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Evil Genius
Evil Genius
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Joined: Wed Nov 21, 2007 1:16 pm
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Post Brindle
Chapter 1

“She’s back again! You have to do something about this!”
Anchorite Victor’s hate-filled words continued to echo in Leon’s ears as he strode through the nave of Ste. Mêre des Larmes, the great cathedral of Ezra in Port-a-Lucine, endeavouring to move quickly without appearing to run. He wanted to run, honestly he did. Anchorite Victor’s negative feelings for this particular visitor seemed to grow stronger every time she put in an appearance, and he was infecting some of the younger Anchorites.
Indeed, when Leon exited the nave, he saw a sight that made him want to wince. There were no less than five young Anchorites, standing around in a fashion they might have thought was casual and unobtrusive – but all with their hands on the hilts of their swords. One of them was muttering a prayer that invoked the protection of Ezra for her holy place against all intruders.
‘This has gone too far,’ Leon thought as he swept past the Anchorites and approached the visitor.
The woman who had first introduced herself to him a year ago as Francine Barrette – “Call me Frankie” – was quite young, with a slender figure and striking orange hair, prematurely streaked with grey, which she kept tied back with a plain ribbon. Her eyes were a brilliant green and she had a round, lovely face. She had the dress sense of a dowdy old spinster, though; she wore heavy boots and loose dresses of dark wool that would not have flattered a woman ten times her age. That, and she always carried a pistol on her belt. In Dementlieu, a nation famous for its sophistication, arts and fashions, M’selle Barrette stood out like a sore thumb.
And yet, despite her frumpy appearance and Anchorite Victor’s claims that the woman could not even breathe without being sinister and blasphemous, Leon had always found her to be pleasant and polite, though sometimes a little absent-minded and… foreign.
Right now, she was doodling in a little pocket book while she waited to be admitted to Ste. Mêre des Larmes or turned away. Leon had seen some of those drawings, and they were… cute. Little imaginary creatures gambolling among the spring flowers in cheerful forests. Nothing that would net her fame and fortune, but charming enough. Once, she had drawn him a small colouring book to give to his sister’s youngest after he had mentioned her upcoming birthday in passing. Leon’s sister had later told him that particular gift had won him the lofty title of ‘favourite uncle’.
“M’selle Barrette,” Leon said, holding out both hands to the visitor. “Welcome, once again, to Ste. Mêre des Larmes. You have been well?”
The visitor tucked her little booklet and pencil neatly away, then rose and politely clasped his hands in return. “Quite well,” she said, nodding. “We have just returned to Port-a-Lucine. Father’s carriage broke down a few months ago, and nothing would do but that he go visit Clerque and Verbois in Chateaufaux himself to specify the design of the new one.”
“Ah, your father is well enough to travel again?” Leon asked, smiling. “That is good news!”
‘If the cranky old coot can take care of himself now, maybe you’ll get your own life. It would do wonders for Anchorite Victor’s moods if you would only stop coming here every month.’
“He thought he was,” M’selle Barrette said, her lips thinning as she gave a small, discontented shake of her head. “Then his steam ran out after he had spoken to M’sieur Clerque and I had to get him admitted to a Chateaufaux’ hospice. The new carriage was ready by the time he could finally be moved back home. The doctors are hopeful the sea air will bring him back to where he was before we left.”
Leon shook his head. “Have you reconsidered bringing your father here, to beseech Ezra’s blessing?” he asked.
“Father said I should stop going on about it,” M’selle Barrette said, shaking her head. “He says there are people in greater need than he. On the other hand, he has asked whether you have come to a decision with regards to my request to access the catacombs…?”
“Let’s take a walk,” Leon suggested. He offered M’selle Barrette his arm and strolled into the nave with her, pointedly ignoring the startled looks from the younger Anchorites.
“Warden Victor is still… cross with me, I presume,” M’selle Barrette said once they were inside.
“Cross is not quite the word,” Leon corrected her. “He is furious after what happened with that book.”
“I honestly did not expect,” M’selle Barrette started to say, but she fell silent when Leon lightly squeezed her arm.
“Personally, I am convinced you did not intend any harm,” he said. “Bastion Secousse is also convinced that you intended no harm. You would hardly be allowed to even approach Ste. Mêre des Larmes if she believed otherwise. But Anchorite Victor is, as I said, furious, and there are several other senior Anchorites who have… strong misgivings about allowing you back into the catacombs.”
Leon mentally steeled himself, then continued: “Also, I understand that you sent a petition to the Home Faith to be granted access.”
M’selle Barrette’s eyes closed in an expression that Leon personally thought of as her ‘pious revulsion’-face. “A message was sent to Borca in my name, yes,” she said. When she opened her eyes, her expression was still displeased. “I would prefer to say no more on the matter.”
“Of course,” Leon agreed. “Of course the Home Faith has referred the matter back to us, rather than try to enforce their will, and so the request might as well be considered not to have been written. Unfortunately, the very act of sending this request has set even more bad blood among the senior Anchorites. I am sure you understand.”
“I have no trouble understanding this whatsoever,” M’selle Barrette said. “Should I then assume that I am once again denied access to the catacombs?”
“For now, this is indeed the case,” Leon replied. He patted M’selle Barrette’s arm as he led her up to the edge of the chancel. The stained glass image of holy Ezra looked down on the two of them, her white turned to grey and her greens darkened by the passing of clouds in front of the sun. Leon released M’selle Barrette so he could go to one knee and make the sign of Sword and Shield before the blessed icon.
“I have given some thought as to how you might get back into their good graces,” he said once he had gotten back up, “and there are a few things which might win you their approval. Your father has accepted the grace of Ezra. Might you yourself not…?”
M’selle Barrette quickly backed up a step and one of her hands went to her throat, covered by her dowdy gown’s high collar. Her expression became subtly hostile, even though her voice remained the same. “Father has made his choices, Anchorite Leon, but I must stand by my own convictions.”
“Of course,” Leon said, with genuine regret. “In that case, there is… a different matter which might very well help you in gaining the senior Anchorites’ favour.”
“Please, do tell” M’selle Barrette said.
“I recall you telling me that your father was widely-travelled before he was struck with his illness,” Leon said.
“Very much so,” M’selle Barrette agreed.
“And he maintains a wide correspondence throughout the world?” Leon asked.
“You are starting to make me nervous, M’sieur,” M’selle Barrette said, one eyebrow rising over an emerald eye. “What is it that the church wants?”
“Does – or did – your father have any contacts in Valachan?” Leon asked, wincing at the need for bluntness.
“Valachan.” M’selle Barrette’s other eyebrow rose as well in surprise before both lowered in thought. “Yes. Yes, I still recall a trip we all took to Helbenik, before father’s health really took a turn for the worse. He was interested in local plant life at the time, and he kept in touch with a local family.”
“Good, good!” Leon said. “No, excellent! One of our young men is going on a voyage to a thorp near Helbenik by ways of Mordent, and it would help immeasurably if he could benefit from your contacts there.”
“I am surprised that your young man would need father’s help, good Anchorite,” M’selle Barrette said after a moment of hesitation. “Do not misunderstand; I will be happy to mediate if that will alleviate the… misunderstanding somewhat, I am simply puzzled. Does not the church have its own chapels in Valachan? As I recall, Mordent is one of the great strongholds of your faith.”
“Certainly,” Leon said, forcing himself to smile. “However, our young man is an ardent young priest who wishes to travel as much under his own strength as possible. He wishes to gain experience of the world by doing, not by ah, ‘hiding in a clump of grizzled old Wardens’.”
M’selle Barrette blinked and looked around. Leon followed her gaze and noticed the five young Anchorites who had been watching the visitor outside, hovering at a distance.
“Your young man sounds an enthusiastic fool,” M’selle Barrette muttered. “There is more to this than you are telling me, is there not?”
“Shall we say, the church would very much like for our young man to safely arrive at his new station,” Leon said. “It would be beneficial if he had a seasoned travelling companion. One who, to be blunt, does not appear to be one?”
“You want me to go with him, keep him safe, and lead him to believe that he is protecting me,” M’selle Barrette said, blinking slowly. A small smile grew on her lips. “I can do that.”
“And I am sure that your kind assistance to the church will count for a great deal with the senior Anchorites,” Leon said, smiling in return.
“When is your young man departing for Mordent?” M’selle Barrette asked. “Have I time to pack?”
“I’ll send him to your father’s home in two days,” Leon said. He raised his hand to forestall the visitor’s complaints before she could do more than open her mouth. “It would not be… politic to have you pick him up here, for… reasons.”
“Which you will not share with me,” M’selle said.
Leon shrugged helplessly. “I can only repeat that your kind assistance will count for a great deal with the church elders.”
“It would probably not be politic if we shook on it,” M’selle Barrette said.

Res Mira starts here.

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Sun Jul 19, 2015 1:45 pm
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