| The office was silent. Shame owned the room. The dour stare of the headmistress focused on the three young nobles. She steepled her fingers in thought and leaned back in her chair. "Constance, was there a point to your outburst?"
The parasol tapped the floor in shame, and the crystal blue eyes stared at the marble tile. It's his fault. He had no right to be here. I can't get over him if he's always around. "He doesn't belong here, Madame Cuttle..." Constance started to say.
Madame Cuttle silenced her with a slash of her hand. "Clara, could you shed some light on recent events?"
Clara looked over at Constance. "Sorry, but I am with Madame Cuttle. Silverbolt wasn't here to woo you. He was here with a legitimate concern. He was just as uncomfortable as you were with the situation."
Was he uncomfortable? The word indifferent comes to mind. "I am finished with him. Quite frankly, I think the threat is dubious at best."
"Clara and Midgely, please leave us alone. If you see Silverbolt, please give him my most sincere apologies and thank him for his presence of mind."
Clara mouthed, "I'm sorry." before she left the room. She followed Midgely out into the hall.
Madame Cuttle rubbed her temples. "Constance, why didn't you want him here?" Her face was almost the color of her flaming red mane. She was on the edge of eruption.
I'll sound foolish. "Silverbolt is a dangerous man. I felt..."
Madame Cuttles hand slammed against the desk rattling the clear glass bottles near the edge. She leaned forward. "Let's start with the truth today, Lady Constance Reynard." The smell of mint and pine made her voice all the more intimidating.
Best to rip off the bandage, I suppose. "I want to get over Silvberbolt. He'll never love me..."
Once again, the bejeweled hand silenced her. Her eyes softened, and she sat on the edge of her desk, legs crossed with perfect posture. "You are noble, Constance, and you must learn to push your feelings aside. As for how you feel about our shiny friend, time may or may not cure it."
"I want to hate him, but my heart refuses to let me," Constance said in a miserable tone. "I wish we never met. Dealing with Lord Tuxley was less painful than this." I can't believe I said that.
"I see, so it would be easier to live in misery than to take a shot at happiness, is that it?"
"It's too hard..."
Madame Cuttle rubbed her temples, "If you want easy, then marry one of those empty-headed noblemen."
It couldn't hurt to try again. "Who is available?"
Madame Cuttle sighed in disappointment. "I'll look into it for you."
The mask with lightning bolts around the eyes watched the black hair and red gown leave Madame Cuttles' office from atop the rafters. The frizzy-haired headmistress stepped into the hall. I hate to do it this way, but I need more information.
The meteor wrapped around a hardwood timber Silverbolt swung down and pulled a distressed Madame Cuttle to the rafters. "I had to be sure there were no interruptions when I spoke."
Madame Cuttle Scowled and slapped the metal mask. She shook her hand in pain. "Next time, use the office door." Her tone conveyed annoyance. "I suppose you want to know about Constance?" She arched her eyebrow.
Why does everyone think I feel something for her? "Not in the way you think. What can you tell me about her family?"
Madame Cuttle dangled her legs over the edge of the sturdy timber and leaned against a support post. "The Reynard family is one of the oldest in Rathmore and Ivorhaven. Some say they are the true heirs to the throne."
"How serious are the rumors taken?"
"Not very, even the Reynards make light of it."
That eliminates political motivations. "So why, The Damn Girl? If there is nothing to be gained politically, why threaten to kidnap her?"
"Madame Cuttles' smiled at the armored figure. "Her name is Constance. You would still aid Constance even after her childish outburst?"
I don't have time for this. "I am not a complete asshole, you know. The Damn Girl still needs protection. I'd do it for my worst enemy as long as it served the greater good."
""Is there a reason you keep calling her the Damn Girl?"
An irrelevant question, how surprising. "It doesn't need an explanation."
"Madame Cuttle studied the steel-grey eyes and cocked her head to the side. "I see. As for why someone wants Constance, her mother might know more, but she's away on business."
""Tell me about Captain Rexword."
"Madame Cuttle blanched and stuck out her tongue. "He used to be a royal guard. He worked here for a time. My girls said he would peep into their rooms at night and touch them inappropriately. I fired him, of course."
"Silverbolt spun a baton around his fingers. "He works for Lord Tuxley now. He attacked the Damn Girl the night I met both of them. It was an unsatisfying fight."
"Do you think Lord Tuxley sent is behind the note?"
"I do, but with no evidence, all I can is walk into the trap and find the truth."
"You could abstain from going."
Yeah, like that'll work. " Whoever sent the note will take the Damn Girl anyway. If I'm there, she at least has a chance."
Madame Cuttle shot him a soft look, and she smiled. "You would do this for Constance because?"
And we're back to irrelevant nonsense. "I'm a superhero. It's what we do."
Right, these people haven't heard of superheroes. "Never mind. Thanks for the help." He held out his hand.
Madame Cuttles' mint and pine smell reminded Silverbolt of home. He swung her down to the soft carpet. "If I need your help?" She asked.
Silverbolt put the meteor hammer away. "Check the temple. I'm usually there at night. You can find me in the streets otherwise."
"Have you eaten today?"
"This morning. I would've had the money for lunch, but a family needed it more than I did. What are those students doing?" Silverbolt said in mock concern. Peace out.
Madame Cuttle turned, "Get your eyes checked. Where did he go?"
Constance sat on her soft goose down mattress. "I may have an escort to your party. Madame Cuttle said Lord Wickham was free for the evening."
Clara had a mischievous smile on her face. "Say his name."
"Lord Wickham." Was there a point to that?"
Clara giggled, "Now say Silverbolt."
"I have a theory."
What a ridiculous exercise. "Silverbolt. Care to let me in on the secret?"
Clara walked over to the maple vanity and picked a silver hand mirror. "Watch your face when you say each name."
She's lost it. What could I possibly learn that I don't already know? Constance stared at her pale complexion and ruby red lips. "Lord Wickham." She noted her mouth turned downward, and her eyes became narrow slits. "Silverbolt." Her face grew brighter than a thousand candles, and a goofy grin sat on her face.
"Like or not, your heart lies with our shiny friend." She took a seat beside her. "I fought my feelings for Lord Midgely for years...I am an idiot."
"Never mind that. Who do you think wrote the message?" Clara asked. A knock at the door stole their attention. "Who is it?"
"It's me, Lord Midgely. I heard Clara was here, and I wanted to say goodbye before I left." Lord Midgely's gentle voice carried through the thick door.
A slight glow surrounded Clara's face, and she blushed. "Give me a moment."
"Lord Midgely entered and bowed to both of them. "Forgive the interruption, fair maidens, but I felt it necessary to say hello to my friend." He kissed Clara's hand, and she giggled girlishly.
"Do you believe the message Lord Midgely?" Constance blurted out before she could stop herself.
"Lady Constance, we are the next generation of governors and caretakers of Ivorhaven. We should treat all threats with a certain skepticism, but it's folly to ignore it."
My mother says the same thing. "You make sense, Lord Midgely. Did Silverbolt leave?"
Lord Midgely Shrugged. "I have no idea. You know he never mentioned how I looked. I asked him about it, and he said: I wear a mask and run around beating up criminals. Do I have any space to judge?"
"Sounds like a better companion than Lord Wickham. Wouldn't you agree, Constance?" Clara's eyes stared right into Constance's as she spoke.
Sorry, Clara, I made my choice, and I am sticking to it.
The path to the front gate of the School/boarding house for young noblewomen enjoyed the rare flora growing on the grounds. Some flowers were translucent and glowed. Others smelled sweeter than candy. A clump of coal lay next to the flowerbed.
What is this doing here? I wonder if there's more. Every ten feet, there was another lump of coal. Weird, I should get going. Silverbolt turned back toward the gate. The problem is, stalkers and serial killers do stuff like this. The last one I faced was a pain to catch. It couldn't hurt to investigate.
The coal trail ended at a tree outside a window. A hawthorn tree in full bloom wore deep furrows around the trunk. What was tied here, and why? Whose window is that? Steel grey eyes scanned the area and noticed a greyish soil. What is this? It feels like soil but smells like death. I should take this to Madame Cuttle.
Silverbolt knocked on the wall next to the empty doorframe of the modest office. "Madame Cuttle, are you in?"
"Silverbolt, weren't you leaving? Please come in."
The wooden chair was more comfortable than expected. Madame Cuttle steepled her hands and leaned back in her chair. "To what do I owe the honor of you using proper manners?"
Gauntleted hands revealed the soil and coal. "The coal was on the main path, and I discovered the dirt near a hawthorn tree. I found furrows from a rope on the trunk."
Madame Cuttle examined the soil. "Smells like a corpse. Did you discover anything else?"
"Hoofprints, I couldn't tell you if a horse left them or not. The impressions were deep, meaning the beast carried a heavy load, which is where the coal comes in."
"Do you believe it related to the message?"
"I would like a chance to investigate further. If you don't mind."
Madame Cuttle hid a smile behind her teacup. "What about the growing romance between you and Constance? Should I worry about that?"
Things were easier when people understood what a superhero was. "Madame Cuttle, this isn't about the Damn Girl. One of your girls has a stalker, or a serial killer is picking out a victim."
"Serial killer?" Madame Cuttle asked with an incredulous expression on her face.
How does she not know? Right, I am not on earth. "I faced a couple. Regular criminals have the usual motivations for killing. Jealousy, greed, power, love, that sort of thing are you with me?"
"Yes." Madame Cuttle smiled.
Is she enjoying the conversation? "A serial killer is not compelled to kill by the usual motivations. They kill their victims in a specific way for reasons known only to them. They are cunning, patient, meticulous, and can look like anyone. Catching them is difficult." He paused. "Madame Cuttle, is there something funny about my deductions?"
Madame Cuttle sat her teacup down and steepled her fingers once again. "May I speak frankly?"
"It's your office."
"Would you consider being a protector here at the boarding house?"
Say no. The Damn Girl is here, and that is a box better left closed. "I'm flattered, but I have a full plate right now. We can talk about it once I get through, whatever is going on." Silverbolt twirled a baton around his fingers. "Can I investigate the rooms near the hawthorn trees?"
Madame cuttle rose and straightened her gown. "Please follow me"
Lord Midgely left, and Clara prattled on for twenty minutes about him. Whether it was out of jealousy or not, Constance walked away and decided to catch up on her reading. She sat in the parlor staring at the same page of her book. Clara came and sat at the end of the Chesterfield. "What are you not reading?"
Constance held up the cover. "The uses of bioluminescent plants in healing brews." She closed the book over her finger to mark the page. "I am vexed with myself. How I behaved in the office was inexcusable." She put the book aside. "I hate how confused I feel about everything. I want him to stay away, and when he is near, I don't want him to leave."
"I went through something similar with Lord Midgely. I got caught up in what I wanted versus what I needed. I wanted someone strong and handsome capable of doing great deeds at my request." Clara propped her head on her hand as she spoke.
Do I have unrealistic expectations? "When did your thinking shift?"
Clara sighed and smiled impishly. "After my debacle with Pankhurst, I laid in bed all day and developed a penchant for eating chocolate eclairs at all hours. Victoria rubbed it in my face every chance she got. Lord Midgely did outlandish things to break my depression. He spoke to me through the door in his sweet, gentle voice."
Perhaps I judged Midgely too harshly on our outing. "What happened next?"
Clara's eyes looked skyward, and her face had a dreamy smile, curled her mouth. "I wanted to be mad, but I realized he dedicated himself to my well being. Lord Pankhurst tried to make amends, but it was too late Lord Midgely had stolen my heart right from under my nose."
"Sounds like a love story for the ages. Thank you for sharing."
Madame Cuttles refined voice drifted into the room. "Here is the Parlor. Students and young noblewomen spend leisure time here. What are you looking for."
Silverbolt distorted voice followed. "I wish I knew. If I find nothing, it means he hasn't breached the building yet." The mask with lightning bolts around the eyes leveled on Constance. "I know you don't want to see me or talk, but I have a couple of questions."
Clara nudged Constance with her elbow. "Please, good sir, ask away."
"Can either of you see the Hawthorn from your windows?" he studied the window sill. "Nothing here."
Clara shook her head. "I am at the opposite end of the school from Constance."
I wonder what he hopes to find. "I can see the Hawthorn from my window. Is there a problem?"
Silverbolt looked up, "Can you show me?"
Blood rushed to Constance's face and hid her face behind the parasol. "My room is a mess. I don't want you to think I am a slob."
"I don't care about that. I just need to see your window for a moment."
Constance stood in front of the door. "Can you give me a moment to hide my unmentionables?" She watched the steel grey eyes. They didn't seem to care one way or the other. I wonder why he needs to see my window.
"I will give her a hand." Clara shoved her friend into the room. "We'll be but a minute." Once behind closed doors, Clara gave Constance a sly look. "Here is a chance to mend fences." She shoved a pair of gowns into the armoire.
I wish she would leave it alone. Constance threw a slip into the armoire. "And provoke him? No thanks."
Five minutes later, Silverbolt was at the window. He opened it and ran a metal-clad hand along the edge. "Do either of you have some parchment and a piece of drawing charcoal." He opened a hand. The greyish black soil almost glittered in the sun.
"Is it the same as the soil you found by the tree?" Madame Cuttle asked.
"It's drier than the soil I found out by the tree, but yeah, its the same stuff."
Constance walked over to her desk and pulled out the required items. She handed them to Silverbolt. He took a rubbing and sat at the desk. He pulled out the note from earlier and sat them side by side. The rubbing said "Mine" in elegant script.
"You see the lettering on the word mine? Now, look at the same letters on the note. Almost identical. Our mysterious friend has been watching you for days."
Madame Cuttle massaged her temples. "What should I do?"
"Put extra guards around the Hawthorn tree. I will sit outside Constance's door until morning." He paused and stared at Constance. "You're okay with that, right?"
Constance was about to say no when Clara's hand covered her mouth. "I would feel safer if you were here."
"Then it's settled then. Dinner is at six."