The Scourge of the Demon Hunters—Act 26
Act Twenty Six: The Ball
The coach journey was short and pleasantly quiet. They had arranged to meet Elizabeth there, which helped, and neither Sebastian nor Ciel wanted to say anything that would upset Louisa. It was Ciel, however, that broke the silence as they arrived at the stately home that was hosting the ball.
“Do I need to impress on either of you the seriousness of this evening? One wrong word could have severe consequences for us all.”
Louisa saw the fear in his eyes and heard it clearly in his carefully controlled tone, after giving up so much to gain revenge on those that wronged him, the fear of something going wrong now was all too real for her cousin.
She answered calmly and sweetly, “Cousin, you already have my word. I will do nothing to change the promise I made you.”
Ciel managed a ghost of a smile, “It is not your behaviour that concerns me.” He said, looking directly at Sebastian. “I have no desire to constrain you with orders that could endanger Louisa, but I will if you cannot control yourself.”
Sebastian nodded his understanding and added, “My Lord, I am ever your humble servant, I will act appropriate for a Phantomhive butler. I will behave impeccably, as long as the gentleman attending the ball do the same.” His eyes glinted as he finished speaking.
Ciel’s smile grew slightly stronger, “Should anyone lay inappropriate hands on my cousin, you may act as you see fit, within our wider agreement.”
“Thank you, young master,” Sebastian smirked, that left him a wide range of options, should they be needed.
As they arrived, Sebastian alighted from the coach first, before aiding Louisa and Ciel. Louisa took Ciel’s arm, and Sebastian fell into step behind them. Louisa was overwhelmed by the grandeur of the house. While the Phantomhive manor was the epitome of understated taste, this was completely the opposite; it was ostentatious to the point of being one step away from gaudy.
The noise, colours, and general movement within the building assaulted Louisa’s heightened senses, making her feel nauseous before they even entered the grand hall. Ciel held tight to her arm, while Sebastian put a steadying hand on her shoulder. Both looked her with concern. She took as deep a breath as she could while laced up in a corset, held her head high, and moved forward with Ciel. Sebastian’s pride at her determination showed only in his eyes, to the rest of the world he remained the stoic butler; a role he knew he would have to work hard to maintain throughout the evening.
Elizabeth’s squeal was audible above the general cacophony that met them as their arrival was announced. She raced over, grabbing Louisa from Ciel and whisking her off into the crowd. Ciel looked at Sebastian, concerned at the demon’s reaction, but his face was emotionless, only his eyes told how he felt, and only those close to him understood the truth behind the colour change.
“Go about your usual duties, Sebastian, see what you can uncover; but stay where you can be called, just in case either of us should need you.”
Sebastian bowed low.
“As you wish my Lord.”
He headed off into the crowd, while Ciel found a quiet corner from which he could observe the whole room. He needed there to be something, some answers for him or Louisa; it had to be worth the stress and risk that he was placing on his cousin.
The ball progressed in the same tiresome manner that Louisa had expected. She was passed from dance partner to dance partner, yet with each, the conversation was the same. Each was only interested in the disagreement between her parents and Ciel’s and how that affected her stake in the family inheritance. While some were more subtle than others, each was as limited in their capacity to consider her as anything other than a means to a fortune and potential breeding stock to heighten their already inflated egos.
Her feet were aching and her head was spinning by the time she was approached by the elusive host of the night’s proceedings. It was Elizabeth that brought him over to the tiring Louisa. As Elizabeth approached, Louisa noted that their host was not dissimilar to Sebastian in his height and build. His sharp features were etched onto pale, almost translucent skin. In place of Sebastian’s raven black hair sat perfectly groomed flowing white tresses. But as he drew closer, it was his eyes that sent an unpleasant shiver down her spine. While his face smiled, his amethyst eyes were cold and showed no trace of emotion, kindness, or even interest in his surroundings.
“Louisa, my dear Louisa, you must meet our host. This is Lord Ashley. Lord Ashley, this is Lady Louisa Phantomhive, cousin to Earl Phantomhive.”
Louisa curtsied and offered her hand as the introductions were made. Lord Ashley took her hand with a smile and brought it to his lips.
“Delighted, you are quite the beauty that Miss Elizabeth said you were.”
“Thank you, my Lord,” replied Louisa.
She looked more carefully at him, there was something familiar about him, but she couldn’t place him. Outwardly he acted just like everyone else within the grand hall, yet every nerve in her body screamed that he could not be trusted. Louisa swallowed the desire to call for Sebastian. The overly preened lord in front of her had done nothing wrong, but the feeling would not subside; it only got worse as he led her out onto the dance floor.
“So, Lady Phantomhive, you are newly arrived in London, is that right?” His voice was almost as cold as his eyes.
“Yes, my Lord, I was brought up in the country. I joined my cousin here after an accident that took the lives of my parents and left me gravely injured.”
“An accident, is that right?” he asked, his voice betraying his disbelief. “You look remarkably well and free of scars for someone who has been in such an accident.”
Louisa looked up at him as he spoke and caught a change in his amethyst eyes. Her heart raced as she realised that he was far from human, not demon like her Sebastian, but something else. She showed no emotion, hiding her discovery behind a false smile.
“I am blessed that Ciel was able to find a physician that worked wonders.”
She replied, keeping her voice light, showing none of the anxiety that was building inside her. It was then she realised that Lord Ashley was expertly and subtly moving her across the dance floor towards the glass doors that led to the garden. Her sense of danger heightened, and she caught Ciel’s eye as he was being led around the dance floor by Elizabeth. He nodded almost imperceptibly.
As Lord Ashley guided Louisa out into the garden, he grasped her wrist tightly and pulled her closer to him.
“I do not think you have been completely honest with me, have you, Lady Phantomhive.”
“I do not know what you mean, Sir. Now unhand me please, and let me return.”
“Once you are the property of the Order, you remain their property; there is no leaving.” With that, he spun her around, “You bear their mark.”He looked at her neck, “No that is not possible, nothing can do that, nothing.” His hand moved to her throat but seemed to stop in mid-air suspended.
“My Lord Ashley I do believe the young lady asked you to unhand her and let her return to the ball.”
“Who the hell are you, and how did you sneak up on me like that, unhand me, sir.”
“I am the butler to the Phantomhive family, and that is my master’s cousin, she is under his protection, and therefore under mine. As to your second question, I Sir, am simply one hell of a butler.”
There was a subtle change in Lord Ashley, barely perceptible, but a change that suggested he knew he had placed himself in a dangerous situation, before he could craft a response to the otherworldly butler that stood before him, grasping his wrist, Ciel appeared, closely followed by Elizabeth, wanting to know what all the fuss was about. Lord Ashley quickly released his grip on Louisa’s wrist, and Sebastian followed suit. The two stood glaring at each other, each defying the other to say or do something that would alert the masses and the worried Elizabeth as to what was really going on. Realising the danger that they were all now in, Louisa rolled her eyes back and allowed herself to fall. Elizabeth squealed, and Sebastian moved swiftly to catch the falling Louisa before she reached the ground.
“What is happening here?” asked Ciel, holding his voice steady and focusing his concern on the seemingly fainted Louisa.
“The lady was feeling faint, so I brought her out to get some air,” responded Lord Ashley, regaining his composure and looking at Sebastian, daring him to contradict him. Sebastian held Louisa tight to his chest.
“I’m sure my Lord is grateful for your concern for his cousin Lord Ashley.” Turning to Ciel, he continued, “My Lord, I believe we should take Lady Phantomhive home to rest.”
Ciel played along with the rouse being expertly played by Sebastian and his cousin.
“Yes, these events can be overwhelming when you are not used to them. Come, Sebastian, let us go.”
“Oh, must you go, Ciel,” whined Elizabeth, “we haven’t finished our dance, and there is so many more gentleman for Louisa to meet.”
“I do not think she is in a fit state to meet anyone else this evening, do you Elizabeth?”
Elizabeth was crestfallen. She shook her head. “No, of course, dear Ciel.”
Realising the sternness of his tone, Ciel softened his voice. “There is always the next ball; we are here for the season after all.” Elizabeth’s smile returned, and he continued, “Sebastian take Louisa to the carriage. I will see Elizabeth back to her parents and join you presently.”
“As you wish young master,” replied Sebastian, and headed back through the hall to the front of the grand house.
“Lord Ashley, forgive our sudden departure, my cousin is unused to such gatherings. I hope we will meet again soon.”
Lord Ashley turned to Ciel. “I am sure we will meet again soon, young Lord, take good care of your cousin—she is—precious.”
Ciel did not like the tone with which Lord Ashley spoke, but he could not question him further without raising suspicion and placing Elizabeth in danger. He grabbed the unsuspecting Elizabeth by the hand and pulled her away.
At the front of the house, Sebastian climbed into the waiting carriage, still holding Louisa in his arms. His mind raced with the possibilities that could have occurred if he had been just seconds late. He hated that she had been placed in such danger, and yet he could not shake the feeling that more would be asked of her before this was all over. Sebastian sat down, keeping her in his arms, she spoke quietly, keeping her eyes closed, in case they were being observed.
“Where is Ciel?”
“Ensuring Lady Elizabeth is safe; he will join us straight after.”
Louisa pressed close to Sebastian’s chest, “Good, we need to leave London tonight. It is no longer safe here.”
Ciel entered the carriage as she finished speaking and motioned for the driver to set off. “Could someone explain what just happened, I seem to be at a distinct disadvantage.”
As they pulled away, Louisa turned herself to sit upright next to Sebastian, keeping as close to him as she could.
“Lord Ashley is not what he seems. He is part of the Order.”
“Part of the Order? I mean he is elusive and disturbing in his manner, but are you sure?” asked Ciel.
“Perfectly sure; he knew about me and was looking for the tattoo on my neck. And that’s not all; he is not entirely human.”
“Another demon?” asked Ciel, shaking his head.
“No, my Lord, while Louisa is right that he is not human, I would have known if he was a demon. He seems to have no master, which would mean he his here on his own behalf, and all the more dangerous for it.”
“That is why we must leave tonight; before he can warn the rest of the Order that we are coming for them.”
“Tonight, but we will never arrange transport in time,” said Ciel.
Louisa looked at Sebastian, who raised an eyebrow and grinned, guessing what was coming next, “Speed is of the essence, dear cousin, if we are to complete our task. I have no intention of going by carriage. I believe we need to fly.”