Genre : Fantastic short story
Theme : The Faceless
Subtheme : The Court of Miracles
Time : XVIIeÂ century
Â "Are you lost, gentlemen? Only leprosy's awaiting you at the end of this alley..."
Â Â Hollow words. A bushy beard. A beer-rounded belly. The look of a madman whose unshakable will struck you with the power of truth. We knew perfectly well that leprosy, among other things, was both a pretext and a defense against intrusions. What we did not know yet, though, was that these words were meant to protect us and give us a good excuse to get away.
Â Â We had instructions, weapons, prerogatives: we represented the law. The beautiful and naive armed force of Parisian justice! What could he had done, alone, disarmed, and without authority, against us? We still had no idea what to expect, we would never know exactly what he did to us and how he did it.
Â "Step aside and go your way!" I summoned him, raising my voice.
Â "This goes without saying, chief, just show me the way."
Â Â The individual advanced a few steps; my heart was racing like mad. We aimed at him after uttering a final warning; he adopted a grotesque posture of defense: one of our men immediately fired...
Â Â When we woke up, naked and huddled together like worms, a deep sense of disgust took us by the guts. Where were we? In the depths of a stinking impasse... What had happened? No idea... Why were we in this state and why did we had so much pain in the skull, in the jaw? What had we drunk...
Â Â Confusion. Humiliation. Helplessness. Some screamed with spite or misunderstanding when they had woke up. Rage sometimes, but no anger; it takes a special kind of energy to feel angry: we were perfectly deprived of it at that moment.
Â Â Twenty-five police officers and a commissioner routed in the exercise of their duties... and we had not even started the intervention for which we were really mandated: cleaning the Rue du Caire of all the outlaws that it sheltered. And that was a hell of a lot of crooks, thieves and beggars of all kinds, without faith or law, ready to defend their territory dearly. Before even coming, we had expected a confrontation; at the end, we got nothing but a sneering message that stuck in us: "We are untouchable, go your way."
Â Â I noticed then that one of my men had not got up. His lifeless body had been abandoned in the midst of ours.
Â "Yves !"
Â "Give upâ€¦ he's nowhere to be find."
Â "And that one then? Who is it?"
Â "Commissioner! The stiff, he's not one of us..."
Â Â By turning him on his back and scrutinizing his worn face, I realized that it was the individual who had back then interposed to block us. This corpse was part of the message, I was certain of that! However, I did not know in what it was supposed to warn us; if not by some obscure law of silence...
Â Â I did not know anything.
Â Â This entity around me seemed to be something extravagant. Its name had slipped from me and I suddenly found myself unable to pronounce it, write it or understand it.
Â Â The moment was over. For how long ? Little by little, everything was losing its meaning around me. In recent years, the crises had started to get closer. I lost the notion of time, quantities, and sometimes, like today, I lost even the primary notions themselves. I slept too much or did not sleep. I ate too much or did not eat. I forgot or lost all understanding of my environment.
Â Â Fortunately, it did not last and left no aftermath. Not yet at least. I still had a few more years before the weight of old age completely destroyed my mind. To be slightly more accurate, in the absence of a traumatic event, I had three years to live. So little, so little time, that I almost felt a shiver run down my spine, pulling me forward; it was the first time that I indulged in such a calculation and I felt a certain vanity in its realization.
Â Â After quickly determining how many days and hours I had left, I tucked them away with the number of years in a retreat of my mind, then developed an alarm device that would warn me three days earlier. Finally, I reorganized my thoughts in order of gravity and proximity. My body was the very first priority. My nerves did not hold in place, they rebelled, as if they wanted to escape or ignite. My brain was pitifully soft, as often when I was confronted with individuals whose intellect and will were so limited. The only thing that mattered was to find calm, to plunge my nervous system into a bath of serenity and apathy.
Â Â Sitting cross-legged in the middle of a hill, I inhaled deeply, holding the air a few seconds in my lungs, then released the pressure. My hands performed slow aerial ballets, like a conductor trying to tame the wind harmonics and rustling cereal fields. The weak rays of the sun hit all around me, with ever less power. The human body is very capricious, but not very complex; mine was already beginning to understand, to be rocked with inertia. Still some effort and it would be nothing more than a mass of malleable flesh...
Â Â Greasy laughter, hypocritical words and an energetic voice brought my body out of its torpor. I exhaled gently and opened my eyes. Suddenly, the voices changed tone and tinged with unrestrained aggression. Slowly, I got up, took a deep breath and crossed my arms.
Â Â In the meadow below, a shepherdess looking like a savage kept away five young men with her staff. Firmly encamped on these two legs, wielding her stick like an infantryman would do with a spear, she stood ready to strike. Turning around her like wolves, the rascals were making fun of her and provoking her in an obscene way. They wanted only one thing and would not give up until they tried; they were arrogant and sure of themselves: one of them sprang out with arms wide open, ready to catch his prey by the waist in order to immobilize her on the ground. The shepherdess' staff fell on his head violently and killed him instantly. It was a nervous blow, carried by fear and without any control; the wood and the bone had cracked in concert.
Â Â The thugs retreated a few steps. At first, their dilated pupils failed to detach themselves from the corpse of their companion. Then, red and blind anger rose in their voices as they vociferated after the murderer. Without losing countenance, she kept her defensive posture, her gaze focused on the four remaining men. Sweat dripped on her cheeks and neck; she was not aware of what she had done, she did not even dare look at her victim.
Â Â Tension and aggressiveness went up into the atmosphere to the breaking point. Two of the rascals threw themselves on her at the same time, protecting their heads from their forearms. She struck with all her strength on many occasions, one of her attackers collapsed, wounded; the other hit her and rolled on the ground with her. The other two thugs then plunged into the fray, trying to immobilize the shepherdess while she lacerated her opponents with punches, attempting to strangle them and put out their eyes.
Â Â Cries of wounded beasts did not delay to resound in the meadow, definitely driving away the flock of sheep. Hair soaked with blood and the leg broken, the woman managed to get free and recover her stick. With the energy of a fury, she smashed the knees of one of the young men who vainly tried to get up, snapping her staff at the same time. Panicked, one of the rascals took to his heels, stumbling and staggering so much his body was exhausted. The last assailant still standing rushed on her enraging, impaling himself stupidly on the pointed end of the stick...
Â Â I closed my eyes for a moment only, an intense suffering running through all of my nerves. When I opened my eyes, the woman had stepped back, the man had then torn off the staff from his chest and in a last outburst of madness struck by three times. This time, the shepherdess had not defended herself, she collapsed out of strength while the man, after a bloody gasp, give way too and began to tremble spasmodically.
Â Â Now they were dying; and I felt like I was too. This boundless brutality, devoid of any meaning, had always disgusted me; yet I could not help but admire the special beauty of these ephemeral lives that burn with vivacity, just the time of a burst of light, like fireflies. Thousands of years had passed, but my state of mind was not altered; and humanity did not change either.
Â Â The man fatally wounded in the chest gave his final sigh. The one who had his knees broken was still breathing, but barely. As for the woman, she seemed to sleep peacefully on her side, her hand propped up under her cheek. Her face and clothes were daubed with blood, her hands and forearms covered with wounds were dark red, her neck and stomach were bleeding...
Â Â Aside from the one who had fled, this dying man and woman were the only survivors. Without a doubt, their hours were counted and they would spend them in suffering. In vain, my revolted mind sought a meaning for this massacre; but, obviously, it escaped me: I was already too old...
Â "Ah ah ah ! Three o' spades and no more pants?"
Â Â Gerald burst out laughing and tapped on the table with the exuberance of a drunkard, but the strength of the soldier he had once been. His playfulness had contaminated the assembly around him; significantly amplifying the general hubbub that reigned in the saloon.
Â "So what ?" he asked with a thunder voice. "He went out?"
Â "By running why!" the student chuckled. "He was much too fond of his shoes!"
Â "The three o' spades!" the old soldier taunted. "Twit! for sure he would not let you rob him..."
Â "No time, he went off as I said... "
Â Â With a look as suspicious as sharp, Gerald looked at the young man with all the seriousness he was capable of, then redoubled hilarity. His laugh was a strange alchemy of bestial instinct and crystalline purity; the indescribable miracle of joy. For a long time now, students and other local fanatics had become accustomed to his eccentric presence. However, if they had accepted Gerald as an incomprehensible phenomenon in their own right, they continued to marvel and be astonished.
Â "You made her pockets that's it! The pants, the three o' spades: it was just a trick! Pretty clever I must admit, but very convoluted..."
Â "Surely," the student confirmed with a sufficient air by adjusting his blouse. "We are no amateurs, words are like magic tricks: beautiful illusions..."
Â "Repack yer beautiful science, archissupot o' nothing!" retorted the old Martin.
Â Â That day, the fifties was in a good mood. Which, given the swarming mass of muscles that held his body, was undoubtedly a positive point for his interlocutors. Nevertheless, the temperament of old Martin would always remain that of an inveterate grumbler who could not stand the pedantic tone of academics.
Â "Yer not going to make a field day with what I saw," he lectured them. "Start by learning from the elders, it's not in your schools that life is learned!"
Â "Life! O good life my friend!" another student intervened with eloquent movements. "You speak of larceny, of raiding, what am I saying? extortion! And how then would you have relieve them from their good? Teach us, O great sage!"
Â "Hey hey, well!" threw the old man with irony. "Just ask the gentleman nicely... huh? You'll do that next time my little one and you'll see the efficacy!"
Â "So begging it is? Sorry we don't work the same way you and me."
Â "Phew! Hold yer tongue y'all. No matter the words, the titles, yer in the same boat! Think yer better perhaps? What pride, kid..."
Â Â With a friendly slap in the back of the quarrelsome, backed by a few mockery, Gerald diverted the attention of old Martin and thus contained a potential fight. No conversation was innocuous at Bousin Royal's saloon. Bragging, teasing, insulting and punching were the preferred means of expression. Everyone saved appearances behind screens of verbal or physical violence; according to the nature and the predispositions of each one.
Â "Ah! Sir Gerald and his plains bison voice!" insisted the student with emphasis. "Destroyer of the eternal vicious circle that the rage of the poor feeds! The savior of the low people and ..."
Â Â He suddenly collapsed on the table, knocked out by a punch from Gerald himself. Old Martin's grimace changed to a hyena smile.
Â "Sleep well medic!" added Gerald, rubbing his fist. "Better hold your tongue if you only spit nonsense."
Â "Chatting, chatting without knowing; without knowing why! Well... I was not thinking of seeing you there, you know, playing the monkey among the other scoundrels."
Â Â Gerald's bluish glance fell into his comrade's, as he meditated calmly on his answer. Lie or truth? Eternal dilemma that always tore a pensive pout. Slouched on the table, Gerald smiled slightly and replied:
Â "Oh! I was thirsty and... you're at least right on two points: am but a monkey doubled with a rascal. What's more normal than mingling with my peers? Besides, you're there too ah ah ah!"
Â "You blackguard of a soldier, no serious! Eh eh!"
Â Â The muscle mountain sighed and stood up. Gerald waited a moment and followed suit. Once outside, they both stood aside and began to whisper.
Â "Will ye come tonight?"
Â "Hum? Another meeting then?" Gerald guessed.
Â "Ye did not know? How's that another? Are ye kidding me, the last one goes back to last month..."
Â "Exactly, one meeting a month is way too much considering what's happening there."
Â "Everyone expects to see ye, ye know..."
Â "Oh? Am I so loved! Ah ah ah, I can not wait to see their heads again!
Â "Will ye come, then?"
Â "Obviously, from what I understand... or what I thought I heard, it may well be that we finally have something interesting to say this time."
Â "Yeah, the story of Caire ye mean; it's only the beginning everyone thinks... Times change!"
Â "Ha, as they have always done! But I feel that it will be fun! Replay to be great people, to make decisions, in secret or almost... To give ourselves important airs! The whole beautiful courtyard will be reunited after all."
Â "Oh give it a restâ€¦"
Â "Well, I'll put on a long scarf, I'll take heavy steps and have this serious face. To hell with the soldier's uniform; I'd seem to tumble out of nowhere: like a beggar!"
Â Â The old colossus paused, staring into space as if listening to the wind attentively. Finally, he continued, sighing wearily:
Â "Listen ... I know how ye feel, but today no question of closing ma mouth. If all goes into a spin and the others ravel completely, ye call them to order; I'll support ye, trust me."
Â "Like the other time you mean? Sorry butâ€¦"
Â "Ye can trust me this time! I'll tell you... I've stumbled a good deal in the past and am sorry to have let ya go in the important moments; but whatever happens now, ye can count on my support."
Â "Even if am wrong?"
Â Â Old Martin grimaced and grumbled under his breath. Wrong? Gerald was certainly disillusioned, but he had always had clear ideas.
Â Â The grass had not changed since the last time; but the man with the broken knees was dead. Since that atrocious day, the sheep had left the meadow and calm had settled. However, I still perceived the beating heart of the shepherdess; a shiver ran through my nerves. Her wounds had stopped bleeding and I guessed at the grass torn all around her that she had found a way to feed herself. Decidedly, this woman possessed a remarkable survival instinct; a force that unfortunately was dying little by little...
Â Â The burning sensation behind my eyes and the vise that was compressing my chest finally persuaded me to leave her to her pain and leave. She was doomed...
Â Â As the brightness declined, the streets emptied themselves of onlookers and filled with patrols. Since no one was supposed to be ignorant of the law, no one was to be outside after eight o'clock: thus the curfew of the lieutenant general of police was imposed.
Â "De la Reynie," the wind was rustling.
Â "De la Reynie ? De la Reynie !" the whispers were gradually flaring up.
Â "De la Reynie wants our loss..."
Â Â The name of the lieutenant was on everyone's lips and reverberated in the most wicked streets of Paris. Beggars, thieves and crooks came out of their usual torpor to plots... Their frightening figure slipped from one porch to another, fleeing the lanterns of the police and silently sheltering in dark recesses. Gradually, the shadows met again, assembled in small black masses and approached the Villa du Neuf de TrÃ¨fle.
Â Â This home was abandoned for five years and was the subject of many stories more bloody than the others. The people fled from this place as if it were struck by the plague, the nobility had abandoned the idea of seizing it, the soldiers themselves never came back alive... And if some coterie did everything to ensure that no one approached the Villa du Neuf de TrÃ¨fle, it was because it constituted the ninth most important Court of the Miracles of France. Paradoxically, it was also the most desert and the most secret of all... Ears among the most informed considered its very existence was a myth; the same way they did not believe in ghosts.
Â Â Far from being a spirit, Jeffrey was extremely real. With an energetic step, he roamed the gardens surrounding the property and rushed on the slightest suspicious shadow. The white shroud in which he draped gave him the appearance of a specter and made it possible to identify him in an instant. Jeffrey knew all the faces he needed to know; if yours was not part of this rigorous list, he would eliminated you without concession. When he scrutinized you with his shining eyes, you did not know if you had to laugh or take to one's heels: for if Jeffrey was then only thirteen, the way he handled his steel dagger was enough to make Martin's vigorous spine shudder.
Â "The well. Jump in and feel one's way. Beware of traps."
Â Â Old Martin sniffed and walked to the well without even looking at the child. In reality, the Villa du Neuf de TrÃ¨fleÂ included no less than fifteen accesses. Jeffrey's last sentence alluded to the pitfalls that were found at each of these entrances in order to convict them. At each new meeting, one access was released to serve as an entrance. This month was the well... The fifties sat down on the stone ledge, sighed briefly, and descended to the bottom of the pit by the rope ladder. Following the torches hung on the walls at regular intervals, he went through the underground gutters and came out into an immense, brightly lit room.
Â Â His arrival was punctuated by a few whistles and other ironic sneers, hailing his status as a newcomer. Annoyed, the old colossus grunted and went to sit at his table beside Giselle and little Albert. A man, a woman and a child: this was the archetype of a ruling family. They were families composed of the best elements of each sex and age group; though no relationship related them. That evening, the Villa du Neuf de TrÃ¨fle was home to twelve families. Each of them administered and represented a court of miracles, here in Paris or elsewhere in France.
Â "So ?" growled old Martin, raising his voice. "Everyone's here now! Let's start..."
Â Â Some taunts flared up, a young man got up and climbed onto his table, threw away his arms in a theatrical manner.
Â "Ladies, children and gentlemen, you are together on this night of conspiracy because Louis XIV, our venerated and illuminated suzerain, wants to put an end to the courts of miracles!"
Â "What a rascal!"
Â "Eh, by what right?"
Â "Ah? He knows us then..."
Â "Unfortunate man!"
Â "To that end," continued the speaker, "de la Reynie was appointed Lieutenant General of Police and was instructed to put us all behind bars."
Â "Well well! He's got hopes, to say the least..."
Â "What optimism!"
Â "Lieutâ€¦ what? What's this marrow knot's title?"
Â "But euhâ€¦ will there be enough room in their prisons already?"
Â "That's not the question, bastards!" intervened old Martin, tapping on his table to bring back the silence. "If Louis decided to eliminate us, he will find a way; it's the king after all."
Â "In addition to prisons you can count on the guillotine, the hanging and a whole bunch of happy ways to get rid of us. Why not the galleys? It's not the ideas that are lacking in the king's court..."
Â "Now we'll have to find some ourselves: I propose, for my part, that we tackle directly the source of the problem! If this de la Reynie disappeared, the actions of the police would probably be stopped."
Â "That would only hasten our end," retorted GÃ©rald playing with his colorful scarf. "De la Reynie is only a name, a puppet: Louis XIV will have it replaced immediately and drastic measures will be taken."
Â "Hum, and would there be no way to bribe him, this so-called lieutenant? To find a way so that he does not do his job properly or that he can cover us..."
Â "Corrupte huh? And with what money I ask you!" said a girl from Boulogne very close to her sous. "In addition, I am advised that a refusal would be too fatal. If we must take action: make sure that they are radical enough so that the problem can not be rectified."
Â "Absolutely, especially since it would be an error of judgment to pick on de la Reynie, I think. It's the head that must be attacked: it is therefore Louis which must be dealt with..."
Â Â This prospect heated many minds, the voices rose in this direction until a laugh exploded and put an end to the agitation by the ridiculousness of its exaggeration.
Â "That poor little Louis!" laughed Gerald. "He who wants only the good of his people, who wants to make Paris a civilized city... hem hem! If it's about an assassination you're plotting, whether it's Louis or de la Reynie, it's a martyr you'll get! And when someone takes their place, when the nobles and bourgeois will cry for vengeance: we'll be in the front line."
Â Â A movement of hesitation passed through the assembly. Everyone sat back in his place, shutting himself in his thoughts or whispering with their table. Emerging from her filthy hairy mane, an old woman stood up slowly and sat on the edge of her table.
Â "And... a coup d'etat that my dear ladies? Does this speak to you, a coup?
Â "Murder all the court of France, then?" summed up little Albert. "It would be the same... you did not listen you unbeliever!"
Â "No no, kid!" retorted the old woman scornfully. "I'm talking about subverting the current power in a subtle way... without getting involved directly! To find an ambitious nobleman, a depraved man full of spite, who would like poor Louis's place. Arrange to give him the opportunity to plot against the king, provide him with soldiers, introduce him and wait for him to do his work."
Â "Soldiers? Corrupt the army now? Better and betterâ€¦"
Â "Mordiable! Certainly not ! Do not we count hundreds of drilles among us? Let them be washed, combed, put on their own soldier's tunic and they will do the job perfectly. The hardest thing in this story will be to approach and deceive the noble; if we find one that fits. But with such coverage, even if the coup failed, it would be possible to kill Louis XIV in the wake, without it falling on us..."
Â "This is an ingenious plan!"
Â "Finally people who think..."
Â "This old woman has brains, that's for sure!" exclaimed Gerald, laughing. "I admit that the idea's gracious and very tempting; there'll probably be no brighter of the evening but: there's a blackhead that annoys me a lot."
Â "Flap-joy! Keep hiding in the depths of a tavern if you don't dare!"
Â "Let him speak drunkard!" old Martin reacts. "Some of us are trying to use their brains here..."
Â "Pure common sense: you want little Louis to give up his place, and who's next? Are we not pushing away a demon and replacing him with a devil? In other words, will this noble upstart be able to turn things around and prove to be a better ruler than Louis XIV..."
Â "We will never know if we do not try... Do you have another solution, Gerald?"
Â "What I know, me GÃ©rald as you say, is that I'm not ready to endanger the kingdom of France to save our courts of miracles..."
Â "Especially since this noble could very well turn against us afterwards!" added old Martin in a tone that did not admit any reply. "Nothing tells us that he will not continue the work of Louis XIV..."
Â "So, we only have one solution left..."
Â Â Sigmund, the dean of the assembly, finally agreed to speak, now that all the options were exhausted and the families had taken the time to think about the matter. All the whispers went out instantly and the ears tensed in his direction.
Â "Let us appeal to Dimitrius... His abilities will allow him to take possession of Louis XIV, to become Louis XIV. Nobody will know anything except us; only the personality of the king will have changed..."
Â "Dimitrius then?" thought Gerald. "Our joker: it is always towards him that we turn when something goes wrong."
Â "Everything seems so simple at once!" growled old Martin. "Too simple, where is the catch?"
Â "Take possession of the king? What is this fantasy?"
Â "To disguise himself in Louis XIV, which he means? As a theater actor?"
Â "What are you talking about, Dimitrius' just a tale, is it not?"
Â Â The atmosphere rustled with whispers and bursts of voice. The mere thought of a being such as Dimitrius was stirring all minds. Apart from Sigmund, who was the intermediary between the court of miracles and Dimitrius, no one really believed in his existence. For old men like GÃ©rald or Martin, who had been able to see his efficiency beforehand, Dimitrius was only a resourceful man, endowed with great skill and undeniable know-how.
Â "Could Dimitrius really settle this?"
Â "In fact, he would become sovereign in his turn? Can we trust him?"
Â "Sigmund!" asked Gerald. "Perhaps it would be time for you to explain who Dimitrius really is?"
Â Â At the moment when Sigmund was about to open his mouth, a deep voice reverberated all the walls of the hall equally; powerful enough to cover the ambient hubbub, clear enough to leave no doubt about its meaning.
Â "I am a Faceless."
Â Â Brutally, silence fell in the room and everything seemed to stop. With a powerful gait, a man stepped between the tables of the different families and stopped at the exact center of the room. His presence was soothing and disturbing all at once. It was as if he did not belong in this world, but the whole world revolved around him. With Dimitrius, there was no need to speak orally; he read in your mind, he knew your name and answered instantly, without saying a word.
Â "I am a thought, a contagious idea; like a parasite. I do not have a body; what you perceive at this very moment: it is the corpse of a soldier whom I have invested with my essence. I have joined you with compassion and I have been helping you now for centuries. I formed the very first Court of Miracles to destroy the despair and loneliness of those whom society rejected..."
Â Â Little by little, gleams of understanding made their way into the spirits; the silence as for him remained of marble. The influence that Dimitrius exerted on his audience was at once a dream and a trance; a trip where your body stays awake while your mind strives to learn.
Â "Today, I realize that our underground kingdom can not help but disappear."
Â "Balivernes!" exclaimed old Martin, coming out of his torpor. "Getting out of nowhere like that to sway such nonsense..."
Â "For once, I quite agree with you," said Gerald. "Coming from a founder, these words are far too pessimistic! In any case, there is no question of giving up even one of our courts..."
Â "Unfortunately," said Dimitrius, "it is a fatality against which you can not fight indefinitely. I understand your resistance, I recognize your will and I do not intend to oppose mine; however, I conjure you to take the time to think about this: if you fight now, you will get nothing but a reprieve and countless deaths... So, I propose you to anticipate the future by dissolving all the courts of miracles by ourselves."
Â Â On the verge of tears, trembling with confusion, a hysterical man stood up, swearing and shouting that the Faceless wanted to precipitate their fall, insulting him alternatelyÂ as a collaborator and a traitor without taking a breath. Old Martin tried in vain to calm him down and finally had to knock himself out, with a heavy heart. Everyone was having the same pain, but it was not the time to let go.
Â "I... I think I understand your reasoning, began Gerald in a weak voice. However, we can not give up like that, at the slightest presentiment... Where do you get such assurance, such conviction? You speak of fatality as if you could read the future... another hidden gift?"
Â "No, that's not part of my prerogatives. Sim... simply, I have... f..."
Â Â Suddenly, emptiness. Impossible to reach his memory, to appeal to the slightest argument: all things around the Faceless were gradually stripped from their meaning. Gathering what was left from his conscience, Dimitrius had just enough time to apologize and take his leave in the greatest haste. From one second to the next, the twelve leading families found themselves left on their own, plunged in the utter astonishment. More and more questions began to be heard at all the tables; they remained unanswered and Gerald had to get a grip on himself to intervene.
Â "Dimitrius can't predict the future, not much than any of us. Thousands of men and women rely on us and need the courts of miracles just as much as we do. Whether the Faceless is right or not, it is not yet time for us to disappear: today we must think strategy and fight to save what we have built!"
Â "Let's do as we always did!" proposed old Martin. "Let's remain discreet, move quickly, be cunning... and jostle those who get in our way!"
Â Â These few inspired words were like a liberation for everyone. In one movement, the assembly rose and acclaimed the decision of the two men. Sighs of relief and laughter marked the end of the hesitations and closed the meeting. Everyone now knew what to expect; even if it was finally to fight teeth and nails. In a few moments, the wine and the meat were on the tables and the Villa du Neuf de TrÃ¨fle then began its nocturnal feast. All the warnings had already been forgotten; the wisdom of Dimitrius was no more than a gloomy shadow that the drunkenness of one evening had shamelessly driven away.
Â Â Escape the city. Find the atmosphere of the countryside, its natural tranquility. Where to go? I had no idea and it did not even seem to me to require any thought. I needed to walk, alone; to meditate on my failure.
Â Â That night, my mind had gone astray; choosing the worst moment. All the elements in my field of vision seemed fragmented to me, superimposed, or sometimes not even visible. So I ran into a lot of trees, stumbled over stones, cut down on all sorts of bushes... It was as if they had no existence until the moment my body was forced to encounter them.
Â Â After a few miles, my feet stopped and I lay down in the grass. How much longer would it be before another meeting of this magnitude was convened? Without my intervention, I knew full well that human obstinacy would lead the court of miracles to their destruction.
Â Â Below, a woman was lying in the middle of the meadow; she was dying. Something contracted in me, a flash of lucidity crossed my essence: I knew this woman... Without even realizing it, I went back to her; as I had done regularly for three days already. Her heart and breathing had weakened, but her soul remained strong: I could feel it. Without losing another moment, I approached and sat cross-legged next to her. To my surprise, she looked up and turned her eyes to me.
Â "You again..."
Â "Hum, again you say? So the helpless watchman was also being watched..."
Â "Since all this time, you never approached... What exactly do you want?"
Â Â Presumably, speaking required a considerable effort, and I felt a terrible gnarl at the bottom of her voice.
Â "Until now, I did not know why. However, I just realized that I was waiting for the right moment, that I was waiting to know."
Â "End my misery..."
Â "Sorry, taking a life is not possible for me."
Â "It's not? Then help me, if it's still feasible..."
Â "There might still be something I can do for you, but I... I do not have the right."
Â "Devil's blood! Why is that? Because am only a shepherdess, that I'm not worth it? I..."
Â Â Strange oath; nevertheless, the aggressiveness with which it was pronounced made me cold in the back.
Â "Because you are unique, Salamandine. To help you now would be to change large parts of the future irreversibly."
Â Â The silence followed, she kept looking me in the eyes and I dared not look away. These pupils shone with a glow which I knew well; she seemed more alive than ever. Yet, her voice became weaker and weaker.
Â "You have an unearthed face; as if you had not slept for ages, as if you were going to die from one moment to another... if you can't do anything for me, tell me what I can do for you? I will do according to my means..."
Â Â At that exact moment, I realized that she was no longer quite human. The violence and rage that animated her had evaporated, she had only a few minutes left to live. So I took her head on my lap and whispered in the middle of her ear:
Â "No one came to take your defense when you were fighting. No one came to your rescue while you were dying. Now, you are on the verge of death with the only person in the world who has the power to save you without having the right to, and you would sacrifice your last moments to listen and help as much as you can... Surely, you are one of the missing alphas to humanity: thus, I ask you to help me to fulfill my last wishes. Accept to receive my curse and welcome my gift into your very core: under the umbrella of your combined volition and purity, you will lead those who have gone astray and whom society has rejected. In return, I will get rid of your mortality; the most primary sufferings will become foreign to you: your soul itself will be healed of all its wilts."
Â Â Affixing the palm of my hand to Salamandine's forehead, I preciously enveloped her soul in a sphere of light. All my knowledge was gathered in this light, a hundred centuries of knowledge and thousands of lives that were about to leave me permanently to impregnate the essence of Salamandine. As soon as she agrees to be let in by my light, my mind will gradually disintegrate while hers awake and become immortal. Soon, this borrowed body that I had appropriated would be nothing more than an empty shell in which it could in turn take shelter. My last words and my last thought were for her:
Â "Forge the world by the magnificence of your spirit and envelop it with all your Love ; for, now, you are a Faceless."
Â Â For the first time in three days, I stood up. My new body was stronger than the old one and much better; besides, he was already docile and obeyed the least of my thoughts. From woman, I had become a man; it made no difference and I knew that I would change my fleshly envelope again and again before my mind faded, as Dimitrius had done. Clinging to my essence, the plots of his knowledge inspired me and showed me the way; his infinite compassion rocked my senses.
Â Â I began to walk slowly, exploring the infinite flexibility of my mind; opening an enlightened eye on the world around me. The sun's rays were just beginning to pierce the Parisian horizon, seeming to announce a new dawn for all. In the heart of the Villa du Neuf de TrÃ¨fle, men and women were still sleeping and waiting without knowing that someone would guide them. I was on my way...