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Sing The Bells

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Once again Max can hear the Festival of Fools blooming to raucous life on the streets far below, can see the bright streamers and the people trickling in. Every year he watches from up on his tower as they gambol around, having a great time seemingly without any cares in the world.

The two-headed gargoyle carved into the wall at this vantage seems to stare at them longingly with one set of eyes, disdainfully with the other. Max understands the feeling. If he ever sets foot outside Notre Dame again his life will be forfeit, but to interact with someone who isn't the Judge or the Archdeacon again...

He pats the carved-stone scales of the gargoyle as he turns away from the sight below. No matter how much he might want to venture outside, the cathedral is his sanctuary, the one place he's safe. And, he muses as he scratches at the nearly fifteen year's worth of matted beard growth on his face, it's the one place his appearance won't be remarked on.

The dog-headed gargoyle next to the east window seems to stare right through Max when he ventures out onto that balcony to get away from the main view of the festival, knowing what he really desires. Judge Moore will be down there, he wants to tell the gargoyle. The Archdeacon might be lenient, might give him leave to step outside for just a few moments to be among normal people again, to feel solid earth under his feet, but the Judge...

So don't be seen , the beheaded statue propped up in the corner seems to be saying. A disguise, adds in one with a sheet draped across the decaying stonework of its body.

Max shakes his head to shut them out. Down below a different strain of music starts up, calling to him with the promise of new experiences.

The snake carved above a disused doorway seems to hiss at him, tempting him with the knowledge that he knows the way down. It's not the staircase that the Archdeacon or other priests use when they bring him food, isn't one he would have ever found if he wasn't trapped up here for years with little better to do than explore his prison.

The music swells, and the sound of cheering reaches him. What could it hurt, to step outside for just one day? Just an hour, just long enough to feel the ground beneath him again, to pretend for a moment that he belongs among the normal people.

The bells seem to shiver in their places with the wind, the sun catching on the slivers of stained-glass he has strung up over his crude table. Go , the glitters of light seem to say; go, whispers the breeze.

Max snatches the cloth off the statue and slips through the snake-guarded hallway, wrapping the fabric around his head and shoulders as he goes. If they don't see his matted hair and beard they won't think anything of him, he's sure, and if he stays away from the platform where Judge Moore presides there's no one to recognize him as the murderer he is.

He has no need to consult the map taking up most of the northern wall, the map he's been sketching in increasing detail these past thirteen years. The city streets are familiar to him by his years of watching, even if he can hardly recall the last time he actually set foot on them.

His knee aches by the time he's climbed down all the narrow, winding staircases, a reminder of why he stays in the tower. He hesitates before taking the final step, eyes staring this way and that as he looks to see if anyone will notice him, if anyone will shout and drag him before the Judge.

No one does.

No one takes any notice of him at all, in fact, and Max takes his first steps on solid, un-sanctified ground in more than ten years. It doesn't feel as different as he would have hoped.

With the crude cape wrapped around him Max blends in with the crowd easily, though most are dressed in bright, fine colors rather than his own rough-spun castoffs. The music sounds better from down here, the smells of food delicious.

He'd forgotten how to walk among a crowd, however, and when a wave of dancing swells through the mob Max is pushed this way and that, and all the way through the flap of a garishly colored tent. His bad knee gives out and he loses his balance, body tumbling on worn stones to fall in a heap.

In his ears he hears girlish shrieks, the first female voices he's heard up close in years.

"What's he doing here?"

"He fell."

"Is he alright?"

"Get him out!"

Max fights to right himself, knee throbbing, head swimming. A hand lands on his shoulder and roughly shakes him upright, and his vision is taken up entirely with green eyes in a pale face. Something cold and metal is placed against his throat.

"Why are you here?" the woman grabbing him says, her voice low and menacing.

He's struck more dumb than usual, and can only shake his head.

"He was pushed in," one of the voices says, and a second woman moves into his range of vision.

"Calm down, Furiosa," another says.

Max gets his feet under him just as the woman who'd grabbed him steps away. The pressure of metal leaves his throat and he sees suddenly that it isn't a knife, it is- a hook, gilded in gold and attached to her wrist in the place a hand should be. He blinks, and sees that the other woman has golden hoops pierced through her ears, that the first has hair shorn nearly down to her scalp.

"Are you alright?" the woman with piercings says, bright red hair falling down to bare shoulders. Max wrenches his eyes away from the expanse of skin and only manages to take in the sight of four more women, also partially dressed.

He closes his eyes entirely and nods his head. His cape has slipped, he realizes, and hastily drags it back up to hide himself as best he can.

"Then return to the rest of the fools, fool," the first woman says.

"No harm done," the second says. A hand rests against his shoulder and gently guides him towards what he assumes is the entrance of their tent.

"Great mask, by the way," a third voice calls out, followed by tinkling laughter as he exits the tent.

Outside the crowd has settled somewhat, converging on a massive stage built for the occasion. Max treads more carefully this time and isn't shoved around as much, even when he decides to get close enough to see what the deal is with the stage.

Judge Moore is perched on a dais at one end, with a young man next to him dressed up in shining armor that must be the new Captain of the guard. Max shrinks back into the shade of his cape, but Moore's attention is taken up entirely with the Captain.

"And now," a luridly dressed person on the stage says, grandly waving their arms in demonstration. "The performance of a lifetime! The beautiful, the mysterious, the finest girls in all the realm!"

He disappears in a puff of colored smoke, startling Max and catching everyone's attention; in the announcer's place stands a young woman dressed all in flimsy white. Music starts up and she raises her hand to reveal a tambourine, and at the first shake of its bells another puff of smoke appears, quickly clearing to reveal a second girl, similarly dressed.

"Splendid!" calls the crowd, "Capable!"

He recognizes one of them as the redhead from the tent, and watches with some amount of alarm as they begin dancing. Somehow the women multiply, until five in total dance on the stage in synchronization, each brandishing different instruments. Their dresses are white, but decked out in gold coins to catch the light, and colored scarves around their hips.

More words join the chant, until Max begins to think that they're the names of the girls, not just random adjectives. "Knowing!" and "Dag" and "Fragile" all add into the din, and he wonders distantly which is which, whether they've performed here before to be so easily known by the people.

One of them with hair the color of sunlight glinting off the river at sunrise drapes a scarf around Moore's neck, smiling and laughing at his disgusted reaction.

The redhead repeats the maneuver with the young Captain, who reacts more favorably, eyes widening and body leaning in like for a moment he too might join in the dance. Then she's away, joining the others again as they dance for the crowd.

Max watches this from the ground, unsure how he feels about the display. The women seem so young to him, their movements so wild and unrestrained, almost too sensual for him to tolerate.

His eyes catch on someone in the crowd, and he sees that it's the other woman from the tent, the one with the shaved head. In the sunlight it's clear to see that her left arm is crippled, hand replaced with a golden hook that catches the light like the coins on the girls' dresses. She's wearing a dress that's short enough it might count as a tunic, the shape of her legs easy to see beneath their dark hose.

She looks away from surveying the crowd and her eyes meet his, and Max is caught fast for a moment by her searing green eyes before he can jerk his gaze away.

With a flourish the dance ends, and the announcer takes the stage again.

"What a performance!" he crows, "What beauty! But now, we turn your attention to today's main event- crowning the King of Fools!"

Max watches rather as the girls circle around the hook-handed woman- Furiosa, hadn't she been called by one of them? A fitting name for so ferocious a figure.

One by one men take the stage, each with a garish mask over their head while the announcer prattles on about grotesques and Kings and topsy-turvy days.

"You could go up there," a voice says near him, causing Max to jerk around, hands clutching the cape tight around him. It's the woman from before, Furiosa, and she's looking at him with amusement in her green eyes. "That mask must have taken some work."

He shakes his head and fumbles for words. "It's not," he manages to get out before his tongue ties itself up. Even if his face was just a mask, to be up on that stage, to be mere paces away from the Judge- he shudders from the thought. He's already been away from the sanctuary of the cathedral too long.

"Oh," she says, but whatever other reaction she has is swiftly washed away from her face with a casual shrug.

Max can't bear to be out among people anymore, and with a slight nod to her turns and heads back for the familiar walls of Notre Dame. No one sees him slip back inside, and the long slow climb back up on his aching knee gives him plenty of time to reflect on the excitement of the day.

He spends the rest of the night in agony, both from the physical exertion of climbing up and down all those steps, and the knowledge that he's broken his most important vow. He can't be arrested while claiming sanctuary at the church but the moment he steps foot outside...

Was it even worth it? Max tosses and turns on his hard sleeping mat as he thinks about what he saw, smelled, heard. How the air seemed closer, the sunlight weaker, the ground no more solid beneath his feet than the stones of the cathedral.

That dancing, though. The women were like spirits gliding around on that stage, displaying talent no mortal could hope to achieve. And Furiosa with her peculiar appearance, brandishing her deformity like a weapon, hair and dress and hard staring eyes daring anyone to comment.

He closes his eyes against the staring of the gargoyles and statues and shoves everything out of his thoughts. Maybe he should confess to the Archdeacon and gain another form of penance to do, on top of his being unable to cut his hair. Maybe he should confess to the Judge, and end this pitiful half-life for good.

 

It doesn't take more than a day for Judge Moore to visit him, voice calling up for the lift to be operated. The rickety platform was really only meant to bring the bells up during construction, but Moore decreed that he wasn't going to slog up the stairs every time he wanted to visit his 'favorite prisoner'. And so, Max starts winding up the winch to draw the platform up and up, all the while wondering what greater sin it would add to his tally if he should accidentally let it fall.

"You were seen at the Festival," Moore says with no preamble as he steps off the platform- always a little quick, that first step, like he's thought about it falling down himself.

Max feels himself go cold all over and shakes his head.

"I have witnesses," Moore says, a touch of glee in his voice. "You were outside the bounds of your precious sanctuary, and you know what that means."

Max takes a step back, knowing there's nothing he can do. Fighting the Judge off will only make things worse for him.

"It means you violated our agreement," Moore continues. He takes a step forward, robes swirling in the tower's constant breeze. "It means that your life is now mine to deal with as I see fit."

"Please," Max manages to rasp out, still shaking his head like he can really deny anything.

"Ah, Judge Moore," the Archdeacon's voice calls out. "I thought I might find you here."

"Rockatansky here was just confessing to leaving the church grounds," Moore says as the Archdeacon steps fully into the room.

"Is that so?" the Archdeacon says, pausing to take in the scene.

"Please," Max repeats, back hitting one of the pillars. "Mercy."

"You know that means our deal is forfeit, Ace," Moore says.

The Archdeacon is silent for a moment, his eyes inscrutable as he runs them over Max, and then Moore, and the room around them. "He attended the Feast of Fools, did he?" he says at last. "A day where the norms are hardly the norm."

"It doesn't matter what day it was," Moore says impatiently. "We agreed. The day he sets foot outside the sanctuary of the church is the day he is judged by mortal measures again."

"Yet today is not the day he stepped outside," the Archdeacon says. "Max," he says, turning towards Max again. "Did you attend the Feast of Fools?"

Max wants nothing more than to deny it, to lie and say he was up in his bell tower like usual. Miserably, he nods his head.

"You see!" Moore says, but the Archdeacon holds up a hand.

"He is still inside the church," he says. "I cannot permit you to arrest him for his original crimes, no matter that he may have been tempted by the outside world for a mere moment. We all face our temptations, do we not?"

Moore's face contorts harshly, but he holds his tongue rather than lashing out immediately. "Indeed we do," he says. "It has no bearing on this case, not when Rockatansky so boldly flaunted the protection I allowed him. How many other times have you broken sanctuary, hmm?"

Max shakes his head sharply.

"I said, you won't arrest him for his past crimes," the Archdeacon says, his voice ringing out against the bells.

"Fine," Judge Moore snarls. "But he won't be taken off the hook entirely. I'll see him tried for breaking his oath, and appropriately punished."

 

Judge Moore is not the one to sentence him, though he fought with the Archdeacon to call himself truly unbiased. It's another judge instead, one Max has had no contact with but doesn't doubt Moore has poisoned.

"Twenty lashes," the judge decrees after hearing the case, "And an hour's exposure on the pillory."

Max twitches at the thought of a whip cutting into his skin, but doesn't protest. What can he say? He left the sanctuary of the church of his own free will, breaking trust with the Archdeacon. A punishment like this is the least he can look forward to.

He's grabbed roughly and brought to the pillory on its wooden platform, high enough to expose him to anyone who wants to take a gander. There's already a sizable crowd, eager to see him stripped and bleeding.

Max can already feel how the position will tire his bad knee when they force him into the stocks, head bowed and hands held fast in front of him. He doesn't protest much when they strip off his tunic, but hands grab for his hose and he twists and kicks, succeeding only in losing his balance and raising a jeer from the crowd.

"Another hour!" Moore calls out, and Max can't see the judge who sentenced him but he doesn't doubt the suggestion will be taken under consideration.

They take his hose, and his underwear, leaving him completely bare on the high pillar of the pillory. Max shivers and tries to curl into himself, knowing it's useless.

"A second hour," the judge says, "and a further twenty lashes."

Max growls wordlessly and clenches his hands, but makes no vocal protest. What good will it do? He's here to be punished, and he has no say in what happens.

The first lash of the whip against his skin isn't so bad, a bright slice of discomfort that has him arching away and hissing in pain. The second lands quickly, and the third, before Moore calls out to interrupt.

"Not so fast," he says, dark enjoyment dripping off his words. "Lest the sting of the first lash dull him to the second."

"Yes, Sir," whoever is holding the whip says.

The lashes are indeed more spaced out after that, leaving Max to feel each one keenly as he writhes in the pillory. He gives up trying to stay silent after the first dozen or so, when he begins to feel blood trickling down his skin.

After an age has passed, the forty lashes are all accounted for, and the whip is mercifully put down. Max hangs with his neck and wrists supporting most of his weight, his knee trembling and threatening to give out entirely. Below him the crowd cheers and calls out, rudely jeering at him in his misery.

"Two hours," the judge says, and an hourglass is set onto the stand before Max so he can watch each grain of sand pass.

The first hour is an agony; his back is on fire, his exposed skin prickling all over with the feeling of eyes on him, the sun beating down harshly.

When the hourglass is turned over to start the second hour, Max can feel flies land on his flesh, eager to take a drink from his crusting blood and flesh.

A deep thirst plagues him, his throat stuffed full of salt and sand. It grow only more desperate as the timer slowly slides downwards, as his agony stretches out in an uncaring infinity.

Finally, he breaks his silence, unable to handle it a moment more. "Wa-water," he rasps out of his parched throat. "Water."

It's just loud enough for the people below the pillory to hear. Rather than offer him a drop of relief they take up the call, mocking his misery. "Water!" they call back, mouths red like the jaws of a hungry animal. "W-water!"

"Have some mercy!" a voice calls above the din.

As if in response, a rotten tomato hits against his side, bursting open and dripping him in sticky juice. The first volley opens the floodgates and soon Max is being pelted from all sides with rotten vegetables, eggs, even plain refuse.

He squirms in helpless agony and closes his eyes shut tight, waiting for the hour to be over.

It's a surprise, then, when the crowd quiets and the projectiles cease. Max cautiously cracks open his eyes again and sees one of the dancing women from before, the one with golden hair.

"I'm sorry," she says quietly, and takes one of her scarves to wipe at the mess that's splattered on his face.

"You, Gypsy girl- Get down from there!" Judge Moore shouts out, causing Max to flinch.

"Yes, your Honor," the girl spits, "As soon as this poor creature is released."

Max tries to tell her it isn't worth it; he still has at least a half hour left, according to the hourglass before him.

"I forbid it," Moore responds.

"Water," the girl calls out, ignoring the Judge, and this time the cry isn't mocked. Max can see the crowd parting for the other dancers, led by one-handed Furiosa holding a full waterskin. Furiosa's eyes are sympathetic as they meet his, and it's Max who looks away, ashamed to be seen in such a state.

"I said get down!" Moore shouts again, his calm veneer cracking to reveal the anger underneath.

The dancer takes the waterskin and holds it for Max, and he greedily drinks from it before it can be snatched away.

"You talk of justice," the dancer says, addressing Moore, "Yet you mistreat even your own people like you do my own. What justice is being done here?"

"I order you to step down!" Judge Moore all but screams. Max doesn't look, but can imagine the look on his face easily, how his pale skin will be turning red, yellowed teeth flashing. "Be quiet!"

"We are not things for you to order around!" she retorts.

"Silence!"

"Justice!"

Max braces himself for the worst, for the soldiers to bring their weapons down to bear, for the dancer girl to be ripped to pieces by the restless crowd.

"Captain Nux, arrest her!" Moore shouts, and Max watches as the young Captain strides forward uncertainly, one hand gripping the pommel of his sword but not drawing it. "You will pay for your insolence, Gypsy!"

Rather than say anything in her defense, the woman merely jumps down from the platform to land next to the other dancers. They circle around her immediately as the guards advance, less hesitant than the young Captain by far.

With a whirl of glittering scarves the women scatter, each one taking a different direction as they duck and weave around the crowd.

"After them!" Moore cries, the guards leaping to obey.

Max watches from his strained position as best he can, hoping the girls can make it away, knowing that it's only a matter of time before they're caught. They vanish from the square quickly enough, taking most of the crowd's interest as well.

He can see the Judge talking angrily to the Captain but can't make out their words; likely orders to see the women captured and brought to justice, he assumes. As if giving him a drink of water is some true crime that deserves to be punished.

"Your two hours are up," the other judge says when the commotion has entirely died down. "Clothe yourself and remove yourself from our sight."

"Come," the Archdeacon says, holding out a spare robe for him. "You did well, Max."

Max can hardly walk when he's released from the stocks, his back breaking out into fresh bleeding as the movement strains his weltered flesh. The robe is rough against his skin, but he's too glad to be covered again to care about the discomfort.

"You are excused from bell ringing for the day," the Archdeacon says quietly as he leads Max back to the cathedral, each step taking twice as long as it ordinarily would.

Max grunts his thanks and wonders how he'll get back up to the tower at all, with the state he's in.

 

He ends up staying down below, taking a much-needed bath and eating the leftovers from the priests' own dinners. The church is quiet at this time of night, so it's easy for Max to make out the sound of talking coming from the main galley.

They're women's voices that he's hearing, and what sounds like metal clashing against metal, and Max creeps closer to see what's going on.

He rounds a corner to see the five dancing women and Furiosa, facing off against the young Captain. One of them is brandishing a candle stand.

"Excellent work, Captain Nux," Judge Moore says, striding in from the open doorway. "Now arrest them."

The Captain draws himself up straight and turns away from the women, some of whom shrink back nervously while others stand defiantly. "They claimed sanctuary," he says apologetically. "I can't, your Honor."

"Then drag them outside and arrest them in the street!" Moore says, his eyes fixed on the woman with gold hair, the one who gave Max water.

"I forbid any such thing," the Archdeacon's voice rings out. "You will not touch any of them while they are within the walls of this church." The Archdeacon turns to the women and softens his tone. "You are safe here."

Judge Moore scoffs, but calls off the soldiers. "I will have guards posted at every door," he says, voice full of menace. "When you try to leave- and you will, Gypsies like you will always try to escape justice- I will have you."

Max watches this from his hidden corner and feels his heart grow heavy. He doesn't think that what the women did- offering him a bit of water, of kindness- deserves the same fate he's enduring.

Moore turns to leave, the guards spreading out to secure the many doorways along the cathedral's walls. The Captain remains for a moment, looking as if he wants to speak to the women, before he hangs his head and follows his fellows outside.

It's only because Max is watching from the right angle that he sees Judge Moore double back instead of leaving, taking the golden-haired girl's arm roughly and pulling her close to his body. Max lurches, wanting to break up whatever is going on, but indecision keeps him pinned in place. Moore says something far too quietly for Max or any of the others to hear, and then the girl shoves her way out of his grip, face a disgusted mask.

Moore does leave for good then, with a last almost hungry look back at the group of women that leaves Max feeling chilled.

It's just the Archdeacon with them then, and he's a man that Max trusts like he does few others. Max makes to withdraw from the scene, but rather than attempting the stairs back up to his tower yet he lingers, limping through the back passages and catching glimpses of the women's talking as he goes.

He turns a corner and comes face to face with Furiosa, startling him out of his idle thoughts.

"You," she says, and there's no accusation in her voice but he still turns and runs as fast as his sore, busted knee will let him.

"Wait," she calls after him, footsteps ringing out steadily behind him. "I want to talk."

It doesn't take long for her to catch up, even with Max doing his best to slip through tricky passageways in an attempt to shake her. But eventually there's nowhere to go but up to his bell tower, and so he continues onward, feeling her presence shadowing him.

He emerges into the main tower and attempts to close the door on her, but Furiosa blocks it with her foot. "I'll leave if you really want," she says, "But has anyone seen to your wounds?"

One of the priests cleaned them out, and even spread a foul-smelling unguent on the worst of the welts before wrapping clean linen around his midsection. Max clears his throat and nods.

But Furiosa's attention has been captured by something behind him; he turns to see what she's looking at and only sees his living space, the scribbles he decorates the walls with.

"Is that a map?" she asks, stepping around him and navigating the walkways with ease.

Max shifts his weight uneasily, unused to having someone in his space that isn't the Archdeacon or Judge Moore. He hums out an answer to her question when she looks back at him, as if waiting for the go ahead to climb the last way and examine the drawing in detail.

"Yeah," he says, "‘s a map."

"You drew it yourself," Furiosa says, not quite a question. The fingers of her right hand run lightly over the papers he's pasted together to form his overlarge canvas, tracing the lines of buildings and streets. "It's so detailed."

Max shrugs and steps up to join her. "I've got time," he says, because it's true. There isn't much to do up here between bell-ringings, and he can see the city down below so clearly there doesn't seem to be any reason not to map it out, not when he has such a unique angle on it, like a bird flying high overhead.

She looks away from the map to his humble living quarters, the rough table he carved, the chandelier of stained-glass chips he salvaged from broken windows. It seems so embarrassing suddenly, the little touches he attempted to make his prison seem more livable.

"You have talent," Furiosa says, a touch of sadness in her voice.

"What do you want?" he asks, uneasy with her presence.

"To see if you were okay," she says. Her eyes stray over to his face, the color of them like the slivers of glass he collects, and he has to duck away from her penetrating gaze.

"Fine," he mumbles. His back aches fiercely, but the priests seemed to think all the fresh air he gets up here will keep infection at bay, and he should heal well enough.

She nods, and looks around. "I never realized there were so many bells here," she says after a moment.

Max follows her gaze and feels relief at the change of subject. His bells he can talk about, at least for a little while. "You wanna meet them?" he asks.

"I'd love to," she says in reply.

The pathways between them are rickety, but he's shored them up as well as he can, to allow for the unsteady gait of his bad knee. Still he worries over Furiosa stepping wrong, and watches as she navigates the walkways.

"Pappagallo," he says, indicating the first of the bells, the one that chimes most often, a familiar babbling of noise to underscore the rest. He doesn't dare ring them for a demonstration, not when doing so would surely deafen the both of them for at least an hour. He's lucky to have retained as much hearing as he has, after so many years of ringing them.

"Triplets; Anne Marie, Jean Marie, Louisa Marie," he says, gesturing to the three bells that always ring in unison, their tones just subtly different.

Furiosa looks as if she's actually paying attention, not just humoring him, and isn't sure how to handle the attention.

"Auntie," he says, and steps below the largest of the bells, the one that rings loudest, carries furthest. "Say something," he whispers, sweeping out a hand in offering.

"Hello," she says, and her voice rings off the bell so strongly and perfectly that her expression changes to one of startled delight.

"She likes you," Max confides, keeping his own voice quiet so as not to disturb the echoes of her own clear tones.

Furiosa smiles at him and he sucks in a breath, quickly cutting his eyes away from her.

"And Glory," he says, stepping away from Auntie to stand at the ladder for the littlest bell, the one placed up highest. It's not often that this one gets rung, the light tinkling unsuitable for most mundane purposes.

"They're amazing," Furiosa says, honesty in her voice.

Max hesitates, but makes up his mind. The sun is just about at the right angle, he thinks, and gestures for her to follow him as he leaves the bells behind for the west balcony. Her gasp rings genuine as she takes in the sight, the sunset bringing gold and reds to the city of Paris down below, glistening off the river, gilding everything in rare yet unremarkable beauty.

"This view is incredible," she says quietly.

He hums in reply, hands gripping the balustrade. The temptation to turn his head and look her way is too great to resist and he does, sees the sunlight glinting off her pale skin and lighting up her bright eyes until they really do resemble stained glass.

"I could almost look at that forever," Furiosa says.

"You could," Max says before he can stop himself. "Sanctuary."

But she shakes her head, turning away from the view of the city. "We can't stay here forever," she says. "It's a prison, not a sanctuary."

"Besides," she adds, her face turning dark in the shadows cast from the setting sun, "Gypsies don't do well behind stone walls."

Max wants to deny this, but everything he knows about them seems to back up her statement. They're wanderers, not settlers. Keeping her and the dancers trapped up in here for the rest of their lives would be the worst sort of punishment, possibly worse than whatever Judge Moore has in mind for them.

"Furiosa?" a female voice calls out, startling Max out of his silent reverie. One of the dancing girls appears in the doorway, the rest fanning out behind her.

"Over here," Furiosa answers, and leaves the balcony to return to the main section of the tower.

"There are guards at all the doorways," the only short woman of the lot says, a scarf pulled up high over her head like a cowl.

"The Archdeacon says we can stay, but..." another says, trembling in place like the wind is cutting right through her.

"Nux doesn't seem eager to catch us," the redhead puts in. Nux is what Moore called the Captain, Max recalls, and remembers how the young Captain had reacted during the dance when the girl wrapped him up in her scarf.

"We can't stay here," the golden-haired blonde says. "Not with that- that judge breathing down our necks."

"I agree," Furiosa says, weariness in her voice.

"Don't use a door," Max says, startling himself at least as much as he startles the women.

They turn in his direction as one, eyeing him suspiciously despite their act of goodwill on the pillory earlier.

"You're the bell ringer," the palest of them says.

He nods, because there isn't anything to say to that.

"What do you mean, don't use a door?" Furiosa prompts.

Max scratches at the hair behind his ear nervously, eyes wanting to stray over to the doorway with its snake carving. Down here, the snake seems to hiss. "Just," he says, nervously, "Doors aren't the only way out."

The women look among each other, gazes colliding to settle on Furiosa like she's the one who will have the final say. Slowly she nods. "Show us the way."

Max takes them down the back passageway, the long winding staircases only he seems to know about, let alone use. His knee screams at him and he doesn't know how he'll get back up to his tower in time to ring the evening bells but he stuffs the discomfort down, focusing on the fact that he's defying Moore, that he's freeing these women from his clutches.

"Here," he says when they reach a small balcony, a mere story above a darkened alleyway. "Can you climb?"

The girls can, he's sure, but with just the one hand he's worried about Furiosa finding enough of a grip on the stonework. What can he do for it, though?

"Thank you," Furiosa says, and is echoed by the women as they descend easily, white dresses flashing in the muted light. "You could come with us," she says, hesitating instead of stepping over the railing to lower herself down.

Max shakes his head, thinking of the lashing he received, of how it was a mild punishment compared to what Moore surely wishes to do to him.

"The Court of Miracles is a safe place," she says, but he shakes his head again.

"I can't," he rasps out. "Sanctuary."

Furiosa looks disappointed, he thinks, but understanding. She reaches into one of the pouches around her waist and draws out a small object, a hoop with woven strands and beads. "If you change your mind," she says, "When you hold this band, you hold the city in your hands."

Max accepts the hoop awkwardly, surprised by the gesture. She leans in towards him and for a wild moment he thinks she's going to kiss him, but she only brushes her forehead against his for a moment, eyes boring into his. Then she's pulling away, and joining the girls down on the ground of the alleyway below.

He watches to make sure they're safely away into the shadows before turning away, the weaving clutched safely in his hands.

He runs into the Captain only a few paces away from where the girls disappeared, and Max feels terror sweep over him.

"You!" the Captain says, "Have you seen the Gypsy women?"

"No soldiers!" he snarls, uncaring that one of the women had seemed inclined to name him, to trust his intentions. Besides, if he betrays them now it would have been for naught. "It's sanctuary! Get out!"

"Relax," the Captain says, his eyes sparkling with boyish energy. "I mean them no harm. I just want to speak to them- to Capable, if I can."

"Get out," Max repeats, sure that if he even hints that the women are gone that the Captain will be dashing off after them, or setting the other guards on the task after he's alerted the Judge.

"It's okay!" the Captain says, hands in the air, but Max refuses to back down. "Tell her I didn't mean to trap them here, will you? Tell her, it was the only way to save her. Save them."

"Leave," Max says, hands itching to grab something to use as a weapon and beat this young stripling of a Captain back. He seems much younger up close, like he's hardly old enough to shave, let alone command a city's army of guards.

"Please," the Captain repeats. "Just tell her?"

"If you leave," Max finally relents, and the Captain's face brightens.

"Thank you," the Captain says with a sincere little flourish of a bow, and then turns to leave.

 

It takes a long time for Max to climb all the stairs back up to his tower. By the time he gets there his knee feels ready to fall off, his entire leg aching in agony, his back feeling like several scabs have broken open to start bleeding again.

He collapses eagerly onto his hard sleeping mat as soon as he reaches it, forgoing his duties as bell ringer for the night. The Archdeacon said he might have the day off, and he sorely needs the break.



If anything he feels worse in the morning, his muscles seized up and tense, every inch of his body exuding a fresh agony as he goes about his morning routine.

He doesn't usually put much stock in the exaggerated tales of Judge Moore's vindictive nature, but by midafternoon he can tell that something is seriously wrong, and not just with his aching body. The breeze brings to him the smell of smoke, and down below Max can see flickering flames eating away at one building, then another.

Paris is burning and he can make a guess at the reason why, stomach clenching with worry over Furiosa and the dancers. Are they safe? Did they make it to their Court of Miracles?

The day only grows darker, clouds gathering with smoke to turn everything a dull smoldering orange.

They're being hunted like beasts , the dog-headed gargoyle seems to say. Smoking them out.

Max shakes his head to clear the thought away, but it lingers.

He rings the bells like usual, but their calls aren't reassuring the way they usually are, only leaving him more on edge, ears dulled with ringing long after the clappers fall silent again.

Out there Furiosa and the others are probably running for their lives, and he's safe up in his sanctuary, untouchable by the outside world.

The two-headed gargoyle stares down at the city sadly, half longing and half contempt.

Max tries to sit down and sketch, but his lines only add up to flames, to destruction and death. He draws a likeness of the girls dancing to try and exorcise it from his thoughts, Furiosa at the corner, watching him with eyes he can't get right on the paper.

"Hello?" a voice calls out, and he jumps away from the table.

At the door stands Furiosa, and behind her are the women again- this time with an additional person, a body slung over their narrow shoulders.

"We didn't know where else to go," she confesses as he limps his way over, confused and surprised but not, he realizes, entirely displeased to see her.

Max nods his head and gestures for them to enter. It's the young Captain their have in their grip, shoulder bloody and feet stumbling.

"This is Nux," the redhead says, "He's hurt."

"He'll be safe here?" another says, and Max nods on reflex.

"Do you have a place to put him," Furiosa says, taking charge of the situation.

Max nods again, and leads them to his sleeping mat, where they lay the Captain out.

"Capable," he calls out weakly, causing the redhead to drop to her knees besides him. "Capable, you're okay."

"Hush," she says, "You almost drowned."

Furiosa pulls out a flask of something from one of her pouches and uncorks it with her teeth, advancing on the injured Captain.

"I could use a drink," he says in a weak attempt at humor, eyeing the flask warily.

Furiosa doesn't respond except to upend the flask on his bloody shoulder, pouring what Max thinks must be liquor by the smell all over the wound. Nux cries out, and Capable grabs at his hands.

"Shh," she says, and pats over the Captain's hair. He settles down, and she begins to tear strips of her scarf to become a bandage for his wounded shoulder. "That family owes you your life. We owe you our lives."

From the doorway, the shortest girl scoffs.

"I couldn't watch them burn," Nux replies modestly.

"Will he be safe here until he's well?" Furiosa asks, turning away from the scene to survey Max, standing awkwardly in the corner of his own sleeping space.

"Mhm," he hums, but shrugs because he really can't promise anything. Capable and Nux continue talking lowly to each other for a moment, before leaning in and sharing a chaste kiss that has Max quickly pulling his eyes as far away as he can.

"Angharad!" one of the girls calls out from the main room, "Furiosa!"

Everyone tenses, and Furiosa and the blonde woman leave the small room.

"I see a furious vexation approaching," the girl says. One of the other girls clings to her arms, as if her skinny form will be protection enough against Moore or whoever he's sent in his stead.

"We need to leave," Furiosa says.

"Capable," the short one hisses, and after a moment the redhead emerges from the bedroom.

Max darts his eyes nervously around the group of them, the smell of burning strong in his nostrils. "This way," he says, leading them to the same narrow staircase he let them down through before. There are plenty of twists and turns and he can't guarantee that they'll pick the right pathways, but there's no way he can go with them, not if he wants to have a chance at hiding the Captain from Judge Moore.

"Thank you," Furiosa says quietly, just as she had last time, and then slips down after the disappearing girls.

It's only seconds before his name is being shouted from the ground of the tower, an unspoken command to start raising the lift and let Moore up.

Max contemplates ignoring the order, but Moore will only force himself up another way, growing angrier with every second he's delayed. So he applies himself to the wince to raise the lift, back ablaze with agony as the movement stretches and strains his wounds.

"Rockatansky," the Judge says as soon as he's on the dubiously solid ground of the bell tower. "Let's not waste time on pleasantries."

Max ducks his head and keeps his gaze studiously averted from where the doorway of his room lies slightly cracked open, as if inviting investigation.

"You had something to do with the Gypsies escaping," Moore says.

Max shakes his head, ready to deny this as he hadn't been able to deny going outside.

"Those girls are heathens," Moore says, "Treacherous, indecent heathens looking for easy targets. They marked you out for a fool from the first, I'm sure."

Max clutches his hands together and thinks of the women giving him water, of Furiosa and the sincerity in her eyes.

"What's this?" Moore says, and snatches up one of the papers on Max's desk. It's the drawing of the women dancing, and Moore stares at it for a long moment with unnameable heat in his eyes before sneering and crumpling it up. "You helped them escape," he says, "And now Paris is burning because of it."

Judge Moore holds the drawing up to a lit candle, the paper instantly catching fire and crumbling to ash. "It's them who'll be burning next," he says, smugness creeping into his voice. "I have their little hideout surrounded, and in the morning a thousand of my best men will be marching on the place. They won't stand a chance, do you understand? All your trickery was for naught."

Max says nothing, chest constricting with fear. Does Moore really know where their hideout is? His mind pictures for him Furiosa with whip marks bloodying her back, the girls with flames licking at their feet, even the Captain with a noose around his neck.

He shakes his head but he can't get the images out, and through it all Moore smiles down at him, his eyes blazing clear and bright with madness. "I will have them yet," Moore says as if to himself. "We will all be free of their torments."

He turns on his heel and leaves, not taking the lift but instead leaving for the main staircase.

Max slumps into himself when Moore is out of sight, drained of energy and terrified for the safety of the women.

"The Court of Miracles, right?" a voice calls out, and Max startles violently until he remembers the Captain laying in the other room. Sure enough Nux pushes the door the rest of the way open, one hand splayed over his injured shoulder. "We have to warn them."

Max tilts his head. "You go," he says. He can't leave the cathedral again, not when he barely escaped with such a light punishment this last time. If Moore finds out that he left again, this time in order to rescue the women that the Judge has decreed criminals, he'll surely be beyond the reach of even the Archdeacon's continued mercy.

"You're not coming?" Nux asks, surprise in his young eyes.

"Can't," Max replies with a shake of his head.

The Captain's face hardens, and Max can finally see some of why this boy is allowed to lead soldiers. "I thought they were your friends," he says, "And you'll just leave them to burn when they need your help?"

"Sanctuary," Max says with a shake of his head, "I can't."

"Well I'm going," Nux declares, even though it's clear that just standing up straight is a struggle for him at the moment. "You do what you think is right."

With that he turns to leave, following Judge Moore's pathway rather than the hidden staircase the women used. Max watches him go and looks uneasily around the room, his maps and drawings, the silent gargoyles that see it all.

He can't leave the cathedral again without forfeiting his life, he knows that. But what sort of life does he have here, anyway? He's crippled, trapped up in the bell tower where his only company are the silent priests who bring him food and the stone carvings left piled and decaying, as unwanted as he is. He's lived nearly fifteen years like this and the thought of change sends shivers down his spine.

But Furiosa is down there, and those girls, accused of horrible crimes when Max is sure they are as innocent as any other person in Paris. Can he leave them to their fate? Even if Moore is bluffing about having any army ready to march on them now, can he trust that the Judge won't keep searching for them until he has them in his clutches?

Max paces a tight circle, tugging at the matted hanks of his hair. He can't, he can't!

But Furiosa's eyes as she looked out over the city come back to him, and he knows he can't let the light go out of them when he has a way to prevent it.

He grabs a cloth to cover himself with and makes for the stairs, hoping to catch the Captain before he makes it all the way to the ground.

 

It takes the two of them some arguing before Max and Captain Nux are able to agree that the weaving Furiosa had given Max is a map, but once they begin to actually search, they find a symbol matching the one on the map easily enough. It's carved onto a grave and Nux eagerly pushes the lid of the sarcophagus aside, revealing a long dark stretch of stairs.

Max follows with less enthusiasm than the Captain shows, his knee a dead weight that he has to drag with every step. How he's going to get back up, he has no real idea.

"I don't like this," Nux says as they tromp through what seems to be an offshoot of the catacombs, the floor under their feet muddy with sewage and strewn with discarded skeletons. "What sort of a Court is this?"

"The Court of Miracles, of course!" a man's voice rings out in the darkness, startling Max into whirling around, trying desperately to see through the gloom. It's the announcer from the Feast of Fools, he realizes as he takes in the man's bright attire, and isn't sure whether to be relieved or not.

"And what are you?" the man demands.

What Max had assumed were skeletons answer gleefully from the shadows. "Trespassers!"

"Spies!"

"We're not spies!" Nux cries out as the skeletons- just men in painted costumes, Max realizes with a touch of relief- advance.

"Oh shut it," the announcer says with a wave of his hand. "You're the Captain of the Guard and Judge Moore's pet bell ringer," he says. "Of course you're here to spy."

Max shakes his head, but it's futile- skeleton men pull at him and Nux, dragging them through the dank catacombs to a room full of light and music and people.

"Entertainment for the night!" the announcer shouts eagerly as they're pushed into the center of the space. "Spies! Trespassers! Traitors!"

Nux opens his mouth to say something presumably in his defense but has a rag stuffed between his lips before he can get out a sound. Max grits his teeth and struggles, not that he has much strength to do so, with his back still torn up and his knee practically on fire.

The announcer goes on, praising them for their cleverness in one breath and condemning them to death in another. A rope is dragged around Max's neck as he snarls and snaps his teeth.

"Stop!" a familiar voice calls out, and Max breathes out in relief. Furiosa pushes through the crowd, Capable and the other girls close behind. "They're not spies."

"They're our friends," Capable says, forehead creasing in concern as she takes in the Captain's state. "They helped us."

"They're reliable," Furiosa says firmly, as if this is some password.

"Well why didn't you say so!" the announcer says, backing off immediately. The ropes are tugged away from their necks, the gag removed from Nux's mouth.

"We're here to warn you of danger," Nux says immediately, leaning towards Capable with his entire body.

"You shouldn't be out with your shoulder like that," the girl replies, reaching out to touch the scarf wrapped around the wound.

"Warn us of what?" Furiosa asks, eyes flicking between Max and Nux.

Nux seems to recall that they're here on a mission, because he draws himself up and calls out to the crowd, "Judge Moore knows where this place is, and he's bringing a thousand troops to attack at dawn! You have to get out!"

For a second there's no sound, no movement, and then the place explodes in a whirl of activity. People waste no time grabbing their things and making ready to flee, the room suddenly frenzied like a hive disturbed.

"You took a huge risk to warn us," the golden-blonde girl says; hadn't she been called Angharad? Max can't recall exactly.

"We had to," Nux says with a modest shrug, wincing when it pulls at his wounded shoulder.

"I thought you couldn't leave the cathedral," Furiosa says to Max, her voice pitched low so as not to carry over the general hubbub in the background.

He raises a shoulder and ducks his head, unable to come up with words to explain his reasoning.

"There!" a new voice calls out above the din, triumphant. "Capture them all! Let none escape!"

Max feels as if his heart has stopped beating. Standing in the main hallway is Judge Moore, a large contingent of soldiers behind him, already advancing on the people fleeing from the Court.

"I must thank you, Max," Moore says as he strides over. "Twenty years of searching, and you led us right to them."

"No," Max says, weakly denying the accusation. A soldier grabs his arm, and when he tries to wrench his way out, the soldier kicks his knee out from under him, causing him to fall in a wave of agony.

"My friends," Moore says loudly, addressing the people caught in his soldier's clutches. "Your 'Miracles' cease tonight. Reflect, Repent, and perhaps you will be spared from tomorrow's bonfire."

Max loses sight of everyone else in the chaos. He catches a glimpse of white cloth that might belong to the girls being stuffed into a barred carriage, but there are so many people it's impossible to tell. He's dragged back the entire way to Notre Dame, only to be stopped on the stairs leading up to the entrance.

"Do you know why I'm letting you return to your sanctuary?" Judge Moore asks, his fingers gripping tight into Max's hair to force him to look up. "Because you did me such a service tonight, and I reward those who serve me. But make no mistake, Max," he says, tightening his grip until the pain of his wrenched hair has unasked for tears gathering in Max's eyes. "If you step foot outside this church ever again, I will have your head as a new decoration for the walls of my Palace of Justice."

Max is released from his grip and shoved the rest of the way towards the doors of the cathedral. He wants to beg for Furiosa's life, for the lives of the others, but he knows by the mad light in Moore's eyes that it will all be for naught. He limps his way inside, feeling as if his guts have been entirely replaced with lead.

 

It's with dull eyes that Max watches the pyre be built the next morning. Wood and straw pile up, enough to easily burn half a dozen women. He wonders what crime Moore will settle on accusing them of to justify this fate.

He can't hear much of anything from up high like this, but he recognizes the soaring tones of the Judge's voice as he delivers a speech. Something grand, no doubt, and compelling, and utterly false.

The dog-headed gargoyle seems to stare accusingly at Max, blank eyes somehow fixed unerringly on him. The headless statue moans with the breeze that rips through the tower.

"What," Max growls, knowing he's speaking only to himself. The carvings say nothing to him, they just keep staring with their dead stone eyes.

The two-headed gargoyle watches the square below, longing in one set of eyes and loathing in the other.

Max paces his glorified cell, knowing that there's nothing he can do. He's trapped up here, trapped in the cathedral. He can't dash down and gather up six women to bring them to sanctuary, no matter how much he wishes he might be able to.

Down below Moore is watching as his soldiers tie the women to posts set in the middle of the piles of kindling. Each one has been stripped down to their underthings, just thin chemises of white blocking their bodies from the hungry eyes of the people watching, and with a shiver Max remembers the feeling of being laid bare for that same crowd's amusement mere days before.

There's still time, his treacherous thoughts are telling him. But time for what?

The Judge leans in close to Angharad where she's restrained on her pole, whispering something to her, but whatever reaction he was after he doesn't get because he rears back a moment later.

Loud enough that even Max can hear it Moore says, "These witches will not recant! Let them burn!"

Then a torch is being thrust into the pile of kindling at the feet of each woman, and Max lets out a pained groan of despair.

He can hear their scared shrieks, can see them writhe as they try to escape the growing heat. Furiosa has her hook removed and without it she slips her shortened left arm free of her bindings, but that little inch of freedom is no use.

Up above him, the breeze makes the little bell he calls Glory shiver in its place, a light tinkling sound ringing out.

Max can't stand it.

He grabs a discarded rope, nearly long enough to drape the entire height of the tower, and ties it off around one of the pillars. The rope burns his hands as he swings himself down, legs aching as he pushes off the building to control his descent.

He lands on the stage, the smell of burning skin and hair already apparent in the air as the women scream. Max rips the ropes off Furiosa's other arm and then turns, indecisive. There are so many of them, how can he save them all? How can he save any of them?

"Over here!" Nux shouts out, "Let me help!" He's trapped in a cage just to the side of the platform, hands wrapped around the metal bars.

Max doesn't have time to think. He forces himself to look away from where Furiosa is struggling to free her legs and limps to Nux's cage, brandishing a burning piece of wood as a weapon to keep the guards at bay. One of them backs up directly against the cage and Nux grabs his keys, triumphantly unlocking himself before Max can even get there.

"Come on!" Furiosa shouts, standing behind Angharad to get to the ropes binding her limbs down. Flames lick up her legs but she barely flinches, only pausing to cough against the smoke.

"Stop!" Moore shouts, or continues to shout- Max hasn't been paying him any attention in the chaos, his focus narrowed down exclusively to saving the women. "This is treason!"

With Nux scrambled onto the platform they manage to free the last of the girls, though she's gone limp from pain and fear. Max grabs Furiosa's stump, her hand occupied with gripping one of the girls, and jumps off the platform to the cobblestones below.

"Sanctuary," he shouts, and barrels his way through the still-stunned crowd. The Archdeacon is standing at the doorway, blocked in by guards, but Max still has the flaming stick in his free hand and he brandishes it menacingly, until the guards step aside just enough to let them in. "Sanctuary," he gasps, letting the torch fall to the floor.

He can feel Furiosa pressing against his back as they all crowd inside the church, with the exception of Nux. Max can hear the Captain outside still, calling out to the people of Moore's general treachery.

Treachery that extends towards trying to force his way into the building, Max realizes as guards come swarming up the steps. Priests appear and help shut the heavy wooden doors, but it won't last long.

Max gives Furiosa's arm a tug and leads the group away from the doorway deeper into the church, where they can at least retreat to his tower and feel somewhat safer from the madness frothing outside.

"I don't think she's breathing," one of the girls says, clutching the youngest dark-haired one to her. "Cheedo? Wake up!"

Max sets his jaw to avoid thinking about the time he wasted in delaying coming to their rescue. They climb, the girls coughing and leaving smudges of soot and blood everywhere as they walk with burned feet.

It's not as quiet up in his bell tower as Max would have wanted. The crowd down below is a riot now, common people attacking guards and guards attacking the very cathedral.

"Nux is down there," Capable says in a quiet voice.

"Cheedo is up here," Angharad snaps, "And so are we."

"We have to keep them out," Furiosa says. Max belated lets go of her arm, aware that he was surely gripping hard enough to cause bruises.

"A fire," Max says, and points to the cauldron of lead kept up here for repairs. It won't take long before it can be poured out, spattering down on the soldiers trying to force their way into the cathedral, and in the meantime there's plenty of stones and broken beams he can hurl from up high.

Furiosa stands next to him with a pile of pebbles in the crook of her elbow, flinging them down with easy aim.

Max feels every impromptu weapon he uses tear up his own body, his knee and his back screaming in agony as he bends and twists and throws. It can't be anything worse than what the women suffered, he tells himself, the poor little one not even stirring where they laid her on the bed, all of them with bloody burnt feet that they stand on because what alternative is there?

Somehow, their desperate defense works. The city's guards retreat, cowed by the shower of molten lead that they unleash, and a cheer goes up through what remains of the crowd.

"We did it!" the shortest says, joy on her face. "They're retreating!"

"Cheedo?" the blonde says, turning away from the others to return to the girl on the bed. "You can wake up now, it's okay."

Max exchanges a speaking look with Furiosa, sensing her understanding of the situation.

"Dag," Furiosa says, her attempt at a soothing voice spoiled by the coughing fit she erupts into. Max feels the urge to hover, to offer water and pat her back until the coughing eases, but he stays where he is, one eye on the chaos outside.

He doesn't hear the footsteps until they're right outside the doorway of the tower, and when he turns to look it's nearly too late. Judge Moore has a knife in one hand and a deranged look in his eyes, and he advances on the group of women with open menace.

"You have been judged guilty!" he says, eyes flickering from one to another. "It's time to meet your punishment."

"No," Angharad says, standing firmly on her bleeding feet. "You're the only guilty one here. You're just a sick old man, drunk on power."

Moore lashes out, and the knife catches Angharad on the arm, staining her white shift with bright red over the soot. She cries out but holds her ground.

Max doesn't get his chance to retaliate; Furiosa is faster than him, and she knocks into Moore from a running start, tackling him to the ground.

The knife flashes between them as they struggle, until Furiosa suddenly shouts out in pain and anger, the knife protruding from her ribs.

Max's head goes utterly silent, everything unimportant falling away. As if in a dream he sees himself grabbing a ladle from the cauldron of remaining lead, the silvery metal still molten hot as it drips to the ground. Moore pushes Furiosa's limp body off of his just in time for Max to upturn the ladle over Moore's head, molten hot metal instantly searing into his skin and flesh. Moore screams in agony and only ends up opening his mouth for more of the lead, advancing his demise.

Max drops the ladle and grabs at Moore, hauling him up by the shoulders and over the edge of the balcony, to the long drop below.

But Moore fists his hands tight into Max's tunic with a surprising strength, and in his last act on earth pulls the both of them over the wall.

Max flails to get free of Moore, flails to grab onto something protruding from the edge of the building that he can grab, flails because he simply doesn't want to die.

His fingers catch against the rope he's tied earlier to swing down on, but he can barely touch it for an instant, so hot does the friction burn against his hand. At least the last thing he sees will be the sky, Max allows himself to think as he hears what he's sure is the sound of Moore's body impacting against the stones below.

Rather than sharing the same fate, however, Max feels himself abruptly caught short, a pair of hands scrabbling to catch him as he falls.

Instinct wants to make him struggle blindly and he nearly does, only surprise keeping him from lashing out with desperate hands.

"Grab on!" Nux's voice says, and Max breaks from his stillness to grasp wildly, hands clawing at what turns out to be the Archdeacon's robes, the two men having banded together to break his fall.

He's hauled over the side of the balcony and feels immeasurable relief, head swimming with the shock of falling for so long, lungs full of still-burning air.

"Capable?" Nux says, "The women?"

"Furiosa," slips out of Max's mouth before he can stop himself, his vision flooded with the image of her, knife handle sticking out of her side.

He doesn't bother to explain, doesn't bother letting his aching exhausted body slow him down more than it has to as he limps his way back up the stairs, bad leg a dead weight dragging behind him with every step.

"What happened?" the Archdeacon says, his voice gentle. "Are those women alright?"

Max can only shake his head mutely, all his energy going towards getting up the next step, and the next. Finally he breaks into the top of the tower, coming up on a scene that is far calmer than he expected.

The young girl Cheedo is no longer in the bed but is instead blinking wide watery eyes around the room, wrapped in Dag's arms. Instead it's Furiosa lying on his sleeping mat, her eyes closed and her breathing strained. His blankets have been torn up and wrapped around her chest, but blood already stains the outer layer.

Max collapses next to her on the floor, his legs finally giving out completely.

"What happened?" Nux asks behind him.

She's so still like this, so pale. Max reaches out and touches her arm gently, almost surprised when it's still warm and not corpse-cold, despite the audible rattle he can hear coming from her lungs to confirm her breathing.

"Come away from there," the Archdeacon says, a hand landing on Max's shoulder.

Max shakes the touch away, hand sliding down to tangle his fingers with Furiosa's.

"Max," the Archdeacon says, "We need to examine her."

Max blinks and looks up; there are new people in the room, priests but also a woman, with gray hair and dressed like the girls had been. How much time has passed, he wonders?

"Come on, sonny," the woman says, her voice firm but not unkind. "She's got air left in her still."

Reluctantly Max shifts to the side, shuffling his limbs until he's leaning against the wall, Furiosa's head somehow making its way into his lap. He lets go of her hand but strokes his hand over her hair instead, the strands much softer than he would have expected from their prickly appearance.

The woman clearly was procured because she knows something about healing, or perhaps because the patient is a woman and thus not something the priests feel comfortable touching. She mutters to herself as she pokes at Furiosa, examining the wound and doing who knows what.

After what might be a few minutes or might be hours, the woman sits back and declares, "She's lost nearly all her blood."

"Will she live?" the only girl whose name he hasn't caught asks, most of her body hidden behind the doorway she's leaning into.

"Might be," the woman says with a shrug. "She's a fighter, but that was a deep cut."

Max looks down at Furiosa's still face and wishes there was something he could do for her.

"The air up here will be good for her," the woman says. "Once the smoke clears away, anyway. Not easy for infection to get a foothold in a place like this, hmm?"

She's talking to him, Max distantly registers, but makes no attempt to answer.

"Yes," the Archdeacon says in his stead, "We've always found the tower's air to be quite restorative."

"Build up a good fire and keep her warm," the woman says. "I'll leave medicine for you to give her when she comes around, if she comes around. I assume you'll pray for her, which is as much as we can ask for."

Max clenches his free hand to stop it from shaking and watches the rise and fall of her chest, the way the rhythm hitches and falters before smoothing out.

He's so mesmerized by the continuing signs of her life that he takes no notice of the people around him departing, leaving just the Archdeacon standing at his doorway.

"Max," the Archdeacon says for what sounds like the dozenth time, finally catching Max's attention and breaking him from his silent reverie. "The women are being given rooms for the night. You may stay with Furiosa, if you choose."

Max nods in a jerk. He doesn't plan to move, not until he knows one way or another what Furiosa's fate is going to be.

"We'll discuss your future in the morning," the Archdeacon says. "Her medicine is here. Give her three drops of this-" he brandishes a small amber bottle- "every two hours, and half of this-" he shows a larger bottle in his other hand- "in four hour's time, and the rest when the sun rises."

"Will you pray?" Max asks without really meaning to.

"Yes," the Archdeacon says with a solemn nod, "I will pray for her eternal soul, and for her mortal life as well."

It's as much as can be hoped for, Max thinks, echoing the healer woman's earlier words. He nods in acceptance and takes the bottles from the Archdeacon, careful not to upset Furiosa where she lies in his lap.

 

The morning dawns bright and cold, but with it dawns hopeful as well. Furiosa woke a few times during the night, mostly when he jostled her as he got up to tend the fire or give her medicine, but she always slipped away again easily.

Now the sunlight pours in through the wide openings of the tower, slivers of colors dancing through his stained-glass chandelier, and her eyes don't just open, they focus.

Max runs his hand over her forehead, feeling for the heat of a fever, and finds none.

She licks her lips and he fetches her water, ladling it carefully into her mouth a few drops at a time. She croaks something out, then coughs, and groans in pain.

He feels his chest clench and shushes her, going to fetch more water, and the other half of the medicine he was given.

"Women," she tries again, voice little more than a rasp. "The women..."

"Safe," he says, hurrying back to her side. "Moore's gone." Killed by his own hand, not that Max intends to tell her that.

She breathes out and her eyes flutter closed, and he panics for a moment, thinking she might be slipping away. When he jostles her shoulder her eyes snap open and she directs a weak glare his way, and he breathes out in relief.

"Medicine," Max says, to cover his worry.

She grimaces but allows him to give it to her, the bottle glinting in the morning light as she drains it.

Furiosa does fall asleep again not long after that, but before he can decide whether he can bear to walk away from her to find someone for food and more medicine, the girls and Nux appear, shepherded by an exasperated looking pair of priests.

"How is she?" Angharad asks, her feet wrapped in bandages. The women are all more modestly dressed today than their underthings from last night, a mishmash of clothing clearly originally meant to go towards covering the poor.

"Alive," Max replies, savoring the word.

The girls break out into smiles, Capable hugging Nux tight around his neck, Cheedo giving Dag a kiss on the other girl's cheek.

"That's good," Angharad says with relief.

"Good? That's great!" Nux interjects.

"She's not out of the woods yet," the shortest girl says, but she doesn't sound too harsh about it, a smile tugging at her lips.

"We'll have to have Mellita see her again," Capable says.

"And then we can get out of here," Dag adds with a sideways look at the hovering priests.

Mellita must be the healer woman from the night before, Max surmises, but his attention is caught up with the idea of them leaving. Of course they would, he realizes with dismay. With Judge Moore gone there's no one who will arrest them for the petty crime of just existing, which means they'll be free to leave the sanctuary of the cathedral and resume their normal lives.

Max rubs his fingers through Furiosa's short hair and reminds himself that he barely knows her, that he's lived more than a decade in near-isolation for his crimes and he'll survive another decade more easily. That all that matters is for her to leave this place healthy and free.

 

It takes the better part of a week before Furiosa is fit to do more than take a turn around the bell tower, the hole in her side healing slowly but healing a little more day by day.

Max tries to distance himself from her, to remind himself that she's no one to him, but every moment he spends with her he finds himself drawn to her more and more.

"I'll read your palm," she says one day, when the echoing deafness of the morning bells has cleared from their ears.

He shakes his head, but she holds out her own hand, insistent. "It's like one of your maps," Furiosa confides as she guides his hand to rest against the stump of her left arm, her elegant fingers tracing lines over his palm. "I see... A long life-line, that's good," she says. He shivers under her touch, feather-light.

"This one says you're shy. And... Oh, I'm sorry," she says, turning her face away slightly. "This one speaks of loss. Were they dear to you?"

Max swallows hard against the lump in his throat. "You never asked why I'm here," he says instead of answering her question. "Why I'm this."

She turns curious eyes his way but says nothing to prompt him.

"I had a wife, a child," he says, the words torn out of that raw place inside of him that he thinks will never heal. "They were killed."

"I'm sorry," she says, but she doesn't understand yet and he shakes his head.

"I hunted their killers," Max says. "Killed them. Slowly. The church took me in. Gave me penance." He shakes his head again, matted hair brushing against the side of his face. "So I'd look the monster I am."

"Hmm," she says after a moment, her hand still warm against his. "I don't see any monster lines here."

He snorts and withdraws his hand.

"You could leave, now that Moore's gone," she says.

"I'm a murderer," he replies. "Again, now."

"Killing Moore was no murder," Furiosa says with quiet conviction. "No judge in the city would convict you, if they even managed to find you in the first place."

"They know where I am," he says with a shake of his head.

"Come away with us," she says suddenly, her eyes piercing through him. "There's a place outside the city, a green place. We're going there as soon as I can travel."

Max is stunned into silence, and after a moment she drops her gaze away, arms drawing up against her chest.

"I," he says, and then shakes his head. "I can't."

"You think a bunch of criminals like us care that you took revenge for your family?" she says, "That you rid the world of a corrupt judge?"

He has nothing to say in response and can only shake his head mutely.

Furiosa sighs out and bobs her head in a nod. "There's no map I can leave you, this time," she says quietly. "Just a heading. If you change your mind. East."

He absorbs this information and nods, even as he knows he'll never make use of it. The women have their pardons lined up, but he's still a murderer, still someone who can't step foot outside the church, let alone dream of starting up a free life somewhere else.

 

Three days later Furiosa is declared fit to travel, and the women all pack off in a hurry, glad to be free of the oppressive atmosphere of the cathedral. Nux goes with them, his injury sufficient to keep him from the city guard, and Max watches them leave from a lower window than he normally haunts just so he can hold a clearer memory of their faces as they ride away.

"You took good care of her," the Archdeacon says, and Max turns only far enough to confirm his identity before returning to the view, the horses of the women long since disappeared into the winding streets.

"Do you remember the night you came here?" the Archdeacon asks.

Max grunts.

"You still had blood on your hands while you begged for sanctuary," the Archdeacon continues. "Moore thought you should be hanged on the spot, of course. But I could see the remorse in your eyes. The pain. Did killing those men ever bring you any peace?"

Max reluctantly shakes his head. The noises they made as they died still haunt him some nights, almost more than Jessie's last moments. He'd regretted it after the fact, but what good is regret? Those men are still dead by his hand.

"We asked a hard penance of you," the Archdeacon says. "And you never once balked at the demands."

Max shifts in place uncomfortably, unsure of where the conversation is going. "I went outside," he says, pointing out the obvious. And he has the welts across his back to prove it, his flesh still tender as it's healed.

"After almost fifteen years of abstaining," the Archdeacon says. "Few men are capable of resisting such temptation for so long."

Max keeps his gaze firmly away from the Archdeacon. It's true that he only broke the agreement that once- twice, if he counts the night he went to warn Furiosa- but he still broke it, and the results of his excursion! If he hadn't gone out the girls would never have been brought to Moore's attention, and Moore wouldn't have died, and neither would the casualties from that assault on the cathedral have stacked up.

"I absolve you," the Archdeacon says, the words startling Max into turning to look at him despite his intentions. "I have heard your confession, you have convinced me of your contrition, and you have carried out your penance faithfully these last thirteen years. Go now in peace, Max."

Max stares at him in shock. He never expected to be forgiven for his sins, never asked for it. His mouth opens, and then closes.

"Have the bells made you so deaf?" the Archdeacon says. "Go shave, and rejoin the outside world." Then he pauses, as if something has just occurred to him. "Unless you wish to stay. Your care and attention to the bells has been commendable, and you might even take orders, if you choose to stay."

That rouses Max enough that he can shake his head. He doesn't want to stay and become a priest- he doesn't want to stay at all, he realizes with a jolt. Not really. The cathedral is familiar, safe, but it was never meant to be his home.

He looks back out the window to where the women disappeared and remembers what Furiosa said, how he was welcome to join them. East, she said.

"I think," Max says, his throat dry. "I'd... I'll leave."

The Archdeacon nods his head, a slight smile playing around his mouth. "You will always be welcome here," he says, "Whether you need the sanctuary or not."

Max nods, still too surprised by the revelations to attempt to carry on a conversation.

The Archdeacon leaves him to his thoughts, and Max slowly makes his way back up the long staircase into the tower for what might be the last time. His things are all here, what few possessions he counts his own. A mattress still stained with Furiosa's blood. Floors with specks of lead melted onto them. Broken statues, judgemental gargoyles, a wall covered in scribbles and maps.

Max looks at it all with fresh eyes and wants to laugh when he realizes that he doesn't care about any of it. That he might as well leave it all here to rot.

He gathers up the few things worth bringing along- a second tunic, a smaller map of the city, a chip of glass that seems to glow with the colors of the sunset- and then stops to stare at the small knife that lays next to his quills.

It's been more than a decade since he shaved his beard or cut his hair, and he's horribly out of practice. He only hacks roughly away at the hair, letting it fall in great chunks down the hollow middle of the bell tower, content to know that it's trimmed from the wild mess it was before.

His head feels lighter when he's done, almost cold in the wind whipping through the tower. The dog-headed gargoyle seems to laugh at him from its perch, and Max wonders if this was a trick. If the Archdeacon was only testing his faith, his commitment to his penance.

No, he decides with a shake of his head. And even if so... He knows the way out of the cathedral, now. He can slip away unnoticed even if he doesn't have the blessing of the church to back him up. There are plenty of other criminals out on the streets that haven't been captured.

No one stops him as he approaches the front doors. Around him Notre Dame herself seems to hold her breath in anticipation, waiting for him to make a decision. Stay within her stone walls forevermore, or venture outside again?

No one is even looking at him, Max realizes. And why would they? He's no longer the fearsome bell ringer locked away in his tower, kept on a leash by Judge Moore. He's just a man in plain clothing exiting the church, same as half the congregation flowing through the area.

The sunlight on his skin is a relief, even if it's the same sunlight he received up him his tower.

No guards stop him, no one cries out in fear or mockery at his appearance, no one shouts at him to pay for his crimes now that he's outside the sanctuary of the cathedral.

Max simply takes one step down the stairs, then another, and disappears into the crowd.

 

He's no more than a few hours later than the women, but they had horses, and he has only his bum knee and a single direction- "East". Getting out of Paris takes most of the day, and Max realizes that he should have stopped at the kitchens for food and water to take with him, to see if the priests had a better pair of boots to spare for him in place of the slippers he's become accustomed to wearing.

It's no matter, he thinks to himself as he beds down for the night in a tense little hollow not far from the road. Either he will make it where he wants to go or he won't.

 

Max travels for weeks in search of the green place Furiosa mentioned. He begs for bread, and trades sketches for water, and does odd jobs when he can get them for coin and new boots. It's enough to keep him alive but it's hardly a living, and his body aches every night when he lays himself down to sleep.

Somewhere along the way acquires a dog that might have once had some hound ancestry. The dog is absolutely no good for hunting but it barks when people approach during the night- and during the day, if Max is being honest- and that's good enough excuse to keep it.

He swiftly relearns the knack of shaving his face, the thought of hair growing over his jaw again both a familiarity he longs for and a torment he wishes to be rid of. It was a punishment to grow it so long, to let his hair get tangled and matted, and he is used to the weight of it but he doesn't wish to return again to that state.

 

He has just enough coin to get himself a hot meal in a roadside inn, and so Max stands in the street, deciding between establishments. They're equally dubious, he is certain, but without asking anyone he can't be sure of which has better food.

The one on his left looks cleaner, he thinks, which might make it more expensive. The one on his right... There's music drifting out from the open windows, and something about it reminds him of Paris.

Max takes a cautious step closer, nose upturned to catch whatever smells he can to aid in his decision. The music doesn't remind him of Paris, he realizes as he approaches the hard-packed walkway- it reminds him of the dancing he saw at the Festival of Fools, the music playing at the Court of Miracles.

He opens the door to the inn without any conscious thought, body stepping over the threshold into the firelit space as easily as he stepped out of Notre Dame for the last time. Inside the music is loud, spilling through the air with an almost deranged beat, fast and pounding.

The girls are dressed more like how they were before, twirling through the crowd with pleasure in their faces.

And in the corner stands Furiosa, hair no longer than the last he saw of her, artificial hand gleaming in the light of the lamps as she surveys the crowd.

Max feels his breath catch, but he's roughly jostled out of the doorway before the scene can really sink in.

"Outta the way," the person who shoved him says with a drunken slur.

He grunts and limps over to the bar, intending to- he doesn't know what. Drink his courage up, maybe.

He lost track of how many weeks have passed since he left the city, doesn't know how long he's been on the road looking for exactly this moment, Furiosa in his sight again, hale and hearty the way the healer woman assured him she would become.

"What do you want?" the man behind the counter asks, every aspect of him uninterested.

Max shakes his head; he can't so much as ask for a drink of watered ale, not when he's so close to what he's been seeking. His eyes barely stray from Furiosa and the girls, until the music reaches its crescendo.

The crowd breaks out into raucous applause, flashes of silver and copper and even gold appearing as they heap their praises upon the girls.

"Something, aren't they?" the person standing next to him at the counter says.

Max grunts.

"Damn Gypsies," the bartender says. "If they didn't bring in custom..."

Max turns a glare on him, and with a lurch leaves the counter. The crowd is thick around him, what feels like half the place clamoring for the attention of the women, and it's been another long day of walking on his knee. He stumbles on the uneven floor planks and slams down to his hands and knees with a muffled keen that he can't stop from erupting out of himself.

"Oh, here," one of the girls- Cheedo, he thinks- says, and reaches down to put her hand on his shoulder, to help lift him back upright. "Are you okay?"

He nods his head and clears his throat and can't stop his eyes from searching out Furiosa once he's upright. She's alert, scanning the crowd like she's looking for danger.

Her eyes skip right over him.

Max's shoulders slump; of course she wouldn't recognize him, wouldn't remember him. She could easily have forgotten him completely in the months since they first met.

But Cheedo's drawing her eyebrows together in a frown of concentration. "Have we met?" she asks, and then calls over her shoulder loudly, "Hey, Dag!"

Dag appears in an instant, pale blonde hair glowing against the deep blue scarf she has wrapped around her shoulders.

Max tries to take a step back, but the crowd is still packed fairly tight, and there's nowhere for him to go.

"Do we know him?" Cheedo asks.

Dag scrunches her nose and tilts her head as she regards him. "It's hard to tell with that hair," she says after a moment.

He doesn't notice Furiosa approaching, only hears her voice over the general chatter of the inn. "What's the matter?"

And Max can only look at her, words tangling up inside his throat.

"Do we know him?" Cheedo repeats, but she seems more certain of it, this time. "There's something familiar..."

"Max," Furiosa says, surprise dawning across her face. It's not a bad type of surprise, he doesn't think, her eyes softening, her mouth curving.

He nods his head in a jerk, and clears his throat. "East," he says, or tries to.

Furiosa moves before he's ready for her to, her right hand reaching for the back of his head and her hook landing against his shoulder. Her forehead rests against his for a moment and he closes his eyes tight against the intensity of her gaze, spends a moment trapped there in stillness before returning the embrace in kind.

Distantly, he can hear Cheedo and Dag saying something, perhaps to another of the girls. But all Max can focus on is Furiosa against him, the steady pressure of her forehead, how her hand clenches tight into hair he's overdue to trim again.

He doesn't know who moves, whether it's her or him or some mutual instinct, but one moment there's her breath brushing against his lips and then their mouths are meeting. It's rushed and too eager and perfect, one kiss turning into another, and another, until suddenly Furiosa jerks away from him with a gasp.

"Get a room, you two," the shortest of the girls says, the only one whose name he hasn't learned. Besides her, Dag makes a rude cheering noise.

The crowd has mostly dissipated, interest waning with the lack of dancing, but Max still feels as if he's being stared at from all sides. He pulls himself a little further from Furiosa even though he doesn't really want to.

"Come with me," she says, and slides her hand down from his neck over to his wrist. "We have catching up to do."