Chapter 2:

My Obnoxious Partner

Satan’s Blessed Souls

I woke up bright and early the next morning, unable to get much sleep due to the dream as well as the excitement of finally being able to complete a mission for Lancelot. Bookmark here

“Sophie, you should eat more,” uncle suggested, handing me another slice of bread, already covered in strawberry jam. He smiled brightly at me, a face I was unable to say no to. I reluctantly took the bread from his hand, knowing it was for my own good even if I wasn’t hungry in the slightest. Bookmark here

The carriage Lancelot had sent to take me to Oreane was already waiting outside the door by the time we finished eating. Thankfully, I had already packed the previous night and was all ready to go. Bookmark here

“Good morning!” I nodded to the driver as I stepped onto the carriage.Bookmark here

“Hello Miss Clemont,” the driver said with a smile. He grabbed my luggage that I was pulling and placed it next to me, then got back on his seat behind the horses.Bookmark here

Uncle Merlin waved to me while we drove off, his figure becoming smaller and smaller as we headed towards the roads that’d take us to Oreane. According to my uncle, it’d take about a day or two, so we’d have to stay at a tavern halfway through the trip. He had given me plenty of money, so that wouldn’t be an issue either.Bookmark here

“Uh...mister…”Bookmark here

“You can just call me Kline, miss,” the driver answered politely.Bookmark here

“Ah, okay. Uh, Kline then. How many towns do you think we can make it past today before we have to stop?” Bookmark here

“Hmm. Perhaps three at best? There’s a large trading town ahead of us but past that should be plain meadows and the countryside for miles without end.”Bookmark here

“I see. Then, will the guard my brother sent be meeting up with us when we arrive in Oreane?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Yes, he should be. He actually left a few days ago to survey the area that the murders are occurring within.”Bookmark here

I nodded thoughtfully, leaning away from the window and sitting back down in my seat. Like Kline had said, we smoothly transitioned from the little streets that soon became wider roads as little shops and boutiques also started appearing. This trading town was known for its wide variety of jewelry, so it was no surprise that I never came, as jewelry never interested me.Bookmark here

Deciding this ride was starting to get too long, I leaned outside the front windows again.Bookmark here

“Kline! How long have you been serving our house?” I questioned with a grin.Bookmark here

“About a year now. Duke Clemont has been very kind," he replied. "I had been working for Duke Pendragon for a while, but it was decided that I'd start serving Duke Clemont for security reasons, and now here we are, haha."Bookmark here

"I see! How's my brother doing?" I wanted to see how Lancelot was acting as the new duke. It was hard to see him being a proper leader, remembering that the last time I saw him he couldn't even sort through all the funeral papers for our father. To my surprise, Kline said nothing but continued smiling, facing the front of the road as if he hadn't heard my question. Feeling too embarrassed at the awkward silence, I left the conversation at that.Bookmark here

Halfway through the trade city, I grew tired and started dozing off. It was only during naps like these that the nightmares didn’t appear, and thank goodness for that, or else I’d never get rest. The clouds from above made it even easier for me to ignore the sun, easily able to drift away into sleep while the carriage swayed me from side to side. Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

“Hey! Get back over here!”Bookmark here

I frantically ran away from the angry maid, holding a cookie in my hand. How stereotypical of me to be frantically scurrying away with sweets in my hand. How pitiful it was for the maid to still not know to lock the sweets away. Even if they locked them away though, I’d find the key!Bookmark here

Laughing maniacally as I raced through the hallway, I forgot to watch my steps and bumped into a tall figure in front of me. The oatmeal cookie fell from my hand, landing on the ground with crumbs scattered in all directions. I looked up to see who had made me drop the cookie I risked my life to steal.Bookmark here

“Sophie...really?”Bookmark here

I began laughing once again, giving the tall boy a hug.Bookmark here

“They didn’t hide the cookies, Lance!” Bookmark here

My brother sighed and looked behind me at the maid who was now out of breath, wheezing as she finally caught up, trying to explain to my brother what had happened and why father should tell me to eat fewer sweets. I ignored her and buried my face into Lance’s arms as he crouched down, wrapping me in his arms. When the maid finally finished her long lecture that I didn’t listen to a single word of, Lancelot released me and stared at me with his clear blue eyes. Bookmark here

“Do you want cavities?” he asked.Bookmark here

I shook my head, trying to suppress the grin that was only growing closer to escape. Bookmark here

“No Lance. I don’t want cavities,” I answered. “I want pearly white teeth just like you and Gwen!” I answered sarcastically, cheerfully slapping my hands on his cheeks, where his supposed “pearly white teeth” were located. Lancelot dramatically rolled his eyes, standing up and taking my hand in his.Bookmark here

“Come on Sophie. Don’t forget you have an image to uphold.”Bookmark here

“Image? What’s my image?” I asked in confusion.Bookmark here

“Hmm. It’s how others see you. People treat you differently based on your image. It could be based on how you look, the way you talk, or the way you act.”Bookmark here

I frowned and looked up to Lancelot.Bookmark here

“Does that mean people think I’m different from you guys because I have brown hair and amber eyes instead of blond hair and blue eyes?” I stomped my foot and stopped walking, showing my discontentment with Lancelot.Bookmark here

He sighed once again, stopping mid-hallway to crouch down and talk to me.Bookmark here

“No, they won’t judge you for that. I promise. If you act as the daughter of a duke, you will make up for it despite your appearance.”Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

The carriage suddenly jerked to a stop, flinging me out of my seat as I frantically grabbed onto the window’s ledge, attempting to regain my balance. Bookmark here

“Kline?” I asked, sitting back up. “Kline? Kline! Hello?” The horses whined loudly from outside, their hooves kicking into the ground in panic. I scooted my way over to the front window, trying to see what had happened. My eyes widened as I saw the empty space in front of me, the driver’s seat without a trace of Kline previously sitting on it. Bookmark here

I moved back to my seat and started to reach towards the door handle when my hand stopped midway of opening the door. The bump I heard, as the carriage stopped, happened in the same instant. There’s no way Kline would get off without waking me up first and informing me of what happened, especially with such a strong jerk like that. This could very well be an ambush someone set up to stop us from arriving in Oreane. Bookmark here

Not wasting another moment, I dived my hand into the suitcase I had packed and fished out my dagger, hoping this would be enough to at least buy some time for me to escape into a safe location. I sat against the door, pressing my ear near the window to listen for any sounds or noises around the area. From the other side of the window that was drawn shut, save the sliver of space that allowed sunlight in, I could see that we were probably in a desolate location with no large towns or cities. I tried to calm myself down from the fear that ran through my body, forcing myself to think about possible ways I could stop the assassin.Bookmark here

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.Bookmark here

The sound of shuffling, and more than one person.Bookmark here

Shit.Bookmark here

The door suddenly flew open, nearly knocking my head to the ground. I quickly jumped out, knocking an attacker to the ground as I hurriedly tried to scan the two people who were now holding swords at me. They were both wearing masks, hiding the lower halves of their faces. The other one lunged at me, immediately using his sword to stop me from running away. I winced in pain, the sword grazing my cheek, leaving a trail of blood to run down my face. I dashed aside, only to have the attacker I had knocked over grab my hand as I screamed in retaliation, hoping someone would hear me.Bookmark here

“HELP! Somebody help!” I shouted, trying to pull my hand away. Neither of the attackers seemed worried about my screams in the slightest. Finally, I jerked my hand out of his grasp for a second, but attacker number two now gave a shout of frustration, running towards me with his sword and slashing it down once again. Barely escaping the reach of his sword, I continued running down the road with both of them chasing after me. At this rate, I had no chances of escaping. I was too slow and non-athletic compared to the two attackers that were right on my tail. I darted my eyes to the side of the trailing countryside road, hoping there would be a farmhouse nearby or something of the sort. To my disappointment, there was nothing but fields of corn and wheat. Bookmark here

Where are all the people and busy streets when you need them? Bookmark here

I took a sharp turn into a field of corn, hoping it was tall enough to at least give me some extra time. Not bothering to look behind anymore, I continued to dash forward, making every effort I could to not slow down.Bookmark here

“AH!”Bookmark here

A scream echoed from behind me. Did the attackers find someone else and hurt them in the process too? My head rang loudly, so loudly that I couldn’t even locate where the scream came from. Unable to hear anything from behind me, I continued racing ahead, into the unknown maze of corn, taking random turns every few meters to make my path more confusing. Bookmark here

Suddenly, a hand grabbed my left wrist, pulling me to a stop. Without any hesitation, I took the dagger in my right hand and stabbed it at the hand that had grabbed me.Bookmark here

“AH! What the hell are you doing!” the voice screamed.Bookmark here

I peeked open my eyes, not even realizing that I had closed them. Instead of the masked men I had run away from earlier, this person seemed to be my age. A boy a little taller than I was, with pitch-black hair gleaming from the sun’s light. He glared at me impatiently with ruby red eyes, a scowl etched into his face permanently.Bookmark here

“Hey! Get the damn dagger out of my hand!” he demanded in anger.Bookmark here

As the adrenaline left my body, I finally registered his words and pulled my dagger out of his hand. He winced in pain, blood now dripped from his hand as he tried to stop the bleeding with his cloak. It didn’t seem to do any good, as the cloak soon became stained with dark blood. I looked at him in confusion, but he was too focused on his wound to care about my stares. Bookmark here

“Let’s head back to the horses before they ambush us again,” he grumbled, starting to make his way through the corn maze.Bookmark here

“W-Wait!” I shouted, trying to keep up with his brisk steps, strolling through the cornfield like it was just a walk in the park. This person was the definition of ‘sketchy’. Dark cloak, black hair, all dark clothing, with a belt and a sword. Bookmark here

“Try to keep up, we don’t have all day. The horses might run away if they get spooked like that again,” he grumbled in annoyance. Bookmark here

“Who are you? What about the guys that were chasing me? Us? Where did you come from?” I asked in confusion. Bookmark here

The person ignored me and continued walking, not slowing down at all. I noticed the blood from his cloak staining the nearby corn leaves red with blood, also getting on my clothes in the process. The dagger in my hand was coated with more bright blood, but I did my best to ignore it, unable to stand the sight of it. Bookmark here

“Ah, watch your step there.”Bookmark here

In front of me was a body on the ground, unmoving and drenched in blood. The mask covered face instantly gave away the identity of the corpse as one of my attackers, now surrounded by splashes of blood around them. I gulped and went around the attacker, still tightly gripping my knife. Bookmark here

“Careful though, I don’t know where the other one is,” he said with a lighthearted laugh.Bookmark here

Once we made it out of the cornfield, the two of us started going back to the carriage, treading on the path that I had run across only a few minutes ago. With the little bit of energy I had remaining, I caught up to the boy and grabbed his cloak, pulling him to a stop.Bookmark here

“Who are you! Hey! Tell me now!” I shouted, refusing to release him.Bookmark here

The boy looked at me, then to my hand on his cloak. After a few seconds of this stare-off, he sighed and tugged away his cloak from my grasp, turning around to face me. Bookmark here

“Alright, Miss. My name is Lonan, you don’t have to keep saying ‘hey!’. Duke Clemont sent me on a mission to Oreane to help you solve the mystery of the masked murderer. I was supposed to survey the area for a few days before you arrived, but yours truly noticed that there was something wrong with that driver of yours--he leaked away the path you guys were going to take for some money. The things you learn from underground sources are amazing.” A wide smile appeared on his face as he turned back around to continue walking. Bookmark here

“Wait, then Kline...he’s a traitor?” I was now briskly walking, struggling to stay right behind on his trail. Dazed by his offhanded response, I tried to piece the information together without much success. The person in front of me was also refusing to respond, so I gave up and followed along without another word. Bookmark here

When the two of us finally arrived at the carriage, there was still no sight of Kline, nor the other attacker that had run away after the first one was slaughtered. The streets were as empty as they were when the carriage had first stopped. After further inspection, I realized that one of the wheels had fallen into a ditch. Bookmark here

“Must’ve been the ambushers...digging a ditch, boring…” Lonan mumbled in disinterest. He glanced at my luggage on the carriage, then back to the horses, and finally back to me.Bookmark here

“Get your luggage off,” he ordered.Bookmark here

Annoyed but knowing he was right, I obediently got onto the carriage again and lifted my luggage off, suddenly grateful to Kline for lifting my luggage earlier, not realizing how heavy and packed it was until now. As soon as I successfully got my luggage to the ground, Lonan got on the driver seat and violently yanked the reins of the two horses, setting them into a panic. The carriage slowly moved forward, but the wheel was still caught by the small hole. Looking irked, Lonan turned to me.Bookmark here

“Can’t you help a little?” he asked with a sharp glare.Bookmark here

I clenched my teeth together to prevent any unnecessary words out my mouth as I walked to the back of the carriage and pushed it against my back with all my might. A few seconds later, the carriage quickly moved away, leaving me sitting in the dirt from the force. Luckily, Lonan stopped the horses before they ran any further, allowing me a short five meter walk before I got onto the carriage again, this time heaving the luggage on by myself. The carriage began moving again, this time a lot faster than it was originally. Bookmark here

I popped my head out from the front window, this time facing a sketchy looking boy instead of the polished driver. Bookmark here

“How do I know you’re not lying about your identity?” I stared at the back of his head, wondering just who this person was. How did a person like this come to work for Lancelot?Bookmark here

Lonan sighed, then took a letter out of his shirt pocket and handed it to me. The seal was broken, but I could clearly tell that the wax stamp was from the Clemont family crest. I slowly opened it, making sure the wind didn’t blow it away. Bookmark here

“Make sure you stay safe and hidden. Do not trust the police, I do not know which side they are on. Feel free to ask them questions, only share what you need to share. Do not expose your true identities, say you were sent from the Gwalchmei family. This needs to be solved within five days. Sincerely, Lancelot.”Bookmark here

“Five days!?” I asked in bewilderment. Only five days? How were we supposed to do that!Bookmark here

“Yes. Three families have already been slaughtered, it’ll be calling for a riot if we don’t stop the fourth noble family from being murdered as well.” Lonan snatched the letter out of my hand, wrapped the reins around his wrist, and started ripping the letter into shreds. He let them float into the wind, keeping his eyes on the road in front of us the entire time.Bookmark here

“We don’t have time to waste. We’ll be traveling for the next day,” he announced. Bookmark here

“Wha-hey! Don’t decide that without asking me as well!” But I knew he was right. There was no way we could spend another day traveling, especially when Lancelot wanted the job done in five days. Assuming it took Lonan a day to reach here, we technically had three days to solve the mystery once we arrived in the northern region of Oreane. I slumped back into my seat, feeling even more overwhelmed than before.Bookmark here

The trip felt much longer now that I was awake, watching the unchanging corn fields pass by. I had never thought that the guard my brother sent would be a vigilante, much less comfortable with ordering around the family he was supposed to be serving. Either way, Lonan wasn’t someone I wanted contact with, and someone I didn’t feel like I could trust, despite the fact that he had saved me from the attackers earlier. Bookmark here

A few minutes later, a little knock came from the front of the carriage. I got up from my seat and shuffled over, leaning my head out the window for what must’ve been the sixth time today. Bookmark here

“So Miss Clemont-”Bookmark here

“Just Sophie is fine,” I snapped.Bookmark here

A sly smile appeared on his face as he clicked his tongue, twisting his face a bit so that we were facing each other.Bookmark here

“Sophie, then. How much do you know about the murders? Any ideas on how they were committed?”Bookmark here

I shook my head. “Not that much. I know that it’s only noble families and that people are close to rioting. I was wondering if it had to do with competition over the throne, but Lancelot never mentioned which noble families were targeted.”Bookmark here

“Wow, that’s not a lot of information you have. At least one of us came prepared.” Another grin, cheerful that he was another step ahead of me. “The murderer has been killing off each family using approximately five days. The strange thing is, the murders within a single household are always a day or two apart. When the case originally popped up, the police ruled it off as a mental illness, a mother going mad and taking five days to kill her husband and then her own child. After three other murders, it’s safe to assume that’s not what’s going on. There is a serial killer. Ah- hold on.”Bookmark here

Lonan pulled the horses to a stop, quickly put his hood on, and hopped off the seat. He approached an old farmer who was pulling some stalks of hay across the countryside and started chatting with him, pointing to the road ahead.Bookmark here

I returned to my seat, leaning my head on the walls of the carriage. There was a serial killer who was targeting noble families and using some skill to make sure no one realized they were dead until the entire family was killed. Could the killer be threatening the rest of the family to stay silent? It might even be an ability that involved mind manipulation. Bookmark here

When Lonan came back to the carriage, I had buried my head under my arms, hiding from the world outside. Bookmark here

There are too many possibilities for what method the killer could be using! How does he expect me to come up with a plausible theory before we even investigate?Bookmark here

“ alright there?”Bookmark here

I peaked up from my frustrated state, only to see the corner of his mouth twitching to hide his amusement. I jerked back up and went back to my position of crouching next to the front window.Bookmark here

“Whatever. What were you asking the old man?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Right, right. I was asking him how long it would take for us to reach the city of Ijekiel. There shouldn’t be an issue with us arriving early morning if we ride fast enough,” he answered casually.Bookmark here

Ijekiel. The city where noble families had resided for centuries, most of them receiving lands and power from kings. While newer noble families were scattered across the land, Ijekiel was alway a place where those with a heritage of nobility could find respect and land to settle on. It was no surprise the murderer had decided to set camp at the largest concentration of nobles in the country. Bookmark here

“Have you come up with a theory yet?” Lonan smirked.Bookmark here

I frowned, giving him a scowl as I ducked back to my seat. Of course, he just had to emphasize that point once again, that I couldn’t figure out a plausible way the murders had been committed. It was a challenge to me, someone with no prior experience, to determine whether or not Lancelot should’ve entrusted this crucial mission to me. Bookmark here

The countryside flashed by as Lonan picked up the speed once again. Every once in a while, a fence full of cows or horses would pop up but quickly return to the dull landscape of wheat fields and empty lands. As the day faded into dusk, then dusk into night, we took a quick break for the horses to get some water from a small stable a few farmers were willing to help. Before I knew it, we were back on the road again, riding without much being spoken. Not wanting to fall asleep and experience the nightmare, for now, I took out some slices of bread that Uncle Merlin had packed for me as a “precaution”, he said. I glanced out the window again, seeing Lonan somehow still wide awake, keeping the horses on track as we continued riding towards Ijekiel. Bookmark here

I furrowed my eyebrows in frustration as I sighed. What a despiteful guy. He’d be the perfect guard if he could just learn some respect and kindness. Bookmark here

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