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LoaMR: Ch.XX: Virchow 1

by MailicedeNamedy


What has happened so far: After the group has travelled to Valdebourg and freed Léonard and Monique, Léonard tells them about his origins. He tells them that he wants to find Mother's Gift, four caskets once created by the Goddess to punish the four domains after the Long War.

After an incident, the group has to split up and Claire travels with Julius and Emma to Virchow, where the last casket is located.

----

Men went to the front and left their wives behind. They left Léonard and Monique alone. It was their front they had to defend. The caskets were their treasure and the reason why this war had started in the first place.

No one could have guessed what was to happen at Virchow. It was an exhausting, reprehensible area when the locomotive left Valdebourg behind.

Mountains towered into monsters, and white peaks and grey rocks rose from the low vantage point. Gigantic stones, surrounded by nature, it was an intrusion into the deepest sanctuary of the Free Duchy.

Those who travelled to Virchow knew they were in for grand boulevards, exquisite squares, and lots of open spaces. The ducal family lived in the venerable Schiefelbein-&-Musschwing residence, which stayed behind the city of 600,000 inhabitants. From there, they oversaw life at the end of the valley.

Heights of over thirteen thousand feet were no longer uncommon. If the gorges fell too low, the tracks did the rest; from one side of the valley to the other, they climbed up a bridge, down a tunnel, over a river, past villages, to the terminus.

The noise of the machine chased away the chamois. Hawks buzzed overhead; mice played with low herbage. White spots became more frequent the higher the air got.

At some point during the night, the picture had changed completely. There was nothing to be afraid of.

Claire stared into nowhere. Beyond those hills was a slope to the sea. A stormy ocean whose city lived on grapes. Her daily life was always accompanied by thunderstorms over the water. She imagined it well, almost as if she knew what existed behind the rock.

Emma, surprisingly, was not asleep. She was also fascinated by the window and recognised a doe as it passed. She knew it was forbidden to ask a question about Léonard's return. There was no answer from Claire. No one knew when he might leave the hospital.

It's like when we left Regenschloss... I wonder what happened to Auntie? Father seems fine... will I see them both again? I don't know what's in store for me and that's what I'm afraid of. Having to do something I don't want to do. But what exactly?

In Weymouth you were the silent miss, now also in Virchow?

We're just waiting for Léonard, with no clues about anything. Shouldn't we have taken the initiative to look for the last casket?

It was a strange picture. While leaving the compartment, Emma suddenly dozed at the window. Her right cheek smeared the window glass.

Julius lay on his bed and read in his compartment.

"What is it?" he asked kindly.

"Hm..."

He put the sheet aside.

"It's been a long time since I last went to Virchow," he chatted, scratching his head.

"Are we hiding in your flat?"

"Where else?"

"Isn't that too much for you?” Claire asked.

He shook his head.

"If you don't go back, they will come back."

Claire watched the paper. Its scribbled writing was a cinch for her to read.

"In a parallel world, I have never met them in person, but I know them by their faces. When I meet them, I smile. Usually, it was returned sheepishly. But when they crossed each other's paths, they never recognised each other, as if there were only one reality. " she read, "Did you write this?"

"A long time ago."

"Do you need it for a new story?"

"I don't know. I cling to some things." he replied, "Sometimes I think I cling to things too much. I regret throwing them away and forgetting them."

"Hm..."

"You look downcast."

"Do you like writing?" she evaded.

Julius grunted sheepishly.

"It was a serious question!"

"I believe that." he began, "Writing haunted me initially. It was only after that - at the peak of my young career, that I went insane and was taken in by myself that only I could write books. No one but me could - I was like the Goddess, the greatest being the world has to offer.

I only realised after my sister died that anyone could write. Any fool can sit down and put his life into words. I understood then that I started writing to forget. To soften the pain of this world and to find a way out of my homeland. It was a façade to get rid of the invisible agony."

"But you never wrote a novel. They were copies of this world, weren't they?"

"Maybe it was. It was a good time. No matter what it was. I felt good, I felt there was more to the world than paying bills. What is a man when there is no meaning? What is a man when he is at war? Are they not the same questions we deal with, modified, in a pattern of despair?"

"A dream is a dream when you wake up afterward. " Claire murmured, "Maybe all of reality is a dream and we don't know until the end."

"Have you ever imagined that our nightly dreams are the real world? The real reason why we exist?"

"At some point, we get lost in it. I have experienced it several times. You get up in the morning to sleep at night. I don't think it really makes sense what the Goddess is doing to us."

Julius smiled sadly. His eyes were reminiscent of those of a child. A child who did not understand the world and did not want to understand it. It was Claire's reflection. In a sense, she was sitting next to one of the few people in the world who, like her, did not know what to really do with life. Was his decision, according to Léonard's wish, the right one?

"You can't show weakness these days," he whispered.

A tear grew in his eye.

"But my sister's death showed me that it is right to show weakness. What kind of people want to wear masks all their lives? The ones from the abbey! That's not why we're here, is it? Léonard is the one who shouldn't let us fall asleep. Not us... how greedy..."

"Léonard is... hm…" Claire thought, "Did Emma ever tell you how they met? What they went through in Sehlingen? He took us all the way to Petrichor back in Regenschloss. Back then... that seems so far away... that's when he knew... he knew all the time. In Regenschloss, Kapellengarten, on his birthday, in Berlyne.... everywhere..."

"He's quite an oddball. Maybe that's why I found him so fascinating."

"Do you know that Emma was once arrested by the HePo?"

"That's something we have in common."

Claire laughed. It was a kind of happiness. She could now show that she could not only tell stories when her violin spoke but when she thought with her heart about creating an amusing distraction for the other person.

Julius listened intently about Emma's fate. Claire did not end there. She continued by enlightening Léonard's arrival in Regenschloss, her birthday, Kapellen Castle, her search for the Melaten estate, and life in a Closed City.

He was composed about the adventures they had had so far. Almost enviously, he had to admit that Claire was a leap ahead of him and had seen the world in broad strokes.

She was pleased to see, as she left the compartment, that he had finally quietened down. If the discussion had been allowed to continue, he would have collapsed. Passing a sleepy train attendant, she lay down in bed and could not take her eyes off the window.

Only with a new snowfall did she fall back into her world.

***

The journey ended abruptly when the locomotive banged somewhat rudely against the bumper block at Virchow central station. There was a brief shock among the passengers, which was dealt with by apologies.

As it was getting dark early in Virchow, the passengers were all the more determined to get to their actual destination. Little snow shrouded the road in front of the station in white. Rather, it was a black-brown mud that became a slippery slope with the autumn leaves.

Virchow was at the end of the Faldergau. With the four-thousand-meter peaks around it, the town seemed like a divided community. Two mountains separated it. The smaller Musschwing in the south, and in the centre, the Schiefelbein. This meant that there was a northern and a southern town, as well as an upper and a lower town.

For the citizens it was right, society had willed it so that the rich lived in the higher reaches of the big city. Exorbitant boulevards and grotesque city forests created a money fence around the actual - and geographically correct - upper town, the Schiefelbein & Musschwing district. From his castle, the duke overlooked Schwanstadt, Schleidenberg, Sauerbruch, and the rest of Virchow's districts.

They had specially built a village for the servants behind the ducal forest. Separated from the outside world, these people lived for their rulers.

It is said that the rich were drawn to Virchow to maintain their status. They could have done it anywhere in the Free Duchy, Bad Reichsbach, Vaubourg, or Berlyne - but Virchow, the duke's personal town was their refuge from the poor world.

After the Great War, the population had undergone a great change. Through the University of Virchow as well as various sanatoriums, wounded soldiers had been rounded up quickly enough to start a life in the quiet middle of the mountains after the fighting. The pure air was a gift from the Goddess.

While the city grew towards the south - especially through doctors, workers, and students, the area around the former residences and equestrian statues swelled. Many houses and flats now stood empty, as prices were too expensive even for the richest. The higher and closer to the duke, the deeper one had to dig into one's pocket.

Whoever would have thought that sympathy and pride in the honourable Schiefelbein & Musschwing family would have increased was mistaken. Immediately after the invasion of the Sagauvelian army, they were put under house arrest and not much had been heard of them since. The family of eight did not even had the chance to flee into exile.

Since then, the castle had been guarded by the SG who had made themselves comfortable in the servants' village.

Life in the mountains brought a total turnaround in the weather within a few hours. While flakes had fallen in the morning, misty rain had washed it away and brought the temperature above freezing.

The three of them used a taxi to Kleinmüller Street in the Behring district. Julius' former flat and their new shelter was on Letchberry Square.

The driver left them in the lonely spot in the shade of a streetlamp. A short shower woke the travellers from their half-sleep.

"Follow me. Soon we'll be dry," he murmured.

Before he stood in front of one of the countless doors, Julius had lit a cigarette.

There were no letterboxes either inside or outside. The window next to the entrance was barricaded with slats.

A medium-length hallway led up a creaky, narrow staircase to the first floor. It didn't look like anyone had been here for three years.

It was a three-bedroom flat with a bathroom and kitchen, balcony and hot water were included in the purchase. A smell that Claire could not define was in the air. It was not the absence of a landlord in this dwelling. Somewhere Julius flicked a switch. Candles helped as he found a broken chandelier in the parlour.

Everywhere they looked, they found rubbish, clothes, or books, which made it difficult to move forward. The floor was covered in dust, the furniture was grey, and the moth-eaten curtains were a new home for arachnids. Birch seeds and dead bees lay on the sill.

A broken lamp and a broken thermometer once drowned in the silver pond. Emma pulled out a banknote from among the books and papers. Meanwhile, Julius waved at the windows to open them. Fresh air changed nothing.

"Forgive the mess. I had to leave it involuntarily."

"It's cold," Emma said shivering.

"Grab a blanket that hasn't been chewed up yet," he suggested, "First we need to tidy up."

"But not today!"

He stared at Claire.

"Tomorrow, maybe?"

She nodded in understanding.

"Tidying up, cleaning, shopping, going undercover. All in one day?"

"There are three of us."

Tidying up a strange flat brings surprises to light. Newspaper articles left lying around, university reading, notes and photo frames without pictures cavort among the seemingly endless clothes.

Julius must have owned over three hundred books. Emma had asked if he had read them all, to which he answered in the affirmative. She imagined how he was some kind of male Martha and how they absolutely had to come face to face one day. Incensed by these distractions, Claire had to remind her back to the reality of the funny-smelling house.

He had set himself the task of completely sprucing up the old office. As he removed the tomes in bulk from the kitchen and parlour, Claire noticed that there was nothing about his novels anywhere. Not daring to ask him, she instead continued working in the small adjoining room, where they struggled with Emma to open the window without getting any splinters in their hands. When they finally managed it, the branches of the beech tree protruded from the square into the interior, making it almost impossible to close.

It was unpleasant for both of them to tidy the wardrobes.

Kamilla lived in this small room painted red. Some dolls and stuffed bears were placed in the cupboard as if it were a handmade doll's house. Nibbled drawings, which resembled various rooms of a house, lay on the levels. Silverfish gathered their courage and changed rooms.

A big, black, evil spider had to be removed from the tub. There was hardly any water, first brown, foul-smelling, then calcified liquid before it trickled.

Julius took care of the balcony. Hibiscus decayed in the weak sunshine and experienced a second spring when a furry layer overtook them many months ago.

It took a whole morning to bring the flat to life. The rumbling and dialogue must have woken the other residents because Claire heard them talking through the ceiling. Words like under and empty were included. She wondered if they believed in ghosts.

Sweaty and broken from a thousand rubbish bags, hundreds of clothes and notes burned in the courtyard, they warmed their minds. Grey and gloomy was the sky. Clouds dominated Virchow.

It was an eerie area where they lived. Claire noticed how a mountain a few streets behind them shrouded the world in darkness.

***

"I'm glad to see that the weekly market by the river still exists," Julius cheered hungrily as they entered a busy alley.

"Did you come here to shop during your university days?"

"Yes. It's near and cheap."

Swans lived in the river. An old fisherman had a hut along the canal, several wooden boats could be seen sparsely above the water. Falling leaves and wandering ravens gave the impression of being in an enchanted forest. The stalls were busy and empty. Was it the wide alley or the puny people, Claire couldn't explain.

The bottom line was that she hadn't been paying attention. She had patterned Julius and his behaviour. While she had not entered his office, he avoided his sister's bedroom. He had briefly glanced at it when it was pointed out to him.

The parlour had never seen a better day. When he returned with a basket of wood (that he had stolen from one of the neighbours), they could enjoy a warm moment in the forgotten stove.

It lacked the stories grandparents told their family in the dark evenings to make it perfect. Instead, he used the time to spruce up the old record player.

What he didn't succeed in doing right away, probably out of distraction with thoughts of Léonard, hardly fazed him. There was no guarantee that he would be at the door tomorrow, and yet one could not mope about the whole time.

They had to hold out that long. Julius calmed Emma down when she began to panic about not wanting to sleep because the abbey might suddenly storm in. He guaranteed her safety by remaining in the living room, sitting on the uncomfortable green wing chair, and guarding the entrance with a pistol in his hand.

The caskets, meanwhile, rested in his office, the last bastion, hidden in a secret compartment of his desk. Where he once hid his most precious notes from the world, they now had to protect Mother Sagauvela's gifts.

To XX.2.


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Bro I still think plants are a good sacrifice; God needs his greens
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