The Fog is Lifted
With the marriage question dealt with, Rebecca slipped to the side of the gathering unobtrusively. Or as unobtrusively as one can when one has been instructed to meet with a minister in order to salvage her eternal soul. Some privacy is required for such a conversation and she offered to speak with him when the room was clear. The corner of the sitting room had several lovely wing chairs and Rebecca swept her skirts gracefully to the side and lowered herself to the seat. A small handkerchief appeared from the sleeve of her gown and she blotted beads of perspiration from her forehead briefly as she waited.
When he approached, the handkerchief disappeared once more and she spoke with a quiet dignity. "I think Alexi is Orthodox -- he doesn't realize that Anglicans do not require confession to purge their sins. But ... I will not argue the need to consult someone with perhaps a more... experienced view of the world."
Christopher nodded, and took the chair nearest Rebecca. "Your prince is a character. I'm not sure if he's from a fairy tale, or a penny dreadful.. So, what is the nature of your dilemma?"
Christopher's brows knitted, his hands clasped together tightly. "Magic is a powerful tool, but the enemy also uses it as a powerful lure. In most cases, it is safe to say that a spell is a spell, a talisman is a talisman." He looked closely at the lovely lady seated beside him. "But there is also the case that a spell has repercussions, and a talisman is a token of Satan." Breathing deeply, he spoke slowly. "Your friends, you say, believe that one rune in particular is evil. What was the source of this rune?"
"I do not honestly know," Rebecca admitted. "On our journey, we came into possession of a book. Upon touching it -- or rather upon attempting to read it and using my ability at the same time -- I was shown a great deal of the book's history. Where it came from, what it was intended to do. From all that I could learn before the thaumaturgical society took possession of it from us, it was intended to be an informational guide. Again, the information seemed to me to be relatively neutral. A history of the battles that a society before ours had against the Elder Gods."
Christopher's body tensed. "You say it was a book, with information about guarding against the return of Elder beings? I shan't call them gods." Reaching into his inner jacket pocket, Christopher pulled out a slightly yellowed official card, recognizing him as a thaumaturge and demonologist. "I have long studied the ancient, and the nearly forgotten. I am here actually searching for, of all things, Avalon." He smiled shyly. "I hope to find Excalibur, and become a knight. As I was saying, however... the forces of darkness rarely attack directly. Rather, evil comes as a shadow in the light of a blessing. A guide to the ways of the dark is a blessing. This rune... might have been the shadow cast in the corner."
"The information didn't seem aimed at guarding against them so much as ... a retelling of the battles of the time," Rebecca commented softly, reaching out to take the card. She studied it for a long moment and then looked up at him. "Although to be fair, I was immersed in the book only for a short time before my companions determined that it was 'evil' and that I should no longer be permitted to touch it." Her tone was stiff as she returned his card to him. "One would think if it were as evil as my companions believe, I would have some hint of that nature."
"Whom the lords of disorder hope to bring low, they first make blind. I don't cast aspersions on you, I mean simply that you might very well be affected by the magic in a unique way," he said. "It could be the case that part of its magic is to make you unaware of its very nature."
Rebecca had no way to refute that; to argue would only make him certain they were right. "How would I go about determining if such were the case?" she asked instead.
Christopher smiled gently. "I realize I am asking you to trust me, rather then trust your own senses. For that, we would need to establish trust beyond being both the accidental guests of the strange wedding party." Dropping to one knee, Christopher took Rebecca's hand in his. "I pledge you this troth. Before you expose the questionable rune in question, set me a quest to prove my worth; I ask only that you give me your token to prove our bond. If I prove myself then allow me to use myskills to test this possible shadow over your soul."
Her eyes went rather wide at the movement to his knees. That's awfully bold of him! And terribly ... chivalrous. Rebecca blushed and covered a faint smile with her fingertips, her lashes fluttering down to cover her eyes. "You speak very flowery words, especially for a minister of the Church. I confess I'm not entirely sure how to take that."
Christopher stood, and brushed his pant legs, his head bowed. "Excuse me, ma'am. That was most forward. You are correct, of course. I forget myself. Not everyone is as besotted with the chivalric tales of knights' trails of honor." He smiled. "Then perhaps we can merely consider it a test. Before trusting my judgement about the nature of your rune, allow me to establish my trustiness and worthiness."
"I didn't say it offended me. Just that I wasn't certain how to respond," Rebecca commented softly, looking at him from beneath her lashes. She didn't want to seem overly forward, but ... he was intriguing. "I don't believe it would require a task to trust you," she admitted. She wasn't precisely an overly suspicious woman by nature. "I've already used the rune twice. Showing you would not cause me any discomfort." It was... a bit of a lie. Surely she wouldn't go to hell for such a small falsehood. It was causing her great distress to think of exposing the rune to this man, though she had no idea why it should. Which was exactly the reason she was willing.
Slipping the charm bracelet from her wrist, Rebecca offered the rune in question.
Christopher reached for his jacket's inner pocket again, and pulled out a yellowed with age lace handkerchief, the dark stain of old blood visible. He carefully grasped the small rune carefully. From his valise, he pulled out a wax-covered human hand, the nails long and twisted. He set the Hand of Glory on the table between the two chairs, and smiled at the eldren lady. "Could you please light the hand? Grisly, I know, but demonology is never pretty, although it can be very revealing."
Rebecca's eyes went wider still. She looked up at him and determined aloud, "*That* is disgusting. And for heaven's sake why does Alexi think a man studying demonology is going to have this answer?" The last was a mutter, but she did what he asked. It was beyond gross, and she used her handkerchief to avoid touching anything.
Christopher blushed, his face as reddish as his hair. "I apologize for the accoutrements, but if we wish to compel answers from demons, we must have protection." The hand burned and smoked, the odor just as foul as might be imagined. The smoke thickened in the palm, and coalesced into a tiny, red, horned man.
"You've bought two questions, the answers to my pleasing, sinner!" cried the tiny imp in a high pitched voice.
Alarm colored her features, and Rebecca stared at what the young priest conjured. She clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from saying anything.
With a sterness not previously evident, Christopher addressed the imp. "From what providence comes this emblem, cursed soul?" The imp danced on tiny cloven hoofs, and squeeked, "Not from the dark lady, but perhaps her mother? No, more masculine, but not from beyond or beneath pale. Old, hungry, wet and dire; the crafter is none but death's sire."
Rebecca's frown deepened, but she kept her mouth shut. There were several things she wanted to ask clarification on, but this was not her specialty.
"The lady sees no evil in it. Tool or trap, this symbol. Dare not lie to me, foul deciever." The imp sat, his arms wrapped around it's legs as he huddled in the clutching palm of the burning hand. "The dark not for sin, but to keep it's victim from seeing in." The tiny demon reached up, grasping the rigid fingers to pull the fingers tightly into a clenched fist around itself. "I take my leave, but again we will speak, preacher. Guard ye well!"
When the tiny being had vanished, Rebecca grimaced slightly. "It seems that my companions are right," she said very quietly, her chin up. "It appears that I have twice consigned souls, though not entirely innocent, to a place worse than death." She was quite pale, her breath shallow. One hand slipped to her midriff, her movement giving away perhaps the constriction she's feeling in her horror.
Christopher quickly returned the half-burnt hand to his valise, and wrapped the rune tightly in the blood stained lace hanky. "Nothing, absolutely nothing could be further from the truth, my lady." He knelt, his hands raised in prayer. "Lord, please let this kind soul see, may the scales be drawn from her eyes. As always with the wiles of the adversary, guilt has darkened her sight. Let her see that the cause of her concern is the sins of others." He looked up over clutched fists, and smiled warmly. "If you drive a nail in crooked, you don't blame the hammer, not truly. The failure of the carpenter is his own, not the tool."
Rebecca didn't respond to the prayer or his words -- it was too easy to say, not simple to believe. She struggled to pull in a breath, but she'd asked Ilga to tighten her corset laces before they arrived for this wedding. Her armor was nearly causing her to hyperventilate now.
"My lady, while it is true that one cannot achieve good by evil means, the Lord knows our hearts, and our minds," Christopher explained. "The vic... the ones you used the rune on... who might they have been?"
Lowering herself to her seat, Rebecca gasped. "One.... one was a giant." She glanced at him and said, "The other was attacking my companions. But he was human. My God.... What have I done?"
"Well, a creature of supernatural horror fed upon a supernatural horror? That seems fortuitous irony, rather then mortal sin. As far as the person attacking your group; you knew not, nor did he." He smiled. "Our God knows what you did, and why. He also knows the how of it, and that you were as much victim of the wiles of the adversary as any giant or assualter." Making the sign of the cross, he took on a mock-serious expression. "I absolve you." Cracking a smile, he tilted his head to the side. "I assure you, God forgives you as well. The hard part will be getting you to forgive yourself."
"I can't breathe," Rebecca struggles with the adrenaline surge. She pushes to her feet, struggling to loosen the throat of her blouse. "You must destroy it!" she told him urgently in a breathless voice. "What must be done?"
Christopher was taken aback. Looking around furtively, he saw a pitcher, and quickly poured a goblet of wine for the distressed damsel. "The first step is to calm yourself. The rune will be destroyed, and confidence restored. Calm is the mother of all resolution, however." Handing her the goblet, he grabbed a leaf from one of the decorative plants, and started fanning Rebecca's face. "There is no hope for it, for now you have laid a geas upon me. I know my quest, fair damsel."
The cooler air was most welcome, and Rebecca offered him a slightly embarassed smile. "I'm afraid some things about being female, kind sir, are not as helpful in some instances." She took the wine and sipped it slowly, fighting her corset stays to slow her breathing. "I'm sure destruction of this will not be as simple as destroying any of the others I have used over the years."
Christopher gave a low, courtly bow, then resumed fanning. "No, I fear it will not. I shall always accompany you until together we might find the means." He carefully took the goblet from her, and helped her take her seat again. "Now, for background, would you explain why so many fine English ladies are traveling with a mad Russian?"
Allowing him to take the glass, Rebecca lowered herself back into the seat able to breathe now that her heart has stopped racing. Though her horror had not abated. "I wish I could explain that but I'm afraid I'm something of a newcomer to most of this as well. They only brought me with them a few months ago into Egypt. They asked me to assist in a quest they were on and my knowledge is of that region. But since then... I confess, Mr. Ashmore, I have no idea what we are all still doing together." She sighed. "The two who are ostensibly the leaders of this merry band are off in Yorkshire to welcome their children to the world."
Ashmore tried to smile reassuringly, but his mind was racing, trying to make connections between Yorkshire, Egypt, and Russia that would result in an inpromtu wedding in an infernal contraption in the Welsh backland. "In that case, I was attribute our meeting to the kindness of fate."
"Ffft. Now you sound like Ezekiel," Rebecca snorted rather indelicately. Then she glanced up with an apologetic expression. "I do apologize, Mr. Ashmore. I understand that it is your life's work to serve the Lord, but quite frankly, sir.... I think the Lord, whatever he/she/it/or they are, helps those who help themselves. And Fate is capricious and uncaring at best about putting people in one's way to help them. More usually I think she is a vindictive witch who finds great pleasure in making people as miserable as possible." Because Fate, after all, landed her here with this crazy group.
Christopher laughed out loud, before recovering himself. "You ARE English, after all!" He smiled. "Healthy skepticism is healthy. The Lord has more important things to do, I fear, then make sure his humble servant meets lovely ladies under strange circumstances." He smiled. "I joined the church because I do love and fear God. I also love having a livelihood, and fear the lack of charity my older, inheriting brother exhibits. I only joined the clergy as a result of my military career being cut somewhat short." With a shrug, he smiled. "I have the freedom, until they find some sad parish to inflict me on, to travel with pay, and play at being a knight errant, and search for mythic Avalon and the sword of kings." Shyly lowering his eyes, he said quietly, "Fate can be only so unkind if she provides me the acquaintance of a lady of your quality."
His laughter made her blush madly, and her instinctive movement to pull her fan out and hide behind it was thwarted because her fan was not on her wrist. Where had it gone? She couldn't remember. Rebecca cleared her throat and commented, "You were injured in service to the Crown, then? I am sorry, Mr. Ashmore. Though in truth, perhaps you should be grateful to come home with an injury that curtailed such other activities."
Christopher nodded, and smiled. "Well, I had hopes of retiring as a General. The injury has healed, for the most part, but not in time to convince the board of review to not ask me to surrender my commission." He looked her almost rudely eye to eye. "Life is a compromise. If it was otherwise, what need for heaven?"
"I find studying history to be a far more compelling and enjoyable passtime than making the compromises one must make along life's journey, Mr. Ashmore," Rebecca said quietly with just the barest trace of bitterness, moving to stand. "If you will be remaining aboard, perhaps I should speak to the staff about obtaining quarters for you. Alexei most assuredly did not consider it." Her tone is actually almost amused. "He is little more than a child in a man's body, and capricious as Fate herself so far as I can tell." And she was well rid of the boy to be sure -- she did not envy Evie one little bit. "Perhaps if you do choose to remain with this group -- I warn half of us are likely heading for Bedlam at some point -- it will not be simple. It never is."
Christopher stood, and gave a deep, sweeping bow. "I seek your leave to follow you, my lady, and beseech you for a token, a symbol that I serve you as mistress of my heart, and champion your virtue."
Rebecca blushed again, but she offered him a laugh this time. Her violet eyes on him were perhaps less shy than they could have been, though she still offers him the view from a veil of her thick lashes. "You'll turn a lady's head with so much flattery, Mr. Ashmore. And I assure you... my virtue is mine alone to defend as I choose." It's more than a little bold, and she is a deep rose color across the face and throat. But she reaches up into her hair and untwines one of the deep violet ribbons that had been twisted into her locks to add a hint of gaeity to the proceedings, offering it to him as she worried her lower lip with the edge of her teeth.
Dropping to one knee, Christopher tucked the colorful ribbon into his buttoneer, and bowed his head. "As my lady commands. As to history, I agree that the romance of an earlier age occupies the mind more pleasantly then the affairs of this age of bankers and gun makers." He rose, and stepped backwards to the door. "I look forward to the next audience you grant me, fair damsel. until then, _adieu_."