Fate Core

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CHAPTER ONE

I am, and have been for the best part of a century, a woman of some twenty-eight or thirty years. There is nothing terribly special about this, no mystery save that which has long since been explained: I, and others like me, born on the first day of the twentieth century, grew from ordinary children into what we came to call spirits—spirits of the century, each of us given to embody certain traits and aspects that we believe in, fight for, and hope to shape the world toward. It is as this spirit that I share my story.

I remember my childhood as most of us do, naturellement: hazy and indistinct, punctured by moments extraordinary to myself, if not to those around me. My parents were kind but, as I grew to understand, desperate, and it is in their desperation that my story truly begins.

***

My father spoke the same words he always did when a certain light footstep was heard on the stairs: “Quiet. Quiet, Estelle. Don’t sing for him right
away. Amelia, go to the kitchen. Go, work on the bread. Your mother and I have to speak to the Benefactor. Go on now, like a good girl.”

It was the autumn of 1914, and war raged to the east of us. At times it even seemed to rage within the walls of our own small Montmartre apartment. It had not always been thus; indeed, it had not been thus until the war started and the Benefactor’s visits became regular. Before then he was a specter, oft mentioned, barely seen, respected in the way that fear commands respect; even as a child I could see that in how my parents responded to him: warily, as though they were hungry dogs that did not trust the hand that fed them.

Consequently, I had no interest in being a good girl: I wanted to meet the Benefactor about whom my parents were so reticent. I wanted to understand
what it was in him that caused them to become stiff and formal when he appeared. But I was not yet quite old, or bold, enough to directly disobey my
father, and so to the kitchen I went. Sadly, neither was I in the least suited to baking. Week after week the Benefactor visited; week after week I performed alchemy, making lead out of dough. Week after week I burnt the brick-like bread, and week after week we ate it, because Maman and Papa could not afford to replace what I baked so poorly.

“I do not understand,” I finally said to Maman one night, after some eight or ten months of the Benefactor’s visits. That night we gnawed on bread softened by tart jam and sweet wine sauce, because it was not Sunday and there was no meat to be had. Potatoes made a pleasant contrast to the sauce soaking the bread. “How is he our benefactor if we cannot afford bread? What benefit is he to us?”

Papa chuckled, and if it was forced, at fourteen I lacked the insight to hear it. “A benefactor is a complicated relationship, Amelia. He owns this flat. He owns many of the buildings in Montmartre, and it’s his…beneficence…that allows us to live here. Your mother sings, and we stay.”

I held up my burnt bread. “We sing for our supper, is that it, PapaMaman’s voice is an angel’s. Surely it’s worth more than a roof over our heads
and a crust of old bread. Why do you not sing for the opera, Maman? Why do you not sing at the fashionable clubs, as you did when you came to Paris?”

My parents exchanged a glance before Maman smiled at me, a smile that promised all was well in the world. “I’m not as young as I once was, Amelia. Fashions change. We are fortunate to have the Benefactor’s good will. Without it our lives would be very different indeed. Now eat your dinner, ma
chérie, and do not worry yourself about our needs. They are well enough met.”