Maxi tried to open the doors to the inner office with finesse and skill. They were both unsuccessful. The mechanism that locked the entrance would not respond to any coaxing or tricks.
“We could try to force our way in,” suggested Arpin.
“I don’t think that will work,” replied Maxi.
“Neither do I but what other options do we have?”
With a flicker, the outer office shifted from a stylish décor to a rough stone chamber, lit by braziers with tapestries hanging on the walls.
Maxi and Arpin looked at each other, grabbed a heavy oaken chair, and moved to the double doors.
“One, two, thr- “
Just as they were about to try and smash their way in, everything skipped. It felt like that moment when you trip but just before you begin to fall. An endless heartbeat of weightless dread.
Then, everything was normal. The outer office was appointed in its clock themed style. Sepia pictures of old timepieces adorned the walls, the mechanical assistant sat up straight and resumed its work.
Silently, the doors opened wide. They put down the chair, now a clean lined wingback, and entered.
“I thought you said he wasn’t here,” said Maxi.
“He wasn’t,” answered Nikita.
Standing behind his desk was Monsieur L’Horloge. He turned the variable key and the many intricate components of the Penultimate Device reassembled into the teardrop of brass and crystal.
“Monsieur, are you alright?” gently inquired Arpin.
L’Horloge looked up and said, “Yes Sergeant Gendarme.”
“I felt something, we all did I think,” said Maxi, “Were you able to fix things?”
The watch master nodded and the rest cheered and embraced. Maxi moved to L’Horloge and saw that he did not smile. She laid a hand on his shoulder and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“It was difficult.”
“To say the least.”
He opened his mouth but closed it again without saying a word.
“I think we all could use a drink,” Maxi said.
L’Horloge sat down.
“It’s not easy, losing companions.”
Arpin noticed the Repairperson slumped in a chair. She was unnaturally still. He knelt and laid his fingers on her wrist. L’Horloge stood up but the Sergeant Gendarme shook his head.
“Her wounds must have been more serious than she let on.”
“I thought the League of Spiders people were tougher,” remarked Maxi.
“That’s not what they’re called. It’s a name the Fourth Estate invented to sell papers,” muttered L’Horloge.
“I think you’re right.”
“Where’s the Unexpected Chevalier?” said Nikita.
“She sacrificed herself, so we could go on.”
No one said anything for a while.
“I need to return to the Tower Cerulean,” said L’Horloge with resignation.
“Zsófia will be overjoyed to see you,” said Maxi with a grin.
At the sound of her name, the watch master smiled.
“Please let us escort you,” asked Arpin, “A poor honor guard for such a hero but-.”
“I’m not a hero!” snapped L’Horloge.
“You restored time and saved the life of everyone in the Arrondissement. If you’re not a hero then the rest of us are villains,” said Maxi.
“There is always a price to pay.”
Arpin, Maxi and Nikita looked at each other.
“I know what it is like to lose a partner. If you wish to, I’ll sit with you and talk or listen.”
“Of course,” said Arpin with a nod.
They left, but L’Horloge knew the bill was still due.