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LoaMR: Ch.XX: Virchow 2

by MailicedeNamedy


Claire and Julius agreed to sit guard for the first few nights until Emma should be released from her fear.

Claire refused to use the gun, so it spent their nights on the tea table. She was also afraid. After meeting Haarmann, she realised that the Abbey could be anyone. A nobody, the barker, the neighbour, anyone.

When Julius did not visit her from time to time, working in his office, she used paper and pen to write letters on occasion.

The first one to her father.

In it, she described her experiences since Regenschloss and what she had learned. She did not leave him in the dark when he involved Mönchsberg Abbey from the beginning. Closed in her violin case, she did not send it. The second was to reach her sister. Vaguely she remembered her address in Berschlandt, but she did not want to send it either.

She was rarely close to her brother. Did Bolderich even know he had Claire next to Giselle? Another went to her aunt. She apologised for everything that had happened and wished she could forgive her.

The last letter went to Daphne. She wanted to send it off instinctively but did not give a return address. When Léonard would be there, she wanted to take everything to the post office.

If she wasn't caught in the shadows of the past or clumsily trying to rekindle the fire in the fireplace, she read books from Julius' library. When he didn't recommend anything, she pestered him with titles until he confessed that this book was particularly good.

It wasn't as easy as she thought to stay awake all night. Claire liked to stay up late at night. Sometimes it was the thoughts that wouldn't let her sleep, sometimes it was herself. But being up until the wee hours was something she managed to do once so far. She nodded off around four or five in the morning while Julius was borrowing new wood. She almost cried out once when someone fumbled at the door. Fortunately, she had forgotten that the pistol was on the table.

It became a place of worship for supernatural phenomena. As a refuge from evil, Emma paid homage to the thing that remained there from then on. It scared people away, she said at one point, when Julius wanted to pack the gun up.

In all those days there was no sign of life from Léonard. Telephone calls or telegrams were prohibited and forbidden by Julius.

"We mustn't worry," he kept repeating, "He's safe, we're not."

Mostly, these sentences led to talking about the last casket. And the question of how long it would take the Mönchsberg Abbey to get to Virchow. Consultations of daily newspapers and radio news gave no indication of a possible assassination in a Falderburg hospital.

Life was limited in news and variety. There was little outgoing and when there was, they stayed at Letchberry Square.

Their get-togethers took place in the parlour, usually over a fire and tea. At some point, there were the stories Claire had wished for. Julius told short, pithy, spooky tales that he had made up the day before.

It took three or four nights to convince him that he had a lot of imagination. She went so far as to accuse his sister of the same by mentioning the doll's house in the wardrobe. He always dodged and refuted her delusional theories. That he was now telling them was just a bonus for the lonely and long days in the dark.

The weather was changeable, warm, and cold, snowy, thundery, and hail. Rarely was it dry for long periods, but it was enough to get tobacco.

At some point, Léonard and the caskets were forgotten. As things gradually moved into a freezing world of boredom, Emma also began to write a letter to her grandfather. A perpetual stalemate continued. She did not expect a solution that her dear grandfather might give. She did not forget Martha either.

Julius had taken the letters to the post office sometime during the storm when he had drilled into her not to give an address.

Smoking became another of Claire's sins. It kept her awake when she didn't want to sleep. Voluntarily going out onto the balcony made her feel warm in the pleasant cold and turned goosebumps into anticipation for bed.

Emma's reactions were obnoxious and annoying but did not lower her pleasure level. She stopped when Claire confessed that she wanted to stop as soon as Léonard arrived.

Clinging to Julius and tobacco, she exchanged her two outstretched hands at first milimetrically, so as not to fall away from the old addiction. The play in her head of being in Berlyne with Daphne no longer sweetened her evenings. Rather, it developed into a loop that repeated itself and degenerated into absurdity.

She realised that she had to get out of this hole in order not to end up like the novel character with the mirror. (Julius, unfortunately, didn't had the book but knew immediately which one it was).

Claire wanted to build up sympathy and get Emma back as a friend. She was now the one who shut herself off because she was most worried about Léonard. She would have preferred to stay there, probably scare Monique away, and nurse him back to health.

Was Emma interested in throwing away the caskets so she could be with him forever? That was one of those many questions Claire had as she froze on the balcony and surveyed the stray cat's eyes.

Resentment and unhappiness were constant companions in this dreary world. Julius spoke less and his eating behaviour collapsed. He must have realised that they were back in his flat, back where his sister was killed.

That's when Claire stopped quizzing him about university life.

If you think too much about yourself, you lose your sense of what is important. Several times she caught herself sounding out the neighbours above them. Did they know that someone lived in the murder flat? There were accusations about the disappearance of the wood and that Wilhelm was ill again. She had tracked down seven or eight children during the silent hours. Their grandfather, who had lost both legs in the Great War, also lived with them. In the morning hours, one could hear the clatter of crutches moving from one room to another. Claire wondered if he, like them, was trapped within the four walls?

Fresh market produce was only available at the beginning of the week. Tinned and preserved vegetables had to suffice for the coming winter. Julius had had to go to his hiding place several times to get money. After all these years, everything was still there. Where it was, he concealed. How much he had, neither Claire nor Emma knew, but it amused them to speculate whether it was millions or billions.

The idea of having so much money convinced her that he must have become rich as a writer. His flat was beautiful and noble if you didn't notice the run-down district. Julius did not talk about his fortune. Instead, he said that he was as rich as his wallet would allow. At the time of the conversation, that was eighty Kronen and a few crumpled ones.

He did his job of protecting the two young women as brilliantly as a white knight on his white horse. Slaying the dragon remained alien to him, so the conversations went deeper into the hobbyhorses and whims of the characters.

When he was almost caught stealing wood, the fire had to stay out. He suggested burning the books, being in the minority to implement this act.

So, they froze in old blankets that smelled like moths. The few minutes on the balcony gave the fresh air that did not somehow reek of blood. It was a soulful moment that her actual hobby of washing away all her worries in the bath was punished by him to a short wash every three days. Anyway, taking a bath every day was one of those things that only rich people did.

It was a brief spat that ended with Claire alone for the night. He had locked the door to his office.

The newspaper articles paid homage to the soldiers at the front and their methods of subduing the enemy. The battles moved south, diplomatic relations between the Greater Sagauvelian Empire and Weißberg had finally been severed and those responsible fled into exile. In the process, the plane crashed into a mountain. Whether it was an accident or an act of retaliation was not mentioned in the printed pages.

The more the moon received its fill, the more glorious life became in the annexed territories of the Empire. One night, Claire had noticed a troop of SG proudly and drunkenly singing the national anthem in a chord.

After the dispute had died down, there was a new morning for the residents at Letchberry Square.

The messages Julius was sending them in the meantime were revealing. He hid little prepared notes with text for them to find a certain place in the flat. It was a nice distraction and ended with the discovery of an old board game that he had once played with his sister.

The many ups and downs developed independently of Claire's mood. When she was not the centre of attention, she dreamed. Julius always asked her what she wanted to do and let her decide what to do - as long as it remained within the bounds of possibility.

Oddly enough, he had to admit, he liked to lecture at night and read to her from books, taking on the roles of the characters. They lived more at night than during the day, the sparse hours with Emma remained quiet, fun, and tiring.

She wanted to be there just once, which she endured until shortly after two o'clock.

Julius taught them to play cards. He showed them how to repot a plant, although Emma was much better at it. When he brought liquor one evening, things escalated. Emma was too taken and told him about a strange school in a bamboo forest and demanded that he write a story about it or she would have to keep drinking. He got no pay when he wrote a short story of several pages about a boy who studied in a secret school in a forest and had his adventures there.

She only believed that she had actually done this after she had read the pages and could decipher her writing in the margins. Suggestions for improvement did not really suit her.

There was no calendar in the flat. Julius sometimes made lines to mark the days but forgot to make one every other day. It must have been three or almost four weeks when they first received a message from Monique.

A telegram with the message that they were on their way relieved the group.

***

The news was the reason for the brightening weather south of the Schiefelbein.

By the time the telegram reached them, it was already evening and apparently, Léonard and Monique were due to arrive the next day.

Julius had to reassure Emma, who was determined and wanted to pick him up at the station. He made her understand that it was precisely now that cover was not to be let down, lest her cover be blown. It was forbidden to leave the flat before the two were present. Only then would there be a reason to celebrate and think about the progress of the search.

His realistic view of the world gave him criticism from her, who thought that the abbey would not show itself again as long as they were absent. Claire showed her that they had already waited a long time for her when they had been in Berlyne for two months.

Julius had not been idle, it turned out. Maps of the city and the castle helped him plan a break-in and find further hiding places. The fact that the last casket was with the duke should be confirmation for him that the noble family was still in contact with the Order. He took the option that it could be a trap. Death by hanging was the punishment for breaking into the venerable domicile of de Schiefelbein & Musschwing.

It was their last night together before Emma's guard duty finally came to an end. It was a bleak mood; Claire was looking forward to bed, and yet she already missed those endless hours of interaction with him. There was rarely a warmth in her that she gave some of back to those around her.

It was Léonard who brought this about. First the many hardships with Emma, the journey alone and living with a stranger, then Daphne, and now Julius. All thanks to him.

The first time she spoke openly about Daphne and her contact with the author Murrhardt. Julius was interested in both of them. He had met him on Léonard's birthday four years ago. Murrhardt did not like him for his quick-tempered manner, he confessed.

That had changed quickly since his sister's death, he explained. The most fragile thing in his life was taken away from him so that the cheeky person became himself. At some point, it helped him to understand what was really important.

It pleased Claire that there was someone who had to go through a similar change in life as herself. It soothed her soul that she was not alone.

If she had dared, she would have asked him something that very evening. It was time to put those words in his mouth. It was an embarrassing question she didn't want to ask. Not after all those hours of togetherness.

***

The train was forty-eight minutes late. There was a snowstorm at the height of Piaget, a small village before the three-thousand-meter mark.

It was dark in Virchow. Darkness shrouded the city in a gentle aura of prudence, while Léonard, who no longer knew his friend's exact address, drove the taxi driver up the wall as they drove through the alleys and streets.

His directions, that they must drive along a river before a prominent tree in the shape of a mushroom led them to their destination, were confusing. Anyone who could make sense of it deserved a big tip.

In the end, it was Monique who brought Letchberry Square to mind.

Of course, she had been expected in the evening, but the tension was so strong - all day long - that Claire could not finish anything. The imaginary interruption during an activity prevented her from starting anything at all.

Church bells rang in for the evening commemoration, at eight o'clock when a quiet knock announced the arrival of their two friends. Despite the short and silent reunion, so as not to show themselves to the neighbours, Léonard had to confess that it was a man who had opened the door for them at the entrance, so they certainly already knew that Julius' flat was occupied.

"They probably think we are refugees or partisans," the writer concluded.

"Whatever it is, we must remain calm," croaked Léonard calmly.

You couldn't see that he had come from the hospital.

Sleet overtook the crowd. The balcony was quickly under a layer of water. The fire burned calmly and unhurriedly; little wood was put on so as not to overdo the capacity. Only the parlour remained warm as a result.

It went very quickly. Léonard had started his story straight away. The endless days and nights in the hospital had given him time to think. Several ideas existed, and he had not come up with the solution.

"... and then Haarmann came again."

"Again?" asked Emma in shock.

"Monique and I were talking when he entered. It wasn't a courtesy visit, the media reported on the last ones that he cares a lot about me," he explained, "However, his visit was to make me understand that our last chance to get the casket is to enter into a new contract."

"Three caskets... you have to pay for the last one?" Julius made sure.

"He left me two weeks. The meeting point is at the town hall, three o'clock in the afternoon."

"When is the meeting?"

"In three days," Léonard said tersely.

"I wonder if they're happy to see you back in good health."

"Certainly, Julius," he laughed.

"But you're not having a party!" interjected Emma, "are you?"

"The abbey knows no feelings. Whether good or bad, they have discarded them to welcome death. Emotions are for them an expression of human weakness and represent the sin that affects us all. I have heard that expressions of emotion near the abbot led to torture.

I know what you're thinking, Emma, you inevitably have to show the pain, but that's how it is with them. Torture is punished with torture until at some point you are overcome by apathy or simply death.

But we've only just arrived, you don't talk about work. Let's be happy that we are together."

"You're right," Julius said.


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Why do we only rest in peace? Why don't we live in peace too?
— Alison Billet