Letter #16 From Cassandra…errr…not exactly

To Miss Delphina Redgrave,                                                                                                                                                                           March 6

 

I am writing on behalf and with permission from Miss Leclaire who is at present continuing her investigations in Anchasiu. She left the morning of January the 12th and requested that I remain in Cellen to answer her mail and attend to Mrs. Leclaire who was staying at the house at the time. Sometime in early February, Mrs. Leclaire saw it fit to take her leave of her daughter’s residence and return home because Cassandra’s menagerie ill suited her. I get along with them splendidly, except for the bat whose name I can’t recall—he has escaped his cage at least once a week since I have been here and led me on a merry chase every time. The greenhouse is giving me the most trouble because, despite pouring over her instructions and books, several plants have become sickly and much to my chagrin the African violet withered completely. While I am relieved it is one of the easily replaceable plants, African violets are allegedly the hardiest of plants!

But I shall not bore you any longer. Rest assured I will forward your letter to Miss Leclaire who I anticipate within the month. She wrote to me a few weeks ago, updating me on her progress and I enclose that letter so you may know of her doings.

I must confess, Miss Redgrave, your present danger distresses me and I wish I had known of your troubles when I first met you so I might have been of assistance at that time. While your guardian seems most capable, if ever you are in need of my help, do not hesitate to send word. I will do my best to research the meaning in your last letter, but I fear I will not find the answer soon enough. I am terribly sorry that Cassandra is not here, for I am certain she would understand it in an instant.

 

Your devoted servant,

 

–Lieutenant Liam Sullivan

Letter #15: From Delphina

31th February

My own Cassandra,

Do not hate me, dearest, for I know my letter is long in coming. I would have written to you sooner, but Viatele forbade it, since we have only recently returned from being in hiding. My last letter was almost two months ago, and yours arrived shortly after the beginning of January, so I must say that I fear you might have feared me dead. No sooner had we settled in Hillsfar, a message came to my guardian in which he heard a rumor that some nefarious types were headed towards Hillsfar. While our identities were well-disguised and most of the people in Hillsfar would protect us with their lives, Viatele thought it would be best we left, since he was not sure how they found out about us in the first place. We fled further into the Golden Hills and did not stay in any town, but camped outside for at least two weeks before making our way towards a small farm. Given that I had no writing implements and I know you are such a kind and forgiving friend, I am sure that you will find it in your good nature to forgive such lateness. You know I think only the best of you.

I am not sure what kind of nonsense and chaos we have gotten ourselves caught up in, but camping is not something I’d like a repeat performance of. You will, I might add, be pleased to hear that I have been broadening my horizons. I know, now, how to properly milk a cow, bake cornbread, and have learned the joys of buttermilk. Mud, I have also found, is quite good for the complexion, but pigs are the filthiest creatures imaginable. I have decided to have bacon with breakfast every day since I detest the creatures so much now. However, I have had a bottle of the sweetest buttermilk preserved and it should be arriving there any day now. I hope that you will find it as enjoyable as I and a suitable apology present. Should you not enjoy the taste, I also hear it is good for the skin. A bath in it should make your skin as soft as silk.

Viatele left me for some time while we were at the farm, going to investigate these rumors. I wasn’t too fond on him leaving, given that he has been a nearly constant companion since we first met up, but he returned after a time and informed me that he had taken care of the problem. I am frustrated with the fact that he keeps me so in the dark. I can only hope that I get to know him better and that he will eventually, with time, begin to trust me. After he returned, he escorted me to Hillsfar before he left again and I have not seen him since. He has been gone three days, and has not yet returned.

I shudder at the idea of the dead coming back to life, much less them being insane when they do. I worry for poor Rasmus and only hope he rests in peace and is safe from whatever is going on. Perhaps since he has died before this catastrophe he is safe… but if all of the dead are potential victims, then he or our parents could return. I think that is one of my gravest nightmares. If you choose to venture into this mess, Cassandra, please be careful. I have not feared for our lives as much as I do now, and I only hope there will be peace. I am glad to hear for your small romance, as it is something bright and beautiful amidst this terrible horror that is life.

I struggle, now to try and act as if life is normal. To live as a resident of Hillsfar. I’ve been invited to a ball, as it seems it is in honor of the engagement of two of the residents. It will be nice to be social again, though I fear I will soon forget how to behave in polite company. Things are typically very relaxed around Viatele, and so I am not used to the formality that I was once used to. I am determined to just throw myself into the social scene of Hillsfar and shake it up, to become the enigma that will be the talk of the town. A hobby, I suppose, but something to keep me busy, to keep me from holing myself up in this house and forgetting that there is more to life than danger and running away. I have done nothing and yet I am caught in this mess… so I shall make something of myself in my own way. I apologize that I am not giving you a long and involved letter, but my life is so scattered I scarcely know what to tell you. For now, rest assured that I am safe and quite alive and that I am thinking of you and hoping you are well.

All my dearest love and apologies,
Delphina

Letter #14: From Cassandra

Dearest Delphina,                                                                                                                                                                       January the 6th

I’m not sure where to begin. I promised you a letter with plenty of romance, but events have progressed so rapidly that it seems frivolous for me to write about such matters when I have so much critical information to relay. It will be brief, but I will attempt to make it interesting even though I am so very distracted at the moment. I will be sending all of my letters through Hermes now, but I am in the process of training another pigeon (her name is Iris) because it is too long a journey for one bird to make two or three times a month. Please give him something tasty to eat when he arrives—he has earned it.

But regarding Liam—he often will ride the four hour stretch to visit me, usually arriving in the afternoon and leaving after dinner. I am not accustomed to cooking real meals and regularly keeping the house tidy for guests! With either him or Thea (or both) making such frequent visits, I assure you I am getting my practice. He insists on helping me with whatever he can and a few evenings ago we were with my flowers in the attic. While I tended to the plants he found my book on their meanings and studied it intently. He marveled over how many types of roses there are, remarking on their absence in my garden. I explained how they don’t grow very well indoors and how I look after the rose garden in the town center during spring so Mayor Roland allows me to take what I like. We spend so much time talking about the murders that I found myself rather thirsty for a more pleasant and simple topic. That evening when I was saying goodbye to him at his carriage, I complained about how the thick clouds that night completely obscured both the sky. He laughed out loud and said, “Well, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect opening than that!” He reached into his coat and said very sincerely to me, “Cassandra darling, I am afraid that you can’t blame the clouds.” From his pocket he pulled out a single flower. My mind jumped to remember the meaning. I said, blushing, “A lily stargazer…‘I see heaven in your eyes’.”

A roguish smile tugged at his mouth. “It was very wrong of you to steal the stars and even the moonlight, but since they suit you so well, I will forgive you.” And with a swift kiss to my cheek, he swung into his carriage and rode off. I was so taken aback that I stared at the flower in my hand for at least fifteen minutes—long after the carriage was out of sight—replaying the scene in my mind. It was so strange, like a dream. I’ve had my share of romance in the past, but none of it has ever been quite so…romantic. For some reason, I have always fallen in with older men who are rough around the edges, but take a shine to me. They’ve always liked me because I don’t flinch when they curse or ask them to polish their shoes. I always admired them because I found them natural and unaffected. There was something exciting about a man who had the confidence to grab me around the waist and kiss me—no words necessary. But Liam goes to great lengths to be around me. He treats me with such care, even in simple things like asking how I slept because he knows I often have nightmares. He wants to know about my animals, my family, and my work. I have always bonded with men by taking interest in their work and it never occurred to me that anyone would ever find me worth paying attention to.

I must stop myself there because there are important things for me to discuss.  You will be amazed when I tell you that I have simply had no time to feel shock at the identity of your guardian. My mind immediately started trying to understand where to place him in this complicated puzzle. Honestly, I fear we much more menacing foes against us than even a master thief and I do not have space inside my head for worrying. You must find out more details on his royal assignment and whether he is continuing it from the estate, or if he will need to travel again in order to complete it. Offer my services to him, although I hardly have the same skills that Rasmus did.

The greatest news I have for you is that I received a message from Anchasiu yesterday, before my own letter could possibly have reached it. It was from Augustofe, who you have heard me mention with great bitterness and I would rather not focus on what my experience has been with him. I have not seen him in three years and have no desire to see him again, but unfortunately, that may not be avoidable. His message asked me to forgive the past and come to Anchasiu immediately because he believes I am the only person who can make sense of what is going on there. He said people are dying suddenly only to come back to life completely mad. Their bodies are found in the most random of places and are unquestionably dead until the moment when the last rites are performed. Then their eyes flash open and they begin to babble nonsense, wandering out into the sand and nearly off cliffs if they are not watched carefully. I feel instinctively that Cellen’s troubles and Anchsiu’s are connected, but I do not know how yet. I do not wish to go, and yet I have fresh motivation.

For you see, my philandering mother is coming to live with me tomorrow. Both our wagers failed and neither of us win any money. She did not find a new lover before the New Year, nor on it. I personally believe this shows a great deal of restraint on my mother’s part or perhaps just a shortage of men (possibly wine as well) at our Christmas party. Either way, an old flame of hers from before she was married came into town three days ago and has been giving her trouble. I get the impression he wanted her to leave Father and go back to his home. Father usually rages when he hears about her affairs, but this time, he snapped. He apparently made a New Year’s resolution not to endure my mother’s adultery any longer and so he ordered her out of the house! For some reason that I cannot fathom, she does not want to live with this other man and so she has decided, quite without my permission, to move into my house! Despite all the death and disturbing events occurring in Cellen, nothing makes me feel like the end of the world is near like this does! I cannot imagine living with her again, but even more, I dread what would happen to my house if she was left alone in it! Thea is leaving soon and has been working with me to find a solution, but I can barely concentrate on anything anymore. I have made over a dozen lists of things I need to remember to do, but I am too overwhelmed to do any of them! Writing to you was even an effort.

I hope you fare better,

–Cassandra

Letter #13: From Delphina

31st of December

My Cassandra,

          Greetings on the eve of our new year! By the time you get this the festivities will be over, so I will send my best wishes that it was pleasant and that you spent the entire night giddy from mulled wine and the flirtations of dear Liam. You are horrible to taunt me so with the promise of romance when you know I cannot resist a tale such as that. So, reluctantly, I shall speak to you about my guardian. However, because you taunted me, I will tease you with all of the trivial details of my life before I reveal the identity of this man whom I have been so secretive about.

          First of all, I must thank you for the gift. How you managed to preserve a Cellen lily so that it was perpetually in bloom is beyond my understanding, but it is the most perfect blossom I have ever seen and it smells wonderful. I keep it with me and enjoy its scent, as it reminds me of home and of the dear friends I’ve left there. Even my guardian has remarked on the beauty of it, as he was quite fond of Cellen lillies while he lived in Cellen. As far as where we are, Onith is long gone, and thankfully so, as it was a miserable place full of miserable people. I’ve never been so scared for my life as I ever have in that town, not because it was dangerous but because the people were so grumpy that I was afraid they might snap and yell at me at any moment. My guardian assures me that the people of Onith are actually quite nice, but they are simply in rough economic times so they are rather worried that the few jobs they have will be snatched up by outsiders.

          We’ve traveled even further north, then nestled in through the Golden Hills to the east to a wonderful town called Hillsfar where we shall be staying for some time. I am unsure of the length of our stay, but it appears as if this is some sort of home for my guardian. He has a small estate here, and it is quite comfortable. The town is beautiful, just enough of a mix of culture and country, and I honestly wish that you were here to see it. The weather is much more pleasant, as it is much warmer and comfortable, and the sun has been peeking through for long periods of time throughout the day. It is wonderful here. Enclosed is a small canister of the product that Hillsfar is most famous for–its orange-blossom honey. It is rare to come by in winter, but my guardian is so fond of it that he buys vast quantities of it to last him through the winter before it runs out. I am sure it will taste lovely on those biscuits you were so fond of making. Was it Thea who gave you the recipe?

          I suppose now is as good a time as any to speak on my guardian’s behalf. I must begin by assuring you that it is not as bad as it sounds, and he is no Ares Blackheart (thank whatever deities may be listening), and he is as kind and protective of a guardian as I could have asked for. I shall simply get it out, as the name itself will just be enough for you to think on for the moment. Oh, dear. My hand is shaking…

          In Cellen, my guardian is known as Viatele Cade. Yes, the very same Viatele the Master Thief that was hunted for months and months after having gotten right into the bedchamber of the queen and stolen her jewels right out from the box next to her bed, and no one was the wiser until days later. Now, there was the whole fiasco in which the public couldn’t decide if he was a kind-hearted thief or a selfish scoundrel who was nothing but a liar, but I assure you that it is the former and not the latter. He did get caught, as you recall, and is supposed to be rotting in jail for the rest of his life. He is, however, very much alive and very much not in jail, and he very much did not break out. He is not a criminal by any sort! In fact, I must urge you not to let this letter fall into the wrong hands, for you are about to be privy to secrets of the state!

          Viatele was released with the blessing of the Crown. He was a citizen of Cellen, born and raised, but the Crown was in need of someone with his unique skills. Viatele was assigned to investigate some mysterious rumors of a murderous nature that would require him to leave Cellen and travel to Resonia, or further. Here is where the information gets personal–Rasmus was supposed to go with him. Viatele and Rasmus had indeed met at court, but it was not in the sense that we might have originally thought. Rasmus was to accompany Viatele to Resonia, using his training from Frehtanci to aide in this quest for the Crown. That is, until Rasmus suddenly died. Viatele does not believe that was any sort of accident at all, and when he finally revealed to me why we were here, he told me as much. The timing was uncanny, and Viatele was sure that Rasmus had stumbled upon new information.

          I am sure there has to be some connection with these beheadings! There is something foul happening, and I am not entirely sure that it is safe for Viatele and I, as whatever he is investigating may be on to us. He is traveling under a different name, as his reputation still gets attention now and again over here, and he has given me an assumed name as well, for my own protection. I do not believe that it is necessary, but if my name is linked with my brother’s and someone did indeed murder him, then it is perhaps best. Do not worry about the address of these letters, as Viatele assures me that the mail is fine (do not ask me how–he is mysterious enough as it is!) and you are free to continue to inform me of whatever you wish with no worry of interception. Especially if Hermes is the one bringing it. For your information, in case you hear any sort of information in your part of the world, my new name is Mariel Fennin. I think it is pretty enough, and Viatele is still my guardian under our new names. It is less complicated that way.

          I feel as if I’ve exhausted myself pouring out this information to you! I must hear of your exploits with Liam, as I could due with less murder and subterfuge and more dancing and murmurs of sweet nothings. Give me something to curl up with in the beautiful windowseat in my new bedroom, Cassandra, for I’m dying to hear of romance!

All my dearest love,
Delphina

Letter #12: From Cassandra

27th of December

Dear Delphina,

          So much to cover! I will no doubt leave out something important, so forgive me ahead of time!

          I believe I began my last letter to you by telling you how vexing you can be, so I shan’t do it again, particularly now that I see you are not  withholding your guardian’s name from me out of playful teasing, but presumably because I know the name of this man, possibly personally or perhaps merely by reputation.  The reason that this letter is being delivered by Hermes is because you carelessly failed to include your intended route or even your final destination. Your last location was listed as Onith, which according to my books is a tiny town in Third Province. You never mentioned that you were so far! It is little wonder that it took your guardian a month to collect you! Since you are surely no longer in Onith, and I haven’t the faintest notion of where your next location might be, I have resorted to Hermes, who is a better tracker than any hunting hound. If it is as you say, that your guardian has a reputation in Cellen, this only causes my concern to grow, since he must be very famous in order to have a name such a distance away. The only Third Province name I can think of who would be recognized  here is the governor’s—Bram-Eliot Faris, but he has a positive reputation, not negative. My only conclusion is that this man must be someone who is not originally from the Third Province and gained his fame before he moved there. I don’t recall your brother ever telling of going to the Third Province, so they most likely met in court, and I can think of far too many wealthy scoundrels who would fit your description, so I am at a loss. I will restrain myself from making hasty guesses as to his identity for this single letter, but I must insist you reveal his name the next time you write. Include as many words of assurance and proofs of his honor that you deem necessary to assuage my fears, but do not leave me to consider the worst! I am sure he has treated you with the most courtesy, as you have written, but remember you have not had much experience with men, and take care your impressions are not naïve. And also do not forget that while Rasmus was very attached to you, his judgment when it came to trust was not always sound. If a man was not in politics and had not wronged him personally, he considered him to be a “good sort” and would lend him money after only a few days’ acquaintance. It was always very generous of him, but far too often resulted in his loss. He was only fortunate that he could afford it. I am sorry to chide you so, but as you know, it is in my nature to be contrary. It is for the sake of balance—if you were expressing your worry about the situation, I would no doubt be the voice of reassurance—I can’t help it, it is reflexive for me.

          As for your suggestion that Rasmus’ death might have involved foul play, I was never informed of the circumstances of his death—I assumed it was a relapse of the tuberculosis, since you never mentioned a cause in your letters. Now to hear from you that there was an accident, my concern grows.  I find it hard to imagine your brother having any enemies, but I would hardly put it past a courtier to find some reason his death could benefit them. Oh, Delphina, I only hope there is no connection between his death and these grisly murders! For if your brother was somehow involved, it not only means this is far reaching indeed, but your life may be in danger. I sent letters of inquiry to my contacts in Resonia for information on your brother’s death as well as the headless murder. I will also dispatch letters to Iabs, Anchasiu, and North Fourth to check if any similar deaths have occurred. It is time I took this more seriously. During my most recent visit to Lyndar, I made a point of poking around for any information, but Lyndar at least has been relatively quiet.

          I received the oil lamp with your letter, and I think it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen! I hope you had a chance to see it when it is lit up—the glow from the wine bottle is almost magical, and I don’t use that word lightly. And it was very sweet of you to find one with butterfly orchids painted on it since they are my favorites. Thea will be spending a week in Resonia next month studying under a high class mage and she is determined to buy one for herself.  Your taste is, as usual, impeccable.  I believe it would have arrived on Christmas day had the mail deliverer been working on that day, so your timing could not have been better.

          I have been seeing a great deal of Liam this season. He called on my house as I told you he was planning to do, and because he seemed very interested in all of the magical traditions involved, I invited him to come the next day to celebrate Solstice with me and Thea. I attended his family’s Christmas party as a way to avoid my own family’s party and we had a very frustrating and exciting conversation about the murders that ended with us sneaking out of the Sullivan’s house and driving back to Cellen in my carriage, which took almost half the night, and then tramping about in the snow looking for clues until my feet were in danger of frostbite (I was only wearing my dancing shoes), and, oh, it was so much fun! Liam and I are convinced that there is another body in our town that has yet to be found, and the only downside of that evening/morning was that we did not find anything that night. And, that he had to rent a carriage to ride back home because it would have caused a scandal if he had stayed at the inn in Cellen after spending the entire night with me. I am afraid I have become very attached to him—his enthusiasm is altogether contagious and his interest in every aspect of my work makes it difficult not to feel endeared to him.  I know that you will be eager for details, but this letter must be sent off, so I will have to use a promise for a full account as incentive for you to be forthright about your guardian. Ha! I have you now, my dear, for I know your weakness when it comes to romance! I do hope you are having as lovely of a season as I am, and that you celebrated Christmas in some cheery manner.

Love and good wishes,

–Cassandra

Letter #11: From Delphina

21st of December

My dearest,

           I got lucky this time. We actually passed the messenger on the road as he was bringing your letter, so I have gotten it in record time, which means that I am at least able to give you some Solstice greetings. I am afraid that they are not what they should be and I am missing you horribly, but I think holidays do that to people, and everyone simply wants to be around those they are close to. It makes me miss my brother more, but the chaos and “adventure” of my whole current situation distracts me from it a little bit.

          I must say that your letter does not set me at ease. First of all, mentioning Ares Blackheart nearly caused me to faint on the spot. The mere suggestion that he was my guardian was enough to kill me ten times and back. You know my reasons for fearing that man so much, so you should be ashamed for suggesting that. Had it come down to it, I would have fled and found The Celestra again and begged the soldiers to protect and hide me. If my guardian weren’t so kind, I would still be considering the thought.

          The second alarming thing you mentioned was the close proximity of the beheading and my departure. Cassandra, if my guardian seemed concerned for my life and there is suddenly a headless body right where I was previously… what if this is linked to me somehow? What if it is somehow linked to my brother? I know I might be overthinking his death, and he has come to mind especially because of the holidays, but do you really think Rasmus’ death was from natural causes? I think it is all getting too suspicious, especially since they wouldn’t let me see his body because of the accident. It was to spare me from having to see him like that, and I’m not sure I would have wanted to, but… was he beheaded too?

          I have decided adventure is not to my liking and I am finding it very, very hard to stay strong in the midst of this. I have nothing strong and stable to calm myself with, and if it were not for the kindness of this man who watches over me, I would have surely thrown myself into the sea. You cannot imagine how my impressions of this man have changed through the course of a few days.

          You see, my guardian has a bit of a reputation in Cellen. Rumors and the like, but you know how rumors are. When I first connected the name with the person, I was surprised. He was not at all like this infamous “scoundrel” and I have to admit the rumors were entirely off base. Still, it is likely that telling you now will still make you hate him, so I shall continue to withhold his name until I have proved his good nature to you fully.

          I have, however, done a little bit of sleuthing. I am quite proud of myself for managing to do so, especially considering how hard it was to get ahold of the document itself. My guardian is a secretive sort, but he seems to be very emotionally tied to things. The document in question is a letter which he usually keeps in the breast pocket of his coat. I had spied it one evening but didn’t ask him about it, but I continued to watch him and noted that he kept the letter there, night after night, never removing it from the pocket. Naturally, a girl is going to be curious about such things, especially since she knows so little about this mysterious man!

          I managed to sneak it away when I offered to fetch his coat from the rack when we were leaving an inn. The letter that he seemed to protect and treasure so dearly, was from Rasmus. You can imagine how eager I was to read that! Rasmus’ tone was entirely friendly–it was abundantly clear by his phrasing that he trusted my guardian and that they were the dearest of friends–almost as close as you and I, though I dare say that the bonds between women and the bonds between men can hardly be compared in the slightest, but I digress.

          I believe that this letter is the first time my guardian had heard mention of me. In it, Rasmus talks of his business at court, some trivial things that I won’t mention, and then he discusses us back home. While he wouldn’t say why, Rasmus was increasingly homesick, almost to the point where he was going to uproot me entirely and have me sent up to court with him! That would have been quite a move, especially considering how that would look to every single person from here to the capital. The fact that he loved me so dearly and was so concerned as to want me to be there with him makes me happier than I’ve been in a long time. I shall always know that he loved me, even if he did not always show it. I know I’m the reason why he went off to court in the first place.

          I suppose the letter is symbolic, in a way. Here, he first mentions that he has family to my guardian, how he misses me and wants to take me away somewhere out of concern. My guardian seems to be carrying on my brother’s wishes, taking me away from everything. He has not told me a final destination yet, and we have been traveling for some time now. It is quite wearisome.

          I am afraid I have not received the Christmas present yet, but I believe that is due to the fact that we have been relocating so often that the mail may be a bit later than expected. There should be a small wooden box accompanying this letter (and if there is not, I shall be sore at the postal service for losing such a treasure) which is particularly engraved in Resonian designs. My present to you is inside. I say that it is not much simply because I hadn’t really time to shop. I did see this, as we were traveling, and I thought of you since it was such a beautiful trinket and most definitely a true symbol of Resonia’s artisans. Will write back when present arrives.

Cheers,

Delphina

Sorry, not a letter! (In the Meantime…)

To any faithful readers out there:

Sorry about not having a letter in over a month! But there is at least a good news reason behind it: Courtney (who writes as Delphina) found a job in September after many painful months of searching–HUZZAH! I assure you that she has not forgotten about Guardian Ghost. She just kind of has had very important things on her mind lately.

If you want some mild diversion, I have posted the parts of a story I’m writing on: http://nerdfighters.ning.com/profiles/blog/list?user=15qlimfr211vy

It’s a very un-serious reinvention of Canterbury Tales as a murder mystery. It’s not as polished or well-developed as Guardian Ghost because it’s what I’ve been writing to keep myself awake in class AND because I haven’t actually read all of Canterbury Tales. It’s just a fluffy fun little story that I’m working on, but you might find it amusing.

Alright, enough plugging of my writing! Hopefully, another letter will be posted soon!

Letter #10: From Cassandra

18th of December

          You, my dear Delphina, are quite vexing at times. Is there something particularly menacing about the name of your guardian that led you to withhold his name? I suppose if his name was such as Ares Blackheart, it would be difficult not to be predisposed to uneasiness, but  since you imply that it is not his name that it as unsettling as his personality, I come full circle to frustration again. Your letter suggests that you were far too trusting of this man’s word that he is your guardian, and I can only hope that you did verify his identity before letting him sweep you away in such a rude and hurried manner. Ah, but perhaps I write too hastily. Your guardian clearly does not mean you any harm. In fact, I find his intense concern for your well-being more worrisome than he himself. You must discover why he fears for your life!

          I may scold, but I cannot help but chuckle when I reread your letter. You most certainly have gotten the adventure you hoped for, even if it appears not to include pirates. If ever your nerves need calming in this tumultuous time, lavendar and jasmine tea will help your sleep to be sweet. I am afraid that no craft of mine can help you understand your guardian better–he is male and no magic in the world can clear those muddy waters!

          There have been no more murders in Cellen, only the occasional man dead drunk man in the tavern. I am not certain if you are aware of it, Delphina, but many of the holiday travellers from Resonia have reported a murder in the city that involves the same details of beheading. From what I can gather, it occurred very close to the day that you left. Disturbing news indeed!

          I have failed to locate or establish any sort of contact with the spirits of Miss Thorndon or the anonymous man on the roadside. I do not have time to explain the many methods that I have attempted with no success, but sufice it to say that I have spent far too many hours than is healthy searching for them. Thea insists that I spend this weekend at home, eating regular meals and getting proper sleep. You may be interested that I will be engaged in yet another practice this weekend that is unlike myself: I will be entertaining a guest! The Sullivans have returned to their estate in Lyndar for the holidays and Liam has asked to call on me at my house. I do not know if his entire family will visit as well, but you can be sure that I have forbidden Thea to tell our parents, else they see it as an invitation.

          I know that you do not celebrate Solstice, but know that I will raise a toast to you that night. Your Christmas present will arrive a few days after this letter, so be sure to write me so I know that you received it.

Warm wishes in this frigid season,

–Cassandra

Letter #9: From Delphina

11th of December

Cassandra,

          I hardly know where to begin to help you fathom what has been going on here, but first I had better address the horrifying news from your last letter. Can Cellen no longer be safe? I fear that with descriptions such as those it is obvious not to have been any sort of “accident” or anything at all natural, which means there is some sort of monster or creature doing this… or perhaps even some horrible, disgusting person who has devised a way to do these things to these innocent, undeserving people. Well, at least I can only assume that they are innocent and undeserving. I do have to admit, Cassandra, I am stalling a little for time. While I want to tell you about my guardian, I am also very hesitant to explain things for fear that you should worry. Indeed, my guardian did lavish me with those luxuries while on the way here, but I do fear that some of what I have to say will make you concerned for me. I am also sure that some of the things I have to say will also make you nothing but curious for answers which I do not have.

          First of all, this mysterious guardian does exist. I will not put his name here, yet, because I do not want it associated in your mind with this man until you can completely understand his character… or I fear you will react more negatively than I did! He arrived some days ago, but I’ve barely been able to write. He is older, and by older I do not mean a kindly old father figure, but not as young as my brother. Somewhere in the middle is where I would place him, I suppose, so he is like an older version of my brother, in my way. He did not let me know at this juncture in time how it was he knew my brother, but he insisted that they were very dear friends and that he would do his most to protect my happiness and safety as he did. He has a demeanor about him that sets me at ease, but at the same time raises hairs on the back of my neck and keeps me from wanting to blink for fear or something happening while my eyes are shut.

          He arrived in the dead of the night when nearly everyone was asleep, and demanded to see me. Thankfully I was still in the library pouring over one of the tomes for my ancient literature work when he arrived or I would have had a very rude awakening. He seemed a little harried from traveling, but there was something more to it. Ordinary travel takes a lot out of a person, and he had that look, but he also seemed rushed, as if meeting me were so very important and there was some deadline in which he had to meet me in. It was perplexing, but I was pleased to meet him anyway, since waiting around for him to come had been putting me on edge the last few days. He seemed quite satisfied when he heard all that I had been up to, and wanted to hear more, but not before he had gestured for one of the servants to pack up my belonging while he and I chatted. I was quite surprised that he didn’t seem to want to stay in the Academy longer, but he is my guardian and if he wishes to leave promptly, that is up to his discretion.

          He was quite intently listening to everything I told him about my adventures on board The Celestra. When I asked him how he had arranged such a thing, he admitted that one of the higher-ranking officers was a very close friend of his–so it wasn’t really out of his way for him to supply me with safe and comfortable passage. I suppose thinking of all of the things given to me as luxuries might have been exaggerating mostly because I am not use to such comfort. He is, however, quite concerned with making sure I am perfectly alright. I believe he must have asked three times in just that one sitting! As the servant returned with the news that my things were safely packed away, I informed my guardian that we had better get some rest before traveling tomorrow, especially since he had just arrived and was most likely exhausted (and he even looked it). What was even more surprising was that he insisted that we not leave in the morning, but instead right away.

          This took me quite by surprise and worried me a little as I didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye to Mala or my professors, but my guardian, with a concerned look, insisted it was for the best. That is one of the things I think will vex both of us. What kind of person sweeps away a girl just now under their care in the middle of the night from a very comfortable situation, when they are already tired, no less? I barely had enough time to pen a quick thank-you note to my professors and a very brief line or two to Mala explaining how I was being hurried off and begging for her to keep writing to me with what was going on in the Academy. With the ink still drying, he led me off to a carriage where all of my things were already loaded on. It was a pretty sight, my guardian and the carriage and the snow falling all framed by the stars, but it was a fleeting memory, as we were rushed off almost as I was stepping into the carriage.

          All of this rushing worries me, but I dare not ask yet as I hardly know my guardian yet! However, he seems to be much more of a concerned man than I first anticipated, as he keeps giving me strange looks while writing this letter. I’m half-worried that he’s going to think that letter writing is a bad thing to be doing and ask me to stop, which is why I am hurrying and will most likely begin to pen my next letters when he is not around or very late at night. I enjoy chatting with my guardian, but these habits concern me greatly, and I am now very anxious because I know that I cannot just return to how my life was in Cellen, and that no matter how strange and uncomfortable the situation, that it is not one I can run away from. Please write me back soon and give me your thoughts, as I do not think I can face analyzing this man alone. I know you cannot quite get an accurate assessment without meeting him, but I am trying to think up any possible rational explanation for us hurrying off in the night like that and my mind can only come up with horrifying images of bodies without blood. This is what I get for reading your letter too late at night. Please put my mind at ease, Cassandra.

Fondest regards,

Delphina

Letter #8: From Cassandra

2nd of December

Delphina,

        These past weeks, I have often found myself envying the simple peace that you seem to be enjoying lately. All is not well in Cellen—there have been two murders, both performed in a particularly grotesque manner. The first was Elyse Thorndon, a local dressmaker’s assistant whose body was found on the doorstep of the shop, half buried in snow. It is very unpleasant to write of such things, but it might be significant, so I am afraid I mustn’t exclude the most disturbing feature regarding her death: Her head had been severed from her body and has yet to be found. Because she was a local, the shopkeeper and the poor woman’s family were able to identify her. This is precisely why we do not yet know the name of the second victim: A rotund gentleman found on the side of the main road leading into Cellen. Rumor says that his hat was lying next to him, but his purse was gone.

          I was vexingly unable to leave the house the day that Miss Thorndon was discovered, and therefore did not hear about the incident until Thea arrived for a visit and gave me the news. I spoke with the constable about the circumstances and learned that there had been no blood surrounding the body, which naturally means that the crime must have been committed elsewhere. After the second death, I was able to look at the stranger’s body myself. Not only did this body also have no blood around it, but not a trace on his clothes or skin! I plan on waiting for the spirits of the victims to surface in hopes of learning more. Normally, this would be impossible since the nights here are far too cold to safely spend hours outside, but Thea is turning out to be invaluable to me with her solid knowledge of simple wand spells that she is eager to practice. She has been doing her utmost not to show off, which is very sweet of her. I am glad that she is staying for Winter Solstice and Christmas because I will have someone to talk to at all the holiday parties. Sometimes I wish that my family were either poor or rich instead of being so thoroughly Bourgeoisie . For, if we were poor, there would be no parties to attend or to host. And if we were rich, then the prospect of me failing to attend any of these events would not as critical to our family’s social position. The rich can afford to have one eccentric daughter, especially one who has her own small income, but the middle class parents are not secure enough to feel unthreatened by one such as me.

      I eagerly look forward to receiving your next letter since I am acutely aware that it will at last reveal to me the news about your mysterious guardian. Don’t delay the letter, for the matter will not leave my mind until I hear all!

Always Yours,

                –Cassandra