroy any documents, and it's better if we keep these three split up." That stubborn blue gaze locked on Sebastian's face, the boy's face set with determination. "Sometimes I must stand on my own, Sebastian."
The demon's eyes widened briefly, before a small smile of understanding appeared. "Very well, my lord. I shall deal with these two. Lord Ashford is probably heading to the map room –"
A dream. "I know where that is."
"– or his own study, or Von Barrett's," Sebastian finished. Ciel nodded impatiently and pushed past the demon, dashing down the corridor after Randall.
Red eyes watched the small figure disappear. Take care, Young Master. His attention returned to the other two in the room, both of whom had found their feet. Argentine's blue eyes burned with the desire to fight and make the demon bleed, of that Sebastian had no doubt. He sighed, straightening his glove with a tug of his teeth, red eyes gleaming as he spoke.
"Time to clean up this mess."
Argentine bared his fangs in a wide grin, the tips ivory sharp. "This is one mess you can't make your way out of, demon."
"Forgive me if I beg to differ," Sebastian replied calmly, taking note of the layout of the room. Books and broken china lay scattered underfoot, creating pitfalls strewn across the entire room. Flames continued to dance merrily within the grate, matched only by the heat in the vampire's unblinking gaze.
He heard Von Barrett's sigh. "If we are done with the pleasantries?"
"Certainly, my lord," came Argentine's mocking reply as he leapt towards Sebastian, covering the distance between them in less than the time it took to blink. Unfazed, Sebastian ducked under the vampire's slashing claws once again, using the movement to grab the teacart he had brought earlier and shove it towards Von Barrett. It caught the man in the legs as he tried to get closer, knocking him off balance so that he staggered into a nearby bookshelf. Before Argentine could strike again, Sebastian grabbed his arm and aimed a kick at the vampire's head that whistled through the air.
The pale man caught the kick with ease, leaving them both frozen in an odd dance for a few seconds. Argentine's eyes twinkled in amusement. "Is that all you've got, demon? Come, don't disappoint me so." Red eyes narrowed in response, but in the next second Sebastian's mouth was stretching in a thin smirk. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for, soulless.
Supporting his weight only with his grip on Argentine's arm and the other's grip on his own ankle, Sebastian managed to twist his body around entirely in mid-air to slam the heel of his other foot into the side of the vampire's face. Argentine staggered sideways with a grunt; his hand tightened viciously around Sebastian's ankle a split second before Sebastian found himself flying through the air towards a bookshelf. A quick twist saved him, allowing the demon to land lightly on his feet, unharmed, in front of the bookshelf.
Rubbing his cheek with the back of his hand, Argentine's narrowed eyes glittered blue ice in anger. "It's been quite a long time since one of your kind injured me," he growled. "Although…" A smirk grew across his face, twisting the human features with arrogant humour and mockery. "If you intend on beating me with that kind of pitiful strength –"
His laughter was punctured with the sharp crack! of several gunshots. Unnoticed by either vampire or demon, Von Barrett had regained balance and drawn a gun hidden inside his vest. Sebastian caught two of the bullets in his left hand with ease and merely tilted his head out of the way of the others. Human weapons could not kill him, but they were an annoying inconvenience he'd rather avoid. He darted to the side, bullets ricocheting off the shelves in his wake. Decidedly inconvenient.
Sebastian leapt into the air, somersaulting over Argentine's head and throwing the two bullets at the vampire he held once he was in his blind spot. Sadly, the vampire sensed the projectiles and rolled to the side, letting the two bullets puncture through the floor with incredible force instead of his skull. As Argentine rolled, he grabbed a few cracked plates on the way and sent them spinning, discus-style, at the demon.
Suppressing a derisive snort – did the vampire really think he'd be caught by that? – Sebastian casually caught the first plate and tossed it back directly into the path of the others, making them smash each other to pieces in mid-air as the demon landed behind Von Barrett. Such a waste of good china, Sebastian mused as the blond man spun around, calm demeanour dropping just a fraction to display a hint of fear in those cool blue eyes. Von Barrett swung his gun up, finger tightening on the trigger. Unfortunately for him, Sebastian moved faster, snapping the gun in half and knocking the scrap metal away with one hand as his other snaked out to latch around the man's neck.
Sound gurgled in Von Barrett's throat; his pulse fluttered wildly under Sebastian's gloved fingers. The blonde scrabbled at Sebastian's grip in a futile attempt to free himself. Sebastian allowed a smile of sadistic pleasure to cross his face as he tightened his grip, a hair's breadth from snapping Von Barrett's neck with that beautiful melody of cracking bone –
A snarl drew his attention just in time to see Argentine leap at him; with both his hands full, the vampire's claws finally hit their mark, one hand raking across Sebastian's back and the other digging into his upper left arm. Sebastian felt Argentine's breath against his neck, the vampire using his momentum as he crashed into the demon at full force to try and bite him. Fangs brushed across the tender skin of his neck; red eyes widening in alarm, Sebastian was forced to drop Von Barrett in order to grab Argentine's face to stop him from biting down.
He thought he heard Argentine mutter, "Heh," and belatedly remembered the vampire's dangerous aura. That lead weight was beginning to drop across his body; that bone deep tiredness that he must avoid at all costs. He needed to break free quickly, before the vampire managed to subdue him completely like last time; but his mind was growing so tired, so weary that he wanted to lay down and rest… Glazing carmine eyes fell on the fire only a hand span or two away.
Argentine screamed in pain as burning hot coals were thrown in his face, an inhuman shriek that hurt Sebastian's ears as the scent of burning flesh filled his nostrils. The vampire released him completely and staggered backwards, both hands covering his face as he groaned in agony. Sebastian smirked and yanked the remnants of his glove from his hand, inwardly panting at what had been such a close call. The burn marks upon his palm where he had grabbed the coals were already healing; the contract mark on the back of his hand blazed with renewed glory, outshining even the glow of the fire. I hope the Young Master is faring better than this, Sebastian mused. With the way he is now, will the Young Master even call for me if he gets into trouble?
Will he even trust me enough to protect him?
It was hard to say. The Young Master could be extremely tenacious when he chose to be; even with the renewal of their bond, the connection was still too raw to help him decipher what Ciel might be thinking. Not to mention that he is extremely determined to prove that he does not need me… If that is the case, I do not understand why he even renewed the contract in the first place.
Humans. Something told Sebastian he would never fully understand the way they thought. Not that he really wanted to, in any case. He had better things to do with his time.
Some of the coals he had swept out of the fireplace had found new fuel, following the plush carpet across the floor to gobble up fallen books and broken wood with equal glee and leaping up to the bookshelves beside the fireplace. Sebastian had little time to reflect on how this might change the battlefield he found himself on before someone grabbed him from behind.
He'd forgotten about Von Barrett. I am getting sloppy, to miss that. The blond man's arm encircled Sebastian's neck and yanked backwards, catching the demon in a headlock. For a mere human, the man had incredible strength – or was it just tenacity? Not even the sharp claws of his ungloved hand could make the man loosen his grip, though they raked deep gouges through his skin that made blood splash across the pale skin and cling to Sebastian's hair. Sebastian bared his teeth in a snarl as he hooked another unlikely weapon from the fireplace with his foot. The fire poker spun through the air and the demon caught it with ease, twirling it around in his free hand. Sebastian drove the end glowing bright orange straight through Von Barrett's chest, hearing bone crunch and flesh sizzle like some dark chorus.
Von Barrett's arms dropped away completely as the man staggered back a few paces, sapphire eyes wide in pain and shock. He gripped the poker with both hands which slowly became stained with his own crimson lifeblood, the iron rod driven clean through his body and out the other side. The pale man stared at Sebastian in disbelief.
"Vincent!" Argentine called, shock evident in his voice. The blonde blinked once, twice, tried to speak: a gurgle of blood that splashed down over his chin. Then, without warning, the tall man's knees buckled and he collapsed to the ground, the life in him vanishing into thin air.
Pale blue flashed at Sebastian from a ruined face, one eye turned a milky white from the blazing coals. Sebastian smirked, licking the blood off his fingers casually. "Don't worry, vampire, your death will be much more … enjoyably messy than that, have no fear." The demon's red eyes gleamed with sadistic pleasure at the torture he'd inflict. "After all, now it's just you left."
Argentine barked a laugh, a harsh laugh that left his shoulders shaking as he met Sebastian's gaze squarely. His voice was gravelly, most likely from the horrific burns that were spread down the front of his neck, charcoal black and seared red a bright contrast to ivory white skin. "I wouldn't be so sure about that, demon."
The quiet sound of a boot scraping against carpet made Sebastian turn with a frown. Shock flashed through him at the sight of Von Barrett getting to his feet slowly, fire poker still jutting from his chest. With a grunt, the blonde yanked the length of iron out of his body, leaving a sizable hole behind. Von Barrett spat the blood out of his mouth and wiped his chin, hefting the bloody poker with crimson-stained hands and smiling a wintery smile at the wide-eyed demon as he spoke.
When the first rumble of thunder came, it was barely distinguishable from the rattling of his cart over the uneven ground and so the Undertaker took no notice of it, continuing to hum quietly to himself. It wasn't until the sky growled again that the silver-haired man finally looked up, the song trailing away absently on his lips as he studied the dark clouds spreading across the sky and dyeing it an angry purple.
"Hm~" The Undertaker's mouth twisted downwards in dissatisfaction. "That's not good." He glanced over his shoulder at the simple coffin lying in the back of his cart. "It would be a shame if it rained before you were buried and ruined all of my work." Not to mention that trying to dig a grave through mud was all but a nigh impossible task, even for an experienced person like himself. The coffin, as can be expected, made no reply to his comment and so the Undertaker turned his attention back to the road. His two horses, a spotted grey and a black, knew the path to the graveyard so well by now that they didn't really require constant guiding. However, with the prospect of coming rain, the long nailed hands flipped the reins and he clucked his tongue; both horses picked up their pace to a fast trot. They didn't particularly care to be caught out in the rain either.
As his cart trundled down the path to the graveyard, the Undertaker couldn't help studying the clouds again. He didn't mind stormy weather – especially not when storms like these brought more guests to him to be made pretty for their final journey – but he couldn't help thinking that something about this storm seemed … ominous. The black-clad man found himself wondering how many guests he'd be welcoming into his shop the next day.
His current travelling partner had been fairly easy to fix up, which had been no fun at all. No wounds to stitch up; no need for sweet smelling flowers or other things to fill the space of missing organs; nothing but a bit of makeup to give the face back its colour, the Undertaker sighed. How boring. Not even those puncture marks on the neck needed much work.
There had been more victims with that double puncture mark, a steady trickle of one or two a day. He'd expected them to stop appearing soon after the Earl had visited – his childish anger still brought a smile to the Undertaker's face when he thought about it – as they always did, but much to his surprise it had been over a fortnight since then and the bodies were piling up – quite literally, in fact.
It appears the Earl is encountering trouble this time around with this particular case of his, the Undertaker mused as he reached for a jar wedged into the cart behind him between his seat and the coffin. Long fingers dipped inside to retrieve a bone-shaped biscuit, one of his specialties, and he munched on it thoughtfully. Those two puncture marks remind me of… I wonder if I should have told the young Earl about that… Oh well. He shrugged, biscuit dangling from his mouth as he took hold of the reins again. "Perhaps it can be a little test for the Earl, yes?" he said aloud to no-one in particular with a small chuckle.
Sparing another glance for the clouds racing towards the city, the Undertaker took another biscuit and flipped the reins again. The beginning strains of another hum floated back along the deserted road behind the cart as it trundled onwards, bearing yet another fleeting guest to where the earth waited to finally welcome them home in a last embrace.
Footsteps pounded against the carpeted hallways ahead of him at a steady pace, letting Ciel know that he was still hot on Randall's heels even if the red-haired noble was no longer in sight. The baron had the advantage in this chase: he was fitter, faster and knew the layout of the Von Barrett mansion much, much better than Ciel did. Not to mention that the ash-haired boy had never been in top physical condition even before he had been ill-treated and confined to a dirty cell beneath said mansion for the past fortnight.
In fact, Ciel shouldn't have been able to run at all. He'd barely eaten for the past two weeks – how could he when the one bringing his meals only reminded him of what he'd lost? – and cuts and bruises from the rough stone and harsh metal chains marked nearly every inch of visible flesh that was not already covered in grime. It was a miracle that his muscles, having grown unused to such strenuous movement, had not yet begun to express their displeasure in the form of incredibly painful cramps that left him screaming on the floor.
Only two things were enabling Ciel to ignore his utter exhaustion and the pain that every action brought him. The first was his determination to prevent Ashford and Von Barrett's plot from succeeding. He had to stop Randall from destroying any evidence that could be used against the conspirators or anything that could help flush out their accomplices. Even if Ashford and Von Barrett were eliminated from the playing field, the threat they posed would not be destroyed with them while others still schemed. Moreover, the Von Barretts were of the old nobility, of much too high a title to accuse one of them with treason without proof or to kill one without an outcry from the other nobles. Although Ashford was only a barony, they supplied the army with weapons and this gave them the same 'protective veil' that Von Barrett hid behind.
A very, very thin veil.
It wasn't just his duty as the Queen's guard dog that drove him at this moment, though. No, Ashford and Von Barrett would pay, must pay for the humiliation they had put him through, the suffering he had felt, thebetrayal of respect for the Phantomhive name. His name. I will destroy them for what they've done. The thought was cold and dark and whispered like steel across silk in the depths of his mind.
All of this flashed through Ciel's mind with the speed of a lightning bolt as he skidded around a corner, stumbling and almost crashing into a beautiful painting of birds soaring in the wind. He caught himself at the last possible second so that he merely bumped into it gently, but even that set his bruised shoulder clamouring in pain. His right eye, his lost eye that Sebastian had somehow recreated for him – how? – throbbed briefly as he pushed himself away from the wall and charged down the hallway after Randall once more. Strangely, despite its throbbing, his eye was the one part of his body that didn't hurt. Instead it … fizzed … with each pulsation and never quite stopped.
Ciel gasped as the biting agony in his leg suddenly blazed into life and he almost stumbled again. Can't stop. If I stop, it'll get worse and I won't be able to move – Why was he pushing himself like this? The king did not step into battle; he sent out his pawns first. And his pawn was –
That was the second thing that occupied his mind; it was still reeling at how suddenly the situation had turned about. Sebastian had come back, had offered Ciel their contract once more; the demon had given Ciel back his eye as easily as he had healed one of the ash-haired boy's other wounds.
He had apologised and it had sounded sincere.
Why? Ciel's mind chanted in time with his footsteps. Why had the demon come back in the first place? Why-why-why-why-why?
"I understand the situation better now," the demon had said. "I will not betray our contract again. You are the one I wish to serve."
Fine words, they were. But demons were masters of words, twisting them to their needs and building nets with them to ensnare the lives and souls of those who listened. Demons lied as easily as they breathed, no matter what Sebastian said to the contrary. He had ordered Sebastian once, childishly, to never lie to him, but did that still hold? He had betrayed Ciel as easily as did anything else, despite orders to the contrary. But then, Sebastian seemed to be flouting a lot of orders lately. How is the contract remaining intact when he keeps switching between Ashford and myself? Could this all just be a plot? A cunning trap set by the demon for his own needs? Then why did he offer me the contract again? Why did his apology have the ring of sincerity to it? Why link us together again if he only plans on betraying me a second time?
Oh yes. Demons were masters of fine words.
The seal pulsed again, sending that tingling feeling through his mind once again as Ciel closed his eye to mask the purple radiance that gleamed from the renewed mark. Enough. I cannot do my job properly if I must worry about that damn demon every step of the way. There is nothing I can do at the moment beyond leaving him to deal with Von Barrett and Argentine and take the power he has placed in my hands once again. Sebastian is my pawn; I am not his. If he is trying to toy with me again, I will not break down the way I did before. I will not let myself be betrayed again!
He cursed something highly inappropriate for a gentleman of his age and status when he saw the empty hallway ahead. While he'd been deep in thought – doubt – the baron had disappeared. Ciel cast around wildly, purple and sapphire examining every inch of the room around him for a sign that someone had passed by.
A flash of tan disappearing around the edge of a stairwell that twisted back on itself caught his eye. There! Ciel dashed after it, his breath beginning to come in gasps. He was reaching his (greatly reduced) physical limits already, strength fading into pain and that odd fizzing sensation in his right eye. Even so, he gritted his teeth and took the steps two at a time, determined to catch up to the red-head though he obviously had no way to overpower the other man. Normally this was where he would have called upon Sebastian; the demon was a weapon whose power was to be directed at Ciel's whim, after all. However, he was uneasy about letting Sebastian near someone who had usurped his power once and something else inside Ciel balked at the thought of calling upon the demon. I do not need to rely on Sebastian's power; I have to prove that there are things I can do on my own. I cannot allow myself to become dependant upon him once again. Just look where that had gotten him last time!
The boot came out of nowhere, slamming into Ciel's chest with enough force to knock the boy completely off his feet and send him tumbling backwards. He hit the wall hard, knocking the breath from his lungs and making ever bruise on his back scream in pain. At the top of the stairway stood Randall, who had waited for just that very chance. He lowered his foot and flashed a smirk at the younger boy as the teen staggered to his feet, clutching his side. The red-head gave a mocking two fingered salute and darted out of Ciel's sight.
Ciel growled – how dare he make fun of me! – and pulled himself up the stairs with the aid of the handrail, his other hand wrapped around his stomach. The pain was beginning to build up again, multiplied a hundredfold by his recent tumble, making it hard to think clearly or even move. Was the energy Sebastian had given him along with the regeneration of his eye merely running out or was the demon withdrawing it on purpose to let Ashford get the upper hand? He was tired of this double game, tired of running and thinking and doubting and worrying. The demon would only do to perfection what his master asked, nothing more and nothing less. If Ciel wanted something –
"I told you the way to make me do something, didn't I?"
– he had to ask.
Damn you to hell, demon. He could almost feel Sebastian smirk.
Sebastian! he called silently. I order you to give me the strength I need to see this through!
He didn't know if Sebastian could even hear a silent order, let alone whether or not he would obey one. Pain lanced into the ash-haired boy as silence stretched in long seconds, the agony like long grasping fingers that touched his core, his soul as every inch of his tired and exhausted body began to give up the fight. Ciel felt his legs give out with only two steps left to go and he fell forward, unable to stop himself and too tired to even care. It was useless to fight anymore. How could he stop Ashford if not even his own body would listen to him?
The fight is not yet over, Young Master.
Sebastian's voice whispered into his ear, echoing so close and yet so distantly that it made Ciel shiver. At the same moment, the pentacle in the Earl's eye blazed like the noon-day sun, sending that fizzing energy flooding thorough the young noble's veins. His sapphire eye snapped open at the surge of power moving through him and his hand shot out instinctively to grab the railing so that his nose halted a bare inch from the floor. Dragging himself upright, Ciel looked around wildly. Surely the demon must be beside him; he had heard that unmistakeable voice that had irritated and soothed him by turns in the past.
Sebastian was nowhere in sight.
Ciel stared down at his hands. Had he imagined it? Purple light played over his pale skin as it reflected the gleam of the shining contract seal. He … hurt, still, but it wasn't from exhaustion or cramps or inflicted wounds anymore. The raw energy that now boiled in his blood was unlike any he'd felt before. Was this the power that dwelt within Sebastian? It was so unfamiliar, so alien and not of this world that he was almost glad when it faded into a banked ember inside of him rather than the raging wildfire that had flooded his senses earlier. Even if this is demonic energy and not good for humans, I will make use of any tool I am given that enables me to complete my task. No matter what happens to me.
He clenched his hand around that reflected lavender light and glanced down the corridor. Had Ashford gone that way? Ciel frowned; his vision had been so hazy at that time that he couldn't remember no matter how hard he tried. The sharp tinkling of breaking glass to his right decided him; he darted to the right, his need to find the baron and that strange energy within him wiping away any fatigue he felt.
The door was still partially open, making the ash-haired boy smirk quietly in the back of his mind. Fool, didn't even bother to bar the door…! He flung the door wide open… only to be greeted by an empty room. Ciel blinked in surprise – but I clearly heard someone in here! – just as the curtain on the other side of the room billowed outwards as a sudden draft caught hold of it. Papers stacked on the mahogany desk in front of the window took flight, like white butterflies caught in a whirlwind that left them scattered haphazardly around the room on the ground. Ciel ventured further into the room, mouth pursed. This looks like a study of some kind …
Glass crunched under his foot, drawing the teen's attention instantly. It appears this is the source of what I heard earlier… no doubt the curtains knocked whatever it is off the desk when the breeze caught them. Ciel picked up the small wooden board that lay at the centre of the shards, flipping it over in his hands. A photograph?
The shattered glass plate distorted the image slightly but Ciel could still make out the four figures it had captured on film for eternity. The one in the centre was unmistakably Randall, about eighteen years of age and dressed in an army uniform with sword at hip and the Ashford crest upon his coat. The one on the left had to be the late Lord Ashford; Ciel remembered seeing a photo or two of him. However, Ciel had never seen the two people, a man and a woman, on Randall's right before. His fiancée? Ciel wondered, noting the way the red-head's arm lingered around her shoulders. No; she looks too old for that. In fact, judging by their clothes, those aren't nobles, they're – The blue eyes narrowed as Ciel peered at the photograph more closely, taking it out of the broken frame. That woman's features –
You mustn't dilly-dally, Young Master. Time is precious.
Ciel jumped slightly. "Sebas…"
He trailed off when he realised that he still stood alone in the middle of the room. Thunder rumbled ominously outside, heralding the approaching storm as wide eyes surveyed the room. He's… not here…? But I heard him so clearly!
A growl rivalling the thunder outside escaped him. Dammit, Sebastian! Stop messing with me and stay out of my head!!
In the depths of his mind there was a faint chuckle, rich with amusement that faded away slowly. Ciel gritted his teeth. Deal with him later. My problem at the moment is Ashford. If he's not here, where did he go?
He closed his eyes, feeling nothing but the caress of the breeze and the quiet pulsing of the seal in his eye. The edge of the photograph was a sharp thorn against his finger as it tapped it, deep in thought. What had Sebastian said? That Ashford would head for either Von Barrett's or his own study, or the 'map room'. Well, Ciel thought, frowning slightly in concentration, I can probably assume that this is Ashford's study then, with this photograph here… Von Barrett's study is on the floor below this, since that's where Argentine said he found me. So that leaves only the map room for him to be hiding in.
'On the second floor of this building, three doors up from the end of the south corridor is a room called the map room. I believe there you shall find evidence of their treason. Find the room, find the evidence, and run.'
"South…" Ciel muttered. A quick glance out the window helped the teen get his bearings and told him he should have gone left at the top of the stairs.
How long had it been since Ashford had disappeared? Time was moving strangely in Ciel's mind; one minute fast, the next minute crawling by as he charged up the hallway. Hopefully not enough time to have destroyed vital information; that was Ciel's main fear. Third door… third… Aha!
The door was closed this time around. Although the handle twisted when he tested it, the wooden door refused to budge even an inch. Ciel cursed again – apparently, Ashford had more brains than he had given him credit for – and threw his weight into the door.
He tried again, ignoring the bruises on his side that protested such harsh treatment. The door took every blow stoically, remaining steadfast and immovable. Inside, he could hear the loud crackling of flames and frantic footsteps of Ashford as he darted around the room.
Ciel slammed his fist against the door, growling in frustration. Is this the limit to what I can do?
Should he call upon Sebastian? This was where the demon would normally come into things; there was no door that could stand in his way.
But to call upon him now…
'Just what good are you without the demon, brat? You amount to nothing.'
Argentine's words sneered at him from his memory. I cannot… I will not depend on him. I will prove to him that I can stand on my own! Ciel growled to himself. I… dare not depend on him ever again. He abandoned me once. Nothing will stop him from doing it again. If there was ever trust between us… Ciel shook his head. I can no longer trust him at all.
And yet, you trusted him enough to reform the contract without problems, part of his mind countered. You trust him to take care of Argentine and Von Barrett.
That's different! Ciel snapped back silently. He left me with no choice!
He gave you a choice to accept it or not and you chose to take it, his mind argued. If you are so sure you can stand on your own, that you do not need him, then he could not have cornered you and forced your hand.
I… Why did he have to make sense? Ciel did not want to believe those words. He wanted to dismiss them, ignore them… He wanted a reason to be angry, to hate the demon, to shield himself from ever being hurt like that again.
However, he could not deny what he had realised down in the darkness of his cell. He had accepted the contract because he needed the demon. There were things beyond what he could do with his own power for which he needed Sebastian's abilities and strength. Even if that role was just to support Ciel, give him the strength to stand 'alone' and to move forward on his own.
Sebastian gave me the strength to see this venture through, Ciel thought as he stepped away from the door. A purple star blazed. But it is my choice on how I wish to use that strength; it was never a question of dependence and power.
He rushed the door, crashing through it as the chair propped under the handle finally gave up the fight and shattered into pieces. The door slammed against the wall and rebounded, meeting Ciel's outstretched hand with a firm thump. "Ashford!"
Across the room, Randall whirled around, turning away from the fire roaring in the large fireplace with a sheaf of papers still clutched in his hands. The crackling flames made his hair seem to glow. A flash of panic was followed closely a scowl on the red-haired noble's face before his features smoothed out and adopted a smirk. "Well, well, if it isn't the Phantomhive brat. Didn't your mother ever teach you to knock first?" Without breaking eye contact, Randall casually tossed the papers he held into the fire, which roared contentedly and began to devour the new meal. Ciel's brows lowered in frustration – What was on those papers? – and Randall's smirk grew wider. "Come to stop me, have you?"
"That's right," Ciel replied calmly, though inside he seethed with rage and frustration. The man had stolen his eye, his butler, his dignity and still he stood there, cocky and self-assured as he burned the evidence Ciel needed. The teen advanced, unsure how exactly to proceed but absolutely determined to win this game no matter how the cards fell.
"Is that so?" Randall stepped sideways as he spoke. In one lightning-fast motion, the other noble had reached up behind him to snatch one of the decorative sabres displayed upon a wall rack and brought it to point at Ciel. Ciel could tell by the way Randall held the blade that it was no mere decoration; it was a proper blade and by the looks of it, deadly sharp. A cold smile twisted the corners of the red-head's mouth as he levelled the blade. "Now, are you so sure of that?"
"Tch!" Ciel moved back instinctively, eyes narrowing. As long as he remained unarmed there was no way he could stand a chance against Ashford. Although even if I get my hands on a weapon, I know nothing of Ashford's sword ability… No time to worry about that; first I need to even the odds… Blue and purple flickered around the room, searching for something, anything that he could use, but it was in vain. The only other swords were on the opposite side of the room; he'd have to go through Ashford to get them. Damn.
A chuckle drew Ciel's attention. He glared at Randall as the red-head raised an eyebrow at him. "Why, brat, what happened to your bravado? Come on, I'm waiting."
"Attacking an unarmed opponent?" Ciel countered, standing his ground. If he'd figured Ashford's personality out correctly… "That gives me a good measure of your bravery, Ashford."
The instant scowl that darkened the red-head's face made Ciel smirk. Got you. He continued on, scorn tinging his words. "A true gentleman would let me get a sword to let it be a fair fight."
Randall's knuckles went white as his hand tightened on the hilt of his sabre. His lip drew back over his teeth in a silent snarl, and for a moment it looked as though he would strike Ciel down where he stood, consequence be damned. Then the rage was swallowed, replaced by a cold smirk once more like donning a mask.
"You think you know how to fence, brat?" he asked derisively, taking another sword from the wall and tossing it towards the grey-haired teen. It clattered across the tiles to come to a stop at Ciel's feet. "Go on," Randall taunted. "Pick it up – if you can."
Eyeing the other noble – there was no telling if he'd try to attack now while Ciel's guard was down – Ciel bent down and grasped the hilt below the hand guard. His sword was identical to the one Randall held, down to its beautifully crafted blade and the silver wire wrapping around to form the hand guard. They both seemed to be kept in good working order, with not a single spot of rust or signs of disrepair. It was also a much heavier blade than Ciel was used to practising with when he had fencing lessons with Sebastian. That could be a problem later on…
As he straightened with sabre in hand, Randall saluted him with his sword mockingly and adopted a stance with his sword his held before his chest, putting Ciel on point. Ciel followed suit, adopting almost an identical pose. They stood there for a moment like mirror images, the only sound in a suddenly quiet room the loud popping and crackling of the fire as it waited to be fed again.
"I've seen what the nobility call 'fencing'," Randall spoke into the quiet, eyes never wavering as they watched Ciel's every move. "A mere child's game for those who don't have the stomach for war." A gleam shone in the green eyes and in the next instant Randall's sword thrust forward with the speed of a striking snake. Ciel barely avoided being skewered as he dodged to the side, bringing the blade up to parry another blow. He stumbled back, unprepared for the force that Randall had put behind his attack. Randall took a step back as well, returning his blade to the en garde position. They circled slowly, waiting for another opening. Ciel stamped his foot; Randall responded to his feint by coming forward, blade extended. The metallic ring as the blades met was harsh, discordant note after note of an out of tune musician as the swords clashed and danced, flowing from one form to another. Randall feinted to Ciel's right and scored a blow to the teen's arm, drawing the first blood as the steel tip sliced through cloth and skin indiscriminately.
The sapphire-eyed boy let out an involuntary gasp and fell back to a safer distance. Randall shook the blood off his blade with a neat flick of the wrist and examined the blade. "Well, boy, do you understand what I meant now? This isn't your flimsy fencing sword; these are the sabres of the English light cavalry, a real man's weapon – not some little toy that a brat like you can pretend to wield." The smile he flashed at Ciel did not reach his eyes. "I look after these swords myself; in fact, I'm the one who gave these to Vinny in the first place."
"I didn't come here to listen to you chatter," Ciel said in a bored tone. "Are you tired? Do you want a respite?"
Randall blinked at him, confusion at the sudden change evident in the green and purple gaze. Then he laughed, a short display of mirth that ended with a raised eyebrow at his opponent. "Tired? I'm barely warmed up. Now you, boy… Any time you want to surrender, go right ahead."
Ciel snorted, letting Ashford know exactly what he thought of that particular idea. Outwardly his face was calm, mismatched eyes determined, but inside was a different story. It was said that a decent swordsman can gain a measure of their opponent within the first few exchanges. Well, he certainly had Randall's measure now and he was equally certain that the older man was still merely toying with him. Not that Ciel had revealed his full hand yet, but judging on what had transpired so far, he was worried.
He's taller, stronger and in better condition than I am at the moment, Sebastian's strength or not, the younger noble calculated. He's also been trained in this type of fencing a lot longer than I have… It was not at all like when Sohma had challenged him to a match; defeating the Indian prince would have been easy had it not been for Agni. However, Ciel got the impression this time that the difference in skill level between and Ashford was almost as wide as the one between Sohma and himself. Not to mention that his reach is a lot longer than mine. Blue and purple studied the older man intently, noting the unruffled and composed stance of his opponent. The cut on his left arm still stung, a bloody flower blossoming upon the rags of his once fine shirt and coat. This could be more trouble than I first imagined…
His thoughts were cut short as Randall stepped up the pace, letting loose a barrage of cuts and thrusts that Ciel could only half-parry. The sword's unfamiliar weight dragged at his hands and jarred against his palm every time it met Randall's blade. Soon there were more cuts and slashes dotted across his skin, making a blood soaked pattern against his clothes.
Ciel understood his opponent's strategy almost straight away. He's bleeding me, trying to make me faint. That means his goal is to capture, not kill me… Why? He ordered Sebastian to kill me before, so what is he planning now? A quick step to the side saved him from a thrust and he counter-attacked automatically, actually managing to drive Randall back a pace or so. Sweat was beginning to bead on his forehead, running tracks through the grime on his face and neck and making fresh cuts sting.
Randall eased up on the attack, letting the boy have a few moments of rest. The kid looked in bad shape; it was amazing he had managed to stay on his feet this long. The dirty, bloodstained rags made him look nothing like the well-dressed noble that had walked through the church doors on that rainy day. The pride was still there though, oh yes, mixed with hate and determination and hints of a dozen other emotions – could that have been fear? – shining through the purple seal blazing in his right eye. Randall stopped his hand before it could touch his own eye emblazoned with that mark of Death. He wondered if the Phantomhive boy had ever gotten used to seeing it in his reflection. Randall certainly hadn't; he felt sick every time he saw it in the mirror, hating that glowing mark, that purple luminescence that whispered the promise of eternal torment to come.
What would happen now? The demon now had his mark on two humans, two people claiming by rights what only one could have. The boy's soul was supposed to substitute for mine in the contract; that's the only reason we kept him alive after Sebastian chose our side. The red-head's eyes narrowed as he studied the younger boy, flipping his ponytail over his shoulder. There's still a chance we can use him as originally planned, so I should try to capture him for the time being. He frowned as the outlines of the world around him grew slightly blurry. Plus, there's the chance that if he dies, the demon might just disappear. Capture it is, then. Should be fairly easy; I'm just toying with him at the moment anyway.
The vision in his right eye blurred completely, rendering his surroundings on that side to vague blobs of colour for a few seconds. He rubbed his eye with the back of his hand and it returned to normal. What the heck was that? It can't be fatigue already…
That small, instinctive action did not go unnoticed by Ciel, but Randall had positioned his blade in such a way that such a momentary distraction could not be taken advantage of. He bit his lip in thought, peering through a fringe that was mattered with sweat. The pulsing in his right eye beat in time with his heartbeat, a thunderous sound only rivalled by the deep gasps his lungs were demanding. What was it that Sebastian always told him?
'Fencing is both a mental and physical sport, Young Master.' A small smile, unconvincingly hidden by a hand. 'Although you have the mental part quite well covered, I dare say you need to work on the physical side of things more.'
Ashford has the physical advantage, but if I can get a psychological edge on him… Ciel pondered the idea. The red-head seemed much more excitable than either of his co-conspirators. If Ciel could get a rise out of him like he had before, then the break in concentration might just give him the time to…
Tired of waiting, his opponent's sabre lashed forward, tangling with Ciel's as the teen hastily parried and counter-struck. "You'd do better to call your demon, brat. You're looking tired."
Ciel smirked, acting less exhausted than he felt. The energy that Sebastian had given him only went so far; it could not shield his master from the weariness that had been building up for so long. Just a little bit longer! That's an order, Sebastian, whether you hear me or not! "He's busy taking care of the other traitors."
"… Hmph." Randall dodged a weary thrust with ease. "Don't take Vinny or that freak of nature lightly, kiddo. They won't die as easily as you'd expect." He cursed and rubbed at his eye again. For a split second his blade lowered and Ciel took his chances, coming in on Randall's blind side. Only the red-head's cat-like reflexes saved him from a worse injury as Ciel's blade finally drew blood, slicing across Randall's hand. The red-haired man cursed and drew back.
"I don't need Sebastian to take you on; I can manage it myself," Ciel informed the older noble, mouth twisting up at the corner in a small smile. Randall snorted, switching his sabre to his other hand as he shook the blood off his other.
"I've taken worse. If this scratch is the best you can do, I'm not worried," the red-head retorted, swinging the tip of the blade back up to aim at Ciel. "En garde."
"There's one thing I've been meaning to ask," the ash-haired boy said as they circled slowly again. "Why do all of this in the first place? The Von Barretts already hold a lot of power as part of the old nobility, and Ashford has always supported the throne. Why?"
"Why do you care?" Randall retorted. "Phantomhive is already the Queen's pet dog. What do you hope to gain by stopping us?"
"Personally, I didn't care, until you dragged me into it more than I wished. But dealing with vermin like you and Von Barrett has always been the job left to my family and I don't intend to abandon that duty, unlike you."
"Huh. Fancy words for a brat. You wouldn't understand, but our plan is for the sake of England."
Ciel laughed. "Don't you mean it's for the sake of power?"
Randall smirked in reply, feinting to Ciel's left. Ciel was ready, sidestepping the lower cut to his right as the red-head followed through. "Maybe. Isn't that true about everyone, though? Look at yourself! Why do you follow her? Even you could probably muster up enough to overthrow her."
"I'll do my duty." I decided that when I escaped that hell.
His opponent shrugged slightly. "Someone would say that it's my duty to help my country. The throne is a frail thing and your Queen is weak, brat, especially if she's relying on a mere boy to be her guardian."
"Oh?" A thin grey eyebrow was raised; the cool voice contrasted completely with his bedraggled image. "And just how do you intend to be 'stronger'?" A flash of brilliance came to him. "How do you even know that Von Barrett won't betray you later, anyway? He does have a vampire as his partner; you have no-one but yourself." A decidedly lacking position, his tone implied.
Randall shuddered slightly at the mention of Argentine, an almost involuntary action that he covered with a shrug. "Vinny has no reason to do that."
"Only one of you can be King," Ciel pointed out.
"Vinny doesn't want to be King; he'd rather be Prime Minister and have control of the House of Lords."
Ciel blinked. Prime Minister…It's true that both the House of Lords and the House of Commons mainly decide on what should be presented to the Sovereign, but… "So the throne…"
"Is mine, yes," Randall finished.
The absurdity of it would have made Ciel laugh had his body not been aching so much. "You do realise that he'll effectively have more power than you in that position?"
"I don't care. Vinny's smarter and knows how to manipulate people; this was his plan in the first place. I'm better when it comes to the army and social occasions." Randall took a step forward. Ciel backed up, sword extended as he thought this recent information over.
So in effect, Von Barrett works as a shadow King while Ashford remains on show… but where does Argentine come into this? Why do they need him at all? … For that matter… "Where does Sebastian come into this?" he wondered aloud, puzzled. There seemed to be no point –
"Ah, now that's a secret," Randall smirked. "Do you intend to talk all day? I really have other things to be doing, like –" Before Ciel could react, Randall had threaded the blade of his sword through the handle of a basket nearby that held documents and flicked it into the fireplace, making the fire flare up for a brief moment. "– that."
Ciel gritted his teeth. What is taking Sebastian so long with Von Barrett and Argentine? I dare not call him at all until I know they've been dealt with. "Actually, speaking of secrets… You seem to be hiding one yourself?"
"It's been troubling me ever since I first saw you. You bear absolutely no resemblance to the late Baron Ashford, besides which, his wife and children – so I heard – all died in an accident just before I was born."
"You have a problem with me because I don't look like the old man?" Randall asked, sounding both amused and surprised.
"No," Ciel replied. "I have a problem with you because before we met I'd never even heard of a 'Randall D. Ashford' even by the faintest hearsay."
"Yes. I've spent the last few days trying to figure it out and now I think I've finally found the answer."
"Is that so? Please, enlighten me." Randall's grin was one of amused mockery. However, when Ciel produced what he'd found earlier the smile disappeared, pure shock followed closely by a frown. "And why should that have any significance?"
"I was wondering who these two commoners with you and the former Baron of Ashford were," Ciel replied. "But then I noticed… this woman, you resemble her greatly; so greatly, in fact, that I think that she's your real mother. You aren't noble by blood at all, are you? In fact, I wonder if you're even of the nobility at all… It's a crime for a commoner to pretend to be of the nobility, you know."
"I am not pretending!" Randall snapped, face turning red. Interesting, Ciel thought. It appears I've found a sore point… "I am no fake, so don't you dare look down on me, brat!" The calm façade was gone; the red-head's teeth were bared. "Perhaps I was not born into nobility like you or Vinny, but I am a noble by virtue of adoption."
"Lord Ashford… adopted you as his son?" Wouldn't something like that, the adoption of a commoner as his heir, cause a big enough stir that I'd have heard of it…?
Randall looked off to the side, anger fading as he pulled himself back under control. "When I was eighteen and a mere cavalry officer, Lord Ashford came to oversee how the weaponry his family business made was measuring up. There was… someone there who had suffered losses in their family due to the Ashford business and took it into their minds to try for revenge." He rubbed at a spot on his chest unconsciously, just above his heart. "I was there and I took the bullet instead. That was when I met Vinny; he patched me up afterwards. It was about a month later, when I recovered fully, that Lord Ashford showed up and offered to adopt me as his heir. He had no family; as a commoner, I'd already obtained the highest post I could. Unfortunately, the army likes to favour one's bloodline over one's skills. So I took him up on his offer; I'm grateful to the old man. Ashford's only a barony, so something like that would barely cause a scandal. The 'D' in my name, that's my former surname. I kept it to remind me to achieve all I could." His eyes flashed and the sabre whipped upwards to come within a hand span of Ciel's face. "So don't get in my way."
"You think people will accept a common-born on the throne?" Ciel asked scornfully. The sword quivered as Randall's hand tightened upon the hilt. "That the nobility will take orders from someone beneath them?" he baited the red-head further. This guy loses his focus when he's angry, so I might be able to exploit that. "A commoner pretending to be King –"
"I am not –!!" Calm down, Randall! Can't you see what he's doing? Randall's voice dropped back to a more normal volume, although he spoke through gritted teeth. "– just a pretender, brat. And I do what I do for the good of my country, no matter what you may think. It's about time that we wrapped up this little talk, don't you think?"
It figures the brat would be good at twisting words; he has a demon to learn from, the red-haired noble thought. Well, two can play that game. "I was going to be perfect, you know. That demon would obey me because I held the contract seal, but take your soul because it was still the one linked into that contract… Bet you're pleased now he's back with you, hm?"
"Well, I'd never allow my pawn to stay with a fake chess piece," Ciel smirked. "I imagine that's why he came back."
"You mean you don't know?" Randall asked in fake surprise, making Ciel frown. Now what is he planning? "Your precious demon only went back to you because that idiot Argentine bit him."
Huh? Blue eyes went wide. Sebastian was bitten by –
In his confusion, he didn't see the foot that slammed into his chest and knocked him down to the ground in a strange sense of déjà vu, but he saw felt it. His sabre clattered out of sore hands to be kicked away as Randall advanced. The very tip of his sword rested at Ciel's neck.
"I told you that you'd be better off calling your demon, kid." Randall smirked coldly.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
Thunder growled overhead like the angry challenge of one of the pet Bengal tigers his family owned. Outside, the trees adorning the Phantomhive townhouse's garden began to sway in the rising breeze, hinting at the strength of the tempest to come. Shadows stretched across the cobblestones of London's streets and swallowed its buildings one by one as purplish-grey clouds continued to eat up the sky and the sunlight.
Agni looked up from the colourful flowers he was arranging in a vase as the prince sighed heavily. Sohma sat in a seat by the window, legs curled up beneath him and his chin propped up on one hand as he stared moodily through the window to the world outside. The Indian butler could see that Sohma was worried: it was written across a face that had never learnt to hide emotions; it was in the ever-increasing tempo of impatience that the royal teen's fingers drummed out against the window sill. Sohma had barely moved from his seat for the past week – from the moment when he had started to wonder about Ciel's extended absence. Agni had tried his best to distract him, but the Prince always ended up staring out the window by the end of the day.
The butler couldn't understand why Prince Sohma was still worried. Hadn't Mr Sebastian said only yesterday that nothing bad had happened? Watching Sohma's steadily darkening frown, the white-haired butler decided it was time to distract his master again before he made himself sick with concern.
"Prince Sohma, would you like a game of chess? You should get lots of practice for your match with Master Ciel when he returns." Agni smiled as he carried the flower vase over to a table beside Sohma. The dark-haired prince didn't appear to have heard him as he continued to frown at the outside world. "Prince Sohma?" his butler tried again.
"Don't you think it's strange, Agni?" Sohma asked, unusually serious.
"What do you mean?" Agni asked, grey-green eyes puzzled. The flower vase sat unforgotten in his hands.
"Ciel! He's been gone for such a long time and without even a word to me either! Friends don't do that, right?" Sohma's eyes were still fixed on the gate outside as it creaked in a sudden gust of wind. "The only reason he'd do something like that is if he's in trouble!" He spun around to face Agni. "What if he's broken his leg in some alley and he can't make it home, or something just as terrible? We have to go looking for him again!"
Agni tried to calm his master down. "I'm sure Master Ciel is fine, Prince Sohma. After all, Mr Sebastian is with him. He wouldn't let any harm come to Master Ciel."
"Yeah…" Sohma had to admit that the argument did hold some weight.
"And Mr Sebastian said yesterday that Master Ciel is working undercover for an investigation at the moment, didn't he? Surely it would be too dangerous to send any form of message in those circumstances."
"I guess…" Sohma frowned. "But Sebastian was acting kind of weird, did you notice? What if –" Sohma's brown eyes widened in shock and he grabbed Agni's arms as he leapt up out of his seat. "Agni! What if he was being forced to say that because Ciel's being held hostage and they threatened to cut off his finger or something if he told anyone?!"
"He's too little to let something like that happen to him! We have to help him!" A determined light was burning in the Indian teen's eyes as he stared up at his butler, ignoring the flowers he was crushing as he leaned forward. "Right, Agni?"
Agni hadn't realised how many television dramas his master must have been watching until this moment. There was no way something like that could happen! He opened his mouth to protest – and paused. Mr Sebastian had seemed distracted, now that he thought about it. Not to mention the worry that had been gnawing on the man the last few times Agni had seen his friend.
And hadn't he told Mr Sebastian that he'd help with whatever was troubling him?
"…Yes." The word had barely left the butler's mouth before Sohma's eyes lit up.
"Alright! Come on, Agni!" the prince exclaimed, seizing Agni's arm and racing towards the door. "We have all of London to search!" The white-haired man barely had the time to hastily place the vase he still held down on the table before he was dragged away, leaving the ornament rocking side to side precariously in the suddenly empty room.
"Prince Sohma, didn't Mr Sebastian say it would be dangerous to Master Ciel if we investigated?" Agni called as he tried to keep up with Sohma's energetic speed.
Sohma glanced over his shoulder. "That guy only said it was dangerous to draw attention to the fact that Ciel was missing. So! We'll just have to investigate quietly!" He flashed a bright grin at his butler and leapt down the stairs. Knowing there would be no way to dampen his master's enthusiasm now he had worked himself up, Agni addressed a silent apology to Sebastian for disobeying his request and followed the teen.
Thunder rumbled again, underscoring the determination that filled Sohma. Hang on, little Ciel! We'll save you! he thought, flinging the front door of the townhouse open and heading out into a city held hostage by a stormy sky.
END CHAPTER 5
A/N: *cue suspense music* Dun-dun-duuuun~
…. Eheheh ^^;; I really can't help but to end on cliff-hangers, can I?
It's strange, but even though the rest of this chapter had been written for months it took me ages to write the Ciel vs Randall scene… Somehow, writing Sebastian's fight scenes are easier xD; I did do research but I think I still fail at understanding fencing (hahaha). Somehow the Undertaker managed to pop up in this chapter too… He wasn't originally meant to, come to think of it… and as always, I seem unable to give Sohma a serious side to his personality (haha) Sorry, Sohma!
I ended up revamping the previous chapters a bit... Well, I say 'revamp' (no pun intended) but I really just mean 'fixed up all the typos I am prone to making' xD;
Ah, that reminds me. Chapter 6 is (almost) completely planned out and I've started on the first couple of pages of it, so it's definitely in the making. Unfortunately, I'm going to be entering another busy patch again so I don't know when I'll get the time or the inspiration to write … I'm hoping that this time around I'll have a bit more free time but I guess that's something we'll have to wait and see. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is to warn you all that the next chapter may also take a while to be uploaded – although I am determined to never have it as long as this last time!! In any case, I do update my profile page (usually monthly) with the status of my current stories, so please check there in the meantime! ^^b
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed it! \(^o^)/
Their partnership revived once more, Ciel and Sebastian are both fighting what have become life-or-death battles against the three conspirators. Only for some of them, death doesn't seem to be an issue… What secrets are they hiding?
Find it all out in the next chapter (currently in-progress): That Butler, Inferno!
Hope you all have a good day~! :D