A Long Road Back-Arrondissement-Part Forty-Five

Heavy snow pelted the Gelatinous Arc as it slowly slid across the Plaza of Vœux and was absorbed. Olivia and her Chevalier bodyguards strode underneath but the flakes still swirled about them.

“We should find shelter,” said the Cautious Chevalier.

“Most people are indoors,” replied Olivia, “We are perfectly safe.”

“Visibility is far too short, a perfect place for an ambush.”

“Or perfectly suited for me to find what we are looking for.”

“I must insist we go inside.”

Olivia, who was looking intently at the objects moving within the Arc frowned.

“I thought Chevaliers were supposed to be brave.”

This elicited laughter from the other Chevaliers.

“That is not helpful!” he said to his compatriots.

“I don’t know, a good laugh makes life worth living,” said the Jocular Chevalier.

“I am brave, but I am also cautious.”

“If you say so,” replied Olivia.

“If I were not brave, then I would not be here!”

“How did you get that name?”

“It was bestowed upon me when I was dubbed.”

“Each Chevalier is given a descriptor when they are elevated,” added one of the others, “For example, I am known as the Watchful Chevalier because I am acutely aware of my surroundings.”

“Very useful,” said Olivia.

“And if Cautious had merely asked, I would have told him that at present, we are the only hearty souls on the plaza at the moment,” Watchful said with a smile on her face.

“You might have offered that insight without having to show off,” said Cautious.

More laughter ensued.

“True enough! Will you accept my apologies Cautious?”

“I will,” he said as they shook hands.

The finder carefully gazed at the myriad objects that were suspended in the clouded structure. A variety of things came into view and then tumbled slowly away.

“At the risk of stating the obvious, removing something from the Gelatinous Arc is considered very bad luck,” observed Cautious.

“I am aware of that.”

“And yet, it looks as though you are searching for something.”

“That is correct.”

Wind blew snow around them, adding an additional layer of frost to their clothes and armor.

“Are you planning to risk the wrath of the Arc?”

Olivia sighed and said, “Only if absolutely necessary.”

“The thing is-“ began Cautious.

“What happens to the objects that the Arc leaves behind?” Olivia asked.

“Pardon?”

“The things that are ejected by the Arc.”

“I would think that there is some sort of system to collect them.”

“There is, people pick them up.”

“Custodians?”

“No, ordinary people.”

“That seems…disorganized.”

“I suppose so. The legend says, when the Arc gives up an object, the wish is either fulfilled or rejected. Whatever comes out is found by the person who needs to.”

“Quite random.”

“That’s the nature of luck.”

“But what-“

“Shush.”

Olivia followed something moving through the gel. It was rectangular and traveled toward the back end. She dashed around to the corner, nearly slipping on the slush to see the object she found slip out with a wet sound. (The Gelatinous Arc was unaffected by temperature, it neither melted nor froze.)

Picking it up and wiping the goo off, she gestured to Cautious who opened up a satchel for her to place it in.

“Now we go inside,” she said.

Leading her protectors off the plaza, they traveled along a series of narrow streets, which troubled Cautious to no end, until they came to a brothery. Her cousin told her about this place and she knew where all the best but uncrowded eateries were. An Oriole chanteuse sang on a small stage as wonderful and comforting smells drifted around them.

Once they settled in a booth in the back, ordered a tureen of chicken and a basket of fresh rolls, Olivia took a look at her prize. It was a box made from a sliver wood and bound with deep red metal straps.

“What do you think is inside?” asked the Curious Chevalier.

“Let’s find out,” Olivia answered.

After a half-hour or so of examining, tapping, pressing, one shake that did nothing, and including a quick break to enjoy the truly excellent broth and rolls, they finally discovered a hidden latch.

“Huh,” said Olivia.

Wrapped in a thick, soft cloth was a tombstone replica. The name was ‘Guy Naviaux’ and the date of his death twelve years prior. Two swords were carved on either side of this peculiar item and the words, ‘Let Darkness Take You.’

“What does this mean?” asked Curious.

“It’s a clue,” said Watchful.

“Who makes a replica of their tombstone?” asked Cautious.

“How do we know it’s a replica?” said Curious.

“What else could it be?” replied Cautious.

“A clue,” stated Watchful.

“Could this really-“ began Curious.

“Quiet please!” said Olivia.

The Chevaliers stopped speaking but looked at her expectantly. She ran her fingertips over the carvings, they were very expertly done, this was a well made if bizarre thing. That inscription…

“Finish your meal,” said Olivia.

Everyone wiped their mouths and looked at her.

“We’re going to pay our respects.”

Once they left the brothery they found that the weather had taken a much warmer turn, the skies were clear and the snow was melting. They entered their Velo-Pede and sped off through the Arrondissement. After a short trip, they arrived at the Jardin Des Morts, a small cemetery off the Rue de la modestie.

“Look for the full-sized tombstone.”

It only took ten minutes or so to find it. It stood near a small willow tree that shaded a stone bench. Sitting on that bench was an old man. He looked up as they all approached.

“Good afternoon,” he said.

“And to you,” said Olivia.

He looked at all of them, four Chevaliers and a stylishly dressed young woman and smiled.

“Do you have it?” asked the old man.

“Do we have what?” asked Cautious who could not escape his nature.

“Either you know, or you do not,” he replied.

“Give it to me,” said Olivia.

Cautious took out the box and passed it to her.

“May I?” asked the old man.

Olivia nodded and with assurance, he opened the box and uncovered the small tombstone. He smiled and sat straighter.

“Well then, I am to give this to you.”

He reached under the bench and took out a long, flat, and battered case and placed it alongside him on the bench. It was made of leather and was scuffed in many places, the straps were worn and some had been repaired where they had broke.

“May I?” asked Olivia.

“By all means,” replied the old man.

She unbuckled the straps, snapped open the case to reveal two long swords in pristine condition. One had a brass pommel with a green gem set in it, the other blue steel with an orange gem. The Chevaliers all gasped in unison.

“It is them!” said Watchful.

“I didn’t think it was possible,” said Cautious.

“And yet, there they are!” exclaimed Curious who reached out and then pulled his hand back.

“The Twin Swords of the Whirlwind Chevalier,” added the Solemn Chevalier, who up till this moment, had said very little.

“Indeed,” the old man replied, “My brother entrusted them to me when he died. Forgive my manners, I am Paul Naviaux.”

“I have so many questions,” said Curious.

“My name is Olivia Chercheur,” she said offering her hand.

The Chevaliers very quickly followed suit, shamed by their lack of manners, though Paul seemed unconcerned.

“This story is worthy of a song but I fear that it might end up an opera if I’m not careful. My brother Guy was a prognosticator, but of a very limited scope. He could see the future only for the Whirlwind Chevalier. I know how odd that sounds and the Whirlwind Chevalier was equally skeptical, as many of you might be. But after a number of very accurate predictions, he accepted that it was true and they became partners and friends.”

Paul took out a pocket square and wiped his brow, the day had become very warm.

“This went on for many years and Guy was a great help. But one day, he saw Whirlwind’s end. Guy debated telling him, but in the end, he felt it would be a disservice. When he told him, the Chevalier nodded and accepted his fate but asked my brother to accompany him on this last quest. And when Whirlwind fell, Guy was to retrieve the swords, so that they would not be used by his foes. My brother was no fighting man but he agreed when the time came, Guy honored that last request from his friend.

“He had that small tombstone prepared and put it in the Gelatinous Arc and instructed me, once he had died, to visit every day with the case until someone came and presented the replica to me. So here we are.”

“I have even more questions now,” said Curious, “Why not just bring the swords to the Tower Cerulean? How did he know the right people would find the box? How did he know the date of his death? What does that inscription mean?”

Paul shrugged and said, “Guy was the seer, not I. While it seems unnecessarily complicated to us, I trust he had his reasons.”

“Merci Monsieur Naviaux, I hope this brings you some peace of mind,” said Olivia.

“Indeed it does. Now I may do some traveling, it’s impossible when you have to come to the same bench every day.”

The Chevaliers all knelt and presented Paul each a coin that bore their sigils.

“You have done a great service for the Coterie du Honor. Should you find yourself in need of our swords, you may present these and your request will be honored.”

“I think perhaps I’ve had enough swords for a while but thank you. Since the weather has turned warm, I think I’ll take a walk and enjoy it.”

“We have a Velo-Pede, where can we take you?” asked Cautious.

“Thank you but I’d like to stretch my legs. Au revoir!”

And with that, he walked away. Olivia and her escorts strode back to the Velo-Pede and speed off to the Tower Cerulean.

“I must admit, I did not think you would find the Blades of the Whirlwind,” said Curious, “They have been lost for quite some time.”

“Who was the Whirlwind Chevalier?”

“He slew the Eponymous Ettin, rescued the Sable Salamander, broke the Gloaming Ward-“ said Curious.

“And is one of the few Chevaliers to fight with a sword in each hand,” added Solemn.

“That’s some CV,” mused Olivia, “Most of my clients aren’t looking for the legendary. It’s good to know that it wasn’t a barrier to success,” replied Olivia.

“While this is a victory, do not forget that we are merely a decoy. Our success was not the point,” said Cautious.

A social chill ran through the Velo-Pede.

“Which is not to say that I’m displeased by it,” he added.

“Hold on,” said Watchful.

They had stopped for a change of light when a figure crossing the rue stopped in front of them. She was completely ordinary.

“Back up quickly!” shouted Cautious.

Someone landed on the roof with a thump.

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It Can Be Intoxicating-Arrondissement Part Forty-Four

Mr. Twig walked down the alley in the foggy, pre-dawn hours. The sky above was tenuously lightening as he knocked on the back door of the boulangerie. With a creak, the door swung open.

“Good morning Mister Twig!” exclaimed the baker, her chestnut fur dusted with flour.

“And good morning to you Mademoiselle Darcey.”

“How was work? Did you break up any fights?”

“I prevented several and assisted one gentleman to leave.”

“Assisted?” asked Darcey who ‘put up her dukes.’

“It would have been an unfair fight, given his heroic intake of cocktails.”

“How gallant of you!”

“We wish everyone to have an enjoyable evening.”

“You don’t enjoy violence, do you?”

“No, but it can be can be intoxicating.”

“You sound like you know that first hand.”

“It’s too long a story to be told at a doorway.”

“Okay, I’ll let you off now, but I want to hear more sometime.”

“Perhaps.”

“You are very mysterious.”

“Only accidentally.”

Darcey laughed and said, “Fine, fine. I have your bread ready.”

She handed him a pale blue paper bag and he handed her a seven copper concept piece.

“I slipped in a few of those sweet rolls you like.”

“How much-“ he began.

“Call it an accidental kindness.”

“Merci.”

“See you tomorrow. This dough isn’t going to knead itself, not properly anyway. Au revoir.”

With that, she shut the boulangerie door and the warm scents of bread faded. Gripping the bag gingerly, Mr. Twig began his walk home. Fog continued to roll in, making the streetlamps glow like engorged lightning bugs.

Mr. Twig enjoyed his walk home each morning. The Arrondissement was quiet, the hurly-burly of the day still slumbered. All he heard were his own footsteps and the faint stirring of early risers. From a side street, a figure emerged, a perfectly ordinary person, the kind you would pass without any curiosity.

“Mr. Twig.”

“Yes.”

“Would you please come with me.”

It was a statement, not a query.

“No. I will not.”

“I think it is in your best interest to do so.”

Mr. Twig stopped and placed his bag of baked goods on a crate that stood in the alley. Violence was coming and he did not wish his breakfast to be ruined. Wasting food was a sin.

“Your assessment of my best interest is skewed. Please tell your people behind me to stop.”

“Impressive.”

“You are not the first group to gang up on me, and you will not be the last.”

“Do you remember what happened at Les Requêtes?”

“I remember that you were driven off.”

“After much damage.”

“It’s not going to work.”

“What?”

Mr. Twig pivoted as one of his assailants tried to strike him in the back. As the fist moved past him, he grabbed the arm and flung him into the chattier member of his gang sending them both off into the fog. With a smile, Mr. Twig began to fight.

Punches and kicks were landed and blocked, limbs were broken, though none of Mr. Twig’s. He had not lied to Mademoiselle Darcey when he said that he did not enjoy fighting. He reveled in it. Each blow delivered and the pain inflicted was a delight. Nothing could be as wonderful as this. Later, he would regret each strike but at that moment, it was transcendent.

After pummeling his foes, he leapt to the one who spoke to him. More accurately, tried to distract him. Mr. Twig leaned in.

“I am going to go home now and if you are wise, you won’t follow. But in the interest of honesty, part of me wants you to.”

Bloodied and battered, the figure held up his hands in a gesture of surrender.

“Apologies. We underestimated you.”

“Accepted.”

“One last thing.”

“I do not-“

Before Mr. Twig could finish, the figure blew a cloud of fine particles into his face and everything faded to grey. What came next had a dream-like quality, his limbs were bound, followed by movement, and images wavered like light reflected by water.

When finally everything coalesced into clarity, he found himself shackled to the wall of a barred cell. Sitting on a low wooden table, was the pale blue paper bag containing his bread and sweet rolls. The chains allowed him to reach it but no further.

Shame of his joy of savage brutality kept him from opening the bag. But wasting food…

“Bollocks,” he said.

“Excuse me?”

He looked up. Clearly, he was not alone.

“Yes?”

“Do you work the door at Les Requêtes?” asked Zsófia.

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The Itch of Larceny-Arrondissement Part Forty-Three

A young woman, chicly dressed, was accompanied by six Chevaliers as she left the Tower Cerulean. This was done with much pomp and the entire departure had a theatrical air. The Chevaliers strode in lockstep, their armor shining or rippling or undulating depending on the style and make.

With a roar, a large Velo-Pede pulled in front of the gates and they all got in and it sped off through the Arrondissement. For anyone watching, it was just as much a declaration as it was a departure and no one noticed a lone squire who trotted towards the gate but then gently turned and doubled back across the training grounds.

On the east-west corner of the tower was the kitchen entrance where our lone squire entered. Pots full of bubbling sauces, spits roasting a variety of meats, and ovens baking fresh bread would be an easy distraction for most squires but not this one. She moved through the kitchen quickly and without disturbing the culinary dance. Once out of the kitchen, she walked along the hallway to the entrance to the lower levels.

“Ho squire!”

She turned to see a Chevalier clad in topaz scale mail.

“Yes sir?”

“Where are you headed?”

“I’m to find a particular lance.”

“In who’s service are you?”

“The Observant Chevalier, sir.”

“I see.”

“She tasked me with finding a red lance with a scratch on the grip in the lower armory.”

“That sounds like one of her tasks.”

“I don’t mind sir.”

“I admire your attitude.”

“Thank you sir.”

“Well, you better get going, it won’t be easy.”

“I’ll do my best sir.”

She turned but the Chevalier spoke again.

“Squire?”

“Yes sir?”

“Make sure it’s really red and not burgundy or vermillion or cardinal.”

“Thank you, sir. I will.”

“Off with you then, it’s going to be a long day.”

She nodded and entered the door. Stairs wound down past the dungeons, now only used for storage, and into the armory. Racks of wooden swords, spears, maces, war-hammers, and other training weaponry filled the chamber. Walking past a row of lances, the squire removed her padded coif and shook out her hair. So unstylish, thought Maxi.

Along the back wall stood a statue of a Chevalier holding a shield. The coat of arms was an owl with a lotus flower above the head and two below the talons. With a careful touch, she rotated the bottom two clockwise and the top one widdershins. The owl’s wings opened and the statue slid into the floor, revealing a dark doorway.

Taking a deep breath, Maxi walked in and immediately began to plummet. Even knowing what was happening, she still screamed, it was impossible not to. Rushing towards a point of light, she emerged and floated to the floor.

“Welcome, little thief.”

The room was made of steel and stone, lit with braziers that filled with a blue flame. Standing in front of the floor to ceiling door was a tall, cloaked figure made of what looked like brass. The face was always shrouded in darkness, and Maxi was unsure if this was a very sophisticated automata or a living being.

Blowing, Maxi said, “I feel welcomed, though I would like to point out that I’ve stolen nothing from here.”

“Are those raiments yours?”

“I’m just borrowing them.”

“Make sure to return them.”

“I will.”

“Very well then, but you are still a thief nonetheless.”

A number of clever retorts danced through her mind but she had a job to do and this guardian was not taken with her charms.

“I will not debate you today.”

“A wise choice, little thief.”

“However, I do need to retrieve what I placed in your vaults.”

“As is your right.”

“Thank you, if you could-“

“But I must warn you.”

“I understa-“

“Since you solved the mystery of the vault, you may enter and remove only what you placed there. But lest you forget, the penalty for taking what is not yours is dire.”

“I remember.”

“Stray from your vow, and regret will be an inadequate word to describe what you will feel.”

“Right.”

“Others have-“

“Pardon me.”

“Yes?”

“I hate to be rude, but I’m on a bit of a schedule.”

“I see,” replied the guardian.

“You’re very intimidating. Really.”

“This is a matter of the gravest import.”

“And you have made that crystal clear.”

“You seem unimpressed.”

“No, no, no. Not at all. But since my intentions are pure, I have nothing to fear.”

“Clever. Very well, you may enter. But do not forget my words.”

“I will not.”

The guardian stepped aside as the locks whirred and clicked. With a sigh, the tall doors opened. Maxi walked towards the vault.

“One last drop of wisdom. Beware your own nature.”

Maxi bowed and entered. It took her a half hour to make her way to the obsidian casket where she had placed the box containing her inheritance. She took the box and placed it inside her tunic. Turning she began to retrace her steps.

As she walked through this repository, she felt the itch of larceny on her fingertips. So many treasures. A cast of viscous emeralds. The rune encrusted reliquary of St. Erasmus, patron of high-flying heroes. A crystal orb containing the grand blizzard from the year of the Hart. The prophetic portrait of Cassia said to know your heart’s most desperate desire. These temptations spread before her and she wanted them all. Plans bloomed in her mind and just as quickly died, impractical at best, impossible at worst. Time to leave.

After secreting the box in the austere quarters provide for her by the Coterie du Honor, Maxi made her way out of the Tower Cerulean. Everyone thought that the item was hidden somewhere in the Arrondissement, which technically it was. More than enough time to have a little fun. After all, she’d earned it.

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The Dead Do Not Pay Taxes-Arrondissement Part Forty-Two

“It can’t be done!” stated Mistress Rosamund.

“And yet it was.”

“Imma tellin’ you, while you can banish a spirit from a building-“

“Yes, I’ve witnessed more than a few,” interrupted Detective Durand.

“-Goody fer you. But that just prevents a ghost from haunting a particular building. It don’t make’em disappear.”

“Could a skilled spirit wrangler banish a large group of ghosts from an area?”

“Impossible! Specters don’t give up jest like that. They’ll fight you with everything they got. It’s hard enough to give one the boot, but a whole passel of them? Nope. Plus, from what you done told me, it’s an assortment of the undead, with no rhyme or reason to who disappeared.”

“Very true.”

“Seems to me that a clever detective mightah figured all that on her lonesome.”

“Oh, I did.”

Mistress Rosamund stared at the detective for a beat and then shouted, “Then why waste our time with fool questions!”

“Because I am not a spirit wrangler, I lack that gift. But my research indicates you are a talented one. I wondered if there were some trade secrets you might possess that could shed some light on this mystery.”

“Trying to trick me?”

“She does it to everybody,” said Nikita who hovered atop a file cabinet in the corner.

“People instinctively hide things from a detective which is understandable but it is my job to uncover those things.”

The two women stared at each other across the single neat desk in the small, one-room department of the Fantôme Investigation Squad.

“You coulda jest asked.”

“Noted.”

“This place is awful tiny.”

“The Gendarmery’s budget for this department is not as generous as I would like,” replied Detective Durand.

“Why is that?”

“I suspect because the dead do not pay taxes. Nikita, what do we know?”

The would-be Gendarme floated to the floor and began to speak.

“There has been a mass disappearance of ghosts. It’s likely more than was reported given that community’s proclivity for mystery and a general distrust for the living, no offense. No amount of spirit wrangling can account for said disappearances. There is no known way to destroy a ghost and but that has happened.”

“So we know nuttin’ then,” said Mistress Rosamund.

“We know what it can’t be. That is something.”

“So are we just going to start makin’ wild guesses?”

Detective Durand removed a bottle of dark liquor from a drawer, poured two glasses and passed one to Rosamund. They locked eyes and drank.

“Better?”

“Better. Is that in the Gendarme handbook?”

“More of an unspoken guideline.”

“Not a terrible custom.”

“Thank you.”

“But we’re still in the same spot with no directions.”

“What about the League of Spiders?”

“The what of what?” asked Mistress Rosamund.

Durand handed her a newspaper with the headline, LEAGUE OF SPIDERS FOES OF THE ARRONDISSEMENT?” It was accompanied by an illustration of the stylized spider.

“And what does have to do with the missing ghosts?” asked Mistress Rosamund.

“The Conclave of the Undeparted, an organization I’m sure you’re familiar with is terrified by that symbol.”

The barkeep did not reply though her shoulders slumped ever so slightly.

“Are you sure you don’t recognize that symbol?” asked Durand.

“I mighta seen it before.”

“On the ruffians who tore up your establishment?”

“I think you may be right.”

“Better late than never.”

“You gotta understand-“

“Let’s not dwell on that. The League, as the fourth estate has dubbed them, are dangerous. I’ve been working with Sergeant Gendarme Aprin on this case.”

“I remember him.”

“I’m sure he’ll be delighted.”

“Sounds a mite sarcastic.”

“We believe we’ve found their headquarters.”

Nikita cleared her throat despite the lack of actual breath.

“Apologies, Nikita here discovered it.”

“Merci.”

“Then why isn’t the place swarming with Gendarmes?”

“I suspect that if that were done, we might catch a few members but the rest would vanish and our hand would be revealed.”

“Yeah, I see yer point.”

“Additionally, there are very likely defenses that we are ignorant of.”

“Why don’t Nikita here reconnoiter the situation?”

“I did! I was lucky to get out.”

“The main floor was equipped with a Solomon Pit.”

“That’s a dangerous thing to just have laying about in yer lobby.”

“It is, but they have a permit, I looked it up, and it is technically legal.”

“But it shouldn’t be!” said Nikita, “That thing nearly swallowed me up.”

“That is a matter for the advocates. But the metal the stairway was also made of some sort of spirit repelling metal. Perhaps it was ierósium.”

“That’s hokum! No one’s ever found a scrap of that. How could they get enough to make a stairway!”

“An excellent question that I have no answer for. Yet.”

“Whatever it was made of, I couldn’t get close. It…hurt.”

“Damn!”

“Exactly.”

“But why spend all those Notions on building a ghost-proof building?”

“Well spent if you wanted to keep your secrets.”

“What do they have for the livin’?”

“I have no idea and that chills me.”

“What did your Sergeant say about all this?”

“I haven’t told him yet.”

“Why not?”

Someone knocked on the door.

“Please come in.”

Sergeant Gendarme Arpin entered and took in the scene.

“We know where the League of Spiders lives!” blurted out Nikita.

Arpin’s whiskers twitched.

“Congratulations Detective. You promised me a surprise and I can honestly say whatever I expected, it was not this.”

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Personal Delivery-Arrondissement Part Forty-One

The gatehouse of the Tower Cerulean was gated with a crystal portcullis, which reflected the late afternoon sunlight. It was as beautiful as it was robust, at least that’s what Sergeant Gendarme Arpin remembered from a school trip to the keep as a youth. Everyone wanted to be a Chevalier at that age, but he had long since put aside that ambition. He might not wear a sword at his hip but he did make the Arrondissement a safer place, which was to his thinking, just as valuable, if not as flashy.

Taking a deep breath, he approached the Chevalier standing guard.

“Halt! Please state your name and business with the Coterie du Honor!” declared the Chevalier, who was clad in armor of woven stone.

“I am Sergeant Gendarme Arpin and I have a message for the Marshal,” said Arpin who displayed his insignia.

Inspecting his insignia carefully the Chevalier nodded.

“Very well Sergeant Gendarme, give me the message and I will make sure it is delivered. “

“I’m afraid I cannot do that.”

“Is it a verbal message? If so I swear that it will be repeated verbatim.”

“No, it is a letter, but I must insist on delivering it directly to the Marshal.”

“That is not possible.”

“Is she not here at the Tower Cerulean?”

“The whereabouts of the Marshal are none of your concern!”

“I will have to politely disagree, given that I have a message for her. Perhaps you can ask her if she can receive me?”

“Ask the Marshal?”

The Chevalier looked aghast as if Arpin had asked him to commit an atrocity.

“Yes. Surely she’s been asked questions in the course of her life. I can think of no one who has not.”

Veins bulged at the young man’s temples as his nostrils flared in apoplexy. He reached for his sword but stopped when he heard a voice.

“Unswerving! What’s going on?”

Another Chevalier ambled from the guardhouse, she was dressed in armor of linked musical notes that made soothing sounds as she walked.

“This…Person was-“ Unswerving began.

“Sergeant Arpin, is that you?” asked the new Chevalier.

“It is. You were part of the group assigned to escort Jules Thibault.”

“I was,” she said extending her gauntleted hand, “I’m the Euphonious Chevalier. Your insight saved the day at the Tribunal. To say nothing of your excellent detective work.”

“You flatter me,” Arpin replied shaking her hand, “I had no idea that my work was that well known.”

“I must admit I’m a bit of a crime buff. I follow cases in the papers. Not that I’m  a criminal myself.”

“Of course, I don’t think the Coterie du Honor would approve.”

“The Criminal Chevalier! What a scandal that would be!”

The two of them laughed as Unswerving looked on in perplexed horror.

“He asked to deliver a letter to the Marshal!”

“Important is it?”

“Very,” said Arpin.

“Well then, let’s go.”

“Wait! People can’t just stroll in off the street!”

“Do you know who this is?”

“No! That’s why I said people can’t just stroll in off the street!”

She stepped in close and whispered something to Unswerving. His eyes went wide and he gestured to Arpin. Euphonious nodded.

“Apologies!”

“No need, you were doing your duty.”

He bowed and Arpin said, “Please Chevalier, that is unnecessary.”

“But I-“

“Get up Unswerving,” said Euphonious and he did so quickly.

“Shall we go?”

“Please. Follow me, Sergeant.”

Squires practiced in the courtyard of the Tower Cerulean. Clacks and thuds sounded as they thrust and parried with wooden swords and Arpin admired their discipline given being beaten with a heavy wooden stick must be very painful even with padded armor.

The entrance hall was bustling as Chevaliers and squires ran to and fro. On the floor was a mosaic of Chevaliers comprised of polished stone. Arpin noticed that it moved as if it were telling a story.

“Compliments on your outer defenses,” said Aprin.

“Do you mean the gates or the guard?”

“I imagine he dissuades unwanted visitors.”

“Unswerving is an excellent man if a bit uncompromising.”

“We all act as our natures dictate.”

“No allowance for free will?”

“That is a much longer conversation.”

“Agreed! Another time then?”

“I will bring several bottles of wine.”

“Excellent.”

They walked up many stairs, the Coterie du Honor clearly believed in physical exertion, until they reached the floor with the study of the Marshal. A Chevalier in armor that resembled wet pebbles sat in an outer office.

“Euphonious.”

“Elusive.”

“Forewarned, she’s in a mood.”

“I’m sure.”

“Who is this?”

“Sergeant Gendarme Arpin.”

“Ah yes! I saw your daguerreotype in the Courant. You’re a brave one.”

“You should have seen him in action,” added Euphonious.

“Please, I’m only a Gendarme.”

“You’re too modest.”

“Agreed!” declared Euphonious.

“Is the Marshal available?”

Elusive smiled awkwardly and said, “What is this regarding?”

“I have a letter to deliver.”

“If you’ll pass it to me, I’ll make sure she gets it.”

Arpin sighed. Glory is indeed fleeting.

“I swore to deliver it personally.”

“While I do respect an oath, the Marshal is extremely-“

Taking the envelope from his inside pocket, he showed the wax seal on the back to Elusive. His eyes resembled serving plates.

“Is that…”

“Yes.”

“How?”

“Perhaps that is something that I should discuss with the Marshal.”

Euphonious, who was also taken back by what she saw, said, “Tell her he’s here and she’ll want to see him.”

“Right, right.”

With that, he got up and entered the study. Muffled conversation could be heard but no details. After a lull, Elusive stepped out.

“The Marshal will see you now. Alone.”

“Thank you.”

While there were many fascinating objects lining the walls of the Marshal’s study, though none were as magnetic as the Marshal herself. She stood behind her desk, in full armor and fixed him with a gaze that brooked no foolery.

“Sergeant Gendarme Arpin, I have granted you this audience for several reasons. One, your reputation as an honest member of the Gendarmery. You should know that your captain speaks very highly of you. Two, your actions in the Tribunal de Justice, your insight may have saved lives. Laudable. Third, the cases you are working on are of great interest to the Coterie du Honor. However, if this is a trick or plot, it will be most unpleasant. For you.”

“I fully understand.”

“The letter,” stated the Marshal holding out her hand.

He handed it to her. She took a monocle from a pearlescent box on her desk and examined the envelope. Satisfied, she took a dagger from her belt and opened it. She read it. Then read it again.

“Where did you get this? Who gave it to you?”

“He was an older man. Just showed up at my Gendarmery, asked me to deliver it.”

“Why you?”

“Because if I understood him, he trusts me.”

“And why would he trust you I wonder?”

“He said, ‘You are dedicated, methodical, intelligent, and violence is not your first impulse. Also, I believe that if you give your word, you will keep it.’”

“Praise from Le Diable.”

“Marshal, I did not tell you that so you would think better of me. I believe we need to be honest with each other. In the spirit of that, this man offered me a boon if I did this. Anything I wished if it were in his power. Before you ask, he would have turned himself in, or even disbanded his organization. If that was done, he said that things would become unpleasant. He did not elaborate but I believe him.”

“Why not just bind him by law? There were many Gendarmes present I presume.”

“There were but you know what his people can do, I did not think the price of lives lost would be worth it.”

“Well reasoned.”

Arpin shrugged.

“Do you believe what is in this?”

“Marshal, I am the messenger, I have no idea what was written.”

She regarded him for a moment and then handed him the letter. It read thus,

“Marshal,

Though our orders have been in conflict for many years, I would like to request a parley for our mutual benefit. If you agree, please light the tower torches with purple fire on November 7th.

I know how difficult trust can be but I can assure you that is worth your very valuable time.”

The signature was a calligraphic image of the spider symbol.

“Very straightforward.”

“I distrust it.”

“I can understand why.”

“Our history with this group is sanguine but I am not.”

“Will you agree to a parley?”

“You think I should.”

“I have a much shorter history with this group than you and I am wary at best.”

“There is a however on the horizon.”

“Have you ever parleyed with them before?”

“Never.”

“Perhaps you will learn something new.”

“If I agree, will you accompany us?”

“Of course.”

Arpin could smell her resolve, it reminded him of stone heated by the sun. Unrelenting.

“You may regret it.”

“I suspect I would regret missing it more.”

A tight smile creased the Marshal’s mouth.

“Very well then, we both have work to do.”

“Marshal, I know little of the Coterie du Honor’s history with these people. But perhaps I could share with you what I have learned. If you would permit me.”

“I’ve read the articles, I know what you’ve discovered.”

“With all due respect, we do not reveal all to the fourth estate.”

“Canny.”

“May I sit? This might take a while.”

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Action Must Be Taken-Arrondissement Part Forty

                                                                    Tragedy Reversed
                                                              By Eloise Van der Linde
                                                November 3rd, 394th Year of the Thrush

An accident occurred today at the construction site on the Rue du Référentiel for the new annex of the Musée d’art post-ancien when a ledge cracked and fell on pedestrians below. However, the cries of the injured and traumatized were cut short when the jagged pieces of stone were flung back into place. Huzzahs were premature as the tragedy repeated itself and then, in turn, reversed.

“It was like a cineascope,” said Marie Fontenot, 37, “It wound back and forth. I was terrified for those people.”

Sapeurs-Pompiers set up barriers to prevent others from possibly being drawn into this inexplicable event. Gendarmes assisted and brought with them arcane experts but they were cautious about interfering, despite the repeated screams of anguish.

While bystanders were told to disperse, the crowd continued to grow, as did their impatience with the civil authorities seeming lack of action. A chant of “Do Something! Do Something!” broke out amongst the onlookers. Gendarmes attempted to quell the crowd but with no success.

At the height of the chanting, a figure dashed out of the crowd and straight towards the repeating accident, pausing just long enough for the scene to reset. Then without a thought for their own safety, this person leapt forward and plucked one of the sidewalk victims out of the way of the plummeting stonework.

Everyone, from the Gendarmes, the Sapeurs-Pompiers, the ever-growing crowd, and even the arcane consultants cheered! With renewed confidence, Gendarmes and Sapeurs-pompiers followed the lead and were able to rescue the pedestrians. But one victim remained, a worker on the ledge that gave way.

Once more, there was much discussion on how to proceed but the heroic figure who instigated the first rescue once more did what others would not. Standing on part of the shattered ledge, he rose into the air and once the piece of this mysterious puzzle were reassembled, he grabbed the worker and pulled her to a stable portion of the ledge.

Who was this person who risked not just his life but also the possibility of the damnation of unending repeated deaths? Well dear reader, his name might just be familiar to you.

He is one Willem Molyneux. Former nonagenarian gifted with a second youth. While many might wish for such a boon, it cannot be argued that he has not squandered his good fortune.

When asked for a comment he merely said, “I have to admit, I didn’t really think it through. I just thought I might be able to help. Hearing those people suffer just broke my heart. It was quite foolish I suppose, but I’m happy I was able to help.”

If we all were as so foolish as Monsieur Molyneux, the Arrondissement
would be a better place. One person who agrees with that sentiment was the young iron shaper whom he saved in a final act of gallantry, Mademoiselle Blaise Gallois, 28.

“It was like a nightmare, I fell over and over, it was like being damned. Then suddenly, he appeared and pulled me to safety. I can never thank him enough, he’s better than any Chevalier!”

High praise indeed.

Authorities have cordoned off the area as the phenomenon continues unabated. As for the cause, it is under investigation. The former victims have been brought to a local soins d’urgence and remain under the care of chirurgeons.

As of now the cause of the phenomena is unknown and Ministère officials have yet to comment. Given the preponderance of such oddities these days, might there be a connection? Only time will tell.

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

In And Out With Words-Arrondissement Part Thirty Nine

Les Requêtes was full of people looking to forget their troubles and enjoy themselves. A foursome of dandies, their clothes shifting through the invisible spectrum all drank from a bowl of smoking liquid using silk straws. A jazz band was playing from an alcove and someone had cleared a small dance floor so the enthusiastic could cut a rug. Almost everyone was having a good time.

At the end of the serpentine bar sat Detective Durand. She nursed the cocktail before her, it was very good, but not the reason she was here. Scanning the crowd, she saw a familiar face.

“Professor Gérin!”

A lean man in a dark purple velvet coat turned and smiled at her. Pushing his way through the crowd, he arrived and embraced her.

“What a surprise to see you Detective!”

“And you Professor.”

“This place seems much too loud for you.”

“It is, I’m here on business.”

“Of course. Still with the F.I.S.?”

“Where else would I be? Are you still with the Imaginary Academy?”

“Toiling in obscurity,” he looked around and leaned in whispering, “Is there a rogue spirit about?”

“No, no. I’m here to speak with the owner about a case I’m working.”

“Is that so?”

“It is.”

“How synchronistic.”

“In what way Professor?” Durand asked as she signaled for the bartender.

“It isn’t my place.”

“May I buy you a cocktail?”

“Too kind.”

“Not at all, you’ve been helpful to me in my investigations.”

“If you insist,” replied Gérin, “I’ll have a pale vesper, with a twist of blood lime.”

The bartender went to construct the drink.

“So, what brings you down to the subterranean bar scene?”

“The owner, Mistress Rosamund, she used to be spirit wrangler and I must admit, I was something of an admirer of hers.”

“Professor!”

“Not like that, though she is a fetching woman. Her act had this… quality. It was rough and raw but still somehow polished. You felt the rush of danger that dealing with the dead can bring you. It was something to see.”

“I can only imagine.”

“We moved in the same circles back then and even though she’s retired from the stage, we’ve kept in touch.”

A glass of faint bubbling liquor with a green and ruby rind on the rim was placed in front of Gérin.

“To old friends,” said Durand.

Glasses were clinked and eyes met, so to avoid bad fortune.

“May I ask you a question?”

“Of course! As long as it not too personal,” said Gérin with an impish grin.

“Have you ever heard of a metal that repels ghosts?”

“No metal that I know of can do that. Except…”

“Yes?”

“It’s just rumors and hearsay.”

“Do go on Professor.”

“There is nothing to back this up, but there is an old story about an alloy called ierósium, that was supposed to be a ward against the undead.”

“Has any ever been found?”

“I should say not. Texts say that it was a mixture of cold and meteoric iron, the tears of the desert, heated by the midnight sun, and forged by a living saint. “

“So difficult to make.”

“I’d say impossible. There hasn’t been a living saint in the Arrondissement
for centuries. As of the other ingredients,” he just shrugged,

“There are wonders to be found in the Arrondissement, why not this?”

“Because outside of ancient accounts, no one has ever seen this wondrous metal. Sometimes stories are just that.”

“I see.”

They both drank as the merriment of the bar swirled around them.

“Why did you ask?”

“About?”

“Ierósium. It’s a rather obscure bit of legend.”

“Just a theory I was working on, but the truth lies elsewhere.”

“Perhaps-“

“You are my first choice to consult, of course.”

“I like to think I am of assistance.”

“And you are but I will need to get approval for any outside consultation.”

A throat was cleared nearby and Durand frowned for a beat.

“I understand. But I’ll always be a bird fold away.”

“Thank you professor. If you’ll excuse me, duty calls.”

They air-kissed cheeks and Durand moved through the crowd.

“He certainly likes himself,” said Nikita who floated unseen alongside her.

“Professor Gérin is a leading expert on the undead and knows a great deal on the subject. He is also rather pompous but if you can get past that, he is a decent person.”

“I guess.”

“If you want to follow in my line of work, you better get used to dealing with all sorts. Solving crime is not like putting together a dinner party.”

“I get it!”

“Good. Now prepare for some more education.”

Durand knocked on the door of Mistress Rosamund’s office.

“Come in!”

The bar owner was sitting at her desk, reading an old book when they entered. She quickly shut it and threw it in a drawer at the sight of Durand.

“Detective, tell your friend to show them self.”

“Nikita if you don’t mind.”

She faded into view.

“You wouldn’t be spyin’ on me, would you?”

“No. As you demonstrated, sending a ghost to watch you would be a waste of time.”

“Uh huh. What is it you want?”

“To tell you that you are no longer a suspect in the disappearance of Etitan Chardin.”

“Finally figured that out, didja?”

“The large numbers of missing spirits indicates some great power at work,” Durand replied as she tapped on a newspaper that lay on the desk. The headline read, “Where Are Our Ghosts!”

“As you well know,” added the detective.

The two women stared at each other.

“Is that all? I’m running a busy establishment.”

“Not quite. First, while you are no longer under investigation I know that you are hiding something.”

“I’d like to see you prove it.”

“That would be fun, but I’ve a better idea.”

“Getting out of my hair?”

“No, I wish to hire you.”

“What?”

“I have to agree. What?” added Nikita.

“You are a talented spirit wrangler a skill that will be useful in my investigation.”

“Why would I want to work with the likes of you?”

“Several reasons. One, you will be compensated for your time and skill. Two, you will have the gratitude of the Gendarmerie. And finally, you care about what is going on.”

“What makes you reckon I care.”

“You consulted with Professor Gérin, a leading expert on the spirit world, I saw him out in the bar, your desk is covered with articles about ghost disappearance, and the book you hid as we came in, the Therimoire of Saint Januarius.”

“You got some sharp eyes there.”

“Thank you.”

Mistress Rosamund sat and stared at Durand. Nikita felt awkward, which she hadn’t happened since she became a ghost. Something was going to happen…

“Fine, I’m in.”

“I and the spirit world thank you.”

“Let’s shake on it,” said Mistress Rosamund who spat on her hand and extended it.

Durand followed suit and they shook hands.

“Now iffin you don’t mind, I’ve got a bar full of drunks to keep happy.”

“I’ll contact you soon,” said Durand.

Both women nodded and the detective and ghost left the office.

“How does that work? How do you get into and out of trouble like that? Like when trapped at that building-”

“A big part of this job is reading people.”

Durand cleaned her hand with a pocket square.

“You are so good at that.”

“Thank you.”

“Can you teach me to do that?”

“Let’s find out.”

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

You Cannot Own a Cat-Arrondissement Part Thirty-Eight

The blue tabby accepted the morsel of chicken from Renée’s fingers.

“How long have you owned that cat?” asked the Dashing Chevalier.

“It’s presumptuous to say you own a cat.”

Meowing in agreement, the tabby gently tapped his paw on Olivia’s hand and she fed him again.

“My grandmother owned a cat,” said Dashing, “a grey longhair.”

Olivia smiled, “Perhaps she thought she owned a cat, but it’s more likely that they enjoyed each other’s company.”

“That’s an odd way of looking at it.”

“Is it?”

“I’ve always been a dog person myself,” replied Dashing who tossed her ponytail artfully over her shoulder.

“Oh well, you can own a dog.”

“But not a cat.”

“Not really, but dogs want to belong, cats decide if you’re worth the time.”

“Did the cats of the Arrondissement not recently unionize?”

“That’s right.”

“A union is very much a belonging sort thing, wouldn’t you say?”

Olivia shrugged and said, “They don’t belong to people, they belong to themselves.”

“How very independent.”

“Exactly.”

Olivia continued to share her lunch with the blue tabby, whom she called Thaddeus after her grandfather but whose name was his and his alone. She took out the letter she received that morning. It was scarce on details and she knew it somehow was connected to her having suddenly acquired a Chevalier bodyguard but she read it again. Xs and Os made her blush slightly but it wasn’t a bad thing.

The chicken was all gone, mostly into Thaddeus, so she stood and moved to look at the new piece she was working on. She had been capturing scraps of sounds she heard as she wandered the Arrondissement and had woven them into a rough sculpture. Plucking a strand of laughter, she twisted it around an amorous sigh. Still not quite right.

While she molded and mixed sounds, Thaddeus leapt to the window of her studio, lay in the afternoon sun, and watched. Orange flower petals that had bloomed that morning were now twirling and spinning in the suddenly cool wind.

“Fah!” spat Olivia.

Dashing drew her sword, which flashed in the light and rapidly surveyed the studio. No danger appeared.

“What do you see?”

“What?” said Olivia.

“You cried out in distress.”

“I cried out in frustration, I’m having problems with this new piece.”

With a flourish, Dashing sheathed her blade.

“I see.”

“You’ve never guarded an artist before.”

“Actually, I had to accompany the painter Naviaux to safely.”

“Olivier Naviaux?”

“Indeed.”

“Did you get to see him work?”

“Not on his painting.”

Olivia cocked an eyebrow.

“He was in a feud with a critic, who had hired a member of the Frères de la mort to kill him.”

“That’s crazy. Wait, the critic hired the killer?”

“He did.”

“Why?”

“There may or may not have been some indiscretion with the critic’s wife. And mistress.”

“Oh. Oh…..”

“I’m afraid I cannot speak to Monsieur Naviaux’s artistic process.”

“Wow…”

“I must ask you to be discreet, unlike some other artists, to whom I will give no names.”

“Of course.”

“But I will ask once more, is there anything thing I can do to aid you?”


Olivia looked at her work in progress and sighed.

“A very wise man said that if you’re having trouble making something, then you’re not supposed to work on that today and to try something else.”

“That’s a rather long saying.”

“I’m paraphrasing,” Olivia replied as she removed an artist’s pallet from a table full of paint pots and brushes.

“Put your foot up on that chair.”

Dashing did so and as usual, did it with panache.

“Now just hold still.”

“If you don’t mind, my eyes must move in order to maintain your safety.”

“That’s fine.”

Olivia used a tiny glass needle and traced a path of sigils around the edge of the pallet. The paints went from dull and dry to vibrant and liquid. With a flick of a brush, she set the rough outline of her subject floating in the afternoon sunlight. Walking around, she made slight adjustments. Sometimes it was helpful to return to the basics.

As she painted her guardian, Thaddeus noticed something odd. A flock of pigeons flew by the window. That was not the odd thing, it happened quite a lot. One of the birds stopped. In midair. It was stuck, not moving, and also not falling while the rest of his flock continued on. Then it moved as if nothing had happened. This needed reporting.

“Your cat just jumped out the window,” said Dashing.

“I told you, he’s his own cat.”

“It’s a little abrupt.”

“Cats don’t say goodbye.”

“Aren’t you worried?”

“No.”

“Do you think he’ll come back?”

“Of course.”

“How can you know that?”

“Because I will always share my chicken with him. Now please hold still.”

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A Vigorous Exchange of Ideas-Arrondissement Part Thirty-Seven

“That’s not acceptable,” said Olivia.

“I assure you mademoiselle, your safety is my first and only concern. I have sworn an oath,” declared the Cautious Chevalier.

“How is forbidding me from writing a letter to my family keeping me safe?”

“If any such missive would be intercepted, it would prove disastrous.”

Not for the first time, Olivia wished they had assigned the Fun Chevalier as a bodyguard if such a person existed.

“Can you tell me where they are?”

“I’m afraid that-“

“It would prove dangerous? Unwise? Ill-advised?”

“All of those mademoiselle.”

“Can you at least tell me if they are safe?”

“Absolutely,” replied the Cautious Chevalier a little too quickly.

“Really?”

“Of course!”

She looked at him, from his practical but well-made armor with rounded edges and the safety bond on his sword to his clean-shaven face with the tiniest drop of sweat.

“Tell me the truth.”

“Your family is secure and unharmed.”

“Don’t you all swear an oath to tell the truth?”

“Honesty is one of our virtues, yes.”

“Then tell me what is going on!”

“Technically, what I’ve told you is the truth.”

Olivia’s insides went cold.

“Go. On.”

“Your father, in exploring the place where he and your family, made an unfortunate discovery.”

“What was it? A curse, a deadly trap, a bound demon?”

“A still.”

“A still what?”

“For fermentation. Which he used to great effect. He and one of his guardians became… dangerously inebriated.”

Olivia took a beat and then started to laugh. She laughed so heartily she needed to sit down. After a while, she wipes the tears from her eyes and stopped. Mostly.

“Do you wish to see a chirurgeon?”

“No. My father has a talent for finding trouble. If he’s getting drunk with a Chevalier, he’s fine.”

“I see. We have taken measures that will not happen again.”

“Good luck with that.”

“Merci.”

“There is someone else. Recently, I became involved with someone.”

“Yes, the artist Renée Gardet, the arcane artist.”

“You know far too much about me.”

“It is for your protection and that of those you are close to you.”

“Can I send a message to her or is that too dangerous?”

“If you wish, you can write a missive and it will be hand-delivered.”

“That won’t compromise security? Is she secreted away in some hidden keep?”

“Mademoiselle Gardet’s advocate has accepted the protection of Coterie du Honor but is not in hiding, She is safe.”

Olivia wondered if Renée’s Chevalier was as serious as hers and hoped not. She wrote a letter that seemed too long and yet did not say enough. It was her fault that Renée had been drawn into this madness but perhaps it was better that she no longer had the key. Safer maybe. Ending it with, ‘Stay safe and we’ll see each other when this is all over.” Then adding some Xs and Os.

Stamping it with a wax seal, she handed it to the Cautious Chevalier who summoned a squire.

“Make sure this is delivered post-haste!”

The squire nodded and sped off down the corridor just as another appeared at the door.

“Pardon me, but Mademoiselle Chercheur’s presence is requested by the Marshal.”

“Shall we go post haste?” asked Olivia.

“Not too quickly, it would not do to slip and fall.”

“Of course.”

Soon, but not too soon, they found themselves in the study of Marshal of the Coterie du Honor. It was well-appointed if you considered the display of weapons and pennants to fashionable, which Chevalier’s clearly did. The Marshal sat behind her desk glowering at Maxi who seemed unconcerned. Frau Schlüsselherrin and Monsieur L’Horloge sat, looking respectively exasperated and uncomfortable.

“Mademoiselle Chercheur, please have a seat,” said the Marshal who switched from grimace to grin.

“Thank you,” Olivia replied while taking the last open seat while Cautious stood behind her.

“You are a finder, are you not?” asked the Marshal.

“It won’t work,” said Maxi who seemed to be enjoying the tension in the room.

A gaze that had made both foes and allies quaver rolled over Maxi like rain off a window.

“I wish to engage your services, for the Tower Cerulean.”

Olivia began to feel as though she was in a farce and everyone else was in on the joke but her.

“What do you need me to find?”

“The object that Mademoiselle Couture has hidden.”

‘Who?”

“Me,” added Maxi.

“Oh, right. I’m sorry. I can’t do that.”

The Marshal stood at her near two-meter height and said, “You refuse!”

“No, no, no, no! It’s not that I won’t it’s that I can’t!”

“Are you not a finder?”

“I am.”

“This is something that has been hidden, just find it!”

“My gift is finding lost things, not hidden things.”

“I fail to see the difference.”

“Lost things are forgotten, they are left behind, kicked behind cupboards, fall out pockets and so on. No one knows where these things are. Maxi, do you know where this item is?”

“Exactly.”

“But-“ began the Marshal.

“If someone remembers, my gift will not work.”

“How… specific.”

“It’s the nature of my knack, as my mother would say.”

“Your family are all finders, true?”

“No one has that particular gift, at least in this generation.”

‘I see.”

“Sorry,” said Olivia

“Told you,” added Maxi.

This was followed with a barrage of shouts, accusations, oaths, curses, and other vehement declarations.

“I cannot allow you to saunter out of this keep without an escort!” said the Marshal.

“Because a squad of Chevaliers is the height of subtlety! Why don’t I just give up the object?”

“It is NOT safe to be alone! You cannot fight them all!”

“If things go right, no one will fight anyone!”

“The object must be protected!”

“Your record on protection is not perfect these days, is it!” said Maxi.

“She’s right,” said Monsieur L’Horloge.

Everyone stopped.

“I’m so sorry-“ began Maxi.

“We continue to search-“ interrupted the Marshal.

“If Zsófia were here,” said Monsieur L’Horloge, “she’d chide us for fighting amongst ourselves and doing our enemies work for them.”

He stood and walked to the window. Outside it began to snow on the lush, green leaves that had grown the day before, replacing the dead foliage of two days previous.

“Everything is wrong but I have to believe she’s still alive because if she isn’t, none of this makes any sense at least for me. So, we need to get the Penultimate Machine. Maxi is correct, a squad of Chevaliers-“

“Banner, a group is called a Banner,” added Cautious.

“Very well, a Banner of Chevaliers will draw a lot of attention.”

Maxi laughed.

“But going alone is very dangerous. If you were caught and the object taken, I don’t know what would happen. Likely it would be very bad. Which is also likely an understatement. I…I can’t lose anyone else, I’m not sure I could take it and I desperately wish I knew what to do.”

An elegiac silence took the room as each grappled with their own doubts. Until…

“Pardon me,” said Olivia, “I have a suggestion.”

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

A Small Favor-Arrondissement Part Thirty-Six

Files and papers spread across his desk with abandon, each presenting questions with no answers. Sergeant Gendarme Arpin rubbed his eyes and sighed. This was a true mystery, complete with arcane machinations, baffling and unconnected clues, and even a secret society.

Solving this would be the grandest triumph of his career if he could do so. Unfortunately, none of it made sense, the only motive was perhaps secrecy itself, but that is not inherently a crime. He sniffed his café, it had gone cold and bitter. He took out a cigarette and lit it.

“Those are bad for your health.”

Sitting across from his desk was an older man. He had not been there a moment ago and he was spectacularly unassuming. If you passed him on the street you would not give him a second glance, let alone a first. On his lapel was a familiar pin.

“So I’ve been told.”

“You really ought to quit.”

“I appreciate the concern but that is not why you are here.”

“No, it is not.”

Arpin put out the cigarette and took a deep inhale. This man did not smell of fear.

“You’re either brave or foolish.”

“Why is that?”

“You are sitting amongst a large group of Gendarmes who would happily throw you in a cell and question you most vigorously.”

“Sergeant Gendarme Arpin, you will do no such thing.”

“Is that a threat?”

“Let’s call it a prediction.”

“Your man Jules Thibault was less than polite, so you’ll understand my suspicion.”

“It’s reasonable. If it makes any difference, he’s inexperienced.”

“It does not.”

“That’s fair.”

“So, why come here to talk to me?”

“We need you to do something for us.”

They both sat there, the sounds of the Gendarmerie continued unaware.

“It is a small thing,” said the man.

Arpin’s whiskers quivered.

“As a Gendarme, I make it a habit of not aiding and abetting criminal organizations. A point of professional pride.”

“We are not criminals.”

Opening files, Arpin said, “Assault and robbery of a Gendarme, resisting arrest, theft of a regulated article of clothing, breaking and entering and of course the incident at the Tribunal de Justice. Oh and lest we forget illegal and immoral arcane experimentation. ”

“I assure you, there are valid reasons for all of that.”

“So you’ve come to confess?” said Arpin taking out a form, “Would you care to write that down, in your own words.”

“The price for capturing me would be higher than you would be willing to pay.”

“Again, it feels like a threat.”

“I think your curiosity will win out.”

Arpin played with his cigarette case and fought the urge to light up.

“Let us say, hypothetically, that my inquisitive nature wins out.”

“Hypothetically.”

“Yes. What do I have to gain?”

“I will grant you one boon, and it cannot be refused.”

“Anything?”

“If it is within my power, yes.”

“And if I asked you to turn yourself in?”

He held out his wrists and said, “I would come quietly.”

“That seems too easy.”

“One piece would be removed from the board but the game would continue.”

“I suppose it would. And I asked you to dissolve your secret society?”

“You wouldn’t want me to do that.”

“Why not?”

“Things would become…unpleasant.”

“How vaguely sinister.”

The man shrugged and asked, “Is that the boon you desire?”

“Tempting, but no. For now.”

“Sharp as ever.”

“Why me?”

“Because you intrigue me.”

“Are you trying to recruit me?”

“No, I’m afraid you don’t quite fit the profile.”

“Too flashy?”

“By our standards.”

“Again, why me?”

“I admire you. You are dedicated, methodical, intelligent, and violence is not your first impulse. Also, I believe that if you give your word, you will keep it.”

“That’s quite a leap of faith.”

“Great deeds are not done by the timid.”

“And how can I know that you will keep your word?”

“You will have to make your own leap of faith.”

The old man smelled calm, his scent reminded him of still waters.

“I’ve not agreed to do anything, but what exactly do you want me to do?”

“To deliver a message.”

“Can’t you fold a decent bird?”

“This needs to be hand-delivered by someone who is trusted.”

“So I’ve earned your trust?”

“Not my trust, the recipients.”

“This is becoming more byzantine by the moment.”

“Sergeant Gendarme Arpin, there are three outcomes to this conversation. One, you try to arrest me. You might even succeed but I assure you, there will be deaths. Two, we both go our separate ways and this door closes. Three, you agree and gain a valuable tool.”

“If you have observed me as you say you have, you should know that I will not violate my oath as a Gendarme.”

“And I am not asking you to do so.”

“But-“

“Let’s not waste everyone’s valuable time. If you go to your captain’s office, she will give you an envelope. Read the address and decide if you will do this small favor. And to answer your next question, your captain is not one of us, nor is she compromised, and neither is the person who asked her to present you with this choice. What does my scent tell you?”

Still calm waters.

“I will see what the address is, I will not promise more.”

“Understood.”

Arpin stood up and moved to the captain’s office. Looking over his shoulder, he saw that the older man was gone. Frustrating but not surprising. He knocked on the captain’s door.”

“Come in.”

Captain Cordier opened a desk drawer, took out a letter, and handed it to him. Arpin read the address. Then once more.

“D’accord.”

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