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Thread: Dangerous Liaisons

  1. #121
    Heartbreaker canonized's Avatar
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    Ahh I have to apologize once again it's honestly not my intention to keep the readers waiting but I've been having computer troubles lately . The computer screen keeps going black on me so I'm trying to get it fixed . I was hoping to get the next update done the past two days but the problems persisted . I'll be out of town until Sunday night so expect the update next week ! Sorry again for the delay !
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  2. #122
    saw what you did there Davout's Avatar
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    I suppose you didn't say which Sunday night you would be out of town until.

    How is Elly anyway? All good, I hope.

    *sigh*drums fingers absentmindedly*
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  3. #123
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    Darn you Davout, I was expecting to see an update.
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  4. #124
    AARficionado & Storyteller Demi Moderator Eber's Avatar
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    I must say this has been quite the delightful read so far, my good friend. I have heard that you have put Timelines on the shelf, but alas you still have some good fight in you in writing another yarn.

    Keep it up, as always you are a master of story-telling.
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  5. #125
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    Quote Originally Posted by canonized View Post
    The computer screen keeps going black on me so I'm trying to get it fixed .
    Good luck to you with fixing it.

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  6. #126
    Honourable Saxon Thegn AlexanderPrimus's Avatar
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    Just stopped by to have another look at your interesting story. Sorry to hear about your computer troubles. I definitely know how those go ( ). I hope you're able to overcome them soon.

  7. #127
    Heartbreaker canonized's Avatar
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    Chapter IX: Penumbra


    1 July 1773 (10 years ago)

    Gustave's height gave him a decisive advantage looking over the tall railing as he perused the circular chamber below. A small crowd milled about awkwardly like wandering, shepherdless sheep. His dark eyes scanned the downcast faces below and his lids narrowed both in contempt and to better focus his gaze. A gloved hand came up to slide casually along the bottom of his lips which were pouted in thought. “What about Léon?” he asked quietly while screwing his head to the side.

    “What about him?” the young lady next to him leaned herself against the railing to crane her head above it.

    “He could be your easy way out,” Gustave grinned at her.

    “My way out? How?” the young girl next to him asked cautiously.

    “He's new to the Academy. He's scared. He's unsure of himself,” Gustave listed.

    “Your point?” the girl's voice grew impatient.

    “Let him take your place tonight,” Gustave showed his teeth as he proposed the plan.

    There was silence as the young lady hesitated. “But the Baron--”

    “That fat, disgusting old man doesn't care either way,” Gustave interrupted.

    “I suppose you don't care either way as well? I thought you had mentioned that he was your friend.”

    “He is my friend,” Gustave replied with a contrived blink. “That's why I can get him to do this for us. Besides, I don't want any greasy old Englishman touching you, my darling. I care too much about you.” Gustave's aqueous fingers drowned the young lady's hand in a lukewarm grip.

    “Well, the Marquise did say that we could accomplish distracting the Baron in any way we want...” the young lady began to concede.

    “Then it's settled. We'll use Léon.”

    “Will he really agree to do it, though? He doesn't have much... experience yet.”

    Gustave's eyes returned to the pool of young men and women below and kept his vision on the reserved boy with the slight tan. “Léon!” he called out from the balcony. The young boy down at the first floor immediately perked up at the voice and a smile broke through the penumbra of his face. “You see?” Gustave whispered between his teeth as he smiled and waved down at the boy. “He's always 'looked up' to me. I've always protected him ever since he came here. I'll just tell him that we were instructed to have him meet someone tonight or something simple like that. Once we have him in the room, all we'll need to do is leave him there. The Baron will do the rest.” Gustave looked over to the young lady next to him who had donned a paler complexion.

    “Léon will struggle--” she was about to protest.

    “And the Baron will be excited all the more. Our dear friend down there is still a frail little boy. The Baron won't be harmed nor will he be denied his pleasure. This will work... trust me.”

    The young lady passed a cursory glance at the boy below who was still staring up at Gustave's cherubic face. “Alright,” she whispered quietly. “I'll take care of the documents the Marquise wanted if you handle the distraction.”

    ~~


    Léon followed Gustave's lead as they weaved out of the small party that was dominating the Ambassadorial suite's salon. He was still unsure why the taller, older boy was leading him about, but he did not question it. There was something in the sharp features of Gustave that exuded a confidence. Gustave's cold expression denied any access to his internal self and the rigidy of his decisiveness meant that Léon need not think, he simply needed to follow.

    Gustave's steps were quick, almost impatient. Léon kept up, but was busy contemplating the back of the older boy's head. He wanted to say something, but in the present half darkness of the hallway, his curiosity was chained by the resoluteness of the boy ahead of him. “It's not much further,” Gustave said without looking back at Léon.

    “So who are we meeting exactly?” Léon finally let his curiosity get the better of him.

    “A nice pair of young ladies,” Gustave was quick to respond.

    “Ladies?” Léon was perplexed. “Why...?”

    “You were told by the Marquise what it was that you're supposed to learn at the Academy, remember?” Gustave interrupted him. Léon nodded. Gustave sensed the confirmation without having to turn around. “I wanted tonight to be... a lesson for you. I thought you could use some practice. I do have to look out for you, after all.” Léon could tell that Gustave was giving off a smile: it was in the way his cheeks bulged sideways.

    Léon couldn't help but smile as well. He looked down almost embarrassed by Gustave's thoughtfulness. He stared at the pacing of Gustave's shoes with a silly smile. A thought passed through his mind for a moment and he looked upward timidly to the taller boy's back. “I—I've never done anything like this before... what if—”

    Gustave halted in the hallway and turned around. Léon lowered his head slightly as if anticipating a rebuking slap. He was startled to feel Gustave's palms warming his shoulders. “Don't worry,” Gustave spoke softly. Léon's eyes were magnitized to the grey orbs of Gustave's irises. “I'll be there, after all.” Gustave's lips quivered a grin. “If you're unsure of anything.. you can always just follow my lead,” Gustave added while he brought a gloved fingertip to trace an invisible teardrop down the side of Léon's face. Before the younger boy could say anything, Gustave immediately turned and proceeded further down the hall. Léon picked up the pace to follow and copied Gustave's turn around a corner.

    Although Léon still felt a quaking nervousness, he couldn't help but smile to himself. “Are they... pretty girls?” Léon asked almost as a joke. He was too entranced by the anticipation and the way Gustave's hair ruffled against those shoulders that he did not notice that they had entered into a large bedchamber.

    “That's strange,” Gustave said out loud. “They aren't here.”

    Léon stopped as well and blinked, turning his head around to scan the barely lit room that they had walked into. “Maybe they got nervous and---”

    “No,” Gustave shook his head as he looked about the room, “I'm sure they're just downstairs. I want you to wait here just in case they come back while I go look for them,” Gustave commanded in that familiar authoritative voice. He did not even look at Léon as he turned about and paced out the door. Léon was about to say something but Gustave had already disappeared into the shadows.

    The room itself was uninteresting, Léon noticed. A few desks with papers. The bed which didn't seem to be used very much. Some chairs were out of place and the few candles that lit the chamber were burning with an almost audible fizz. One of the tables was disconnected from the wall as if it had been tossed around. It was crooked. Minutes had passed and at times Léon would stare down the blank hallway hoping that the handsome outline of Gustave would return.

    It was then that footsteps echoed down the hall. At first, Léon's heart accelerated, but he was quick to realize that these were heavier, more deliberate footsteps. He froze, unable to think what to say in a situation where he would be caught away from the party. He did nothing. He was too confused to think. He stood there as the footfalls became louder and closer. A chink of metal accompanied each step. He couldn't move. His eyes, dilated to allow as much light in as possible, received anxiously the void from the hallway. It was then that an outline dawned sideways from the right of the doorway like an unnatural sunrise. Something as circular as a black planet gilded in golden chains passed into view. A face, as bubbled with the corns of a disease, turned to face him.

    Léon could not speak at the terrifying sight in front of him. He did not know if it was a man or a demon that he now faced except that it proceeded to enter into the chamber. Léon could see the sweat already filming the entire man's countenance highlighting in their light and shadow the boils near the man's lip and the most prominent one jutting like a small mountain on the right end of his forehead. “What's your name, boy?” came the voice. Like a whisper at first, but it echoed against Léon's ears menacingly.

    “I'm sorry, sir, I must be in the wrong place...” Léon said as he stepped towards the door. As he came close to that man, however, a hand quickly hooked underneath his arm. Léon gasped uncontrollably.

    “I asked for your name, boy!” the face asked him. Léon could feel spit against the side of his cheek.

    Léon did not know what to do. His mind called out into the darkness for help, but all that came out of his mouth were the trembling syllables: “I'm Léon, sir... Léon de Valmont... I... I was just lost--”

    “Lost, hm?” the old man giggled as he pushed Léon back into the room nearly twisting that smaller arm off. Léon gasped in pain as he tumbled to the floor. “So that's the little game tonight, hm? A lost boy...” the fat man laughed.

    “Please sir... just let me go...” Léon pleaded with him.

    “Léon...” the man licked his lips as he spoke watching the small one squirm on the floor. “When I've crushed you enough I'll send you.... Léon.... Lovely Léon...”

    Léon immediately got up and darted for the door, but two arms now grabbed hold of him. The grip on him was like a rock closing in around him and greasy palms began to rip away at his clothes with unbelievable strength. “Help!” Léon called out into the darkness. “Help! Gustave! Gustave! …. Gustave!”

    ~~


    “Did you get all of them?” Gustave asked as the young lady passed him by.

    “It's easier than it looks,” the young lady rebuked him. “And your end of the operation?”

    Gustave gave her a blank stare, but his smile was still on him. “It's going well enough.”

    The young lady's face was professional looking enough, but her eyes darted to the side. “It scares me,” she said quietly.

    “What does?”

    “That you can do this to someone.”

    Gustave forced a hearty laugh. “And you stood by and said nothing! Don't use my professionalism as a shield for you to pretend that you're any better than I am!” he then shouted angrily. “If you are really so appalled then you shouldn't have agreed to this and done the dirty deed yourself—or found some other way of going about it. You're just as complicit as I am!”

    “Maybe!” she shouted back. “But at least I don't pretend to be his friend! I'm not the one who talks to him!”

    “No,” Gustave said gravely. “I am his friend. I'm teaching him the best lesson he can learn... I'm protecting him... I'm... breaking him in. You know what it's like. You and I have been broken already.” Gustave stopped talking and bit his lip. “I'll see you back at the Academy... I'll go get Léon.”

    There was no discussion as he walked by. The lady simply looked down at the floor before walking off to the gate.

    ~~


    Léon limped forward barefooted. He balance was tenuous. The hair on his face was matted against his cheeks and it crusted where his tears were. When Gustave sighted him, the older boy could see the tattered clothes hanging on Léon's body. Whatever had been put on by Léon himself was left only half done as if a blind man had done it. Léon's eyes turned to Gustave who approached him, but seeing his friend only seemed to break whatever was left inside of him and he winced. His right lip was cracked and bleeding, but those eyes... It was those eyes that Gustave stared at. Gustave watched the strange limp that Léon was using to get to him. In the place where Léon's stockings were ripped, Gustave noticed the trail of blood going down Léon's leg. The boy collapsed in his arms.

    ~~


    1 July 1783

    Dear Elly,

    What does it mean to care for someone? I saw Gregoire the other day. He gives his regards. Anyway, he asked me what I cared for... something like that. I don't recall his words exactly. You know I care for you. Keeping you safe has always been on my mind. Protection. That means I care, right? I'm trying to protect someone else. I care for him. Not in the same way I care for you, of course, but I still care for him.

    It's a selfish thing, really. His vulnerability was my vulnerability. He's a milder case of myself—what I used to be. I care for him but I'm also angry at him. That stupid boy that doesn't understand. He's going to get himself hurt. He's already going to get himself hurt. Stupid... like I was stupid. At the same time I don't want him to learn like I had to learn. I don't want him to sell his soul for power like I did. Plus... when I looked at him yesterday. When he nearly fainted in my arms... I saw something. I suspected it before, but I was not sure until I looked at the signs on his face. You would have recognized it too since it killed your sister. I saw it in him. He doesn't have much time left in this world. I'll take pity on him and let him die quietly instead of devouring the last echoes of his existence for my own selfishness. After all, I'm rather busy with other things.

    Nevertheless, I can't seem to get myself to just forget about him. Does this mean that I really do care? Even if I just feel hatred and sadness towards him? I guess it makes sense. After all, you were the one who told me that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. No... I just want to forget about these things now. I want to forget about what happened. There's no time to be weak. I'll speak to you again soon, I hope.

    Always Yours,
    Léon.


    ~~


    Léon feigned a bit of surprise when he saw Cécile was announced into his salon. “Mademoiselle de Volanges... I wasn't expecting--”

    “I came by to thank you,” the young lady interrupted him as if she had been holding her breath the entire way to the salon and only now beginning to breathe. “For everything.”

    “It's no problem at all,” Léon bowed, “and certainly not something you needed to come all the way out here for.”

    “How's your shoulder?” she asked.

    Léon moved a hand to where the “injury” had been and smiled cordially. “It's healing quite well, thank you,” he said. “Can I get you something? Something to drink?”

    “You left rather abruptly,” she ignored his hospitality.

    “My task was done... I saw no reason--”

    “I had expected you to stay a little longer,” she interrupted him.

    Léon gave her a confused look. “But I don't see--”

    “Valmont,” she said, looking at him squarely. “That story you told me. Was it a lie?”

    “A lie?...” Léon tilted his head slightly in confusion.

    “One of the advantages of having been to the colonies is that I tended my own livestock. That was not your blood. It didn't take much to get my servants to confess.”

    Léon let his lips slacken. His gaze at her was no longer energetic, but took on a tired and cold demeanor. There was almost malice there. “You have what you want,” he said tersely. “We need not speak again.” He turned around and poured himself some wine from the table. He gulped it down in one swig. There was silence for a moment before Léon slammed his palms on the table and turned his head to the side yelling at her with his back still turned to her. “If that is all, Mademoiselle, I'm very busy today!”

    “That's not why I came here, Valmont...” was the quieter tone.

    “What else do you want, then?” Léon responded angrily while still leaning against the table. “If you want to know 'why,' that's not anything of your concern--”

    “Was it you?” she asked quietly. “Was it you in that fake story?”

    “What are you talking about?” Léon grumbled.

    “That lie you told me. I looked at you while you were telling it, Valmont. I knew the rest was fake, but there was a hint of truth shining through. There was so much pain in your eyes that I nearly believed it. You are either the best actor in all of France or there were parts of that story that were true.”

    Léon turned around slowly. His eyes met hers and for a moment he transmitted so much anger in her direction that she looked downward in embarrassment and fear. “Get. Out.” was all he said.

    “Vicomte, I don't pretend to know what haunts you, but for a man to go to these lengths... I just can't help but...” she said while taking a step forward with an arm rising as if to make contact with him, but she was startled at how he recoiled backwards nearly knocking off the liquor from the table behind him.

    “Don't come near me,” he said. “Don't touch me,” Léon shuddered. There was a small laugh that suddenly erupted from the man's lips as if he was suddenly aware of his own craziness. “Don't pretend that you can come near me, Cécile. Don't pretend that you can come near me. That part is locked away in some grey area between the darkness and the light. Why are you even here, Cécile? Why even pretend to feel anything after all this?”

    “Pretend?” Cécile looked at him with her lips pursed and her eyebrows trembling slightly. “I don't need to pretend, Vicomte.” She, too, began to curve her lips into a rough smile like some curved shield to protect her face; or a dam to keep everything else inside. “I don't have many friends here in Paris. I can't make friends in Paris like most people do. I don't want to have my fill of the filth... Valmont... you're not the only one who's resorted to lying. I—I don't want to be alone here in Paris.” She gave a fake laugh as she watched Léon's face. “What better friend for a liar than one who always lies himself, right?”

    ~~


    “We have a problem,” the Marquise, for once, didn't have a jovial expression on her face.

    “It must be a big one if you're not making jokes about it,” Rosemond put down her cards and looked up at the Marquise who sat down across from her. The Marquise seemed to pause in thought and stared at the table before Rosemond spoke up. “Well?”

    The Marquise de Merteuil looked up. “I've received word that the Vatican has sent someone to investigate what's been going on lately.”

    “A Vatican spy? This is indeed dangerous. Unlike the idiot French, the Popes don't fool around. Who is it?” Rosemond was visibly alarmed.

    “I don't know yet, but we should be on guard. I hear that Léon has made some progress with Volanges, we can't mess things up now.”

    “The preparations for The Plague are also almost complete... we cannot be discovered before we begin the ceremony.”

    “I'll assign someone to track whoever it is down. Gustave still owes me a favour, perhaps him.”

    “I don't care who you use,” Rosemond frowned, “anything that gets in the way of reviving the Lost Number must be stopped.”
    DANGEROUS LIAISONS
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  8. #128
    Heartbreaker canonized's Avatar
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    Hi again all ! It seems that I have finally returned to writing Huzzah ! I hope you all enjoy this new update although it is a bit dark . With this update I wanted to splash a little bit since I'm taking up writing again . Expect an update every week and feel free to remind me of my obligation !

    I really look forward to what you guys think of these next few updates as we are about halfwayish along since I did promise this to be a short AAR . AFterwards I plan on taking up Timelines again , but first it's time to get my feet back into AARland . I look forward to your support - bow - .

    Quote Originally Posted by AlexanderPrimus View Post
    Just stopped by to have another look at your interesting story. Sorry to hear about your computer troubles. I definitely know how those go ( ). I hope you're able to overcome them soon.
    Quote Originally Posted by Terminator View Post
    Good luck to you with fixing it.

    Be back soon
    Thank you luckily I got a new laptop for Christmas !

    Quote Originally Posted by Eber View Post
    I must say this has been quite the delightful read so far, my good friend. I have heard that you have put Timelines on the shelf, but alas you still have some good fight in you in writing another yarn.

    Keep it up, as always you are a master of story-telling.
    Thank you ! I hope you enjoy these next few chapters . Plus we should talk on MSN !

    Quote Originally Posted by dinofs View Post
    Darn you Davout, I was expecting to see an update.
    Quote Originally Posted by Davout View Post
    I suppose you didn't say which Sunday night you would be out of town until.

    How is Elly anyway? All good, I hope.

    *sigh*drums fingers absentmindedly*
    Hmm it's been a while ... so I don't recall if I told anyone about the real Elly , actually . Hmm Haha . Oh Davout , you'll always be one of my favourite fans !
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  9. #129
    Tzar of all the Soviets RGB's Avatar
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    Oooof. Now talk about uncomfortable reading. So he was broken and one can see the brokenness developed some sharp edges of its own and now cuts those it comes in contact with, nasty wounds.


    And to bring a little levity among the sombreness...The Plague...sounds. Forsaken.

    Every tragedy needs a satyre play to cap it.
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  10. #130
    AARficionado & Storyteller Demi Moderator Eber's Avatar
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    He has returned!
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  11. #131
    saw what you did there Davout's Avatar
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    I haven't had time to read the update as I am dashing out to a show tonight. But I just dropped by to say......

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  12. #132
    Patron Saint of Suenik Iain Wilson's Avatar
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    Very good update - it's nice to see (actually "nice" is probably the wrong word but you know what I mean) what has shaped your characters...

    And I rather like the little cliff hanger you left us with. Don't keep us dangling too long!
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  13. #133
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    Vatican infiltration?
    First game event? This is based on a game, right?

    Glad to have you back!

  14. #134
    Father of the Nation Woody Man's Avatar
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    A great return for sure, poor Leon, yet more of his past is unwrapped before us!

    Good to see you back in AARland
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  15. #135
    Heartbreaker canonized's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woody Man View Post
    A great return for sure, poor Leon, yet more of his past is unwrapped before us!

    Good to see you back in AARland
    Thank you I thought this might be time to look at a little of Léon's flavouring . Glad to be back , old man

    Quote Originally Posted by Enewald View Post
    Vatican infiltration?
    First game event? This is based on a game, right?

    Glad to have you back!
    This particular AAR isn't actually based off of a game since I rarely play as France , though during those times that I have played through France during the French revolution I always tried to fancifully imagine what might be going on as I make changes to the timeline . this is kind of my imagination on that . Plus , I need Dangerous Liaisons to test a few things in preparation for finishing Timelines .

    Quote Originally Posted by Iain Wilson View Post
    Very good update - it's nice to see (actually "nice" is probably the wrong word but you know what I mean) what has shaped your characters...

    And I rather like the little cliff hanger you left us with. Don't keep us dangling too long!
    Thank you ! It was a tough chapter to write considering I had to decide whether to have Léon go through that . If scarring him was something I could stomach and if it was necessary . I think it was . Cécile , while not knowing it , is intelligent enough to use this advantageously .

    Quote Originally Posted by Davout View Post
    I haven't had time to read the update as I am dashing out to a show tonight. But I just dropped by to say......

    SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
    Glad to see you too , old man I look forward to see what you think of the chapter !

    Quote Originally Posted by Eber View Post
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    Quote Originally Posted by RGB View Post
    Oooof. Now talk about uncomfortable reading. So he was broken and one can see the brokenness developed some sharp edges of its own and now cuts those it comes in contact with, nasty wounds.


    And to bring a little levity among the sombreness...The Plague...sounds. Forsaken.

    Every tragedy needs a satyre play to cap it.
    A rather poetic way of putting it . After all , I wanted to make it believable for someone like Léon to be the way he is . More on that later . Thank you for your comment I truly appreciate it <3
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  16. #136
    Blasted Conniving Roman General_BT's Avatar
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    Wonderful and evocative writing--such is the canonized standard. Good to have you back, and looking forward to see where this tale of intrigue ends up...
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  17. #137
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    That was a bit uncomfortable. Poor Leon...and Gustave was always a bastard - its not surprising. I just wish Cecile would back off at this point.

    Excellent writing as usual sir.
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  18. #138
    Heartbreaker canonized's Avatar
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    Chapter X: The Spy


    3 July 1783

    Dear Elly,

    Perhaps this letter may be a surprise to you. What compels me to write it, I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps it's fear; perhaps it's nostalgia. In any case, I thought I'd let you know what's happening here since, as I recall, the going-ons in France are something you're supposed to be aware of. I know I've avoided doing this... perhaps you know the reasons, but I'd like to think today I'd try.

    There was another assassination the other day. This time it was the Marquis de Saint-Veran. The assassinations here have been escalating. Several nobles from the Vendée region are dead; several more here in the capital. A few bishops have also been the target of either accidents or plain murders. It's not so difficult to see the pattern of these murders. Lords and Ladies close to the King and the Church. I wonder if the King himself is frightened.

    The Kingdom is out of money. The American war was devastating. I sometimes can't help but ponder if it's just the whim of monarchs against their great enemies that will eventually be the cause of national ruin, but I can tell someone is helping it along. Shadows are moving around in these streets and at these halls. And it was not just the monetary cost of that rebellion that has made its mark on the French landscape. New ideas of government are being exercised across the Atlantic. We may have subverted ourselves without even knowing it.

    France is in a fragile state. With the exchequer exhausted and new ideas centered around these “Aufklärung” ideas as they're beginning to be called circulating, the general attitude of many town leaders and city burghers is beginning to change into something I have never seen before. I don't know what it is, but it's as if something is boiling underneath the very faces of the people I meet on the street.

    I hope this little piece of news help you in your training up there. Maybe I'll write again: something less formal and hopefully more optimistic—perhaps something more like the letters I used to write to you. For now this will have to do. I hope you understand.

    Sincerely,
    Gregoire


    As Gregoire placed the quill down, a voice punctuated his actions: “A lovely letter.”

    Gregoire swerved in his wooden chair nearly knocking down the candle on his small desk as he brought it to bear on the darkness of his cell. His eyes squinted madly at the strange figure crouching atop his bed. At first, trembling with the wax scalding his knuckles, he gasped while his other hand tried to steady himself on the desk. “Y—You!” he was finally able to say when he discerned the figure. “What—how...”

    “Your patron Cardinal Rimini sends his regards,” the voice spoke to him.

    Gregoire blinked and straightened himself up. “You? You're the agent they've sent? But...”

    A small piece of paper was flung like a dagger through the air. Gregoire received it clumsily. He took a moment to look at the seal—the familiar grooves of the solid wax indicated the authenticity of his patron's message. “If you're satisfied with my credentials,” the figure said, “then get dressed quickly. I'll need you for something tonight.”

    Gregoire looked up hurriedly. “Dressed? Into what?”

    “I've prepared a costume for you. You'll be coming with me tonight. We've some work to do.”

    “Now wait just a moment,” Gregoire protested as he stood up straight. “His Eminence only asked me to supply information—I'm no spy...”

    “You were trained in that Scarlet Academy of theirs weren't you?” the voice added a bit of a tease to its inflection.

    “Yes... sure... but... that's all behind me now,” Gregoire answered.

    “You need not worry, 'Father,' leave all of the compromising tactics to me. I just need you to keep an eye out for something.”

    “Where are we going?” Gregoire asked.

    “To a small engagement in Paris this evening. I already cleared it with your superiors,” the instructions were matter of fact.

    Gregoire hesitated, and for a while he just stared at the figure on his bed with a somber resignation. He broke the seal on the piece of paper given him and looked at the note carefully like one unwrapping a delicate gift. His eyes scanned the words scribbled down as he held the candle close to illuminate the parchment. He passed a glance up at his visitor before looking down again. “Alright,” he said quietly as he placed the paper to the fire. A small flame started to grow on the message. He let it drop on the solid stone floor of his cell.

    “You look afraid,” the voice half teased him.

    “I am,” Gregoire responded sincerely. “I've spent a good portion of my adult life attempting to escape the inescapable. For now, the Marquise and the others are content to leave me alone. By doing this, I risk everything. Not just discovery, but I risk going back to that dark place where these things are done on a regular basis. I cannot live as you live anymore. I just cannot.”

    The shadow on his bed stared at him for a few moments. “Then why will you do it?” the voice almost taunted him; goading him.

    Gregoire watched that shadow with a frown before answering. “If what His Eminence wrote is true, then I must go. I can't ignore this.”

    The shadow grew less coy as it stood up off of Gregoire's bed. “It is true. I've seen it myself, Gregoire. When the time comes, not even this monastery will shield you.”

    ~~


    Gregoire chafed quietly in the dress he was given. It's been a while since he had worn formal attire. The wig on his head, although old fashioned for someone as young as he, was necessary to cover his shaved head. The subsequent powder on his face made him a spectacle to the close observer, but at least veiled him from immediate discovery. He kept himself reserved, having found a small niche near one of the corners of the chamber; a place away from the largest crowds though not completely isolated. Dances were occurring at the very center of the floor while tables along the periphery provided drinks and space for a small feast.

    He hid himself quietly behind a glass of wine which he never sipped, but rather kept close to his face. Despite his looks, he at least did not seem awkward. All of the movements of a watchful participant were still familiar to him. His muscles still remembered what it was like to be at these parties. If anyone would have seen Gregoire, they wouldn't have guessed he was an ascetic. In fact, by the handsome features on that powdered face, they might have mistaken him for the various other youths at the party.

    “Him over there,” the voice behind him calmly whispered. “Do you recognize him?”

    Gregoire raised his glass to his lips and moved his eyes to where his liaison had pointed him. “That would be the Vicomte de Vallon,” he said with a sigh that fogged the edge of his glass. “His name is Gustave.”

    “I want you to watch him closely tonight,” the voice instructed him. “Just watch,” was added as if to comfort Gregoire's uneasiness.

    “What would I be looking for?” he asked as he took another false sip on his glass.

    “He's here to meet someone; to drop off information. All I want you to do is to memorize who it was that he speaks to before he leaves for the gardens.”

    “That's all?”

    “That's all. Afterward, I'll rendezvous with you back at your cell. I trust you can accomplish something as simple as that, Father.”

    “And where will you be?”

    There was a short pause and when the other did not answer, Gregoire turned but did not find another person there. He grumbled uneasily before placing the Vicomte again. He put his glass down on the table, picked up a plate and made his way to the buffet.

    ~~


    Gregoire splashed some of the basin water against his face to melt off the chalky powder. He had folded up the loaned costume on the chair to his left complete with the wig fitted atop the light blue attire. He brought another palm-full of water to his cheeks and sighed bubbly into the liquid. His habit was to his right on the bed and he looked at it pensively for a second as the water dripped off his chin. He turned his eyes back to the costume on the chair. For a second, he leaned against the table with the basin with only the soft click of droplets disturbing the murky water below making any noise in the cell.

    He glanced again at the gentleman's clothes to his left and for a moment, his wet fingers passed up his front to where a scar marred his otherwise shapely chest. His eyes shuddered imperceptibly as damp digits traced the smooth edge of the scar slashed across where his heart would be. He turned away from the sight and placed his hand down on the desk a bit firmly. He shut his eyes and bowed his head down low enough that his face was parallel to the water below.

    He squeezed his eyes tighter and held it in place before pulling himself up as if he had been held underwater for a moment. When he opened his eyes, he studied himself on the small mirror attached to the wall. For some reason he found himself measuring his shoulders with his eyes. Gregoire, being still a young gentleman, would perhaps have been considered too handsome for a monastery.

    It was true, he had attracted a lot of attention when he had been attending the Academy. Even now, due to a lot of his work tilling the monastery's adjacent farmland, his boyish physique remained with him underneath the heavy habit and hairshirt, although the once soft hands of a spoiled noble were now calloused with physical labours. That, and the loss of his hair: something he had volunteered personally as the final shedding of the old life. As Gregoire stared at himself in the mirror, he sometimes wished he could also shed that skin of his. The tingling memory of other bodies sliding against the curvature of his muscles remained in the flesh even years after it had been abandoned. He frowned consciously.

    “Do you miss it that much?” the voice behind him asked. Gregoire was no longer surprised. “The court drama and the intrigue—the sex,” the voice clarified.

    Gregoire reached over and calmly began to put his habit back on. Once his head broke through the cowl, he looked back at the shaded figure leaning back against the side of his cell. “I would not be honest if I said there was not a part of me that is anxious for it. My body still feels the pull of parties like those. Memories of places like that make me both excited and sad.”

    There was a short pause before the voice spoke from the darkness. “Aside from your patron, I have a few other friends in Rome. His Holiness is always ready to pay for the services of those trained in my line of work.”

    “Generous,” Gregoire replied while he turned his head to look at the other wall: the one where his crucifix was hung. “Do you know why it appealed to me? Joining this monastery. Doing the job that you do was about deception, seduction, and objectives. People were objects, I was an object. It intentionally created a small world where I was alone. My brothers here are the opposite. My brothers here know me for who I am not what I can provide for them; not for the pleasure I could service or the information I could obtain. I finally feel like myself and not a pawn. Even after I told them in secrecy what I had gone through in my life, they let me work the field; prepare meals; pray with them. Life finally had some meaning because I had met other human beings...”

    “Fair enough, Father,” the shadow shrugged.

    “Surely you know what I'm talking about,” Gregoire interrupted the voice. “If you're good enough to be hired by my patron then you're also good enough to be one of the loneliest people on this earth. Considering how young you are, I'm also guessing you've had a career in this since you were a child. The only world you've known?”

    “No, not exactly,” the voice responded evenly.

    “No... I guess not,” Gregoire examined the shadow with a small chuckle. “You're too composed and arrogant. It's more likely a family office. I'm guessing your father was secretly employed by the Vatican and you just happened to pick it up. It's why you're so spoiled: you were probably trained in your family.”

    “Idle speculation, Father,” the shadow responded almost quickly.

    Gregoire merely shrugged. “I don't need to tell you anything. You must feel it already. That longing of release; that want to just be yourself. All of us have it. Only the 'best' keep it to themselves.”

    “So who was it that Gustave passed on his information to tonight?” the voice returned to the matter at hand.

    “Gustave talked with someone and gave them a small piece of paper. I didn't recognize him from at first, but I think I know who he is.”

    “His name?”

    “The Chevalier Danceny.”

    “An assassin...” the shadow pondered out loud.

    “One of the best shots in France. If not the best.”

    “I thought that was reserved for your friend the Vicomte de Valmont.”

    My friend?” Gregoire was a bit surprised for some reason. The shadow grinned at it. “Léon is the best I know, but this Chevalier is good... good enough to even be the assassin behind most of these murders as of late.”

    “This could be dangerous, then,” the voice smiled at the words more so in excitement rather than fear.

    ~~


    Léon put his arm up on the back of the sofa and his feet on the table in front of him. His smirk beamed across the room to the Marquise like an Archmidean mirror weapon. The Marquise, on the other hand, sat comfortably at her seat with a reserved grace. Her laced fingertips, however, trailed the edge of her dress where it touched her bosom. “I'm guessing by the look on your face that you're close to success?” the Marquise asked with a haughty detachment.

    “And you would be right,” Léon bowed his head sideways, triumphantly.

    “But weren't you just describing to me how she found out about your little scheme?” the Marquise feigned distress.

    “She needed to feel in control: safe. Giving her the elaborate trap she's been waiting for was all I needed to do. Simple, difficult, and always effective,” Léon smirked.

    “And how did you know she wouldn't have just never spoken to you again after you let her find out?” the Marquise quizzed him.

    “One need only to look as far as her beau in the Caribbean. He's a tragic case; an outsider. He's lonely, yet she finds him interesting. She likes men who are outside of the scope of the society around her. She wants to help men whom she thinks are hopeless cases. You and I both know what Rochambeau went through—what he must have told her. Why she lets herself be so enthralled by men like that I'd need more time to figure out, but it's sufficient for now to simply capitalize on my gambit. If she's as free spirited in the colonies as I think she is... then she won't hold onto moral quibbles when it comes to sex outside of marriage. She'll be vulnerable.”

    “You're as meticulous as you are foolhardy,” the Marquise commended him with a grin. “This could have easily backfired on you.”

    “A... calculated risk,” Léon replied with a proud shake of his head.

    “An expensive one as well,” the Marquise deepened her voice. “You paid off quite a few servants for their information on her.”

    “I wouldn't be as good as I am if I didn't get to know my targets as best as I could,” Léon countered.

    “And while you were getting information from these servants, did they happen to tell you anything interesting about her behaviour? Perhaps something strange—a secret she's keeping even from them?” the Marquise lowered her eyes as she asked the question feigning a feint curiosity.

    “Well now that you mention it...” Léon began tilting his head upwards in thought.

    “Yes?” the Marquise began to sit up a bit.

    Léon couldn't help but grin and looked straight at his hostess. “I knew there was something more to this than simple revenge,” he accused her.

    The Marquise pursed her lips into a rather small smile. “I won't pry. I'll see you tomorrow, then?”

    “Are you dismissing me?” Léon raised an eyebrow.

    There was a short knock at the door. “Madame de Rosemond,” the valet announced as he opened the parlour entrance.

    Léon grunted. “I didn't want to stay anyway. I'll see you tomorrow,” he said hurriedly as he got up. As he passed the old crone coming in, he gave her an acidic look before laughing his way out.

    “He seems in good spirits,” Rosemond looked to the Marquise.

    “He's a step closer to Cécile.”

    “I take it, then, that things are going well with Gustave as well?” Rosemond's old voice quivered as she gracefully placed herself where Léon had vacated.

    “They could be. We may have a clue as to who this spy is.”

    “I've just come back from the Duchess's estate. The preparations are almost complete. All we need now is to finish Léon's assignment and make sure whatever it is that Volanges woman is holding onto is recovered. Including Moloch's list.”

    “I have no doubt in my mind that Léon will achieve our goal. He's got her now and it won't take too much persuasion for him to pass on her secrets to us,” the Marquise smiled quietly.

    “I still think it was dangerous using Léon in the first place—if he finds out...”

    “He won't,” the Marquise assured her firmly. “It's true that the three hundred and fifty sixth child has always been a problem for us since it is only they who hold that special privilege.”

    “That special curse for the rest of us, you mean! If Léon ever finds out what he was granted then not even the Lost Number is safe.”

    The Marquise's face sobered and she looked off to the now closed doorway where Léon had exited. “So long as Hypnos soothes Thanatos to share a bed together, we need not fear them. In the house of Hypnos, dead Thanatos remains dreaming.”
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  19. #139
    AARficionado & Storyteller Demi Moderator Eber's Avatar
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    I love Madame de Rosemond, an exquisite character. Excellent update, as usual, good sir! Gregoire definitely seems to be fighting some inner-demons for taking the assignment. I'm curious on what exactly the letter said before he burned it. I see Leon is getting a bit antsy it seems.
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  20. #140
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    Hm. So first of all, sniper assassins - how progressive of them. Where's the dagger to go with the cloak, I ask you?

    Secondly - it's interesting, the discussion of the small world of the assassin - because the irony is, even the apparent freedom of the nobility is subject to being able to survive in a small world; larger than an assasin's but almost as separate from everything else around them.
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