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    Chapter XVI: Voices in the Shadows

    ~ 9 Years Ago ~


    10 July 1774

    Léon was panting as he tried to rest his back against the damp surface of the cold dungeon wall. His legs were burning and he grit his teeth as he tried to rotate his ankle. He tried to adjust his right arm, but all he felt was a stinging sensation rise up through his bicep and into his shoulder. The gloves he had on were making it difficult to grip the handle of his rapier and the heavy metal weapon tried with all its might to slip out of his fingers.

    The splash of something made him turn his head to his left, though in the darkness of the insufficient torchlight, he couldn't see a thing. His left hand instinctively went to his neck to try and pull off the helmet that he had on him to see better, but he remembered that he was told he would need it. He cursed to himself silently as he tried desperately to peer at the darkness through the narrow slits of the metal cage which surrounded his head. The soft silk padding lining the inside of his helmet was damp with his sweat. He drew his weapon carefully off the ground and he dulled the pain from his calves with strength as he slowly stood up.

    Another splash, this time from behind him made him turn his head for a moment only to be met once again with the darkness of the tunnel. He switched his gaze quickly to the water in front of him which rippled quietly downstream to his left confirming to him that something disturbed it to his right, but the dim lighting interspersed along the stone walls made it impossible to look any deeper into the water. He struggled consciously to get up and his gaze rapidly moved from his right to his left. He thought he would have had an advantage in this tunnel as it limited any approach to him to one side or the other, but somehow he felt more unease now than when he was in the main basin of the cistern. He had to choose, he had to take a risk. Right or left... otherwise he would just make himself disoriented through nausea.

    “The splash to the right is a ruse,” he thought to himself, “It has to come from the left...”

    A second splash; again from the right side. He didn't move. Instead, he positioned himself to receive anyone approaching from his left. “He'll come from the left,” he reassured himself. He cursed the stupid helmet once again as he tried to discern any figure approaching in the torchlight far off. A third splash... this one coming closer was once again reverberating from the right side of the tunnel. He began to doubt... but it was too obvious. Why a third splash if—

    The aqueduct water in front of him exploded and water rained down him in globs. The glint of steel was hidden amongst the shining particles of water and Léon rolled desperately out of the way as a whirring swing nearly caught him in its downward slice. Léon stood up quickly to regain his balance as a helmeted face locked itself onto him. Léon presented his weapon as he backed away carefully. He waited as he examined his attacker. It was impossible to see the face between the bars of the helmet, but the film of water dripped down a mostly nude body which only sported gloves and undergarments. Léon was surprised that he had not thought of the idea himself. It would have been easy to take advantage of all of the water in the area if he was not bogged down by his uniform. His enemy's bare feet stanced themselves for a lunge.

    His opponent closed the gap between them quickly and the thrust grazed the clothing on Léon's shoulder as he parried it away. He could not even riposte as the blow was dealt with such force that he needed to take great strides backwards. Despite the trouble, there was something he noticed with his keen eyesight. A possibility. He stood his ground and returned a testing swipe of his rapier which was pushed aside by the assailant before being replied to by a quick lunge forward. Léon was quick to adjust to the side, which his opponent quickly followed only to find that the dampness of the mossy stone made his wet feet slip by just an inch. Léon took the opportunity to land a blow on the opponent's torso, but so quick was the response to it that instead of landing a proper blow, Léon's weapon was embroiled against the other's desperate swing.

    Léon did not waste this opportunity of the enemy's gambit and, with a flourish, swung the opponent's weapon from his wrist with such force that it splashed against the aqueduct to his left with a crash. Disarmed, the opponent slid back frantically two paces as Léon positioned himself for a coup de grace. Without hesitation, Léon moved forward hoping that his quick strike would force the opponent to slip once more if he wished to avoid it, but instead, the helmeted one in front of him seemed to roll backward in Léon's sight. No... it wasn't a roll. His opponent was closing the gap between them by using the residual water on his skin to glide across the floor. The man's bare foot caught Léon's boot and Léon tumbled forward and slammed against the stone ground while his rapier swung a few feet away from him.

    Wet arms suddenly slid across his throat and began to constrict his breathing while a knee was driving into his lower back as his whole upper body was bending backwards against his will. He felt muscles bulging against his neck constricting his wind pipe. He struggled to breath and it felt as if his outstretched fingers grasping out for something were beginning to feel tingly. Seconds seemed to spread out into minutes as he felt his back aching into an unnatural arc. The heavy knee on his back seemed like it would snap him in two. That's when he heard the voice.

    “He's going to win,” he heard in the quiet recesses of his mind.

    “I... can't do anything to stop him,” was Léon's silent response.

    “No... you can't,” the voice agreed. “You're going to die here, Léon.” The voice chuckled softly in his brain. “But that's alright, isn't it? Because who wants you around anyway? Even Gustave betrayed you... didn't he?”

    “He... did...” Léon admitted.

    “Do you think he would have betrayed you if you meant something?”

    “No...”

    “Why would someone like Gustave care about you anyway? You're nothing special. You can't even win this fight.”

    Léon groaned without sound. “But I'm worth something, right?”

    “Oh sure... I've shown you before, haven't I? People are impressed when you show them how smart you are, aren't they?”

    “Yes...”

    “You became stronger the past few years, right? I've shown you how to become stronger.”

    “Yes... I guess so...”

    “You have to stay smart otherwise people will abandon you. Remember Antoine? You weren't what he wanted as a friend.”

    “No... I wasn't...”

    “You have to be strong otherwise people won't like you anymore. Remember Antoine? He wasn't impressed by you...”

    “No... he wasn't...”

    “Do you hate him?”

    “I... do...”

    “He hurt you... I hate him, too. Don't you wish he could feel the way you feel? Feel your pain?” the voice feigned some distress at these words.

    “Yes... but he doesn't listen to me... He wouldn't want to listen to me...”

    “Then he needs to feel it... not just listen to it. I can show you. Let's show him what it means to feel pain.”

    “Maybe...”

    “Let me hurt him for you. You'll feel better this way.”

    “I guess...”

    “Let me show you what power is...”

    “Alright...”

    “Do you want him to feel pain?”

    “Yes...”

    “Shall we hurt him?”

    “Yes...”

    Shall we make him bleed?

    “Yes.”

    “Do you want him to know what it's like to be abandoned?”

    “Yes, I do.”

    “To be alone?”

    “Yes.”

    “Like what he's done to you?”

    “Yes!”

    “Because people like him are horrible, aren't they!”

    “Yes! The worst!”

    “And we hate those people!”

    “Yes!”

    “They should all die, shouldn't they?”

    “All of them!”

    “Then let me kill them for you. Let me do it for you.”

    “Yes! Make them all die!”

    Léon opened his eyes and with a gasp of breath that ripped through his windpipe, he lowered his head for just a moment before lunging it backwards against the chest of his assailant. A sickly crack snapped through the tunnel as the metal of the helmet contacted the collarbone. The grip around his neck loosened as an audible grunt accompanied the impact. Léon's hands grabbed at the arms and pulled them away. His whole body twisted as his elbow hooked into the opponent's neck knocking him off of him.

    Even before the other could recover, Léon, crawling on all fours, pounced atop his attacker and drove a knee straight between the legs. The cry that came from behind the man's helmet did not stop Léon from kneeing him again. And again. Blood stained the undergarments and soaked the tip of his knee. The man weakly tried to reach for Léon's neck, but an elbow slamming against where he had fractured the collarbone tore the skin and weakened the hands clawing at him helplessly. Léon grabbed one of those limbs and, while sitting on the man's stomach, pulled back the digits until they snapped to the sound of the man's screams.

    He was quick to slide off of him and turn his opponent to one side. With his feet planted on the man's bare back and his hands still holding onto the man's arm, he swiftly pulled the man's limb so far backward that his arm snapped until it was limp. He pulled the man onto his back once again. The man was making some kind of noise behind the helmet as if words were attempting to form but were interrupted by hiccups. It almost made Léon laugh, but, instead, he took his head and slammed it into the man's chest which elicited a high pitched gasp.

    His helmet came crashing into the man's chest over and over and in the same spot until the metal lines along his helmet began to slice away the skin and blood frothed along the slits of his visor until all Léon could see was a dark red dripping onto the body below. His gloves touched the warm blood seeping out and trailed it slickly past the broken collarbone to the man's neck. He squeezed and his fingers could feel every vein and cavity therein constricting.

    Léon could hear the man struggling for air while his one arm was too weak to reach up to stop Léon. Curiously, Léon let go for a moment and the man gasped for air. He watched the helmet sway back and forth weakly as if this man was attempting to shake himself awake. That's when Léon's fingers squeezed again and the struggling began anew. He kept his fingers there longer this time before releasing him again. He pulled the man's head upward and slammed it back down against the stone. He repeated this crashing motion against the stone again and again until the helmet dented and chips of old stone were skipping into the water to his left. His greedy fingers pulled off the man's helmet.

    Antoine's disoriented eyes looked up at him and those lips quivered to say a word. Léon stared at him as Antoine's blood dripped from Léon's helmet onto the gasping one's cheek mingling with sweat and tears. Léon's hands found their way to Antoine's cheeks and steadied his head. Slowly, Léon leaned down closely to examine those scared eyes until even Antoine could somewhat see the eyes staring back at him from behind the visor. Only the sound of Léon's long breathing and Antoine's sharp breaths filled the tunnel. Léon reared his head upward and slammed his helmet into Antoine's face. Antoine tried to say something with broken, bleeding lips but the helmet came slamming down again and again. The aqueduct was turning red.

    ~~


    “So this is the power of #356...”

    “Just a taste of it. True awakening won't happen for years to come.”

    “Somehow I have my doubts about trusting a weapon like that. To do that kind of thing... even a madman could be just as brutal and far less expensive.”

    “You must be patient. Right now, this is Destrudo in its most unrefined form. This is why we must pair him with #355 and mix all of this blood in a sea of sleep. Once all of this is processed, then you'll see how effective and precise of a tool a death god really is.”

    “Atropos certainly did an excellent job a few years back.”

    “Yes... you could really see their work in what happened today.”

    “That aside, it would appear that all the candidates survived the trials. A few dented helmets on some of them but most passed perfectly. In almost all circumstances, they dealt with their opponents in the way ways we expected them to.”

    “Good.”

    “As for replacement students for the ones killed in the trials...”

    “Have someone make another round at the villages. It doesn't matter who since we don't have to replace any of the prime candidates.”

    “I also wanted to get your opinion on this one.”

    “Gregoire?”

    “Probably the best of those we're training as soldiers. Received an N Seven combat rating.”

    “What about him?”

    “I wanted your approval for an experiment I'd like to run on him.”

    “What kind of experiment?”

    “A new form of indoctrination. I wrote the details down for you this morning.”

    “... Hm... this... has high risk.”

    “And a high possibility of reward. Don't tell me your sensibilities are offended.”

    “If I had sensibilities to offend, it might be an issue. Thankfully, I don't have your human failings, doctor.”

    “This new procedure will completely purge him of those 'human failings' you so despise. It will make him something easy to control. A husk to do your work.”

    “He's one of our best assets for this upcoming war. I'll leave it up to your judgment, doctor, but I warn you. You will have to reap what you sow.”

    “I understand. This will work, I assure you, ma'am.”
    DANGEROUS LIAISONS
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  2. #162
    Tzar of all the Soviets RGB's Avatar
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    Bionic Leo!

    I did not expect that! Maybe I should have.

    That internal conversation, I don't know if you meant it to be serious, but I had Gollum by the Pool in my head the entire time. Sorry
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  3. #163
    Heartbreaker canonized's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RGB View Post
    Bionic Leo!

    I did not expect that! Maybe I should have.

    That internal conversation, I don't know if you meant it to be serious, but I had Gollum by the Pool in my head the entire time. Sorry
    I think you said something similar when I had Raul/Pablo talking to himself in Timelines . Must be the way I imagine sinister voices in one's head and it just comes out XD .

    Almost time to upload the latest update Huzzah and thanks for the comment
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  4. #164
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    Chapter XVII: A Shock


    10 July 1783

    Dear Elly,

    How's my handwriting these days? Sometimes I wonder if you can read my letters at all. I suppose I've become unnecessarily elaborate with my writing in the past few years. I actually have to dumb down my script when I pass notes so that I can make sure that I'm understood. I haven't practiced my calligraphy in a while, though so it's not as if all my elaborate strokes 'look' beautiful. I haven't had much time for practicing things these days, I've been too busy doing other things—trying to get certain things accomplished. Certain goals met.

    Speaking of which. I have to deliver a
    coup de grace this evening. Timing is one of those fickle matters when it comes to courtship. It's the same as in any battle. It's all about balance. If you strike while they have not yet recovered, you will have the upper hand. I've used that to my advantage many times in the past. I suppose it's most important to remember, also, that when you strike you should do so in overwhelming force. It should be something that changes how they perceive the entire situation to even play out so that they are cornered and demoralized. If you give them no avenue to escape, then you force them into a crisis of safety. It is in this area that they can be very dangerous—they will fight you in some way, but if you keep the upper hand from the beginning they might find it more advantageous to succumb than to fight.

    The trick, therefore, is not just to block off all exits, but keep one open: your own mercy or reputation. If your intended target believes that you have cornered them in the game and you leave them no exit except submission, then they might fight you to the death. They might resist you. But if you leave them an exit... if you make it seem like your options can be their options and if you offer a partnership or some euphemism for their submission, then they will take it as their only means of survival. No one ever goes down without a fight if they resent you for beating them. However, a gracious lover will know when to offer them a safe haven in your arms. A skillful courtier knows when to pull his enemies closer to him than his friends.

    Winning a game, therefore, is achieved in one of two ways. You either crush your enemy totally that they are annihilated or you offer them a way of co-existence on your terms while seeming like it is something that they would want. Once they have a taste and compromise everything that they've held dear, then you can get them to break all sorts of promises to their wives, husbands, masters, lords, even to their God. Once you convince a man of a lie, it is much easier to get him to accept anything else. Convince a man that the candelabra has five lights instead of four and you've won a great victory over his mind and soul.

    If you weaken a man to make a deal once, then he has nothing left to stand on for the second command or the third. You will break his resolve until it becomes second nature for him to do anything that you ask. It all, depends, therefore, on that initial thrust. Your attack must be so shocking that all their resistance breaks and floods into the funnel that you have set your trap within. So don't be afraid to strike when they are most vulnerable and do so with such an overwhelming maneuver that they could not possibly recover from your bold action.

    With my most sincere love,
    Léon


    ~~


    “I don't know why you've wanted to come here,” Cécile's words were confusing even to herself as she spoke them. She held herself back from faltering in her speech as she stared at Léon from across the sitting room. Her laced hands were holding onto the gilded rim of the couch she was standing behind like a barricade.

    Léon did not respond to her, but rather looked back and shifted his weight onto one leg as he examined the embroidery on the sofa on his side of the room. The golden clock to his right chimed the evening hour of eight. He passed the little device a glance before looking up towards Cécile. “You could have refused to see me if you didn't want me here.”

    “I didn't want to be rude,” Cécile was quick to defend herself.

    Léon could sense that she was off balance in her speech and posture. “I came to apologize for earlier,” Léon said with his head lowered slightly in a seeming token of contrition. “I was the rude one, and rather forward and indiscreet...” he trailed off as he watched her face.

    “And to think we could have been friends,” Cécile responded more so in anger than in lamentation. There was a hint of cynicism there; there was disappointment lacing the otherwise elegant statement like a streak of black on a powdered wig.

    Léon studied her face for a moment before he spoke. “Well... why can't we?”

    Cécile pulled her hands back from the sofa and held them together against her stomach. Her shoulders looked cold as she shrunk them inwardly. “I think--”

    “This isn't you, Cécile,” Léon interrupted her. His voice cut swiftly between the two of them. “You've played with me these past few weeks. You've indulged my little games and fantasies and you've been an actress most impressive.”

    Cécile ruffled her eyebrows as she diverted her stare towards the carpet underneath the table. “I... don't...” she protested as her lips quivered quietly.

    “Whoever taught you to lie to men taught you well,” Léon did not give her a moment. “Either that or you must have had such dire experiences with the opposite sex that where countless of others fall into a degraded form of used byproducts, you have ascended to take mastery of the little duels that you so enjoy playing.”

    Cécile drew up her eyes to meet Léon's, but her shoulders straightened out and her hands relaxed. “You can't be serious about what you're saying...” she asked with a sigh passing in between the words almost imperceptibly.

    “And what if I am?”

    “Then I suppose I'm going to have to ask you to leave, my Lord Vicomte,” Cécile relaxed her forehead before turning around allowing a hint of a smile to creep onto her face before she turned her head completely away from him.

    “I'm not looking for another escalation, Cécile,” Léon stood his ground. “We've done this enough times. You let me play something out, I find out you're just playing along. You play a game of your own and you wait for me to accuse you of it and you go on to play the fool about it—or the victim. Then you try something else... something to make it seem like I've peeled enough layers away to find out who you are.” Cécile seemed to stay quiet and she only appeared to be interested in the bleak darkness outside of the window.

    “I'll see you tomorrow, perhaps,” Cécile eventually said while walking over to a table near the wall and sifting through letters.

    “You will see me now,” Léon raised his voice, though not menacingly. He had proclaimed his demand like a prophet from a mountain ready to give a revelation.

    “Your impropriety...”

    “I could play these games for weeks, sure,” Léon interrupted her, though she hadn't flinched; she seemed to have anticipated it. “I think, however, that I will call the bet right now. You don't need to keep escalating to see how far I would see through your acts. I know and have known that you have been sparring with me and keeping score from the beginning.”

    Cécile was silent for a few moments and her body was as still as a mannequin. Her fingers were balanced perfectly on the edge of a letter that was resting perpendicular to the tabletop. “You must be afraid,” she replied with a kind of childish laugh that it caught Léon off guard. “The Vicomte de Valmont is afraid.”

    “Afraid?” Léon shook his head with a stunned smile that he nearly forced a laugh at this strange diversion. “Afraid of what?”

    “You're a man who likes to keep pushing, my lord Vicomte. You like your little challenges and your little chases. I give you a challenge, you see through it; just like you said. Yet you want to stop our little exchange.” Cécile turned around casually and looked straight at Léon with a smile so iridescent with amusement that Léon pushed off from the couch slowly to stand up straight.

    “I just want to skip to the ending,” Léon crossed his arms and looked straight at her defiantly and reserving his confusion to himself.

    “No... you're afraid,” Cécile repeated. “You're afraid that if you keep going that you'll even come to the point where the next 'escalation' is beyond you. That you'll finally think you've reached me that you can't tell fiction from reality.”

    “You're overestimating your reach, Mademoiselle,” Léon retorted with a sour squint of his left eye. The idea was simply absurd. It was so absurd it had not even crossed his calculations.

    “I don't think so,” Cécile confidently shrugged and put up her arms in feigned disregard. “I think you are so appalled by the idea that a woman is using her own vulnerability to play tricks with you that you're afraid that the very picture of surrender that you so seek in the eyes of my sex will be the trap that pulls you in.”

    “The very fact that you're goading me about this proves that it will never get to that—it would have never gotten to that, and,” Léon undid his arms in front of him and leaned forward slightly to emphasize his last point, “and I thought I could save us the trouble by indeed becoming your friend—by recognizing your 'talent' as it is and dropping pretense.”

    “It has already gotten to that point, my Lord Vicomte. You're already enthralled, aren't you?” Cécile slid her lips in such a way that every word was jostled around by her tongue and fed through the filter of her grin so that every syllable was crescent-shaped and sharp.

    “Hardly,” Léon huffed a laugh through his nose and began to turn around with a shake of his head. “I'm afraid you overestimate not just your reach but your influence on me, Mademoiselle.”

    “I meant her. Your Marquess.” Léon stopped. “You think you're her equal. You fancy it—wish it. Desperately.”

    “The Marquess—” Léon was about to object sternly.

    “...will soon be yours? Maybe. But what's for sure is that you're already hers.” Cécile let those words hang in the air for a few seconds before Léon's shoes tapped his exit in careful yet quick steps. “I can help you, you know,” she said when he reached for the handle. “If it is besting the Marquess, it sounds like an interesting challenge.”

    “That's just... absurd...” Léon mumbled while his hand warmed the handle though he was a bit unsure on why he wasn't turning it.

    “Do you really think you understand women, Vicomte?” Cécile asked him while stepping a little bit in his direction.

    “I understand them plenty,” Léon responded while still staring at his hand gripping the doorknob. He could have sworn he tried turning it, but it wouldn't budge.

    “I've had the door locked since you came in,” Cécile told him while she stood near the middle of the room. Léon swung around and the surprise on his face was evident. Cécile simply pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows. “I'm sure you 'understand' why I did it, my Lord Vicomte. Since you know us so well.”

    “Underestimate, perhaps, but this...” Léon let go of the door and chuckled a little defensively. “this is just another game.”

    “Of course it is,” Cécile nodded while pulling off the gloves from her hands. “I'm sure that the Marquess has always taught you that such bold moves like this are playful invitations.” Cécile shook her head with a quiet yet savage laugh. “She's probably fed you so many witless girls that you have it in your head that women can be overpowered and outmaneuvered given enough patience and investment. And now... now she has you chasing after her and doing her bidding right and left like a little dog.” Cécile almost snapped her teeth with that last sentence.

    Léon looked at Cécile and stared at her almost mad eyes. They were seductive like deep, deep chasms of the sea that one could sink into but still see the glimmer of daylight shimmering above. They were inviting and treacherous at the same time. “Who are you?” Léon was finally able to say. He was serious... For once he did not know with whom he was dealing with. He had miscalculated, he thought to himself rather suddenly. He was, all of a sudden, afraid.

    “That's the thing about playing with someone else like a toy, Vicomte,” Cécile took another step closer to him. “When the doll begins to talk back, you have to come crashing into the mysterious thing about people: we cannot be reduced to a theory. We cannot be reduced to a method. We're as alive and vibrant and infinite as the sky and it is something you have yet to understand because you have only looked at lamps projecting pinhole lights onto a wall. You have to wake up, Vicomte. You have to understand that you are not as invincible or as free as you think you are. You are not your own master as your little bacchanalias suggest. Your freedom is contingent on feeding a beast that demands more and more sacrifices each day.”

    Léon searched those eyes opposite to him as he heard the words. He wasn't even aware that she had walked up to him. “That's not true,” was the only thing he could say in return although he was surprised even with himself at how his objection sounded more like a question.

    “But it is true,” Cécile closed the gap between them a bit more. “You must have noticed it by now. The gambling... the womanizing... How many days can you go without any of it? How many times do you have to scratch the itch even when it's already bleeding? Even on those days when you feel like doing nothing you still have to find a warm body to lay with. Otherwise it hurts, doesn't it? The day feels incomplete, right?”

    Léon wanted to step back. He looked at those eyes and wanted to say, “I—”

    “In the end, what really separates you from those whom you boast to enslave? Money? Power?... No,” Cécile smiled gracefully. “A man chooses... a slave obeys.” Léon looked as if he was about to object, but Cécile raised up her ungloved hand. “You think you have everything: a privileged childhood... the aristocracy... irresistible charm... conquests. And then me in this place. Did you really have a happy childhood? Were those conquests really won over by your charm, or were they coerced? Forced into bed...” for a moment, Cécile's gaze traveled over to one of the inviting sofas complete with sumptuous pillows. She continued with a hushed tone while turning back to face Léon: “Forced into bed by something less than a man... something bred to sleepwalk through life until they are asked to consume others by a simple request spoken by their kindly Marquess? Was a man sent to seduce me or a slave?”

    Léon raised up his hand as if to touch his face which was burning... his head was reeling but he found his fingers imprisoned by Cécile's sudden grip. “A man chooses,” the woman repeated in a desperate whisper, “a slave obeys...”
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  5. #165
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    Good work as usual, and the update pace is very impressive too.

    Two thoughts:

    Deals with the devil tend to favour the devil.

    All freedoms are relative.

    They don't intersect.
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  6. #166
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    I really like Cecile I've come to realize - Leon always needed to be smacked down a notch (he reminds me of a certain someone actually .) The juxtaposition between her own admonishment and the 'whispers' of the preceeding update is quite powerful.
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  7. #167
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    Quote Originally Posted by RGB View Post
    Good work as usual, and the update pace is very impressive too.

    Two thoughts:

    Deals with the devil tend to favour the devil.

    All freedoms are relative.

    They don't intersect.
    Somehow I read that in Mordin's voice (which I've been doing a lot lately to disconnected things XD)

    Deals with devil .. problematic . All freedoms relative . Intersection .. impossible .

    Quote Originally Posted by Calipah View Post
    I really like Cecile I've come to realize - Leon always needed to be smacked down a notch (he reminds me of a certain someone actually .) The juxtaposition between her own admonishment and the 'whispers' of the preceeding update is quite powerful.
    You all should have listened to Davout , he knew there was something more to her .
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  8. #168
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    Chapter XVIII: Absolution


    11 July 1783

    Dear Elly,

    Hard choices... Most people tell me “Just do it.” “Just make the hard decision and be done with it.” “Stop complaining and do it.” At least that's how I remember what our 'friends' used to say to us. Our peers would scoff at us as if they themselves didn't suffer from horrible and crippling insecurities. Crippling.. I suppose that is the perfect way to describe it. I think what I've come to know about our 'friends' from the previous life is that they didn't really care enough to understand why it was so difficult. After all, isn't it whenever we get mad at someone complaining and just tell them to “do it” it's just us saying “I really just don't want to listen to your reasons. Let's skip your reasons. Let's ignore them.” It doesn't help. I want to be heard on why I can't do something... on why I can't let go of something. Our “friends” merely wanted to go back to laughing all day.

    So what makes choices difficult? I have been wondering about that as I have been wondering my own particular case. Do I go back to face everything? I really thought that I was going to be able to stay here at the monastery forever... Though no.. that's a lie as well. I guess I didn't want to admit that I'd have to face what I had left behind... whom I had left behind.

    I wonder if writing to you is somehow one way for me to try and expiate my guilt about never talking to my sister after I had left. I can't face her. Not after what I had done to her. Not because I'm afraid of what she might say or do, though I do have that fear. I think I'm afraid I'd hate myself again. Or maybe I already do hate myself, but I just don't want to admit it. I don't want to face it.

    I have to choose tonight whether or not I'll go and join this mission that was proposed to me. I can't seem to sleep anyway. It's been on my mind and I can't seem to get it out. If I decide to go with them it will change everything. If I decide to stay I'm afraid that nothing changing will be exactly what kills me: exactly what I have worked so hard to avoid. I promised I wouldn't hurt anyone again. Isn't doing this going to hurt people? I wish you were here, Elly. I wish I could have your approval. Maybe it's because you, being a woman as you are, reminds me of my sister. Maybe I need her absolution. I know what you're going to say, though. “It just means you need absolution from yourself.” I need to go for now... I have to see someone. I'll write to you again soon.

    With all my love,
    Gregoire


    ~~


    The chapel of the monastery might have been dated back to Charlemagne, but no one was quite sure. The roman style interior whispered of an ancient design, but even in the dark light, Gregoire could notice where the sections had been added onto by Gothic architects pointing upward to the heavens and the newly added dome spoke of the baroque influence. Despite its grandeur, it was not opulent. Its stone walls were modest and secure.

    Although the columns were Corinthian in design, they were still a demure set of grey that humbly echoed the elevating ecstasy of chanting at different hours of the day. Gregoire genuflected as he quietly passed the pews. The tabernacle shone brilliantly as the moonlight entered through the simple windows on the walls. Gregoire knelt behind the crosshatched wooden separation and leaned in enough that his forehead nearly touched the neatly traced carving of the design. He crossed himself and recited something to the man who was sitting on the other side of the wooden panel.

    “What would you like to confess, my son?” the old man acknowledged Gregoire. Father Richard was one of the older monks at the monastery and one of the first, aside from the abbot, to welcome him into his new home there. Unlike the abbot's bird-like chirpings, FatherRichard spoke with a timbre that was like the grinding of a millstone. It had the weight of authority behind it as if it could move mountains with a single sentence or calm winds with a command. Gregoire had been intimidated with it at first, but it was oddly reassuring to have directives coming from such a confident bedrock.

    Father Richard had been Gregoire's confessor since he arrived. They had to meet almost every day at times, but despite Father Richard's advanced age (which he kept as a closely guarded secret), he always would find time to listen to the young one's worries with so much patience that sometimes Gregoire fancied that he was talking to a deep cave, depositing all of his sins at its mouth and receiving words of absolution from deep within reverberating across the walls. There was never any condemnation in the old man's voice during these sessions. Instead, it was a waterfall of patience and Gregoire sometimes felt bad that he bathed in that delightful sacrament too often. He never saw Father Richard complain, however. The only objection the man had was if they were standing and he would ask Gregoire to lean down so that an old man with a bad back could hear him better.

    “Father... I may have committed the unforgivable sin. It.. is difficult for me to accept forgiveness for what I have done.” Gregoire's voice was soft, yet even. He was speaking softly into his clasped hands as if he was saying an urgent prayer at the last moment.

    “I see... we have spoken about this many times before, haven't we?”

    “We have, Father, but tonight... tonight I feel as if the Lord is asking me in such a profound way that it is difficult for me to escape the idea that I cannot accept what I have done as forgivable. That somehow he is wrong to forgive me. That I cannot believe that he would...”

    Father Richard adjusted himself on his seat with a small grunt and leaned his head sideways towards the wooden crosshatching. His voice hushed although there was no one else in the chapel at the time. His voice was like far off thunder rolling within clouds. “What do you think it would look like if you were forgiven?” He asked the young man.

    “Look like, Father?” Gregoire was a bit confused.

    “Yes... what would your life be like if you were forgiven. What would be different tomorrow if you were forgiven tonight?”

    “I suppose I would feel... more at ease?” Gregoire guessed as he squeezed his eyebrows together attempting to discern the wisdom behind the questions.

    “And if you were more at ease then what would be different?” was Father Richard's next question as he brought his elbow to rest on the wooden partition's design while maneuvering his fingers to cup his chin comfortably as he listened.

    “I feel as if...” Gregoire was attempting to search for the words. “Perhaps... I would be more at peace. I could move forward. I could... do everything that my ministry has asked me to do.”

    “Aren't you already doing that?” Father Richard questioned him almost immediately after Gregoire had finished the statement.

    “I... am,” Gregoire admitted with hesitation. “but it isn't genuine... not when I have such guilt over something I've done. I feel like I've cheated.”

    “As if you don't deserve happiness because someone else is suffering?” Father Richard nodded while he spoke as if absorbing every response.

    Gregoire's eyes eased up and he felt a horrible pain in his heart at the same time as if a pin had gotten caught in between heartbeats. “Exactly, Father. Sometimes I wish I could change places with... with my sister. I want her to be safe and it's me who deserves to suffer.”

    “Do you think that it is then that God will forgive you?” Father Richard's question did not sound sarcastic at all. Instead, it quivered almost compassionately at the confession.

    “I don't know... I just feel as if that would help. I know it's wrong to think that I would need to do that for his grace, but it is so hard for me to accept that when people are suffering because of me. It's a constant reminder of my own sin,” Gregoire had to admit.

    “You have dealt with reminders before, if you recall. The scars you bear. The sensations you said you struggled with in the past even from just sleeping in the wrong position. Yet you managed to live with yourself despite those reminders.”

    “Yes... but this... this is different.”

    “In what way?”

    “If it's something for myself I can bear with any pain. It's only myself... but when it's someone else. I just... I wish to make things right otherwise...”

    “Otherwise what, my son?”

    Gregoire's pause took longer than expected, but Father Richard waited patiently. His eyes shifted downward for a moment to catch a half-obscured glance at the pensive downward expression on Gregoire's features. He frowned quietly as he noticed the lines of anguish fluctuating on Gregoire's forehead.

    “Otherwise I won't ever be happy. My happiness will always be borrowed from someone else's pain. I don't deserve it. I can't stay here while people suffer.”

    “Then why are you still here, Gregoire?”

    Gregoire looked forward for a moment through the small holes that dotted the wooden separation. He could see the dim illumination of candles far off in the distance near the sanctuary. “I'm afraid of going back and returning to that same place that caused me to hurt people in the first place... I'm afraid that by going back I'll be falling into the same trap; I'll become what I used to be.”

    “So it's a question of righting the grave injustice that still continues of which you were participating in... or coming in contact with that evil again and being brought back into that darkness that you once inhabited.”

    “Yes, Father...”

    “What if there's a third option?”

    “A third option?”

    “Yes... an option you hadn't considered yet.”

    Gregoire looked up and leaned forward suddenly though keeping his distance from the wooden design. His voice pushed through the holes a bit quickly. “What is it? What's the other option?” he asked intensely.

    “I don't have the third option for you, Gregoire. I'm asking if you do.”

    The young man's pose slacked and he slowly inched back to his hunched over position with his lips hovering above his interlocked knuckles. “I don't know what other options I have,” Gregoire responded bitterly.

    “Is there no scenario where you right the wrongs happening and still maintain your purity?” The priest asked while gesticulating a twin motion with two of his fingers on his right hand.

    “No... I can't think of any possible--”

    “Then let's try the impossible,” the priest interrupted him.

    “How do we do that, Father?”

    “Do you remember all the doubts you had entering into this place? I'm sure there were several things that you thought then were 'impossible,' yet you trusted and moved forward. Do you remember why you decided to move forward? What was it that allowed you to trust? Before it came to the big decisions the habit of trusting started small.”

    The silence returned once again after Father Richard had completed his question. For a while, perhaps even minutes, Gregoire was frozen against the small cushions for his knees. “I had seen something back when I was at the Academy. A profound moment where grace intruded into those walls like someone ready to set the whole campus on fire. It burned something inside of me. It was like a proposal. As if God was saying 'try this. I know you may not believe, but try this.' I felt like I saw something clearly for the first time... and not just in abstract form. Not just in equations or books or theorems, but just the very act of seeing seemed different since that day. I decided to trust the proposal given to me. Everything after seems like a miniature version of this story. Each time I have been tempted or hurt I have asked 'why should I keep going?' and each time the answer has been 'this sickness is not unto death, but for the Glory of God.' Somehow each time I decide to trust I have become happier than I was before. That's why I trust in it now... that's why I can't turn away from such consistency and fidelity.”

    “Then what is God asking you to trust right now, Gregoire? What is the proposal he's giving you? What was this visit that you had received attempting to teach you?” Father Richard rounded each question quietly but with extra emphasis after each statement as if he were pushing the words through the air with a soft intensity.

    Gregoire took another long pause at the question. He closed his eyes for a moment to let the words circle around in his head. “The more I think about it...” Gregoire began, “the more it feels inescapable to me that this was all happening for a reason. It was no coincidence that His Eminence came here... If this is something only I could help with, I feel as if God is challenging me to trust him again. That I may not have the power to resist but He does.”

    “And forgiving yourself?”

    “I believe it in my mind, Father, but it's hard for me to accept it in my soul. Perhaps the best way I can describe it is that I feel as if my contrition is not complete while I still allow evil to be done to those whom I abandoned...”

    “That has validity to it, my son. Imperfect contrition is enough in the confessional. You are lucky that God is unjust and has pity on us despite what we deserve. For your penance please recite one decade of the Rosary.”

    “Yes, Father.”

    The words seemed to flow both with ease and meaning out of the old man's mouth. The old language was like a warm breath of fire as it descended onto Gregoire's head from behind the partition. “Misereatur tui omnipotens Deus, et dimissis peccatis tuis, perducat te ad vitam aeternam. Amen.” Father Richard lifted his right hand and hovered it directly above the partition with his palm casting a shadow in the moonlight onto the crown of Gregoire's head through the wooden pattern. “Idulgentiam, absolutionem, et remissionem peccatorum tuorum tribuat tibi omnipotens et misericors Dominus. Amen. Dominus noster Jesus Chritus te absolvat; et ego auctoritate ipsius te absolvo ab omni vinculo excommunicationis, suspensionis, et interdicti, in quantum possum, et tu indiges. Deinde ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis, in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti,” The palm's shadow formed a cross on Gregoire's head as Father Richard spoke. “Amen. Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi, merita beatae Mariae Virginis, et omnium Sanctorum, quidquid boni feceris, et mali sustinueris, sint tibi in remissionem peccatorum, augmentum gariae, et praemium vitae aeternae. Amen.”

    “Amen,” Gregoire repeated before getting up, genuflecting towards the sanctuary, and turning to walk back to his cell.

    “Please be careful,” Father Richard's echoing voice reached Gregoire's ears. “I have looked out for you since you came here. It would be inappropriate if you made it to heaven before me,” the voice admonished as it slowly passed out of hearing.

    Father Richard was the next to leave with a heavy grunt. Gregoire could hear the steady smack of Father Richard's walking stick as he steadied his way in the opposite direction with only one stop along the way for, Gregoire guessed, to bow quietly to the Blessed Sacrament. The heavy doorway of the chapel was surprisingly easy to open. The night air was crisp despite the summer month and the moon was casting a gentle silver glow against the courtyard.

    The shadows moving along the colonnade were easy to detect, but it didn't seem like they were expecting a watcher in the middle of the night. Their swift movement mesmerized Gregoire for that swift instant that they dashed across the rooftop. A dozen moved with ropes in hand against the dark backdrop of the starry sky. Before Gregoire could take in his next breath, he heard a scream behind him and the clang of wood hitting stone.

    Gregoire turned around and pushed the door to the chapel open quickly only to see Father Richard's walking stick roll down the nave.
    Last edited by canonized; 18-11-2012 at 06:44.
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  9. #169
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    "Fly, you fool!" said Pere Richard, and was gone.

    (sad face)

    Also, I have to say, Latin liturgical language is like wine, where Greek is like honey.
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  10. #170
    Heartbreaker canonized's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RGB View Post
    "Fly, you fool!" said Pere Richard, and was gone.

    (sad face)

    Also, I have to say, Latin liturgical language is like wine, where Greek is like honey.
    I see you haven't lost a spot of your aesthetic deliciousness yourself XD . I definitely wanted to have this chapter be a mood chapter . Something different from the darkness before . Still dim , but something more comfortable . A kind of comforting darkness and evoke vulnerability as well . I'm glad you enjoyed it <3
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