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Thread: Dangerous Liaisons

  1. #141
    Black Hound of Han Enewald's Avatar
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    How can Thanatos be dead?

  2. #142
    Heartbreaker canonized's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enewald View Post
    How can Thanatos be dead?
    He isn't dead, he's sleeping , but the ambiguity between the two is a play on the whole Hypnos-Thanatos relationship anyway . Plus it was a reference that I hope at least someone recognized XD

    Quote Originally Posted by RGB View Post
    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.
    I'm so very glad that you recognized that . That's part of the whole intricacy of Gregoire's motivations for a community-based hermitage type life : because he feels the barren wasteland of his noble surroundings . The spy life itself is an exaggerated metaphor for the noble life . +10 points for excellent observations

    Quote Originally Posted by Eber View Post
    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.
    Thank you ! Ahh well whatever the letter had it pushed Gregoire to action despite his reservations .

    Quote Originally Posted by Calipah View Post
    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.
    Yes , that was a hard update to write for me . Haha , why don't you like Cécile ? And speaking of Cécile where the heck is Davout that bum !

    Quote Originally Posted by General_BT View Post
    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...
    Thank you very much ! Good to be back
    DANGEROUS LIAISONS
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  3. #143
    Caramelised Utopian tuore's Avatar
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    I've never understood why anyone would read or write a narrative story about a game, but I guess I'll read this one and find out. Timelines was too massive for me to understand anyway.
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  4. #144
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    Quote Originally Posted by tuore View Post
    I've never understood why anyone would read or write a narrative story about a game, but I guess I'll read this one and find out. Timelines was too massive for me to understand anyway.
    I can definitely understand the sentiment: narrative readers wouldn't exactly be very frequent in an AARland dominated by history buffs and gameplay experts , but this is my way of expressing my love for Paradox games : they give me a setting for imagination . They allow history to be malleable , to be told-able . From the old political intrigues of stnylan's narratives , to mettermrck's epics to derkaiser's delicious diction and grayghosts's noir mysteries , my initial forays into AARland were always teeming with narratives that blew me away . This is just my humble contribution to the vast array of it all .
    DANGEROUS LIAISONS
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  5. #145
    Zardishar Calipah's Avatar
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    Gregoire is a fascinating character I concur, though its perhaps because he reminds me of someone I know. Leon has turned sour it seems. Well, who can blame him eh? Good update sidi.
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  6. #146
    Patron Saint of Suenik Iain Wilson's Avatar
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    Good update as always my friend. The exploration of Gregoire's past was interesting - it's nice to see other facets of characters' existences.
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  7. #147
    Heartbreaker canonized's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Calipah View Post
    Gregoire is a fascinating character I concur, though its perhaps because he reminds me of someone I know. Leon has turned sour it seems. Well, who can blame him eh? Good update sidi.
    I wanted to delve into Gregoire a little this chapter . We had seen him a little bit a little bit back but nothing really , so I thought an exploration to his connection to the plotline was necessary . Plus , Léon's sourness hopefully has an ambiguous taste now that we see a little of what's happened to him in the past .

    Quote Originally Posted by Iain Wilson View Post
    Good update as always my friend. The exploration of Gregoire's past was interesting - it's nice to see other facets of characters' existences.
    Thank you very much
    DANGEROUS LIAISONS
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  8. #148
    Spectre of Battle grayghost's Avatar

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    Wow...I haven't posted on here in years... and I still get a mention. You rock! And Paris? Really? I ought to come over there and smack you. Well, I can finally get back on this thing at work, so I am going to check out this new diversion of yours. I like the way you started it out with the letters...nice.

    So...when you reply to this, I expect a "Sacre Bleu!", or some such. Later.
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  9. #149
    Heartbreaker canonized's Avatar
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    Chapter XI: Beauty

    This chapter is dedicated to a certain beautiful someone. I wish you'd wear your glasses more often. You've always been a source of beauty for me. Thank you.


    8 July 1783

    Dear Elly,

    Everything seem to be progressing swimmingly. Things with Cécile have continued to get closer to the intended goal. The approach I've taken with her is a bit unorthodox since it's extremely difficult to gain her trust so it will take much longer than usual. I suspect by this upcoming week that I shall finally attain the prize I've been seeking with all of my hard labours.

    I think I shall skip today's lesson for now... there's some unfinished business I've been meaning to attend to...

    With all my love,
    Léon


    ~~


    François d'Ardoinville shivered in his bed so violently that he clutched the disheveled sheets so close to him that his thin frame donned the silks like a second skin. The sun was already getting higher in the sky and intruding into his dark bedroom like spears of lightning. He tried to cover his face from the glow as he shuddered some more. It was the third time that his valet knocked on the door.

    “Sir... your bath...” was the fearful voice from beyond the portal. There was no answer from the young man inside. “I'll keep it warm for you, sir,” the valet said eventually.

    By the time François was inside the hot water, the shivering had abated, but it had been yet another hour after the valet had knocked until he had gotten up. His eyes seemed bruised from lack of sleep. He looked forward at the wall ahead of him as if he was still slumbering but with his eyes open. “Shall I prepare lunch instead of breakfast then, my Lord?” the valet whispered quietly although the voice echoed in the still bathroom. “Very well, My Lord...” the man said when he heard no reply.

    He barely ate although his stomach growled angrily after he swallowed some food like some animal that resented being starved. The quail eggs were small enough to be eaten in a single bite. He had had half of one. He wiped his lips with the napkin and he was a bit surprised at the blood he saw on the edge of the fabric. The sound of blood dripping onto the edge of the plate mesmerized him for a moment. It took him a second to register the warmth coming from his upper lip where the blood from his nose was dripping.

    They had imported ice from a mountain lake and he had a bundle wrapped in cloth upon his face. He was cold again as he sat on the chair, but he didn't want to move. He felt what seemed like sadness, but he was so used to feeling nothing now that he might have died if he let himself cry. He was somehow afraid that it would be blood instead of tears that would come out. They barely had to apply enough powder to him as pale as he was. By the time he left the manor it was mid afternoon.

    The historical section in the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal was well kept although no one stepped into that section these days. Especially not young men like François. His bony fingers perused the pages of certain volumes and the familiar touch of the leather binding chilled his fingertip for a moment. It wasn't like the cold from this morning, however. It was as if he was shaking something off when he shuddered. He sighed and pulled at one of the volumes. He clutched it against his chest. He held it there for a moment before he pulled another volume off the wall. By the time he returned to the table, he could barely see beyond the pile of books in his arms. He was careful to place them on the wooden surface without making a sound.

    The sun was shooting light into the library at such a low angle by the time François had gotten through the fourth book that he had to find a different table. He nearly dropped everything he was carrying when he saw Léon appear from behind an aisle.

    “Let me help you with those,” Léon said evenly. The man kept his lips horizontal and his eyes squared on François.

    François moved his mouth for an instant as if to say something but then decided to keep them closed. He sidestepped wide enough to move to the table. When he sat down, he arched his back forward protectively over his book as if shielding it from Léon. François didn't flinch when the other carried a chair from another table and brought it to his. He kept his eyes to the pages, but he could sense Léon watching him and looking at the words he was looking at.

    “How many times have you read this one now?” Léon asked with a strange smile, though the smile and the question didn't seem like Léon's usual condescension. François refused to answer. “The other week,” Léon started, “I had wanted you to see my latest chapter that I was writing... I figured since you like to come to the library on Tuesdays to read that you'd be willing to look over this latest--”

    “Why are you here?” François cut him off.

    “I wanted to see you,” the answer from Léon came easily although it didn't have the usual swagger attached to it. It almost seemed sincere.

    “I don't want to talk to you,” François said almost immediately after the other sentence was completed. He didn't even move his eyes off of the pages.

    Léon stared at him for a few moments. His smile diminished, but it was still there, waiting invitingly like a prisoner waiting for parole. “Alright,” Léon finally said. But maybe you'd give my chapter a look over anyway,” he said while putting down the papers next to François's pile of books. “I always thought you were a wonderful writer... even if you've suddenly run dry these days.”

    “I have no interest in your little stories anymore, Léon,” François was a bit agitated. Léon's smile suddenly increased. Any emotion was better than no emotion, after all.

    “I think you might like this one,” Léon said as he stood up. “I changed it a little since the first draft. This chapter is about our main character's reputation being ruined by a certain mutual friend. Unjustly.” Léon disappeared behind some aisles by the time François turned his head to give a refusal. He looked to the papers next to him. By the time he was done ripping all the pages that had Léon's handwriting on them up, he felt pain in his stomach. He curled over with a bundle of the parchment still in his fist and moaned quietly in agony.

    When François began leaving the library, he had to hold himself against the wall as he walked down the hallways. His other arm was preoccupied around his waist which was against his thin frame as if at any moment he would fall apart if he didn't keep pressure against his stomach. He grit his teeth when he saw Léon staring at him from the end of the hall. From the way Léon was standing with his head turned sideways, it was apparent to François that Léon had not expected him. No doubt, his horrible posture was another source of surprise for the one watching him. François felt his pain intensify when he saw Léon walk closer.

    “François?” Léon asked as he started stepping towards the young man. François tried to move forward, arm still against the wall. As Léon reached out to François, François grunted loudly and pushed Léon's arms aside.

    “If anything on those pages of yours was ever true, so what?” François growled at him though his eyes winced at the pain of simply speaking. “Do you really expect me to trust you? To believe your little notes and compliments?” he spat out the words at Léon. Immediately he pulled both of his arms together around himself and shivered. Léon tried to reach forward but François slid across the wall and out of his reach stumbling forward but maintaining his balance as he proceeded back down the hallway.

    “No, I was never the problem,” Léon said as he turned around to watch that shivering figure walk away. “It was never about whether or not I was believable,” Léon added as he walked up to where François was panting. “It was you all along, François. You were the one who never believes it when someone says you're beautiful.” The words seemed to intensify François's pain. Léon grabbed onto the other boy's shoulders as François keeled over. Léon pulled him upward and put him against the wall gently. François's pained eyes looked away and, in that moment, he desperately wished he was deaf.

    “Please...” François pleaded to get away.

    Léon scanned François's eyes and his fingers spread warmly across those bony shoulders. “I didn't come here to convince you that I tell you the truth or not. What I say doesn't matter... not when that voice in your head is louder than mine. Even when I held you, you never believed me and that's why it's so easy for you to think that people must want to hurt you: you yourself hate the way you are more than anyone else could...”

    François cursed at him and tried to pull out of that hold but his arms were too weak against the stronger other. At his inability to escape, François let out a pitiful smile that hovered somewhere between a morbid sag and a maddening grin. “And you, Vicomte, what do you see in a wreck like me, hm?” He sucked air in through his nostrils with that phrase as if ready to strike a punch with his words. “You may be right, but that still makes you a liar.”

    “Do you remember when I first saw you here?” Léon addressed him and leaned his face inward so that his gaze was inescapable. “You were the only one who read books from that section. You had no training... no education in the matter. You fired your tutors yet you borrowed books and bought a whole little private library for yourself. And when you laughed at me when I told you that I liked you, you rolled your eyes at me and said that I had a thing for dapper dilettantes.” Suddenly, Léon's hand released one of François's shoulders and clung to the young man's face. François gasped as if he was afraid that at any moment a demon might be forced out of his head painfully from that touch.

    “What do you want from me...” François nearly gasped out the words.

    Léon leaned in until the gap between the two of them diminished to a centimeter. After Léon finished whispering into François's ear, the boy collapsed in his arms.

    ~~


    Curves of gold wound around the frame of the Icon like the restful twining of vines. A soft glow pervaded the atmosphere around the depiction of Mary and the Child Jesus as if someone had taken the golden crown of the sun and infused the precious metals with the solar essence. Incense smoke passed upward through the air and slid past the depiction of The Virgin before curling in an array of fragrant twirls. The flames on each of the dozen candles surrounding the Icon hovered above their waxen sticks like Seraphs guarding the Garden: vigilant and discerning. It was in this safety that the sweet Mother of God contemplated the Godhead present in her arms. There was happiness on the Mother's face. There was sweet innocence in the child.

    The next image was taller. It was imposing as any watcher had to crane his neck upwards and the brightest of the candles below could barely illuminate the topmost darkness where the clouds of Good Friday would have been. Only shadow could be seen where the heavy cover that blocked out the warmth and glow of the sun as God died should have been. At the center of the image was the wooden beam proportioned into the eternal symbol of sacrifice. The depiction of the blood trailing down from the wood terminated alongside the grieving woman depicted being held by others of her gender. She was too weak to stand. The curvature of her lips demonstrated the breathless exhales of grief and the all-but-silent sobs of her pain. The women around her held her up by her arms as she lost breath.

    “Looking at Icons and Paintings is an act done in silence,” the man looking at the second image began to say, “but somehow a kind of music begins playing. In the back of your mind—there is a melody. Anguish and sorrow. A horrible pain like dying of disease and the slow lament of the illness's progress. Yet it isn't a pungent sound... It is different from the moans of dying pain. It has all the feeling of intensity, but without its ugliness. It is ugliness redeemed into something beautiful. It is the art of the cross.”

    A person standing next to the man who spoke looked silently at the one talking and noticed his hood and his dark clothing—not unlike a friar. The elderly veins on the man's hands held together in contemplation were easy to note as was the wrinkled face underneath the cowl.

    “Do you feel uncomfortable here?” the hooded man asked the companion watching him.

    “I have seen it all before,” the companion responded in a quiet voice. “Many times whenever I have visited here.”

    “That wasn't my question,” the old man smiled to himself as he lifted up his hood to get a better view at the topmost darkness of the painting in front of him. “Seeing it all before should mean you're more comfortable with it, yet you barely look upon the images.”

    “I've had other things on my mind,” was the calculated response. It was as respectful as it could be for such a short reply.

    “I remember as a boy my grandfather had taken me to visit one of the cobblers in town since he needed a new pair of shoes,” the old man started saying, “The man's name was Signore Nesca. He was a very busy man. He made shoes for noblemen like my father... he made shoes for Popes, too. He made beautiful shoes. He had deadlines to keep and he was a busy man running back and forth from his shop to various suppliers. Many of the items he crafted day and night. He gave me one piece of advice when my parents decided to send me to the seminary: prayer is also in the work that you do. That's why he never stopped pouring his entire soul into his work because it was his offering to the Lord. It was what gave his work any meaning at all. Everything that we do... all the work that we do should include the contemplation of the divine.”

    “Even when that work is killing?” the question was slightly cynical.

    “One need only look so far as an officer soldier to understand. Killing in the defense of a worthy ideal is a kind of sacrifice. Killing to save your family from harm is a service to each other. Killing is not savory; it is not delightful and it should never be an end in itself or the intended end. Neither is making shoes. The vats reek of animal fat and the work is hard. The genius of the Catholic religion is found in Dante's Inferno: even the most ugly contains a contemplation of the divine plan: Satan has three faces.”

    “As a mockery of the Trinity,” the other voice piped up.

    “It isn't just a mockery. Dante gives Satan three faces and not three heads. A minor detail and unimportant for those who simply wish to gloss over the Divine Comedy, but think about it carefully. If one has three faces, but only one head, none of the faces can see each other. They are all looking outward and never at one other. Dante shows us that ultimately, sin is a lack of real introspection. It is also a lack of real love. Because unlike in the Trinity where Father, Son, and Holy Ghost look upon each other in community: in Hell, Satan symbolizes what sin is: the lack of that communal experience. Sin is looking away from each other. But no one cares to read Dante closely anymore because so few care to live through life with an allegorical eye. They do not see the Divinity in the ugliness. Instead, they revel in the ugliness as a kind of revenge.”

    “Is that why you come here? To see beauty again while trapped in a city filled with decadence?”

    “Yes. Though not the way you're thinking. I don't come here to escape from the ugliness. I come here to remind myself of how to properly look at the world. Do you know of that English playwright that the late M. Arouet kept promoting?” The silence after the question confirmed that the old man's companion knew nothing of the sort. “I had seen one of his plays once performed privately,” the old man carried on. “It was the story of a prince who suspected his uncle of murdering his father and assuming the throne and so the prince stages a play where a similar scenario takes place in order to expose the uncle-king.”

    “A play within a play?” there was a small bit of laughter that escaped the companion's lips.

    “Do you have any guesses on what the writer of this play had in mind to show us?” The old man turned his head to his companion and there was a wry grin on the old man's wrinkly face.

    For a moment the companion looked at the old man and seconds passed in thought. The old man held his smirk as if encouraged by the analysis going on in the companion's brain. “You're the philosopher, my Lord—I'm merely your servant—”

    A gentle laugh from the old man interrupted the companion. “No, no,” the elderly one said, “you're merely afraid of being wrong.”

    “Being wrong has unpleasant consequences in my line of work,” was the gentle excuse.

    The old man's eyes returned to the painting in front of him. “'All the world's a stage...' I come here to remind myself that life is a drama. It's foolish to think that a playwright of infinite wisdom and knowledge as God is not somehow conducting the drama of history. If that Englishman can write verse and if amateurs can write novellas, then why should I not try to analyze the movement of the drama of my life as if we could see hidden meanings in it. That's what I come here to remind myself of.”

    “I'm surprised they promoted you to the post you have now,” the companion spoke gently while looking upon the painting as well. “You should have been a poet instead.”

    “Everyone should be a poet,” he replied, “if they want to stay human. Maybe that's why you feel uncomfortable here. To be surrounded by humanity is disconcerting for one trained to apply tactics mechanically. Your soul inside of you is aching to burst out of the shell you've placed around it. The mechanical part of you is afraid that seeing these images will give your soul power.”

    “Are you trying to convert me from the job you've hired me to do?” was the playful question.

    “I am a priest first; spymaster second.”

    “Doesn't your spirituality put you at a disadvantage against the other spymasters?” the question almost goaded.

    “All spymasters are spiritual, my dear. Your father should have taught you that. Spymasters believe in the godhood of their king or their cause.”

    “And if France falls? The eldest daughter of the Church?”

    “That is what we are here to avoid... but we will not win if we forget what it is we're fighting for. After all. His Holiness has to make due with truth, goodness, and beauty.”

    “Truth, goodness, and beauty...” the companion repeated quietly and slowly while looking forward again at the painting. “And what are the advantages of these?”

    “Every man's weakness is the truth; every personality's Achilles heel is goodness; and every soul's vulnerability is beauty. No one can resist them. Man always prefers honesty, charity, and the arts. Appeal to the man behind the machination of manipulation and you will always win their hearts.”

    “I don't think there are many in Paris left who want to give themselves the chance to be moved by your methods of appeal, Eminence.”

    “No, there aren't.”

    “Is that why you sent me to that monk? Gregoire?”

    The old man smiled as he adjusted his ring on his finger comfortably. “What do you think of him? He's as cunning as you are, you know. Though he refuses to step back into the role he once had in his youth.”

    “I think he's wasted material. We could use someone with his information on what goes on inside that Scarlet Academy.”

    “You're still looking at him as a tool,” the old man chuckled. “You know, they used to say that Gregoire was one of the most handsome young men in the Academy.”

    “And what good did that get him except make him the object of lust—what good is beauty if you just get hunted down like prey.” The response was acidic, but just barely. The voice corrected itself near the end—it had betrayed too much bitterness.

    “Do you hate your own beauty?” the old man quietly asked. There was no response. The companion's eyes were fixated on the calm candles and could not bare to look upon the old man. “I see,” the old man nodded underneath the cowl. “The greatest confusion of our generation is to mistake beauty with sex. Beauty is about an object of adoration and sacrifice. For Gregoire, his beauty was a sign to him that there was something more eternal. Because he thought long and hard about his skin fading away like the autumn leaves. Even the Queens of France will be eaten by worms. This is why even the most lustful 'gourmands' of beauty crave youth because youthful beauty is a sign of something beyond... something that lasts longer than the stars. That's why Gregoire has dedicated the rest of his life to seeking that out. Men of today seek out beauty by consuming the flesh of young men over and over. Gregoire has chosen to consume the flesh of the one who is the source of all beauty.”

    The companion thought for a moment and those eyes were lost in the folds of the women carrying The Virgin. “It's a pity no one can ever taste those lips of his anymore. He may have shaved his hair, but Gregoire's features are still as toned as something made out of Carrera marble.”

    “You almost sound like you're in love,” the old man laughed at his companion warmly.

    “I may work for shadows, but I am still a woman...” she smiled back.

    “Now... about this Chevalier Danceny... who is his next target?”

    “I'm afraid that's the worst part of it,” the young lady responded while her smile faded into a frown. “They plan on killing the sixteenth Louis.”
    Last edited by canonized; 09-02-2012 at 01:19.
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    Quote Originally Posted by grayghost View Post
    Wow...I haven't posted on here in years... and I still get a mention. You rock! And Paris? Really? I ought to come over there and smack you. Well, I can finally get back on this thing at work, so I am going to check out this new diversion of yours. I like the way you started it out with the letters...nice.

    So...when you reply to this, I expect a "Sacre Bleu!", or some such. Later.
    It's definitely good to hear from you We should totally talk again sometime soon . I've been diverted from this diversion for a while now as well with so many things happening , but it's such a nice experience to take it up again . Thank you always , good sir , for your great support
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    Chapter XII: Bodies


    8 July 1783

    Dear Elly,

    Most people underestimate the link between the state of one's body and the state of one's mind. I don't just mean actions, either. Actual sensations and reactions are found in the body; memory is found in the body, as well. You can experiment with this yourself to test if I'm right. So many people speak of a broken heart and if one takes the time to actually register what their body is feeling when they are the most sad, they'll feel a physical ache in their chest. Though, it may be different for different people. Some people feel a hollowness, others feel a tension. What is universal amongst everyone is that the body feels as much as the mind does.

    When we're happy, also, we feel lighter. We seem to grow in our stature. It's easier to move. That's the interesting thing about the human body: it almost seems to have a mind of its own; and this mind remembers. Do you ever have that horrible feeling in your stomach when you get into a situation that you are nervous about but you cannot consciously understand why you are afraid?

    I remember years ago when I had attended a party with the Russian ambassador as the guest. He was a tall man. Very lean with a beard that seemed like it could etch roman letters on marble. He would raise his hand as he spoke to gesticulate the gravity of his anecdotes like the way an eagle spreads its talons to catch a rabbit. It was the way he looked at me with those eyes that constricted something in my throat. I couldn't understand at the moment why because I was so busy being a guest at that party. It had not occurred to me that the feeling around my throat was the same as when I had that... horrible episode with the Englishman. It was the same feeling of fingers constricting my windpipe. I had not consciously remembered those eyes hitting me in the same way the Englishman did, but my body remembered and my body reacted.

    The body remembering doesn't need to necessarily be such a bad thing, however. Sometimes, it brings back the best of memories and the body becomes so free of burdens that it can go from the worst agitation to the most peaceful rest. More on that later. For now, I hope you're studying well enough.

    Sincerely,
    Léon


    ~~


    Léon helped François onto the sofa and gently placed the young man's head against one of the cushions. François looked up at him for a moment but looked away a quick second later. He was unable to express anything except a slight twitching of his fingers. Léon went over to the side table and poured himself some water.

    “There's ice...” François suddenly said from behind Léon. Léon paused for a moment before opening a small container which the valet had placed among the refreshments when they had arrived at François's manor. Léon manipulated the ice into the two glasses in front of him and watched the perfectly clear cubes disappear in the liquid.

    When Léon returned to François, the young man on the sofa watched as a hand eased a glass towards him. François took it and felt the chill on his fingers and the condensation slip against his skin. “You should have told me that you had stopped taking your 'medicine,'” Léon said as he sat on a chair on the other side of the table from the sofa.

    “I wasn't speaking to you, remember?” François's voice had almost regained its usual sharpness, but it was still subdued. Cold liquid passed through his throat.

    “Still,” Léon watched the ice in his glass bobble. “I know how painful it must be.”

    François looked over at the man sitting on the chair and wondered if he should object. Everything inside of him wanted to scream out that his pain was something Léon could not understand. His pain was eating him alive, but somehow as he watched the way Léon contemplated the small sounds the ice in his water made as they collided with the glass, he had this instinct that he believed him. “Were you serious with what you told me at the library?” François found himself asking but he was unsure exactly why those words came out.

    Léon looked up quietly with just his eyes as if he had just been woken from a daydream. “Hm?” Léon raised both of his eyebrows inquisitively.

    François's stomach churned for just a moment but he resisted that voice; that voice that said that Léon was lying earlier and he had easily forgotten by now. “That...” he tried to get the words out before it was too difficult. “That you would—that you would listen...”

    “Of course,” Léon said quickly and he straightened himself up a bit on the seat as if finding himself again.

    “But why would you want to do that again?” François stared at his water while asking as if hoping he would receive the answer in letters forming on the droplets on the glass. “Why waste your time? I mean...” François hesitated on his words by trailing off for a moment. “It would take all evening practically.”

    “Yes, it would take all evening, but I need something to do tonight.”

    “Something to do...” François muttered under his breath suddenly confused as if he had been offended. “Why not just go off with that Robespierre boy you've been visiting lately?” François couldn't hold back his disdain. He'd rather say it this way than tell Léon directly how angry he was with him. He couldn't even look at Léon's eyes. He was staring at the mist on his glass the same way he would look at the window panes when it rained. He felt like he had no right to complain. Who would want to listen to him read poetry anyway? That's right, he rolled the thoughts in his mind like someone grinding bitter herbs with a pestle. Just the thought of it made him want to laugh as he was sure anyone reading his thoughts might think: “What a sentimental fool!” or someone might say:“Poetry? You swooned in Léon's arms for the sake of sharing your inane scribbles?” He laughed to himself silently. That's what they would say, he convinced himself. No one would believe him if they had told them the story that when Léon said “I want to listen to you read me that poem you've written” he had collapsed into that man's arms.

    He stole a glance over to Léon. Did he know? He asked himself. Was this some uncanny calculation that Léon de Valmont pieced together to disable him? Of course he knew, François told himself. François had spoken of it often... about his work. About how it would never be read; about how he was never satisfied with it. His amateur voice would never be beautiful. He refused to show everyone. He even refused to show Léon when they had been together before. It was the guarded secret he kept. He wanted it to be beautiful, but he believed it wasn't. Poetry? Léon was right... he really was a dilettante. He curled up a little bit on the couch and clenched his jaw as if to brace himself from some invisible force that was set to disembowel him.

    Léon answered slowly and deliberately. François, at first, thought Léon wouldn't answer, but then he saw those lips move quietly to let out the words: “I stopped visiting him a while ago.” François remained motionless at that response.

    “Got bored of him?” was the probing question from the one laying down on the sofa.

    Léon shrugged. “I don't want any distractions right now,” he explained before sinking back into the seat and raising up the glass to his lips.

    “So this isn't a distraction for you? Tonight?” François pressed on.

    “Of sorts,” Léon admitted. “I've always enjoyed that you wrote your own poetry. It was something we had in common.”

    “You were rather good at it when you used to write,” François touched the rim of his glass as he spoke almost nostalgically.

    “I've been meaning to pick it up again,” Léon smiled at the thought. “Perhaps if I had people reading it and taking an interest in it.”

    “That was always your weakness,” François began to sit up on the sofa with some difficulty. His words were interjected by a short grunt as he leaned himself against the back of the beautifully embroidered upholstery. “You always wrote for other people. You should write for yourself and not worry about whether or not other people praise you for it.”

    “Is that why you never bothered to give my last poem a mention amongst the circles you frequent?” Léon blinked and cast his eyes on François that very second with a kind of shrewd grin plastered on his face. The water might have made him half drunk.

    “I never talk about anyone's poetry...” François scowled. “I already told you I liked your last poem in private. That should be good enough isn't it?”

    “Good enough, yes. Just like it's good enough if I just left you in that library to churn in your own pain. We can always go by being 'good enough' to each other,” Léon clenched his jaw tightly after his last word so that even François could see the muscle in Léon's jaw contract.

    “I just don't want to say anything fake...” François attempted to explain.

    “Of course... nothing 'fake,'” Léon responded so quickly that it made the glass in François's hand shake a little. “God forbid you could ever think of anything genuine to say about my work.”

    “But I did—privately.”

    “And if I was writing just for you, François, that would have been good enough, but I'm trying to be read by a lot of people. At least a lot more than the few that frequent these little journals I submit to and it would have been such an immense help to have even the title mentioned—” Léon stopped himself. He quietly stood up, tipped the glass against his mouth until the ice kissed his lips tenderly, and then placed the glass on the table.

    He did not hear any objections on his way out of the room. He did not wait for the valet to fetch him the carriage. He whistled for his driver and shooed François's many servants away from him as he walked past them. He didn't understand what it was that he was feeling.

    The bumpiness of the road swayed his pensive form as it sank back in the seat of the carriage. He didn't even know why he bothered saying those things to François in the library if he was just going to walk out again. Disappointment. He recognized the feeling. It was that feeling in the pit of his stomach that made it seem like his heart had hanged itself from the ceiling of his throat. François was another disappointment. The latest in the unbroken succession of disappointments. From Gustave to François... everyone disappointed him. No... somehow it seemed as if this memory of disappointment went even further back than that. Somehow, when he thought about the first time he felt that physical sensation of a stone dropping into the well of his stomach, it was even before he had arrived at the Scarlet Academy... but what was it? He gripped his head violently and held his face against his knees as if he could tear the memory away from his body.

    For a moment he shook violently, but then he sat back up again. His eyes looked out of the carriage window into the cool Parisian night and his lips had returned to being perfectly still. His eyes blinked slowly and his breathing became as even as a mountain lake with gently lapping waves. His fingers relaxed from their fisted positions and instead they spread out against the fine texture of the carriage seat. He caressed where he was sitting like one would tenderly greet a pet. “Don't worry, Léon,” he told himself in his mind. “François was not the one we had hoped for. In the end he was no different than anyone else. He was not that special someone that you could rely on. In the end he couldn't understand. In the end he wasn't suitable. In the end he was just as selfish as the others... Yes,” he continued to think to himself but now with a smile, “even though you gave them time, money, effort, compassion, everything you could, they still could not give you the same. In the end, no one loves you; they just want you. So you'll try again. You'll find someone worthy. No, not perfect, just worthy. We'll find them,” his voice kept telling himself, “for now at least you can be happy that you don't need to be hurt by François again. You gave it the best chance you could and still he could only think about himself. He's probably back to his 'medicine' by now. François complains about being alone when it's his fault to begin with. Selfish bitch. Let him rot. Let them all rot.”

    ~~


    The rot in the air was unbearable. Madame de Rosemond could barely keep herself from groaning in agony. “Must we be down here now of all times?” she complained with a slight shiver. The Marquise de Merteuil looked over to her companion and beckoned her to keep up the pace as she moved forward. It was true, the Marquise thought to herself, that bringing Rosemond down here might not have been the best idea. The old woman could barely stand anything which didn't have the proper cologne or fragrance. Unfortunately, she was the only one who held the keys, being the old crone that she was. It was a particular privilege of her position in the hierarchy.

    The deep recesses of the crypt were newly built and the grey stone had none of that intricate decay that one would find in ruins or in more ancient constructs, but it still sported the stench of the dead; even the Marquise had trouble navigating the dark hallways without breathing through her mouth.

    The caskets they passed were made of glass and metal. One might have mistaken the polished steel for silver, but there was no shine when the candlelight reflected off of it. “We're here,” the Marquise announced as she approached the far end of the wall where several of these glass coffins were housed in alcoves. She placed her candle on one of the holds to her left and beckoned Rosemond forward to inspect the containers.

    “They almost look peaceful don't they?” Madame de Rosemond commented with a quiver in her voice before fumbling through her pockets for the keys. The sound of her speech was muffled by a black handkerchief running the length of her nose down to her chin. Upon finding what she was fishing for in her pockets, she peered into the desiccated air within the glass boxes. Her eyes squinted down into the glass encased box attempting to discern the decomposing figures within past the glare of the morbid window.

    Rosemond worked one of her keys into a small keyhole in between some of the alcoves. With a simple twist, a mechanism in the background sprang into action and a low rumble accompanied the parting of the entire wall: glass caskets and all. The chamber that had now been exposed to the decayed air was dark, but the Marquise was quick to bring in he candle. The glitter of bayonets lining one of the walls greeted her.

    “Good,” the Marquise smiled to herself as she walked into the chamber and waved the light around to inspect the various armaments cached therein. “Once we add the latest shipment we should be ready to move in a week,” she spoke to Rosemond who was too busy quivering from the stench to be paying attention.

    “Can we close it up and get out of this dreadful place now?” Rosemond protested. The Marquise laughed quietly to herself before stepping back into the hallway. Rosemond was quick to dash the key back into the keyhole and trigger the mechanism to close. As soon as the opening was secure she began a brisk pace down the hallway although she was tarried by the need to stay in the Marquise's candle's light.

    The Marquise, on the other hand, was pacing slowly. She had not even noticed that the wax on her candle was beginning to drip past the guard and onto her fingertips warmly. Her eyes wandered the various coffins lining the alcoves. Many familiar names. She always got a strange chill whenever she walked by the casket that contained the corpse of a young girl dressed in resplendent clothing. Her expensive jewelry were still glittering despite the dusty atmosphere. The Marquise held up her candle and read the name for the hundredth time: “Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil,” was the engraving.

    She managed to pull herself away. She picked up her pace and Madame de Rosemond did not complain. Neither even paid any heed to the very small boy kept in the glass casket that had the name “Vicomte Léon de Valmont” etched into the steel.
    Last edited by canonized; 11-02-2012 at 12:57.
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    Chapter XIII: Comfort


    9 July 1783

    Dear Elly,

    My prayers have been coming along nicely. There is a real serenity that rushes through me when I am chanting The Hours with my brothers. It is a calming feeling...

    It's rained recently. I had been collecting wood into one of the sheds to keep them dry from the downpour and there was this hint of the wood's essence on my fingers. The scent of nature touched my nose every time I raised my hands up close to my face for prayer. It was like the smell of incense. The rest here has been what I had hoped for. No, it's not really rest, you know? The work here is difficult. We've divided the tasks between all of us. Sometimes I cut wood, sometimes I carry the water in from the river. Sometimes I till the fields or drive the cart to the market. Other times I simply clean all day from the wine cellar to the chimes that we ring upon different times.

    The fields that we maintain require constant attention and the tools that we possess have gotten so old and splintery that the abbot ordered all of us who work at the fields to wear gloves he had brought in from Paris. He had a rather clever smile on his face as he told us that he had found these gloves while dropping off the wine we had been fermenting here. He said that the genius of these new work gloves was that they had soft cotton lining on the inside and a tough leather hide on the outside. He mused that the villagers might not believe us anymore that we worked hard when they shake our hands and feel how soft they are. It's interesting... despite all the physical exercise that I had trained myself to endure in the Academy for what they had trained me to do, I would think that I have actually gone through more rigours here at the monastery.

    Life here is comfortable now. At first it was difficult. No... perhaps not so difficult as my months as a postulant before taking my vows. It was during those days that I had tossed and turned on the bed. The pain was almost unbearable. I couldn't sleep and if it weren't for the pillow I might have been heard groaning in agony. Being alone in a bed nights at a time made me feel like I couldn't breathe. I just wanted something to make myself feel better. Anything. I thought about running away several times. I thought about burning myself alive in the fireplace. Most nights I shivered under my blanket sweating. I thought I wanted the old life back so much that I struggled with the most vulgar of things that I could do to myself.

    Then there would be that ringing reminder in my head. A reminder that asked me what I was really being promised. Would things be as good as I really imagined they would be if I returned to that old life that I had? Would I really be as happy as I thought I would be? Each time the questions were what brought me to a calm understanding. “Trust.”

    You know, trust is not an irrational thing. Most people don't understand. Most people believe that faith is based on a leap blindly into the darkness suspended over an abyss. Most people don't understand, but they could. How many times do we trust a stranger? Never. At least I never have. If there's someone new I meet I keep myself reserved. I would not tell them my darkest secrets, I would not even turn my back to them in certain circumstances.

    Yet our mothers we trust (at least in theory). Why? Because we were vulnerable to our mothers once. They did not kill us in the womb. They fed us milk. They protected us from the elements. They had taken care of us. And so we trust them. Trust is based on reason; experience; empirical data of a sort. If that cousin Woodhouse of yours tells you that it's icy outside and you may slip, you trust what he says not because of some irrational leap of confidence in him, but rather that you've known him for a long time. You've known him to be true to his word and you know he loves you.

    So it's the same with how life goes. I have been taken care of. I have been healed and fed. I have been guided even through the darkest of times. It's why I answered the call to this vocation. It's why I keep the faith because I trusted that what had saved me all those years ago in the darkest times of the Academy would save me again. And I have not yet been proven wrong. This is what they mean by faith and faithful. I'm beginning to understand.

    I hope to speak to you again soon.

    With all my heart,
    Gregoire


    ~~


    There was a knock on Gregoire's cell door even while the ink on the letter was still drying. “It's too early for vespers...” Gregoire said to himself curiously as he got up. When he swung the door open, the abbot's face—in all of its elderly tenderness—smiled upon him immediately.

    “It would appear you have some guests, Gregoire,” the older gentleman relayed to him.

    The abbot was barely as tall as Gregoire was, although it was true that Gregoire's youth afforded him a comfortable advantage over most of his other brothers who had already passed their half century. The abbot had on his head the tufts of stark white hair that waved like moonbeams onto the ocean waves of that wrinkled face. The old man's deep blue eyes penetrated the darkness that were in Gregoire's. “I'm sorry, Father, but I wasn't aware I was receiving any...” Gregoire confessed to him with no small measure of curiosity.

    “Neither was I,” the old man nodded as he reached to pull on Gregoire's elbow, leading the younger one out of his cell. Gregoire dutifully obeyed the slow yet deliberate actions of his superior as he followed him into the hall. “It would appear that it's a matter of urgency and secrecy,” the old man began to explain as they walked side by side.

    Gregoire was immediately apprehensive. “Father, it is so close to Vespers and—”

    “I was assured that this would only take a few minutes,” was the calm and slow response from the abbot. The abbot's words always seemed to have this quality of sighs bubbling up from a cool spring. An airy quality though deep in timbre. It was like the man was half asleep as he spoke and only relayed words from some divine daydream.

    The abbot led Gregoire into his own personal office, but the abbot did not enter with Gregoire; he merely opened the door for him. Gregoire looked to his superior's skylike eyes and cloudy head one last time as if he could hopefully receive some kind of explanation. The abbot, however, merely smiled and pressed Gregoire's back gently until Gregoire stepped into the room. As the door closed behind him, Gregoire noticed the the man sitting behind the abbot's desk. A golden ring with the symbol of Sts. Peter and Paul was easy to recognize on the man's hand. Even before he could see the man's face, he bent down on his knee and uttered surprisingly: “Eminence!”

    Gregoire inched forward to the hand and kissed the ring reverently. “It's been quite a while since I've seen you,” the voice from the man sitting chuckled deeply. “Please, Gregoire... sit down.”

    Gregoire complied and looked up to the man wearing the vermillion hat, though with some reservation as his eyes descended to looking upon the desk. He was afraid, perhaps, that the discerning stare of that man might sense... not weakness... but a lack of progress. Disappointment. “If I had known you were coming—” Gregoire began.

    “I'm afraid this isn't a social visit,” the man said with a sigh passing through his nostrils. Gregoire looked up slightly, unable to help his curiosity. The Cardinal's eyes were diverted to the crucifix watching over the tabletop. Gregoire had not seen his patron in a very long time. For him, the thought of Cardinal Rimini was always of that mysterious figure interceding on his behalf with the authorities in Rome to have him sheltered and protected after the incidents of his past. Somehow, in his memory, he always seemed to be looking at the back of the man's red cloak each time the Cardinal was presenting a case in front of legates and others of his rank. He was not used to seeing the time-weathered wrinkles of a stately face decorated by the zebra stripes of grey competing against black on the man's head.

    Cardinal Rimini had sharp features as was appropriate for someone as tall and aged as he was. He was built like a gothic spire and his fingers seemed to always point towards some celestial position whenever he raised it in speech. This was one of those moments. “I'm here to ask you to do something for me which only you can do,” the Cardinal explained as he leaned forward on the desk. His forearms made a triangle from the desk to his face as he spoke.

    Gregoire placed his hands together on his lap and held one palm over the other tightly. “I thought when I had helped the young lady that you had sent here a few days ago, that that would be the extent of the help you needed of me, Eminence...” Gregoire said while he stared at the crevices between the grey stones on the floor.

    “I was hoping that would be the case, as well,” the clergyman looked at Gregoire's downcast face sympathetically. “Unfortunately, she brought back information from that whole affair that has caused me to come all the way here to Paris at her request to review everything.”

    “From what I can tell of her,” Gregoire paused for a moment thinking about the spy that he had only 'briefly' encountered those few days ago and smirked a little at her secret cunning, though not out of any particular joy, but as if he had recognized an old face,“I think she's more than capable of doing whatever it is you're in need of doing. I'm sure she doesn't need any more help from me in accomplishing her tasks.”

    “She will,” the Cardinal contradicted him plainly. “For where I'm going to send her. I need her to get something for me. From the Academy.”

    Gregoire had not wanted to hear those words. He had hoped, in silent prayer, that there was no mention of that place where he once had been. “I'd be happy to tell her everything that she would need to know about the Academy...” He was desperate.

    “You're the only one who knows the place in person,” the Cardinal responded with a chilly reluctance in his voice as if he was not wishing to press the matter as much as Gregoire wanted to avoid it altogether. “And it must be done soon. You have the first hand knowledge of the place and protocol, and you have the training—”

    “Yes, the training which they drilled into me and my body,” Gregoire bent his head downward as he spoke as if he was ready to implode. His arms had shifted closer into an “x” around his habit. “I escaped there with an understanding that I would never have to go back to that place. To those memories...”

    The Cardinal was silent. He blinked once looking at the young man in front of him. The tip of the pyramid of his fingers melted into a dome as each digit intertwined with its counterpart. He rested his upper lip on one of his knuckles and looked once more at the crucifixion depicted on the table. “I did not come here to force you to do anything that you did not wish to do,” the Cardinal began talking softly through the filter of his fingers. “I promised you a safe sanctuary here and I keep my promises. However, it is your choice if you can help us or not. You know that I would not have traveled here all the way from Rome if it were a small matter I could defer to someone else. Please forgive me for pressing the matter.”

    Gregoire paused for a moment. He waited and his eyes scanned the cold rock on the ground. Eventually, he shook his head slowly; his chin rubbing against his habit. “I am sorry, Eminence. I do not meant to be ungrateful...”

    The Cardinal suddenly stood and Gregoire obediently stood up in attention almost by instinct with his eyes lifted up by surprise. Somehow, his first reaction was to prepare himself to be struck. That was what he was used to in the past, at least—though never in the face. Those in the Academy never struck anyone in the face where it would be seen. When the Cardinal approached him, Gregoire fought every instinct to recoil. Old arms rested on his shoulders gently and Gregoire looked up at the towering gentleman. “I will be sending the lady you had met along with others I am forming for this team in two days,” the Cardinal explained quietly with a face that seemed like it was a mosaic of a Byzantine Emperor. “We will be meeting at the tavern called La Place des Lys along the village route to Paris by sunset. If you wish to join, I have already discussed this with Father Pierre here, and he has agreed to let you join us up until that hour.”

    There was no further discussion. The hands that had held onto his shoulders suddenly departed from him and Gregoire was left alone in the abbot's office standing awkwardly and staring at the floor. The gentle face of Father Pierre was the next thing that caught his attention a few minutes later while Gregoire was still standing there. “It is almost time for Vespers,” the old man sad with a smile while standing at the doorway.

    Gregoire could only look up at him strangely as if he had just heard a foreign tongue. He looked for help in those empyrean eyes. “Yes, Father,” Gregoire replied half heartedly, but he did not seem to move from his spot.

    “Gregoire,” the abbot's voice descended upon him softly as his eyes locked with the young man's. “I believe you have been comfortable here with us, yes?”

    “Yes, Father, of course,” Gregoire responded immediately.

    “I believe it is good of you to be here. You had been through ice and fire and you have survived like The Poet had. I believe your time here has been well spent and you have built virtues that have been greatly pleasing to me and, most importantly, to God.”

    “Thank you, Father...”

    “I think we've done all we can for you here at this time,” the old man continued. Gregoire looked up towards him with a painful, confused expression. “You have shown us what it means to be a monk. You still have much to learn, but you will not move forward if you are simply focusing on maintaining the comfort you have achieved by running away from the demons that still haunt you.”

    “Father...” Gregoire half pleaded.

    “I am not asking you to go. In fact, I fear if you do,” the old man began to motion Gregoire towards the door with an outstretched palm. “However, The Good Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine in the desert to find the lost sheep and he was not afraid to go to a cross for it.”

    ~~


    “Will he join us?” the woman asked as the carriage began to move away from the monastery.

    “Do you know how we found him?” the one in the scarlet hat asked while looking out at the window at the humble building moving away from his view. When he received no reply, he continued: “He had this giant slice along his chest where a sword had nearly cut him open. He was bleeding out, but he refused to die. It's why he still has that scar—a leftover of the way he had escaped from the clutches of the Scarlet Aristocracy that run that Academy.”

    “Yes, I've noticed the scar. It's a horrible sight.”

    The clergyman snickered to himself. “No... it's beautiful. It's the wounds of Christ. It's a sign that one has overcome death. It's a sign that healing has happened.”

    “Still, the memory of that wound must haunt him,” the woman offered.

    “No,” the Cardinal contradicted her again, “that wound managed to heal over quickly. His physical endurance is rather remarkable. It's probably why they had trained him to be a soldier and killer. It's the deeper matters of the mind and soul that took a long time to heal and great care by physicians of both in order to accomplish. The way he was in his mind when we first found him... it was a lot worse than his physical condition. The blow across his chest was the least of the injuries he sustained attempting to escape.”

    “So you believe he won't go back?”

    “No, he will go back. I gave him the best opportunity he's had in a very long time.”

    “An opportunity? For revenge?”

    “No... not revenge. He wouldn't risk reliving old memories just for that. He has long hoped to avoid repaying violence with violence.”

    “Then what would he risk all those things for?”

    The Cardinal paused and pursed his lips rigidly before speaking. “His younger sister.”

    The surprise on the woman's face was evident, as was her confusion. “Why did he not accept your offer outright? No torture should stop him from saving a younger sibling like that. Especially a younger sister. Unless he was a coward.”

    The Cardinal's face was cold as he looked out to the monastery in the distance. He held his composure by touching the cross hanging from his neck and finding solace in the gilded texture of the corpus of a suffering God. “The diabolical nature of this Aristocracy was that the damage they did to Gregoire's mind and soul was not a torture they visited upon him. It was the torture that they seduced him into visiting upon his sister. This is why this decision, though inevitable, will be the hardest he will ever make. He will have to face his guilt head on. He will have to rescue the one whom he has hurt and violated the most.”
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  13. #153
    Zardishar Calipah's Avatar
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    You need to follow Francois' word "You always wrote for other people. You should write for yourself and not worry about whether or not other people praise you for it." So they're ditching Leon at long last? Why does he remind me of that fellow from Skins - the guy you love.
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  14. #154
    Heartbreaker canonized's Avatar
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    Habibi , you are honestly as incorrigible as he is XD Despite the good blessings I have showered unto both of you and my dearest François .
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  15. #155
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    This really stirs memories seeing you and this excellent AAR back here.

    Gods, even me posting here seems a little anachronistic!
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    Let's Play M&B Warband 1257AD!

  16. #156
    Heartbreaker canonized's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woody Man View Post
    This really stirs memories seeing you and this excellent AAR back here.

    Gods, even me posting here seems a little anachronistic!
    Haha and I've been updating weekly to boot ! Though it seems it might be too late to get some commentators XD Nonetheless , it's been a rather fun experience . My one friend Alex was interested in reading it so I was very happy to delight him with a chapter every week since it helps him get to know me a bit more , I think . Where I've been , the kind of trouble I've gone through and the adventures I've had -- mostly metaphorically speaking of course . XD

    I'm glad to see you're still around . I hope you can enjoy this as well as I continue along In fact the next update is coming along quite nicely and will be finished by today (I've actually been updating on the ball the past three weeks so I've been on a roll) . It'd go along a lot faster if I hadn't bought CKII !
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  17. #157
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    Chapter XIV: A Match



    10 July 1783

    Dear Elly,

    Does Gregoire still write you those long, boring letters of his? He's always so serious about things. He just needs to learn to let go a little bit... Though I suppose I can understand. He has a lot of guilt to work through. Do you still remember that time? With all of us together? With his sister? Before... you know. I wonder if I'll ever get to see you again. No no... I mustn’t become as silly in my correspondence to you as Gregoire. But you wouldn't blame me for reminiscing about us, right? It was a different time, before: both the good and the bad. It's weird to think about where we come from. In fact, I try to avoid thinking about it altogehter.

    Speaking of old times, I received a letter from your cousin Woodhouse the other day. I knew that old buzzard was still lurking around somewhere, but I was surprised to see his note. I was happy to see it. He gave me a lot of information on your progress. You still have much to learn...

    If there's one thing I could teach you today, it is how to fight with someone. You've heard rumours, I'm sure, of my dueling prowess these days. I know you've seen how well I fight with my pistol and rapier when we were younger. However, that's not really the kind of fighting I'm thinking of. You see, fighting and flirting are often two sides of the same coin. There is a romantic notion to fighting. Think about when nations fight. Nations never fight because they dislike each other on 'personal' grounds. No, they fight because there is something they envy about the other: riches, fertile land, a holy city.

    It's much the same when people fight. When we hate someone it's usually always one of two reasons. We either hate them for possessing something that we do not possess, or we hate them because they expose what we hate about ourselves. The romantic notion in the first case is simple: we want to dominate and possess the other person. The romantic notion in the second is more subtle. No matter how much we hate ourselves, we long to be loved all the more and the more we hate someone else, it is oftentimes the case that we want to secretly love that person, because although we do not recognize it, we are looking for a way to forgive and accept ourselves. We want to strike out into the darkness of the beast staring us in the face telling us how undesirable we are: “No! I am worthy of being loved!” … if only that were not such an impossible task, right?

    Avoid fighting with others. Avoid showing anger or displeasure. Anger will show what it is you're lacking in yourself. Anger will show your weakness. Anger will form this impossible gulf between you and the other person in which you eventually either long for the other's validation, or you gamble on pretending that the other person is good enough to be held... cared for. Avoid fighting altogether because it will only draw you into a vacuum of desires. It will make you weak. It will make any of us weak.

    Naturally, this also means to take advantage of another person's anger. I taught you about the Mirror effect before. Eliciting anger from this method is not something bad. Remember what I keep repeating that the opposite of love is not hatred, it is indifference. If you cannot get people to love you immediately, get them to hate you. Have them hate you so much that they wish to dominate you, touch you, and own you. It is then that you will always have an advantage over them. It is then that you'll be able to crack them in half.

    Please take care of yourself. I miss you.

    Love,
    Léon


    ~~


    Léon angled his elbows neatly against the top rim of the pew in front of him. His hands rallied up against his face and his palms were locked together as if he had just finished killing a fly. From behind the half façade of his hands, he eyed Cécile de Volanges a few rows ahead of him. He watched how her golden hair had been done neatly and dressed cordially with laced fabric that was more like a halo than a head covering. Perhaps it might have been because he was one of the few people there that Cécile turned her head discreetly to spot him.

    He made no gesture of surprise when she caught him from the corner of her eyes. He simply knelt there and let her know that he was quietly observing her. She had only glanced at him one more time during the morning mass. It was when she was returning from the communion rail after having received. She looked at him for a moment, but Léon was still in that same solid pose almost as if he might have fallen asleep if she had not seen his eyes keenly following her on her way back to her seat. His look was not intense, however. It was more like a familiar glance; like seeing an old friend and recognizing their features in a crowd.

    After mass, Cécile had walked out of the small chapel with eyes scanning every pew until she was convinced Léon had left before she did. In fact, Léon was already leaning his back against one of the pillars outside by the time she entered the sunlight. He greeted her with a small bow, but he wasn't wearing his usual smile. No, it had something missing to it. It was still cocky and arrogant, but it seemed to Cécile as if it was forced out of habit than choice. This was the only smile Léon could do right now.

    “May I walk with you, Mademoiselle?” he asked quietly. He stepped up beside her casually without even waiting for a response.

    “You didn't receive the Sacrament today,” Cécile said rather directly as she unfurled her parasol. They both stepped out into the gardened area in front of the chapel. She matched his casual smile with one of her own that seemed to both tease and display her curiosity at the same time.

    “I usually don't,” Léon responded frankly with a grin that curved twice like a cat's. “After all, I do have an appalling reputation to maintain.”

    One could almost say Cécile rolled her eyes at that. “You seem in rather good spirits today,” she added while looking off at the gentle breeze moving the treeline in the distance into a soft rustle. It was perhaps the best weather in Paris all week.

    “Hmm...” Léon exaggerated his thinking. “I think I feel more free today than usual,” was the response. Léon nodded to himself, as if that alone should have been satisfactory.

    “Free? I didn't know you were enslaved to begin with,” Cécile smirked at him. She received a visibly bemused glance from Léon.

    “You could say I was,” he conceded with his smile still in tact. “Now, I've laid those burdens behind me. I'm freer today than I was yesterday and I'm enjoying myself.”

    “I didn't know spying on a young lady at mass was your idea of enjoying yourself,” she tugged her lips to one side of her face and watched the reaction on his.

    “No, but sparring with you is always fun sport,” he imitated her expression with the addition of raised eyebrows.

    “Oh? Sparring?” she similarly stretched her eyebrows skyward as she tilted her parasol sideways to give him the full force of her visage grinning at him. It was then that she shifted her eyes quickly behind them. Léon noticed it almost immediately and with stunning instinct and reflex he turned his head with no trace of the smirk lingering.

    It was in those split seconds of Léon glancing back to see nothing but a well kept and beautiful garden path leading away from the small chapel that Cécile had jabbed him right on his right breast with the very tip of her now closed parasol.

    Quinze, l'oeuf,” she announced triumphantly as Léon turned back to her with an incredulous expression on his face. He looked at the outstretched umbrella as if it had truly skewered him through the heart.

    She lowered the tip of her umbrella and stepped back a few paces. “Now hold on a moment--” Léon attempted to protest with a laugh.

    En garde,” she said as she raised her parasol and profiled her body against him.

    “Cécile--” Léon dissented while putting up a hand with a half confused smile still defensively on his face. “I don't even have--”

    Allez!” she announced as she lunged forward. Léon quickly stepped back and instinctively profiled himself as well. Her movements against him were swift even despite the cumbersome dress she was sporting. Her laced hands seemed to guide the clumsy parasol as quickly as a cobra's strikes. Léon, weaponless, stumbled backward while Cécile's dexterity caught him completely by surprise. When his back collided with a tree, the tip of Cécile's umbrella was planted squarely in the middle of his chest an instant later. “Trente, l'oeuf,” she announced before stepping back again with parasol held out with the flourished polish of a matador.

    Léon blinked for a moment and watched the young lady move away and position herself again. She had done this often, it seemed. Her stance was of Spanish origin, that much he could tell. Her footwork was even and geometric—he could understand that just from her flow even if he couldn't see behind the skirt. “First you surprise me, then you advance on me unarmed. Hardly a fair contest,” he shrugged it off though he knew he was broadcasting a slight bit of embarrassment. Perhaps even a little bit of enjoyment as well.

    “I learned quite a few things in the Colonies. My tutor taught me something I've never forgotten: 'All warfare is deception.'”

    “Did he make you practice against unarmed people as well?” Léon retorted.

    “He also taught me that a victorious fighter only seeks a fight after the victory has been won,” she tilted her head for emphasis. “En garde,” she said again before Léon could conjure up any other excuse.

    It was wood this time that the tip of her umbrella connected with as the tree stirred quietly at her thrust. Cécile looked down at the rather comfortable figure leaning back against the trunk. Léon obliged her with a playful curl of his lips as he gingerly applied pressure to her hip with the stick he had picked up off the ground. “[i]Trente, quinze]/i], I believe?”

    “So it is,” she pushed off of the tree with a playful twirl and began walking back to her position. It was at that point that Léon had thrusted the stick he was wielding at her back. The snap that resounded when Cécile had turned and sliced the stick out of Léon's grip did not surprise Léon as much as the sudden jab of the parasol against his left breast. She was as fast as she was cunning, it seemed. He had not seen her attack well until after she had landed it. “All warfare is deception,” she repeated. “Quarante, quinze.,” she added with an unapologetic grin. “Game point.”

    She took a few steps back and pointed with her outstretched parasol for Léon to pick up his 'weapon' once more. She even flared her eyebrows out once or twice to beckon him for the final bout. Léon, however, simply turned around and put his back to her. For a moment, Cécile studied him for the same kind of trap she had placed for him, but he had crossed his arms over his chest and seemed somehow more interested in the tree that was now in front of him.

    “Oh don't tell me you're going to pout, my dear Vicomte,” she attempted to taunt him.

    “No,” was the deliberate response from the man. “Not pouting. Just testing something.”

    “Testing what?” she couldn't control her curiosity.

    “Whether or not you'll actually hit me if I refuse to play.”

    “Does that sound like a challenge?” she laughed for a moment.

    “Hmm... just as I thought.” He turned around to look at her slightly confused and displeased expression. “I was thinking about why you had come to talk to me even after I had lied to you about so many things,” Léon began to explain. “I don't really think it's because you're so charitable or understanding though, please, I'm not insulting you: I do believe that's there. No...” and here he smirked at her rather struck expression. “I believe the real reason is because you like having the advantage over a man.”

    Cécile half laughed—no... it was more like a half breath. Her eyebrows quivered for just a moment. “What on earth are you talking about?” she slackened her fighting stance.

    Quarante, Trente, Léon thought to himself. “I dare say, Mademoiselle, that you delight in torturing men. You like discovering their little secrets and having power over them.”

    “I may be playful, but--”

    Léon took a step forward towards her. “I think the colonies have spoiled you,” he interrupted her. “I think that you laugh at the court games we play here in Paris because you've felt something more authentic over there. The truth is that you had wanted me to try pursuing you because you love leading wolves over cliffs.”

    “I think you're reading too much into this,” she laughed unevenly and diverted her face for a moment. “I think perhaps--”

    “It's revenge. Probably a first love that had spurned you in the little games he played years ago. Or it could be the real reason why you're back here in Paris; or perhaps both.” Cécile's eyes had returned to looking at Léon at the words “first love.” Her eyebrows ruffled visibly. Deuce, Léon thought to himself at that expression. “Who was it?” Léon wouldn't let up. “Who was it that made you want to avenge your sex?”

    “I think you're a little out of line, Vicomte,” she moved to turn around, but Léon shifted alongside her view until he was once again face to face with her.

    “The worst part is,” Léon began while staring into her eyes so intensely that she stepped backward half a step, “that despite all of the traps you set,” he kept going, “You still wish that whoever it was that first did this to you had stayed; had kept loving you. That's why you are also intrigued by the broken people of this city. It's a double boon: you have advantage over them and they're as imperfect as he was. You're still trying to relive that first relationship but you can't decide whether to hurt him or have him take you again.

    “I bid you a good day, Vicomte,” Cécile quickly said under her breath as she walked past him rather quickly. Avantage, Léon thought to himself with quite a large measure of delight. She was storming off, but even she had not seen the Vicomte's hand slowly glide onto her wrist. By the
    time she gasped, his lips were forming around hers and her shoulders were being squeezed by a cravat flowing downward.

    She was about to cry out. Her eyes were wide open. She pushed him. Not so hard. Not so forcefully. But enough to get him off of her. The crack of her hand hitting his cheek reverberated throughout the otherwise peaceful park. They were lucky no one was around. As Léon watched her move away, he couldn’t let his intense grin budge from his face. He spun around a bit too dramatically and moved towards the carriage waiting for him. He looked up at the blue skies and let himself think of that recent moment. He relived detecting the miniscule and subtle chill that went through Cécile's body. Uncontrollable, primal. Carnal. It was too late for her now.

    “Game,” he whispered to himself.
    Last edited by canonized; 29-02-2012 at 22:58.
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  18. #158
    Honourable Saxon Thegn AlexanderPrimus's Avatar
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    Just thought I'd drop by, say hello and let you know that your hard work is appreciated.

    Keep up the good work, you're an excellent authAAR.

  19. #159
    Heartbreaker canonized's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AlexanderPrimus View Post
    Just thought I'd drop by, say hello and let you know that your hard work is appreciated.

    Keep up the good work, you're an excellent authAAR.
    Thank you for the encouragement ! It's been enjoyable so far and certainly nice to get ye auld writing fingers on the keyboard again . Though I've been distracted with lots of CK II , D&D , League of Legends , and work at the game company x_x .
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    Chapter XV: Sickness Unto Death


    ~14 Years Ago~

    10 July 1769

    Dear Elly,

    I hope they're treating you well in the girl's dormitory. It's been a while since I've seen you, but they keep telling us that we're not allowed to see any of you girls until winter. I tried asking the valet if they would let me see you even for just a little bit since I know it might be hard for you being alone on the other side there, but they told me that there would be no exceptions. Instead, they're at least letting me write to you.

    I think maybe I should admit that I'm really the one who's lonely here. These classes they're making me take are really hard and I'm getting by, but it's so much work every week. I miss being able to talk with you like we used to. I know what you would say: just make friends with the other boys here. It's really hard. I was comfortable with the friends I had back at the manor... but here. Now that we've been sent here to this Academy... Some of the boys all come from the same county or city so they know each other already. It's difficult for me to be friends with them when they all already talk to each other the way that they do. They all know each other far more than I know any of them. I try, though. Sometimes in the afternoon during recess I go back to the room here and lay in bed waiting for classes to start again and I just hear the other boys talking outside. Part of me wants to jump out and laugh with them, but how could I? I don't know the jokes they make with each other.

    Some of these things that they make us study are also very strange. I knew I would have to study things like Latin and arithmetic, but I also have to do assignments in geography and politics. They lecture us about the titles of other nations and their customs. They show us how to conduct ourselves in foreign courts and drill us on the different laws in the different realms under the same Kings. I had to memorize succession laws and acts of Parliament. I had to name all the electors of the Empire and which Cardinals owned which piece of French land. Sometimes I just wish I had more time to play. Then again whenever they do give us a break, I don't feel like spending it with anyone.

    I miss my telescope back at the manor. I miss the other boys there. Why did I have to be the one chosen to come here? Why couldn't they take more of us? Then I'd have people to talk to in this wing of the Academy. I'm honestly really scared, Elly.

    But you always told me to be strong and to work hard for what I want. I've taken a bit of your advice, actually. I share this room with another boy named Antoine. He's from the Austrian Netherlands. From Brussels or Artois, I forget where exactly. He's here with a lot of his friends and he seems like a very nice guy even if he is a bit shy and a tad younger than I am. I've been talking to him the past few weeks and I think that if I'm going to find myself another friend here it might be him. We've spent quite some time together and have stayed up late a few times just talking. I've told him some of the things that you already know. He's told me a few things, too.

    I even proposed to him a way that we can work on assignments from our tutoring every week. We'd set a goal and make sure that the other does it. I really do like him, I think. He has a nice smile and he's been very kind to me. They've opened up a tennis court on the grounds as well. I've been getting to play with Antoine and some of his friends every now and then. They're kind of fun to play with even though Antoine has known them for years and I've only just met them. I think I might be getting good at that game.

    Either way, wish me luck in moving forward and making new friends. Maybe Antoine can be someone that will help me get through all of this! It's something to look forward to, at least.

    Sincerely,
    Léon


    ~~


    Léon was fiddling with one of the buttons on his jacket while looking at himself in the mirror. His lips were a twist of chaos as he snapped at the button with his fingers. He had been getting taller now that he was beginning to reach the age of being no longer a boy but a young man and his clothes were beginning to 'shrink' in comparison. He even noticed how his voice was beginning to change, but only in embarrassing bursts. Still, when he looked at himself in the mirror he was still just of average height and his features were becoming more angular but retained the boyishness that he was so used to looking at. The sound of the door behind him opening scared him a little and he missed the loop for the button again, but he was relieved to see it was only Antoine entering into their chamber.

    “Welcome back,” Léon was the first to speak.

    “Thank you,” was Antoine's polite response.

    Antoine wasn't as tall as Léon, and he had a quirky accent to his French indicative of his origin from the Austrian Netherlands. He had this smile which he wore even now that spread reluctantly across his face and he would put it on at every greeting like a ship unfurling its ensign. Antoine had a reserved voice, even though he enjoyed laughing. He was the paler of the two in that room, by far, which was contrasted by the tangles of his unruly dark-brown hair which he would grunt unhappily about whenever he tried to style it.

    “I didn't think you'd be back so soon” Léon commented while still in front of the mirror.

    Antoine moved towards his small desk for a moment and gingerly leafed through some of the books he had laying about. “I've let the week creep up on me,” Antoine mentioned with a frown. “I still haven't drafted those letters of introduction yet so I wanted to come back early and do those this afternoon before our deadline tomorrow.”

    “A good idea,” Léon tried to encourage him by smiling into his mirror. He finally managed to tuck the button in place. “Will you be going down to the library to do your work?” Léon asked while turning around.

    Antoine nodded quietly as he began to pack his papers. “I would need to see M. Levroux about the addresses and seals anyway,” he said with a small sigh.

    “How about... I go with you?” Léon proposed with some enthusiasm in his face. “I've still got some work to do on my calligraphy and maybe since I always feel better doing work when someone else is doing work with me that you might want the same thing.”

    Léon had been doing a lot of work with Antoine lately or just keeping him company. The boy thought that perhaps if he could be there for Antoine, it might make them friends. He may not have gotten to know Antoine since they were young children like some of Antoine's compatriots at the Academy, but Léon had hoped that maybe he could do something different; that if he could be a good friend to people around him that he could have his own little circle—or at the very least one or two people that he could call his own and not just “borrowed” from more important friends.

    Antoine pulled the papers up and forgot his frown. “I'd like that,” he said to Léon.

    “Maybe after you finish, we could play a game, too?” Léon added hopefully. “Reward ourselves for some hard work especially since the court is so close to the library.”

    Antoine nodded enthusiastically. Léon was light on his feet when he scurried to the small chest at the side of his bed and drew out the two racquets and cork balls as if he was unsheathing broadswords. He passed one set over to Antoine and both balanced their equipment and paperwork as they giggled out the door and into the dormitory hall.

    By the time they had gone to the library, there were already a few people taking time to study or write. Antoine immediately sighted where his friend Gerard was congregating with two of their other friends. Léon greeted them casually as they all sat at the table together. It was not the first time they all shared a place at the library: most of the other boys there tended to make it as both a place of study and socializing and Léon had many times sat with these same four just for the company. He was a bit uncomfortable at times since Antoine knew all of the others for years now and Léon only met them through his studies, but Léon kept his quiet determination that something fruitful would come of it and that he'd find a comfortable place there at the Academy.

    They exchanged pleasantries and it wasn't long before all five descended into their various tasks. Léon was meticulously trying to manipulate his quill while Antoine read over examples of what he was intended to write. The others were busy either studying maps or talking to each other quietly. They were all around Antoine's age so their giggles and childish jabs made studying at the table a bit of a distraction, but somehow Léon welcomed it. It was like the smell of the ocean in the sense that it was caused by the stench of rotting fish, but that odor meant that the ocean was alive. The dirty jokes and teasing around him made it feel... comfortable. He couldn't help but smile a little, especially as he looked over the desk at Antoine scribbling away. It encouraged him to write a bit faster and get as much done as possible.

    The minutes passed and some of them came and went. The young men busied themselves with various things, but Antoine and Léon carried on. “I should go see M. Levroux before it gets too late,” Antoine announced as he stood up. Léon barely nodded as he sliced away at his paper with his quill until he reproduced the “B” perfectly. By the time he had gotten to his “F,” however, he stretched out a bit in his chair and decided to find a washroom.

    Léon's shoes tapped along the floor of the adjacent hall and he rotated his fists and strained his neck to either side to limber up. It wouldn't be long, he thought until he would need his full flexibility for the bout. Studying for so long made him restless, and he was hoping to try a new method of service today; something he had seen some of the older children do at last week's tournament. Léon sighed to himself at the long way to the this particular wash room as other students filed through the hall as well and the cadence from all of the talking drowned out most of his thoughts.

    “Do you want to start at the service end or hazard end, Antoine?” a familiar voice piped up above the noise. Léon stopped walking when he realized he was passing the gallery of the tennis court. “Service or hazard?” the voice repeated urgently. Léon turned to look out onto the court and recognized that it was indeed one of Antoine's friends asking him the question. Antoine looked back for a moment at Léon with the racquet still in his hand. There was a momentary pause and Léon was pushed forward a little bit by an older student who had not noticed him stopped in the middle of the hall. “Hurry up and choose,” the young boy said and Léon could recognize the impatient look on Gerard and the others who were waiting inside the court for Antoine.

    Antoine didn't answer, but hurried over to the gallery for a moment, much to the annoyance of his other friends who all devolved into taunting and banter amongst themselves. “Did... you want to play with us, Léon?” Antoine asked. “You have to tell me, quickly, though since there's a queue and we'll lose our place for five minutes if we don't play this set. You could be our fifth--”

    “Don't... worry about it,” Léon stepped back from the gallery with a smile that hung on his face like a tattered banner. It stayed there as he turned around and walked along the traffic of the hallway back to the library.

    “I'll take the hazard side first,” Léon heard Antoine say to his friends as he walked away.

    Léon quietly packed up his things from the library table even as the sound of a rowdy crowd down the hall invaded that wing of the library. He could hear Gerard and the others calling out plays and scores as he pulled all of his belongings to his chest and walked back towards the dormitory. It was awkward to carry the racquet and the papers all at once, but somehow, he wasn't thinking of piling everything neatly before he had left. He just didn't want to hear anything right now. He fumbled a little bit at the staircase and the cork ball that he had brought with him bounced out of his hands and down the steps. He watched it helplessly as it hopped off. He thought about fetching it, but somehow, he didn't want to try. He just stared at it as it moved away from him bouncing lower and lower while it left him at the top of those stairs. It reached the end of the hall ahead of him and bounced off the wall to exit left towards the opposite direction of where he needed to go.

    He took a minute to look at the intersection of the hall. For a split second, like some wild fantasy he had hoped that the ball would come back that it was just a jovial game it was playing but that it would bounce all the way back to where he was holding it as best he could in his hand. The edges of his lips smiled feebly at the thought. “Come back,” he wanted to whisper. Or at least he thought about whispering it, but his body might as well have been paralyzed. The ball never came back. It never comes back.

    By the time he was in his room, he had slipped into his bed even though he was still wearing his afternoon attire. He stared for a while at the wall and breathed slowly. There was this strange sensation going through his hands and fingers like electricity slicing through his veins. It made him shiver a little and he shifted his knees up closer to his stomach in the perceived chill. He stared at his hands and he examined them. He ran his fingers over his knuckles and turned it over to look at his palm. “Who would want these hands?” he asked himself in his mind almost rhetorically. He would give them away if he could, he thought. Maybe people would look at him if he gave it away to them. He smiled at the thought. He thought about someone taking them. He inverted his arms into his chest and held onto them with his chin. He was scared for a moment as if someone might come into his room and actually cut his hands off.

    No, that's not what he was scared of. He was scared no one would want it anyway. His hands quivered against his throat imperceptibly. When he stared at the wall, he would just remember small things. He remembered Laurence from years ago who told him that he would come back that afternoon to play and he had stood there at the manor window and waited until the sun went down. Somehow the image changed to that of the dark room where no one had fed him no matter how hungry he was. Even mama and papa gave him away, after all. “We can't blame Antoine,” he said to himself so hoarsely and slowly that it hurt his throat. “I just want to forget me, too.”

    Léon pulled himself closer a bit more and he could feel the slow push of his pulse against his fingertips as he cradled his hands against his neck. He was breathing so slowly that he was fantasizing that all of the air would stop going into his lungs. He wished that a little tear would open in his skin and he could just be taken away from all the pain as his blood seeped out of him.

    You might as well die if you're alone, he thought to himself with his eyes so wide open that they would have gotten dry if there wasn't just a tiny film of something wet glossing over them. No, he wasn't sad. Sadness would feel like tears running down his face. This wasn't sadness. This was the end of everything. He willed for his entire body to stop and for everything inside of him to freeze to a halt. He felt cold.

    ~~


    “Number 356 just had something interesting happen to him today.”

    “356? So soon? Should I be worried?”

    “No no no, I assure you that he's well sedated now. But it also means that it's finally time to move forward with him. Make him a true member of the Aristocracy.”

    “How long will this one take to complete?”

    “If we start now, it might be up to four or five years at the earliest. Faster if he has more episodes like today.”

    “That long? We'll have to move the timetable back.”

    “It can't be helped. You know that this number was always the hardest to control.”

    “Maybe not the hardest to control... we just have the most to lose if he's not carefully managed. It's always been a distinct trait of the 356th that he's the only one that can delay the scenario.”

    “I don't see why we bother having the 356th if he's the only one who can eliminate The Lost Number.”

    “Because, darling, it also means that he's capable of eclipsing even the descendents of The Sun.”

    “Then I have your permission to move forward?”

    “Yes. Assign him a shadow immediately.”

    “Did you have anyone in mind for his shadow?”

    “Let's not take any chances. Call up Atropos.”
    Last edited by canonized; 10-03-2012 at 19:31.
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