A Meal Worth Remembering?

Was there ever a lesson that Eglantine paid such close heed to, before? If there was, they can’t think of it now. Whatever else he is, Passionario is, as he says, one of the best, and there is a kind of knowledge in his words that Eglantine could strive for years without attaining in other ways. Eglantine is rapt, and makes no attempt to hide it, leaning forward, eyes bright with interest.

This is a man who made just one mistake. Just one, in all that time. The scope of his successes is frightening enough, and the consequences of failure, even for the best, are chilling.

Eglantine’s expression transforms into open shock for a moment at the revelation offered, and they stare wordlessly at Passionario. Secrets that could unmake nations. And he has all of them back.

They suspect that Passionario has been waiting a while to be able to deliver that news to someone who would appreciate its import; few things are as gratifying sometimes as a chance to really show off, in front of a suitable audience.

&quotInfinite power, you say. I’m minded to agree.&quot They laugh shakily. &quotThat is… astounding.&quot

(( Now is the time for panic. Holy crap, Passionario, that’s a twist and a half. ))

&quotDuring our last face-to-face meeeting, Elias exposed me to a particularly twisted and tormented soul. He wanted to teach me a lesson, you see.&quot He sighs. &quotIn one way, it worked. In another, it backfired spectacularly. As a result of that experiment, I got my eyes back… and my memories. All of them.&quot

&quotNames and operations. Codewords and safehouses. Alliances and betrayals. Bribes and seductions. All the plots, all the details that have ever been confessed to me - and the ones that I have confessed myself - became like an open book to me. In that one instant, I became the most dangerous man in the most dangerous Game.&quot

He takes a deliberately slow sip, allowing Eglantine’s imagination to paint a picture of the treasure troves of knowledge.

&quotA visionary person could have used this knowledge to grant the power of his choice dominion over Europe and beyond. An avaricious person could have, through rumourmongering and blackmail, become wealthy enough to rival the Masters of the Bazaar themselves. An ambitious one could use it to achieve unparalleled authority within London, becoming the Head of the Bazaar.&quot

He delicately places the glass back on the table. A trickster’s smile plays on his lips:

&quotAh, but you see, I am none of these things. Not anymore. So I’ve put those secrets to a very different purpose.&quot

He leans forward. &quotOver the last several weeks, I’ve carried out a systematic campaign of sabotage against the seven major intelligence networks operating in London, both personally and through dupes who believed they were following official orders from their superiors. Through judicious use of murder, arson, information leaks and brainwashing, I’ve unleashed a great deal of chaos within the Game… yet this is merely a prelude to what is to come.&quot

&quotI’ve been careful enough to leave enough evidence of the truth: that these attacks could have only been carried out with the aid of a rogue Midnighter. Once everyone involved puts the pieces together and realizes that St. Joshua is just as false as Cerise or Erzulie, the pact of trust will be irrevocably broken.&quot He grins impishly. &quotTo speed the matters along, I’ve desecrated a number of shrines of my fellow Canons, plastering dirty secrets on their walls for all to see.&quot

&quotYou see, the flaw in the Cheesemonger’s plan was her assumption that the Game is a reservoir of blood. She thought that if she could drain it all, then the Game would end. Unfortunately for her, there were pipes pumping fresh lifeblood from the Surface and into the reservoir - much faster than she could empty it. But this system of pipes has a weakness of its own - the pressure safety valves. I am, of course, speaking about Midnighters.&quot

&quotOnce the valves cease to serve their purpose, the pipes will burst from the pressure, splattering everything with blood. The withdrawal of confessional comforts, combined with the stress inflicted by my campaign of terror, will drive the operatives of the Great Game mad, one by one. Deprived of the irrigo blinders, they will see the Game as Alice did - and they will follow in her bloody footsteps.&quot

He crosses his arms and leans back.

&quotI have sown the seeds of discord. May a thousand Cheesemongers bloom.&quot
edited by Passionario on 8/22/2016

They’d known already what Eli had done - it had been their watch that Eli had taken to that meeting. And, for that matter, possibly a modification of their idea. Eglantine had thought upon Passionario’s chiefest henchmen, and the word of their soullessness, and had theorised that placing a new soul within them might break them of their fearlessness, make them vulnerable, easier to wrest information from.

It was, of course, a grotesque perversion of everything the CVR stood for, and Eglantine had known what doing it would make of them… but necessity, it seemed, was the mother of twins - invention and damnation both.

They’d been privately glad that the need had not come. They’d never thought to use it on Passionario himself.

But, as he’d said, they’d played a minor role, and so they were complicit. It was something they simply had to accept.

Still, the scope of what Passionario is doing… that is frightening. Impressive, but frightening.

Eglantine nods slowly, their face composed again.

&quotI believe you are owed a question of me, now.&quot Their voice is perfectly steady.
edited by Eglantine-Fox on 8/22/2016

&quotImagine that you’re in your house alone, when all of a sudden, the lights go out all over London. Candles, oil-flares, gas-lamps - all flare out simultaneously. The false-stars above, the fungus-glimmer of the marches beyond, the glim-ships in the zee are swallowed by darkness. Even the symbols on the spires of the Bazaar gutter out like dying moths. The mirrors have shattered. The brass has gone cold. The rule of law and reason has fallen. Outside, there is only screaming and unspeakable sounds.&quot

He slams down both palms on the table. &quotWhom do you save?&quot

The Liberation of Night. They’ve heard rumours before, but none paint so stark a picture as this. Names and faces flicker through their mind, but the first face that comes to Eglantine’s thoughts is that of someone who would either be out of reach at zee, or able to escape, hopefully, into Parabola. They swallow, past a suddenly-dry throat.

&quotWhoever I can. Anyone I can help, however I can.&quot

They look down, then look back to Passionario. &quotSince you called yourself the most dangerous man, this one probably won’t surprise you.&quot An almost-smile. &quotUnder what circumstances would or will you strive to inflict harm upon me, and how can I avoid them?&quot Eglantine pauses. &quotAnd what do you truly want here?&quot

As Passionario considers Eglantine’s questions and ponders the idea of inflicting harm upon them, his gaze visibly hardens. For a few extremely uncomfortable seconds, his visage is that of a merciless predator focused on his target.

Finally, his mask of civility reasserts itself. &quotDo what you do best. Stay bold. Stay exquisite. And above all, do not forget who I am.&quot The corner of his mouth twists a little. &quotI consider being forgotten to be the direst of insults, and I take pains to engineer sufficiently painful reminders for those who engage in such rudeness.&quot

A smile follows, no doubt to defuse the tension. &quotAs for your second question, I have always been a man of many appetites. I’ve gone to far greater lengths to indulge them. While I know for certain that I will never be to fully satisfy them…&quot - he locks his eyes with Eglantine’s - &quot…that does not mean that I will ever stop trying.&quot

Seconds pass by. Finally, Passionario is the first to break the eye contact. He glances at the empty seat next to him, then back at Eglantine. &quotApart from yours truly, what is your greatest fear?&quot
edited by Passionario on 8/22/2016

Eglantine’s breath catches for a moment, and their muscles tense under that terrible stare. Slowly, slowly, they relax again, but their pulse is still racing. They sense that they’ve looked behind a curtain, somehow, and through a window onto things they shouldn’t have seen. Still, it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve done that.

They even manage to return Passionario’s smile, though it becomes thoughtful, even speculative, at his words. The notion doesn’t exactly trouble them, and it shows in the sense of lazy assurance they project. This is familiar ground, though seldom traversed alongside so perilous a companion. &quotOne never knows until one tries,&quot Eglantine murmurs lightly.

At his question, they think a moment. &quot…Becoming a thing without worth, without purpose, without a future.&quot

A few more moments of thought. &quotHow did you navigate the world without eyes? And… hmm.&quot They rise, bringing a plate of Eccles cakes to Passionario - something of a dessert, in its way. &quotWould you meet again with me, and continue this game of questions even after this evening has ended?&quot

Passionario nods in assent with Eglantine’s murmur. He does not offer a comment on their answer, yet the involuntary tightening of his jaw and the clenching of the left hand into a fist indicate that it has struck a nerve.

By the time the Eccles cakes are brought forth, his expression is once again a mask of serene worldly wisdom. &quotThere have been many rumours about the subject, you know. Some said that I learned the secret of echolocation from the bats, or possibly from the Masters themselves. Others claimed that I was not truly blind, that the skin over my eyes was a clever Glass illusion, opaque from outside yet transparent from within. A few imaginitive souls claimed that I was a body double, and that the real Passionario was in hiding all along.&quot His lips smile, the rest of him doesn’t. &quotA clever idea, but not a wise one. Theft of faces is a touchy subject among the Masters, and the contingencies they have in place against it are not something that even I would risk - at least, not without a very good reason.&quot

&quotThe most common explanation, however, gave the credit for my ability to navigate the world to my informers. It also happens to be the correct one, although in a way that very few would guess.&quot

He takes a deep breath. &quotThe fateful event that took away my eyes and memories also happened to take away my solitude. I found myself sharing my newly sealed skull with a council of whispering voices.&quot He smiles with greater sincerity this time. &quotAlthough probably not in the way that would be of interest to the Manager of Royal Beth, I’d say. I’ve studied some of his wards, the ones driven to insanity by the cacophony of screams and demands coming from inside their head, and I can safely state that my situation was entirely different.&quot He grins mischeviously. &quotBut then of course I’d say that, wouldn’t I?&quot

&quotI’ve called them a council, but perhaps a better term would be an advisory board. They provided me with guidance, suggestions and advice, always with perfect politeness and courtesy. Naturally, I was highly disinclined to trust them, but after extensive tests and trials, I could find no fault with their information, whether in terms of honesty, accuracy or value.&quot He makes an outward sweeping gesture with his right palm. &quotAs someone with experience in intelligence gathering and spy network management, I can attest that this is an exceedingly rare combination.&quot

&quotAs weeks and months went by, I have become increasingly reliant on my internal advisors and their suggestions. When they said ‘Lamia is looking in your direction, smile back’, I smiled back. When they warned me ‘don’t sign this, there’s an entrapping clause in the second paragraph from the bottom’, the scoundrels who sought to take advantage my apparent impairment got a nasty surprise. And when they declared ‘dodge to the right, now!’’, following their advice saved me from an unplanned boat trip. I began to trust them.&quot He pauses, and when he speaks again, his voice is as heavy as Jasper and Frank’s footsteps. &quotAnd, as always, trust brought forth ruination.&quot

&quotI was prepared for lies, you see. Thanks to years of experience and a few special gifts, I am particularly good at discerning falsehoods. Even ones made by disembodied voice.&quot He turns his head to the side and stares pointedly at the empty space for several seconds before continuing. &quotThe eventuality that I failed to account for was one when they would simply say nothing at all.&quot

&quotOne minute of silence. That was all it took. A minute of silence… and now we’ll never have Paris.&quot
edited by Passionario on 8/29/2016
edited by Passionario on 8/29/2016

Just as the final Eccles cake meets its demise, a church bell tolls mournfully in the distance.

As if on cue, Passionario rises to his feet. &quotIf you are willing to continue this waltz of words, I will be glad to oblige you. Yet be warned: under different circumstances, the steps will be different as well. We will dance as equals, matching questions and answers one for one.&quot He grins. &quotAnd I will not be unarmed.&quot

He turns to the empty space, snaps his fingers, then heads towards the exit. As he’s about to cross the threshold, he turns around and asks Eglantine with feigned nonchalance: &quotBy the way… do you remember how we came to this place?&quot

Another test - and although there is no wrong answer, he will remember their words.

Eglantine looks fascinated by these revelations, half-leaning against the table, too caught up to even remember to sit back down. They seem particularly caught by the explanation of his downfall, struck by how such a little thing could change so much. One minute of silence? That was all?

And yet… and yet they know what he means, a little. Being suddenly without advice and guidance one has grown used to can be frightening, leave one unsure of which path to take. No matter one’s age, they suppose, one can always come to rely on a guide enough to be lost when that guide is gone.

They pour more wine for Passionario, watching him all the while from under lowered lashes, before they sit back down. He has another question to answer, and one to ask, still. The structured back-and-forth of it is its own rhythm, and one Eglantine has relaxed into, just a little. Which makes its ending a little surprising, though they are quick to rise again, as he does.

&quotHow much I mind depends what weapons you bring, and which you are inclined to use, or not,&quot they note, voice lilting with suggestive humour as they open the door for Passionario.

Their smile changes slightly at his question. They’ve heard it before, and answers that came with it. The scholar’s answer might be the one they heard from an Ascetic Parliamentarian. The wit’s answer might be a flippantly pragmatic one regarding walking or climbing.

Eglantine nods. &quotI remember. Someone always has to remember.&quot They seem unusually solemn, giving this answer to him.

Passionario returns the solemn nod, once again matching Eglantine’s expression and pose with practiced fluency. He remains outwardly silent as he slowly places the hat back on his balding head and steps outside into the cooling London air.

The guards warily watch the man from a reasonable distance, keeping their weapons pointed at him. As he picks up his knives, he motions to the shack with one of the blades and says:

&quotThey’re still alive.&quot

Somehow, this reassurance fails to disarm the tension.
edited by Passionario on 5/15/2018

The men on the roof are hard men, forged in shadows and bloodshed, but they are still capable of letting some things slip, and this is one: when one of them motions to the very top of the shack, the others look relieved. They’ve seen Eglantine up there. For one reason or another, these men are tied to their employer sufficiently deeply that Eglantine’s death would be more than a simple inconvenience to them.

They keep well clear of Passionario, watching him go.

And there, on the very top of the shack, Eglantine now sits, playing a flute of bone with a breathy little sound to it. Their eerie tune, accompanied by the ravens, drifts through the air.

Could it haunt a man, that melody? Perhaps it will simply linger on in memory, for a little while at least.

And with that, Passionario disappears over the roof’s edge. Yet strangely enough, no one below recalls seeing him - even though there’s more than one head turned up to hear the melody.

(( Aaaaand scene. Thank you, Eglantine, you were magnificent. ))