I live! I hope you enjoy the new chapter.
By that afternoon, Sebastian was back in his cage, lying on his back and staring at the rock ceiling of the enclosure. It was late in the afternoon, and there were still a few stragglers peeking in his window, whispering about him and wondering why he wasn't doing anything interesting. But Sebastian didn't particularly care about their complaints today, had no interest in entertaining.
On the occasion, he would turn over and pick at his feathers to remove a stuck on piece of candy or an insect which had decided to move in. Ugh, he had vermin in his wings. How could he ever live with himself after letting them get to this level of filth? It was positively shameful.
Soon enough, the people outside his cage left and allowed him to sulk in peace. The demon got up and went over to the little water hole they had installed as per his instruction. It was going to take a while for just water to remove the human oils from his precious feathers, but it was his only resource for the time being. He would have to make do.
Sebastian relaxed in the warm water, heated to perfection by his personal underground lava pool. He let his eyes close and his mind drift back to Hell where he would bathe in Phlegethon, the river of boiling blood, and listen to the panicked screaming of humans being boiled alive over and over and over for all eternity. He could nearly smell the blood and hear the tragic cries of the dying sinners.
Though, the smell of blood was becoming a bit too real. Breaking out of his memory, Sebastian opened his eyes, only to find that the scent hadn't disappeared. In a brief panic he checked himself over to make sure he wasn't bleeding, but the scent wasn't that of demon blood. It wasn't even that of human blood.
"... goat blood?" he mused to himself, puzzled. Yes, it was certainly goat blood. But where could it...
Before he could finish his thought, the door to Sebastian's habitat opened and the smell became positively overwhelming as two zoo employees dragged in the bloodied corpse of a small, horned animal over to his pool. It dropped with a sickening splat on the stone floor, and the zookeepers looked down at the demon proudly.
"... what is this?" the demon asked, confused and fairly disgusted at the sickening display before him.
"A sacrifice." answered one of the zookeepers, "We thought you might be hungry"
Sebastian's gaze shifted rapidly between the two increasingly confused humans and the freshly slain carcass on the floor. Sacrifice? They had to be joking.
"What kind of demon do you think I am?" he snapped, getting out of the pool as soon as he realized that his water had become slightly bloody. "I am not some primitive, undignified creature who feeds off of the corpses of goats! Even if I did, I would expect it to be well cleaned and presented properly, not thrown into my bathtub whole. Do you treat all your tenants so rudely, or do I simply give off the impression of being so uncivilized that I would feed in such an abominable fashion?!"
Sneering, Sebastian stepped up onto a large rock just above his pool, wanting to get away from the offensive meal that had been set before him. The two zookeepers stared up at him in terror, wanting to tear their eyes away from the glowing eyes of the demon, but too scared to even think of moving.
"W-we... we heard... demons eat... sacrificed... animals..." one managed to stutter out.
"Did your local devil worshipers tell you that?" Sebastian sighed.
The other one shook his head. "They went on a trip and they won't be back until next week"
"Then where did you ever get the idea that the Phantomhive butler eats dead goats?"
"... we... erm..."
"I don't suppose this is how you feed all the others, is it?"
"Well... it... sort of... yes..."
Without a word, Sebastian stepped off the rock and headed toward the door in a huff. How could he live in a place where the very concept of manners was pathetically nonexistent? He may be a demon, but he had standards. High, high standards.
"Clean that up thoroughly and then meet me in the kitchen. You do have a kitchen, don't you?"
They nodded quickly.
"How impressive." He scoffed. With the treatment they gave food here, Sebastian was half expecting that they dug through the garbage to feed their animals. But with him around, it wouldn't last long. After all, it was only natural for him, as the Phantomhive butler.
Ciel slumped in his desk chair, exhausted and irritated from everything that had happened over the last couple of days. He was slightly relieved that he didn't have to travel around looking for his butler anymore, but he was swamped with work, he still had to check up on Sebastian every few days. The butler was becoming more and more of an inconvenience for the earl, and he wasn't even in the manor. It had taken days to get through just one of the massive piles of documents on his desk. Admittedly, he had started to get a little sloppy due to exhaustion and filled out a couple of orders wrong. For some reason, the factories assumed that any extra orders were for his own personal use, and there were now boxes of toys, candy and food littering his front garden.
This was not only a problem from a business perspective. He had an idiotic man-child of a prince in the house, and he didn't even want to think about how he was going to react to the presence of all these boxes.
As Ciel sighed and slumped back in his chair there was a knock on the door. "Come in…" he muttered. Since there was a knock involved, he knew it had to be Agni. He was the only one who had the common courtesy to do so. Ciel remained in his less than professional sitting position, frowning as he was served his afternoon tea.
"Is something the matter, Master Ciel?" Agni asked. In response, Ciel simply looked up at him over his papers.
He sighed and turned his chair so that it was facing the front window, and the mass of boxes scattered about it.
"I need you to get rid of those boxes before Soma gets any ideas. I believe you know to what I am referring."
Agni nodded solemnly. Ever since the 'surprise vacation' turned out to be an actual investigation, Soma had been expecting some sort of repayment for his trials. And the closer it came to his alleged half-birthday, the prince's expectations only grew. It had become enough of a problem that even Agni was troubled by his master's behavior. If he found out that there were boxes upon boxes of goodies on the front lawn, it was likely that Ciel would be caught in a permanent hug for the remainder of the year.
"Get rid of the boxes. Send them to an orphanage or something, just get them off my property."
A small smile graced Agni's face, as Ciel's kindness and generosity never failed to amaze him.
"Of course, Master Ciel." Agni left the tray of tea and cakes on the earl's desk and taking his leave.
Ciel watched out the window for a bit longer, then rested his head in his hands. He couldn't understand how, when, or why it happened, but a tiny part of him wanted to go get Sebastian out of the zoo already and return to his manor. As competent as Agni was, spending his days keeping Soma out of his hair was getting exhausting. When Sebastian was around, he didn't have to worry about anything but his work and his cases. He had to do far too much for his liking with Agni and Soma around.
Perhaps when he went back into town, he would call off the whole thing and take his butler back. No, that would give Sebastian too much leverage to mock him. Maybe he could subtly persuade his butler to come back before his time was up. He doubted that Sebastian was enjoying this arrangement either.
Ciel sighed and rubbed his temples. He had gotten himself into quite the mess, hadn't he? Stuck in a house with an idiot and his servant, without a hint of his butler except for his distant mocking letters. Had he been a weaker person, and had he not known better, he might say that this is Hell. Of course, that was preposterous.
After a few more minutes Ciel returned to his desk and sipped his tea, poking at a blueberry tart with his fork. He couldn't even bring himself to enjoy the break that tea time brought him. It was official; Sebastian's absence was a problem.
"No, no, no, the parsley leaves go on the left side. Have you learned nothing? If you put them on the right, then the plate will be horribly disproportionate." Sebastian explained for the thirteenth time to the frightened zoo employees. "If you would just try listening we could have had these dishes out an hour ago."
"But we've only been here for ten minutes…"
"It is a necessary skill for any respectable servant. Now, place those parsley leaves exactly as I told you."
With a shaking hand, the short, freckled zookeeper plucked a few leaves from the bunch of parsley and tentatively moved his hand closer to the plate of carefully sliced meat. He positioned his fingers carefully, preparing to drop the spice onto the raw beef, but right as he let it drop, the leaves were plucked from his hands by a clearly irritated demon.
"Not on the meat. Beside it." He grumbled, expertly placing the tiny green bundle on the left side of the plate, nearly but not quite touching the edge of the beef, but still close enough that it wouldn't fall off the plate. "That is how to garnish a plate."
"That's what I just did!" argued one of the other zookeepers, pointing to his own plate.
"Yes, and it would be correct if the leaves were facing the proper direction." Sebastian corrected, turning the parsley counterclockwise on the plate. "Perhaps we should return to the basics. Do you recall what I told you?"
"…. You spoke too fast…"
"Perhaps you simply did not listen. I told you that you must consider your linens, cutlery, china and general décor before you begin arranging your plate. You must also consider the main dish and side dishes, their shapes and sizes and how they will relate to the shape of the serving plates. You must make it appealing but never overdo the garnish or else the plate will appear crowded. You also must be sure that the dish does not appear lopsided; balance is critical in proper presentation. And for the final time, the centerpiece goes in the center." Sebastian rattled off at lightning speed. "Do I make myself clear?"
The zookeepers shook their heads so fast it was dizzying. The demon pinched the bridge of his nose and paced in frustration as he attempted to explain again.
"Erm…. I don't think the animals are gonna use forks and knives… They don't have hands you know…"
"I am aware, but it will not hurt to have some sense of aesthetic." Sebastian snapped back.
"They'll just break the china…"
"It can be replaced."
"… we can't buy new plates every day, even with all the new visitors…"
"Then perhaps you have skewed your priorities again, young master. It is quite important that this is done correctly."
"… erm…" the three zookeepers traded confused glances as Sebastian paced back and forth, stressed over food presentation. They were well aware of his occupation during his contract, and it seemed that he had some form of withdrawal from his job. While they found this strange, they didn't want to point anything out to him. There was no saying what an angry demon would do to three helpless humans. "We will do whatever you need us to do, Sebastian…" one of them ventured.
"Very well." He stopped pacing and pointed to the first zookeeper. "You are in charge of the food. I expect all of the plates to resemble my example as closely as possible" he moved to the second. "You are to clean and prepare the china and cutlery. Be careful and do not break it. And you" he said to the third, "I expect you to feed all of the herbivorous animals. Be sure to arrange plates for them as well."
"Yes sir…" they muttered, very unsure and terrified that they would make a mess of their work. As long as they satisfied their demon butler, they figured they would at least survive the evening. Each of the employees began their assigned duties immediately, working carefully but quickly.
Sebastian watched from a distance, assisting with the work as well (inexperienced as the zookeepers were). It was, oddly enough, enjoyable for him to be in this position once again; 'Sebastian' was the perfect servant after all. It was in his very nature, and would be until the contract ended. Perhaps the animals in the zoo didn't care terribly about the presentation of their meals, but it was satisfying to be in charge again.
As he watched his 'servants' working, bringing the prepared meals out to their respective animals, Sebastian couldn't stop himself from smirking (nearly even smiling). He knew his young master would judge him harshly for this behavior, but he had a feeling that he was faring better than the young earl. In fact, he would bet on it.
There was noise downstairs. So much noise that two floors up, Ciel stirred in his chair from a sleep he didn't remember falling into. Rubbing his eye, the boy straightened himself up and yawned. What could possibly be going on in his house that was so loud? Even Soma had at volume limit.
Although his ribbon was untied, a couple buttons were undone on his jacket, and his hair was messy, Ciel foolishly left his office to go downstairs. He was the master of the house, wasn't he? He could do as he wished in his own home. Yawning again, Ciel made his way downstairs to the entrance hall.
He honestly should have expected what he saw, but he had been trying not to think about it. The entrance hall was decked out in streamers, flowers, glitter, and an assortment of other decorations which he did not recall putting there. There were people overflowing from the ballroom, and a live orchestra playing in the corner. Tables of decadent food lined the walls, and wrapped gifts piled up beside the staircase. He clenched his teeth when he noticed that all the food, wrapping paper and gifts which had been opened were all from his company. Evidently, Agni was unable to do his job as instructed. As the final piece to this infernal puzzle, he was tackled to the ground by none other than Prince Soma.
"Ciel! I knew you would plan me a surprise party! You truly are my best friend!"
"I did nothing of the sort, let go of me!" Ciel barked, shoving the other boy away.
"But you did! I saw the presents you bought for me, so I invited all of our friends to my surprise party."
"It isn't a surprise party if you planned it for yourself!"
"You did a very good job of hiding it, Ciel. Agni was in on it too, he said he was going to send all the boxes away, but I knew better. I knew my little brother was planning something."
This was the final straw. Before he could be thanked anymore or forced into one of those hideous conical birthday hats (he wished a fiery end on whoever invented that custom) Ciel marched down the stairs and out the front door. Social faux pas as it might be to leave a party one is allegedly hosting, the Phantomhive had quite enough of this nonsense. He refused to stop, no matter who tried to get him back, or how. He went straight to the stable to get his horse, and rode off to the zoo to find Sebastian.
It was just past closing time, and Sebastian had left the feeding to his just about capable brigade of zookeepers. He was relaxing in his sleeping cave, pleased with his accomplishment today. He doubted it would hold up, but he felt that he had raised the standards of living in this zoo tenfold, at least for today.
He was in a near meditative state when he heard the door open yet again, and the scent of blood once again wafted in from across the room. Hopping out of his cage, he saw the three zookeepers carrying a large platter across his habitat. Sebastian continued across the cage to meet up with them, and smiled a tiny bit once he saw the amount of effort that was put into the dish.
It wasn't perfect, but it wasn't awful either. And they looked so proud of it, the demon couldn't find it in himself to criticize.
"We thought you still might be hungry." One of them said, beaming with pride over their work.
"I am flattered that you would think of me. However, I must refuse. This sort of food will do little more than upset my stomach."
The zookeepers looked at each other, dejected.
"It is not your doing. I can only consume human souls" Sebastian smiled. He retreated to his cave, leaving the zookeepers pale and petrified holding the plate of wasted food.
Sebastian chuckled to himself and laid down in his cave. Perhaps he should have told them he can only eat one soul while under contract.
Thank you for reading, everyone. Please review, concrit and make any suggestions if there's anything you want to see in future chapters.
And have a lovely holiday, whichever one you are celebrating.