Where Do We Go From Here?-Arrondissement Part Seventy-Four

“That’s quite a tale,” said the Marshal.

“It’s not a tale,” said L’Horloge tersely, “That implies that we made it up.”

“While it might seem fantastic, I can assure you it is true,” added Arpin.

The Marshal regarded L’Horloge, Arpin, Maxi, and Nikita over her desk.

“Time is repaired? There will be no further surprises?”

“Not as far as time is concerned,” said L’Horloge as he laid a hand on the box containing the Penultimate Device.

“Then this will be counted as a triumph.”

“The Unexpected Chevalier gave her life so we could succeed, as well as the Repairperson.”

“Unexpected will be enshrined in the Salle Des Morts, with full honors,” said the Marshal.

“You don’t seem saddened by her death,” stated L’Horloge.

Arpin could smell winter rain on stone off the Marshal, a mix of sorrow and anger.

“I have had to send Chevaliers to their deaths before and will do so again. We all know that death walks alongside us. Unexpected knew this and she will be honored for her deeds.”

“The Repairperson gave her life as well,” L’Horloge pointed out.

“Let her people weep for her if they are capable of sorrow. I will waste no tears on her,” stated the Marshal.

“We all stand here because of her bravery!” declared L’Horloge.

“If the League of Spiders had done as they promised, she would still draw breath,” countered the Marshal.

L’Horloge’s eyes narrowed.

“Pardon,” interrupted Arpin, “With respect, bickering honors no one. Would you not agree?”

“D’accord,” said the Marshal and L’Horloge nodded.

“The most pressing issue is what to do with this,” the Sergeant Gendarme asked as he tapped the box holding the Penultimate Device.

“That is simple, the Coterie du Honor will take custody of it,” said the Marshal with finality.

“No, you will not,” replied L’Horloge with equal conviction.

“Your adventures have made you bold, watch-master,” said the leader of the Chevaliers, “But this is not up to you.”

“Nor to you,” added Arpin.

Maxi, who had been watching and listening to all this, attempted to suppress a smirk.

“This is far too dangerous a machine to be floating about the world.”

“Oh, I completely agree,” said Arpin amicably.

“There is no place safer than the Tower Cerulean.”

“Perhaps, but you do not have the authority to claim the Penultimate Device.”

“Should we meekly return it to the League of Spiders and trust that they have the best interests of the Arrondissement in mind?”

Arpin shrugged and said, “No, but provoking them will benefit no one.”

The Marshal strode over to the Sergeant Gendarme and said quietly, “They are monsters. Chevaliers slay monsters, that is all the authority we need.”

As if on cue, a letter in the form of winged hare slid under the door and flew into Arpin’s hand. He unfolded it and read.

“Monsters or no, a parley has been called,” he said as he handed the letter to the Marshal.

Her face grew grim as she read.

“Is this a trick?”

“No. We are to meet the leader of the League in the Jardin des Gens to discuss what to do about the Penultimate Device.”

“Clearly an ambush.”

“I must disagree, it is signed by the Prefect of Gendarmerie as well as the First Minister.”

Waving the letter in an aggressive manner, she said, “Signatures can be forged.”

“Check the watermark.”

The Marshal held the letter up to a lamp, rotating under the paper was the elegant baton topped with a sharp lily. The symbol of the First Minister’s office. It also gave off the faint scent of springtime flowers, proving its authenticity.

“How?” asked the Marshal.

“I had sent a message to my captain while en route to the Tower Cerulean. Clearly, she regarded it as a high priority.”

“You might’ve mentioned that earlier.”

“I was unsure of the outcome.”

Handing Arpin the letter, she said, “Let it never be said that the Coterie du Honor failed to serve the interest of the Arrondissement. We shall go. Accompanied by three Banners of our deadliest Chevaliers.”

“Of course,” said Arpin.

“You are extremely clever,” she said staring at him.

“Merci.”

The Marshal exited and immediately began barking orders.

“That’s weird,” said Nikita who had been rather intimidated by the Marshal, “She was furious but then she gave you a compliment.”

“That was no compliment,” said Maxi.

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Extra, Extra!-Arrondissement Part Seventy-Three

                                                                   Just In Time!
                                                         By Eloise Van der Linde
                                          November 25th, 394th Year of the Thrush

The mysterious time anomalies that plagued the Arrondissement are now a thing of the past, quite literally. Citizens awoke to time flowing in a forward direction at the normal pace.

On the Rue du Référentiel, the self-repeating collapse of a ledge, which has been occurring regularly for the past twenty-two days, has finally settled into a pile of rubble. This comes much to the relief of Gendarmes who have been keeping overly curious people from getting caught up in it during that period.

Countless time-related phenomena all over the Arrondissement have ceased, including a flock of nightingales frozen mid-flight, a one-meter wide, oval storm that rained upwards, and of course the chicken that became the egg.

The Minister of Chronology, Fulbert Cesar Crémieux, issued the following statement:

“The Ministry of Chronology is extremely pleased to inform all residents that the time disruptions have been reversed and that there is no longer any danger of an incursion from either the past or the future.

Rest assured that it is due to the tireless efforts of the entire M.O.C. that this crisis was averted.”

When asked who was responsible for everything that had happened and the methods involved, Minister Crémieux refused to comment for what he called, ‘Reasons of Chronological Security.’

This member of the Fourth Estate suspects the League of Spiders who have, coincidently vanished from view.

Although the odd occurrences have stopped, at least two positive results remain. First, there is the matter of the Cure-dent de Déant. It is still the largest tree in the most popular park, the Jardin des Gens. The preternatural surge of growth it experienced remains and park-goers have flocked to see it.

Secondly and perhaps more importantly, Monsieur Willem Molyneux, the gentleman who was granted youth once more is getting married to Blaise Gallois, the iron shaper whom he rescued from the incident at the Rue du Référentiel. This is her first marriage and his fourth.

Undoubtedly, there will repercussions from this that we cannot foresee. However, for the time being, citizens of the Arrondissement can fall asleep knowing that today will followed by tomorrow, and not the other way around.

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Come Due-Arrondissement Part Seventy-Two

Maxi tried to open the doors to the inner office with finesse and skill. They were both unsuccessful. The mechanism that locked the entrance would not respond to any coaxing or tricks.

“We could try to force our way in,” suggested Arpin.

“I don’t think that will work,” replied Maxi.

“Neither do I but what other options do we have?”

With a flicker, the outer office shifted from a stylish décor to a rough stone chamber, lit by braziers with tapestries hanging on the walls.

Maxi and Arpin looked at each other, grabbed a heavy oaken chair, and moved to the double doors.

“One, two, thr- “

Just as they were about to try and smash their way in, everything skipped. It felt like that moment when you trip but just before you begin to fall. An endless heartbeat of weightless dread.

Then, everything was normal. The outer office was appointed in its clock themed style. Sepia pictures of old timepieces adorned the walls, the mechanical assistant sat up straight and resumed its work.

Silently, the doors opened wide. They put down the chair, now a clean lined wingback, and entered.

“I thought you said he wasn’t here,” said Maxi.

“He wasn’t,” answered Nikita.

Standing behind his desk was Monsieur L’Horloge. He turned the variable key and the many intricate components of the Penultimate Device reassembled into the teardrop of brass and crystal.

“Monsieur, are you alright?” gently inquired Arpin.

L’Horloge looked up and said, “Yes Sergeant Gendarme.”

“I felt something, we all did I think,” said Maxi, “Were you able to fix things?”

The watch master nodded and the rest cheered and embraced. Maxi moved to L’Horloge and saw that he did not smile. She laid a hand on his shoulder and asked, “What’s wrong?”

“It was difficult.”

“To say the least.”

He opened his mouth but closed it again without saying a word.

“I think we all could use a drink,” Maxi said.

L’Horloge sat down.

“It’s not easy, losing companions.”

Arpin noticed the Repairperson slumped in a chair. She was unnaturally still. He knelt and laid his fingers on her wrist. L’Horloge stood up but the Sergeant Gendarme shook his head.

“Her wounds must have been more serious than she let on.”

“I thought the League of Spiders people were tougher,” remarked Maxi.

“That’s not what they’re called. It’s a name the Fourth Estate invented to sell papers,” muttered L’Horloge.

“I think you’re right.”

“Where’s the Unexpected Chevalier?” said Nikita.

“She sacrificed herself, so we could go on.”

No one said anything for a while.

“I need to return to the Tower Cerulean,” said L’Horloge with resignation.

“Zsófia will be overjoyed to see you,” said Maxi with a grin.

At the sound of her name, the watch master smiled.

“Please let us escort you,” asked Arpin, “A poor honor guard for such a hero but-.”

“I’m not a hero!” snapped L’Horloge.

“You restored time and saved the life of everyone in the Arrondissement. If you’re not a hero then the rest of us are villains,” said Maxi.

“There is always a price to pay.”

Arpin, Maxi and Nikita looked at each other.

“I know what it is like to lose a partner. If you wish to, I’ll sit with you and talk or listen.”

“Not today.”

“Of course,” said Arpin with a nod.

They left, but L’Horloge knew the bill was still due.

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Endings and Beginnings-Arrondissement Part Seventy One

“Like most bad decisions, it began with drinks,” said The Huygens as she moved to the springtime window.

She traced a pattern on the glass. It rippled and the scene changed to a biergarten in the late afternoon. Women and men, dressed in simple but colorful clothes sat around tables, eating, and drinking.

“Die Nachdenkliche Katze“, she said with a smile, “We all used to sit around, argue and drink.”

L’Horloge’s eyes widened.

“Is that Ambrose Bassot?”

“Yes, a lot of fun until he had too much. Then he got very emotional.”

“The father of advanced mathematics?”

“He had a lot of regrets.”

“About what?”

“All math-related but it was impossible to follow what he said when he was in his cups.”

“Maurice Culillier, the poet, Lilou Gagnuex the painter, Blaise Reinhart, the composer, Petr Yan- “

“Yes, yes,” she interrupted, “I had noteworthy friends but to me they were my drinking companions, and the people I slept with.”

“So, you all…?”

“Most of them. Well, a lot of them.”

“That’s not in the history books.”

“It’s too bad, it would make history a lot more interesting. There’s where it started.”

A younger version of The Huygens placed a small bronze box on the table and opened it. Inside was a metal and wood rectangle. With a flourish, she produced a tiny key inserted it in the object and wound it up. After removing the key, she tapped it and the rectangle unfolded into a small model of an aero-thopter.

With a musical whir, it took to the air and flew around the biergarten, weaving amongst people and steins, executing barrel rolls and loop de loops, finally landing on The Huygens’ open hand where it refolded into its original shape.

Applause and congratulations followed.

“Everyone seems quite impressed.”

“Not everyone.”

Standing at the other end of the table from The Huygens was a large man with a wild shock of black hair, beard sans mustache, and bright blue eyes. He clapped slowly.

“Antonio Portela, or as I called him, Tone.”

“The Philosopher?”

“And quite a man,” she said with a growl.

“His treatise, ‘The Importance of Rational Thought’ is still taught at universities,” said L’Horloge attempting to change the subject.

“Well done H, well done,” said Antonio.

“It was a pet name he called me,” said The Huygens.

L’Horloge thought the idea of the great minds of the past using pet names a bit disconcerting so he simply nodded.

The Huygens in the window rolled her eyes at her sometimes lover.

“How have I offended the very nature of the existence today?”

“Metal and wood should not fly like a bird,” he replied.

“Yet, they just did.”

“I did not say could not. They should not.”

“Once again, you are the enemy of progress!”

Antonio tapped the side of his head.

“Improve your thinking, that is true progress.”

“What’s the point thinking for its own sake?”

“Thought can change anything.”

“I’m thinking of hitting you in the head with a stein!”

“Why must you always resort to threats?”

“Not always. Just with you.”

The others all laughed at that. Even Antonio joined in.

“I cannot argue with that.”

“Now that calls for another round!”

A waiter brought them all steins of beer. The Huygens raised her drink and said, “To a heartbeat of peace!”

“To a heartbeat of peace!” toasted everyone.

“In the interest of peace, will you destroy that flying device?” asked Antonio.

“Why would I?”

“Because it could be used for ill intent.”

The Huygens grabbed a knife off the table and pointed it at Antonio.

“This knife could be used to cut a piece of delicious cheese or it could be stabbed into your backside!”

“What will it be?”

“Fortune favors you since I’m more hungry than angry.”

With that, she sliced some cheese and popped it into her mouth.

“So, you admit that in the wrong hands anything could be dangerous?”

The rest of the notables all began to shout for the two of them to either shut up or go back to their rooms.

“You all agree with her?” asked Antonio.

“As far as the rest of us are concerned,” stated Lilou Gagnuex, “We’re on the side of good drink and food with some music if we can get it!”

“Here, here!” added Ludo Moutet, the noted sculptor.

“I surrender!” declared The Huygens.

“As do I! As long as someone gets the next round,” added Antonio.

More drinks arrived, and everyone continued to have a good time laughing, talking, and even singing.

“I don’t understand,” said L’Horloge.

She traced something on the window and now the scene was early evening. The Huygens and Antonio were sitting next to each other.

“This is something you cannot improve,” he said.

“I thought I was doing that right now.”

“How?”

“By sharing my company with you of course!”

“Very generous of you.”

“I thought so,” she replied and drained her stein.

“Even so, it is valuable because it is finite. Time is the most precious thing.”

“Ugh! You sound like a lovesick poet!”

“Your sparkling company aside, no one can control time.”

“Are you challenging me?” she said with a smile.

“No!”

“Because I might just do it.”

He stared into her eyes and quietly said, “You are the most intelligent person I’ve ever met but even you can’t bend time to your will.”

“Hmmm…”

“Please don’t.”

“I do love a challenge,” she smirked.

“If you care for me- “

“A lovesick, adolescent poet!”

“I’m not jesting.”

“Since you think it’s beyond even me, you have nothing to worry about.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Yes. Finish your drink and let me take you home.”

The Huygens tapped the window and it turned back to the springtime view.

“That’s how it started.”

“You made the Penultimate Device because your lover said you couldn’t?”

“Back then, it was very important to be right. All the time.”

“That’s a terrible reason to meddle in the temporal fabric,” whispered L’Horloge.

“As I said, I’m not proud of what I did. There were… repercussions.”

“What happened?”

“I’m not going to tell you.”

“But- “

“He was right. Antonio was absolutely correct. I should’ve never tried. I wish I could stop myself but it’s too late.”

They both stood in silence.

“Couldn’t you use the Penultimate Device to go back and stop yourself?”

She laughed, “That was the first thing I tried when everything went wrong. It just made things worse. Fixing it was almost impossible, but I managed to avert a catastrophe.”

“I’ve read much of the history of that time. There’s no mention of a chrono-disaster.”

“You wouldn’t have. That’s the point.”

“I’m sorry.”

“So was I.”

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Worst Reason-Arrondissement Part Seventy

“What do you mean?” sputtered L’Horloge.

“I thought it was very straight forward,” replied The Huygens, who sipped her drink.

“Are you suggesting that I not fix time?”

“No, not at all.”

“You just did!”

“What I asked was if you thought it was a good idea?”

“That clearly implies that you think it’s a bad idea!”

“I can’t be responsible for what you infer,” she said with a shrug.

Stifling a scream, L’Horloge stood up and walked to one of the windows. Outside was an old-style city, no dirigibles flying or Velopedes speeding through the streets. Lots of people walking and carts trundling along. The trees all were blooming. It seemed like spring.

“Where are we?” he asked, “Beyond in a workshop.”

“That’s a bit tricky.”

“Of course, it is.”

She moved next to him and they both looked out the window.

“To me,” she said, “it looks like the Arrondissement in springtime.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Really?”

“There are no recognizable landmarks.”

“Look to your right,” she said pointing.

L’Horloge peered in that direction.

“I see some scaffolding.”

“They’re building the Skeletal Cathedral.”

She handed him a spyglass and he got a closer look. Workers were sculpting bones to make a wall.

“So, we’re in the past,” he said.

“Sort of.”

“Do you never give a straight answer?”

The Huygens scratched her nose and finally said, “Not every question has a simple answer.”

“Yes, but…” he trailed off.

“As I said, tricky.”

“True.”

“Back to my question, is fixing time a good idea?”

He walked back to his chair and finished his glass of liquor.

“A lot of people have suffered because of the Penultimate Machine.”

“I whole heartily agree.”

“If I repair the unraveling of time, things will go back to normal.”

“As normal as things get.”

“I suppose so.”

“On the other hand, if you let time unravel, you could end a lot of suffering.”

“Pardon me?”

She walked around the office as she spoke.

“Everyone who is in pain will be released. No poverty because there won’t be anything to need or own. An end to war.”

“The Arrondissement is not at war.”

“Not now, but it’s bound to happen again.”

“I don’t think war is inevitable.”

“How many times has the Arrondissement gone to war?”

“I’m not entirely certain.”

The Huygens ticked off her fingers as she spoke, “There was the Spindle War, the War of the Crimson Carp, the River Crusades, the War of Five Hundred Queens, the Iridescent Enmity, the Bloodshed of the Orange- “

“Point taken!”

“To say nothing of all the petty cruelties that people insist on inflicting upon each other. Do you want to be responsible for returning all those sins on everyone?”

“True but there is so much to celebrate. Art, music, literature, and a good meal shared with friends. Summer nights. Wine. Falling in love. Could I deprive the world of those?”

She smiled.

“So overall, you think there is more good than evil in the world?

“I want to believe so but truthfully, I don’t know.”

“Who could?”

“More questions.”

She shrugged.

“I have one for you,” he said.

“Go on.”

“Why did you make the Penultimate Device?”

The Huygens stopped and she walked to one of the other windows. He followed her.

Outside this window it was winter, and the cityscape was more recognizable as the Arrondissement, though there were many buildings that were new to him. A tower of metal and glass rose into the clouds, while snow fell in thick, heavy flakes.

“I’m not proud of what I did. Making it, that is.”

“You should be, it’s a remarkable invention. Even though I don’t understand all of what it can do.”

“Even those who I entrusted it with don’t. I told them enough to maintain it, but that was all.”

She touched the window.

“Why did you make it?”

“Because I was young and entirely too clever. Arrogant as well, as my critics called me. I didn’t make it to enrich lives or to solve problems.”

They stood there for a while, watching the snow fall.

“I did it for the worst reason of all. Because I could.”

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Questions and Questions-Arrondissement Part Sixty-Nine

L’Horloge opened his eyes and looked up. The ceiling was wooden, with crossbeams. Definitely not his office. He sat up slowly, still sore.

“Feeling better,” asked the voice.

Looking for the speaker, he saw a woman. She was dressed in a leather jerkin with sturdy green trousers and scuffed yellow boots. Her salt and pepper hair was bound up atop her head using a half dozen pencils.

“Where am I?” he inquired.

“What does it look like?”

The watch-master took stock of his surroundings. Workbenches laden with clockwork machinery, designs on parchment attached to the walls, an extensive but antiquated tool cabinet stood near the door, and finally, tall windows on each wall provided light.

“It seems to be a workshop.”

“Well then, that must be where you are,” she replied with a smile.

“How did I get here?” he said aloud.

“Don’t you remember?”

The woman extended a hand, helped him to his feet, and peered deeply into each eye.

“No, nothing wrong,” she concluded, “Except the usual.”

“Pardon me?”

“Oh, you know, all the flaws and inconsistencies that everyone has.”

“I suppose so.”

With that she moved to the nearest workbench and began to disassemble a glass sphere filled with countless miniature gears.

“Why did you bring me here?” he asked a little impatiently.

“I didn’t.”

“Of course, you did.”

“I’m afraid this is all your doing.”

“How could it be?”

She put down the sphere, picked up a pair of goggles with multiple lenses and proceeded to adjust them as she walked around L’Horloge.

“Nothing got knocked loose.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Travelling sometimes makes people a bit pixilated but you seem fine,” she concluded, pushing up her goggles.

“What could be loose?” he said patting himself to make sure he was in one piece.

“You ask a lot of questions, don’t you?”

“And you don’t seem to answer any!”

“I haven’t lied to you,” she said returning to her work.

“You’ve been a little light on the details.”

She stopped and looked at him, “Ask me anything.”

L’Horloge stared at her for a moment.

“Who are you?”

“Who do I look like?”

“Do you always answer a question with a question?”

“No, of course not. That would be maddening.”

“It is.”

“You’ve got a little vein popping off your forehead,” she observed.

“I can feel it,” he said as he sat on a worn, wooden chair.

“I’m not at all familiar to you?” the woman asked.

“Have we met before?”

“Oh no, never.”

“Then how could I know who you are!” L’Horloge shouted.

“Very linear thinking for someone who’s gone through what you have,” she said.

“How could you know? You don’t even know who I am!”

“You are the esteemed Monsieur Édouard L’Horloge, watch-master, awarded the Grand and Petite Hand Cluster by the Société de L’engrenage, accidental hero, beloved of the lovely Zsófia, and the only living being to have any comprehension of the Penultimate Device.”

L’Horloge said nothing but watched her as she walked in front of one of the windows, putting herself into silhouette.

“You look like The Huygens,” he observed.

“Do I?” She rushed to a reflective surface of an oblong section of polished brass leaning against the wall.

“Yes, that makes sense,” she said turning her head this way and that. “It suits me, don’t you think?”

“I always suspected The Huygens was a woman.”

“Agreed!”

“Have you been trapped in here?”

The Huygens tilted her hand back and forth.

“No, but also yes.”

“I need a drink.”

“An excellent suggestion!” she declared and removed a bottle and two glasses from a cupboard.

“This was supposed to fix everything.”

“Everything is a lot. You’ll need to be a bit more specific.”

“Time. It was supposed to fix time.”

She poured them each a glass.

“To the present! It’s all we have!” she said holding her glass aloft.

L’Horloge clinked his glass to hers, locked eyes, and then drank. It tasted like a superb brandy, but with something else.

“So, fixing time. Are you sure you want to do that?” she asked.

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Tick Tock-Arrondissement Part Sixty-Eight

SOMETIME BEFORE

“We need to go back,” said Monsieur L’Horloge.

The Repairperson pulled the watch-master down the hallway.

“No.”

“We can’t just leave Unexpected to those creatures! It’s wrong.”

“You have a noble heart but there is nothing we can do. The Chevalier gave her life so we might correct the unraveling of time.”

“I know but – “

“Grieve when this is over.”

“Do not tell me when to mourn!” protested Monsieur L’Horloge. He paused, shoulders sagging and said quietly, “You’re right.”


They entered his outer office to find the automata assistant engaged in a flurry of paperwork. Letters were typed, sealed in envelopes, and finally dropped into the outgoing mail tray.

“Mirourette, stop.”

Regarding the watch-master with eyes that whirred, the automata emitted a high-pitched sound and redoubled her correspondence. L’Horloge moved behind her and pressed a small panel, which opened to expose ten steel switches. He flipped up and down in a particular sequence and she began to slow and then stopped entirely.

“Poor Mirourette, you’ll need quite a lot of work after this.”

“Is the device here?”

“It’s in the inner office,” L’Horloge replied as he pressed the unlock button behind the desk.

The doors to the inner office swung open and they entered.


“Quite a collection,” said the Repairperson as she looked at the timepieces on display, “That’s a Jichi-Ku Water Clock.”

“Yes, I got it when I was abroad. You should see the pieces I have in my home.”

“I have.”

“Excuse me?” replied L’Horloge as he shut the doors.

“I searched your home when I was looking for the Penultimate Device. It seemed a likely place for you to hide it.”

“I see.”

“If it is any consolation, I searched the other’s apartments as well.”

“It really isn’t,” L’Horloge said as he locked the doors.

“Why have you locked us in?” inquired the Repairperson.

“Have I frightened you?”

“No, you haven’t.”

“I don’t suppose I could,” he responded, “Very well, in order to recover the Penultimate Device, the doors must be locked. Observe.”

L’Horloge threw a lever which lowered steel shutters over the windows. He then moved about the room opening clocks and adjusting the time on each. The ticking became arrhythmic.

“It’s familiar,” said the Repairperson as she listened.

“It should be,” said L’Horloge with a smirk.

She listened as he manipulated each clock.

“Uhrwerk Herz.”

“Yes! It’s the love song from the second act,” L’Horloge practically shouted.

“Quite a lot of detailed work to set this up.”

L’Horloge smiled and said, “I never thought of it as work.”

She didn’t say anything but nodded her head.

“Finally, the last part,” he said, taking his Roosenmutter off his wrist and fitted it into a depression under the blotter on his desk. With a twist, a rectangular wooden and copper pedestal arose from the floor, just in front of his desk.

L’Horloge moved to it and placed his palm on the top. A series of clicks could be heard and the sides opened up to show the case with the brass spider inlaid on the cover.

“I imagine there are consequences if any part of the sequence is done incorrectly.”

“Oh my, yes. To say nothing of what would happen if you just used brute force to tear the place apart.”

“I am impressed.”

Placing the case on the desk, he said, “High praise from the League of Spiders.”

“That’s not our actual name.”

The watch-master paused.

“I don’t suppose it would be. It’s something the Fourth Estate came up with to sell papers. What do you call yourselves?”

“If we survive all this, I’ll tell you.”

“And if we don’t?”

She didn’t reply.

They then began to work. First, the Device was opened with the Variable Key and by unsealing the ancillary lock. What followed was a succession of byzantine adjustments to dials, buttons, gears, weights, and counterweights. A minute kaleidoscope made with diminutive gemstones was removed, gently cleaned in a soft beaker filled with a liquid that turned from a dark crimson to a bright azure, then replaced.

Notes were checked and double-checked and it was almost done.

“Just turn the Variable Key and it should be done,” said the Repairperson as she sat down on one of the office chairs.

“Are you sure – “

L’Horloge looked at her. She had gone sallow and pale.

“You need help.”

“It’s not important.”

He moved to her. Her jacket had a large dark stain that now smelled of iron.

“I’m fine.”

“You’re dying.”

“Both are true.”

L’Horloge ran to his washroom muttering, “I must have fresh towels or – “

“Stop!”

He did.

“Just turn the key and set it right.”

“I’ll just – “

“Please.”

This was the first time she had said please.

“I will but then you need a Chirurgeon.”

She slowly nodded as she closed her eyes.

L’Horloge turned to the Device, took a deep breath, and turned the Variable Key. Suddenly, the floor dropped beneath him and just as quickly, rushed up to knock the breath out of him.

He lay there, waiting till he felt that could sit up. Perhaps a little longer.

“So, it finally happened, eh?” said a voice he did not recognize.

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Determination and Loss-Arrondissement Part Sixty-Seven

“You can take off those blindfolds now,” said Nikita with relief.

Maxi and Arpin removed them and blinked. The light, while not bright, was enough to make them squint.

“I have to say, those spiders are VERY creative,” remarked the ghost, “They made the most elaborate traps to catch you two. There was one that looked like a flower that folded in on itself and then bloomed again and again. ”

“I’m happy to have frustrated them,” replied Maxi.

“Thank you again, Mademoiselle Nikita,” said Arpin.

“Yes, you really came through, so to speak,” added Maxi

“One of the side benefits of ghosthood. Danger can’t get a hold of me.”

“Very useful.”

“True. But I miss the little things. Like going out and getting into trouble.”

“Everything thing that has happened means there is trouble enough for everyone,” remarked Maxi.

“Not what I meant.”

“I know. When this is all over we’ll go out and make some mischief.”

Arpin sniffed.

“Nothing too illegal,” said Maxi with a smirk.

The Sergeant Gendarme’s whiskers twitched.

“What do you smell?” asked Maxi.

“It’s very faint.”

Maxi and Nikita paused.

“Determination and… Loss.”

“Who?”

“I cannot tell.”

“We need to move,” said Maxi who strode down the hallway towards Monsieur L’Horloge’s office.

The walls and floor flickered from patterned marble to polished wood, then to a faintly luminescent crystal, and then back to the marble. They stood in front of door number twenty-three hundred and seventy-two, the watch-master’s place of business.

Maxi took out her lock picking tools but Arpin shook his head and turned the doorknob. A soft click was heard and the door swung open. The outer office was empty, save for sepia prints of well-known clocks. Behind a crescent-shaped desk sat an automata assistant, its eight arms locked in mid-task.

“They must be in his office,” said Maxi.

She placed her ear on the double doors to the inner office and listened.

“I hear voices, L’Horloge for sure.”

Unfortunately, the doors were sealed and did not open at their approach. Even pressing the open button under the assistant’s desk didn’t help.

“Okay then,” said Maxi as she cracked her knuckles, “Let’s see what’s what.”

Tools were produced and she began to work on the mechanism. A snap sounded and two halves of a delicate implement fell to the floor.

“Merde!”

“Maxi. I know that you can do this,” said Arpin.

“I know!’ she snapped, “It’s just that was a rare tool. Replacing it will be very expensive.”

“Perhaps the Coterie du Honor will help cover the cost?”

She laughed and felt immediately better.

“I’ll just add it to the tab.”

“Maybe I can help,” suggested Nikita.

“Can you pick a lock?”

“No, but I can walk through walls.”

Maxi and Arpin looked at each other with rueful amusement.

“Mademoiselle, if you don’t mind,” asked Arpin.

Nikita passed through the door and returned a moment later.

“What’s going on?” asked Maxi.

“L’Horloge isn’t there.”

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Sanguine Steps-Arrondissement Part Sixty-Six

The silver tabby ran in-between legs and leapt at the Escher Spider who had led Unexpected halfway into the side of the stairway. The non-Euclidian arachnid skittered away to a parallel geometric space.

“Merci brave lion,” said Unexpected as she squeezed her eyes shut.

“Is that your cat?” asked L’Horloge.

“No, though it’s been said that one cannot truly own a cat.”

“True,” said the Repairperson.

“You never struck me as a cat person,” said L’Horloge.

“I’m not.”

Unexpected, now clear-headed, scratched the silver tabby behind the ears. Purrs ensued.

“Did mademoiselle Maxi send you to watch over us?” wondered the Chevalier.

Meows, trills, and chatter filled the stairway.

“Is that a ‘yes?’” inquired L’Horloge.

“Perhaps it’s a bit more complicated than that but I suspect it is true,” said Unexpected.

With an impatient flick of his tail, the silver tabby climbed three steps, turned back, regarded the rest of them with an imperious glare, and continued upwards.

“Well then, we have our marching orders,” said Unexpected with a wry smile.

Three humans followed the cat.

“Why are Escher Spiders afraid of cats?” ruminated L’Horloge aloud.

“Cats and spiders are ancient foes,” said the Repairperson, “It is a war that has been fought for as long as either side can remember.”

“Are you saying that all cats and all spiders are in some sort of endless conflict?” asked L’Horloge incredulously.

“Was I not clear?”

“No, it’s just a little…,” said the watch-master as he attempted to choose the correct word.

“It’s news to us,” piped in Unexpected.

“Yes, that’s it,” added L’Horloge, “Why though?”


“Why are cats and spiders mortal enemies? That I do not know.”

“I wonder if they even remember?”

A yowl punctuated with some hisses came from the front of the line.

“I guess they do. It’s amazing that an Escher Spider would back off. The size difference alone should put the cats at disadvantage.”

“Size is not the only factor in a battle,” said Unexpected, “In fact, I was once almost bested by a Lutin only as high as my knee. Tricky little bastard nearly took my head.”

“How did you escape?”

“It was pure fortune that some salt spilled between us. Did I mention we were fighting in a kitchen?”

“You left out that part.”

“So, he couldn’t cross the salt which gave me the opening and voilà! He lost his head and I kept mine.”

“Aren’t Lutins helpful creatures?” asked L’Horloge.

“Some are. Others prefer to slaughter and cook people.”

“Eww.”

“Agreed. But the thing is that a smaller fighter can best a larger one if they are clever,” pointed out the Chevalier.

“And cats always land on their feet,” added L’Horloge.

“That is why Escher Spiders fear them. They understand what side is up,” declared the Repairperson.

L’Horloge and Unexpected considered this.

“It makes sense.”

“Yes. I agree.”

A low growl was heard, followed by a hollow skittering. An Escher Spider slid out from beneath the steps behind them just as another folded up from the landing ahead of them.

“Close ranks!” shouted the Chevalier.

Unexpected and the Repairperson stood on either side of L’Horloge. Strikes came rapidly, parries and ripostes followed. Blood, both crimson and fractal stained the steps and littered the air.

The silver tabby leapt to and fro, keeping the extra-dimensional creatures at bay, but he could not be everywhere. In the distance, the clattering sounds of others could be heard approaching.

“We won’t last much longer,” said the Repairperson.

“I have a terrible idea!” yelled Unexpected.

“Please don’t!” replied L’Horloge.

“Repairperson, now is the time for heroics!”

As she said that, the Unexpected Chevalier was pulled sideways into the top of the stairs, followed closely by the silver tabby. The opening sealed itself with the sound of shuffling cards, leaving the upward path open.

L’Horloge was grabbed by the Repairperson who calmly said, “Run.”

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Existential Leap-Arrondissement Part Sixty-Five

“Keep going but slowly,” directed Nikita.

With hands laid on each other’s shoulders, Maxi and Arpin carefully walked down the stairway. While they descended Nikita would guide them with descriptions of what the Escher Spiders were doing.

“It looks like a spiral that’s looping back in on itself,” said the spirit, “It looks a bit like a flower that’s continually blooming.”

“I’m sorry and also grateful that I can’t see that,” commented Maxi.

“Oh yes, you’d be very much trapped,” replied the spirit.

They continued down the stairs with the direction of Nikita.

“I’ve been thinking,” said Arpin.

“That seems like something you’d do,” said Maxi.

“There’s something strange about all this.”

“You think so?” replied Maxi with a laugh.

“Obviously, the whole event is strange, even for the Arrondissement.”

“I can’t argue with that.”

“But we have seen people and locations fluctuating in time, the unraveling that the Repairperson spoke of.”

“It’s hard to miss.”

“Agreed. But I wonder why we are unaffected?”

They went down several steps as they pondered this.

“If I had to guess, it’s whatever prevented us from being frozen in time when things went sideways back at the Tower Cerulean.”

“Very likely. It is the most prominent factor we all have in common.”

“Always the detective.”

“It is my nature.”

“Sorry, please go on.”

“If that is the case and we are immune to the dissolving of time, what will happen if we fail?”

“Are you saying we’re doomed?”

“No, I still believe we can correct this. But if we don’t, will we be left behind?”

“Well-“ began Maxi

“What will be here?”

“I can’t-“

“Will it be an unending storm of time rushing back and forth with no meaning or purpose?”

“That’s-“

“Could we survive in such horror or would we eventually be overwhelmed and swallowed by the chaos?”

She did not reply.

“Mademoiselle?”

“Are you done?”

He sighed and said, “Yes.”

“Well then, that all was very inspirational.”

“I’m sorry- “

“No, no, no! Once this is all over, you might consider a career as a public speaker. I think you would be in great demand.”

“I take your point.”

“Perhaps you can give lectures to school children about what awaits them in life. Their tears will be a small price to pay.”

“Are you done?”

“Yes. Wait, I’ve got one more. Toasts at weddings! You could say something about the ephemeral and fleeting nature of love. Now I’m done.”

“Well played.”

“Merci.”

Maxi and Arpin continued to descend.

“Arpin?” softly said Maxi.

“Yes?”

“I’m worried too.”

“At least we are not alone in that.”

“STOP!!!” screamed Nikita.

They froze.

“Apologies Mademoiselle, we were lost in thought, even as you have generously guided us. If I have disturbed you with my own worries, I am truly ashamed. Standing together, we will preserver and set this madness to right.”

“Maybe he should be a public speaker,” thought Maxi.

“No! The stairs in front of you have disappeared. You’ll need to jump.”

Arpin paused as Maxi unsuccessfully stifled her mirth.

“Is it a big leap?”

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