Kuroshitsuji Fan Fiction ❯ Black Butler Requiem: Downfall ❯ Trouble ( Chapter 4 )
I want you to trouble me
I wanted you to linger
I want you to agree with me
I want so much, so bad
The late summer morning was warm, but a slight breeze was rustling the leaves of the ash and oak trees surrounding the rose garden. Among the opulent white blossoms, a tall figure worked in his shirtsleeves, selecting the choicest flowers and snipping the stems at an angle before placing them carefully in a crystal vase waiting on the stone bench beneath the arbor.
A soft, admiring sigh made Sebastian freeze in mid-motion. His eyes shifted towards the low stone wall, narrowing to crimson slits. "Well, now," he said with perfect cordiality, "to what do I owe this...pleasure?"
The figure on the wall reclined languorously, dangling one long leg over the edge. Long, long hair the colour of fresh blood swayed softly in the freshening breeze, framing a pale high-cheeked face. Rose-painted lips parted, revealing a mouth full of sharpened teeth. Green-gold eyes behind narrow spectacles raked over Sebastian's lean form, taking in every nuance and angle with evident appraisal. "Hullo, Bassie, darling," Grell Sutcliffe crooned, his tone striving to be seductive and only managing to sound cloying.
Sebastian placed a fresh-cut rose in the vase and straightened, holding the shears loosely in one gloved hand. "And what exactly are you doing here? Don't you have souls to reap?"
Grell flipped his hair carelessly. "We've been so busy in London of late I've accrued too much overtime. Will gave me the afternoon off, so I came to see you." He leapt down from the wall, landing as lightly as a cat, and sauntered over to Sebastian, stopping at a barely respectable distance--too close for one demon butler's liking.
"Lucky me," Sebastian intoned, one eyebrow arching.
If Grell noticed the undertone of sarcasm, he chose to ignore it. "So how are you doing with that insufferable brat you call your master?"
Quicker than even a Reaper's eye could follow, Sebastian raised one long arm and flung the shears point-first. The glittering blades glanced off Grell's cheek, leaving a bright line of blood.
The Reaper screamed, a high thin girlish sound. "Bassie, please! Not my face!" He clapped a black glove to the wound, glaring in outrage.
Sebastian lowered his arm slowly, fixing Grell with a smouldering glare. "I must ask that you not speak so of my young master." His eyes briefly flared with an inner fire, and the pupils narrowed to slits. "It makes me...cross." He stepped back, his eyes returning to their usual deep crimson, the pupils widening once more to a semblance of humanity.
"Oh, Bassie, you wound me," Grell pouted. "In more ways than one." He took out a pink-laced handkerchief and dabbed sullenly at the scratch on his cheek.
Sebastian smiled pleasantly and cocked his head. "Now then...why don't you tell me why you're really here?"
Grell rolled his luminous eyes. "Well...I did try." He heaved a sigh. "William won't like me telling you this...but that br--young master of yours was supposed to die months ago." He took out a small memo book and flipped to a particular page. "Ciel Phantomhive, born 16 December 1875, died 6 May 1889, age thirteen years. Cause of death: drowning, secondary to major blood loss." He looked up from the page. "Only you wouldn't let him go, would you, Bassie? You used your claim on his soul to keep it inside his body."
Sebastian looked back at Grell, his face now an expressionless mask. He made no effort to deny Grell's declaration; neither did he in any way confirm it.
When it was evident that Sebastian would not respond, Grell shrugged and went on. "So, Will sent me here to gather information." He winked salaciously. "What we really want to know is...why didn't you just eat him? Could it be that you've gotten attached to the little bugger?"
This time Grell saw the eyes turn demonic before Sebastian moved. He brought his hands up to protect his precious face from any further missiles, and so he didn't see Sebastian's approach until he felt a hand close around his throat and lift him a full foot off the ground. His breath cut off, he gurgled helplessly, grasping at an arm that felt like a solid steel bar in a vain effort to free himself.
"If you wish to continue discussion on this subject, Grell, I will be happy to do so off the manor grounds." Sebastian's voice had altered. It wasn't deeper, exactly, but it was more intense, more resonant, with no trace of warmth or humanity. It was, quite simply, the voice of a demon. One that wasn't particularly pleased. "However, you would not like the answer to your inquiry. It would be rather final." Sebastian brought Grell's face closer to his own, a proximity the Reaper might have enjoyed if he hadn't been having the immortal life choked out of him. "The business of demons is of no concern to the Reapers. You would do well to remember that."
Grell gasped in a deep breath as the grip on his throat relaxed, then had it rudely expelled from his lungs as Sebastian's foot kicked him squarely in the stomach. (But, oh, it hurt so good...) He was propelled across the garden path and slammed against a trellis hard enough to knock it askew. Usually Grell liked a bit of rough play (after all, his idea of flirting involved chainsaws), but the abruptness of Sebastian's averse reaction was daunting even for him. For the first time since the Jack the Ripper incident, he wondered if Sebastian actually, seriously meant to kill him.
He struggled to his feet, striving to collect himself. "I'm definitely sensing some frustration here," he said, adjusting his glasses. "Tell me this much at least, Bassie...does the boy know this is the second time you've kept him from his scheduled deathdate?"
Again, no answer, but Sebastian's eyes were normal (or at least human-looking) again, and Grell took that as a hopeful sign. He dared to approach a bit closer, but well out of arm's reach, just in case Sebastian went for his throat again. "Ciel Phantomhive was scheduled to die three and a half years ago," he said, bending to retrieve his dropped memo book. "His heart cut out, or his throat slit, or something equally unpleasant." He riffled through the pages, failed to find the entry he sought, and impatiently put the book away. "But you showed up and formed a demon's contract with the intended sacrifice. Which means the boy has cheated death twice."
Sebastian just stared at him, not even blinking. The silence was positively unnerving, and when Grell got nervous, he had a tendency to babble. Before he knew it, he heard himself say: "Well, still, they do say the third time's the charm."
That made Sebastian blink. "Third time...?"
Grell clapped a hand over his mouth. "Oh, bugger." He turned on one high heel and leapt for the top of the wall. "Sorry, Bassie, but I really must be going now. Toodles!"
"Grell!" Sebastian took a step after him, but hesitated to give chase. Barring direct orders from his master, the demon would of course be reluctant to engage in an active confrontation with a Grim Reaper.
Grell counted on this to make good his escape. It made him confident enough to throw a few parting words over his shoulder. "I will leave you with some advice, dear Bassie, from one immortal to another. Entanglements with humans tend to get overly complicated." He blew a kiss before turning away. "Take it from someone who's been there. Really, you'll feel ever so much better after you've killed him."
He didn't look back again, which was a pity for his sake, because he would have relished the look of stunned amazement on Sebastian's face.
The great desk in the study was covered with a perfect snowbank of letters and notices. One of the more pressing concerns at the moment was the consequences of the ongoing dockers' strike. Although the Fun-Tom Company's shipping lines were not directly involved, the picket lines were interfering with the normal flow of imports, and supplies for the confections factory were beginning to run low. Ciel ran a hand through his already-tousled hair and heaved a sigh of mild frustration. Damn. It's times like this I really miss Tanaka. He was always better at dealing with the common labourers. If anyone could go down to the portside docks and manage to negotiate a compromise, it would have been his late (and at the moment, much lamented) house steward, who had also always been the public face of Fun-Tom.
Ciel rearranged the papers on his desk without really looking at them. He had entirely too much work to do--not only the current matters, but also catching himself up with the events occurring while he'd been out of pocket, so to speak--but he was having trouble concentrating, and the news about the dock strike was the least of it.
He pulled out two sheets of paper, one of heavy vellum, one of cotton rag. The vellum was of the finest quality, written in a careful copperplate, and bearing the seal of the royal house. To the Right Honourable Ciel, Earl Phantomhive:
News of your remarkable recovery has reached the Queen and this report is received with great pleasure. The Queen has heard disturbing reports of unsavoury activities in and around London since the tragic fire which claimed so many lives and caused so much destruction and difficulty. Stories of strange practices and bizarre rituals are spreading throughout the city, connected with the spiritualism communities which have arisen over the past several years. In your capacity as the Queen's guard dog, you will investigate these rumours and return a detailed report as soon as possible.
Ciel read the letter again, a small wry smirk gracing his mouth. He was perfectly aware that the woman on the throne was no more Queen Victoria than he was Prince Albert, but she certainly mimicked the deceased Queen's handwriting, and even her writing style, well enough. What was even more amusing was the fact that he had been apparently reinstated in his position as the Queen's "guard dog", even though the true Victoria, before her untimely death, had seemed bent on eradicating the Phantomhives altogether. You were wrong, Abberline. It seems the Queen's guard dog is not yet obsolete.
He laid the "Queen's" letter carefully aside. That business would keep for a day or two. He lifted the other letter and studied its contents. The smile faded from his face, and a small frown-line appeared between his arched brows. Dear Lord Phantomhive,
I hope you will forgive my impertinence in writing to you directly. I assure you, I would not take such a liberty were it not a matter of extreme urgency. Your Lordship, I fear greatly for my Lady's safety and well-being. I cannot explain the situation in a hastily-written letter. I must speak to you face to face, sir, and at the earliest possible opportunity. I suggest that we meet privately at a neutral location. The Isleham Priory is situated in the woods between the Midford estate and your own holdings. If it is not too much of an indiscretion, I would request that you meet me there tomorrow afternoon at one o'clock. I will take no offence if you are not there, but rest assured that my dear Lady's welfare is of my primary concern, as well as yours. I shall be waiting at the priory. If you do not appear, no more shall be said of the matter. Thank you for your consideration. I remain, most sincerely,
The letter bore the previous day's date, which meant that Madeleine would be waiting for him that very afternoon. Ciel briefly considered sending Sebastian in his place, since his butler had--it must be owned--a singular way of dealing with women and their secrets. Still, he was all too aware of the fact that Sebastian wouldn't give a tuppenny damn about Elizabeth's safety. In any case, Madeleine had demonstrated obvious distaste for Sebastian, and she might not be inclined to put her trust in him no matter how charming or persuasive he managed to be.
Ciel folded the letter and tucked it into his coat pocket. It was just gone noon now, so if he meant to keep the appointment, he'd have to set off. Sebastian would want to accompany him, of course, but Ciel meant to send him off on the Queen's business, gathering information about these strange cults. He didn't mean to waste much time with Lizzie's maid in any case. He'd find out what concerned her so, and then return home well in time for tea.
Isleham Priory stood half an hour's brisk walk from the gates of the Phantomhive estate. Well off the beaten path in every sense of the word, the stone walls of the structure stood deep in the thickest part of the forest, half-hidden by a stand of spreading oak and ash trees. The size of the priory was a bit startling; Ciel found it hard to believe that the Church of England would build such a grand place in the middle of a seldom-traveled wood. Still, that was no concern to him. He straightened his shoulders and walked in straight through the heavy iron-bound doors.
Inside the main sanctuary was all but bare. No pews, no altar, no pulpit, only a few standing brass candleholders which cast a soft glow over the carved stone walls. Again Ciel was struck by the surprising grandeur and elaborate craftsmanship, but he dismissed the matter as unimportant. "Madeleine? Madeleine Demandols, are you here?"
The tall, slim figure of the woman appeared at once, stepping from the shadows into a pool of candlelight. "Oh, bless you, sir! I so feared you wouldn't come."
Ciel said nothing as Madeleine approached. She stopped a respectful distance away, clutching her beribboned parasol before her with both hands.
"Your Lordship seems to be in excellent health--"
"Spare me your pretty words," Ciel cut her off curtly. "You said Elizabeth was in danger. Explain yourself."
Madeleine's face became grave. "Indeed my Lady is in danger, sir," she said. "From you."
Ciel blinked. "What?"
The maid squared her shoulders. "Allow me to speak frankly, sir. I am aware of the contract you have forged with a demon, and I also know that said demon is now posing as your butler and going under the name 'Sebastian'."
Ciel's mouth fell open. "But--how--?!"
This time it was Madeleine who interrupted Ciel. "I know more of the nature of such creatures than you can possibly imagine." She leaned forward, her pale blue eyes wide and earnest. "You have a chance of a happy future with the Lady Elizabeth. Sebastian will surely destroy her before allowing such a thing. To protect her--and yourself--you must renounce your pact with the demon. Here and now."
Ciel looked up at her for a long, measuring moment, during which he struggled to maintain his composure. Should he deny her inexplicable assessment of his current circumstances? Demand to know how she came by her information?
Finally he chose to turn away from her, as though completely disinterested in her revelations. "This discussion is over." He waved a dismissive hand. "Good day."
"Your Lordship, please!" Madeleine called after him. "You must hear me out--"
"I've heard all I wish to hear." He did not turn around or even pause as he headed for the doors. "I've no interest in the hysterical imaginings of a maidservant...particularly one who does not know her place."
A quick flurry of footsteps, and suddenly Madeleine stood in front of him, barring the doors, her arms held out to either side to prevent him going around her. Her face was stern and resolute as she looked down on him. "I beg you, sir, give me a chance to convince--you..." she trailed off as a revolver was thrust into her face. "...Oh."
Ciel glared at her down the barrel of his pistol. "There is only one thing I want to hear from you, woman. I want to know who's been spreading these fantastic lies about my butler."
Madeleine's eyes flicked to a point over Ciel's right shoulder, and the Earl thought she was trying to distract him until a hand plucked the gun from his grasp. Another hand grabbed his shoulder, and he found himself unable to pull free.
"That will be quite enough, little lord," the owner of the hands said as he pocketed the pistol and wrapped both arms around Ciel's upper body, pinning his flailing arms to his sides. To his sudden outrage, Ciel found himself lifted clear off the floor, his feet kicking uselessly in the air.
"Bloody hell--! Unhand me at once! At once, do you hear?!"
His assailant chuckled, not unkindly, and Ciel turned his head enough to see the rough profile of the vicar who'd been introduced at tea some weeks ago. His identity was confirmed when Madeleine spoke reprovingly to him. "Clement, you were supposed to stay hidden."
"You were in danger, dear lady."
"Nonsense," she snapped, as though having a gun pointed in her face was of no consequence. "Remember our agreement. Under no circumstances is the Earl to be harmed."
Another chuckle from the vicar. "Calm yourself, Madeleine. The Earl isn't being harmed a bit. Are you, little lord?"
"LET ME GO!!" Ciel shouted, putting all the force and power of his station and will into the directive. "I shall have you both horse-whipped!" He continued to struggle and kick, which availed him nothing at all.
"Now, now, little lord, we're only concerned with the saving of your soul," Clement intoned.
Ciel stopped his futile struggling and hung limp in the strong arms which held him fast. "It's too late," he muttered. "I'm already damned."
"Is that what the demon told you?" Clement scoffed gently. "Perhaps that is what it believed to be true...but the Most High is most forgiving. You need only forsake your contract to redeem yourself."
"Never, I have made my choice. Sebastian is mine. Even if he refuses to honour our dark bargain, I will not let him go." Ciel managed to wrench one arm free from captivity, and he reached for his eyepatch. "Sebastian...this is an order." He lifted the silk patch to reveal his right eye, the depths of the once-blue iris marked forever with the pentagram seal of the demon who had saved his life. "Come for me."
The oaken doors swung open at once, and a tall, slim black-clad figure walked in, backlit by the afternoon sunlight. "Ah, here you are, Master. Shall we return to the estate?"
Madeleine turned and took a stance in Sebastian's path, raising her parasol to point it at him. "Hold, demon," she commanded, her pretty face settling into a forbidding scowl.
Sebastian chuckled softly. "Oh, my dear," he said, his tone both indulgent and insolent. "If you even suspect my true nature, do you really think you can stop me?"
"Yes." Quicker than Ciel's eye could follow, Madeleine swung the parasol in a wide arc, striking Sebastian full across the face and actually knocking him a step back. Ciel called out the name he'd given the demon, unable to believe he'd been caught off-guard.
Sebastian touched the corner of his mouth, and several drops of dark crimson spattered on the stone floor near his feet. He actually smiled. "Well struck, my lady," he said with genuine admiration. "I suspected you were not quite human..are you ready to reveal your true nature?"
Madeleine raised her head imperiously. "As you wish, demon. Enjoy the sight as best you can. It will likely be the last thing you ever see." A radiant light burst forth from her slight frame, and the shimmering, prismatic colours resolved themselves into the shape of two white-feathered wings. When the light faded, the humble lady's maid was gone. In her place stood a figure fully half a head taller, wearing white armour. Instead of a blue parasol, she held a gleaming sword wider than two handspans and marked with glowing runes.
"Sebastian!" Ciel shouted in warning. "She's like Angela!"
Madeleine--or the creature who had been Madeleine--looked benevolently at him. "I am nothing like the fallen Ashrael," she said. Her voice was both sweeter and more forceful, seeming to ring like church bells off the very stone walls around them. "I am Madrael, in the service of the Lord of Hosts. I was sent to rectify the wrongs committed by my fallen predecessor. The fires that ravaged London...the great amount of suffering...all that should never have occurred, I was charged to set right. Only one task remains unfulfilled." She pointed an accusing finger at Sebastian. "A demon...forging a contract with an innocent child. Ciel Phantomhive would never have committed such a desperate act had his parents not been murdered and violated by Ashrael. The contract itself should not have been formed--a child of ten is hardly accountable for the salvation or damnation of his soul--but the circumstances, and the fallen one's interference, permitted this atrocity. I am here to put an end to it."
Sebastian dropped into a crouch. "How presumptuous of you, my lady. With the power of my Master's will to guide me, I am certain to overcome any adversity...even divine intervention."
"That may well be true, demon," the angel conceded. "How fortunate I have no intention of battling you. Now, Clement!"
Immediately the vicar began chanting in Latin. The hair on the back of Ciel's neck rose, and he felt a sudden unaccountable dread. "What--? Stop it!" He began struggling afresh, but Clement continued chanting until suddenly a bluish radiance sprang up around Sebastian, enclosing him in a glowing circle.
Sebastian glanced around, unperturbed. "Well, now...I haven't seen one of these in quite a while. Certainly not from the inside." He leaned down to study the runes which had sprung to life beneath his feet. "I don't recognise the pattern, but the principle is doubtless the same." He traced the figures with a gloved finger. "I believe it was Cornelius Agrippa who last tried to trap me within a binding circle. That was a nasty business...for poor Agrippa." He straightened up and cocked his head charmingly at Clement, then glanced at Madrael. "Fools, the pair of you. To think a handful of mortal scribblings could contain one such as myself." He crouched once more. "Shall I teach you the error of your ways?" He sprang at the angel, and the instant he reached the border of the circle, a wall of blue light sprang up to bar his way. He slammed against it as though into a brick wall, and energy crackled around him, forcing a scream out of him the likes of which Ciel had never heard before. Sebastian collapsed to the floor, twitching in every limb and groaning as if in unimaginable pain.
"Sebastian--!" Ciel lunged forward, straining against the arms holding him. "Leave him alone, you bastards! Stop hurting him!"
Madrael held out a soothing hand towards Ciel. "The demon will suffer no harm if it does not attempt to escape. The ward may only be breached from outside the circle, and the demon's influence cannot cross its boundaries. We may now talk freely."
"You witch!" Ciel snarled at her. "I have only one thing to say to you. Let Sebastian go!"
"Are you so eager to be enslaved, little lord?" Clement asked in that maddening gentle way of his.
"What the hell are you on about?!"
"Your association with the demon has affected your young mind. It has obviously been controlling you in ways you cannot even imagine. While it is sealed within the ward, your will is once more your own. Renounce it. Set yourself free. You need fear no retribution. You may have your life back once more."
Ciel looked over at Sebastian, who was picking himself painfully up off the floor. For a moment, their eyes met, and a single flash of perfect understanding passed between them. Then Ciel smiled. He chuckled. Finally he laughed aloud. Madrael stared at him; Clement froze in amazement; Sebastian merely watched as Ciel Phantomhive laughed and laughed until he was breathless and his ribs ached.
Finally Ciel raised his head and leveled his gaze directly at the angel. "Do you truly think he controls me?" he demanded. "I'm the one who summoned the demon. I'm the one who forged the contract. Even the name he wears, and the form he bears, were of my own choosing. Sebastian Michaelis is mine. He is all I have left in this world...and I will not let him go."