Chapter 05 - The Warning
He lost her. How exactly did that happen?
They had entered the dining room together, joining the Callisford family and their acquaintances for dinner, but she had excused herself at the soup and never returned for the main course. He started to grow sincerely agitated when dessert arrived. The variety of speculations on her whereabouts in his thoughts alone were enough for him to lose his appetite and he excused himself off as well, deciding to look for her.
He searched every area they had been together; the kitchen to inspect the bottles of wine, the ballroom to investigate the chandeliers… He even went back to his own guest room to see if she had returned there. When there was not a single sign for the detective girl, he did not hesitate to expand his search area into more abandoned places. He could not tell why she would disappear on her own like that, by herself, on an evening where a murder was promised upon. She was being far too reckless.
He restlessly wandered through the hallways, opening every door he could open. Every single door on the first floor was locked and he found several locked doors in his search on the other floors as well. She did hold a set of keys, but she wouldn't have locked herself in, right?
He already knew it, but walking around the building did give one more perspective of its size… it was absolutely immense. He needed to keep his full attention to the direction he was following, or he would find himself lost.
Finally, on the side wing on the fourth floor, he stepped into a darker hallway. Curtains were still closed, keeping natural light from entering through the windows. There was only silence around him and he could frown at the thick atmosphere this abandoned hallway radiated… but this was one of the last places he could still check.
Not one of the doors was locked and he found out that most of the rooms were used for storage. It explained why this area of the castle seemed to receive less visitors.
When his hand turned the last doorknob, the smallest sound made him pause. A soft step onto a thick carpet that did not belong to him. Right behind him.
"Milady," he exhaled. It took him a second to realize that he should be releasing her. The wrist he had grabbed tightly, belonged to Lucia Callisford-Vincostre.
Her sky blue eyes held both suspicion and surprise, taking her hand back and clutching it. "You are quite jumpy," her low voice almost seemed to accuse.
"Well, for a moment I was afraid that I would be tonight's victim," Len stated in response. "…You did sneak up on me."
He hadn't noticed this at the dining table, but the lady with the color of cherry-blossom painted in her hair, was almost a full head taller than him. She easily towered over him, looking down at him. Her eyes were as cold as the detective girl's and her eyes held the same judgment. "You left halfway through dinner," she voiced. "And now you are searching through every room like that. You are quite suspicious, boy."
She was obviously a few years older than him, but he still felt insulted by the degrading word. "I'm searching for my employee," he stated. "And so far I haven't f–"
"That weird girl?" she interrupted him. She apparently didn't feel the need to keep her opinion to herself. "Well, you won't find her here, or anywhere else in the castle."
Maybe it was simply his dislike for this lady that made him question her choice of words. "…What do you mean?" he asked.
"That you can turn this place upside down, but… you will never find her," she smiled.
He felt his heart leap in his chest and suddenly he was aware of how suspicious this lady's appearance in the hallway was. While he had come here to search for the detective girl, he could just about place a bet that she didn't come here to find someone. "What did you do to her?" he snarled.
The lady seemed surprised by his defensive stance and chuckled softly. When she moved his arm, he thought that she was going to hit him. But instead, she pat his head gently. "Aren't you cute?" she said. "Like a puppy, you are, trying to protect the hand that feeds you..."
He bit the inside of his cheek and narrowed his eyes. "I'll give you five seconds to state her exact location."
"When you look at me like that, you make it feel like I am the one responsible for her disappearance," Lucia sighed. "I am not. Stop being stiff like that, she is perfectly fine. I passed her on her way outside. I believe that she is in the garden."
He let out a long breath. "…You could have just told me."
"I did not think you would be that loyal," Lucia responded, her sharp blue eyes watching him. "You seem like a good kid. I want you to watch your back."
"Why?" he voiced. "Are you threatening me?"
Her gaze was harsh. "No," she replied. "I am wary of your owner…"
Wary of the one person that was hired to solve the mystery? Well, he had to admit that Rin was certainly something different. With her random laughter, her lack of compassion, her sharp attitude and her judging eyes, she did not seem to be too concerned with the image she presented. That people would start to get cautious of her, seemed something unavoidable. But… actually finding her suspicious?
The sky-blue eyes of the lady then seemed to soften and she almost seemed to pity him. "I would like you to stay alive at the very least…" she mumbled.
He felt his pulse quicken that instant. Lucia's piercing blue eyes stared into his, her gaze lingering for a moment. They held knowledge, information… He parted his lips, but no words left his throat. He had so many questions, yet none at all.
After all… didn't he already know who she was talking about?
He flinched when her hand touched the top of his head once more, before turning away, leaving him alone with his thoughts. He did not call after her. She had given him a warning just now, to stay on his guard about the detective girl.
It confirmed the suspicion he had uttered towards Rin in the carriage this morning.
That the young woman… the previous assistant of the detective girl…. did not just simply disappear.
The grounds around the castle rivaled the building in size, but the detective girl had been surprisingly easy to find. Surrounded by the green bushes and red roses, her blonde hair stuck out like a lost dandelion.
Somehow, it made sense for her to have hidden herself in the rose garden area. It was the first place he visited. It just seemed to suit her more than the apple trees or the grape ranks. He could not entirely explain why, but it was a feeling he just had.
He stepped beside her, but she didn't seem surprised by his presence. In fact, at first glance he wasn't sure if she'd noticed him at all. She did not look up or acknowledge him in any way. The darkening sky casted a shadow on the garden, making his presence less obvious. The sun had already set and it started to get colder. Night was about to fall.
Surprisingly delicate, the blonde girl held one of the perfectly bloomed roses, stroking its petals softly. He noticed that she didn't wear her detective hat or cape. It didn't take him long to notice that the two lied abandoned on the grass. With a cold wind blowing, he couldn't imagine why she'd taken them off in the first place, but he wouldn't complain about it. Right now, she looked very peaceful.
"…Dinner already finished?" she spoke softly, her eyes still set on the red rose.
He took a step closer to her, lightly touching her shoulder, before asking: "Why did you leave me behind… I was worried about you."
She closed her eyes for a moment, both of her hands folding around the rose, as if she was embracing it. "…The masquerade will start in an hour…" the girl whispered in the open air.
In that dress, in the semi-darkness of the evening, he felt a feeling stir in his chest.
He had not forgotten the warning and it had occupied his thoughts on his way here. But right now, her presence seemed to relax him. He couldn't help but feel at ease when she looked so vulnerable in the night sky. With little time left to the masquerade he wondered… did she come here to calm her nerves?
"Do you like roses?" he asked softly.
She finally met his gaze. A graceful smile appeared on her face, soft, warm and full of light."I love them," she whispered, leaning in to nuzzle her cheek against one. "They smell nice, they look beautiful… and only sting when you try harm them."
He felt himself exhale softly. In this garden, he lost himself in her eyes. He had the feeling he finally… understood her. Even though she got on his nerves a lot, there were short moments like this, where she felt… more than just the 'red-eyed detective'. She felt like a young lady, burdened by a heavy and dangerous job. It was as if she was showing him her true nature, one that was normally hidden away between thick layers of self-protection.
In this peaceful garden, with that beautiful smile on her face, the words and warnings of Lady Lucia were easily forgotten.
In an impulse, the young man wrapped his arms around the detective girl. She froze in his hold. The side of her cheek was pressed against his chest and with each passing second, she could hear his heartbeat. She didn't look up, nor did she move away. Parting her lips, it took a few moments for her to find her voice. "…Why are you doing this?" came the low whisper.
"For you…" His tone was soft and warm and he realized that he was trying to calm the young woman down. She was stiff in his arms and without doubt, uncomfortable. He closed his eyes for a moment and wished that he had the ability to make her adapt to this. The words almost left his mouth before he could stop himself. "You are…"
Realizing his mistake, the sentence died away in the wind. There was a long moment of silence in which he wished she wouldn't ask upon it. But, she was the detective girl, wasn't she?
"Am… what?" she asked him. There was sincere curiosity in her voice.
It took him a while to find the right words for his next sentence. "Nervous," he finally responded, his grip slacking, aware that he had to let her go now. "For the masquerade," he quickly added.
Now that his embrace had loosened, she took the initiative to take a step back. She tilted her head and locked her eyes with him. Her eyes were large and he saw the confusion in them disappear into understanding. "Ah… I see…" she muttered. "You were the nervous one, weren't you?" she exclaimed."You could have told me that you wanted to settle your own nerves."
He averted his gaze and smiled at the roses. Silently, he plucked a single petal off a rose. He admired the dark red color, a color symbolizing both love and war. He blew against the petal and it danced in the air. He could see her eyes following the petal, as it disappeared between the bushes.
"You know…" he started, his fingertips brushing against the same rose she had taken interest in before. "You were the one being careless this time."
"Careless?" she repeated, gazing at him with interest. That beautiful smile she wore sharpened and everything innocent about her presence faded into an expression he was more familiar with. "How was I careless?" she questioned.
He now regretted bringing the subject up in the first place. He did not think that he would need to elaborate on it. But here she was, already staring at him as if he had issued her a challenge and she wouldn't allow him to back out of this now. "…I mean, at your detective agency," he started, recalling how she had been waiting for him behind the door. "You told me that I would have died if you had carried a weapon on you. That I let down my guard too much."
"Oh," she mentioned, folding her arms to let her digit rest thoughtfully on her chin. "Is that how you feel? That I am being too careless around you?" she mused.
He could not help but frown at her amused expression. "You know I don't… I just want you to realize that the things you do are often unnecessarily reckless. Like climbing that ladder, or yes, even talking to me in an abandoned garden. What if I did carry a weapon with me and wanted to harm you?" he asked.
She suddenly grinned and her eyes sparkled. "The likeliness was small."
He fell silent, his parted lips closing.
"Do not underestimate me. I calculate everything beforehand," she stated, patting him on the shoulder, before stepping away from him and reaching for her belongings.
He turned around in surprise and a small laugh escaped his lips. "I guess you're right," he had to admit.
With one swift movement, she threw the cape around herself and secured it. She then reached for her hat and placed it upon her short blonde hair.
"I believe it's time for the last preparations, or we will be late," she said, turning around to face him. "The masquerade will start in an hour." The sweetness had left her voice. He knew that she was once again the detective and he was her assistant. They knew the roles they played well and the distance that belonged to them. He wouldn't not openly complain about it. Right now, they had a job that needed to be accomplished. The time they had before the masquerade was quickly ticking away.