That maid sure was acting funny lately. Ever since Ace announced that Scarlet was his new attendant, she always had this strained look on her face whenever she was near him, a curt, tense quality in her voice when she spoke to him.
She was trying way too hard to even appear remotely civil and polite whenever he was around. Even he could tell that she was still loathing every wasted second she had to spend with him.
Ace absently wondered why Scarlet seemed to dislike him so much. It was amusing as well as curious. It's not like he knowingly did anything to her.
'Oh well… now's not the time to worry about that.'
Ace pivoted on the soles of his boots, slashing his long sword right through his assailant's abdomen. The attacker released a last, guttural burst of air before crumpling lifelessly to the forest ground, staining the earth with a bloody crimson. The forest then fell disturbingly still. Ace casted his masked eyes askance, calculating how many of them were left.
From his estimations, the numbers were originally a little over fifteen.
After a few minutes, only two remained. Though the pair was as faceless as the rest of them, he could still feel their obscene abhorrence towards him, their intense desire for that broken clock in his bag.
Ace faced these sorts of occasions countless times, but they never ceased to both amuse and baffle him. Those people always tried to assert their individuality, protect their dead beloved's clocks so they wouldn't be replaced. Such ideology was silly. Why did they try so hard to protect something that was broken? Because of their efforts, they all ended up dead anyway.
As the two shouted their final cry, their last desperate charge to defeat him, Ace lazily swung his sword, cutting through them like flimsy sheets of paper. He then quietly commenced collecting all the fallen clocks and began his trek back to the Tower.
"Oh, Julius, I'm back!" Ace opened the door with a loud slam, disrupting the general silence of the room. He then callously dropped the bag onto the empty space before the blue-haired clock master while he was fixing yet another clock. The sudden reverberation startled him. The gears of the broken clock snapped out of place. Bits and pieces of broken parts flew all over his work area.
Julius released a tired sigh, turning his gaze over to the overflowing bag of clocks.
"Ace, your mission was to collect one clock. Not all of these," said Julius, impassive eyes staring at the knight.
The young man released a low laugh and explained cheerfully, "Well, I ran into some trouble along the way! I just couldn't avoid it."
"Trouble indeed… maybe more for these poor people you ran into than for yourself," Julius muttered stoically, turning his attention to the bursting sack. A blue brow arched upwards, regarding it with sudden curiosity. "Where in the world did you get this? This is nothing like the sack you normally carry it all in."
Such a statement caught the young knight's attention. Ace leant over the small table and carefully scrutinized the knapsack. He blinked once, slowly coming to a conclusion.
"Ha ha! Oops! It seems I forgot to give it back when I had the chance! My bad!" Ace said in realization, rubbing the back of his head.
"Return this to whom?" inquired Julius, slowly taking and examining each clock from the bag.
"To my new attendant!" he supplied cheerfully.
The clock master paused for a single moment, processing the information in his mind.
"Oh dear god… they gave you of all people an attendant? Have mercy on his or her poor soul…" Julius lamented.
"Hey, what do you mean by that?" the red knight asked, feigning an air of offense. "I'm not that bad, am I?"
Julius did not respond immediately and stared at the knight, at that goofy smile, that innocent, good-natured face. He knew him long enough to know to never fall for it. Ace was quite the opposite of innocent.
He instead artfully changed the subject. "So, what's your new attendant like?"
It was a question of pure diplomacy, an inquiry designed to momentarily confuse him. It's not like the blue-haired male expected a response from his helper. He doubted he really knew anything more than the person's existence on this earth.
Ace unexpectedly said, "Well, Scarlet's really moody and can be pretty annoying at times. I guess that's because she doesn't seem to like me very much. I can't understand why though."
"Oh, I wonder… You always struck me as such a likable person," Julius responded with intrinsic sarcasm. Suddenly, he froze in his place, the clock in his hand falling onto the table with a distinctive clatter. He paused for a brief moment, repeating Ace's words in his mind. "Wait… who's Scarlet?"
"My new attendant!" Ace replied. "You're a smart guy, Julius. I thought that was obvious."
"How did you find out the faceless girl's name?"
"The king told me!"
"And you actually bothered to remember it?"
"What's so strange about that?"
The clock master sat back into his seat, studying the innocent planes of his face, the confusion in his eyes. Julius merely replied, "It's simply natural for role holders in the territories to not be well acquainted with their faceless servants, let alone be aware of their names. It's rather… odd to say the least."
"I think it's just a temporary thing!" said Ace, a smile still on his lips. "It's probably just because she's new to the castle. It'll grow old after awhile. You'd probably find her interesting though. You should meet her!"
"Yes… I'd like that very much." Julius fell into a pensive silence, methodically returning to each clock in the sack.
Ace couldn't understand why he was in such a meditative disposition. What he said wasn't that surprising or strange… to him at least.
"Huh. Interesting." Ace snapped himself out of his absent musings and turned towards Julius, watching him examine a strange object in between his fingers.
With his head tilting to an inquisitive incline, the Heart Knight asked, "Hey… what's that?"
"It looks like… a medicine bottle," noted Julius aloud, turning the small cylinder in between his lithe fingers. "Are you sure this bag belongs to your new attendant? I always thought servants were required to be in top physical condition and health."
Ace floated over to the clock master's side, gawking at the bottle. "Huh… I thought so too…"
He then came to a powerful realization. He before dismissed some aspects of her behavior as just plain weird, like her sudden bursts of coughs when she thought wasn't paying attention, her sudden, urgent departures sometimes then afterwards…
Then the answer became decidedly clear. Even he was able to figure it out.
"I suggest finding the owner of both of these items as soon as you can. I know he or she would be looking quite frantically for these," Julius said, dropping the pill bottle back inside empty bag. "Now onto business. Here's a new list of places I need you to visit."
Ace swung the bag over his shoulder and accepted the paper, skimming through the list with curious eyes. He then smiled and said, "Alright, Julius! I'll get it done! See ya!"
With a quick, airy wave of his hand, the brown-haired knight made his way out the doorway and into the halls.
"Wonder why I keep doing this to myself…" the knight suddenly found himself wondering, continuing absently through the twisting halls. This job was supposed to be his key towards salvation, but everything remained the exact same thing. Nothing had changed. He even wasn't any different ever since he started. Why trouble himself like this?
Ace then released a low laugh, realizing he had made a wrong turn and was now facing a dead end.
…Maybe it was because Ace didn't know how else to live.
Meanwhile, a certain maid was going completely mental. It was as if she lost all her sanity in a matter of seconds as she tore through the small space she called her room. Every possible piece of furniture was flipped over, every square inch torn asunder and lay completely bare. She attempted everything possible to find one specific item.
"And if I don't… gah! I'll actually die!"
At the disconcerting thought, a violent cough ripped through her throat, aching her chest.
How could Scarlet possibly lose her medicine, her most valuable possession? If she didn't find it anytime soon… Vivaldi would certainly see her and toss her right out, whether she was alive or a decapitated corpse.
Just where in the world could she have put it? Last place she remembered was putting it in her bag...
Scarlet paused for a moment, repeating the thought once more and letting it roll off her tongue. "My bag."
Realization struck her like a lightning bolt. Scarlet stood perfectly straight as her brain whispered the answer.
"Oh my god! That idiot knight still has my bag!"
Quickly turning on her heels, Scarlet stormed out her room and fumed as she stalked through the halls for a certain directionally challenged man.
'Oh wait until I get my hands on him… he's dead. I'm going. I'm going to make sure of that!'
That is… if her condition doesn't kill her first.
"Oh, Mary Anne! How I'm so glad to see you!" the young girl shouted once she saw her maid friend.
The one she called Mary Anne jumped, spinning her herself around to face her.
"Oh, Scarlet! I told you that you don't have to call me by my name! It greatly embarrasses me," the faceless woman chastised Scarlet, placing her hands right over her hips.
"But why not? If I called out maid or something how will I get your attention?" asked Scarlet, tilting her head in confusion.
Mary Anne opened her mouth to further chide her, remind her of the ways their society works, but instead sighed. "Alright. What do you need, Scarlet-chan? Did her majesty overload you again?"
"Happily, no, but this is far more pressing!" she proclaimed, attaining the maid's undivided attention. "Have you seen Ace around?"
"Why no, I haven't. He has yet to return to the castle." Her brow soon rose in question. "Aren't you his attendant now? Shouldn't you have better watch over him?"
"What am I? His mother? He can jump off a cliff for all I care!"
"But why are you asking me for Master Ace's whereabouts then?"
"The missing idiot has something of mine, and I want it back," Scarlet replied simply, pausing for a considerable moment. She then marched forward and announced, "I'll be back."
"Oh, you're not really going out to go look for him, are you?" Mary Anne called out.
The young maid replied with a glib, "Yep."
"But what about your work?"
"You can cover for me, can't you? I won't be very long!"
Before the young maid could offer a reply, Scarlet smiled, promptly disappeared from sight, and stepped out through door.
Thus beginning her great search. Hours passed by, and daylight was quickly waning
Not like it mattered at the moment how much time was passing. If she did not get her medicine from him soon, it wouldn't matter if she was stuck in the dark. Just who knew what would happen to her or how much time she still had? Maybe it was already too late.
'But I am no quitter. I'm not giving up that easily. I'm going to hunt him down like the dog he is.'
With renewed resolve, she continued her search with increased fervor, storming through the brush and ducking underneath low, leafy boughs. By some stroke of glorious luck, Scarlet finally found him… or at least she though she did.
She was almost certain it was him - the way he held himself, his messy brown hair, that familiar looking sword... but in place of his red overcoat was a long, brown cloak, a silvery mask placed where is eyes were.
Surrounding him were several faceless people, approximately ten to be exact.
Was that really Ace? If not, then just who was this masked man? How could he even think of surviving when he was so heavily outnumbered? His death was almost certain.
Then Scarlet shivered when a smile curled at the masked man's lips, watching as the mob charged straight towards him.
Then the unexpected happened. Scarlet watched in silent horror as the masked man easily combated his assailants, slicing through the men as if they were flimsy pieces of paper. Limbs were separated from bodies, flying in all sorts of erratic directions. Blood splattered and created a bitter, iron rain.
In a matter of a few, terrifying minutes, that single man had killed all ten men.
Scarlet released a silent gasp, crouching behind the protective cover of trees and brush. Her chest hammered against her aching chest, and her breathing threatened to be even more erratic.
She had heard rumors of this sort of person, a demon assisting the recluse mortician in clock collection... but never in her life did she expect that person to be a role holder.
'No… no, I can't believe it. It cant really be him… can it?'
Never did Scarlet think it would be someone like Ace.
Taking an even breath of air and filling her aching lungs, Scarlet peeked out once again.
Ace waited patiently for each body to fade away and disappear before he retrieved the broken clock and plopped it into his bag.
One person did manage to survive… or tried to at the very least. One faceless figure struggled to crawl away, leaving behind a scarlet trail as he attempted to reach the protective, leafy haven.
Soon his movements ceased. The person lay lifelessly down on the ground, struck by eternal sleep. The person's figure soon was overshadowed, fading into an inky blackness. All that was left in their place was a single, broken clock.
Her hand flew to her mouth to quiet the coughs that flew from her lips. Scarlet's stomach twisted violently as she tried to suppress this sudden, gagging sensation.
She didn't even understand this strange feeling. Why was she reacting like this and towards someone that was a complete stranger?
Despite the implausibility, this untenable emotion, watching this person just die and disappear struck a nerve she wasn't even aware she had.
She glanced back to the scene. The masked swordsman had already disappeared from the vicinity, unaware that a single clock remained. With a quick swallow, Scarlet rose to her feet and edged closer to the clock. She paused for a decided moment before she finally knelt down beside it. Her fingers twitched forward, slowly edging forward to touch the small, broken item... when it was suddenly snatched right out of her reach.
She immediately jumped back, creating as much space she possibly could. Her whole body froze, her eyeless gaze meeting the creature's even vacant countenance. It was like a mere, incorporeal shadow, a ghost constructed of wisps of black smoke.
It took Scarlet a few long moments to realize that she was staring straight into an afterimage. She had heard of these ghostly apparitions, knew of their purpose and what exactly they were. She was not that ignorant. Never in her life had she seen one face to faceless face.
'W… why do I feel like this?' Her whole body felt cold, frozen droplets of sweat clinging to the hair to the nape of her neck. Her clock heart nearly stopped ticking in her chest. She could barely breathe. Even though she had never seen an afterimage before, there was no reason for her to be this scared… but, despite that, she was still completely terrified at the moment.
The single afterimage seemed to stare at her with an air she thought resembled curiosity. The clock remained clutched in its grasp.
She inhaled sharply, watching as the shadow floated closer to her, tendrils of black smoke stretching forward towards her…
Despite the ache in her throat, the very pain in her chest, Scarlet screamed and ran away.
Once the Heart maid finally returned to the castle, she felt completely dead inside. She straggled through the halls, trying to dismiss everything – the growing dizziness, the intensifying pain, the coppery taste at the back of her throat…
It was obvious Scarlet needed her medicine stat. She was just not quite ready to see him yet and would much rather delay that encounter as long as she could.
'I can just deal with him tomorrow,' Scarlet mentally deliberated, absently rambling her way through the silent castle. 'I'm sure I'll survive the rest of this day…'
Scarlet was so consumed in her inner turmoil that she walked straight into a hard surface, a body she quickly corrected herself.
Quickly recollecting herself to a state of some health and poise, she said quickly, "I'm sorry for bumping into you! I wasn't paying any atten…?"
At that precise moment, all words failed her. Lo and behold, the one person Scarlet certainly did not want to see appeared directly before her!
"Apology accepted," Ace said cheerfully, silvery mask in hand and still garbed in his bloody cloak.
Scarlet swallowed back a large lump in her throat. 'Crap.'
"But, boy! Am I glad to see you! I got lost going to my room! Maybe you can help direct me there?" Ace's cheerful expression melted to that of curiosity, surprised to see her speechless, stupefied even. "What's wrong with you? Is there something on my face?" As he raised his gloved hand to wipe his face, his eyes were attracted to his mask. Ace then dropped his gaze to examine the rest of his attire. Ace threw his head back, releasing a light-hearted laugh. "Uh-oh… you're not supposed to see me like this! Did the little maid see anything else she's not supposed to see?"
Scarlet's gaze descended as she allowed herself a low cough, swallowing back something warm and bitter. She didn't have enough breath to utter a proper response.
Ace smiled widened, finding her silence enough answer.
Scarlet gasped when she was suddenly pushed back into the wall, falling very still when a blade was pointed towards her direction.
"I'm not sure how much you saw, but you know I can't allow you to live." Scarlet kept her poise, refusing to allow herself to be unnerved by that dark smile on his face, the almost dark gleam in his eyes.
Was this really Ace? The annoying big oaf she was forced to serve? She never expected him capable of looking so dark… and dangerous.
Raising his sword to her throat, the knight wondered aloud, "I wonder where would be the best place to kill you… perhaps a beheading or a slit of your throat? No, that's far too messy. I don't want to follow the queen's example… Oh! I know!" She willed herself to remain still when Ace lowered his blade near her heart. "Maybe I should just do it the easy way and thrust my sword through your chest? Ah, decisions… decisions…"
"They why don't you just save yourself some brain cells and just kill me already? Isn't it normal for you role holders to just kill faceless people like me? You guys never feel remorse, no regret, and absolutely no hesitation. We faceless are so expendable to you stupid people."
"Ah! So that's you deal! Is that why you hate me? Because I'm a role holder?" Ace asked.
Scarlet was silent for a long moment, her stance defiant and strong. She then replied evenly, "I don't need to explain myself to you of all people, knight."
She winced feeling the blade dig in, piercing through her uniform and touching her flesh.
"Ha ha ha! Ah, I don't think you're in the position to refuse anything," Ace reminded her, pulling out something form within his cloak. "Especially… when I have something you need."
Her mouth dropped in surprise. "My medici…!" A cough tore through her throat, interrupting her sentence.
"I found it in your bag. I forgot to give it back that one time! Now, here's my next question. Why do you even need it? Are you sick?" Scarlet fell into silence, refusing to utter a single word. "Fine. Perhaps I'll just let you live and tell Vivaldi about this all important discovery. I could let her deal with you however she sees fit."
"No, please! You can't! I need..." Scarlet whirled into another violent coughing fit, echoing against the stillness of the hallway.
Soon Ace's eyes widened, surprised to see something roll down her mouth, splatter against the steel of his blade: blood.
Scarlet slowly heaved a labored breath of air, struggling to recover from her outburst. A finger gently touched the warm corners of her lips, bringing the sticky liquid up to her eyes.
Scarlet released a bitter laugh. "Looks like the cat's out of the bag. There's little use hiding it now." She took a single inhale, replenishing her empty lungs with oxygen. "It must be difficult to fathom we faceless do get sick or ill, but I assure you, we do. I have hemoptysis."
"Hemoptysis, you fool," Scarlet rasped, suppressing another rousing cough. "I need that medicine before I get even worse. It helps repress symptoms such as me coughing out blood. It's the only way I can possibly survive this hellhole. I just really need this job."
Ace asked, "But why do you need this job so much?"
Before Scarlet could respond, another cough tore through her throat, coming out in a more violent burst. She nearly buckled over, hands clamped over her mouth, her vision growing blurry and hazy. Everything slowly began to spin, her surroundings blurring and growing darker. She barely felt the sword near her chest.
She instead saw the sword pointed towards someone else.
It was probably her ailment making her delusional, the destructive result of going without her medicine for such a prolonged period of time. Still, Scarlet couldn't deny what she saw.
The scene was dark, shrouded by shadows and haze. All she could perceive were three figures, unable recognize their individual appearances or faces. One girl stood protectively before one with a bloody sword. Behind was a young woman, crouched down onto the floor. The swordsman's mouth smiled and moved, forming words Scarlet failed to understand. Soon the blade pulled back, thrusting forward towards the girl's chest.
The next scene went far too fast for Scarlet to recognize. It all proceeded in one huge, bloody blur. She did notice that the sword didn't touch the girl.
It had instead plunged deep into the third person's chest, the woman the girl was trying to protect.
Both the attacker and the girl were rendered into a state of relative shock and surprise, staring the young woman skewered in the man's blade.
The sword receded. The woman collapsed lifelessly onto the ground.
While the young man briefly surveyed his surroundings, searching for any further hindrances, the young girl drew closer and hovered over the dead body, long tendrils cascading down to conceal her face. All the girl and Scarlet could do was stare.
Why was she seeing this? Why did she feel an even greater ache in her chest just watching this? Why did she feel as if she shared in the exact same pain? None of it made any sense. At the moment, logic seemed furthest from her mind and completely out of her reach.
Just as she saw something glittering drip down onto the bloody floor, the female bystander was suddenly jerked back to reality. Something small yet hard hit her squarely in the forehead, falling onto the castle floor with a resounding plunk.
Scarlet merely gawked at her medicine bottle in confusion, slowly remembering her current surroundings and who exactly she was with at the moment. Her eyeless gaze transcended to see Ace sheathing his sword with a customary smile on his face. She raised an inquiring brow, so sure that the knight was going to tear her to shreds. Why the sudden benevolence?
"I decided to let you live! You're my attendant and still rather useful to me," Ace answered her cheerfully as if reading her thoughts. "I just expect you to agree to a little condition or two."
Scarlet scooped her fallen bottle from the ground and uncapped it, asking, "What?"
Ace grinned a little wider. "I just expect you to keep my extracurricular activities a secret... or else."
"Fine," The Heart maid agreed glibly and quickly swallowed the pill. "I accept those terms."
"Wait a moment! I'm not done just yet. There's still one more issue I'd like to address!" Much too tired for her usual sarcasm and curtness, Scarlet stood there in a semblance of patience and waited for the knight to continue. "...Stop trying to pretend to be nice to me! As amusing as it is to watch you strain yourself, it isn't necessary. Even if you are my attendant, you don't have to make everything so boring with that fake courtesy!"
Scarlet winced, realizing her attempts at civility had failed. Nonetheless, she released an ethereal relief. "Thank goodness... Now that is taking care of, I'm going to my room. I'm simply exhausted!"
"But what about my other questions? Aren't you going to answer them?" Ace asked, calling out to her retreating form.
All Ace could hear was a loud snort. "Why should I? Not like you really care or anything. Now that I don't have to pretend to act remotely civil to you and tolerate your presence, there's no way in hell I'd answer!"
With those eloquent last words, Scarlet disappeared off into the darkness and left Ace all by his very lonesome.
For a few moments, the Knight of Hearts simply stood there in silent consideration, thoughtfully rubbing his chin. "Huh... She's a weird chick."
Still now, there were so many questions left unanswered, so many things about that simple faceless girl that continued to baffle him.
'I wonder... Does she really hate me because of my role... or does herdislike stem deeper than that?'
As he turned on his heel to walk away, Ace only figured he'd find the answer to all his questions in time... even if it means breaking her down to do it.
A/N Notes: You all should blame a plot bunny for me suddenly naming a maid Mary Anne. Grr… curse you plot bunnies!
Bleh, but my brain was mush whilst writing this. I hope its okay despite the fact I'm not very satisfied with the outcome. I may edit it in the future... when I feel like it which may be never. :p
All I can say is thanks for reading! Reviews and other feedback would be greatly appreciated!