In the detective's office, the bell suddenly rang. The two men who were sitting opposite each other simultaneously looked at the door. Their clothes, although had been mended magically, were still not presentable to guests.
"I guess that's my cue to leave," said Luuk van der Meer.
"Then open the door for me," replied Valentine, who had taken over from Graham because he needed to place anti-divination on all the battle loots that they had got from the fight earlier.
He got up from the chair with a horned mask in one hand and went for the door. Luuk opened it and was stunned by the visitor. Standing at the door now was a beautiful woman wearing a black dress that was knee-long with elbow-length sleeves. Covering her slender hands were two elegant thin gloves. Her dark brown hair was tied in an updo style and there was an ornament beautifying her hairdo. She was wearing dangle earrings as her only piece of accessories besides the hair ornament. With her stunning appearance, if she were to attend a funeral, the deceased would surely rise and greet her personally.
"You may come in," said Valentine, sitting in his chair leisurely.
It was also a wake-up call for Luuk, who realized he had been standing in the doorway. He quickly left and went back to his own apartment.
"Pardon my intrusion," she said as she entered the office.
The woman elegantly closed the door behind her and walked inside on her stilettos. Her posture was perfect, emphasizing her slender body and its curves. Her chin was held up the whole time she was walking, creating an atmosphere of confidence around her. She took a seat opposite Valentine, who was observing her intently. The fragrant yet subtle smell of her perfume entered his nose; it was a mixture of jasmine and rose with a soft hint of cananga.
From up close, she was even more beautiful with her perfectly imperfect face. Her small and pointed nose gave her soft face sharpness, while her blue eyes were deep like the ocean. Unlike Valentine's cold blue eyes, hers were warm and soft yet profound. Her thin lips were curled in a smile that was both shy and charming at the same time. She was like a swan that was swimming gracefully across the calm pond.
"Damn, G, she is a total ten..." he muttered, and then looked at the woman in front of him again, "Is there anything I can help you with, Ms...? asked Valentine politely.
"You can call me Agatha. I'm an acquaintance of Cadhla's," she said. Her voice was soft and warm but full of confidence.
The woman's voice was pleasant to listen to. It was similar to Mirjam's sunny and warm voice, but hers was calmer and gentler. Her manner of speaking also showed that she was an educated person.
The mention of the name Cadhla made him raise his eyebrow. It was not a name that he would expect to hear in Sloten. Valentine became curious and started chanting under his breath to make sure the woman in front of him couldn't hear it.
"I, in the name of the Deity of Uncovering, ask you to reveal your secrets to me,"
Slowly, an illusory text started forming above her head. Valentine began reading the floating text right away.
'Agatha van Nostrand, the daughter of the famous businesswoman Theresia van Nostrand. Her personality is both ruthless and kind, brutal and elegant. She is currently in a contract with the Deity of Sleep and the Deity of Bloodshed and Manslaughter.'
After that, the text disappeared and Valentine turned his attention back to the beautiful woman in front of him.
"So you're a Contractbound, just like Cadhla," said Valentine.
Agatha didn't look surprised that the detective could find out about that just in seconds.
"Yes. So it is true that no secrets can get past you," she replied honestly.
"So what can I help you with?" asked Valentine.
"Mr. Hymes, I need your divination ability to help me gather the sacrificial materials for my contract ritual," she said without wavering, "And also most likely your assistance in procuring them,"
Valentine put pressed both hands together and rested his chin on them.
"Hmm... you'll need to tell me what they are," he said, and then turned over his shoulder, "G, I didn't expect this beautiful woman to be closer than us to advancing..."
"It also seems true when she said you like talking to yourself," she said straightforwardly.
Valentine only shrugged.
"Please wait here. I need to make preparation for divination," he said.
He got up from his chair and went to his bedroom. After locking the door from inside, he lied down on his bed and closed his eyes. Focusing on his breathing helped him fall asleep faster, and once he did so, Graham opened his eyes and got up from the bed. The man's aura was now completely different from before. He was now emitting an aura of warmth and trustworthiness, unlike Valentine's subtlety and mysteriousness.
Graham went back to the office and sat across from Agatha, who had been waiting for him patiently. She didn't move an inch from her seat, still sitting elegantly with a perfect posture.
"Now, tell me what you need to find," he said.
She took a deep breath.
"I need a ghoul's brain; it must be intact, and ten scales of a Nhang, as well as its blood. Twenty milliliters of it," she said.
Graham put his hand under his chin and raised his eyebrows.
"But a ghoul will burst into flames once killed. Does it mean we have to take its brain while alive, Val?" he muttered. "I know where we can find a ghoul. As for a Nhang, let me use divination,"
Since Valentine's Reveal didn't show him that the woman has any bad intentions, Graham wasn't worried about revealing his status as a rare Fire Divinator. He opened the top drawer and picked up a candle. He placed the candle on the desk and lit it. The fire burned with an orange light calmly. After that, he concentrated on the flame and repeated a question in his mind.
'Where can I find a Nhang?'
From Agatha's point of view, Graham was concentrating hard on the flame without saying anything. And then, the flame flickered for a second before an image started to form, getting bigger and bigger slowly. She could see a lake located inside a cave with hard cave walls surrounding it. In the lake, a large, dark shadow was swimming about. It appeared to be the Nhang. After that, the image shifted to an aerial view of Sloten and its surrounding areas. There were two red dots indicating their location and the target's location, which was to the north at the foot of De Vaalserberg. Soon after, the image slowly disappeared.
Graham raised his head and looked at Agatha.
"I know where the place is. Do you still need my assistance to hunt the creature?"
She nodded, "Yes. I will pay you forty guilders per creature plus all the expense during the mission."
"Okay, but I will keep the remains of the creatures that we kill," said Graham.
He knew that those creatures' remains would fetch a lot of money, and also there were other supernatural creatures along the way.
"That is fine by me. I only need the materials," she replied softly.
"For hunting the Nhang, I will also bring other helpers. The cave where it resides is full of dangerous creatures; just the two of us won't make it," he said.
"In that case, I'll pay the helpers the same amount," she said shortly. It was apparent that money wasn't a problem for her.
"Then we have a deal. I will need a day to prepare. We will depart tomorrow morning at nine to hunt the Nhang. As for the ghoul, we will need to hunt it tomorrow night. Is that alright with you?"
She smiled. Her blue eyes were staring at Graham meaningfully.
"That's fine. Then, I'll take my leave,"
She stood up and fixed her dress gently. Graham also stood up and got ahead of her. He opened the door for her and she walked out of the office. The smell of her perfume entered his nostril again as she walked past him.
"Thank you, Mr. Hymes. I'll see you tomorrow," she said.
Graham nodded and then closed the door from outside. He went to his neighbor's apartment right away to tell him about the mission.
He rang the bell and unlike usual, Luuk answered the door quickly. It was as if he had been expecting Graham.
"Who is that woman? Is there a mission?" he asked curiously from the gap in the door.
Graham gestured at him to let him in, and Luuk opened the door wider. The two men entered the messy living room and Luuk closed the door behind him. There were books and random objects lying on the floor, so Graham carefully walked towards the sofa while avoiding them. The brown sofa still looked the same; the spot where he had sat previously was still there, and the stuff he moved aside hadn't been moved back. He sat comfortably there.
"That was Agatha van Nostrand," said Graham, answering Luuk's first question.
Luuk's expression showed surprise.
"van Nostrand? That rich woman?" he exclaimed.
"Yes. Are they richer than your parents?" asked Graham curiously.
Luuk looked up and seemed to be thinking.
"Yes, most likely."
He then grabbed a chair and sat on it backwards, hugging the chair's backrest.
"She gave us a mission. It involves the cave in the north again; that's why I need your help. Our target this time is deeper into the cave, so we will need to bring Jacco along as well," he paused, and then added, "That woman is also a Contractbound, and a strong one, so this time it should be smoother,"
Luuk wasn't surprised that she was like them. Rich people must have their means to obtain contract scrolls somehow.
"Okay. How much is she going to pay us?" asked Luuk.
"Forty guilders each. And she is not interested in any other remains besides the ones she needs, so we can sell them and split the money," replied Graham.
"Alright. I'm in. I'm sure Jacco will say yes as well. As long as there is a fight, he'll be there,"
Graham crossed his legs casually.
"That's what I think too. Now I need you to create bullets for tomorrow. Make as many slow bullets as you can, don't worry about the poison ones. She will reimburse all our expenses, so we shouldn't hold back," he said.
"Rich people sure are different," he said with a hint of regret in his tone.
"You are one too..." replied Graham.
"My parents are. I'm just a poor sod," he replied casually.
Graham didn't respond. He got up from the sofa and stretched his body a little.
"I'm going to the bazaar. You coming?"
He shook his head.
"Nah. I'm too lazy. I'll take a nap first," he said lazily. "What are you buying? Enchanted equipment?"
"No. I don't think she'll reimburse that. Even if she would, I still need the money to buy one in the first place," he replied, "I'm just looking for some extra bullets,"
"Have fun, then," said Luuk casually.
He then walked away and exited the messy apartment. Graham closed the door behind him and returned to his own room. He needed to get changed first to something less bloody, although the stains were invisible from outside. He put on a maroon shirt and a pair of striped pants. Over the shirt, he wore a long overcoat and a trilby on his head. He also brought his mask and gun but left Purloin at home. It still had Valentine's concealment so it should be safe.
Graham left his apartment and walked downstairs. The creaking wooden floor of the building always irritated him, and his steps were heavier than Valentine's, so he couldn't avoid making the noise perfectly. Once he was downstairs, he exited the building through the main door and hailed a public motor carriage to take him to his destination.