Zsófia was still filthy when they returned to the Tower Cerulean but Monsieur L’Horloge did not care. He flung his arms around her and kissed her deeply. If she had any doubts about his love for her, and she didn’t, this was all the proof she needed.
He almost didn’t let her bathe, he later confessed that he was afraid she might disappear again. As a compromise, Zsófia asked him to join her, that way if kidnappers appeared they would have to take them both. It was meant as a joke but he did as she asked.
Later, they lay entwined in bed.
“I cannot say how relieved I am that you are back, safe and sound,” said Monsieur L’Horloge.
“Drágám, that’s simply not true. You’ve already done so a dozen times or so in the last hour,” she replied.
“I suppose so.”
“And I loved hearing it each time.”
He ran his hand along her face, and she kissed it. They lay for a while, luxuriating in each other’s company.
“May I ask you something?”
“Anything,” she said.
“Did they… Harm you?”
“They ruined a really wonderful outfit,” she said with mock horror.
“I’m not joking!” he said, likely louder than intended.
Monsieur L’Horloge turned from her and looked out of the window. The lights of the Arrondissement flickered through the thick glass.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly.
“Szerelmem,” she said, “I know that this comes from your heart, but know that I have never felt safer than when I am with you.”
He smiled a little sadly, “I’m acting as if I was the one who was kidnapped.”
“Perhaps just a bit.”
“I envy your ability to laugh when the darkness knocks,” he said into her ear.
She ran her fingers through his unruly hair. As always, it defied even the most casual of styling.
“Laughter will defeat tears,” she said as she impishly nipped his neck.
“I wish I could be more like you.”
She pushed him down on the bed and said with a grin, “If we were too alike, I’m sure we’d just fight. Stay as you are.”
“As you wish.”
“But to put your mind at ease, they treated me rather well, aside from the abduction. The food was edible, if a bit dull. They didn’t harm me at all. Even when I tried to repeatedly escape.”
“Are you saying that they are good people?” sputtered Monsieur L’Horloge.
“No! But I’m not sure they are entirely bad either.”
“They’ve done such monstrous things. They have little regard for life – “
“And yet, they let me go.”
“That you are safe and in my arms delights me, but I don’t trust them.”
“The Device, have you discovered how it works?”
He leapt out of bed, dashed to his desk, and beckoned Zsófia to follow. She slithered to his side. He carefully opened up The Folio of Mechanical Fabrication.
“I’ve been reading it over and over. There are vague references to the Penultimate Device peppered throughout the text and a few rough sketches. I discovered a pattern for a code from the little that was written. However, all that produced was a recipe for mutton stew.”
“Quite strange, I know.”
“Is it any good?”
“Very, though it didn’t give me any insights into the Device.”
“Will you make it for me sometime?”
“Of course. Good stew or not, it felt like a dead end. It seemed as if fate was toying with me.”
She laid her hands on his shoulders.
“Then, one evening, I was flipping through the folio hoping for something, an insight or an epiphany, but everything looked the same until this.”
Monsieur L’Horloge pointed at a page in the Folio. “There,” he exclaimed, “See this pattern along the edge of the page?”
“It looks like some sort of geometric embellishment.”
“At first glance, yes. But I discovered this!”
He took a candle and held it behind the page, closer than he probably should. The thick vellum glowed and words appeared in the pattern and flowed along the edges.
“Fever Script?” she said with wide eyes, “It’s a lost art.”
“To us, but not to The Huygens,” Monsieur L’Horloge said with a wide grin.
“What does it say?”
“Ahhh… I’m still working on that.”
He picked up a notebook and showed her all he had transcribed.
“It’s not that mutton stew one.”
“That would’ve been too easy,” said Zsófia.
“Would you try?”
“I accept this challenge,” she said, bowing.
“Let me set up an area for you to work,” he said, carefully moving papers and fine tools to one side.
“I think,” she said putting her arms around his neck, “That it would be best to start in the morning. Don’t you?”
“Where would I be without you?”
“I shudder to think.”
She led him back to bed, an easy thing to do, and continued their reunion. Later, they talked about their future, as uncertain as the future seemed to be. It was a small portion of normalcy.
“Before we drift off, I have one more bit of intelligence for you,” she said snuggling next to him.
“And what is that?”
“The League of Spiders is sending someone to work on the Device.”
“What? Who told you that? When are they coming? How did they convince the Coterie du Honor to agree to that? Why did they agree? How can they trust them?”
“I only know the answer to one of these questions. When we were being driven back, the Marshal and the Renard gendarme spoke in front of us. I suspect that they thought we were too traumatized to listen. The League is sending someone to adjust the Device. The Marshal, like you, does not trust them but the gendarme convinced her to go along with the plan.”
“This feels like a terrible plan.”
“Better a terrible plan than none at all,” she said.
Monsieur L’Horloge sighed and declared, “Well then, we have two things to do. Wait for the person the League sends and see if we can figure it out before they arrive.”
He kissed her once more and said, “Yes, tomorrow.”
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