Fire erupted from the crystal chimera’s mouths to the audience’s delight as the barker called out.
“Madams and Monsieurs! This is but one of the many wonders that await you inside! You will hear the wisdom of the murmuring of the Thirteen Serpents, what will they tell you about your future? Listen to the song of the silken woman, she sings so beautifully, that joys forgotten will return to you! Gaze upon the City Captured in a Teardrop, it’s said that if you look too closely, you will be trapped…FOREVER! So be warned. All this and so much more for the low price of three copper concepts!!
Monsieur L’Horloge ate some soup on a stick while he and Frau Schlüsselherrin made their way through the crowds, followed by the Precise Chevalier and Unbreakable Chevalier who had been assigned to the key mistress.
“This is entirely too dangerous,” said the Precise Chevalier.
“I concur,” replied the Unbreakable Chevalier.
Carnival workers dressed in bright costumes moved through the crowds, eliciting delighted gasps and screams. The sounds of tiny calliopes wove in and out of earshot. A group of teens swarmed around and through them with a burst of laughter and shouts and then were gone. After which, both Precise and Unbreakable removed their hands from their swords, slowly.
“Please try and relax, I know you can’t so don’t say so. But try not looking as if you are about to kill someone,” said Frau Schlüsselherrin as she bought a ring of witbier.
“We do not take lives heedlessly,” said Unbreakable.
“But we will do what is necessary,” added Precise, “But this feels…Reckless.”
“Maxi would not trust you, alone,” said the clockmaker, “We must be here.”
Unbreakable was about to protest.
“I know you all swore an oath.”
“Multiple ones,” added the key mistress.
“But I’ve known her for years, and she trusts me,” said L’Horloge.
The two Chevaliers nodded with resignation.
“Which one are we looking for?’ asked Unbreakable.
They continued to wander, each alert. Occasionally, L’Horloge would see another Chevalier roaming nearby. It was fortunate that their armor was so unusual as it allowed them to mingle with the fairgoers with anonymity.
He did not think that his observation would be as amusing to them as it was to him. Zsófia would’ve laughed. Dropping his soup on a stick into a rubbish bin, he continued to search
After an hour of seeing delights of every shape, size, color, and scent, he felt drained. This was a waste of-
“Look!” said Schlüsselherrin who grabbed his arm.
Sitting atop a woven pillar, was a tortoiseshell cat. She regarded them with a regal impatience and leapt off. They followed her to the “Maison de Joie.” This was a popular attraction where those who entered navigated through mazes of mirrors. Rooms where you suddenly found yourself walking on the ceiling. Then sliding down tubes to vast fields that would allow you to leap into the air. Or so the mouthpiece in front proclaimed as they bought tickets. The cat was not charged admission.
“This is a-“
“-perfect place for an ambush.”
L’Horloge and Schlüsselherrin ignored this, not because they disagreed but it had been said seven times previously that evening. Nothing good would come from rehashing it an eighth time.
They moved from room to room, sometimes without trying and encountered many sudden and unexpected challenges. The frictionless loop was particularly frustrating but once they figured out the trick, they escaped. At the end of a long, tiled corridor, sat the Tortoiseshell, waiting for them.
Upon reaching the cat, after walking around in a corkscrew pattern, as gravity dictated, she gave them an annoyed look and leapt through the wall. With a deep breath, they followed.
It was a cozy room, lots of pillows on the floor, velvet curtains on the wall, lit by oil lamps. The Tortoiseshell was already curled up on a particularly comfortable cushion and apparently asleep.
“Monsieur L’Horloge, it is a genuine pleasure to see you!” said Maxi who emerged from behind a curtain.
They embraced and she looked at him.
“What is wrong?”
“I’m so sorry, but I’m sure she is fine.”
“How would you know that?” asked Precise, whose hand rested on her sword.
“Because if she was taken, it was as a bargaining chip, they clearly want leverage over my friend her,” Maxi said as she laid a hand on Monsieur L’Horloge’s arm.
“You seem to know quite a bit about this,” rumbled Unbreakable.
“The reason for that is that I’ve been paying attention.”
“Have you now?”
“Yes, but I can see you haven’t,” replied Maxi.
Precise and Unbreakable exchanged looks.
“Ich glaub mein Schwein pfeift!” exclaimed Frau Schlüsselherrin, “Everyone stop this foolishness. Chevaliers, you are here to protect all of us, not to look for trouble that is not here.”
“And you! Don’t be so smug. If you were truly safe, you would not have asked for help! How long can you live under a carnival attraction?”
After a moment of awkward silence, Maxi said, “Please forgive me key mistress, I am grateful for all this aid.”
Both Chevaliers knelt and uttered, “We swear to ensure your safe passage back to the Tower Cerulean, by our blades and our lives.”
“My thanks, brave Chevaliers.”
“Well then, we should leave, I think,” said Monsieur L’Horloge, who hated social uncomfortability.
Precise and Unbreakable leapt to their feet.
“We need two more things,” said Maxi, pulling back a curtain.
“Hello everyone, I’m Olivia.”
This was more perplexing than awkward. And yet…
“And you are?” asked Schlüsselherrin.
Olivia pulled a long chain from underneath her blouse. Dangling at the end was…
“We should make haste,” said Precise.
“I will take the vanguard, you should cover the back,” replied Unbreakable.
“Agreed. How do we get out?”
“Follow me,” said Maxi who threw back the curtains and slid the wall aside.
They climbed several flights of stairs and hurried down a hallway, all of which were thankfully not designed for amusement. Maxi produced masks for all of them and with that, they exited.
Festivities were still in full swing, people lined up to ride the Faraday wheel. Cheers could be heard from the dirigible fights. The enticing smells food, savory and sweet, wafted through the air as the Chevaliers discreetly nodded to their compatriots who followed them at a distance.
They reached the egress intact, but not unobserved.