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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None Taken-Arrondissement Part Sixty-Four

Marble steps turned to rough-hewn stone and the gaslights to flickering torches as they ran up the staircase.

“Don’t look back!” shouted Unexpected as she slashed at an Escher Spider’s leg.

It had woven a pattern of overlapping stairs behind them and was trying to draw them in. Using only peripheral vision, the Chevalier kept the dimensional arachnid at bay as they ascended.

In the front, a large Escher Spider unfolded from the wall and was about to spin things into a loop when the Repairperson grabbed on the legs and flung it into the middle of the stairwell where it fell until it folded in on itself.

“Quickly, to the door!” cried L’Horloge.

They moved as fast as they could and slammed the door behind them. The watch-master sat on the tiled floor, which shifted from a black and white checkerboard pattern to a burnt umber and forest green houndstooth.

“How many floors did we climb?” asked L’Horloge.

“One,” replied the Repairperson.

L’Horloge lay back with a groan.

“Think of us as one floor closer to our goal,” declared Unexpected as she cleaned fractal ichor from her blade.

“We’re not going to make it,” said L’Horloge.

“Come now, you should not lose heart!” said the Chevalier.

“I can’t fight like the two of you.”

“You sell yourself short. I saw how you dispatched that beast in the park outside.”

“It was pure panic. I also threw up afterward.”

“It’s not unusual, I- “

L’Horloge stood up and loudly said, “I can’t do this! I’m not a Chevalier or a…”

He looked at the Repairperson.

“Whatever you are. No offense.”

“None taken.”

“If I keep going, I will likely die or worse, one of you will die trying to protect me. I could not bear that.”

“You must have faith,” said Unexpected as she gripped him by his shoulders.

“She’s right,” added the Repairperson.

Unexpected gave a crooked smile.

“I had no idea that the League of Spiders had believers in their ranks.”

“Our faith is of a different sort but that isn’t what you are correct about. We cannot stop now, whatever the cost.”

“But if anyone is killed- “, began L’Horloge.

“If we all just sit here all of the Arrondissement will be unmade. Everything and everyone you care for will be gone. If we press forward, there is a chance we can succeed. Not a huge one, but a chance.”

“Depressingly inspirational,” said Unexpected.

“Still, I’m a burden. Leave me here, the Repairperson can readjust the Penultimate device,” said the watch-master.

“No. I’ll need your help and the Chevalier lacks the skill to aid me. No offense.”

“None taken.”

“Are you absolutely certain?”

“Yes.”

L’Horloge sighed.

“Then let us continue.”

They all entered the stairways door. Just before it closed, a silver tabby trotted from a shadow and followed them in. Ears flat, eyes determined.

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Yes and No-Arrondissement Part Sixty-Three

“Did the rest of them get in?”

“I hope so.”

“Hope?”

Arpin shrugged.

“Without hope, we are lost.”

“Very philosophical,” replied Maxi.

“Perhaps, but as things stand the other choice is to panic or surrender.”

“Hope it is then.”

“Are we close to the watch-master’s office?” asked Arpin.

“We are thirteen floors above.”

“So, we must use the stairs.”

“The Escher Spiders might prove to be difficult,” Maxi pointed out.

“True.”

“But it’s not like the rest has been easy.”

“It has not.”

Arpin produced a copper flask and a carved wooden, collapsible cup from his jacket. He poured a shot and handed it to Maxi.

“Drinking on the job? Scandalous!” she said with a smirk.

“As the soul Gendarme on duty in the Arrondissement, I have decided to give myself some leeway in this matter. Though later on I may have to give myself a stern talking to.”

“Seems fair, given everything.”

“To going forward!” he said and they drank.

Maxi’s eyes went wide but she didn’t spit the liquor out.

“Smooth,” she coughed.

“A friend of mine makes it in small batches.”

“Large batches might be a be a war crime.”

“I’ve said as much to my friend.”

They looked at each other for a moment and then strode to the stairway door.

“WAIT!”

Maxi and Arpin both jumped. Hairs stood on end. Sweat broke out cold. Whiskers twitched and continued to do so. Fighting panic, they moved back to back, Maxi with a knife in each hand and Arpin with his Morpheus.

“Sorry!” said Nikita in a conciliatory tone.

“You need to be more careful with that!” said Maxi as she sheathed her blades.

“I haven’t been a spirit that long. It’s not like there’s a primer on being dead.”

“I’m certain you intended no malice but please try to be more cautious, if you can,” said Arpin.

“I will. Again, I’m very sorry.”

Maxi resisted the urge to ask for another shot.

“Did the others get in?” she asked.

“I haven’t seen them, but I came from the upper floors,” stated Nikita, “Well, above where we are now. Does this building even have a top floor?”

“Every floor is the top floor,” noted Maxi, “For a moment.”

“Okay…”

“We should go to L’Horloge’s office. The others will be headed there as well,” suggested Arpin.

“Escher Spiders, here we come,” said Maxi with mock joy.

“A shame we need to see where we’re going,” mused Arpin.

“Why?” asked Nikita.

“Well, the Escher Spiders can overlap up, down, left, right, and so on. That’s how they trap their prey.”

“That’s weird,” said the ghost.

“I suppose it is,” added Arpin.

“No. I went into the stairwell, to see if anyone was in there. I didn’t see the others but the Escher Spiders were doing, well, what they do but I could see through it.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s like there were rough outlines but I could still see the stairs.”

Arpin looked at Maxi and said, “I have a thought.”

“A good one?”

“Yes and no.”

Maxi and Arpin tied blindfolds on themselves, making sure they could see nothing. Then with a deep breath, the two stepped into the stairwell.

“Just follow the sound of my voice,” they heard Nikita say.

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Perilous Stroll-Arrondissement Part Sixty-Two

Ancient stone ossuaries were replaced by steel and glass ones containing not wrapped bones but some sort of matte black sarcophagi. This change only lasted a moment but it urged them to hurry.

Maxi guided them to a side corridor that ended in a hexagonal room containing an upward ladder. A short climb later, they found themselves on the surface.

“It’s right across the park,” said Monsieur L’Horloge as he pointed to a tall building that rose into the clouds.

The park was petite, about the size of one square block, with clear paths to the opposite side. Off they went. After three steps, the stone paths became worn, with weeds sprouting and cracking through. A riot of verdant growth burst all around them and they found themselves enclosed by a barrier made of thick Elm tree trunks with no room to squeeze past.

Before they were able to climb past this natural obstruction, they had to dispatch the Ur-Squirrels. With fangs as along an adult’s forearm and vicious sharp claws they leapt from the branches and struck.

Unexpected drew her blade and made short work of her opponents. Maxi produced a knife from up her sleeve and demonstrated her skill with said blade. Arpin dropped three with well-placed shots from his Morpheus. Nikita used her presence to frighten their enemies, making sure no one was overwhelmed. The Repairperson snapped necks and flung foes against the elm trees but if she took any joy in it, her expression betrayed nothing. L’Horloge, grabbed a fallen branch and stuck one with a strength born of panic. The Ur-Squirrel fell, twitched, and then was still.

In the end, everyone had multiple cuts, which were painful and L’Horloge was threw up a little, but they were victorious. They encountered no other dangers as they made their way out of the green but a sense that they were being watched trailed them until they left.

Finally, they stood in front of the rising building where Monsieur L’Horloge had his office. The exclusivity of that particular feature was now problematic due to the speed of movement of building, which under normal conditions was at a steady rate. Now switched from a rapid blur to a glacial pace.

“This is going to be tricky,” said L’Horloge.

“Obviously,” remarked Unexpected.

“Not just because of the speed. We need to get on the correct floor,” added the watch-master.

“Are there not stairs?” inquired Arpin.

“Yes, but sometimes we get Escher-Spiders. They can make the stairs complicated.”

“Lots of extra dimensions and odd perspectives,” said Maxi.

“It’s unfortunate that this is such a superb hiding place,” observed the Repairperson.

“Yes, well… Merci, I suppose.”

Stone and brick rushed past, briefly turning to a rose and azure luminescent material, then back to what it had been.

“Getting in is most important,” stated Arpin, “Waiting is not a luxury we can indulge in.”

The rate of speed the building rose at was erratic and followed no pattern. Finally, it slowed enough for them to jump. Timing, as is often the case, was not quite right. L’Horloge, Unexpected, and the Repairperson tumbled into the hallway as the building rose with vigorous inertia.

Everyone got to their feet, albeit with some caution.

“What floor are we on?” asked Unexpected.

L’Horloge looked at a plaque on the wall and said, “Twenty-Three, only five floors below my office.”

“Some luck at last,” said the Chevalier with a smile.

“Pardon,” interrupted the Repairperson.

“Yes,” replied L’Horloge as he brushed himself off.

“Where are the others?”

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Up or Down?-Arrondissement Part Sixty-One

As they ran down the Rue des Rêves, Verdigris enveloped the statues that lined the avenue until they flaked away into a pale green dust. The worn cobblestones they were traveling along became smoother and easier to run on. Suddenly, ahead of them, the Rue de la Pensée became a fast, rushing river and they leapt into the archway of a stable building just short of the newly created riverbank.

“We need an alternate route,” said the Repairperson.

Arpin leaned out to see how far the water went but the rue, now a torrential waterway, turned to the left several blocks and to the right, it continued straight beyond his sight.

“Since we cannot cross, there are two choices, either go up or down,” offered the Gendarme Sergeant.

“I don’t care for either of those,” said L’Horloge.

“If things change while we leap from rooftop to rooftop it might go very badly,” said Unexpected while she stroked her chin, “On the other hand, it might be just what we need.”

“That’s hardly comforting,” muttered the watch-master.

“Not at all!” added Nikita.

“I suggest we use the catacombs,” said Maxi.

“What if we’re swallowed up by the stone?” asked L’Horloge.

“The catacombs are some of the oldest parts of the Arrondissement, even if they change we might not even notice it.”

They all gave this thought and then immediately agreed. Maxi led them to a Metro station and down one level. There, they walked counterclockwise around an extremely menacing gargoyle and found themselves riding a spiral de-escalator until it deposited them in the catacombs.

“I keep expecting spirits to be watching us,” said Unexpected quietly.

Nikita said nothing but the corridor became significantly colder.

“Pardon! I did not-”, the Chevalier began.

“Not your fault”, interrupted Nikita.

“If we get to the device in time, the rest of the spirits should return,” the Repairperson said.

“Interesting that you should say that because no one asked you what you thought,” spat the ghost.

“This alliance can only succeed if we work together and put aside our differences,” replied the Repairperson.

“Did you not hear what I just said?” asked Nikita as the walls began to frost over.

“Please,” interjected Arpin, “This will not bring anything or anyone back. Circumstances have made us allies but know this Repairperson. All of us will be keeping a close eye on you.”

“It is irrational to-“, began the Repairperson.

“If matters were rational, we would not be here,” said Arpin with sad smile.

They walked in silence after that. After a while, they walked past the iron doors of Les Requêtes. Odd popping and clattering could be heard from inside but they did not investigate further. Soon after that, the narrow passage opened up into a large, rough-hewn room, illuminated with braziers, and in the center, a grassy mound. Standing on top was a figure dressed in red and blue checkered pants, a fur cape, bronze helmet, and holding a large double headed axe.

“Costume or real?” Maxi asked aloud.

The Warrior, as they all later referred to him, bellowed words that they did not understand and charged forward swinging his axe with both hands. Unexpected drew her sword, which seemed to change length, heft, and width depending on how she wielded it, as she met the Warrior blow for blow.

Maxi pushed L’Horloge behind her and he did not fight her on this. Arpin drew his Morpheus and lacking a clear shot, he waited for his opening.

The Chevalier and Warrior fought, with Unexpected the more refined combatant but the Warrior possessing greater strength and fury. It became like a dance, a violent one to be sure, but artistic in its way.

Unexpected had just parried a blow that might’ve bisected her when the Warrior rammed his forehead into her nose with an unpleasant crack. She stumbled back, shaking her head as he raised his axe.

Arpin was about to shoot when the Repairperson jumped in front of the Warrior and punched him square in the face. Tumbling off the mound, he dropped his weapon and was knocked flat on his back. With preternatural speed, the Repairperson was there, striking him repeatedly.

His face a bloody mess, the Warrior did the only thing he could. He spat blood in her eyes. Before the Repairperson could wipe them clean, he drew a dagger from his belt and thrust it into her stomach.

He was about to twist the blade when Nikita flew through the Repairperson, her face distorted in a rictus of anger. With a howl that froze everyone, she ‘touched’ the Warrior on the sides. His eyes went wide and his skin, the portions not covered in blood, drained of color.

Quickly the rest of them attended to the wounded. Unexpected waved off any help, saying a broken nose was nothing to worry about. She proved it by resetting it herself, though she said nothing for a full minute after that.

The Repairperson was not so easily dealt with.

“I’m not going to lie to you, this is bad,” said Maxi as she examined the wound.

“Please just remove the dagger and bind me up,” said the Repairperson.

“You need a Chirurgeon,” insisted Maxi.

“Let me see,” said Unexpected as she looked in.

The Chevalier’s eyes widened.

“She’s right, that’s a mortal wound.”

“I’m tougher than I look.”

“She’s a member of the League of Spiders, we’ve all seen what they can do,” said Arpin.

“I’m no Chirurgeon but I’ve sewn up my fair share of cuts,” said Unexpected as she took a heavy bone needle and strong thread from a pouch on her belt.

Dagger removed, she quickly sutured the puncture. Once finished, the Repairperson got up and started walking towards the exit, despite the loss of an alarming volume of blood. Arpin shrugged and followed.

Passing Nikita, the Repairperson said, “Merci.”

“I don’t want your thanks.”

“You have them though.”

“I still don’t like or trust you,” said the spirit as they moved.

“But you saved my life.”

“We need you alive.”

“It’s true.”

“For now.”

“I know.”

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Don’t You Trust Me?-Arrondissement Part Sixty

“She’s lying!” exclaimed Nikita.

“I don’t think she was,” countered Arpin, “She did not smell of deceit.”

“If I were to lie, I might say something that sounded dangerous but would be impossible to check,” added Maxi

“Monsieur L’Horloge, what do you think?” asked Unexpected of the watch-master.

He removed Encre de Les ténèbres spectacles and looked up from the blue portfolio he was studying. They had set up the receptionist’s desk as far away from the front door and the ierósium staircases as possible.

“Pardon?” he said.

“Do you believe what the Repairperson said?” asked Maxi.

“I think I do.”

“Perhaps you could elaborate?” inquired Arpin.

“Of course,” L’Horloge muttered as he leafed through papers. After a moment or two he found what he sought.

“Look at the lower left-hand corner,” the watch-master said handing the spectacles to Arpin.

Leaning in, the Sergeant Gendarme read and then handed the spectacles to Maxi.

“It is similar phrasing.”

Maxi, having read, passed the spectacles to Unexpected.

“Interesting.”

Unexpected read the hidden text and held the spectacles so Nikita could see what they all saw.

“She must have known you would find this,” argued the spirit.

“We did not mention finding her notes,” volunteered Arpin.

“It’s best to keep your enemy in the dark,” said Unexpected.

Turning to Arpin and the Chevalier, Maxi asked, “Again, what were her exact words?”

“She said, ‘Time is going to unravel.’ She did not elaborate further.”

“Well that’s vaguely threatening,” countered Nikita.

“Why do you distrust her so much?” asked L’Horloge.

“Because of everything you told me that she did, plus the fact she has an army of ghosts surrounding us. Oh, and she’s a member of the League of Spiders!”

“Those are some solid reasons,” admitted Maxi.

“Hard to argue with that,” replied Unexpected.

“All true. And yet…” mused Arpin.

“What?”

“When she told us that time would unravel, she smelled afraid,” said the Sergeant Gendarme.

“Did she say what that meant?” quickly interjected Maxi, who was weary of arguing.

“No. I’m not certain she knows.”

“That’s comforting,” snapped Nikita.

“Mademoiselle,” said Unexpected, who moved directly in front of Nikita, “I know you are frightened. All of us are but bickering and snark will not help us. We must stand with each other, that is the only way we will correct the flow of time and return the Arrondissement to the gloriously flawed and wondrous place it is!”

Nikita took a deep breath, out of habit and not necessity, and said, “You’re right. I’m sorry, this is all a lot to take in.”

Everyone agreed.

“Very eloquent,” said Maxi to Unexpected.

“I know, right!” added Nikita, “Did you just come up with that off the cuff?”

“Perhaps you should be called the Silver-Tongued Chevalier,” suggested Arpin.

“You flatter me, I merely spoke from my heart,” she replied with a smile.

“I hate to interrupt but I have some details to share,” said L’Horloge.

“Please Monsieur,” said Arpin.

“First, to give some credence to the Repairperson’s warning, the note inscribed reads, ‘If the Device is not properly maintained, the weave will unravel.’ I surmised that means the weave of time.”

“I think we all- “, began Nikita.

“Yes, very good, continue,” interjected Maxi who shot the ghost an exasperated stare.

“Below it says, ‘Do not let this happen under any circumstances. Extraordinarily BAD!!!’ That part was underlined. Thrice.”

“Does it define what bad means in this context?” inquired Arpin.

“Sadly no, but as I said, underlined thrice.”

“Is there enough information to reset the Device?” asked Maxi.

“I believe so, but that’s not the real question.”

“What is the real question?” asked Unexpected.

“Do I have all the time in the world? If so, then yes, I could adjust the Device so time would flow correctly. If the Repairperson and the notes are correct, then the best I could offer is perhaps with a high degree of probably not.”

“So, we need to work with her. Again,” said Maxi, “Despite her previous betrayals.”

“Or risk the unraveling of time itself, whatever that entails,” commented L’Horloge.

All of them fell silent as they thought on this unpalatable but unavoidable conclusion. Just then, a calico rubbed against Maxi’s legs and meowed.

“What do you mean?” asked Maxi. The calico trotted to the stairs.

“How do they keep getting in here?” asked Nikita.

“Cats are both a liquid and a solid,” replied Maxi.

“Really?”

“That’s what they say.”

Maxi followed the cat upstairs to the top floor, where it entered an office with windows that overlooked the Arrondissement. The calico leapt to the windowsill and waited. Maxi stood behind her and looked out.

In the distance, the spire atop the Banque Nationale began to unfold into smaller and smaller geometric shapes until they spilled over the domed roof. To the left, the Crystalline Bridge shifted from clear to violet, to a smoky amethyst, and finally started to slowly melt.

“You were right. I had to see it myself.”

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Assurance and Threats-Arrondissement Part Fifty-Nine

Arpin and Unexpected walked to the open space made in the ghostly ranks and stopped three meters away from the Repairperson, as her instructions. The spirits were out of earshot.

“Thank you for agreeing to this parley,” said the Repairperson.

“How could we not?” asked Unexpected, “Since the last one went so well.”

“That was not our fault,” countered the Repairperson.

Unexpected made a sweeping gesture to the time frozen Arrondissement and said, “If they could, I’m confident they would disagree.”

“If you had not interfered- “, began the Repairperson.

“Pardon,” interrupted Arpin, “But the issue of blame does not aid anyone, least of all the Arrondissement. Can we agree on that?”

Unexpected looked darkly at the Repairperson, then with a rueful smile said, “Of course.”

“Agreed,” conceded the Repairperson.

“Now, you asked us here to treat with you. What do you have to say?”

“Either bring me the Penultimate Device or reveal its location and I will restore the flow of time.”

Arpin and Unexpected exchanged looks.

“You ask for a mighty leap of faith,” said Unexpected, “One that you cannot really expect us to take.”

“I must agree. What assurances could you offer that we might take seriously, given the state of things?”

“We have never lied to you,” said the Repairperson with no hint of irony.

“I don’t recall agreeing to freezing everything in time,” observed Arpin.

“If you did not interfere, time would be flowing normally.”

“Technically correct,” said Unexpected.

“But a detail omitted in the agreement,” added Arpin.

“It was felt to be necessary.”

“I’d say the truth of that is debatable and it does nothing to further your cause.”

“Let me speak plainly then. You are trapped, while ghosts cannot touch the living physically, a single spirit has the ability to paralyze with fear. Imagine fear multiplied by the hundreds. It would drive even the strongest of people mad. You would long for death. I don’t wish to do this, but if you leave no choice…”

“That’s quite a threat,” said Arpin thoughtfully.

“Not the fear of violence or death but the fear of fear,” added Unexpected, “Fiendish.”

“I would prefer if you would just turn over the Penultimate Device,” said the Repairperson.

“I’m sure you would,” replied Arpin, “But threats do not inspire trust.”

“You may trust that I will do what I need to. I have no desire to harm you but if it becomes necessary, I will not hesitate.”

Arpin took out a cigarette, lit it, and took a deep drag. He said, “You won’t anything of the sort.”

“What makes you think that?” asked the Repairperson.

“Several reasons, if you will allow me to explain.”

The Repairperson nodded.

“First, your army of the dead cannot go too deeply into your headquarters, since you rather thoughtfully built it with… What was that metal called?”

“Ierósium,” added Unexpected.

“Merci. We can hold up in the leader’s offices, since they are thoughtfully lined with Ierósium. Indefinitely. Your larders are well stocked even if they are not culinarily inspired. I suspect that your allies will no longer be as enthused about working with you if they discover what you have done.

“Secondly, if you choose to violate the parley and send your ghosts to terrify us into endless insanity, Mademoiselle Maxi and Monsieur L’Horloge will never trust you. If they ever did. Both of them are remarkably clever and resourceful. I would not wager on your chances against them.

“Thirdly, if you choose to fight us, you have an advantage, given your ‘enhancements’, but you will have to kill us and you will be no closer to laying your hands on the Device. And if you eventually find it and correct the flow of time, the Gendarmerie and the Coterie du Honor will not forget what has happened. You might think time is your ally, but I think it is ours,” concluded the Sergeant Gendarme.

With that, Arpin and Unexpected turned and walked back to the League Headquarters.

“Well done,” quietly said Unexpected.

Arpin smiled.

“Wait.”

They turned and found the Repairperson had followed them. Both Gendarme and Chevalier tensed.

“Time is not on either of our sides.”

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Open and Shut-Arrondissement Part Fifty Eight


“This one too?” asked Maxi.

Nikita shuddered and replied, “Yes, just like the others.”

They stood before a drab metal door at the end of a stone corridor, seven levels below the lobby.

“Stand back,” said Maxi quietly as she took out her lockpick set. After a moment or so a soft click was heard and the door folded into the wall.

“That was quick.”

“Well, there are sigils inscribed on the lintel but none of that is working right now so it was easier than it should have been.”

“But they will go off if time restarts?”

“When time restarts.”

“Right. When.”

Maxi looked at her ghostly companion.

“Why does this worry you so much? This didn’t affect spirits.”

“It did. We have no purpose without the living. Who are we supposed to haunt?”

Maxi laughed which earned her a sharp look from Nikita.

“Sorry, it’s a little funny.”

“It’s not! It’s…”

Nikita snapped her fingers while struggling to find the right word.

“I was going to say tragic but that’s just dramatic. Dammit.”

“What?”

“It is funny.”

They both laughed at that, their mirth echoing down the corridor.

“I’m going to take a look down the passage,” said Maxi after they spend all their mirth.

“Okay, I’ll wait for you here.”

Maxi moved down the passage quietly. No one was there to hear her and the laughing fit she just enjoyed would’ve been a giveaway but she did it instinctively. About one hundred meters in it ended in a stone staircase that climbed up. At the top, a short corridor led to a wrought iron gate on street level. Through the gate, she could see a wall of ghosts across the rue. She quietly made her way back.

“They’re there too,” said Nikita.

“Not a surprise,” said Maxi with a shrug.

“What next?”

“There was one more door I wanted to check out.”

On the lowest level, just below the area where they found barred cells, there was a large square room. It was completely devoid of furniture or ornamentation save for the far wall that was inscribed with a vast geometric pattern of symbols, glyphs, sigils, and runes.

“That looks… dangerous,” observed Nikita.

“You’re not wrong.”

Maxi walked up and examined it. Nikita stayed at the doorway.

“It can’t activate.”

“I know.”

“Is there any ierósium?”

Nikita slowly glided into the room.

“No…”

“Are you certain?” asked Maxi.

“Yes. Yes, I only have existential dread.”

“Funny. Check out the wall.”

The spirit moved next to Maxi.

“That’s a lot of symbols. Can you read it?” asked Nikita.

“Some of it. If I had to guess, it’s an elaborate lock.”

“Plus, dangerous hexes.”

“Absolutely.”

“What is behind it?”

“Many valuable things,” Maxi said with a gleam in her eye.

“Try to focus.”

“Right.”

“Can you open it?”

“No. It’s not mechanical. It’s an arcane lock and since all that isn’t working, it will stay sealed.”

“That might be for the best.”

“But you could…”, began Maxi.

“What?” interrupted Nikita.

“Just float through it.”

“How thick it is?”

“I have no idea.”

“That’s a problem.”

“Why? Just come back if you don’t find anything.”

“It doesn’t work like that. All spirits can pass through solid objects but if we go too far we can get lost.”

“Really?”

“Yes. We can lose our sense of direction and might never be seen again.”

“That’s horrible.”

“It is.”

“Okay, I have an idea. How long did it take you to move from the door? Count it off.”

Nikita did it in six.

“Just go straight for six, and if you don’t come out the other side, turn around and come back.”

She sighed then replied, “Okay, I’ll try it.”

“This will work.”

“If it doesn’t, I’ll haunt you so hard.”

Maxi suppressed the urge to remind her if it didn’t work she would be unable to do that. “Right, here I go.”

And with that, Nikita moved through the wall and began to count. One. Two. Three. Four, and suddenly she found herself floating above a circular pit, about ten meters wide.

With relief, she zoomed back to Maxi and said, “Big pit, going down, I’m going to check it out.”

Maxi applauded and Nikita returned to the pit. There was a brass spiral rail that curved down as she descended. When she reached the bottom there was a metal and wood platform attached to the rails. A lift of some sort.

From there spread out a sea of free-standing doors, each had a copper plate with a raised symbol, a caldron, a book, a bundle of sticks, and so on. She took a deep breath, despite the inability to breathe, and stuck her head through one.

On the other side was the back of the door. Disappointing but it made sense if these were made with the same sort of occult methods. Maybe time to go back.

She shared what she learned with Maxi as they returned to the lobby. Surprisingly, or maybe not so much, Maxi had read about this sort set up, though she admitted that she had never seen one and that it was thought to be purely theoretical.

As they joined the others, Maxi began, “Good news, there are a number of secret exits.”

“Bad news is there are ghosts at each one,” added Nikita who wished she had been the one to offer the good news.

Arpin held up an unfolded letter.

“The Repairperson had contacted us.”

“What did she say?” asked Maxi and Nikita simultaneously.

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Safe As Buildings-Arrondissement-Part Fifty-Seven

“I’m not going in there again,” said Nikita.

“Understandable,” said Arpin, “But I think you will be safe.”

“That’s what Detective Durand said and I nearly got caught in a Repeating Whorl. Plus, the stairs are made of ierósium.”

“What’s that?” asked L’Horloge.

“A metal alloy that repels spirits.”

“Is that possible?” mused Maxi.

“No! I made it up because I’m a coward!” snipped the ghost.

“It’s not like you can die again,” quipped Maxi.

“That’s also not true! Read the papers!”

Unexpected put two fingers in her mouth and whistled loudly. Everybody stopped.

“We have nothing to fear,” stated the Chevalier.

“What makes you say that?” asked Maxi.

“I’d like to know too,” added Nikita.

“It’s very simple, everything is stuck in time with the exception of us, spirits, and the cats. Any traps or other measures will be frozen. Any devices we’ve tried to use haven’t worked. The exception being things on our person and I don’t think the rules are about to change.”

All of them stood silently for a beat.

“Well reasoned Chevalier,” said Arpin.

“That does make sense,” said L’Horloge.

“I feel a little better about this now,” sighed Nikita.

“Let’s be optimistically cautious,” said the Sergeant.

They all crossed the rue to the entrance of the League’s headquarters. It was a solid and unremarkable building lacking any style or distinctiveness.

“This place has no painfully ordinary,” observed Maxi.

“I know, right!” agreed Nikita.

“That is clearly no accident,” stated Arpin, “The League worked very hard to avoid all scrutiny.”

“Well, let’s get on with this,” said Maxi with a smile as she took out a soft leather wallet filled with lock picks.

“And you just happened to have those in your pocket,” commented Unexpected.

“Just in case I forgot my keys.”

Placing a flat metal tool in the keyhole, Maxi turned it slowly clockwise. Her brow crinkled, she extracted the pick and looked at the door.

“What’s wrong,” asked L’Horloge.

“It’s that easy?” Maxi said, more to herself than her companions.

“Mademoiselle?” asked Arpin.

Maxi put her hand on the handle, then pulled the door open.

“It’s not locked?” asked L’Horloge, “Isn’t this the lair of the League of Spiders, a secret society, and the implacable foes of the Coterie du Honor?”

“Poetically said,” observed Unexpected.

“Shouldn’t this be a fortress?” sputtered the watchmaker.

“The League hides in plain sight, this building is designed to avoid attention.”

“But it’s unlocked!”

“Nikita,” asked the Sergeant Gendarme, “What did Detective Durand discover about this building?”

She tapped her finger on her chin and replied, “Officially, this is a record-keeping concern, they pay their taxes on time and have an unimpeachable reputation with the many merchants that use them.”

“That seems sinister,” said L’Horloge.

“Yes, but not in the way you mean. It’s a perfect disguise. A venture that is profitable but of no interest to the average person,” mused Arpin.

They all agreed that it was an ingenious plan.

“Shall we?” said Maxi as she pulled the door open.

It was as Nikita remembered it, a drab, uninspired lobby. Even so, it still filled her with dread, the ierósium stairs radiated a whisper of pain. It may have been just the memory of her last encounter but it still felt quite real.

Arpin went to the front desk, moved the unassuming clerk away, and began to search the draws. Much of it was ordinary things one might find such as pads of paper, graphite pencils, a fountain pen, a half-empty bottle of ink, rubber stamps, and other common sundries including a small bag of licorice.

Sitting on the desktop was a ledger that was filled with notations, which upon closer inspection looked like names and numbers and dates, dull enough to dissuade further investigation.

“Monsieur L’Horloge,” said Arpin, “You have an eye for details, would you please look at this?”

The watchmaker turned from the grey clock that hung from the wall and looked at the ledger. After a moment, he uttered a, “Huh.”

“Is there some code or pattern?” asked Arpin.

“No, it’s just scribbling, there is no discernable pattern. If it’s a code, it’s a masterful one,” replied L’Horloge.

“May I?” asked Maxi?

L’Horloge handed her the book. She flipped through the pages and frowned. Then, with a cocked eyebrow, she sniffed the pages.

“Sergeant, can you tell me if you smell anything floral in this?”

Taking it, he leaned in and took a deep inhalation.

“Yes, it’s very faint, like the memory of a flower”, he replied.

“Where there any spectacles in the desk?” she asked.

“I didn’t see any”, he replied.

The two of them ransacked the desk but no eyewear was to be found.

“I thought they were using an Encre de Les ténèbres, it’s ink made from the midnight lily and can only be read with specially treated lenses,” said Maxi with frustration.

“Perhaps they are hidden somewhere else.”

“Let’s see if this desk has any hidden panels of compartments,” said Maxi.

“Pardon,” said Unexpected.

They looked up. The Chevalier pointed behind them. Sitting in the chair was the frozen clerk, who was wearing spectacles.

“In plain sight,” said Arpin.

Taking care to not damage them, Arpin removed the wire-rimmed spectacles and handed them to Maxi. She put them on and saw the real ledger.

“It appears to be, if I had to guess, a list of their agents’ comings and goings, departures and returns,” said Maxi as she ran a finger over the list.

“Some of the notations are little pictures, a bird or house, or some other thing. Some sort of shorthand.”

“What was the last entry?” asked Arpin.

“Right, it was today, or is that yesterday? Well, in any case, agent 873 was left at 3:46 in the afternoon, and next to it is a tiny gear and a tower,” read Maxi.

“The Penultimate Device and,” said Arpin.

“-the Tower Cerulean,” finished Maxi.

“There’s no return time, correct?” added L’Horloge.

“That’s right,” answered Maxi.

“So, the Repairperson has not returned,” said the watchmaker.

“We don’t know that,” replied Maxi.

“Someone like the Repairperson is a detail-focused sort. She’d make a note that she had returned.”

“What makes you say that?”, asked Unexpected.

“Because that’s what I’d do,“ stated L’Horloge.

They wasted no more time and quickly deduced that the additional numbers on each entry indicated room numbers. Everyone, save Nikita who would not come any closer to the stairway than she had to, went upstairs.

Room 305 was filled with wooden and brass filing cabinets and League members sitting on stools at high clerk’s desks. The ledgers they wrote in were filled with perfectly ordinary notations until they looked at it with the spectacles. Then there was a sea of pictograph notations that promised a wealth of secret knowledge, if only they could understand it. It would have to wait for another time.

The inner office, which Maxi unlocked, was the Repairperson’s workshop. L’Horloge’s eyes went wide as he saw the treasure trove of tools and books. Maxi gently steered him back on track and they began to search the room.

“What are we looking for?” asked Unexpected.

“Anything that references the Penultimate Device,” replied the watchmaker as he delicately turned the pages of a tiny book, no bigger than the palm of his hand.

It took a while. Shelves were lined with books and a variety of intricate mechanical mechanisms. Finally, Unexpected found a hollow back behind one of the bookshelves. Maxi was able to open it, though it had a sigil inscribed on the back that would’ve exploded if time was running and discovered a cold iron key.

This key in turn opened a case behind which was another compartment that held a blue leather portfolio. The pages it held contained clearly detailed notations on the Penultimate Device. Additionally, further details were inscribed with Encre de Les ténèbres ink.

“Can you discover what is needed to set time back to normal?” asked Arpin.

“Yes, I think so,” said L’Horloge as he read, “But it will take me time to sort all this out.”

“Fortunately, that is a resource we have in abundance,” said Unexpected, “But I think we should leave this place.”

Everyone agreed. They made their way down to the lobby, taking the inert sigil with them at L’Horloge’s insistence that destroying all that knowledge would be a crime once the time stream was restored.

Waiting for them in the lobby was Nikita and a tuxedo cat that was vocally berating the ghostly young woman.

“I told you that I can’t understand you! They went upstairs, you’ll just have to go up yourself!” spat Nikita.

Maxi knelt and the cat padded up to her and began to ‘talk’ to her rapidly.

“We need to leave, right now,” said Maxi as she stood up and moved to the door.

“What’s wrong?” sputtered L’Horloge.

“I’ll tell you on the way.”

All of them rushed to the door and stopped at the threshold. Surrounding the outside of the building there waited a ghossling of ghosts standing silently. The spirits regarded them with cold malice.

“Was that-“ began L’Horloge.

“Yes,” said Maxi.

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