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Maple Syrup 15 // Dressed to Kill

Author: Olram
Challenge: Maple Syrup [15 // all the rage]
Extras: Brownie
Word Count: 9.136
Rating: PG
Story: Forever //The Directory
A/N: There is far too much info-dumping in this piece. But, at least Gen spends most of it being miserable too, so it has that going for it. Also, I'm fairly certain this thing involves a Socratic dialogue, which is terrible and is entirely the fault of law school.



Annette sighed, tearing her gaze away from the stream to glance up at Father Jean. “No matter which way I look at it, Father, he’s our only option.”

The priest nodded, slowly. “I believe you have a point, Madam.”

Annette had been the first to notice it, as she rose early one morning to make preparations for her weekly journey to Paris. The miserable, hunched-over figure, just another shadow amidst the pre-dawn gloom, crouched beside the stream that trickled across Jean-Luc’s property, from the woods to the Loire, the stream that was nearly buried by snow. She’d roused her chambermaid and sent her fast to dispatch the Commander, thinking the thing had to be another demon.

Only the Commander hadn’t been in the room Jean-Luc had let him use, out of common courtesy among men of rank, even though Genesis technically wasn’t one of them. He hadn’t been down in the cellars with his men, either. It was only once three of the sell-swords had managed to rouse their priest, the great half-angel who had fallen asleep with a bottle still clenched in one hand, that she’d gotten to the bottom of the mysterious shade.

Rain or shine, hot or cold, Genesis rose long before anyone else was stirring to search out the nearest source of running water and wash his clothes.

Upon bribing the priest with another bottle of wine, Annette had found out more of the odd details. The great oaken trunk the Commander wouldn’t allow anyone to touch, the one that took up half the space in the mercenary band’s small wagon, was not full of treasure or weapons, as they all thought it might have been. Instead, it contained a cache of cleaning and laundry supplies—soaps, scrub brushes of every size and stiffness, an iron, a pungent poultice or rinse for every possible purpose, odd and cunning devices for cleaning one’s teeth to an unhealthy degree—and a strange half-magical, half-mechanical contraption Genesis had built that served the dual purposes of being a hair and clothes dryer and a heat source for quickly warming bathwater. Almost half of the Commander’s wages went to clothes. Not due to their quality, but rather their quantity—according to the Russian priest, if certain things got on his clothes he’d simply burn them rather than try to clean them. He didn’t know the exact list of damning substances, but he estimated that Genesis went through four or five full outfits a week.

“It’s sad,” Mirk mumbled, to no one in particular, as he leaned heavily on the balcony’s stone railing and watched the Commander gather up his things. “The water must be very cold.”

Father Jean snorted. “I don’t think anyone’s forcing him into doing it.”

“That doesn’t keep it from being sad.”

His mother patted him gently on the head as she turned to go back inside, laughing. “Ah, mon fils, sometimes I think you might be too good for this world…”

Mirk couldn’t help but smile. “You were the one who taught me to be this way, maman.”

She laughed again, harder. “Was I? I believe I’ll go pay our friend the Commander a visit and put our proposal to him. And then we must see about preparing the coach. There’s no time to lose.”

Mirk heard the doors leading back into his mother’s chambers open and shut. Once they had, Father Jean burst out into laughter. He looked over at the priest, curious. “What is it, Father?”

“Oh, I’m just thinking of how absolutely annoyed your noble mother will be when he doesn’t listen to her. I don’t mean to speak ill of a Lady, but, as I’m sure you and I both know, she does get rather testy when she doesn’t get her way.”

He found himself laughing as well, though he felt a little guilty for it. “Why do you think the Commander won’t listen to maman? Everyone else does. Besides, he’s our paid servant.”

“I see it’s time for us to do one of our puzzles, Young Brother. It’s been a while, but this is an important one.”

As the Commander had moved out of view, Mirk turned to face Father Jean. He had a pensive, teasing look about him, the one that he used when he knew something important and was waiting for everyone else to figure it out. He’d always enjoyed the discussions that the Father referred to as puzzles. He remembered the first that he’d ever presented to him, the one about why the Archbishop had so much gold when he’d taken the same vows of poverty as they had. The answer to that one had seemed cunning and sinful to him at first, until the Father had explained to him that following all the rules closely when everyone around you was breaking them would only end with the Church in ruins. The greater good, he called it. Sometimes a few small sins and tricks were necessary to keep from committing a larger sin that had the potential to really hurt people.

“All right, Father. Where does it start?”

“Tell me, Mirk. Why do men do what your mother asks, even though she’s a Lady instead of a Lord?”

Mirk considered this for a moment, chewing his lip. “Because she’s working for the greater good?”

“That may be the case, but that isn’t why they do it. Think more at the level of feelings. The greater good is an idea. Some people are moved by ideas, but as I’m sure you know by now, ideas are easily shoved aside in favor of feelings.”

He thought back to the most recent ball they’d attended, tried to recall the ways the Lords felt when his mother spoke with them. They tried to hide it with adamant thoughts of friendship and politics, but he was able to feel it still, running in the lower levels of their thoughts, at the level where the sorts of feelings that couldn’t be controlled and that oftentimes weren’t even noticed by the thinking mind lurked—desire. “They listen to her because she’s beautiful.”

“Exactly. And as your father is often away, even the ones who aren’t moved entirely by attraction can’t help but think their lives would be easier with a powerful mistress. Thus, as you can see, not all men are controlled by beauty alone. Think—why would your father choose her to be his Lady, when, by grace of his rank, he could rightly have anyone he wanted, even a woman more beautiful than your mother? I know she thinks quite highly of herself in that regard, but we both know that there’s always someone better, no matter how good you might be.”

Mirk found this question to be rather uncomfortable to think about. But Father Jean’s puzzles often made him feel that way, before he got to the end of them. “It’s hard for me to think of it, Father…”

“Look at it this way. What other qualities does your mother have?”

“Well, she’s faithful…”

“That’s part of it, I believe, yes. But there’s a bigger one.”

He thought back to the ball again, to how she’d gone about from one noble to another, always keeping their personal concerns at the forefront and never mentioning her own, tailoring her comments to make it seem like their concerns were her utmost priority, even if they weren’t really. “She understands more than most people do.”

“Correct. Your mother is quite a bit brighter than the average Lady, due in large part, I think, to Seigneur Avignon finding her to be a better student than poor, unfortunate Marc. It’s not uncommon that this sort of thing happens. That the one better fit to rule cannot because of some silly sort of tradition.”

Mirk winced, nodding. Of course he knew about that sort of thing. It was plainly obvious that Kae was the one meant to bear the Morningstar’s sword rather than him, but she was a Lady, and so it fell to him, he who would most certainly manage to ruin things somehow with it. “Yes…”

“But! Tradition is not absolute, Mirk. Remember that. In any case—though I’m very certain your father doesn’t lack in appreciation for your mother’s beauty, her mind is what sold him on it, so to speak. And what do you think sold your mother on your father? You know, aside from the rank.”

This he knew for certain—his mother never hesitated to speak about both what she loved and disliked in aena, though she only usually mentioned the latter when he wasn’t around, or when he’d made her particularly cross. “He understands things too. That makes him more interesting than the men who just like her beauty.”

“So, you see? Even though many people may look for one particular thing in a person, there are others who look for more. So, what have we learned from this puzzle thus far?”

Maman gets her way because she’s pretty. And if she doesn’t get her way because she’s pretty, she does because she understands people.”

“Good. Then let’s see what happens when we pit your mother against the Commander. Do you think he’d listen to her because she’s beautiful?”

Although he’d seen most of the Commander’s men, including K’aekniv, the priest, take interest in the maids and the cooks that their quarters were closer to, he hadn’t seen the Commander do so. Furthermore, when his mother had tried before to use her postures, her smiles, her grace on him before, Genesis had simply given her his usual blank look and continued as if she wasn’t trying it at all. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Yes. To be honest, I don’t think any woman would stand a chance, no matter how beautiful, but that’s a completely different issue. In any case. So, with her looks out of the picture, what does she have left in her arsenal?”

“She understands people. She knows how to move them.”

“Correct. But what have we learned about the Commander thus far?”

“He’s…um, it sounds rude, but I don’t think he’s really a normal person. Most of what he does is backwards from what a normal person does, though sometimes it isn’t. Moving him against his will is hard, unless he’s only putting up a fight for show.” Mirk paused. “I think he’ll be really set against this.”

“That’s not rude, Mirk, that’s just the way it is. And in our puzzles, we’re more concerned with being correct than with being polite. So your mother’s ability to coax people into things won’t be of much use to her there either. Is there anything else left?”

“Er…the greater good?”

Father Jean shot him a smirk. “And what do you think the Commander’s opinion on the greater good is?”

“I don’t think his idea of it is the same as ours.”

“Exactly. So, knowing what you do about your mother, how do you think she’ll react, with all of her usual techniques thrown out the window?”

“She’ll get cross. Like you said.”

“And why will she get cross?”

“Because…she’s proud of her gifts? And thinks they should always work?” Mirk offered, wincingly. It was rude, so very rude, but he was trying to keep in mind that it was the puzzle making him say it, not his heart.

“Indeed. And what do we know about the Commander and how he feels about his way of doing things?”

“Oh, he’s very proud of that. He thinks his way is the right way and that it should always work too.”

“And what happens when two prideful people get to arguing?”

Mirk sighed. “Nothing good happens.”

“So, try as she may, your mother’s not going to get anywhere near convincing the Commander to go along with our little ruse. Now, the third part of our puzzle. We still must force him to go along with it, or else we’ll have to come up with another plan, and I, for one, haven’t got any ideas. How would you convince him, with the first and second parts of the puzzle taken into consideration?”

Mirk glanced back out over the snow-covered fields, at the icy stream. “Even though we can try playing off of his pride or logic, that won’t work like it normally does. This is something he feels too strongly about. And the only way to overcome that is to tap something else that he feels even more strongly about.” He paused, considering whether it’d be better to go on down that line of thought or to try a different road. It was a grim thing to think about, one that made him fear for his future, if he wasn’t able to find a way to protect his House. “But people usually feel the strongest about other people, and he doesn’t have any.”

“Fair enough.”

“It’s awful. He told me his entire family is dead. And he doesn’t have a wife. All his men started laughing when I asked that, and Father K’aekniv told me later it was because they’d gone into town and convinced a woman to come back and hide in his tent the night before and when he found her all he did was tell her to get dressed and give Father K’aekniv’s money back. And then he refused go to sleep because he said she probably had disease and had ruined his bedroll. Which isn’t a very nice thing to say about a woman, no matter what she does for a living.”

“True.”

“He’s…he’s like Sir Lei, only he doesn’t have a twin who’ll convince him to do things for other people.”

Father Jean snorted.

“What?”

“Ah, nothing. It’s just a good comparison.”

“I suppose he cares for his men, but it’s not in the right way. It’s as if…this is terrible, but I think he wouldn’t let them get hurt badly, but he wouldn’t bother helping them either if there wasn’t any risk of that. Not unless there was something in it for him that he wanted badly.”

“And so you’ve found the answer.”

Mirk nodded. “We know one of his weaknesses now. Considering the time and money he spends on washing, it isn’t just something he likes. It’s something he has to do. Maybe it’s something about where he came from? It’s sort of like he washes his clothes the way we go to Mass. Anyway, we just have to find something we can offer him that appeals to it enough.”

“That, Mirk, is exactly what will seal the deal. Which leaves us at the end of our puzzle. What general principles have we learned?”

Mirk ticked them off on his fingers as he thought of them. “Not all men are the same, no matter what maman says. You have to have more than one plan and not get frustrated when the first one doesn’t work. A person who isn’t prideful is best suited to making bargains with a prideful one. And…er…some people are very strange and lonely and it’s hard to make them do things because they don’t have anything to lose?”

Father Jean reached over and ruffled his hair. “Very good. Now, the question remains, what sort of bribe can we offer the Commander?”

Mirk thought hard on it for a time, trying to imagine what sort of things for cleaning might be available to them that the Commander would be too poor or too cut off from the world by his migratory lifestyle to have. He thought of the things one could buy in Paris, the things that grandpère had in the Lis de la Loire that weren’t seen outside of noble strongholds or the most prominent abbeys. A memory came to him of exploring the manor when he’d been younger, of coming upon a damp and dark room made of stone with runes all over and a strange, deep hollow in the floor. He smiled.

“I’ll have to ask grandpère for it, but I think I have just the thing.”

- - -


“This…was not the agreement.”

Annette waved a scolding finger at Genesis, who was still huddled inside the carriage. Mirk felt a little bad for him. The carriage wasn’t even very comfortable for him, and he didn’t have to sit with his legs crammed up to the level of his ears just to fit in it. “Oh, but it was, Commander! You agreed to attend all the court gatherings until the end of the season with us. And you can’t go to them looking like that.”

The Commander glanced down at his justacorps, the same, oversized, out-of-date one that he’d worn when he’d first been hired. As far as any of them could tell, it was the only item of standard mortal clothing he owned. Most of the time he wore a strange, utilitarian costume that looked like something fit for a peasant—a short, unadorned coat and untailored breeches, which he hid the bizarre extended length of by perpetually wearing tall riding boots, regardless of whether the situation called for them. All of it a plain, horrible black, right down to the buttons and laces. “I was…under the impression…that this manner of coat was adequate.”

“It is hideous.”

Seeing as how scolding him wasn’t working to get him out and onto the street, Father Jean snuck back into the other side of the carriage and shoved him bodily out of it. Mirk had been wondering why Father Jean had told them it’d best for him to come with them. He didn’t think him or his mother could have budged Genesis, the fact that it would look completely uncivilized for either of them to do so in a busy street put aside. The priest was grinning as he hopped out after him, shutting the door quick. “Come now, Commander. We all must make sacrifices for the greater good…”

Trusting Father Jean to keep him following after them, Annette gathered up her skirts and walked to the entrance to the shop, gliding into it smoothly as the guard posted outside it pulled the heavy wood and iron door open. From the outside, the shop looked like a residence, just like the other ones that crowded the street. Inside, however, was a glittering world of silks and satins, ribbon and lace that Mirk had always loved exploring, as much as propriety allowed him to. He followed close at his mother’s heels, though he couldn’t help but glance over his shoulder as he entered. Father Jean was dragging the Commander along by his arm, talking at him in a low tone that he couldn’t make out a word of. Whatever he said, it didn’t make Genesis look any more willing to enter the shop.

“Ah, Lady Avignon! As always, it’s a delight to see you.” One of the shop’s two proprietors had appeared—a tall, Moorish mage with long coal-black hair and dancing chestnut eyes, dressed in the manner of his people, in long robes rather than the intricate coats and breeches he made for his customers. He presented his mother with an exaggerated bow.

“Oh, stop that, Mahdi. You know that kind of talk won’t make me buy extra.”

The two shared a laugh, as the other proprietor emerged from the racks of fabrics, the crates of buttons and adornments. He was identical to the first, only his expression was closed, serious, composed. His bow was short, perfunctory, but not enough so to be rude. “Lady Avignon, it’s really best to ignore him.”

Mahdi folded his arms and shook his head at his twin. “Your manners are terrible, Asim. It’s a wonder we sell anything at all with you around.”

“It’s a wonder we sell anything at all with you spending all your time gossiping instead of sewing,” he shot back, rolling his eyes.

Dismissing him with a shake of his head, Mahdi focused his attention back on his customers. “Well! You’ve brought a friend this time, eh? Good day, Father. And Lord Avignon! Ah, is that the violet suit your noble mother had done up for your name day last year? I must say, it turned out even better than I thought it would.”

Mirk couldn’t keep himself from flushing a bit under the man’s fawning, couldn’t keep himself from looking down to hide his embarrassment. “Er, thank you, Sir Nasiri. It’s very handsome.”

“It is the wearer who makes the clothes show their real beauty,” he said, stooping a little, so that he could peer at his face. “And please, don’t call me Nasiri, or else people might start mistaking me for Asim. Which would be terrible. Completely ruin my reputation.”

He laughed a bit, hiding it behind one hand, though his embarrassment was quickly fading. Mahdi was almost as good at handling people as his mother was, only he did it with humor and warmth rather than by looks and an encyclopedic knowledge of other people’s needs and worries. “All right…”

“So, who will we be working with this time?”

His mother gestured back at the Commander. He’d managed to wrestle his arm from Father Jean’s grasp, only to fold them tightly across his chest, giving the bolts of fabric and spools of lace all about the entrance to the shop rather disgusted looks. “Our friend Commander Genesis is in dire need of your aid. He hasn’t a single thing to wear, and he’ll be accompanying us to the Beaumont affair next week.”

Mahdi seemed as if he hadn’t even noticed Genesis before his mother pointed him out, like his eyes couldn’t process a sight so ghastly and instead blotted it from his vision. He made an audible sound of dismay, which was mirrored by the deepening of his twin’s frown, as he stepped over to his side to survey their project.

“I’ve never seen something so…so…”

“Provincial,” Asim shuddered.

“Grim.”

“Dark.”

“Brooding.” Mahdi paused, as he circled around to get a look at Genesis from the side. “Though I hear that sort of affect is all the rage among the ladies at Court this season. I think it’s supposed to be the male version of coquetry, or something of that sort.”

Father Jean nudged the Commander in the ribs with his elbow. “See, Commander? It would be in your best interests to cheer up, unless you want to start attracting jealous husbands.”

Genesis, though he seemed appalled by the thought of this, refused to speak.

Mahdi had pressed closer, close enough to pluck at the justacorps’s wealth of spare fabric. The Commander’s arm twitched, but he refrained from lashing out at the tailor. “Very thin too. Are you ill, Commander Genesis?”

“…no.”

“Oh, so you’re always like this, then?”

“We offer him the finest meals, and yet he barely eats,” his mother commented, not without a bit of causticity. Mirk supposed she still might have been cross over not having convinced him into their plot herself. Which didn’t bode well for him.

“Maybe he’s pining for someone,” Mahdi mused, as he continued to prod at Genesis’s clothing, moving on to his breeches, which he plucked at with a bit of confusion. “I’ve never seen someone use this fabric for these. Very strange. Not very flattering.”

“I am…not pining.”

“Oh, come, Commander.” He moved on to the boots, crouching beside him, flicking at their side. “Everyone gets a little lovesick now and then. Is there metal in these? It seems like there’s metal in them.”

“No.”

“Really, that’s odd? This is the strangest leather I’ve—”

“I was…referring to your…first assertion. The boots are enforced with metal.”

Mahdi sighed, straightening up, shaking his head and dusting off his hands, as if merely brushing against Genesis’s clothes had covered him in some sort of powder that caused fatal tackiness. “Well, maybe not. But after we have you fixed up, you shall brood no longer, Commander. My three-piece suits are referred to at Court as Lady-Killers.”

Genesis gave him a skeptical look. “They…murder women? Is it some manner of poison? Or…a spell that…makes them do it themselves?”

Mahdi stared, gaping for words.

“This could be of some use to me…” he continued, pensively.

Finally, the tailor came back to himself. “No! No. They do not kill women literally, what I mean is that they make women hopelessly enamored with the wearer.”

“Ah. That is…unfortunate.”

Asim stepped forward between his twin and the Commander, making a sweeping gesture toward the depths of the shop. “If you would come with me, Commander Genesis, we will commence the fitting process.” Like a man being sent to the gallows, Genesis followed.

Mahdi darted back to his mother’s side, leaning in to talk to her in a low voice. “What is he?”

“A sell-sword.”

“Well, that’s plain enough, but honestly, I’ve never met a creature with such abominable manners.”

His mother waved a dismissive hand at him. “He’s foreign. Take my word for it, Mahdi, we wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t of the utmost importance. We need him for defense.”

“Well, it won’t do you much good if he goes offending every man in the place and ends up dueling the lot of them.”

“I think his manners can be corrected to a level where at least that can be avoided. I’m not expecting miracles.”

Their small group had walked together back to the big open area at the rear of the shop where clothes were fitted and tried on. Genesis seemed to not be listening to Asim’s instructions to him, instead eyeing warily the large standing mirror the twins had invested incalculable sums on, attempting to edge his way into a position where he wouldn’t be reflected in it.

“As I said, Commander, we need you to take the justacorps off. All the extra fabric will ruin our measurements.”

Sighing, Genesis complied, his fingers working with uncanny speed down its buttons. Progress was halted, however, as he attempted to fold the garment, holding it up and examining it critically to even its edges. Before he could get too engrossed in the subject, Mahdi snatched it from his hands, tossing it idly in the direction of a pile of scraps in the far corner of the area.

“That…is not trash.” A nerve was ticking in the Commander’s forehead. Mirk had noticed this reaction in him before, when tablecloths were uneven and drapes were hung slightly askew and he’d been barred by either situation or propriety from fixing them. Underneath the justacorps, rather than a waistcoat, was the short black coat he usually wore.

“It is now. If I let you walk out of here wearing that, my reputation would be in shambles! All right, off with the other coat too.”

“This…is a working coat. It is not meant for appearances. I have a…limited quantity of them. Do not throw it out.” Only once Madhi had given him a grudging nod of agreement did he remove that coat as well, which was taken from him before he could even begin to fuss with it. Mahdi fluttered about the room, looking for somewhere to put the thing that wouldn’t make Genesis have another fit. Feeling a bit bad for both men, Mirk intercepted him, holding out one arm.

“Here, S…er, Mahdi. I don’t mind.”

Mahdi draped the coat over his forearm, with a heavy sigh. “You are a saint, Lord Avignon.”

Mirk laughed and waved him off. “It’s only a little thing.”

With every layer that was peeled off of him, the Commander looked more and more uncomfortable. He was fixing Father Jean in a dark look, while the priest casually examined a bolt of fabric, smiling. Mirk recognized the priest’s look. It was the one he got when he was being particularly devious.

Asim seemed puzzled by the black, unadorned shirt that was revealed by the removal of the second coat. “No waistcoat…hmm…”

“I…do not see the point.”

“Well. You’ll have one shortly. Now, boots and breeches, there’s a chair over there.”

“…no.”

Asim frowned. “What?”

“No.” Genesis seemed to be digging in for a fight on this matter, arms crossed tightly, scowling.

“Look, as I said, measurements are taken in one’s smallclothes. Otherwise everything gets thrown off and it looks terrible. What? Do you want me to force the lady from the room?”

Annette had taken out her fan sometime around when the justacorps had come off, to hide her grinning. But it couldn’t hide the laugh that this comment drew out of her.

“That is…not the point. It…” He was glaring daggers at Father Jean, for some reason that was lost on Mirk. Eventually, the priest dropped the fabric he’d been examining and walked over, giving the two tailors a helpless sort of shrug.

“You must understand, sirs, that the Commander is from a culture quite foreign to ours. Undressing in the presence of others, regardless of sex, is not the done thing, apparently.”

Asim flicked an annoyed hand at a large oriental folding wall stationed beside the mirror. “Fine. I won’t waste any more time. Get behind the screen, and we’ll be done with this.” He extracted his tape measure, shepherding the Commander onwards.

Father Jean put a restraining hand on his shoulder, shaking his head. “No, he won’t let you take the measurements either. I know, it’s nonsense. But there’s really no helping it. Strangers are simply not permitted. I'm not permitted either, really, but as a member of the clergy, allowances are made, it seems. Tell me what to do and I’ll take them. I imagine I can’t mangle it too badly…”

Muttering in his native language, tossing the tape measure aside in frustration, Asim stormed off to fetch a ledger and a marking pencil. “This is absurd. I’ve done tailoring for every people from Djin to angels, on nobles from Russia to Spain, and not a one of them has put up such a fuss. Where the hell did you dig this man up?”

“Dying culture, I’m to understand. Very rare. He’s sort of like a phoenix. Er, only not very fun to look at.”

“Miserable priest…ought to have…thrown him to the vampires…” Genesis continued to mutter to himself, though it became too indistinct for Mirk to make out the words as he stalked off behind the screen. Obviously, it was not made with the taller peoples of magic in mind. Though it concealed his body, for the most part, he was still exposed from the shoulders upwards.

“Oh, look, mon fils,” his mother snickered, “we’ll still be able to watch all the fantastic faces he makes.”

“That’s not very kind, maman,” he worked out, despite his laughter.

They both ended up hiding their faces to conceal their laughter, as the faces Genesis made while the tailors yelled instructions at Father Jean and the priest shouted numbers back at them were truly magnificent. He looked in turns as if he was going to either explode, throttle Father Jean, or start raving like a lunatic. Sometimes he did all three at once. Once the measurements had been completed, Father Jean was shoved out from behind the screen. Or perhaps kicked. Either way, the priest was wincing, but still laughing. The twins conferred over the ledger that the various numbers had been written down in and then vanished into the racks of clothes and bolts of fabric.

Every few minutes, one of them emerged with the top coat of a three-piece suit, presenting it to Mirk and his mother for judgment, completely ignoring the Commander’s muttered protests against all of them.

“It’s really quite a challenge, my Lady,” Mahdi sighed, offering up with a sweep of his arm a grey coat, made of a fine off-world fabric that closely resembled silk, but with a certain extra sort of luster about it. They both considered it for a moment, then, as one, shook their heads.

“Good,” Genesis snorted. “That thing…looks like…something fit for a whore.”

“I understand, Mahdi,” his mother sighed. “It’s difficult to find anything that suits such a complexion.”

Asim appeared behind his brother, offering a deep blue coat with gold adornments. They paused for a greater time on this.

“Do you have it with silver instead?” Annette asked. “But keep these buttons. If you go much larger than these it’ll just make him look even thinner.”

“Maybe a bit longer, he’s all legs.” Mirk examined the fabric, felt it between his fingers. It looked fairly plain at first glance, but it felt fine, a good mark of quality, should anyone decide to be foolish enough to try to touch him. “And I don’t mind the gold. But maybe a lighter blue?”

“I will not…be made to look like a bloody bluebell,” the Commander hissed. Still, no one was really listening to him.

“Oh, wait,” Annette called out, as the two tailors moved off. “Try a red too! Yes, definitely a red.”

Genesis looked aghast. “I…was under the impression that red was a color reserved…for higher papist clergymen.”

“Oh no, messire, anyone can wear red! As long as it works. It’ll make you look…er…rosier?”

“Maybe like you’re not a month deceased,” Father Jean snorted.

Mahdi appeared again, clutching an armful of various garments, with the aforementioned red coat at the fore. It had silver adornments, wide upturned cuffs.

“Oh, lovely,” Annette chuckled, with a certain sinister glee.

“It’s perfect.” Mirk nodded.

“What? Do all of you…accursed Frenchmen think…all Englishmen go about in army regalia? I’ll have you know that I think it…incredibly foolish. They deserve to be killed, going to war dressed like courtesans. Blithering idiots.”

Mahdi laughed. “I thought you two would like it. So I dragged the whole ensemble with me.” The tailor set the clothes on a chair, going through them one by one and making the necessary temporary adjustments with sparks of greyish magic that would stick the fabric in place long enough for them to be tried on. He passed each piece around the screen, the Commander looking more concerned with every one he was handed.

“Do you even know how to put on proper clothes?” Mahdi asked idly, as he drew in the waist of the coat, slightly.

“Yes,” Genesis snapped, though he seemed to be struggling with something at the moment, picking at it in a distraught fashion. “I merely…find it to be a waste of valuable time and resources to indulge in such…madness.”

“No need to be cross, Commander, I was only inquiring for the sake of expedience…no sense in you fumbling around with no idea what’s going on…”

Despite his claims, it did take Genesis some time to get dressed. And once he did seem finished, he was loath to step out from behind the screen, looking down at himself periodically and frowning. “Fine. I shall…wear this. Despite it being ridiculous. Is our business concluded?”

“Ah, we’ll be the judge of that, Commander,” his mother said, with a pointed gesture of her fan. “Come out and let us see. We are the ones buying it, after all.”

Mirk thought he could hear him gritting his teeth all the way across the room, as he sidled out from behind the screen.

“Oh, marvelous!”

“You look like a real gentleman now, messire!”

The tailors had done well, despite the struggle to get the Commander measured and his awkward dimensions. The red coat hung off him perfectly, creating a striking profile that was well enhanced by the combination of his broad shoulders and narrow waist. The lace for the shirtfalls at the neck and wrists had been selected with care—not dark enough to look dingy, but not so pale that it faded against his skin. Despite all this, Genesis was still disgusted by it, arms held awkwardly out away from his body, as if he didn’t know what to do with them now that they were covered in such finery. He’d almost been too distracted by the sight of the Commander’s transformation to notice it, but a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention, making Mirk glance away from him.

It was the mirror. Although Genesis himself looked miserable, his reflection seemed gleeful, admiring the gleam off the coat’s embroidery. It had adopted a slightly different pose, chin thrust out proudly. Its eyes were black.

Mirk looked to his mother, Father Jean. Both of them were too caught up in heckling the Commander to have noticed the figure in the mirror. He supposed it would be best to let it go. But still, the eerie sight weighed on him, continually diverting his attention, draining some of the fun out of forcing Genesis into the high-heeled shoes that had come into fashion at Court, of fussing with his hair to see if they could make it look as good as a wig so that one wouldn’t be necessary. The figure in the mirror seemed to be mocking him too, exaggerating all his expressions and poses. Mirk couldn’t decide whether to laugh or be worried. Especially when he started to notice the other little differences between the two of them—the black claws, the perfect, sharp teeth.

Not for the first time, Mirk wondered exactly what Genesis was.

- - -

Mirk yawned as he trudged back up the wide, sweeping staircase to his chambers, regretting already that he’d been too thirsty to be bothered with finding his dressing gown before hurrying downstairs to the kitchen. It was very cold in the manor, but at least it was bright enough that there was no need for a candle to see by, the moonlight streaming through every window it faced. It would take ages for him to get warm enough to get back to sleep.

Which was unfortunate, considering the task he’d been assigned. After the debacle of dragging the Commander all around town to get him the necessary accoutrements of Court dress—the hat, the cloak, the various adornments, and so on into infinity, as it seemed the only things Genesis possessed himself were weapons, his utilitarian uniform and great coat, and a large amount of cleaning products—it had become clear to all of them that if they were going to attempt to pass him off as a noble, or even a courtesan, that he’d have to be taught a thing or two about being polite. The milliner, a gentle old woman who Mirk was particularly fond of, had nearly been driven to hitting him in response to his continual, acerbic commenting. After a tête-a-tête with his mother and Father Jean, they’d come to the decision that the task of taming the Commander would fall on his shoulders, owing to the fact that he seemed to be the person least likely to either be completely ignored or be beaten and thrown out a window when confronting him with the prospect of dance lessons. He was certain Genesis was going to resent being torn away from his men and the prospects of guard duty. But he’d given his word that he would travel with them, so Mirk supposed that he’d force himself to at least try to comply.

Reaching the top of the stairs and covering another yawn, Mirk stepped up his pace, hurrying across the length of the hall that was open to the manor’s entryway below, turning the corner to the one that housed the familial chambers. At first, he thought it was a trick of the moonlight, or of his sleep clouded eyes. He thought he’d seen something flicker across the width of the hall, slinking from the shadows on the left to those on the right. Mirk rubbed his eyes and looked again, peering hard into the darkness.

He couldn’t make anything out. But, as his senses sharpened with his growing fear, he was able to smell it—a sweet smell, a spring smell, one entirely out of place in the winter manor. It was almost too sweet. Almost like rotting. Cautiously, he lowered his shielding, casting out his senses. It was faint and well-cloaked—if it had been someone else looking, it probably would have gone unnoticed. But Mirk could sense the thing’s faint emotions: pensiveness, deliberation. No malice. Which only frightened him more than feeling anger would have. He traced back the faint feelings to their source.

It had to be right beside his mother’s chamber door.

His first instinct was to run, run and hide. His second was still to run, but to also lower his mental barriers fully and project the full force and scope of his magic, cast out his fear and his dread. The thing in the shadows was still thinking. Mirk forced his magic out further, as much as he could, to the point where he was faintly aware of the fact that he was casting a yellow-green glow about the hall. The shadow began to move toward him.

Continuing to project, Mirk ran. Back around the corner, down the hall to the stairs, tripping on the first step and having to cling for a moment to the balustrade to keep from tumbling down them headfirst. He could feel the thing following him. Which was the whole point, he supposed. But it didn’t keep the fear from nearly closing his throat and reducing his thoughts to nothing but a jumble of panic. The fact that thing was moving more quickly didn’t help.

Down the stairs. It was running now too, and it could go much faster than he could. Across the entryway. Mirk was certain that if he looked back, he’d see it just out of arm’s length. Summoning all his focus, hoping that for once in his life he’d be precise and quick instead of clumsy and fumbling, he lunged at the first door he came to, managing to seize the handle on his first try, whipping the door open and hurling himself inside, slamming it shut at the same time that he slammed his shielding back down. The room beyond was too shadowy to see well in; he couldn’t remember which it was—all his jumbled senses could pick out was the sound of water, another, less sickening floral scent. He staggered to one side of the door, pressing himself tight against the wall. Of course it would be able to see in the dark. Of course it’d be able to find him, even when he wasn’t projecting. Of course he should have sorted out some sort of plan before bolting, some sort of strategy, but the thing had been trying to take his mother, his mother who had no magic, his mother who he’d promised his father he’d protect, his mother—

“Don’t…move.”

The sudden voice from the darkness made him jump in fright, nearly made him cry out. He bit his lip hard, tasting blood. He felt something strange and cold ghost past him—not a person, he didn’t think, not a creature, but still something. The door opened just a fraction. A few moments later, from out in the hall, he heard the sound of something soft and meaty cracking against stone, a gurgling moan. And then nothing else.

“Shut the door. I believe expending…any more magic at this time…would be unadvisable.”

In his earlier fright, Mirk hadn’t processed the voice as anything but a surprise, another potential threat. But now that the abject terror was fading, he recognized it. The Commander. Slowly, he complied, as he heard the sound of moving water, rustling, the hiss of a firebox. When he looked back from the door, the room was illuminated, albeit rather faintly, by the light of one candle.

It was the bathing chamber. Even by candlelight, he could tell that the room had been completely changed. The disused and moldy smell was gone, for one thing, all the polished stone surfaces gleaming with afterimages of the flickering flame. It was warm and steamy in the room. Mirk supposed the water in the deep, spring-fed and magic-heated bathing pool had to be scalding hot. Even if it was, the Commander didn’t appear to care. He was sunk in it down to his chin, his long hair piled atop his head in some sort of chignon so it wouldn’t get wet, expression blank.

“Oh, messire, thank God you’re here, I—”

“Did you see…more of them?”

Mirk shook his head. His emotions were starting to catch up with him, the fear morphing into shame, the terror changing into a deep pain in his chest, the one that always washed over him when he failed yet another test, when he dropped yet another sword, when he caught the weary and disappointed looks his father made at him when he thought he couldn’t see. He felt as if he was choking again.

“I suppose…it may have been a trial run. That one was rather strong. They would not waste two in one go like that.”

“I…” The words didn’t want to come out; he could feel his grip on himself weakening. He’d nearly been dead. And if he was dead, then his mother, then grandpère, they would have been next, still dreaming away in the heavily magicked manor they thought to be safe, ripped apart in their sleep. Maybe Captain Aei or Sir Lei would have been able to save one of them. Or maybe they would have been taken too, along with the whole human half of his House.

“Describe exactly what occurred.”

Mirk heard him, but at the same time didn’t. He slumped down against the wall, huddling into a ball, disregarding the dampness of the floor. Mirk could feel the tears coming and did everything he could to hold them back. Though his lip was already split and still bleeding, he clamped down on it again to keep back the sobs that wanted to rise up in him, hoping it was too dark in the strange chamber he’d offered to the Commander in exchange for his bodyguard services for him to see that he was crying like a child.

There was a long period of silence.

“Stop…that.”

His voice came out in a miserable, trembling croak. “I’m sorry, messire, I’m so sorry—”

“No. You…misunderstand. I did not mean that it’s inappropriate to express emotion in this…given situation. I understand that it is normal. I meant to imply that there is no error in what you’ve done.”

“…what?”

“Allow me to…extrapolate. I assume you came upon the demon unawares. As it didn’t kill you, it must have been after someone else. Your grandfather?”

Mirk managed to shake his head, swiping at the blood trickling down his chin from his lip. It wouldn’t do to ruin a nightshirt he’d just gotten for Christmas, he supposed.

“Your mother, then. Rather than either leaving it there and seeking aid, or attempting to fight it on your own, you drew it after yourself. And, either by knowledge or chance, you brought it here. Where I could…dispense with it. Is this largely correct?”

“Y-yes, messire.”

“Then it was the most prudent course of action that you could have pursued. And…do stop calling me that. Mirk.”

Though Mirk doubted that Genesis was doing it intentionally, Mirk found himself being calmed by his slow, unemotional voice. There was no judgment in it. There was no pitying concern. “All…all right.”

“Though this is…hardly the time or place, I think it would be useful if you came to understood some of the nature of your magic. I believe…you are expecting the wrong things from it. As long as you continue to do so, it will be ineffective.”

“Oh.”

“Consider this…as putting it succinctly. All realms have an incarnation. As does this one. It serves the purpose of creating a…steward, of sorts. As long as the incarnation lives, the realm will not die. This does not imply that if the incarnation dies, the realm is immediately destroyed; it rather merely puts it in a position of considerable weakness. In any case. At this time, you serve this purpose.”

Mirk suddenly felt very weary, as if he’d been battered around inside a barrel rolled down a mountainside. That always happened to him when his emotions were thrown up and down with little pause in between. “That doesn’t make any sense, mes…Genesis. My family doesn’t carry that kind of magic.”

“On this realm, the incarnation is not determined by bloodlines. It is…random. Chaos. Though…I suspect someone has been meddling with it, that is beside the point. After that ordeal in the forest, I had my suspicions, so I looked into the matter. This is what you are. There is no altering it. As some are made to destroy…others are made to create. Your kind are minor creators, of a sort. Each has a certain talent, again, random. But it is a talent to the degree that none before or after will master the chosen craft as the incarnation does. The last was a sword maker, a master of using the body of the Earth. The one before was a chef, a master of the Earth’s gifts of life, in this sense. And so forth. These things may sound…banal, but they are not, when taken to an extreme. Swords that can never be dulled or broken, that can tear through realms. Drinks and foods that can revive the dead and cure madness. You…understand, yes?”

He nodded, slowly.

“Thus, you must have your purpose as well. But…in my opinion…the process of determining your purpose is being frustrated by this foolish insistence on traditional magicks and skills. One must choose magicks suited to one’s nature. For example, if I were to…attempt to master spells that draw their strength from order, it would be a waste of time. I would be useless and weak, even if I eventually could perform them. Likewise, it is waste of time for you to study offensive magicks.”

His heart sank. Of course, he’d known for a long time that he was useless at the things he was supposed to be good at—fighting, making decisions, wielding power as a shield and judgment as a sword. But to hear it said so plainly, so bluntly, made it seem much more real to him. “Then…my House will never be safe.”

Genesis snorted. “Your House will never be safe as long as you keep being taught that the only way to protect it is to pick up a sword and…go out chasing demons yourself. Killing is destructive magic. Your magic is not suited to it.”

“What can I do?”

“You do…what you just did. Give the problem to someone else to solve.”

“But what can I do?”

Genesis paused for a moment. The bathing pool apparently having grown too cold for his liking, he pulled the plug out of it and turned on the spout that drew up and heated the water. Though the pool didn’t empty that much, the level of the water in it lowered enough for him to see that he had some sort of marking on his upper arm, black and curved, though the water didn’t dip low enough for him to make out what the symbol was. “I suspect you can do all sorts and sundry of Earth magicks. Growing things, shifting things about, drawing energy from plants and such to suit your own needs. You do some of these things on instinct already, I’ve noticed. However, there is most likely something more. The empathy speaks to it. Empathy is involved in various crafts. It’s only a matter of finding which one. Until then…as much as it pains me to say it, you are employing your empathy correctly. Your mother’s instructions have served your cause well.”

“Hmm?”

“The…meddling about in the minds of others. Underhanded, in my opinion.”

Mirk found himself smiling. “Why would you care? I can’t get inside yours.”

“A fact for which I am quite glad.”

“Are you hiding something?”

For the first time since he’d come in, Genesis’s expression had changed. He was giving him a suspicious look, as he leaned over and shut off the water. “No. But…a person is entitled to privacy, at the very least in their own head.”

“I suppose I don’t understand,” Mirk sighed, shrugging.

“I assumed as such. As you apparently do not find it odd to sit in on another person’s bath.”

“You could have told me to leave.”

“Unfortunately…chaos does not allow us to choose the times at which certain things must be done.”

Slowly, Mirk got to his feet, picking at his nightshirt. The whole back of it had gotten damp from sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall. He was dreading the walk back upstairs and the struggle to get warm again. “Well. I suppose you’ll want me to step out, then.”

“That would be helpful, yes.”

“What’s to be done about protection? If they’ve gotten in once, they’ll get in again.”

“For the time being…it would be best to wake your mother and have her change rooms. She can take mine. It is…beside where the rest of my men are. And although they are dead drunk most of the time, usually at least one of them has the sense to keep watch. The rest can be resolved in the morning.”

Mirk laughed.

“…what?”

“You just want the big bed, don’t you?”

The Commander shot him a dark look. “No.”

“Ah. Of course not.”

“But for all the times your…wretched relations accuse me of being ill-tempered, consider that some of that may be easily rectified by not forcing a man to sleep folded in half. And then some.”

“You could always sleep with the rest of the men in the cellar.”

The thought of this made Genesis look slightly ill. “There are…insects. And it is…cold and damp. And the lot of them don’t bathe often enough.”

Mirk waved at him slightly, as he opened the door. He supposed he could be polite enough to only open it far enough to get out. The Commander was already tense and it was barely open a crack, he’d noticed. “I’m sure maman will think of something that you can trade her for to keep it.”

“And I’m certain it will be…just as awful as the trade I made for this.”

“But was it worth it, Genesis?”

He sighed. “Leave…or do not leave. Do not hover.”

Laughing, Mirk sidled out into the hall, shutting the door and pulling on the handle to make certain it was latched behind him. He had been expecting there to be some sort of horrible sight waiting for him out there, some manner of scattered remains or a trail of blood leading off into the depths of the manor, but the hall was empty. Save for a smattering of fine, black dust. Whatever Genesis was, it certainly was powerful. But he was beginning to have trouble being intimidated by him.

It was hard to be afraid of someone who pitched a fit whenever someone saw him in anything less than full uniform and spent his evenings soaking in floral-scented baths.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
promisesesimorp
Aug. 11th, 2014 11:02 pm (UTC)
This was really funny! Poor Genesis.
fachefaucheux
Aug. 12th, 2014 02:48 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading!

...yeah, he pretty much always gets the short end of the stick. XD
promisesesimorp
Aug. 12th, 2014 06:21 pm (UTC)
At least he got a bath!
roisin_farrell
Aug. 13th, 2014 01:58 am (UTC)
Why is Gen torture so much fun?

Mirk's mother is fierce.
fachefaucheux
Aug. 13th, 2014 01:31 pm (UTC)
Because it's so easy, yet yields such great results? XD

Thanks for reading~
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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