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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Next Steps-Arrondissement Part Fifty Six

Having thoroughly searched the Tower Cerulean, the Repairperson had to conclude that the Penultimate device was not there. There was however a multitude of weapons, armor, and trophies that were worth more than the contents of the Banque Nationale.

The Repairperson was not a thief and even if she were, there was no one to fence them to.

After leaving the Chevalier’s keep she walked to a nearby street vendor. She picked up a cup of café and left three copper concepts. The Repairperson then walked along the rues and ruelles, found her way to a tiny park nestled between two buildings. It had a tarnished brass path that wound its way below street level forming an intimate valley, including a miniature pond with petite, iridescent octopuses.

She sat there, nibbled her café, and thought. They must have adjusted the numerical sequence. That would explain things.

Four of them were not frozen if she counted correctly, the Renard Gendarme, the watchmaker, the thief, and one Chevalier. Challenging to be sure but not impossible. There was a way. Perilous though it may be, it would work if she could pull it off.

Chewing the last of her café, she got up and climbed out back to the street. From the branch of a tree, a verdigris Chartreux watched her leave. He miaoued and a grey Burmilla, who was sitting on a rooftop, replied and took off in the same direction as the Repairperson.

She was followed until she reached her destination. If the Repairperson knew that she was being watched, there was no outward sign.

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Supper Time-Arrondissement-Part Fifty-Five

“Why don’t we lay out exactly what we know?” asked Monsieur L’Horloge, taking out a pen and notebook.

The brasserie they sat in would ordinarily have been too loud to have a decent conversation. Business was honestly quite brisk and the rest of the place was filled with customers. Silent, frozen customers.

They found an empty table and sat. Since table service was not available, Maxi recommended they take meals off tables that had just been served or were on their way from the kitchen.

There was some debate over the morality of this. Arpin and Unexpected suggested that they leave money to cover the bill. Maxi pointed out that if they put time back on track, a meal was the least they could do in return if they restarted time and if they couldn’t, it hardly mattered. L’Horloge pointed out that this was the least of their problems. The subject was then tabled.

“First, time has been locked in place with the exception of us,” said the watchmaker.

“Obviously,” remarked Maxi.

“Perhaps, but these details are important, even if they do seem obvious,” added Arpin.

“I agree,” piped in Unexpected.

Maxi made a ‘get on with it’ gesture.

“Additionally, the following beings are unaffected by the event. Firstly, cats.”

A golden bobtail sat on a nearby table nibbling a roast chicken that sat in front of a pair of bohemians.

“Unexpected,” mused Arpin, “But then, perhaps not. They do have many unusual… qualities.”

“Between us, I think they’re as surprised as we are though they’ll never admit it,” said Maxi.

The golden bobtail gave no indication that she heard what was said or at the very least, did not acknowledge it.

“Ghosts too,” said Nikita who had arrived with the cat.

“Spirits are exempt as well,” said Monsieur L’Horloge as he made jotted down what was discussed.

“And you’re quite certain that they will not be of help?” asked Arpin.

Nikita sighed, an action that made the hair on the back of ones neck stand up, though it was clearly unintentional.

“I wouldn’t count on it, they’re too busy arguing with each other.”

“Shame, I can think of any number of uses for a squad of ghosts,” said Unexpected with a grin.

“And finally, the Repairperson,” said Monsieur L’Horloge, underlining that name.

“Cats and spirits have unique qualities that might allow them to avoid being stuck in time, but why the Repairperson?” asked Unexpected.

“So too do the members of League of Spiders,” said Arpin who explained the glyphs inscribed on their skeletons.

Monsieur L’Horloge turned pale, Maxi just stared at him, Nikita disappeared for a minute or so and Unexpected flung a croissant at the wall where it embedded itself.

“Are you saying that the League of Spiders is immune from all this?” asked L’Horloge rather louder than he intended.

“Let them come,” said Unexpected, “I have more than a few surprises for them!”

Maxi said nothing but her eyes darted about the room.

“I doubt that’s the case, if it were, we would not be enjoying this meal or these drinks,” said Arpin.

That settled the others mood or at the very least kept them from doing anything rash.

“So we only have one preternaturally strong foe to deal with?” asked Maxi.

“As far as I can tell,” replied Arpin, “Let’s have another bottle, agreed?”

They did. Unexpected took a beaujolais and cracked the bottle lengthwise. Once the bottle was removed, the wine stood unperturbed and they could scoop it into their glasses. It was a little chewy at first but it then became liquid the longer it was in their mouths. An odd sensation but given everything, perhaps not the oddest.

“So, we have one foe with extraordinary strength and the ability to ignore pain,” said L’Horloge, making further notes. This is a redundant line if said this way. It sounds virtually identical to the one Maxi says just a bit earlier.

“Is that really an asset?” asked Maxi.

“I’ve another list of what we have arrayed against us.”

Maxi looked at what he wrote.

“Limited resources?”

“Well, given we cannot farm or produce more food or other necessities than those we can find, eventually we will starve to death,” replied the clockmaker.

“How long do you think this will take?” she asked.

“I have no idea. Maybe a day, maybe forever.”

“Perhaps you’re getting ahead of yourself,” said Arpin.

“Do not give into despair clockmaker,” added Unexpected, “Let me cut you some more wine.”

“Let’s get back to the Repairperson and why was she not frozen? Why weren’t we?” mused Arpin.

“She did have the key to the device,” Maxi said snapping her fingers.

“Yes!” said L’Horloge, “A bespoke variable key made specifically for the Penultimate Device, crafted by The Huygens’ own hands! Of course, it has other properties.”

“That’s quite a property,” said Maxi with a smile.

“Well, given all the things that can go wrong when you mess about with time, it makes sense to have some safety measures,” observed Nikita.

Everyone stared at her.

“I’m dead, I’m not an idiot,” she said with some indignity.

“Pardon mademoiselle,” said Arpin with a nod of his head, “After all, you are working with Detective Durand, a very talented colleague of mine.”

“I was, before…”

“Think of it as a long weekend,” said Maxi.

“Yes, I think I will,” replied the spirit.

“Also, you discovered something very important,” said Arpin.

“Oh yes! We know where the League of Spider’s headquarters is!”

“We do?” asked L’Horloge.

“Well, the Sergeant and I do,” said Nikita.

“How did you find it?” inquired Maxi.

“Okay, I was flying above the financial quarter in early evening when I spotted-

“And why are we only now just being told this?” interrupted Unexpected with concern.

“What do you think your Marshal would’ve done with that intelligence?” Arpin asked the Chevalier.

“She would’ve taken direct and forceful action, an attack, or a siege if necessary. Of course, she would have worked with the Gendarmerie and civil authorities.”

“I have no doubt. And given what you saw of the gifts of the League of Spiders, what would be the cost of lives, assuming victory?”

Unexpected paused, then answered, “I cannot say.”

“Not even a rough estimate? Fifty percent, sixty, seventy-five? Just keeping it in round numbers,” asked the Gendarme Sergeant.

“Impossible to say,” replied the Chevalier.

“That is why I did not share that with the Marshal. Fighting an unknown number of powerful, fearless zealots who give death no thought is not an option I will consider. I do not wish to be the one responsible for the death of Coterie du Honor, to say nothing of the causalities of Gendarmes, and those innocents that are in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Silence reigned as Arpin’s words settled on them like ash from a burning sky.

“Forgive me my friends, that was the darkest possible outcome I could foresee.”

“The darkest?” whispered L’Horloge, “That was one where the League lost. What if- “

“We have eluded that fate, let us not dwell on it. We are alive and mobile, and each of us has unique gifts that will be of great use in our…”

Arpin paused, looked directly at the Chevalier and asked, “Would you call this a quest?”

She smiled and said, “Perhaps the most important quest ever undertaken!”

“I never thought I’d be on a quest,” said L’Horloge.

“Neither did I,” added Maxi.

“This is very cool,” said Nikita.

“Then raise your glasses and toast to our success!”

All of them stood and held their glasses that held odd shaped nuggets of wine.

“We are now bound by common cause, to awaken the peoples of the Arrondissement and to restore time to its rightful pace. To victory!”

They echoed his declaration and chewed their wine. The golden bobtail, who had had her fill of chicken, at least for now, meowed loudly at them.

“Yes, of course we could not succeed without you,” answered Maxi, “In fact, I have a message for you to deliver to the Clowder.”

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Measured Moves-Arrondissement-Part Fifty-Four

The Repairperson used gauze to absorb her blood that had been caught in the air when everything stopped. She got the supplies in a pharmacie, first bandaging her various cuts, then removing all trace of her presence, all the while carefully avoiding disturbing customers in the isles.

Her attention to detail made her uniquely qualified to work on The Penultimate Device but it meant she never did anything quickly. Fortunately, she had all the time she required. After disposing of the blood-soaked dressing in several places around the Arrondissement, the Repairperson made her way back to the Tower Cerulean.

Climbing up to a roof of a maison de ville a few blocks away, she observed the keep with a pair of field glasses. After an hour of stillness (her chronoton was still running), the Repairperson ambled to the headquarters of the Coterie du Honor and through the open gates.

Squires and Chevaliers did not react to her presence, which was as it should be. She climbed the stairs and followed the path she had been led through before (as her memory was flawless) and stood before the door where the Penultimate Device was placed.

While nothing she had seen or heard indicated that the whole of the Arrondissement was not still trapped in a moment of time, she paused. A spiked mace hung on the wall. She took it, just in case. The Repairperson had no desire to kill anyone but she also had no reservations about doing so.

She opened the door, looked inside, and then returned the spiked mace to its display. The room was empty. To be sure, fixing things would be more difficult, but she had all the time she needed.

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Six Years Old Today

Today is the sixth anniversary of my first post on this blog. It started as a place to share my novel, Chosen, but it has grown over time as I have continued to post something every Monday.

I want to thank my devoted readers for continuing to… read. A little on the nose but it works. Having people read my work does inspire me to keep writing, so another thank you for keeping me working.

Here’s a new haiku to commemorate the date.

Each Monday I post
Poetry, stories, novels
Please read and enjoy

Now, I’ve got to write something else.

See you all next Monday!

Leo Byrne Jenicek

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What To Do Next?-Arrondissement-Part Fifty-Three

The last thing Detective Durand said was, “The question is why ghosts were affected at all? They are effectively immortal.”

Mistress Rosamund looked as if she had some choice words about that. She continued to do so and showed no sign of stopping.

If this was a joke, thought Nikita, it’s an extremely mean one. She floated in the tiny office looking at her mentor and the ex-spirit wrangler. They were frozen. The living, at least the vast majority of them, could only hold off moving for a very short period.

She shouted, moved objects, and hovered right in front of them. It was then she noticed that they were not breathing.

“Merde!” she whispered.

Dead knows dead and they were still alive, in a fashion. This was bad and she knew she needed some help. Luckily, I’m a in Gendarmerie, Nikita thought and floated through the door and down to the main floor.

Help was not to be found. Just a room full of Gendarmes and criminals fixed in time and space. Additionally, things were stuck. A cup of café was arrested halfway to the floor. Papers, pencils, and other objects were all suspended.

No one reacted to her presence and after many fruitless attempts to gain them Gendarme’s attention, she screamed obscenities but it made no impact.

Nikita exited the Gendarmerie to find the street in the same state. It was not a surprise but it was a disappointment. She spent hours, or minutes, or days searching for some sign of movement. Nothing.

Eventually, she made her way to Jardin des Gens. She always loved the park, a walk through it had the power to revive her when things seem to being going wrong. Now, filled as it was with immobile people, it just drove home the fact that she was surrounded and all alone.

She sat on a bench and wept. Her own death didn’t sadden her as this did. It seemed a cruel joke from some unfeeling and capricious power that she didn’t know and it broke her heart.

After a good cry, which usually helped when she still lived, Nikita wandered the Arrondissement. It only served to heighten her sense of isolation and helplessness.

She was wondering how she would endure and if going mad might make it more bearable when she suddenly saw movement. Whirling around, she saw another spirit.

“Hey!” she shouted and rushing to the figure, “Stop!”

The ghost did and looked at her.

“You’re not frozen! How? Why? What the hell is going on?”

“Of course not,” said the spirit dressed in a chef’s coat, “I’m not alive.”

“Are there others like us?”

“The dead can still move. The Conclave of the Undeparted has convened. ”

Nikita followed the transparent chef. As she moved, more ghosts joined them as they arrived at the great underground chamber where they met. It was lit by blue flames in verdigris encrusted braziers placed about the room. The tiers were filled with the dead. Their moaning murmurs filled the room. It quieted when Dieudonné Murat glided to the center.

“My brethren of the grave, our time has come!”

This elicited a ghastly huzzah.

“The living have been made unmoving and unresponsive. We now rule the Arrondissement!” declared the leader of the Conclave.

More bone-chilling cheers followed. Nikita began to speak but was drowned out. Finally, she gave a two-fingered whistle that cut through the grim merriment. Everyone fell silent.

“I think you’ve forgotten a few things,” Nikita said.

Dieudonné Murat tittered and replied, “And what would that be?”

“One, there is no one left to frighten. I know lots of you love to scare the living. Two, with everyone frozen, unfinished business will remain unfinished. Three, did you all just happen to forget that ghosts were disappearing without a trace just days ago? How do you know we aren’t next?”

Debate ensued. More of a mass shouting and howling match and just as useful as it sounded. This went on for a while. Nikita tried to organize the discussion but if there was one creature who was unable or at least unwilling to change, it was a ghost. It was evident that she was not having any impact on the proceeding, so she drifted away with a mix of anger and disappointment.

Once she was back on the surface the weight of loneliness had returned with a twist of frustration. What to do next? The silence was broken by a mrow.

Sitting in a doorway was a golden bobtail looking straight at Nikita. It blinked.

“You can move?” she shouted excitedly.

Ears went back in clear annoyance.

“I wish I spoke cat.”

Suddenly, the cat began to walk down the rue. When Nikita didn’t immediately follow, the bobtail stopped and gave her a look that said, “Are you coming?”

What else could she do?

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