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LoaMR: Ch.XIX: Léonard and Monique 4

by MailicedeNamedy


Actually, the day should have begun with a greeting. Instead, the sun provided the city dwellers with an autumnal warmth that thawed the shallow snow.

The light barely penetrated the bed when Claire was awakened. The flat door was closed. It was a cold dream after she moved through the empty hallway.

Julius was standing on the balcony. He smoked and looked at the surrounding mountains. Some were bathed in living green, others in dead brown. Colourful leaves made a play of warmth out of some peaks and ridges. The red in particular pierced the viewers.

"Did we wake you up?" asked Julius, startled.

“No," she shook her head, "Where did they go?"

She stood next to him on the frozen rock.

"Shopping. We don't have anything left. Besides, they're looking for some lamps to make it warmer."

"Hm... and we?"

"They won't be gone all day. We'll see after that."

Claire hesitated. The wind wanted to push her in. She remained standing bravely.

"Do you have a copy of your first book?"

He looked up.

"Better not do that. Too many mistakes and no real pleasure for you. Besides, I don't have a copy any longer."

"In Violentz you said that there are still few extracts."

"Libraries, ducal libraries, state libraries. Sure. But you can't get to them."

"What about the two other books?"

"You can find them in any bookshop, not under HePo surveillance. You should have said something in Violentz. There must have been a few issues still lying around at the print shop."

Julius threw the nub down. Taking aim at Claire from top to bottom, he spoke: "You're not getting cold?"

"Yes, I do, but I don't mind it so much."

"You're going to be sick. Get in there!" he ordered, aghast.

Claire's time in the bathroom gave her new strength and the urge to continue the conversation. When she left it, Emma was yawning towards her. Julius was sitting on the sofa, writing on a paper. His open suitcase showed her the turmoil of a writer. Unkempt clothes crumpled together lay among reams of sheets, some scribbled on, others painted to the edges. Newspaper clippings hung on the inside, the pistol in a small compartment next to it.

"Are these your notes?"

He grumbled. Absent from the world, he did not listen to her when she suggested asking for one of his works at the public library.

"This means we go?"

The renewed humming was considered a confirmation for Claire.

It took about five minutes for him to return. He carefully put the paper with the others and closed the case. Claire wondered fervently if he could find it again later.

"You said something earlier about notes."

"Yes, and the way to the local public library."

"Léonard meant it is somewhere near Auguste-Dupont Square. I'm not sure."

"We don't have the car, do we?” Claire asked.

"What do you expect to get out of this?" asked Julius angrily, "That I'm a celebrity or that you can present to people who would like this?"

"No. I..."

"Then forget it. I haven't written anything significant and everyone should forget it. A writer - me? No. I'm nothing but a dissembler who has made something with words that some madmen have deciphered as readable."

"No. I..."

"Do you think you can impress me with this? That's hypocrisy and I don't want that. If you value our friendship, forget everything that has been said about me."

With a scowl, he said goodbye and went onto the balcony.

Friend... I haven't heard that in a long time…

After a cigarette, Julius came in. Claire had not moved but was staring at the wall. Behind it, somewhere, was her bedroom. If she hadn't felt this drive this morning, none of this would have happened.

"We're going to the library," he murmured.

***

It was located near Auguste-Dupont Square.

If it wasn't the mountains, it was the walls of the houses that intimidated Claire. The brown facades pressed down on what should have been a wide street. The many windows were a horror. You could stare at them everywhere. The little greenery was evidence of poaching. People were to be seen. It was different from Berlyne. There was no real culture between the walls.

Valdebourg was ugly. A degenerate stain on the map of the Free Duchy. Or did she have too high expectations of the cities? You could clearly feel an anonymous streak running through the alleys. One was ignored and if not, there was strife. Roughhousing did not exist in Claire´s city. There was a strict separation of the social classes, in Valdebourg there was great chaos. Rich and poor were usually no more than a few floors apart.

Claire had noticed that on the way.

Emma hadn't noticed Julius' little freak-out. But the fact that they were now outside pleased her. He had left a note for Léonard.

The Karl Gruber State Book House was unimpressive. There was a rough tone at the entrance. The only way in was with an ID card. Julius stayed outside and convinced Claire and Emma to stay inside as long as necessary. He ducked into a pub down the street.

It was dark. Useless light hung from the huge ceiling. The shelves were pitiful and numb. Ever since state libraries (bureaucratically named SL by the HePo) became subordinate to the Baron's party, they had ceased to be repositories of knowledge and literature and had become a collection of inflammatory songs, literary masterpieces from the Empire, and monolingual stupidity.

Only the other day they had sunk all the Weißbergish works in the river, then burned them. They could have been in a nicer place, Emma thought in the halls. She concluded that Martha would not like it. Claire had asked her if Emma had written her a letter yet. Emma had written briefly from Berlyne.

They used the time to chat undisturbed about Léonard and Monique. Between the thousands of pages, they had to think about what the two of them had been through.

Emma was convinced of the Eternal Realm after reading some pseudo-scientific books. While banal and unknown men wrote about the Goddess and her paradise, they forgot the most important thing. Among all the imageless volumes and tactless titles, young Emma reached a gigantic work about the existence of the Goddess and how to catch her. This was the most trivial summiting of a scribbler since the invention of a crocodile brush machine from Perenden, Claire claimed.

An airship was circling above them when they found Julius' The Human Politician.

It had a more alternative style of writing than The Palace of Arias. With a brief reference to his book, he continued with a poem about the Maiden Rose.

The livelier manner and his exercise of criticism were plaintive and serious. He condemned the mechanisation of politics and the heartlessness of these people at great length.

Claire felt miserable as she flipped through the pages. There was no repetition, but a selection of states whose government looked like a corrupt, rotten collection of rulers. She could see between the lines how he was using it to pick apart the Baron's party.

It was the demand for Julius' second book that irritated them. The uninterested and uneducated man obviously knew immediately what it was about and yet they didn't have it. There never was such a book.

Far away, behind one of the shelves, both women were sure that, like The Palace of Arias, it had been selected. They found out whether Julius knew on the way home.

It was noon, the church bells struck twelve and decent boys and brats ran home to a warm meal. The last snow melted between the columns of houses and on the rooftop armies of ravens and pigeons fought for survival.

"I sulked," Julius joked when they were together, "sulked because I forgot my little book."

“Really?" Claire asked.

"No. It's stupid to forget something so important, of course, but you learn from mistakes," he grinned, "Happy with the book selection?"

"Not at all!" said Claire sternly, "There is no book called The Nordic Palatinates! Have they taken it off the market?"

"That's news to me. When we see the abbey, we'll ask them," he said good-humouredly, "Maybe that's how my last one will disappear too."

"It's not funny! You have to be proud of what you have achieved."

"On what, Claire? Anyone can write, they just need a pen. Nowadays you're not allowed to write anything that doesn't conform to the norm. You're at the beginning and have to adapt to the environment and dance to its tune. If you develop your own style, it won't be recognised. Only after you have made a name for yourself can you do what you want. I was born fifty years too late and had to understand the hard way. That's nothing to be proud of."

Claire did not understand his words. She didn't want to provoke an argument and knew better than to ask him about his work. Nevertheless, she disagreed with him. Fortunately, Emma was marvelling at the airship in the sky, distracting them.

***

Léonard and Monique were in the flat. Fresh food and a dozen oil lamps gave the dead place a rebirth.

There was not very much to talk about. Rather, they discussed the news. A daily newspaper gave those present an overview of world events. Bravely rewritten and censored so as not to discourage the population, Léonard and Julius read about a newly formed alliance between the Greater Sagauvelian Empire and the Empire of Derutachitai.

A small consolation for the income earners from the depot was a notice that the actually scheduled court hearing in Wasserrund was postponed and closed.

"Laughable!" croaked Léonard.

He had the balcony door open, so the many lamps didn't help. Claire closed it confidently when she joined the three of them in the living room late in the evening. It wasn't the feeling of being superfluous. More like being a child, surrounded by her parents and visitors. She felt tiny, a dwarf who was not allowed to leave her bed. Emma was already asleep.

"Of course, you have to sugar-coat everything," Julius said, "Now that they dominate the media, it's the truth for those who don't know the truth."

"What has become of the Empire? These propaganda policemen would blame the enemies if they themselves were struck by lightning," Léonard spoke angrily.

Claire stood with them. She sat down on the sofa and smiled. She couldn't interrupt the conversation on her own. Monique helped her out.

"I wanted to ask Léonard something," she mimed shyly.

"What's it about?"

"May I put this address in a letter? I... I want to write to my father," she fibbed.

"You're allowed to. It's not like we're in prison."

"Really? Thank you very much!" she breathed a sigh of relief.

It was only in her room that shame set in. If she had told him the truth, it would have been a no. But she desperately wanted an answer from Daphne.

***

Claire wrote a page-long letter the very next morning.

In it, she told as best she could how the escape from the depot went. As Claire thought about what else she could write, she remembered that Julius was not mentioned anywhere and inserted him.

Finally, she asked Daphne to come to Valdebourg, as Seelenherz Inc. had its headquarters here. At her first opportunity, Claire was able to run to the post office without anyone reading the address.

The area was a bit out of the way of the big city. Léonard's flat was right on the main road, then there was the industrial zone. Past a slaughterhouse, a cigarette factory, and other warehouses where Claire couldn't tell what was being made, she reached the post office, an old-fashioned mansion next to a park, and a psychiatry.

She was allowed to travel alone thanks to Léonard, who told her that she only had to walk up the road.

Only on closer inspection did she notice the dilapidated building. The flat was in the most deserted district of Valdebourg. They lived there. No one else it seemed. As the stairs were taken up, she noticed two men living among them. They seemed to be up to no good.

***

Bored with the many lonely days with Emma and him, Claire made herself happy by reminiscing about the past. She tried not to smile as they watched an exciting race at the velodrome or visited the old town with its namesake castle.

Over the days, Léonard and Monique talked about their investigations, with not much to say. They were gone before Claire was awake and came back, by which time at least Emma was already asleep. Julius had suggested they buy a board game to distract themselves.

Claire was beginning to dislike Emma. She was no cheap substitute for Daphne. She felt no euphoria when the two of them made their pilgrimage through the warehouses. It wasn't the fun she had experienced with Daphne. Because she was younger? Or Daphne more experienced?

On the sixth or seventh day, she became anxious. At some point, she would receive the reply and reveal that she had not written to her father. Whoever emptied the letterbox would inevitably become aware of Daphne's handwriting and the return address. She wished that Léonard would not find out about it.

This calm attitude was striking. Her tiny passport to being alone for a while could not avert this affective execution. The tram had not taken her out of purgatory. As the days grew shorter and the snow-covered the sky and the earth, Claire wanted to travel back in time and annihilate it.

It was a week later when Léonard approached her about it.

"I haven't received an answer yet."

"Have you thought about the fact that your father might not be here at the moment?" he suggested.

“No," she said curtly.

Daphne, yes, but Father..., I didn't expect that. Laughable. I don't want to remember this, do I?

"Is it too much to ask that you go to Seelenherz Inc. tomorrow and ask about your father?"

"Why?"

Léonard smiled.

"Monique and I were in the company all the time. We are banned from the house."

"Why?" now asked Julius.

"The third casket is there. I am absolutely sure. We were there and perhaps behaved a little too suspiciously. That didn't suit the fine gentlemen."

So, they didn't do anything? And now they want me to go there because I have a reason. Do they want me to draw a plan of the building? I'm bad at drawing, I can't do that. Or does my father really have something to do with it? I could ask him. About the grave. But then what? Do I really want to know? I didn't meet her, so I don't need to waste any thought on it. It will hurt to know what happened then. What will father say? Does he know about the grave?

"Claire, are you still there?"

"Yes." she said absently, "Yes, I can go if you like. But what should I do?"

"Keep an eye on someone," Monique spoke calmly, "You'll recognise him as soon as he's in front of you."

"How? Does anyone know me?" she interjected.

"If your father is there, he's there too," Léonard guessed.

Her shocked expression stiffened and thawed within seconds.

Do you mean Ernst Rothmann? That's impossible? Does he have something to do with the abbey? Could it be connected with my father - his hobby... no, he's not that old yet... but he could be spying on him, but why? Because father has the casket! How? How is it possible that he has the casket? Is... he himself a member of Mönchsberg Abbey? No, absurd... all nonsense...

"I'll do it,” replied Claire without confidence, "Just tell me how to get there."

***

Candlelight enveloped the room in an aura of comfort. The low visibility allowed for an atmosphere relaxed enough to be cut off from people and work in silence.

Julius loved these evenings when he could work. They took him into his world. In his thoughts in newspaper articles and notes, he had invited the knocker in.

Claire was obviously having trouble falling asleep when this idea occurred to her. He did not look up when the door was closed. In the dim light, she looked like a phantom.

"Do you see enough?"

"My eyes have become accustomed to the darkness," he replied, "What brings me the honour of receiving visitors at such a late hour?"

"I... yes... tomorrow I'm going to this... to Seelenherz. I was wondering if you'd like to come with me. I can't make it alone," she added quickly.

He looked down at her from above and didn't make a face.

"What are you going to explain to your father when I show up there?"

"It's none of his business."

"Very brave. Think about it before I bust my head," Julius said, yawning.

"I lived in Berlyne for two months. I'll just tell him I lived with you. You're Emma's brother!" she made up, "No, wait, I told him I lived with a woman. Then you're her brother."

He sighed.

"You are so naive, Claire."

Disappointed, she wanted to return to her room.

"I'll come with you but think of something better. Or I'll stay in the entrance area. It's your father. Léonard told me you don't see him much."

"Really?"

"He sees through people better than you think. Don't trust him there," he said, "Well, see you tomorrow.

"Have a good night's rest," she wished.

To XIX.5.


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Tue Sep 20, 2022 11:19 am
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Liminality wrote a review...



Hi there Mailice! Lim here with a short review.

First Impressions
This chapter leaves me feeling excited for Claire running into her family again. I’m eager to see what exactly her family’s involvement with the caskets was. I also like that Ernst Rothmann will seemingly play an important role. Unassuming assistants/ secretaries with their own sordid history are a favourite character type of mine. I found this chapter a bit harder to follow than the last one, as it felt like a lot of small unrelated events were happening at once and character’s opinions were changing quickly.

Plot
I think this chapter mainly served to progress a few minor plot threads before the ‘bigger’ movement of Claire into an active role helping Léonard. I like the idea of Claire asking Daphne to come and see her around her father’s corporation because it makes me think that will lead to a big confrontation that will involve all these major characters.

Characters
I like Claire taking the initiative here. It was kind of subtle, and I only realized she was the one to initiate both going to the library and formulating a plan for their casket mission on the second read, which makes it seem more organic and like her development has been more gradual.

Julius threw the nub down. Taking aim at Claire from top to bottom, he spoke: "You're not getting cold?"
"Yes, I do, but I don't mind it so much

This was also a nice moment. I think the others have the impression of Claire as being very fragile, and that shows in Julius’s question and disbelief here. And Claire’s reply also shows she’s changing.
After a cigarette, Julius came in. Claire had not moved but was staring at the wall. Behind it, somewhere, was her bedroom. If she hadn't felt this drive this morning, none of this would have happened.
"We're going to the library," he murmured.

I found Julius’s opinions and emotions in this chapter hard to understand. It felt like he went from being against the library to agreeing to take the girls there very quickly. I was also quite surprised by his talk of “style” in his work. I might be totally wrong about this (it’s been a while since I reviewed the last chapters), but I was under the impression that Julius wrote non-fiction? And I had initially thought that the reason why his works didn’t sell or were banned was that he reported on things and places the government didn’t want people to know about. Maybe I got something wrong there.

Setting
While the descriptions were a bit shorter here than usual, I still appreciate the choice of setting to match the moods of the scenes. For example, the candlelit room in the last scene makes it seem much quieter, so that Claire’s uncertainty shines through. I also thought that having the first conversation be on the balcony in poor weather made it more tense.

Overall
I’m still eager to see Claire’s further development. I wonder what she’ll say when she sees her father again, and how that might play out. This chapter feels like it’s building up to something for sure.

Hope some of this helps, and feel free to ask for more feedback!
-Lim






Hi Lim!

Thank you for your review!

Right, to your point about Julius; he writes non-fiction. The first book (Palace of Arias) was non-fiction about the Eternal Empire and the Abbey, the other two books (The Human Politician; The Nordic Palatines), are also non-fiction, but especially The Human Politician is a very critical, almost parable-like work aimed at the current occupation of the Empire. But he also writes all kinds of things, the main thing is that he can write.

That he changed his mind quickly is because he is still (even if you don't see it) very proud of what he does, even if he is misunderstood. He doesn't like compliments, even though he absorbs them inside like a sponge absorbs water.

I hope that is somewhat understandable now. :D

Mailice



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Tue Aug 16, 2022 11:10 am
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MailicedeNamedy says...



Hi @RandomTalks,

Thank you very much for your review! As always, I enjoyed reading them! Thanks for your effort to be here for so long! :D

I have been really enjoying Julius's development as a character. I think what makes it an even more exciting journey is that we get to see it through Claire's lenses. So even in the moments when Claire is confused by his words or his actions, we as the readers can dig beneath to take a guess at the underlying meaning and implications. Julius is very much filled with self-hatred - it is hard to comprehend whether its because of the guilt that resides inside him for his sister's death or if its a result of his self-deprecating tendencies. But its interesting how he is so adamant to shut himself so completely away from the positive that he won't even allow someone else trying to show him a glimpse of it.


Julius is a very intense character and above all a very complex one, who, like Léonard, is a little obsessed with some ideas. But he suffers a lot from the death of his sister and how the country deals with him. He feels provoked and only through Léonard has he moved back into a "life". On the one hand, Julius feels honoured that Claire wants to read something, but Julius also doesn't want his bad character traits to come out again, where he sees himself as a master. He also goes very much by his current mood.

Emma feels like a relatively flat character beside them and because of her irregular appearances in the story, it is easy to forget her presence from time to time.


I see. Since we've had Emma with us for so long, I moved her more into the background from the second half onwards, especially during the episode with Daphne, so that I could also insert Julius as a late but important character.

Thanks again for the review! :D




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Sat Aug 13, 2022 11:42 am
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RandomTalks wrote a review...



Hey Mailice!

RandomTalks here with a very late review!

Nothing much happened in this part plot-wise, but it was a nice set up for the coming reunion between Claire and her father. I liked how easy it is to go through these parts - even though we are simply following the characters through insignificant (not central to the plot) happenings, we are still always learning something significant about them. Because of this attention to detail, your characters always feel more real and grounded and your readers are always able to connect with them.

I'm nothing but a dissembler who has made something with words that some madmen have deciphered as readable.

I have been really enjoying Julius's development as a character. I think what makes it an even more exciting journey is that we get to see it through Claire's lenses. So even in the moments when Claire is confused by his words or his actions, we as the readers can dig beneath to take a guess at the underlying meaning and implications. Julius is very much filled with self hatred - it is hard to comprehend whether its because of the guilt that resides inside him for his sister's death or if its a result of his self-deprecating tendencies. But its interesting how he is so adamant to shut himself so completely away from the positive that he won't even allow someone else trying to show him a glimpse of it. The way he flared up at Claire when she was trying to make him acknowledge his accomplishments was not natural - it felt almost defensive, as if he needed her to understand and believe that he hasn't done anything big or important by writing books.

There was a stark difference in the tone of his arguments before and after the visit to the library. Before, he had been angry and driven by self-criticization. He had been defensive in his stance and a little unreasonable in directing his anger at Claire. However, after the visit to the library, he was more calm and composed. He even admits that he sulked and I think that admission counts for character development in itself because I don't think he would have done it if he hadn't valued Claire's friendship or evaluated his own hasty reaction to her honest request. Julius reflects on his words now - and even though, he still maintains his stance, there is no anger but resignation in his tone this time.

"I'll do it,” replied Claire without confidence, "Just tell me how to get there."

There is a difference in Claire's attitude as well. I like the fact that she is no longer so hyper-focused on her thoughts and imaginations. She is more open now, and more willing to introspect and accept. Even though she still overthinks sometimes, there is reason to her thoughts now. This is a very refreshing change from before when she was always engaged in a cycle of negative judgement or self-criticization. Her escapist tendencies have lessened to some degree and she is more willing to participate in the world now. Its not possible to predict if she will fall back on her old cycles when faced with difficult or stressful situations, but I like these small developments in the characters that make them feel as though they are always changing and growing like real human beings.

There was some focus on Emma in this part, but it does not really succeed in making us feel a lot of interest in her narration or her non-existent storyline. I think this is because most or rather all of the characters have some central conflict that they are trying to overcome - be it Leonard and Monique, Claire or Julius or even Daphne who maintains the mystery of her character till date. Emma feels like a relatively flat character beside them and because of her irregular appearances in the story, it is easy to forget her presence from time to time.

Overall this was a solid continuation of the story. I loved the descriptions of the cities and how vividly you were able to bring them to life even though you were simply drawing a comparison to Claire's great expectations. I am also excited about the impending reunion between the father and daughter and am really curious about how they pick up, considering where they left off was not a very great place to be. I also wonder how Julius's presence is going to affect the dynamics between the pair and am looking forward to their interactions.

One other point:

Taking aim at Claire from top to bottom, he spoke: "You're not getting cold?

The expression "taking aim at Claire," does not really seem to fit the context of the sentence. I think, "looking her up and down," expresses the meaning better.

That's all!

Keep writing and have a great day!

Until next time!





Don't turn them loose, Jack.
— David Letterman