Inside her office, the Carolina Westerna banged her head to the table.
“What is with that cringe Haiku?” Carolina yelled. “Who gives a shit about stupid poetry? Where are the numbers or even a location on the map? Is love getting to Xiahana’s brain for something like this to emerge?”
Carolina sobbed on her table and complained aloud, “I want those cookies, dammit!”
Far away from the capital, Betty arrived at a port village of Calm Squall.
The trip was a massive undertaking. Betty needed to use one of her emergency disguise. It wasn’t the first time she sneaked out of the capital. She secretly left Hecate all the times with an array of disguises to trick Carolina. To be fair, Betty knew Carolina caught her more than half the time, and Betty allowed it to happen by using the same trick for a purpose of catching her off balance with a secret method when it really mattered.
Wearing a desert traveling-merchant robe and shawl, Betty reminiscence about the clay huts and peaceful scenic beach stapled to the village. A long time ago, their father, Edmond La Louve, took the two girls here to celebrate Xia’s tenth birthday. They coincidentally ran into the best chef on the planet, The Admiral of the Five Oceans, Gordon Ramiro Seyfert, who cooked them a feast. Those happier days were a sacred memory to both sisters.
If there was one beach where the two sisters could set aside their grudge, it would be this place.
Betty was at the town’s entrance when a familiar black hairs youth in a waistcoat walked over to her. Betty should have known this man would appear. After all, she was the one who sent him to accompany Xia to the Forest of Separation.
“Hello, Betty,” Ciel greeted her. “Xia is waiting for you.”
Betty was aghast and pulled down the shawl wrapping around her face, “How do you know it is me?” Betty looked at her merchant costume. “This is one of my best disguise.”
Ciel believed telling her about the SSR potential sticking out like a sore thumb was a bad idea, “Let us say I know someone who is good at tracking people.”
Betty tried to cut to the chase, “Fine,” she shrugged, “just take me to Xia.”
Ciel led Betty to a pair of beach chairs shielded by a white beach umbrella. Like their last meeting, Xia wore her white summer dress, cape and sandals. Her pure platinum hair shone like a strand of light in the suns. Unlike last time, she was drinking a fruit punch, while relaxing on one of the beach chair.
“Hello, Betty,” Xia began. “It’s been two weeks.” Xia gestured to the chair beside her. “Come on, take a seat.”
Betty complied, “Is the cookie a trick?”
“Of course not,” Xia presented the bag. “Mary Gold Strawberry and Honey, Amy’s newest recipe. Congratulation, sis, you are the first one here.”
Betty took the bag, “I doubt you are only here to talk about sweet. You mention someone is pulling me by the nose. Who are you talking about?” Betty saw the grimace on her sister’s face. “Who are you so afraid of?”
“Betty, I can’t risk it because she might be listening,” Xia replied, eyeing Betty’s clothing like it could sprout fangs.
“We are safe here!” Betty yelled. “This is my top secret disguise. No one can track me.”
“Betty, your over-confidence proves we aren’t safe at all,” Xia said. “Listen. I need to go in deep undercover, and I need your favor,” she pointed at Ciel, “please introduces him to uncle Holmes. My hubby needs him to learn from an artificer.”
Betty took a minute to register the request, “You must be kidding me. No way. We haven’t been in talking term since…”
Xia finished, “Since father died, and you sold his name to the psyche ward,” she drilled into the point, “but you must, because I could only pull the cookie once or twice. Our accountant, Ciel, is the only way you can communicate with me without that bitch knowing, and the only one we can trust to keep him safe is uncle.”
Betty glared at her sister before finally relenting, “Fine, but I can’t put any guarantee.”
“Thank you, sis,” Xia smiled.
Betty knew Xia had an agenda. However, she needed to identify of Xia’s mysterious boyfriend, the identity of the woman feared, and most of all, what truly happened in the mysterious ten days which transformed her sister from half-dead-mayor to whatever this is. To fulfill that mission, she required Ciel’s connection.
Unbeknownst to Betty, that was exactly what Xia wanted her to think.
Betty and Ciel sat across from each other in a small but comfortable coach. Xia insisted on avoiding everything from the capital and thus hired a private carriage despite Betty’s adamant protest.
Ciel knew an interrogation was coming, but his wife already coached him how to beat it.
“The best way to get on Betty’s side is to convince her assumption is correct,” Xia had said. “But don’t tell her what she wanted to hear. She knew about that pitfall. You must make it challenging, present a clue, give her an opinion to make assumption, disagree a little to make it exciting, and agree once she proves her hypothesis. Betty is skilled and incredibly charming, but she is also a high-functioning narcissist. She wants to be right, but she won’t be satisfied unless you entertained her intellect.”
Betty began the onslaught, “Ciel, who is Xia’s husband?”
“I don’t know him well to be honest,” Ciel admitted that he barely understood himself. “I know he has black hair and is a bit of an awkward person. He has this sarcastic streak. I think he is in over his head and try to fight through the best he can.” Ciel voiced his secret fear. “I am pretty afraid of what he might be capable of.”
Ciel was describing how he felt about himself, but Betty dug further than she needed to. She formed the hypothetical image, free from bias, in her mind. It was an image of a man in a secret war. He was unprepared, but still struggling to achieve the best result — the image of a revolutionary who was brave because he must be brave.
The misdirection was successful.
“He saves you two in that forest,” Betty surmised. “And Xia fell for him then.”
“I am sorry,” Ciel was sorry that Xia was selling Betty to him at a discount. “I try the best I can, but the enemy was too much to handle.”
“How did he seduce my sister?” Betty asked.
“I don’t know,” Ciel honestly didn’t know how did he bag Xia. “I really don’t know how that happened!” Ciel tried to keep calm. “I can barely save myself. I guess Xia was looking for someone to cling to. She made her choice and went all in.”
“This is my fault,” Betty groaned. “I should have sent you more help, or actually fight against that order.”
“I am sorry for nearly letting her died,” Ciel was so sorry for the mess Slomrath created.
“Don’t be, we all make mistakes,” Betty instead focused on another question. “What is Xia planning?”
Ciel answered with honesty, “She forbid me to say the plan.” Ciel hesitated. “To be honest, I think it will be better for everyone if you don’t know.”
“This is serious, Ciel,” Betty pushed. “Tell me.”
Ciel couldn’t tell her the plan was to hook her up with him, “If I tell you, Xia will pull me out. Trust me, her husband has this ability that makes information alert her right away.”
Inside the Residence, the cheer team convened.
Xia: Great job, Ciel! Give her a bait and hook her in.
Amy: Xia, I think this is wrong in multiple level.
Caislean: Stop it, Amy! I am taking note. My abduction romance novel is going darn well because of this!
Betty pressed toward the crux of the problem, “Why are you going to meet Holmes?”
“Xia said my crafting skill had hit it limit,” Ciel spoke the truth. “She said she knew someone who can properly teach me.”
“You can craft?” Betty asked. “Who teach you? Wait, it’s Xia’s boyfriend, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Ciel taught himself. “I improved a lot under his guidance,” Ciel cringed at secret self-aggrandizing, “but I think he ran out of thing to teach me.”
Betty took in Ciel’s reaction and sighed, “He’s quite a bad teacher, isn’t he?”
“I won’t call him bad,” Ciel felt the need to defend himself. “I think he has a limit.”
“So he isn’t an expert at crafting,” Betty nodded. She knew Ciel didn’t mutter a single lie in the conversation. “Quite obvious, given he isn’t an expert himself.”
Ciel wanted to correct her, but opted to bite his tongue.
Betty hesitated for a while and launched another question, “Who is Xia so afraid of?”
“It Etaceh, the founder of Magic Tower,” Ciel dropped some clue. “Betty,” he twisted the truth, “I am afraid of her. She is nigh-invincible, and the entire Hecate might be more than it seemed. Any attempt to unseat her guarantee disaster, and she will probably move soon”
“Did Xia’s husband tell you that?” Betty raised her eyebrows.
“Yes,” Ciel answered.
“He’s partially right,” Betty admitted. “She is incredibly dangerous, but far from invincible. The throne is restricting her involvement in the military by only permitting her investment in civil projects.” Betty shrugged. “To be honest, I am disappointed Etaceh is this mysterious big bad. Given how much Xia hyped her up, I expected more.”
“She could have pulled something under your nose, Betty,” Ciel warned.
“She could,” Betty agreed. “But that kind of apocalyptic kill-shot requires subverting the entire Curtis’ government, even Etaceh couldn’t afford to turn the nobility into an enemy. The Magic Tower doesn’t have its own private military to stop that. Even a parasite needs its host to survive.”
Ciel grimaced. Betty was wrong. A Lord wasn’t a parasite. They were powerhouses with a penchant for hostile takeover.
It was then Betty asked what worried her the most, “Is this boyfriend treating Xia well?”
“She’s one of the most important things in his really crappy life,” Ciel answered with blinking. “He doesn’t know whether he can make her happy, but he loved her from the bottom of his heart.”
Caislean: Big sis, you are blushing so hard.
“I see,” Betty nodded like a huge weight was lifted from her hard. A worry she had was laid to rest.
The two found themselves in front of a small house on the hill. It was a two-floor homemade house of gray bricks, fitted with several devices. Ciel needed to admit the brown and gray color scheme of the house said positive about the owner's taste.
Betty walked up to the wooden door and hesitated to knock. Before the blonde bombshell of a woman could decide, the door swung open to reveal a man.
“Hi yo, uncle Holmes,” Betty nervously greeted.
Aside from the stubble, uncle Holmes looked relatively young. However, the streak of gray hair spoke of his true age and his eyes were Ciel’s shade of gray. The top button of his white button-up shirt wasn’t done, giving him the bad-boy, unscrupulous look.
Ciel must admit the man’s fashion sense was downright in his alley.
“Uncle?” Holmes frowned. “Am I still your uncle, Elizabeth? I recall you disavowed my sworn brother.”
“Teacher, father went nut,” Betty said. “You know I must preserve the nation.”
“Nation rise and fall, Elizabeth,” Holmes was stern. “And you believe I give a quarter of a fuck to Curtis? Really? Even if I did, my definition of Curtis includes Edmond — your father.” Holmes sneered. “And you have a nerve to call me teacher after selling yourself to Etaceh? That shameless needs for accolade never improves, isn’t it?”
Ciel couldn’t believe how quickly Betty deflated.
“Why are you here anyway?” Holmes asked and caught a sight of Ciel. “I corrected myself. That entitlement of yours doesn’t just peter out, Elizabeth. It peaks.” He mercilessly steamed Betty with words. “You are sticking me with a pupil. You should know…”
Holmes snugged at a thought and hushed Betty’s attempt to explain herself.
“You aren’t stupid enough to come in vain. Someone forced you to come here,” Holmes worked it out. “It can’t be Etaceh, because she believes she is a much better artificer than me. It is Xiahana, isn’t it?”
Betty felt hollow. What was the point of her coming here?
“Xia asked you to train him as an artificer,” Betty began. “I know we are in a bad ter—”
“I accept,” Holmes accepted in the middle of Betty’s appeal, knocking one of the most power woman in Curtis into the orbit and turning to Ciel. “Congratulation kid, you get the former grand artificer of Curtis to teach you. You can stay at my house for a night.”
“You trust Xia, but refuse to trust me,” Betty made a face of a kick puppy.
“Yes,” Holmes kicked the poodle again. “I am actually interest why Xia puts Elizabeth into an emotional gauntlet, instead of introducing you herself. It is probably a part of her plan.”
Unlike Holmes, Betty still didn’t realize her precarious situation, “What plan?”
“It is funnier if you don’t know,” Holmes kicked Betty the puppy one last time and pointed at Ciel. “Don’t tell me…”
“The name’s Ciel,” the Unity Lord greeted his legendary mentor.
“Don’t tell me the scheme, Ciel.” Holmes rephrased. “I will work it out myself in a few days.”