Time having been restored to its normal forward flow, people were enjoying themselves once more. Many of them choose to do so at the Jardin des Gens. Leaves were turning to vibrant colors from a fiery orange to a rich indigo. Couples walked the paths holding appendages, children ran across lawns, and some of the more robust citizens even picnicked.
While it was not unheard of to see the odd Chevalier in the Jardin des Gens, the large number of them present became a subject of discussion amongst the other park goers.
When questioned as to why so many members of the Coterie du Honor were there, the answer given was, “We are merely enjoying this fine autumn day!”
Peculiar perhaps but Chevaliers were women and men of honor. They had no reason to lie.
In a secluded grove, sitting at a hexagonal stone table were Sergeant Gendarme Arpin, The Marshal, Monsieur L’Horloge, Maxi, Nikita, and the Old Man from the League of Spiders. He was alone, no associates, while the Marshal had two Chevaliers standing behind her.
“It really is a lovely day,” remarked the Old Man as he took a deep breath.
“No thanks to you,” replied the Marshal tersely.
“While I cannot take credit for this brisk fall day I’ve done nothing to prevent it either,” offered the leader of the League.
“Your Repairperson nearly destroyed time as we know it! She was to adjust the Penultimate Device and she attempted to steal it!”
“To be fair, it had been stolen from us so it was more of a recovery. But if your people had not interfered, she would’ve readjusted everything and none would be the wiser. By the way, where is the Repairperson?”
“She’s gone,” said L’Horloge.
The Old Man paused, looked up at the branches above them and said, “Regrettable. Were there any other losses?”
“A Chevalier as well,” added the watch master.
“I’m very sorry.”
Sneering, the Marshal said, “Your gang has killed Chevaliers in the past. You’ll understand if I find your condolences hollow.”
“I understand but I am sincere.”
Before the Marshal could let loose with another unkind tirade Arpin interrupted, “I think that we should get to business. Are we all agreed?”
“If you would return the Penultimate Device to us, we can conclude this affair,” suggested the Old Man.
Throwing back her head, the Marshal laughed loudly. It took her a long while to stop.
“You didn’t really think that would work?”
The Old Man shrugged and answered, “Technically it is our item.”
“Every Chevalier in the Arrondissement would give their lives to keep it out of your hands.”
“You spend the blood of your sisters and brothers too freely,” the Old Man pointed out.
“And you spend the lives of innocents with no regret,” countered the Marshal.
“Violence is not our first choice but we have no qualms about using for the greater good.”
“At least you can agree that both sides don’t trust each other,” observed Maxi.
Both the Marshal and the Old Man fixed Maxi with a very hard stare.
“Am I wrong?” she asked.
“No but it is not the strongest basis for compromise,” stated Arpin.
“What do you suggest?” inquired the Old Man.
“Perhaps a third party could take custody?”
“Are you suggesting that the Gendarmes hold the Device?” said the Marshal with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.
“No. We are not equipped for such responsibility.”
“The Coterie du Honor are the only ones with honor enough to keep this infernal machine safe!” declared the Marshal.
“You lack the knowledge to maintain it safely. What will you do when time goes askew again? That can’t be fixed with a sword. It was entrusted to us by the Huygens himself.”
“Herself,” quietly added L’Horloge.
“Pardon?” asked the Old Man.
L’Horloge locked eyes with him and repeated, “Herself.”
With a smile, the Old Man looked at the watch master and began, “So you- “
“I must say that I’m jealous of you,” admitted the Old Man.
“You shouldn’t be. The price was… dear.”
It felt as though something had fundamentally changed. Everyone at the table felt it, though later it would be difficult to say how.
“I see,” the Old Man finally broke the silence.
Arpin sniffed, the odor of dust came off the Old Man. Regret.
“What is going on?” asked Nikita.
“I think the League is giving up?” inquired Maxi.
“Did we just win?” added the spirit.
The Old Man stood, looked directly at L’Horloge and intoned, “It is your responsibility now. I’ll have the Repairperson’s things delivered to your home.”
“You no longer want it?” inquired the Marshal with suspicion.
“It has passed to another.”
“If this is a ruse- “, began the Marshal.
“No trick, I assure you. We withdraw any claim to the Penultimate Device.”
Standing up, the Old Man buttoned his coat and said, “This was an unexpected afternoon. I thank you all.”
“Our war is not over,” said the Marshal.
Looking at her, the Old Man sighed and said, “I don’t suppose it is.”
“I swear it.”
Turning to L’Horloge, the leader of the League asked, “Is there any chance you’d join us?”
“Ah well, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Au revoir.”
With that, he left. After a moment, the Marshal spoke.
“This feels too easy.”
“It is not,” answered L’Horloge.