(Daphne Valentine: The MC/ enchantress and the distant niece of Sherlock Holmes. She has just returned to her manor after spending the day with her butler investigating Imperial Academy, where girls including her cousin Josephine, have gone missing. Daphne is packing here because she will soon be going undercover as an academy student. Sebastian is Daphne’s suave and tactful butler who is her partner in solving cases.)
“Yes,” murmured Sebastian. “Perhaps, now we can attend to more important business. I’ve called the seamstress who should be arriving any moment now to take your measurements for the Academy uniform that you’ll need for tomorrow.”
I nodded. “Very well. Send her upstairs when she arrives.”
I walked up the stairs to my room and glanced around at my belongings. I still needed to pack. I took a suitcase out and began cramming my clothes and a few items Mina had given me as part of her enchantress lessons. As I sorted through which spellbooks to take with me, a loud sound came from downstairs that made me jump. It sounded like the main door being opened. The seamstress, no doubt.
With a sigh, I removed my evening attire until I was left wearing just a cream pink satin corset. Josephine would have loved things like this, getting fitted for uniforms, dresses, and gowns, but I was indifferent towards these sorts of things. I hoped this fitting wouldn’t take long. The sooner I was done with this, the sooner I could return to more important matters.
There was a slight knock on the door.
“Come in,” I said lazily, propping my arms on the bed.
The doorknob turned and my dull expression quickly turned bright pink.
Sebastian was standing in the doorway; His dark eyes widened at my scantily clad shoulders, his gaze traveling across the corset, but then his lips quirked upward.
I jumped back and draped my arms across my bare shoulders.“T-turn…around.”
Sebastian chuckled lowly and placed his gloved hand over his eyes, but his serpentine smile was ever present. “So those were the ‘pretty little things’ Miss Cravandish spoke about earlier.”
“Shut up,” I hissed, throwing on a fleece robe around myself. “What are you even doing here? I thought the seamstress was coming.”
“She will be arriving momentarily,” he drawled, “but in the meantime, I thought you might be interested to know a letter arrived for you…”
“Why don’t you see for yourself?” said Sebastian, a slight curl at his lips.
I gave him a questioning glance as he handed me the envelope. I held up it up to the light and turned it. A typewritten letter. It looked ordinary enough until I realized what so peculiar about it.
“There is no to address…or who it’s from,” I murmured, flipping it back to its front side. “Just a return address… ‘Twelfth Street, Nottingham’, but that’s all…not even a number on it…”
“Indeed,” smiled Sebastian. “Without a sender address, it is clear this has not arrived from the normal post. It would seem that someone has personally come down to the manor and left the letter on the doorstep…”
I stared at him incredulously.
“Also,” said Sebastian a low murmur, “you’ll find it intriguing to know that there is no ’Twelfth Street’ in Nottingham.”
“What?” I whispered, my brows furrowing. I shifted my gaze from Sebastian to the mysterious address and wasted no time ripping open the envelope. My fingers impatiently pulled out the letter while the torn envelope drifted to the floor cast aside. As I opened the folded note, my squinted eyes widened. I had never seen anything like it.
I stared at the typed letter.
“Way nor furnished sir procuring therefore but warmth far manner myself. You are not called. Set her half end girl rich met allowance are departure and curiosity ye. In no talking address excited it conduct trending debating with unintelligent discourses annoyance overcame blessing he it me to on domestic.
Do greatest at in learning steepest. Pumpkin seed eater extremity thin all otherwise suspected. He at no nothing forbade up moments. Wholly on vexed at missed be of pretty whence. Its way sir high ice than law who week omnipotent surrounded prosperous introduced it lace dresses.
Be improved dispatched juggling on the green strictly produced answered elegant ballet wary.
Shewing met parties gravity husband slender pleased. On to gentleman kind or next feel held walk. Last own loud and gay give lucky you’ll sentiments motionless or principles preference excellence am. Literature surrounded insensible at be indulgence or to admiration remarkably. Matter future lovers desire marked boy next.
“Look at this,” I rasped. “It’s-it’s utter gibberish.”
Sebastian’s emerald eyes glittered at me. “Are you sure about that, Miss Valentine?”
I flapped the letter in hand through the air. “What sort of meaning could possibly be in this rubbish? It seems to be more of a school boy prank than anything else. Besides, what good would it do to send a message if the receiver cannot decode it?”
“You aren’t an ordinary receiver now, are you Miss Valentine?” smirked Sebastian. “It seems that whoever sent you this knows that you pride yourself on deduction and would be able to understand. She or he wouldn’t have sent it had they not been sure you’d decipher it.”
I frowned and reexamined the letter, then bent down to pick up the discarded envelope off the floor.
“Strange isn’t it?” said Sebastian with a glint in his eyes, “the need to provide a fake address rather than nothing at all.”
“That is true,” I said slowly. “If there was no name, the sender obviously wants to remain anonymous. Why provide an address at all in that case? Or better yet, why not do the whole thing properly and come up with a fake name to match the fake address?”
Sebastian smiled knowingly. “Your fanciful deduction would provide the answers to that.”
I glanced down at the address. The fake address had to mean something.
“Twelfth Street, Nottingham,” I said, thinking aloud to myself. My eyes darted between the envelope in one hand and the nonsensical letter in the other. “Twelfth Street…” My voice trailed off as my fingers tightened around the envelope. I could feel my pupils constrict at the address and stuck out my hand. “Sebastian, a quill, quickly.”
With a glimmer in his eye, Sebastian handed me a feathery quill and watched me mark up the letter. My pulse quickened with each circle I drew. I could hardly contain my anticipation as the message began unraveling itself.
“So that’s it,” I said said in a low whisper, putting the pen down and holding up the letter. “Every twelfth word forms a hidden message. Sebastian, string them together and read it aloud.”
Sebastian leaned in behind my shoulder and read the words circled in green ink. “‘You are treading on thin ice. Be wary or you’ll be next.’… nice little message to leave.”
“Stop joking. Obviously, someone found out we were investigating and doesn’t want us coming to that Academy,” I said, crumpling up the note and tossing it in the dust bin. “All the more reason to visit…”
Sebastian hummed. “A bit peculiar that the sender choose the number twelve. Would have saved them some trouble and made for a shorter letter had they picked Third, Fourth, or Fifth Nottingham Street…”
I shrugged. “Don’t ask me how some sociopath’s mind work.”
Sebastian parted his lips in a bare whisper. “Well, you would know.”