Ciel and Sebastian sat in the small inn room, surrounding a low coffee table piled with maps of the area, lists of names, various emblems and photos and even various drinks. In front of them was one of their correspondents, spying on the activity of the troublesome Rouge-Gorges and relaying the information back to England. Snake stood guard outside the room-also so that his snakes wouldn't scare their special friend.
"Please start, Mr. Harrier."
The man harrumphed and snatched up a map of the local area, dropped it, accidentally pushed some papers off the table and cleared his throat. He was visibly nervous in front of such a regal fourteen year old and his lurking butler.
"Well, Sirrah, I've snooped around for some suspicious people, but really, this town's full of drunkards and adulterers it's hard to pinpoint who's a Rouge-Gorge or not...Ay, there's this silly rumour going arounds the peopl-"
Sebastian immediately cut in. "Let's get back to the topic, shall we?"
Mr. Harrier nodded, a bit flushed, and continued on.
"There ain't been many reports of thievery or nothing, aside from a few purses or satchels grabbed. I've followed the petty thieves, but they just go straight home or to the pawn's. No secret area or hideout."
He picked up a map of the area, held onto it tight, and asked the butler for a pen. Sebastian quickly delivered and the man started going over the map, circling various places.
"These are the few abandoned buildings in the town. Most of 'em I've checked already. The owners have all died or moved out. It's just sitting there, rotting wood and musk. Don't think any gang would occupy these places."
He paused to take a breather, moving onto the list of names.
"Here are the names of everyone in the town, grouped according to their household. It's a small town, most of it families."
He raised a finger as a signal to keep listening.
"I noticed that the ones without families, they're around the same age. They spend a lot of time with each other. I followed one of their members for a week, where they go to taverns and drink themselfs out. The place that they frequents most is the one you mentioned to me, their meeting place."
Ciel leaned forward and examined another sheet, the one with the suspected mens' names on.
"And do you have their profiles?"
Mr, Harrier grimaced. "This town ain't the type to go relaying any information to any outsiders. I've been here two...almost three years and it's hard to find anything out from the peoples."
He shook his head and continued. "Yeah, it can only be following 'em personally that we can find out anythings. And the police ain't nothing here. They got a station, but all that's there are files and empty desks. The peoples says they're waiting for the king to send some to take care of their town, but we all know he's too stupid to send any officers to this ruddy place."
"Did you search the files?" Sebastian asked, stressing on its importance.
"'Course I did!" he snapped. "They've got a few crimes...most of it about their behaviour when drunk. Only one's been stickin' out in his profile. Says he's been accused of rape, abuse, disorderly behaviour... Worst of the bunch, I says. He's tried to stowaway in a ship to England once. I watched him at a tavern tryin'a pay for his drinks with...this."
He pointed to a cast metal circle that rested on the table. It was silver, a close up on a bird's torso cast in the centre. A smudge of red lay upon its throat. No doubt it was the symbol of the Rouge-Gorges. Ciel picked it up to examine, before passing it onto Sebastian.
"This is..." Sebastian commented, "...very poorly forged."
The two turned their attention to him as he analyzed it, even going so far as to lick the artifact.
"It seems to be mostly silver, but the quality of the silver differs in most places… much like taking dark chocolate and melting it together with milk chocolate. As in here... the colour is slightly darker, and less reflective of the light than the silver in the bird's beak. The cracks here, although not very visible, seem to be a forging mistake, as not all the material was enough to fill in the die."
Sebastian returned the object to the table and cleared his throat, addressing Mr. Harrier.
"I would infer that this was made by melting down various silver items, then re-forging them into this emblem. Due to the imperfections, I would say that they had quite a quantity of them to make. Is there anyone in this town that has access to blacksmith tools, or who even has the same object in their possession?"
Mr. Harrier replied, "I asked the local pawn broker, blacksmith and antique owner… none of them seemed to recognize it…the only reason I have this is because I paid for that man's drinks. Hirond Roitelet…his name."
He sighed and let his hand pull at his face, as if he regretted the decision. The wind whistled outside, and then came a rapping at the window (Nevermore! Caw caw!). Sebastian opened the window and peered outside.
"There's nothing here, Young Master. Perhaps it was just an airborne pebble."
Ciel returned to his correspondent, but he wore a look of terror and point to the pages on the table. Ciel traced his line of sight to where two black bird-like footprints were on the page. He blinked a couple of times before drawing near.
Ciel Phantomhive was written in fine ink on the page.
"What is this…?" Mr. Harrier murmured.
"It seems to be addressed to you, Young Master. Should I get rid of it?"
Ciel held a hand to stop his butler, drawing near the page.
"Yes?" he asked the invisible entity.
The black ink faded into the page before resurfacing in different letters.
Message to you
"Who are you?" Ciel asked suspiciously
To this, Sebastian chuckled.
"Certainly this is a ruse. Death does not take such a passive form."
The page remained blank for a while.
We are as we were imagined, by our friend. We may not be Death itself, but we are Death in the cards. That is who we are.
Speak, and we will write your words. Wait and you will receive the reply.
The page was wiped blank once again, and then turned into a smoky gray and black, as if there was a hidden fire being lit. Yet no smoke spilled beyond the sheet. The three of them remained silent.
Do you repeat everything I say to him? Inscribed in red ink
Yes was written in black ink
Uh…o-okay then…Should I begin now? Appeared in red
It has already begun faded in the page with black ink
Ciel? Written with red ink
"Who is this?" Ciel asked.
Merianna…sir…These are my friends helping me.
"Should I leave?" Mr. Harrier asked anxiously.
Ciel ignored his request, for now.
"What is the matter? Did something happen at the house?"
The paper stayed blank for a while.
The group stayed in silence, waiting for an explanation.
H-How are you doing?
Ciel had a look of annoyance on his face.
"Merianna, what is it?" he asked.
…What are you doing right now?
Ciel and Sebastian both turned their gaze towards Mr. Harrier, who grew uncomfortable under their judging gaze.
"Nothing." Ciel replied.
I uh…Found the body…sorry…
Ciel was alarmed when he read the crimson ink, turning to Sebastian.
"I thought I ordered you to take care of it!" he hissed quietly, hoping that it wouldn't be transcribed.
Sebastian shrugged his shoulders.
"My apologies. I entrusted the job to Bardroy."
Ciel turned back to the page, his head lowered from the doubt in that one word.
"Because I have to."
But you have a lot of money already, and the Queen can ask the other nobles to share the work, right? Master Ciel…can we not be happy with what we already have here? I lost my family to that…Everyone…involved…in criminals acts…they all end up hung by ropes, left forgotten in prisons or sent somewhere far away. Cousins…I…don't want that….
I don't want to be left alone…when everyone else is already gone.
Ciel sighed, and leaned back in his seat. How was he to approach this?
"Merianna. There's no other way…if that is what you're thinking. This is my duty. As for my own safety, leave that to me. And your family…is not all gone. We'll be fine over on this side."
…Please come back safely…
Just as the crimson words left the page, there was a cawing sound and a rustle of feathers. The wind picked up, even though they were inside a closed room, and when it calmed, the pages were scattered throughout the room, yet none of them bore the mark of black or crimson ink anywhere.
"What a friendly sentiment to spend on a servant…" Sebastian chided.
"It's your fault for being so lazy in dealing with these things." Ciel rebutted.
"Is it a sin to steal the freedom of a sparrow by tethering it to your finger when you are so lonely for companionship?" Mr. Harrier mumbled quietly.
Ciel shot him a cold glance. He had no business in this. Harrier returned the gaze. Sebastian quickly snatched up the escapee papers and put them, stacked tightly and neatly, back onto the coffee table.
Ciel's plan was set in motion. He and Sebastian were to meet at the tavern, where the fake Mr. Breton was set to meet at the time. Meanwhile, Snake and Harrier would sneak into Mr. Roitelet's house and search for any clues. Harrier was an experienced lock-picker and his knowledge of the town would help Snake sneak in much more easily. They planned to meet near the docks at midnight to discuss their findings.
Of course, this would mean that Ciel and Sebastian had to dress down by wearing clothing that would make them blend into the crowd. They went out without their coats, shirts not completely buttoned and suspenders slipping. Ciel was obviously not in a good mood. They took a table near the back corner of the area, although it was not crowded at all. The owner had his full attention to them as they ordered the most expensive things on the menu.
The two watched the owner of the tavern stumble back into the kitchen. His wife came with their drinks. Unfortunately for Ciel, he had to put up with the unrefined and diluted tea so as not to blow their cover. The wife soon disappeared into the kitchen as well. The whole tavern was eerily quiet, and it was hard for Ciel to find the right moment to speak to Sebastian. Sebastian however, drew out a pen and paper from his pocket, sliding it over to where Ciel sat. Ciel scanned the area for any possible spy holes or eavesdroppers, but the scene was devoid of any life other than them. He checked his pocket watch for the time. It was already fifteen minutes after the proposed meeting time…what had happened?
Sebastian, check the area around this tavern. Look for any suspicious peoples.
Sebastian nodded, suddenly standing up.
"I FEEL A NEED TO GO WATER THE FLOWERS. I SHALL DO MY BUSINESS OUTSIDE." He announced.
Ciel facepalmed. He didn't need to be that dramatic, but he supposed there was no one there to overhear anyways. Sebastian casually walked out of the doors, and Ciel was left alone. The tavern owner and his wife came out with steaming plates in their hands, smiling eagerly as they placed it on the table.
"A nice steak for the child, and a soup for your butler. Bon appétit!" he cheerily said. (in French)
Ciel thanked them with a smile cheaply plastered on his face. He pretended to be waiting for the dish to cool down, blowing on it and smelling in the aroma.
I haven't told anyone that I have a butler, and it's not visually presented…he thought.
From his pocket, he took out a thin silver needle, and stuck it into the dish. It sank in easily, and just as easily, Ciel pulled it out. The tip of it was turning green and brown. Ciel knew that silver would react to poisons, and he always kept a silver needle with him whenever he ate at strange places. This was definitely a trap. Just when he was going to lift his eye patch, something sparked a flame that was suddenly rushing towards him. He glanced at the ground where there was a trail of liquid helping lead the fire towards him. He stood up and jumped a length away from the table, knocking into other chairs and rolling on the ground. From there, he saw the bag of gunpowder taped to the underside of the table.
The lights were off at the house. It was a cold night, so the two men were eager to get into the house- especially Snake. Shivering in the night air, he urged Harrier to pick the lock more efficiently. Harrier shushed him and kept concentrating. Finally, a sound was heard and the door gave way (ib!). Harrier opened the door slightly, and right away, there were snakes slithering at his feet, hurrying to get into the warm house. Harrier stepped back in surprise, and Snake was quick to take the lead into the house.
He looked around for his snakes, and found them all safe and curious about their surroundings. He looked around for a bit. They entered in a kitchen and Harrier had already started opening the cabinets and drawers. Snake however, took a more technical approach, communicating with his snakes to see what they could find. Any secret areas or hidden passages would be interesting to find. The house creaked when it settled, and then came the footsteps. Snake sensed it too, a strong heat source other than them. He hissed Harrier's name quietly, and pointed to the doorway that led to the rest of the house. Harrier grimaced and was just about to jump out the window before Snake grabbed his collar and slammed him against the wall near the door.
They were going to ambush him as he came through the threshold, it seems. Snake's friends came slithering back to him, entering underneath his clothes as they coiled around his arms, ready to attack. The man yelled something to the empty house, but Snake couldn't understand French. He guessed that he was trying to address them. They didn't reply, and once he came through the threshold, Snake snapped his arm out, and his snakes hissed as they flew through the air, wrapping themselves around the man's head. He screamed as he fell on the floor. Harrier was just about to strike the fallen man with a wooden chair he picked up when Snake block his attack with his arm, blood dripping from where the hit connected.
"Don't hurt us…says Celia…"
"R-Right…s-s-sorry…" Harrier apologized.
The man was still screaming when the snakes bit into him and let go, scurrying back to the safety of Snake's body. He crawled backwards until he hit the wall, glaring at the men. He screamed something, clutching the wound on his arm. Harrier replied in French, and kicked the man in the stomach.
"The snake toxin…is going to kill him in an hour…says Bronte. I have the antidote, but only if he answers our questions." Snake explained.
"Tch. You're scary…" Harrier commented, but translated to the man.
The man looked at them with round, scared eyes, yelling and sobbing. Snake pulled out the small vial of green antidote, just to prove his word. The man seemed to believe him now, falling back on the wall. Harrier pulled out the silver Rouge-Gorge symbol from his breast pocket and showed it to the man, asking him something in French. The man answered, sobbing and hardly able to string his words together. Snake watched the two; it looked like the man was confessing a lot. Suddenly, Harrier threw the silver object at him, and caused a dent in the wall beside his ear. He kicked the man in the stomach, stopped beside him, and tugged on the collar of his shirt.
The man was repeating something. When Harrier pressed him for more, the man repeated, only louder. It sounded like he was saying… 'Merianna'. Or perhaps that he was just talking about the ship they had arrived on.
"Emily asked…What is he saying?" asked Snake.
Harrier looked back at him and replied:
"He is part of the Rouge-Gorges. But he says he ain't affiliated with 'em!"
He picked up the silver artifact and shoved it into Roitelet's face, interrogating him further. He shook his head madly, denying anything to do with it. Harrier wrapped his fist around the circlet part so that it acted as a knuckler. He punched the man in the face, repeating something.
Snake wasn't sure what he should do. Harrier must have been trained in the technique of interrogation. The man was terrified out of his mind, and they seemed to be getting a lot of information out of him…but how much was too much? Snake put a hand on his companion's shoulder, a sign to have mercy on the poor man before they murdered him.
Harrier got up and sighed, dropping the silver emblem. It clinked when it hit the floor, and the rest of the air was filled with the sounds of heavy breathing and sobbing. Roitelet now sported a bruised cheek, swelling and reddening. His nose seemed crooked and was bleeding heavily. They had their information. Or so Snake hoped. As a sign that they were done, Snake tossed the vial of antidote at the torn soul. There wasn't any reason to though; the snakes were non-venomous, despite their painful bite. The antidote was nothing more than green juice.
Harrier started to walk away, feeling and cradling his fist. Snake followed behind him. He heard Roitelet trying to stand on his own feet, falling, and getting back up again. He said something, something that sounded threatening. Then he laughed wickedly. Snake didn't have time to react before Harrier drew out a silver gun from his coat and shot the man right in the head. He screamed and then became quiet. Harrier was breathing heavily, and returned the gun to the inside of his coat. There is no snake in the world that is as scary and venomous as a man in rage.
When Ciel opened his eyes, he was (somewhat) glad to see Sebastian there, carrying him while he was on top of the nearby house. They watched the tavern go up in flames.
"Apologies for the tardiness, Young Master. There seems to have been a messenger from the gang that was hiding near the back of the building. He was told to bribe the owners to put some poison in your food. If you did eat it, I will have to find a way to pump your stomach ou-"
"There's no need for that." Ciel snapped. "So they knew we came. We had better go meet up with the others. Perhaps they fared better."
Two bodies emerged from the flames, crawling out with their arms. They reached out to call for help, but Ciel stayed silent, watching the two sinners burn.
Ciel and Sebastian arrived at the docks, back in their usual formal attire. Snake, who stayed closer to the shore, immediately stood up to greet them.
"How did your first mission go, Snake?" asked Ciel.
Snake hesitated for a bit "Roitelet was in his house…says Wordsworth."
"Harrier." Ciel called.
Eventually Harrier came over, taking his sweet time.
"We were unable to find much from the tavern…they must have expected us, and set up a trap." Sebastian reported. "What have you two found?"
Harrier reported briefly, "Roitelet says he found the emblem by chance on one of his drunken misadventures. Says he picked it up and wanted to sell it for a profit. But in the end he admitted to bein' a part of it."
"The rest of it…it's like he was possessed…started spouting out madness and trash… I felt so sorry for the man, so I ended his misery."
That certainly wasn't how Snake would describe the situation, but he held his tongue. No one would really believe him.
Ciel sighed. "I expect a full written report to be sent to the post office near my estate in England by the time I return."
And that was how it went. Harrier was dismissed and he slunk back into the city while Ciel, Sebastian and Snake went about a different way.
"Harrier is not the most reliable of people. As you may have noticed." Ciel said with a glance at him. "That's how it is in the underground…people will do as they please without turning a single thought to your plans... unless it provides mutual benefits."
He took out a pocketwatch and studied it a bit more before returning it into his coat. "You two will investigate the house a bit more…I want to return to the inn now and rest. I have some things that need to be done as well."
"It does seem very late for Young Master to be awake. Shall I prepare a bath when we arrive back at the inn?"
Ciel shook his head, eyes shutting more and more with each blink and his movements were getting sloppier. Snake realized how young Ciel was still, and that he couldn't handle as much activity during the day as he or Sebastian could have. They found a carriage just returning from a trip and they all piled in. With a tap on the roof with Ciel's cane, they set off. There was a calm silence in the air, as no one wanted to keep waking the young Earl. However, he was trying to dissuade sleep.
"Tell me how the mission went, Snake." He ordered drowsily.
"I didn't understand French…"
He may as well be honest now, since his partner wasn't that reliable a source.
"We entered in after we picked the lock…says Faust. We looked around for some clues, and suddenly there was a large heart source coming… We ambushed the man and subdued him…"
He figured that he should leave his involvement out until the crime scene. Ciel nodded and stifled a yawn, telling him to continue.
"Harrier was showing him the silver object, while interrogating him…says Bronte. He was about to kill the man before I stopped him. We turned to leave when the man said something…Harrier took out a gun and shot the man…says Faust."
"Did you ask Harrier for a translation?" Sebastian asked.
Snake meekly shook his head. Harrier seemed a bit more intimidating now that he had a gun and proved that he would shoot it…and Snake wasn't the outgoing type.
"What kind…what kind of…gun was it?" Ciel mumbled.
Snake went back into his memory, and asked the snakes if they remembered.
"Silver, white. It was pretty large…"
"Never…heard of it…not…supported…by our company…"
Ciel was definitely sleepy. Children shouldn't be talking about guns and the like! Sebastian shuffled and picked up the sleeping child. He carried him back up to the inn room, telling Snake to keep watch on the carriage. Snake waited in the carriage while the driver went to take a bathroom break. He talked to his snakes a bit before the driver came back and they stayed quiet. Sebastian finally came back out, after an hour, and instructed the driver to drop them off near the residential area of the city, back in the direction to Roitelet's house.
Snake was confused, was all that work for nothing if they were going back to the house anyways? Or did they perhaps miss out on a big clue? Like always, he held his tongue, although his snakes were eager to ask. They were dropped off just a while away from Roitelet's house, and Sebastian made sure to send the driver on his way before they set off.
Within a short amount of time, they arrived back at the house. It was slightly unnerving to return to return to a house where a murder had happened before your eyes, but Snake followed Sebastian in anyways. There was a heavy bitter stench in the air which made Snake (and his snakes) flinch, but it didn't seem to affect Sebastian as much. Sebastian lit the oil lamp nearby and stood over the body of Roitelet.
"I am going to go over his body a bit more. Snake, could you check the other rooms please?"
Snake nodded, taking a nearby candle and lighting it using Sebastian's oil lamp. Sebastian set to examine the body. The blood was still leaking through the large wound in his forehead. He could see where the parts of his skull caved in. Sebastian originally wanted to take the bullet back with him to have it investigated, but he didn't see a proper way to extract it without crushing the entire skull achieving this goal. His whole body was stiff with rigor mortis now, and the smell from his body fluids was horrible to say the least. Sebastian checked the pockets of the man, finding no more than a couple coins, a bottle cap and some cigarettes.
Snake went to scout of the hallway and closet. There was a suspicious door that had a large wooden bar across it. Snake lifted it up and set it leaning on the wall. The door opened and it led to the basement. It certainly was dark down there! The wooden steps creaked under his weight, and he kept his friends close to his body, just it case they crashed. The basement was lit only by Snake's candle. He spied a couple of sconces on the wall and lit them. His snakes found no one else in the room except him. He continued walking along the wall, lighting up a few more sconces. His foot suddenly stepped on something, cracking it. He looked below him to see a wooden figure.
Snake bend down and picked it up. It was a little wooden doll, although its arm was broken off by now. There were signs of wear and abandonment. Why would Roitelet have something like this in his house? He searched a bit more in the darkness. There were a few more items: more wooden dolls, a plush rabbit that was ripped and frayed, pieces of papers with what looked like charcoal drawings. All these seemed like children's items. His hand felt something cold and metal that suddenly clinked. Bringing his lamp closer, he found a metal collar with the chain attached to the wall. He gasped and stepped back.
Snake remembered his days when he, too, was chained to the wall. It was positioned so that it would fit around the neck, as he inferred. Looking at it was a trigger to his memories, but he managed to stuff the panic back. The collar as well, had the look of wear and abandonment. However, it was definitely not for use with a child. The collar was much too big and heavy. Any child could have slipped their head through, and it was positioned much too high. He spied a book on the ground. It was hardcover, and a coat of dust had settled on it like a winter's snowfall. Snake picked it up and brushed the dust, causing him to sneeze. Even with dim lights and an illiteracy for French, he figured out it was a bible. Was Roitelet such a god-fearing man that he barred a room for a single bible?
He opened it. So it wasn't just a bible after all. A section of the book was cut; the centre of it that created a cozy little nook. And inside was a stiletto like object. Snake approached a sconce, put him lamp down and used his free hand to take the object out. It was sharpened and perfect for stabbing, but the other end was jagged and uneven. The handle was simply cloth wrapped around the uneven end. It was more of a shank than a stiletto.
This whole section of basement was mysterious. It looked like Roitelet was not just some rotten old drunkard after all. However, considering the situation, Snake was unsure of whether he should report this to Sebastian or not. He put in the bible in the inside of his vest. His snakes immediately curled around it to help Snake hold it against his body. After putting out the sconces and stashing one of the charcoal pictures into his pocket as well, he escalated the stairs to re-join Sebastian.
Sebastian was waiting for him at the doors, telling him that it was time to leave. Snake nodded and followed him through the house, taking a quick glance at where Roitelet was. But the body was not there anymore. Snake wondered if Sebastian had opened his jaws and swallowed the man whole. Or just buried him.
The docks were bustling with life. Fishmongers who were hauling in their catches, sailors setting sail and preparing for exploring, passengers coming off and onto ships- Snake even spotted a crab scuttling its way onto a ferry! Snake, holding most of their suitcases and belongings, found it easier to conceal the bible that way. Sebastian and Ciel boarded the ship while Snake handled the porters. It was densely crowded with porters taking the belongings of the passengers and the passengers dropping them with (chucking them at) the porters. Snake patiently waited, even letting a few get in front of him. He was in no rush. He felt uncomfortable about his skin too. How would someone react when they brushed up against his scaly skin?
He dropped the baggage off after 2 hours of waiting and instinctively checked his waist for the bible. His hand touched something, and he pulled it out. It was a note that he didn't recognize.
"Return the book to me" was written.
Snake snapped his head around. Who could have put that there? There had been many people bumping against him in the crowd, and how could they have done it so skillfully? He was going to have to be on his toes for the rest of the ship ride.