“She’s lying!” exclaimed Nikita.
“I don’t think she was,” countered Arpin, “She did not smell of deceit.”
“If I were to lie, I might say something that sounded dangerous but would be impossible to check,” added Maxi
“Monsieur L’Horloge, what do you think?” asked Unexpected of the watch-master.
He removed Encre de Les ténèbres spectacles and looked up from the blue portfolio he was studying. They had set up the receptionist’s desk as far away from the front door and the ierósium staircases as possible.
“Pardon?” he said.
“Do you believe what the Repairperson said?” asked Maxi.
“I think I do.”
“Perhaps you could elaborate?” inquired Arpin.
“Of course,” L’Horloge muttered as he leafed through papers. After a moment or two he found what he sought.
“Look at the lower left-hand corner,” the watch-master said handing the spectacles to Arpin.
Leaning in, the Sergeant Gendarme read and then handed the spectacles to Maxi.
“It is similar phrasing.”
Maxi, having read, passed the spectacles to Unexpected.
Unexpected read the hidden text and held the spectacles so Nikita could see what they all saw.
“She must have known you would find this,” argued the spirit.
“We did not mention finding her notes,” volunteered Arpin.
“It’s best to keep your enemy in the dark,” said Unexpected.
Turning to Arpin and the Chevalier, Maxi asked, “Again, what were her exact words?”
“She said, ‘Time is going to unravel.’ She did not elaborate further.”
“Well that’s vaguely threatening,” countered Nikita.
“Why do you distrust her so much?” asked L’Horloge.
“Because of everything you told me that she did, plus the fact she has an army of ghosts surrounding us. Oh, and she’s a member of the League of Spiders!”
“Those are some solid reasons,” admitted Maxi.
“Hard to argue with that,” replied Unexpected.
“All true. And yet…” mused Arpin.
“When she told us that time would unravel, she smelled afraid,” said the Sergeant Gendarme.
“Did she say what that meant?” quickly interjected Maxi, who was weary of arguing.
“No. I’m not certain she knows.”
“That’s comforting,” snapped Nikita.
“Mademoiselle,” said Unexpected, who moved directly in front of Nikita, “I know you are frightened. All of us are but bickering and snark will not help us. We must stand with each other, that is the only way we will correct the flow of time and return the Arrondissement to the gloriously flawed and wondrous place it is!”
Nikita took a deep breath, out of habit and not necessity, and said, “You’re right. I’m sorry, this is all a lot to take in.”
“Very eloquent,” said Maxi to Unexpected.
“I know, right!” added Nikita, “Did you just come up with that off the cuff?”
“Perhaps you should be called the Silver-Tongued Chevalier,” suggested Arpin.
“You flatter me, I merely spoke from my heart,” she replied with a smile.
“I hate to interrupt but I have some details to share,” said L’Horloge.
“Please Monsieur,” said Arpin.
“First, to give some credence to the Repairperson’s warning, the note inscribed reads, ‘If the Device is not properly maintained, the weave will unravel.’ I surmised that means the weave of time.”
“I think we all- “, began Nikita.
“Yes, very good, continue,” interjected Maxi who shot the ghost an exasperated stare.
“Below it says, ‘Do not let this happen under any circumstances. Extraordinarily BAD!!!’ That part was underlined. Thrice.”
“Does it define what bad means in this context?” inquired Arpin.
“Sadly no, but as I said, underlined thrice.”
“Is there enough information to reset the Device?” asked Maxi.
“I believe so, but that’s not the real question.”
“What is the real question?” asked Unexpected.
“Do I have all the time in the world? If so, then yes, I could adjust the Device so time would flow correctly. If the Repairperson and the notes are correct, then the best I could offer is perhaps with a high degree of probably not.”
“So, we need to work with her. Again,” said Maxi, “Despite her previous betrayals.”
“Or risk the unraveling of time itself, whatever that entails,” commented L’Horloge.
All of them fell silent as they thought on this unpalatable but unavoidable conclusion. Just then, a calico rubbed against Maxi’s legs and meowed.
“What do you mean?” asked Maxi. The calico trotted to the stairs.
“How do they keep getting in here?” asked Nikita.
“Cats are both a liquid and a solid,” replied Maxi.
“That’s what they say.”
Maxi followed the cat upstairs to the top floor, where it entered an office with windows that overlooked the Arrondissement. The calico leapt to the windowsill and waited. Maxi stood behind her and looked out.
In the distance, the spire atop the Banque Nationale began to unfold into smaller and smaller geometric shapes until they spilled over the domed roof. To the left, the Crystalline Bridge shifted from clear to violet, to a smoky amethyst, and finally started to slowly melt.
“You were right. I had to see it myself.”