Chapter 9 – Sounds, Smells, Spies, and Servants
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POV: Albertt Vetter

"It's The Church of Light, Lady Kuro…"

As soon as the words left my lips, a wave of bloodlust flooded the room. I immediately regretted telling her the truth.

Kuro's eyes snapped to me with a murderous glint she didn't bother hiding. It told me all I needed to know.

She wasn't going to keep her word. Kuro was going to kill me.

My body seized up while every instinct screamed at me to get as far away from her as possible. Considering she was a pissed-off demi, it would not be very far at all.

Whether consciously or not, she brandished her claws and bent her knees.

Just when Kuro looked ready to pounce, her ears perked up, and her face suddenly switched from rage to hesitance. I realised that her eyes seemed to focus on something behind me. How she got distracted so quickly, I had no clue.

For the moment, however, it seemed to postpone my impromptu execution. She returned to an upright position and addressed me.

"You know, Kuro takes some pride in her listening abilities, but I am ashamed that I missed it ealier…"

"U-Unfortunately you didn't mishear me. The Church of Light is indeed involved in this operation…"

"Don't act dumb!" She slammed the desk.

Huh?

She raised the offending arm, pointing to the door with a claw.

"Somebody was outside the room; their footsteps were light. Thanks to your disconcerting namedrop, it seemed my impulses took over for a moment, and I managed to hear them by chance. Perhaps, a friend of yours, Vetter?"

I didn't know what she was going on about, but this was an opportunity I wouldn't let slip!

"Preposterous, Lady Kuro! Even if we were working together, why would they listen in when I could report back myself?!"

She lowered her arm and looked at me with disdain.

"That line of reasoning is annoying. There isn't nearly enough information to verify anything…" She hissed and held her head in her hands. "After your excellent demonstration of cognitive dissonance earlier, you are nothing short of clinically insane. This would not do…"

She marched towards me with an annoyed expression.

"You will stay here. Kuro will go after the eavesdropper."

"Oh… Okay."

"And because I can't trust you-"

A fist slammed into my stomach and sent me reeling. My chair toppled over, and all I could do was hack. Everything was blurry, but I caught a glimpse of Kuro sighing from the corner of my vision.

"You were supposed to pass out with the first punch-"

The world went black.

 

POV: Kuro

While Vetter's eyes fluttered shut, I couldn't help but admire my strength. The books I read on demihuman physiology didn't lie; we were much more robust than the average human. Hopefully, the crack I heard wasn't his ribs. 

Moving onto a more pressing issue…

I turned away from the passed-out body and made my way to the exit. I quietly turned the knob and swung the door open. Peeking my head out, I looked down the corridor.

As expected, the culprit had already left.

I strained my ears to listen for any hints as to where they went. More specifically, either hurried footsteps or uneven breathing would be the tell-tale signs.

With the clatter of cooking utensils, idle talk between servants, Leonard ranting in his guest room, nothing was out of the ordinary as far as I was concerned.

Was I mistaken?

No, there was no doubt about it. Whether it be the Church of Light or insurgent spies, someone was moving against me. Added to the fact that servants generally avoided this place like the plague, I was sure of it.

I didn't want to resort to this, but they left me no choice. It was degrading, but what little dignity I had left had already been crushed by this damned world.

I'd sniff them out.

This would mark the second time I'd attempt this, my first being rather trauma-inducing. In this world, there were no phones to distract you in the bathroom. And due to a combination of boredom and foolishness, I ended up staying in the toilet for a bit longer than I wanted to.

Calming my nerves, I readied my mind for the information overload it was about to receive.

I inhaled.

An assortment of strange scents wafted into my nostrils. If I could describe the sensation, it was like extracting specific colours from a pot of blended paint. I had no clue how to catalogue them all, as this was the first time I was identifying them.

If I had to hazard a guess, this was what pollen and dust smelt like. Slightly dry, oily, and stale…

But what the hell was that smell?!

I covered my nose and retched violently.

This was not a pleasant experience at all.

I desperately diverted my attention away from my nose and towards… anything else. Just a whiff of something as putrid as that made me light-headed. I would have to keep this ability under lock-and-key until I could find a way to handle strong odours.

As my sense of smell slowly returned to 'human' levels, I recomposed myself.

This was hopeless.

Julia prohibited me from wandering around needlessly, and I had no plans to search an entire mansion today.

What they were going to do with the information they learnt, I could only speculate. Unfortunately, the most likely outcome was that the Church of Light would be alerted of my existence.

As I said, I had no plans to make enemies of them. Antagonising the most influential religious (and probably political) institution on the Unified Continent was not something I was too keen to do. Ideally, I would be best buddies with Pope Lux. However, thanks to both the curse and my beastkin heritage, I could only dream.

Maybe I could send Vetter as a proxy to make a friendly first contact?

Ah.

I peered back into my study, where my future messenger lay unconscious.

I'll notify him of my plans next time.

 

---- A Few Hours Later ----

Juliana Von Wickten’s Bedchambers

POV: Juliana Von Wickten

As I listened to a servant recite the goings-on of Kuro's tutor lessons, my exasperation grew ever more unbearable.

"I'm telling you, my Lady, that thing is a demon plotting the downfall of the duchy!" As if Kuro could ever do such a thing. "They will frame your husband and lead a rebellion under their flag; it has been in the works for years!"

Her tale was growing too fanciful for even my tastes.

The servants here held a deep-seated aversion toward Kuro. It was no wonder that every attendant I sent out reported back even more ludicrous stories, trying to get me to kick Kuro out.

"And the beast calls herself the High Priestess. She is no doubt a high-ranking member of a dark cult and the one pulling the strings, my Lady! You must believe me!"

High Priestess was a title I was growing rather familiar with. Usually, I'd write it off along with the rest of her fable, but it had been a consistent factor across several servants' reports.

"Girl, what is your name?"

"Uhm, Anne, my Lady."

"I was told you were young. How old are you?"

"I am turning sixteen this year."

Their stories were no mere coincidence. The previous two times were men. This time I picked out a young girl.

There would be no overlapping jobs; most young girls were assigned laundry duty, and the men would serve as butlers. Not to mention they are designated different quarters to lodge. It wouldn't be a stretch for her to never meet the other two in her lifetime.

They really weren't collaborating over reports…

Which meant that, at the very least, the phrase 'High Priestess' meant something. Perhaps it was simply an accounting technique I hadn't heard of before.

The girl fiddled with her apron as she awaited my next instruction.

"Thank you for the information, Anne. I will investigate the rest of this on my own now. You are dismissed."

It looked like she had something to say, but decided to keep her mouth shut. With a curt bow, she exited my bedroom.

As I heard the latch on the door close, I lay in bed and stared at the patterned ceiling. The more I thought about it, the more my heart ached.

To be wary of Kuro felt like a betrayal. She hadn't done anything to earn my distrust. She was a bundle of joy, purring when I scratched her chin, snuggling close when I stroked her tail. My mind was a complete mess, and I was exhausted after today's dealings.

Ironically enough, I felt that the only thing that could comfort me right now would be Kuro's companionship. I watched the time crystal on the wall change from early to late blue as an internal war raged on.

A knock at the door pulled me from my reverie.

"Lady Juliana, your pet has returned from its lessons," an emotionless voice called out from beyond the door. My face lit up.

Just as I was about to call her in, I wavered. This nagging feeling wasn't going to go away on its own, was it? I had one-sidedly severed the trust between Kuro and me.

It hurt.

But I had to find out.

"She may enter," I finally replied.

A head of dark hair exposed itself as the door as it opened, followed by an adorable grin.

"Julia~, Kuro is finally back, nya!" She declared. Her tail swayed behind her, a clear indication of her delight, her ears flapping happily atop her head.

She looked innocent.

Acted innocent.

And yet…

"Hm? Julia…?" Kuro made her way over to the bedside table and crouched; her head tilted in confusion at my unusual silence. "What's wrong?"

I squeezed my hands into a ball and met her raven eyes.

"Kuro, what is the High Priestess?"

AN: Julia confronts Kuro about the truth. Will she get the answers she's been looking for, or will Kuro spin an even deeper web of lies? You decide! Vote!

Please drop a comment if you spot any mistakes; I'm always trying to improve. Thanks for reading, and see you next chapter!

 

Should Kuro tell Juliana the truth?
  • Fully - Kuro will disclose all her dealings with Albertt Votes: 16 34.8%
  • Partially - Only the necessary bits to keep Julia placated. Maybe sprinkle in a few half-truths. Votes: 22 47.8%
  • No - Diversion and misdirection is required. Telling Julia anything would be too risky Votes: 7 15.2%
  • Other - Leave a suggestion in the comments! Votes: 1 2.2%
Total voters: 46
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