Leap Into The Unknown-Arrondissement-Part Seventy-Eight

Zsófia refilled Frau Schlüsselherrin’s glass with more verdant Riesling.

“I really shouldn’t,” said the key mistress as she raised the glass to her lips.

“A little wine won’t hurt you,” replied the librarian.

“True, but I’ve had quite a lot!”

They had drunk enough to make that funny, so laughter followed.

“Danke for this wonderful meal! I didn’t know either of you could cook.”

“We can’t,” said L’Horloge ruefully, “I’m hopeless in the kitchen.”

“My food skills are largely centered around the appreciating arena. We ordered it from our favorite place, the Four de l’ange,” admitted Zsófia.

“Is that the little place off the Rue D’ Epicurean?”

“Yes! They really know how to sauté pine trout! So flaky!”

Moving to the parlor, they enjoyed the Rhine Tort Frau Schlüsselherrin had brought.

“The chef is an automata?” said L’Horloge as he wiped powdered sugar from his lips.

“The rumor is he has a soul!” added Zsófia in a loud whisper.

“That would explain this extraordinary confection!”

Conversation moved to the goings-on in the Arrondissement, how the First Minister finally and officially accepted the Union of Cats into the Ministry of Trade and Services. The awarding of the Minister of Chronology, Fulbert Cesar Crémieux with the Bataillon de Bureaucratie for his service and his almost simultaneous retirement. An early snowstorm had been predicted and rubbish bin lids were going missing at an alarming rate as school children prepared to sled.

“This has been an odd time for the Arrondissement but I am happy to have found a new friend,” said Frau Schlüsselherrin
.
“I’m only sorry it took the dissolution of linear time for us to put our disagreements aside,” L’Horloge sighed.

“It was about time,” smirked Zsófia.

“That was terrible!” moaned the key-mistress.

“Too soon darling, too soon,” said the watch-master with a pained smile.

“See how you can agree on things now! It puts a song in my heart!”

A brief discussion on the painfulness of the joke began but was quickly ended when Zsófia threatened to actually break into song if they didn’t stop mocking her humor.

“While this has been a thoroughly enjoyable evening, I didn’t just ask you here out of friendship,” L’Horloge spoke quietly.

“Is there a bill to be settled?” inquired Frau Schlüsselherrin.

“No. Well, maybe.”

L’Horloge got up, opened a drawer in the brass roll-top desk in the corner of the parlor and returned with what looked like a steel box for perhaps a pen set.

“If you would, I’d like you to hold on to this.”

The key-mistress opened it to reveal the Variable Key.

“This is from the- “

“Yes. It’s the only one that will open the Penultimate Device.”

“Variable keys are rare but another one should open it up.”

“No, it’s irrevocably linked to it.”

“You should hold on to it,” she said sliding the box back to him.

“I can’t.”

“Why?”

L’Horloge sat back and closed his eyes.

“Mistakes can lead to other mistakes,” said The Huygens, “But that damned device was my second biggest.”

“Second biggest?” asked L’Horloge.

“Yes. After all the turmoil it caused, I figured that I needed to make sure it and other creations of mine were protected. So, I started a group to make sure they didn’t fall into less than ethical hands.”

“You created the League of Spiders?”

“By the gears! That’s what they call themselves these days?”

“I think it was something the fourth estate created.”

“Ugh! Terrible.”

The Huygens poured herself another drink.

“I hate to seem rude but the first biggest was putting together the League of Spiders?”

“Please stop calling them that!”

“Very well.”

“But yes, that was my biggest mistake. They were originally just supposed to be custodians. Now they’ve gone all secret society with all that entails. That’s what you get when you recruit the zealotic. What a mess.”

“How did you know?”

“Because you know,” she said as if it was oblivious.

“I see,” he replied as if he did.

“When you get back, you need to take responsibility for the Penultimate Device.”

“How do you propose I do that? Given you know what the group you organized is willing to do to get it.”

“Sorry about that. If it’s any consolation, they’ve really gone off script.”

“Not especially.”

“I can’t blame you. If they invoke my name for legitimacy, remind them who I really was.”

“That doesn’t sound like a foolproof plan.”

“Trust me, it’ll work.”

“If you say so.”

“I know I’m asking a lot of you but if it feels like too much, just remember you don’t have to do this alone.”

“There’s an entire organization not doing it alone. Not as comforting as you think.”

“Not like them! People you trust. I know you have friends. They can make it easier.” “That’s a lot to ask of anyone. Additionally, how do you know that will work any better?”

The Huygens sighed.

“Listen, I like that you ask questions. It means you’re thinking about what’s going on. On the other hand, sometimes you need to take a leap of faith. Which is what I’m doing with you. Understand?”

“I… think so.”

“Great!”

“How can you be so certain this is will work?”

“Oh, I’m not. Time to go back.”

L’Horloge opened his eyes and said, “Because it’s too dangerous for one person to hold on to. I know this is a lot to ask but I trust you.”

Frau Schlüsselherrin drained her glass of the emerald wine and looked at him.

“Well, how can I say no to trust?” she replied.
.
L’Horloge smiled and melted into the couch.

“I told you she’d say yes,” murmured Zsófia.

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Deadly Disturbance-Arrondissement Part Seventy-Seven

Detective Durand and her newly minted associate, Junior Gendarme Nikita Roulet, were in the ballroom where a very discontented spirit glared at them both.

“Let her haunt somewhere else!,” declared the vexed ghost.

“Monsieur Loiseau,” began Detective Durand, “You and your wife have been the resident specters here at the Not Secret Ballroom for the last one hundred and…”

“Eighteen years,” supplied Nikita.

“Thank you.”

“Well, no more!”, shouted Loiseau.

“The problem is that you and Jeanne Loiseau are a very popular feature here. People often dance here hoping to catch a glimpse of you two.”

“They will have to live with the disappointment.”

Detective Durand regarded Loiseau for a moment.

“Perhaps, but you have a contract with the owners of this establishment to appear, with your wife.”

“Is she even still my wife? Till death do you part!”

Nikita interjected, “According to our files, you remarried your wife about one hundred and thirteen years ago. Right here in fact.”

“Perhaps,” sniffed Loiseau.

Durand and Nikita looked at each other.

“Monsieur, would you like to tell us what this is really about?” inquired Nikita.

“It’s about nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

“Are you certain?”

“Yes.”

“That is regrettable,” said Detective Durand, “As you are in violation of your contract with the owners of the Not Secret Ballroom, you will remove yourself forthwith from this location.”

“That’s outrageous! I won’t leave!”

“Then you force me to banish you from this location for all eternity,” intoned the Detective as she removed from her satchel a candle, a velvet bag of purified salt, and a silver bell.

“Wait! Please!”

“Know that I take no pleasure in this, but a contract is a contract.”

“I can’t lose this too,” he wailed.

Durand paused her preparations and asked, “Is there something that might change the circumstances?”

“It is…humiliating,” whispered Loiseau.

Nikita glided close to the morose spirit and kindly said, “Being a ghost is difficult, I know. But let us help you out. Okay?”

Loiseau looked at Nikita and said, “My wife took a lover.”

Durand was about to speak but her junior partner shot her a look.

“That’s rough. We may not be alive, but we can still be hurt.”

“So true.”

“Your wife left you for this other spirit?”

“He doesn’t even know how to dance!”

“Really,” stated Durand.

“Have you spoken to her about this?” asked Nikita with sympathy.

“It was more of a fight. I said things I am not proud of. Then I threw her out.”

“So, she left you for a non-dancing ghost?” queried Durand.

“Yes. Well not exactly.”

“Can you explain?”

“She just told me she had taken a lover, but it was purely metaphysical. I lost my temper and we had a huge fight. Then I insisted she leave.”

“Did she want to leave?”

“No, she said she still loved me but I…”

“I understand,” spoke Nikita.

“So, your wife did not refuse to continue dancing with you?” Durand pointed out.

“No, she didn’t.”

“But you threw her out?”

“His heart had been broken!” interjected Nikita.

“You should take a lover of your own,” suggested Durand.

“What?!” sputtered Nikita.

This suggestion set off a long and varied series of moans and wails, ending with “I am married Detective!”

“Monsieur, I know that seemed thoughtless,” said Nikita as she glared at Durand, “But can I share something with you?”

“Very well.”

“Both my parents took lovers.”

“I’m so sorry!”

“They told me that they loved each other very much, but they also enjoyed spending time with other people.”

“Didn’t the jealousy destroy their love?”

“Actually, it didn’t. They said it was like having a little treat then coming home for dinner. They’re still happily married today. The holidays are… lively.”

“I love Jeanne so very much. The thought of losing her is chilling.”

“Maybe she feels the same way. If she does, you can still dance together.”

“It’s only been a day but I miss her so keenly.”

“Also, taking a lover might not be the worst thing for you or your marriage.”

Loiseau eyed Nikita and said, “Mademoiselle, are you- “

“Regulations forbid it,” Nikita quickly interrupted, “But I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding someone.”

Detective Durand nodded her head and added, “Rules are rules.”

“I see. You have given me much to think upon,” said Loiseau.

“Can I report that you are reconciling with your wife?” asked Durand.

“Yes! I think this could work.”

“Very happy to hear that,” she said returning her banishing gear to the satchel, “I believe you can find your wife in the statue garden nearby.”

“I must talk to her. Goodbye and thank you!” uttered Loiseau as he glided out.

“What the hell was that?” shouted Nikita.

“Why did I appear to be cold and indifferent, forcing you to take the lead and calm a volatile situation? It’s almost as if I wanted to see how you might handle this sort of scenario?”

Nikita glared and spat, “You are quite the bastard, Detective.”

“That I am. If it makes you feel any better, you handled things well.”

“A little, not a lot.”

“You’ll get used to it.”

“Why did you suggest he take a lover?”

“Oh, that was his wife’s idea, she’s the one who contacted me. She didn’t think he’d listen to her.”

“Did you know about my parent’s arrangement?”

“I’d be a poor detective if I didn’t know about my partner’s background.”

“Do I get to investigate you?”

“You’re welcome to try.”

As they left the Not So Secret Ballroom, Nikita asked, “Will all of the cases we handle like this?”

“Oh no. Some are even more annoying.”

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Time to Say-Arrondissement Part Seventy-Six

A holiday was announced and everyone was celebrating. Those who weren’t made coin helping others to do so. Rues were filled with people who embraced the opportunity for joy. Day drinking was not just tolerated but encouraged and if anyone rejoiced a bit too enthusiastically the Gendarmes were sober enough to give them a place to sleep it off.

Maxi looked out the window of her apartment. It felt as though she hadn’t been back for a long time, which when she thought about it was true. Turning back, she surveyed the damage the League of Spiders had done. Their skill at ransacking was impressive if that was your sort of thing.

It would be a chore to clean it all up and there were certain items that she didn’t need others to see. Those would need to be moved to a safe place before the place could be set to right.

Amazingly, none of those special objects were removed by her intruders. They were criminals but not crooked. Amoral guardians?

“What I really need is a drink,” Maxi said aloud.

Since no one chided her for a lack of responsibility, she grabbed a stylish red jacket and headed out.

The streets were packed with citizens who were already having an excellent time. She passed by a wine bar filled with celebrants who called out to passersby, “Do you have the time?”

To which they would shout, “We do now!” followed with laughter and cheers.

Eventually, she found herself in front of Les Requêtes. She knocked on the door, gave the password, and entered. At the front as always was Mr. Twig. He sported a serious black eye that had already begun to fade.

“How are you?”

He sighed and replied, “Thank you for asking. Very few are concerned with the happiness of the doorman.”

“That’s not really an answer.”

“This is true. But I have made a decision.”

“You’re not leaving us?”

He paused and shook his head.

“Then what- “

Her question was interrupted by an explosion of high spiritedness from deeper in the establishment.

“Pardon me.”

Maxi moved into towards the bar. Business was very good and it took some effort to get to there. The bartenders were enthusiastically mixing drinks and the patrons imbibed with equal gusto.

She was about to order a Sunday’s Kiss with salt when she caught sight of Mistress Rosamund, who waved her to the back. Once the office door was shut, the sounds of merriment were muffled and they could speak.

“I just wanted to apologize for getting you caught up with everything that happened.

Mistress Rosamund fixed her with a hard stare.

“You did bring a whole heap of trouble to my door.”

“If I thought that would happen, I would’ve stayed away.”

“Did you start it?”

“It’s a little more complicated than that. I was part of it but I can’t say I set it off.”

The bar-owner rubbed her eyes, “You do love trouble.”

“Trouble can be fun, but this…”

“Yeah.”

“Are we solid?”

Mistress Rosamund ran her hands over her colorless hair and posited, “Well, I figure that that trouble was on the way no matter what. So, consider yerself forgiven. Drink?”

“Please.”

The bar-owner took out a bottle of very excellent sanguine brandy and poured them each a generous glass.

“What should we drink to?” inquired Maxi.

“Let’s drink to drinkin’!”

And they did.

“I know you want to, so jest ask,” stated Mistress Rosamund.

“Your hair.”

“Uh-huh.”

“How did you get it like that? It’s not white but more…”

“Colorless.”

“Yes! Where did you get it done?”

“It’s kinda a long story.”

“Do you want to tell me?”

“Truthfully, I don’t,” she admitted with some sorrow.

“Well, I think it’s striking!”

“Ha! You’re the only one who likes it. Tends to put most folks off.”

“They lack our sophisticated taste.”

They clinked glasses, stared into each other’s eyes, and drank.

“It seems like you came out the other side of all this craziness jest fine and dandy.”

“My fine is good but my dandy might need some work.”

“I got the cure for what ails you,” Mistress Rosamund declared and poured more brandy.

“Thank you.”

They sat and drank saying nothing as the hum of joy could be heard from the outside.

“Don’t suppose ya wanna tell me what happened to ya?”

“I actually do.”

“But?”

“It’s better if I don’t. For you.”

“Now ya done just made me very inquisitive, but I’ll respect yer wishes.”

“I appreciate it.”

“And anyways, I got some news of my own. I’m moving.”

“You’re moving Les Requêtes? I can’t think of a more perfect place for it!”

“Not the bar, me.”

“No!”

“Yep. It’s time to move on.”

“Are you going to work for the Gendarmes?” Maxi asked.

“What?”

“I heard you were working with someone from the Department of Méfait Des Morts.”

“And jest where did you hear that?”

“A ghost by the name of Nikita. Chatty thing.”

“I was consulting with them about the disappearances. Temporarily,” Mistress Rosamund stressed.

“So where are you going?”

“Dunno yet, might head to the Borough or maybe to the Zìzhì shì zhèn, never been there.”

“Les Requêtes won’t be the same without you.”

“I suspect it’ll be fine. I’m sellin’ it.”

“To who?”

“Mr. Twig.”

“No!”

“True as trees!”

“I’m surprised he didn’t offer to leave with you.”

“He did, but I had a feeling he might be doin’ it out of some code of honor or some other such nonsense. I told him to stop being foolish. He then offered to buy the bar from me.”

“Sounds like a joke.”

“That man has never smiled to my knowledge, let alone cracked wise. He was dead serious.”

“Did you give him a special deal?”

“Hell no! Travellin’ ain’t cheap. He had the coin so we shook and signed the papers.”

“You must have paid him well.”

“I did, well worth every copper concept. Mr. Twig also has a distinct lack of vices, so guessin’ he had money saved up.”

“Maybe I’ll give that a try,” pondered Maxi.

“You? You got vices to spare.”

“Can’t argue with that.”

“One more drink and I have to get back to work, it’s going to get even busier.”

More brandy was poured, swirling a bright crimson hue.

“When do you leave?”

“Soon.”

“Very mysterious.”

“I’m not much for goodbyes. They tend to be riddled with questions.”

“You’re not wrong.”

“It’s better this way.”

“Will you be here tomorrow night?”

Mistress Rosamund finished her brandy and lied, “Maybe.”

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Intractable Détente-Arrondissement Part Seventy-Five

Time having been restored to its normal forward flow, people were enjoying themselves once more. Many of them choose to do so at the Jardin des Gens. Leaves were turning to vibrant colors from a fiery orange to a rich indigo. Couples walked the paths holding appendages, children ran across lawns, and some of the more robust citizens even picnicked.

While it was not unheard of to see the odd Chevalier in the Jardin des Gens, the large number of them present became a subject of discussion amongst the other park goers.

When questioned as to why so many members of the Coterie du Honor were there, the answer given was, “We are merely enjoying this fine autumn day!”

Peculiar perhaps but Chevaliers were women and men of honor. They had no reason to lie.

In a secluded grove, sitting at a hexagonal stone table were Sergeant Gendarme Arpin, The Marshal, Monsieur L’Horloge, Maxi, Nikita, and the Old Man from the League of Spiders. He was alone, no associates, while the Marshal had two Chevaliers standing behind her.

“It really is a lovely day,” remarked the Old Man as he took a deep breath.

“No thanks to you,” replied the Marshal tersely.

“While I cannot take credit for this brisk fall day I’ve done nothing to prevent it either,” offered the leader of the League.

“Your Repairperson nearly destroyed time as we know it! She was to adjust the Penultimate Device and she attempted to steal it!”

“To be fair, it had been stolen from us so it was more of a recovery. But if your people had not interfered, she would’ve readjusted everything and none would be the wiser. By the way, where is the Repairperson?”

“She’s gone,” said L’Horloge.

The Old Man paused, looked up at the branches above them and said, “Regrettable. Were there any other losses?”

“A Chevalier as well,” added the watch master.

“I’m very sorry.”

Sneering, the Marshal said, “Your gang has killed Chevaliers in the past. You’ll understand if I find your condolences hollow.”

“I understand but I am sincere.”

Before the Marshal could let loose with another unkind tirade Arpin interrupted, “I think that we should get to business. Are we all agreed?”

Everyone did.

“If you would return the Penultimate Device to us, we can conclude this affair,” suggested the Old Man.

Throwing back her head, the Marshal laughed loudly. It took her a long while to stop.

“You didn’t really think that would work?”

The Old Man shrugged and answered, “Technically it is our item.”

“Every Chevalier in the Arrondissement would give their lives to keep it out of your hands.”

“You spend the blood of your sisters and brothers too freely,” the Old Man pointed out.

“And you spend the lives of innocents with no regret,” countered the Marshal.

“Violence is not our first choice but we have no qualms about using for the greater good.”

“At least you can agree that both sides don’t trust each other,” observed Maxi.

Both the Marshal and the Old Man fixed Maxi with a very hard stare.

“Am I wrong?” she asked.

“No but it is not the strongest basis for compromise,” stated Arpin.

“What do you suggest?” inquired the Old Man.

“Perhaps a third party could take custody?”

“Are you suggesting that the Gendarmes hold the Device?” said the Marshal with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

“No. We are not equipped for such responsibility.”

“The Coterie du Honor are the only ones with honor enough to keep this infernal machine safe!” declared the Marshal.

“You lack the knowledge to maintain it safely. What will you do when time goes askew again? That can’t be fixed with a sword. It was entrusted to us by the Huygens himself.”

“Herself,” quietly added L’Horloge.

“Pardon?” asked the Old Man.

L’Horloge locked eyes with him and repeated, “Herself.”

With a smile, the Old Man looked at the watch master and began, “So you- “

“Yes.”

“I must say that I’m jealous of you,” admitted the Old Man.

“You shouldn’t be. The price was… dear.”

It felt as though something had fundamentally changed. Everyone at the table felt it, though later it would be difficult to say how.

“I see,” the Old Man finally broke the silence.

Arpin sniffed, the odor of dust came off the Old Man. Regret.

“What is going on?” asked Nikita.

“I think the League is giving up?” inquired Maxi.

“Did we just win?” added the spirit.

The Old Man stood, looked directly at L’Horloge and intoned, “It is your responsibility now. I’ll have the Repairperson’s things delivered to your home.”

“You no longer want it?” inquired the Marshal with suspicion.

“It has passed to another.”

“If this is a ruse- “, began the Marshal.

“No trick, I assure you. We withdraw any claim to the Penultimate Device.”

Standing up, the Old Man buttoned his coat and said, “This was an unexpected afternoon. I thank you all.”

“Our war is not over,” said the Marshal.

Looking at her, the Old Man sighed and said, “I don’t suppose it is.”

“I swear it.”

Turning to L’Horloge, the leader of the League asked, “Is there any chance you’d join us?”

“None.”

“Ah well, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Au revoir.”

With that, he left. After a moment, the Marshal spoke.

“This feels too easy.”

“It is not,” answered L’Horloge.

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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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