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Chapter 1

Monday, 20 June 2005

Gus held his peace until the group rounded the corner of the block and entered the bright square. It was a charming scene worthy of an Impressionist painter, several of which were taking full opportunity of the occasion. Closer at hand, several street musicians jammed, entertaining a small crowd, clapping along in rhythm.

Further on, over by the statue of the Hermit Philosopher, several nuns were marshalling long lines of small boys in suits and girls in white dresses for a procession while the parents watched with pride. The stage before the cathedral, used for several dramatic presentations during the weekend, was being prepared for the evening’s concert, as were the bleachers.

The sweetness of the scene was completely wasted on Gus. He stopped dead in his tracks, and erupted angrily, “What the hell, Skip! What did you think you were doing?”

“Saving your life,” his brother drawled. “All of your lives, maybe. I could ask the same thing of you, brother, and you, sis. What the hell was that about?”

“He has a point,” Marcel confirmed. “Charles is not exaggerating: the Endurists are known for ruthlessly defending their privacy. But we could not go in cowboy style, guns blazing, Professor MacLantis. Skip’s ploy was the only way we could safely extract you both without a violent confrontation, and brilliantly so, I must say, though I may never dare show my face there again. You’re lucky you weren’t caught spying on their rites.”

“I wasn’t there to spy; I was looking for Allie and Angelique.”

“We didn’t need rescuing, Gus. We were invited to witness a part of their ceremony, and were having a nice conversation when Skip burst in like a wild man,” Allie said hotly.

“So you didn’t stay for the group grope, then,” Gus said.

“What are you talking about?” she said. “Man, you really are tripping, aren’t you?”

“I wish.” He shook his head, but did not look at either sibling. “I didn’t see everything, Skip, but enough to be damned sure that your new girlfriend Cindi is the Popess of the Endurists. Actually, more like their Great White Bitch Goddess. There’s more: they’re up to genuine kinky business down there, straight out of the Middle Ages or top-shelf porn. And no hallucination, either.”

Angelique gasped. “Not Hélène? I knew there must be someone higher.”

“Yes, afraid so,” Skip said flatly. “How do you think I got you out of there? Cindi told me herself last night, wants me to join; some crazy prophecy. I told you Nigel didn’t tell us the half of it, but you didn’t want to hear it. Fortunately, I was able to talk sense to her to let you go, Gus. But there is a price: your silence is our sole guarantee of safety.”

“Fine, no problem. But Skip’s not the only one who didn’t tell us everything,” Gus said, face reddening. “Angelique? Is that it? Are you one of them too?”

“Augustine, how can you ask that question of me? I thought you knew me better than that,” she answered, bristling. “I told you I am doing significant work for the Church. I can’t say more. You have no right to judge me. In any case, this is no place to talk.”

“You were using me, too?” Allie said. “Your sympathy was to gain admittance to the inner circle so you could spy on them?”

“No, you don’t understand, Alix. I tried to dissuade you, remember?”

“Just tell me, are you an Endurist or not?” Gus demanded while Skip said, “Hey sis, lest we forget, if you hadn’t run out, none of this would have happened.”

Marcel whirled around and blew a sharp blast through his fingers. “Enough, all of you!” he said sharply. People around the plaza stopped and looked as it echoed.

Taking a deep breath, he said in a low, severe voice, “Now listen to me, I shall say this just once: Mademoiselle Montcélance is correct. This is certainly not the arena to discuss these things. Obviously, you have issues. I suggest you go to your hotel and straighten them out. Oh, and get a bit of rest, too. Tomorrow is sure to be a very long day.”

Nobody said anything.

“Good, I bid you adieu for now. With the Endurists aroused by your antics also, I must arrange for even greater security for tonight’s Vigil.” Marcel said. “One prophecy of Tobias is doubtless true: ‘our watch makes the shortest night seem the longest.’ This year, doubly so, I fear.” He bowed, kissing Allie’s hand. “Until later, please keep them out of trouble.”

Gus turned towards Angelique, but she shouldered her bag, and backed away. Tears shone in her eyes along with indignation. “No, I won’t go with you, Augustine. After the Vigil tonight, I’ll return home to Maureven where I’m needed.”

“Angel, honey, I just want to know what’s going on,” Gus began, starting forward.

“No, beloved, you either believe or you don’t,” she said backing away. “In me, also. You have things to do, and I likewise, important things. Goodbye, Augustine.” She turned and fled towards the cathedral, crying.

The march across the esplanade past the church towards the hotel through the happy holiday crowds was silent and grim.



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“The secret societies which rose above Bellegarde squabbling over the remains of the Holy Tub
have created a miasma which suffocated France.
God help the world if they should ever truly unite.”

– Jean-Baptiste Beauregarde,
Betrayers of the Red Cap, 1839

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