'You Should Fear Me'

'The Visions of Clarity Bookstore

Alessandro drops a slice of lemon into his cup of fresh brewed black tea as he eyes the darkening skies through the glass panes of the bookshop’s windows. He blows a few teasing clouds with the steam from the tea and rolls his eyes.

He is waiting to go home apparently but since no one is there in the shop, not the girl or his master, Alessandro’s pilfering fingers found Christian’s latest import of leaves and decided to help himself to some.

The front entrance of the shop gives away its telltale ring as Anique returns with a few parcels of mail and a package wrapped in brown paper. The cool air lingers about her frame and the fresh scent of fall clings to her cloak.

Smiling at Alessandro a bit guiltily, she settled her things on the nearest table and removes her cloak. “Hello.” She greets him, moving about for several movements before pausing to look at him. “Why are you still here? It’s late.”

Alessandro sucks the rest of the tea into his mouth, swirls in around and calls out rather impatiently, “You’re finally here?” He gives her a cursory glance and moves off to wash the cup.

“I am still here because Master Von Karlach is not here and you’re not here.” He yells from the backroom, the sound of splashing water evident. Wiping his wet hand on his shirt, Alessandro comes out, frowning.

“He left stuff for you to do.” Alessandro jerks his damp hand towards a towering stack of books near to Anique’s desk. “He doesn’t look too happy these days, you better be careful.”

Anique appears taken aback by his gruffness as he comes out from the back. “I apologize then for you’re having to wait. I had some letters to send out before the Inn became overrun.” Always mindful of her manners, she brushes off his initial abrasiveness and smiles in a comforting way, hoping to put him somewhat at ease.

Glancing toward her work desk however, the smile dims somewhat. It was more than the usual two or three books he’d leave out for her. “I’ll be mindful of his mood then, thank you for letting me know.” She hoped then that perhaps she could avoid his presence tonight. Perhaps she’d waste less ink on her fingers then as well. Noticing a wet mark on Alessandro’s shirt, she grins slightly but says nothing of it. “Any idea why?”

“He looks kind of thin recently. And I have never seen him eat.” Alessandro muses, rubbing his chin as he picks up his satchel to sling across his back. “Maybe our employer is not human. He doesn’t feel human either.”

“Maybe he’s a ghost!” Alessandro curls up his hands and tries to scare Anique as he made a foolish-looking, screwed up face and he dangles his digits in front of her, “And you spend the nights here, hah. Aren’t you scared out of your wits?”

Anique laughs and swats away his fingers, the sound coming out a bit more nervous than she meant it to. “Perhaps he prefers to eat alone. As for him being thin, he could have caught something with the weather changing.”

“And ghosts!” Shaking her head at him in amusement, “What nonsense. You’re just trying to frighten me Mr. Alessandro and it will not work!” Grinning, she starts toward the oriel. “Perhaps a werewolf will catch you outside.” She teases, not believing for one moment that such things were real.

You’re one brave girl.” Alessandro stretches himself and yawns, brushing away the hair that has fallen across his forehead. He makes his way to the door and grabs the handle, pushing it down before twisting his head to speak to Anique, “Well I got to be off now. My dinner’s probably getting cold thanks to you.”

Suddenly, the young man lurches forward as the door is pulled away from him, and he nearly lost his hold on the handle. “What the!” Alessandro flails a little, trying to catch his footing and he throws both arms in a blind attempt to balance before realizing he is hugging Christian Von Karlach in a very ungraceful manner.

“Alessandro? Are you –“ Anique hurriedly rushes out from her work space to check on what’s going on. Seeing the very unmanly embrace between the two, her steps halt in the middle of the shop. “Oh.” She finishes her sentence, two eyebrows raised in amused confusion.

Her lips rise at each corner, giving her the appearance of a very entertained child. Hands clasp together before her as she watches with avid curiosity. “Good even, Lord Von Karlach.” She calls out welcomingly.

Alessandro hurriedly jumps at least a few big steps away, waving his hands maniacally in apology. “I did not mean to, Sir! Are you hurt anywhere?” He makes an attempt to go nearer to Christian and tries to adjust the pale man’s wrinkled coat. The attempt is quickly deflected with a very dismissive hand raised up against the young man. “Go home, Alessandro. I am fine.” Christian pulls sharply at the ends of his coat, smoothing out the wrinkled fabric and adjusts his ivory-white cravat.

“You’re here?” He gives Anique a bare glance of interest as he strides past her to where the counter is and the ledger kept. The short swallowtails of his coat swish behind him as he steps up the short flight of steps to access the counter, one white hand on the closed record book.

Nodding in agreement as she is addressed. His obvious dismissal of her presence and the question of her even being there brings about the familiar shade of pink to her cheeks as if she were overly warm.

“Should I not be?” Chewing the inside of her lip, Anique reminds herself that she was warned. Tilting her head, she regards him for a moment. She’d been working here for weeks and still had not figured out this man.

“It appears there is a lot to do so if you need nothing from me, I will leave you be.” Her words are purposely spoken in an unobtrusive manner. Turning on her heel, the swish of her skirts signals her withdrawal from his presence. She does, however, glance back briefly to see if he’d even bothered to look up while she spoke.

“Of course you should be.” Christian replies half-pleasantly, head bowing downwards to scan the writings and records in the ledger as he flips with accelerating motion through it. He does not look up even as he continues to address her in a clear, bell-toned voice, “You have twelve books to complete scribing by the end of the week, fraulein. I will need to return them post-haste to their owners.”

He finishes reading the ledger and closes the large book with a muted thud, pressing his hands onto the counter and he looks to Anique’s direction, smiling rather ferally, “Would you want tea, fraulein? I have a new import of black leaves, vanilla almonds and dried fruit for a tea press.”

Anique smiles brightly at his offer and nods her head in acceptance, the underlying tone of his smile lost on her as she stops just before the steps to her work area. “I would love some tea.” Turning around, she leans against the frame for a moment as if considering something, tugging at an auburn lock in her thoughtfulness.

“Have you been ill recently Lord Von Karlach?” Of course she didn’t believe the things that Alessandro had suggested. Anique suddenly had the inclination to prove the man, and the others like Benedict, wrong.

“Ill?” Christian chuckles, stepping into the backroom, his tall, poised back facing Anique. A soft chiming sound of porcelain cups being taken out and spoons being settled on a silver tray descends throughout the bookshop. “What makes you say that, fraulein?” His voice echoes the tinkle of silverware as he opens without much effort, a tall tin covered with an exotically printed wrapper. “I do not remember being ill for a long, long time.”

He grins, his profile clear to Anique as he bends his back slightly to scoop a blend of leaves, vanilla and almond into a glass tea-press. He retrieved a small copper kettle with hot water, which has always been set on a protected warmer for those endless cups of teas, and pours that into the press, seemingly with utmost caution.

“You have to start scribing if you want to sleep tonight, fraulein.” He suddenly says while in the middle of placing cups and saucers and the tea-press on the tray.

“It’s been noted that you are looking thinner than usual and that you do not eat.” Anique remarks as if making light conversation. She wonders briefly how much she should tell him if he truly was in a foul mood. Perhaps he’d find it amusing as she had. “I thought perhaps you hadn’t been feeling well.”

Taking his last comment as a subtle warning to get to work, she makes her way to her desk and prepares to start. She can hear his movements from the other room and with a resigned sigh; she takes one of twelve very large books. “You are quite a topic for gossip I have found.”

“You indulge yourself in gossip, fraulein?” Very much with skill, the pale man has balanced the tray on one hand and in his other, a small round table which he promptly drops down behind Anique’s chair and on which the tray is placed.

Christian does not offer her a cup as yet but he stands rather behind her, gazing down at what she is about to do or is going to do, his eyes casting a veil of scrutiny down on Anique.

Anique sucks in a breath as if offended but too polite to retort at the suggestion of her being a gossip. “Of course not!” Her body tenses visibly at his presence and she wills herself to relax before continuing, her fingers deftly placing her inkpot, quill, and parchment out before her. As she works, she shrugs slightly as if it were of no consequence.

“It seems their curiosity about you is great enough that they seek me out to tell me so.” Smoothing a hand over the paper, she offers a glance up at him before hiding the stain of a nervous blush. Tugging her hair behind her, Anique secures it with a piece of ribbon before making the first fluid markings on her parchment, the canvas quickly soaking up the pigment she lays upon it.

“If it is just Alessandro asking you, he’s been taking too much hashish at the Raven.” He ascertains with a low chuckle, hovering his gaze above her and the lamps hanging about the oriel cast multiple shadows down by her tableside. A small sound muses itself out from his throat as he watches her press a few letters down onto the parchment. “Have you been so out of practice that you forgot to illuminate the capital letter before starting, fraulein?”

Deftly, without much invitation, he spirits the quill out of Anique’s hand and plucks it away, without dropping a single drip of ink onto the parchment. “Lay a new piece of paper, fraulein. I will illuminate the first and you continue with the rest.”

What was merely a small tinge of pink upon Anique’s cheeks has now bloomed into a full scarlet blush. “Perhaps you do not realize the affect you have when you stand so near.” Her heartbeat seems to pound in her ears, its beat steady as a drum as she places a hand over her chest as if that action alone would still the embarrassment of her error.

“You have seen the work I have done so far, sir, and have had no complaint. I forget now because you hover so.” Anique answers honestly, not objecting as the quill is slipped from her fingers while she places a fresh sheet of parchment. Tucking a few stray auburn tresses behind her ear, she turns her gaze slightly and realizes how close he truly is.

“I don’t understand why I react this way to you.” The words seem to be meant only for her, thoughtful, puzzled, and never intended for another’s ears. She doesn’t even appear to realize she’d said it aloud.

“Because you’re afraid, fraulein?” His reply is almost instantaneous after she said that comment out loud and with the quill poised above the parch, he tilts it to an angle that it does not drip ink or blot the paper at all.

His profile is visible to her only now for he has not turned an inch to face Anique. All the while, he has been speaking towards the parchment laid on the desk. “Indeed I have no complaint of your work thus far, fraulein, you have been a good, hardworking scribe.” His hand droops, letting the nib slowly linger upon the parch and ink flows out, ribboning itself across the paper into a ensemble of vine-leaves and curled accents around the stylized edges of a capital letter ‘I’

“Your turn.” He offers her the quill silently, twisting the feather back to that angle so it does not drip, the motion of his arm casting a long shadow across the parchment, shadows that seem to dig and warp into the paper itself.

Anique’s eyes widen briefly and she refuses to look at him, her eyes riveted to the sheet before them as he moves his hand in such a way that speaks of great time and skill put into such a task. With a nervous laugh, she fails at attempting lightness. “What reason do I have to be afraid?” She bites her lip for a moment as she accepts the quill; keeping it poised at the angle he offered it in.

“I am a woman of faith and the only thing to fear are those who do not have such faith.” She says it with such conviction that there would be no doubt that she believes every word to be true. Her head shakes as if willing herself to remain on task, whispering softly, “Ghosts, demons, and the rest are all make believe…”

As an after thought, she pauses the quill before beginning, her blue green eyes tracing his profile. “Thank you.. for your compliment.” This time she takes care with her lettering, not wanting to start again for missing something from the original text.

Christian draws up a tall-backed chair and places it next to her, himself sitting upon it. Drawing up a hand, he leisurely straightens a cuff while he watches her begin her work. And out of the blue, another question is shot towards her. “Would you want to know what others do not, fraulein?” He leans forward to douse his voice over her, his elbows resting on his knees and his pale hands in a restful position very near to the crook of her elbow.
“You say with such great assertion that you are a woman of faith so therefore you will not fear those that thrive in the darkness.” As if so entertained by Anique’s insistent declaration, he draws swiftly close to her, his seated body a barrier between the girl and the wall of the oriel behind, a curving smile on his pallid lips.

“The first time we met, I asked if you are afraid of the dark, fraulein.” Christian whispers, locking his startling greenish gaze upon the girl’s blue-green ones. “You are not afraid anymore now?”

Her eyebrows furrow together briefly, coming together to form a knot of thoughtfulness in the center. Riveted to the spot by the gaze that falls upon her, Anique suddenly feels surrounded by his presence. “I do not claim to know all the answers. Things that are beyond my control… there is always a chance at being proven wrong. But a mortal choice to deny His protection is more fearful to me than what awaits in the darkness. A man without faith is lost, without purpose, without a soul…”

She swallows suddenly, realizing that perhaps he did not share her naive ideals and would become angry. Also, that she had not truly answered his last question. “I suppose I am afraid of the dark at times as any person might be.”

The intense gleam in his eyes dim for a moment as he listens to her lengthy recitation. A snicker finds it way from him towards Anique and Christian draws back, and somehow, the cold rage that shadows him, retracts too. He lifts and crosses his legs, lounging a set of clasped hands on his knee.

“You are very simple, fraulein. Simple goodness and without any hidden backdoors.” He lolls his head upwards, staring at the beams of the bookshop’s ceiling, his white skin stretching taut over his neck muscles, yet no faint tracery of veins can be seen.

Then he stands up, brushing at his coat and pulling it straight. “The tea grows cold, fraulein. Have it before it loses flavour.” He tells her, picking up the tall-backed chair with as little effort as he did earlier with the tray and small table and he turns to move from the oriel.

“Are you claiming there should be more?” Anique asks suddenly, hurt by his suggestion that her beliefs meant nothing more than mere simplicity in itself. The upset was evident in her features as she frowned at his back. “Perhaps I am simple. Nothing compared to your greater experience for certain but what do you believe in? I’m beginning to think you are that thing in the darkness you claim needs to be feared.”

Her chin trembles stubbornly, knowing that he was her employer and could pull it out from under her if he desired should she anger him. Caged when she’d sought to be free. “You do not frighten me Lord Von Karlach. It is the amusement you seem to find in my ’simple goodness’ as you call it.”

Christian drops the chair down, letting it land squarely on its four wooden feet. He turns to stare at Anique, the gleam once more returning to his eyes. “I do like simple goodness, fraulein. It keeps me from doing the things that should not be done.” He seems to loom larger than his actual height even, his smile stabbed by the shadows drilling through the latticed walls of the oriel.

In just one, very quick motion, Christian steps to the girl’s side, his hands closing around her shoulders, not tightly at first but loose enough to allow her a route of escape perhaps, enough to squirm and run out of the bookshop. “You should fear me, fraulein.”

It was there, in her eyes, the fear, as she stared in silent shock at the speed in which he’d come upon her. The threat of what might be looming ahead should she continue to speak as she had been. A slow trickle of awareness began its weave through Anique’s conscience at his last statement, yet to be realized. Could she be wrong?

Murmuring softly under her breath, as if saying a small prayer, her eyes close to break the paralyzing contact with his. When she opened them again, she expelled the breath she’d held when he grabbed her.

“I apologize.” Anique whispers with great feeling before quickly wrenching herself away from his clutching fingers. Tears were forming in her eyes. They began their glistening descent down her cheeks as she pauses only long enough to snatch her cloak up from the chair and runs from the shop, the door clanging shut behind her in her haste to escape.

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