Down to the Bone

“I’m afraid you cannot speak to the patient, it’s simply out of the question.”

Sergeant Gendarme Arpin held up his hands.

“I don’t need to speak with him, we only need-“

“To see his medical records and speak with his chirurgeon,” said Doctor Flandrin.

The director of the Manoir de la Lune flared his nostrils.

“That is if that is not an inconvenience,” added Aprin.

“The Manoir de la Lune is dedicated to the psycho-hygiene of our patients, and as such, we strictly avoid disturbances to the environment.”

“Don’t be a bigger idiot than you were in school, Andre!” spat Doctor Flandrin, “We don’t need to speak to the patient! All we require is to look over the records and speak to the chirurgeon who treated him! Just nod as if you understand!”

“Good day gentlemen! Behind you is the door, please make use of it immediately!”

Arpin sighed and stood.

“I’m sorry to hear that. I will need to go to the Tribunal for a writ of discovery. It will take time but we will return. I had hoped that you might help with our investigation. Now I will be discrete but if the fourth estate gets wind of this, I fear that the public will misinterpret your intent. Such is life, good day.”

“Is that a threat?”

“No director, just a theory of what might happen. You’ll forgive me, but it is an occupational quirk for someone who does what I do. Possibilities suggest themselves unbidden.

With that, he and Doctor Flandrin began to leave. Just as they reached the door.

“Wait.”

They turned.

“The Manoir de la Lune is a friend of justice. Let it not be said otherwise.”

Doctor Flandrin snorted and the director ignored it. He pressed a button on his desk and a large orderly entered.

“Gustav, please escort our guests to chirurgeon Berthod’s office.”

The hallways of the Manoir de la Lune were tiled in silver and white, with a seemingly abstract pattern that suggested a soothing pearly light. After being lead through several long corridors, they arrived.

Berthod had kind eyes and wore his salt and pepper hair very short with an accompanying beard. He gestured for Arpin and Flandrin to sit.

“What can I do for you?”

“You were the chirurgeon who worked on Jules Thibault when he was brought in?”

“I was on call when he was brought in, terrible business.”

“In what way?” asked Arpin.

“He was in a kind of rage, it took six orderlies to restrain him.”

“Kind of rage? Is that your diagnosis?” said Flandrin.

“No, that is not a clinical term,” replied Berthod calmly as he opened a bright red folder, “The patient displayed preternatural strength but a lack of outward emotional expression.”

“Did you even test-“ began Flandrin.

“Of course, we tested for alchemical enhancements as well and non-arcane stimulants but all tests came back negative. I wish I could tell you how he tossed full-grown people about like toys but I’ve no idea.”

“How are you treating him?”

“We’ve had to put him in an induced fugue, otherwise he would be a danger to himself and others.”

“I see,” said Arpin, “Doctor, if you would please?”

Flandrin took out a binder from his attaché and opened it up.

“I did the post-mortis on the burglar who broke into that famous clock-maker’s home. He was electrocuted.”

“What did you discover?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary, at first. There was no blood to draw so I couldn’t run any tests, not that I had any reason to. However, once the Sergeant Gendarme told me about Monsieur Thibault’s fantastic strength, I did a more thorough post mortis.”

“In what way?”

“I dissected him.”

“But that is your job, isn’t it?”

“True, but I removed all his flesh, down to the bones. He was burned very badly so I needed to soak his body to make it possible to remove the tissue. Let me tell you he was very- ”

“I think the chirurgeon gets the idea, doctor,” interjected Arpin.

“He was a Monsieur Tout-le-monde so there are no angry family members,” added Flandrin.

“Please show what you found.”

Flandrin took a handful of daguerreotypes and spread them on the desk. Berthod squinted at them then took a magnifying glass to look closer.

“What am I looking at?”

“Tiny glyphs, carved into the bones and inlaid with gold.”

“Pardon?”

“I know it’s unbelievable.”

“It’s impossible! No one could survive this! It’s monstrous! To do this to a living person, I can’t imagine…”

Berthod leaned back in his chair and shook his head. Arpin could smell his horror, it reminded him of ammonia and wet smoke.

“It speaks well of your compassion chirurgeon Berthod, but we wondered if you noticed anything similar in your examination of Monsieur Thibault?”

“What?”

“Did Thibault have any scars indicating that-“

“No!”

“I did have to ask.”

“No one could survive that! A living body could not recover from it. I have no idea how that was done but it is an abomination.”

“Mysteries abound chirurgeon Berthod.”

They sat in silence for a while, each lost in their thoughts while birds sang outside the window, unaware and joyful.

“What do they mean? Those symbols.”

Arpin stroked his whiskers and said, “We’ve sent copies to experts that we consult with and they think that they would enhance physical strength, reflexes as well as heighten one’s resistance to pain.”

“Terrifying.”

“Indeed, but they also think that it comes at a cost, as these sorts things often do.”

“Whatever it is, it is too high a price,” said Berthod.

“For most absolutely, but clearly not for all.”

Posted in Arrondissement, Short Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Dinner Conversation

There were no two ways about it, her outfit was ruined. Zsófia knew it was ridiculous, she had much bigger problems at the moment, but still, she loved that outfit. It was the perfect mix of librarian demureness and slightly naughty. Difficult to pull off. She wore it because she knew it would make Monsieur L’Horloge smile.

The door on the other side of the bars unlocked and one of Bland People came in with a paper sack of food. She called them that because they had little to no fashion sense, clad in dull browns, faded tan and nondescript greys. They tended to blend into the background even when they were the only other person present.

“Stand back please.”

She did so. After several escape attempts, they learned their lesson. First, they put her in a cell with only vertical bars. She was able to squeeze through them quite easily. Second, they put her in one with both vertical and horizontal bars, she wasn’t able to slither through but the tin plate they brought her meals on made a wonderful improvised weapon and shield, after that her food was placed in a paper bag. She had not yet weaponized that but she had some ideas.

The cell door swung open, the food sack was tossed in. Her meal was some bread, cheese, a bit of cured sausage and an apple. Not fancy but decent food, she didn’t eat as well when she was a poor student.

Turning, the Bland Person was about to leave when she said, “Wait please!”

With measured movement, the Bland Person turned.

“What do you desire?”

“Freedom,” said Zsófia
.
“I cannot do that.”

“Never hurts to ask.”

“Is that all?”

“Will you stay with me while I eat?”

A moment of pondering followed.

“I will.”

The Bland Person, who Zsófia now noticed was a woman sat down on a stool as far away as she could and still be in the same room. Zsófia took a nibble of the sausage, not bad.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“It is not important.”

“I disagree! Names are very important! My name means wisdom.”

The Bland Person did not reply.

“So you don’t have a name.”

“All things have names.”

“Then what is your name?”

“My name is not important.”

“Of the Ville De Marseille Importants?”

A blank stare followed the question.

“It was a joke.”

“I understand. You inferred that I indicated that my first name was ‘Not’ and that my surname was ‘Important.’”

“Yes, I-“

“And that you knew of a family of that same name residing in Ville De Marseille.”

“Just a little-“

“Even though it is very likely no surname ‘Important’ and any parent of that linage naming their child ‘Not’ would be a cruelty.”

Zsófia took a bite of the cheese.

“This was your joke?”

“It was,” replied Zsófia.

“I understand.”

As she ate, Zsófia wondered if this was some sort of torture. If so, it was of a marvelous subtlety. Not Important, as she now thought of this particular Bland Person sat silently but keep her eyes on her.

“How long will you keep me here?”

“Until we get what we want.”

“That’s a little vague, don’t you think?”

“It is. But is still true.”

“May I ask what it is exactly that you want?”

“No. But it is in the best interest that we get it.”

Zsófia laughed.

“In whose best interest?”

“Everyone’s.”

Posted in Arrondissement, Short Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Hope and Friendship

“How many times have you taken that apart?” asked Frau Schlüsselherrin.

Monsieur L’Horloge gently screwed in the back of the chronoton and then slowly wound it up.

“It keeps running slightly slow,” he said holding it up to his ear.

After a moment, he put it down and shook his head.

“Still not perfect.”

The key mistress put her much larger hand over his.

“There is still hope.”

Both of them paused, the only sound, the faint tick-tock of the alleged slow-running timepiece. Withdrawing his hand, Monsieur L’Horloge leaned back in his chair and lowered his head.

“I’m holding on to that, but…”

“She would want-“

Standing suddenly, he knocked over his chair and began to pace about the room the Coterie du Honor had provided him.

“I think she would want to be safe and whole! She would desire to not be at best missing and at worst-“

Grabbing him by the arms, Frau Schlüsselherrin stopped his frantic stride.

“Look at me!”

He did so, eyes full of an earnest panic.

“These Chevaliers are looking for her, they swore to find her. You remember?”

An image of kneeling and oaths flashed in his head.

“They also swore to protect her. That did not go so well.”

“True, but I think that they will do much to recover her. For them, it is a matter of honor. They take that very seriously.”

“They take everything seriously.”

“Yesterday, I hear one swear that she would bring back the runniest cheese in all of the Arrondissement!”

“I hope she also swore to get the freshest bread to spread it on,” he said.

“Mein Gott! We must warn her at once!” cried the key mistress.

They both laughed. To an observer, it might appear to be manic. But to them, it was a relief. Staggering to their chairs, tears falling down their faces, their amusement reduced to a simmer.

“Merci.”

“You are very welcome.”

“I don’t suppose I’ve ever told you who we met?” asked the watchmaker.

“No, but given that we’ve feuded for years, it’s understandable.”

“It seems so silly now, I’m sorry I was such a dolt.”

“Well, I might have some of the blame,” she said with a smile.

“A little perhaps.”

“A little.”

“We met at a party-“

“I thought you hated parties?”

“Very much, so disorderly. People all jammed into a place too small to hold them. Dreadful.”

“But you went to this one?”

“I did. An old friend of mine, a singer, insisted that I come because she wanted an excuse to leave early, which I was supposed to provide. We were only supposed to be there long enough for one drink. But as soon as we were through the door, she disappeared.”

“Why didn’t you just leave?”

“I had promised to help my friend.”

“Your code of honor?”

“Yes, I think so. I had more than one drink, as one does, and was contemplating finding my friend when I felt a tap on my shoulder and there she was. She looked at me and said, ‘Everyone I’ve talked to tonight is boring. I hope you aren’t.’”

“Was she drunk?”

“Probably, but then again, so was I. I said, ‘Do you think time is boring?’ ‘Depends on whom I’m spending it with,’ she replied. So I then give her a brief history of chronotons.”

“How long before she left?”

“That’s the thing. She didn’t. I go on and on about the seven different schools of gear work, self-winding versus manual versus time goblin and so many other topics, all related to chronotons. I got into some very detailed techniques.”

“I thought you said ‘a brief history’?”

“How long would a brief history of keys and locks take?”

Frau Schlüsselherrin pondered that and said, “Point taken.”

“Now I’ve been going on and on, even I’ve lost track of time and I ask her if she has any questions. She looks at me thoughtfully and says, ‘Would you like to get out of here?’ I say absolutely, and we leave. We have dinner where she tells me she’s a librarian, I have many questions about that, which pleases her. Then more drinks and more talking and then, cafés as the sun rose.”

“Quite a story.”

“It hardly seems real. Most people outside my profession don’t have the patience to hear about the details. I’ve always wondered why she listened.”

“Why didn’t you ask her?”

He smiled sadly, “I was afraid it would be like breaking a spell.”

“I know why.”

“Pardon?”

“Would you like to know?”

“Do I?”

“You do.”

“Then please tell me.”

He leaned in with cautious anticipation.

“She told me the same story, from her point of view. And she said, ‘I didn’t understand most of what he said, but he loved his work and clearly didn’t care if anyone else did. He has a pure passion!’”

“Zsófia said that?”

“Yah. Also, the fact you didn’t ask her why a librarian was at a raucous party helped.”

“It never occurred to me.”

“Seems to have worked out.”

“It did.”

They sat for a while. Neither spoke but it was a comfortable quiet. It was broken when a screwdriver was knocked on the floor. Sitting on the desk/worktable was a black cat.

“How did you get in here?” asked Frau Schlüsselherrin.

The cat regarded her with a look that implied that was an absurd question.

“Hold on,” said Monsieur L’Horloge, who scratched the cat behind the ears. Purring ensued, the cat closed his eyes and raised his head, revealing a…

“Note!”

Unrolling it, both of them read.

“Let’s get the Chevaliers.”

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Dead Desires

Detective Durand carefully walked down the worn stone steps of the spiral staircase. She ran her left hand along the wall and carried and a candle in her right. This was not a place for the living or at least not inviting to those who still drew breath. The steps were uneven and more than once, she nearly tumbled.

After what seemed like a long time, Durand finally came to a decayed wooden door, bound with verdigris-covered brass.

“I beg entry in the name of Saint Januarius, who watches the dead and I knock thrice, once for the nadir, once for the zenith and once for what lies between.”

With that, she grasped the tarnished ring that hung from a devil’s nose and banged three times. The sound echoed and faded, leaving a heavy silence. Her candle flickered and the door creaked open. Detective Durand stepped over the threshold and entered the Conclave of the Undeparted.

It was a large chamber, oval-shaped with rising tiers of seats. Detective Durand was always reminded of a coliseum, though she never had to fight. Braziers full of blue fire illuminated things in an eerie way and it was no accident. The dead were nothing if not theatrical.

She walked to the center and removed and opened a bottle of expensive brandy along with a large sack of pâtisseries from her shoulder bag and placed them on the dais.

“Given freely, as a visitant,” she said to the apparently empty room.

Frigid wind howled around the room, making the braziers gutter but not go out. Durand pulled her coat close to her, even if it did little to warm her.

A deep and terrible voice spoke from the darkness.

“Do I smell marzipan?”

“And blood orange.”

“Oooooo!”

From the shadowed places surged baker’s dozen of ghosts. They circled the brandy and sweets like hungry serpents and when they dispersed, the bottle was empty and the sack tumbled off the dais, empty.

“Is my offering accepted?” she asked.

The room reverberated with affirmative comments such as “Magnificent!” and “Luscious!”

“I have questions.”

A specter garbed in an embroidered outfit that was probably quite fashionable at the time of his passing floated down to Detective Durand.

“Of course, you are the detective for the dead.”

“Half the spirits in the Arrondissement have vanished-“

A chorus of moans sounded at that statement.

“Hush!” said the embroidered ghost, whose name was Dieudonné Murat. The moans faded.

“I cannot help you.”

“Why?”

“Pardon?”

“Half of your compatriots have disappeared. I would think that you would be falling over one another to prevent it from happening again.”

Dieudonné Murat reared back and unhinged his jaw, emitting a howl that would freeze the blood of anyone.

“Have you forgotten who I am?” she asked.

“I beg your pardon,” Dieudonné Murat bowed.

“Please get up. I am not your enemy.”

“We know.”

“Good. Then let me help you.”

“It is not so simple.”

“Why?”

Dieudonné Murat began to speak but he spoke so softly that she could not hear.

“You will need to speak up.”

The specter floated close to her and whispered, “We don’t know.”

“What don’t you know?”

“Anything!” he shouted, “Why this has happened, who could do it, how it could even be done! We are terrified! It is our job to terrify! The unnatural order is topsy turvy!”

Awkward truth settled in the chamber. Detective Durand sighed.

“I am sorry-“

“Please! We do not want or require pity!” said Dieudonné Murat who floated off to the far side of the dais. Detective Durand gave him a moment, then walked over and sat beside him.

“I am genuinely sorry for what is happening,” she said.

“We know.”

“But I cannot help you if you don’t share what you know.”

Turning to her with sincere sorrow on his face, he said, “I desperately wish I knew.”

Removing a notebook from her bag, she opened it to the page with the spider floret.

“Does this mean anything to you?”

He gazed at it intently.

“No, I’ve never seen it before.”

“Have any of your folk seen it?”

With a rapid series of intricate hand gestures, Dieudonné Murat threw a ghostly image of the spider floret into the middle of the chamber.

“Have any of you seen this image? “ he said, his voice booming.
Many specters looked out from where they had hidden, some glided by to get a closer look. Each one, as they passed, shook their heads. Even the one who carried his head under his arm.

“I’m sorry, we cannot help you.”

Detective Durand sighed. They were telling the truth, a ghost has a tell when they were lying.

“If you hear anything, even if it seems insignificant, contact me immediately.”

“But of course.”

She bowed, as was the custom and Dieudonné Murat returned it and faded into darkness. Detective Durand exited by the same door she entered and found a ghost hovering on the spiral staircase, smoking.

“None of them can help you,” said the new spirit.

“So I gathered.”

The ghost, who was a smartly dressed young woman, put out the stub of her cigarette and said, “My name is Nikita.”

“Detective Durand.”

“You are all they talk about.”

“Really?”

“They hoped you would know what happened.”

“I hoped they might know.”

“That lot wanders the same old paths, they’re all cowards.”

“I think they are just scared, ironically.”

Nikita shrugged.

“You know something?” asked Detective Durand.

“Very good. Your reputation is well earned.”

“It’s not that difficult. You wanted to speak to me alone, without the pomp and circumstance of the Conclave of the Undeparted. You are clearly a new ghost based on your outfit, love the jacket, by the way, you have spirit smokes, so someone or a group of people still mourn your passing. Also, you want something from me, other than to solve this mystery.”

Nikita stared at her for a moment.

“Also, now that I look at you, you were the woman pushed off the Wandering Woman several months ago. Correct.”

“You are very good.”

“True.”

“You’re right about how I died. My heart gave out before I hit the bottom, which why, I was told, I am not a ghostly crêpe.”

“Then you are lucky. Well, not as lucky as you might be. Now what can you tell me?”

The ghost smoothed her clothing and said, “I’ve seen that symbol and I can take you to where I saw it.”

“Let’s go.”

“I do want something.”

“Other than not being erased from existence?”

“Yes. I want to work with you.”

“We’re about to do just that.”

“Not just this, I want to be a gendarme, like you.”

Detective Durand pondered this for a moment.

“I don’t have the authority to make you a gendarme.”

“Please, if-“

“However, if you prove yourself useful, I will do what I can to aid you. Do we have a deal?”

Nikita raised her hand and Durand did the same. Not a handshake, which was not feasible but she felt a chill and it was as good as one.

“Follow me,” said Nikita who seemed very pleased.

Detective Durand did.

Posted in Arrondissement, Short Stories | Tagged , , , , , ,

A Difficult Client

Boot steps echoed off the marble floors of the Tribunal de Justice. Jules Thibault, his hands shackled was flanked by four Chevaliers, one on each of the cardinal points and if that was not enough, four uniformed gendarmes also filled the ordinal points.

To a clerk who witnesses this procession, it seemed excessive for such a slight young man. There would be no way for him to escape even one of his guards. She felt a pity for this prisoner, which was the correct impulse, but not for the obvious reason.

At the end of the hallway double doors were opened by officers of the Tribunal in their scarlet robes and faceless masks (justice is of course, blind) and Jules was brought into the chamber of Judgment.

The gallery was filled with government officials, the fourth estate, and high-ranking gendarmes, all eager to see this sentencing. Gendarme Sergeant Arpin, being the part of the trial, such as it was, also sat in attendance. There was a vibration in the vaulted marble chamber. Everyone was thirsty for justice, or so they would say. It felt more like a rabble to Arpin.

All eyes followed Jules as he was led to the Platform of Judgment. Speculative whispers drifted through the room. An officer of the Tribunal pounded his ceremonial staff trice.

“All rise for their excellencies, the Magistrats of the twenty-third Ordre Judiciaire!”

Everyone rose as the Magistrats entered, and sat behind the wall of justice, and then sat once the Prime Magistrat banged her gavel.

“We are now in session, let all that is spoken be the truth,” she said.

To which all present, save Jules Thibault, replied, “Aye,” and sat.

“Is the advocate for the defense present?”

A stout man with short hair and neatly trimmed mustache stood.

“Yes your Grace.”

“Does your client have anything to say before we deliver his sentence?”

The advocate leaned into his client and whispered. Jules shook his head.

“No your Grace, my client declines his right of last declaration.”

“And do you have any final statement?”

“My client has directed me to make no additional defense.”

The Prime riffled through some papers and looked up.

“As far as I can see, you’ve made no defense at all.”

“That was also at the insistence of my client.”

“Is this some sort of joke advocate?”

“Not at all your grace, I’m simply fulfilling my client’s wishes.”

“Did your client direct you to squander the Tribunal’s time?”

“No your grace.”

“And yet you have,” added the Tertiary Magistrat.

“That was never my intention.”

“Despite entering a not guilty plea and then not offering any defense whatsoever,” interjected the Ancillary Magistrat.

The advocate thought that if the Magistrats were interested in not wasting the Tribunal’s time, they had and an odd way of showing it.

“I would like to remind the Tribunal, I was not the first advocate assigned to this client. Nor was I the second or third.”

“Did you not suggest to him to plead guilty?” asked the Prime Magistrat.

“I did.”

“And he declined.”

“He did.”

“Did you make it known that the Tribunal might be more merciful in that case?”

“Your grace, as an advocate for the public I am compelled to advise my client in matters of the law. However, he is no way compelled to take that advice.”

This set off an eruption of chatter amongst the gallery. The Prime banged her gavel.

“I would remind everyone that this is not a theater nor this a play. I would have no guilt in clearing this chamber. Are we clear?”

Silence answered in the affirmative.

“Does the prosecution have any final statements?”

The council for the prosecution stood and said, “The state rests your grace.”

“Very well. Jules Thibault, you have been found guilty of one count of assault of gendarme, and two counts of robbery. While your crimes might insure you spend the next forty years in the L’île de Oubliette, the Tribunal believes that the Arrondissement would benefit from your rehabilitation.”

This, of course, provoked a reaction from the members of the gallery. But before that, Arpin smelled panic, a sharp desperate scent

“Instead, you will be remanded to the care of the chirurgeons of Manoir de la Lune for the recovery of your wits. Afterward, perhaps you will be able to shed more light on your organization and it’s goals.”

Just as the prime was banging her gavel, Jules leapt towards the Magistrats, scattering the gendarmes around him. Screams issued forth from the gallery and the Chevaliers moved into action. Despite the hindrance of being shackled, Jules was proving to be a formidable combatant. The Chevaliers had drawn their swords but struck with the flat of the blade.

Arpin, who was one of the only gallery viewers who had not tried to flee, was impressed by the technique the Chevaliers used. Clearly, they did not wish to kill him but had no concern about causing pain. However, Jules fought recklessly, almost as if…

“Be careful!” Arpin shouted, “He wants to die!

With that said, Jules grabbed the arm of the nearest Chevalier, she had armor made from woven sand and a sword carved from a dappled green wood and slashed his wrists along the edge. After a spurt of cardinal, he slumped to the floor.

Arpin ran to Jules and used his tie and pocket square to stanch the bleeding. He was unsure if it would be enough, given the amount of blood he was kneeling in.

“Not today,” he said to Jules and perhaps himself.

Sometime after that, the chirurgeons arrived. Everything took on a dream-like quality after that, or perhaps more nightmarish. Jules was removed via stretcher and Arpin was examined, he was uninjured, at least physically.

He recalled Gendarme Vasseur giving him a ride back to his apartments, and making sure he was safely home. It was nighttime when he found himself sitting in front of a window. Beside him was an ashtray full of the stubs of cigarettes, and a half-smoked one between his fingers.

Standing up, he moved to the door when he saw a note stuck to it.

Sergeant, if you read this before tomorrow morning, please do not come to the station. Captain’s orders. I have left you some bread, cheese and andouillette on the kitchen table. Please sit and eat. This is also the Captain’s orders. Additionally, there is a bottle of very nice Malbec. Please enjoy. That is not one of the Captain’s orders, more of a suggestion. Eat, drink and rest, then return in the morning.

-Vasseur

With some reluctance, Arpin did just that. The Malbec was indeed very nice.

Posted in Arrondissement, Short Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Educational Sojourn

Olivia had insisted on meeting at the Museum of Unnatural History. Actually, it was her father who had told her that her first choice, a small café in the carpenter’s district would be more trouble. She took his concerns seriously, as he did excel in finding trouble.

A group of students stood in front of the skeleton of the Hypothetical Rex, watching its bones change from rusty iron to rippling darkness and then to engraved air. The plaque said that the composition of the bones changed constantly and was never repeated. Olivia remembered being fascinated by this as a girl and had to admit it was still quite a sight.

“Shoo!”

She turned to see a velvet-jacketed docent chase a calico cat out of the room. If it were a race, the cat was winning.

“Remarkable, isn’t it?”

Olivia jumped slightly as Novice Hortense appeared at her side.

“What are you doing here?” asked Olivia

The Novice smiled.

“Just enjoying a little time off.”

“I didn’t think that the order of Déception Éternelle was so casual.”

Olivia didn’t mean it to come out like an accusation but she had been rattled.

“Oh, they aren’t. But between you and me, I’m a terrible Novice.”

“Maybe you should leave.”

“I doubt I’ll be taking the vows.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

Hortense smiled and said, “My advice worked, didn’t it?”

“Advice?”

“About not looking for that thing you were looking for.”

“I don’t see what-“

The Novice looked her deep in the eyes and said, “You have it.”

“Yes.”

“You’re in danger.”

Olivia laughed. A little too loudly perhaps as the group of students giggled in response earning them, and her a glare from their teacher.

“I know it seems dramatic but I’m not lying.”

“This is a public place, nothing can happen here.”

Hortense smiled again and said, “Do you really believe that is true.”

“I did.”

Taking her gently by the arm, the Novice guided her away from the ever-shifting bones of the thunder lizard.

“Do you trust your client?”

“He seems… odd.”

“You are very generous. He is poison, he and those he works for.”

Olivia almost laughed again, it seemed like something from a copper concept novel.

“I do know how it sounds but I’m entirely serious.”

They had moved to the Dream Aviary, which was filled with winged aspirations. One flew through Olivia and filled her with momentary hope.

“What do the sisters of the Déception Éternelle have to do with all this?”

“Remember how I said I was a terrible Novice?”

“Oh. Oh!”

As they approached the exit, a figure appeared before them. He was utterly ordinary.

“Merde!”

Hortense pivoted and pulled Olivia back the way they came. They pushed past other museum visitors and the figure pursued. Looking over her shoulder, Olivia saw that the winged aspirations avoided their stalker.

They cut into the Hall of Impossibilities, filled with sculptures of things that never existed. It was lit in a sinister way, a rich umber from below, shadows were everywhere and not a place one would feel safe.

“Please stop.”

The voice carried throughout the room, the acoustics were outstanding. Hortense and Olivia stood in the center of the room and at each exit stood a figure.

“Should I just give them what they want?” Olivia whispers.

“Death is our gift to you,” said one of the hunters.

“Really?’ asked Hortense, “You are terrible at presents.”

“What?” said Olivia whose day had gone from odd to horrible and then doubled back to odd.

“You Maxilline will come with us.”

“Wait, your name isn’t Hortense?”

“Please, do I look like a Hortense?”

She did not.

Each figure took a dagger from inside their coats and closed in. It was then that Hortense, née Maxilline, aka Maxi then threw back her head and yowled.

Of course the clowder sprung into action.

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Safe and Dry

It was raining when Zsófia exited the Academy Library and the Folio Chevalier opened a bumbershoot to shield them both. His squire Henrik followed with crate covered with an oilcloth.

“This way Mademoiselle,” the Folio Chevalier said.

He walked her to the waiting velo-pede, opening the door for her while Henrick placed the crate in the boot. The Folio Chevalier stood outside, one hand on the bumbershoot, the other on the hilt of his sword, while his squire finished packing and got into the operator’s seat. Then, and only then, did he get in.

As soon as he closed the door and sat, the velo-pede took off into traffic.

“Thank you for your gallantry, I don’t think a drop hit me.”

“You are welcome, but thanks are unnecessary, gallantry is part of our ethos.”

“Lucky me,” remarked Zsófia, ”You yourself are quite lucky,”

“In what way?”

“That your velo-pede was not fined by the gendarmes for parking right in front of the library.”

“This vehicle bears the symbols of the Tower Cerulean and the Coterie du Honor, we have leave to park where is necessary.”

“Must be quite a time saver.”

“It is a privilege, not a right. It must never be abused.”

“Of course not.”

They sat quietly as they moved slowly across the Arrondissement, the rain beating against the window.

“Your armor is very unusual,” she remarked, “It looks as if it made from old books.”

“Each member of the order has unique equipment to reflect their nature. My armor was forged to resemble the spines of ancient tomes.”

“Forged?”

“Indeed, by the Hephaestian herself.”

“Remarkable. Did she make your sword as well?”

He smiled.

“No, I gained it from a quest, as all chevaliers.”

“Was it dangerous?”
“Of course, it was a quest.”

“You must tell me about it.”

“To do it justice, I would need more time. Perhaps when we are returned to the Tower Cerulean. For now, I am charged with your safety.”

“I feel quite protected.”

“Master, there is a snarl ahead, I am going to divert to the ancillary path,”
said Henrik

“Very well, but be aware.”

Zsófia flicked her tongue, a nervous habit she could not help and ask, “Are we in trouble?”

“Likely no, but it’s best to be cautious.”

The Velo-Pede turned right and moved along some narrow streets until they came out near the Cloison River.

“Your superior seemed vexed by the prospect of your absence,” remarked the Folio Chevalier.

His speech was conversational, but his eyes were darting back and forth. Zsófia was unsure if that was comforting or not.

“Monsieur Marchand? I suppose so.”

“You must be quite proficient at your job.”

She laughed at that.

“Are you not?” he asked.

“I am quite good at what I do, in fact, I enjoy it quite a bit.”

“You must love the printed word a great deal.”

“Truth be told, I enjoy organizing more than I do reading.”

“Do all librarians feel the same way?”

“I can’t speak for every-“
The rest of her thought went unexpressed as the velo-pede was slammed into the railing by the river. Zsófia experienced this as if time had slowed, the cracking of the windows, sparks drifting past like lightning bugs, even the sound was unhurried. It felt somewhat like theater and she was merely observing these events.

And then, time caught up with them. The rest of it was a haze of violence and horrifying images. A sword drawn and a figure bisected. Punches and thuds. Distant screams. The whirl of a metal staff. Blood mixing with rain.

Then it was over. She looked around and saw the Folio Chevalier standing in the middle of several bodies, all motionless. Henrick leaned against the wrecked velo-pede, his face bearing a deep cut that still bled.

“Mademoiselle, are you uninjured,” said the Folio Chevalier.

“Pardon?” she replied. He was entirely too calm. It felt as if they were discussing where to have lunch, he should be screaming at her.

“Were you wounded?”

“My shoulder is sore.”

“Can you move it?”

She tried, it was sore but she could.

“Excellent. Henrick, flank.”

As the squire moved to the other side of Zsófia, in the distance sirens could be heard. People were beginning to gather, as they will when an accident has occurred.

“Madames and Monsieurs,” loudly said the Folio Chevalier, “Please keep your distance until the authorities arrive.”

And they did, the Coterie du Honor carried weight with people. However, it did not prevent more from gathering at a distance. This of course slowed the arrival of the gendarmes but Zsófia was glad to not be in the center of a mob.

They did arrive, with a chirurgeon, who saw to Henrik’s wounds, the Folio Chevalier was untouched. He examined Zsófia’s shoulder and told her it was just a pulled muscle and to apply heat for a few days, it was nothing to worry about.

A group of gendarmes led them to their velo-pede with a promise of safe passage to the Tower Cerulean. It was then that one of the gendarmes grabbed Zsófia and pulled them both into the cold grey waters of the Cloison.

Posted in Arrondissement, Short Stories | Tagged , , , ,