The League of Spiders Repairperson was escorted by a dozen Chevaliers as she walked into the Tower Cerulean. Every stairway and corridor were deserted as they moved towards the room where the Penultimate Device sat.
Uneasy was one way to describe the détente between these two ancient foes but it was entirely inadequate. It was more like peering into the darkness and waiting for a monster to emerge.
Nevertheless, the truce held for now, hidden monsters remained so. The Repairperson was led into a hexagonal chamber, deep in the tower.
Waiting inside were Monsieur L’Horloge, Frau Schlüsselherrin, Sergeant Gendarme Arpin, Maxi, the unexpected Chevalier, and the Marshal who strode to the Repairperson.
“Understand this,” she said, towering over the diminutive and unassuming repairperson, “If you betray us, your life is forfeit.”
“You make yourself very clear,” the Repairperson replied meekly.
The Chevalier escorts entered and took up positions along the walls. Each seemed ready for danger.
“Are all of these Chevaliers entirely necessary?” asked Monsieur L’Horloge.
“They will not affect my work,” said the Repairperson.
“Well then, good…” the watchmaker said.
“May I have my tool bag?”
One of the Chevaliers, whose armor suggested shifting sands, handed her a worn leather satchel.
“It was searched,” stated the Marshal.
“Yes Marshal, thoroughly,” replied the one who handed the bag to the Repairperson, “It contains only precision tools and other equipment. No weapons.”
“Anything can be a weapon,” said the Marshal with a fierce certainty.
A round worktable was set up in the center of the room, the Repairperson walked up and unrolled a length of grey velvet on which her tools were arranged. L’Horloge and Schlüsselherrin hovered nearby.
“Is that a Wimmer counter wrench?” asked the watchmaker.
“Mein Gott, you have an Azzini double-headed tumbler.” Said the lock-mistress with a gasp.
The repairperson examined each tool, wiping some down with a chamois, adjusting others. L’Horloge and Schlüsselherrin chatted with her excitedly and she replied to them with few words. In polite company, it might seem rude but the Repairperson’s demeanor was more dispassionate than dismissive.
“I’m prepared,” she finally said.
A moment later, a squire entered with the wooden box that contained the Penultimate Device, placed it on the table and exited.
“The key?” asked the Repairperson.
Maxi reached under her blouse and pulled out a chain on which the key hung. She sauntered over the Repairperson and handed it to her.
“Here you are,” she said with a smirk.
The Repairperson took it and quietly replied, “Thank you.”
Maxi moved back to stand with Arpin.
“What do you think?” she asked the Sergeant Gendarme.
“She seems… calm”
“Is that good or bad?”
“On the surface, it’s good.”
“Merci, I am at ease.”
“She doesn’t seem aggressive.”
“That’s not terrible.”
“Of course, I’ve bound murderers by law who smelled tranquil.”
“Did they also smell of blood?”
“More often than not.”
“Any ideas on what to do?”
“I suggest we wait.”
They turned their attention to the center of the room. A creased leather-bound notebook was gripped in the Repairperson’s hand, she slowly turned the pages and nodded or shook her head based on whatever she read.
“Will you start with a quarter widdershins turn and then three full right rotations?” asked L’Horloge.
The repairperson looked at him for a moment and said, “That’s correct. How did you know?”
With a smile, he pulled out a notebook of his own.
“I’ve been pouring over The Folio of Mechanical Fabrication and discovered some hidden text!”
“You’re very clever,” the Repairperson observed.
“It was a bit of an accident, but thank you,” he beamed.
At the wall, Arpin sniffed and softly said to Maxi, “She’s surprised.”
“What does that smell like?”
Removing The Penultimate Device from the case, the Repairperson placed it on a thick velvet pad. It looked like a teardrop comprised of brass and crystal. Despite its age, it was pristine, lacking the minute scratches and defects that most objects collect over time, even with the most scrupulous of care.
She slid the key into the slot on the narrow tip and turned it counterclockwise halfway, and then three full clockwise turns. A spot on the thick end of the device began to unfold with a succession of clicks that revealed another keyhole, one with three angled slots.
“The ancillary lock!” exclaimed L’Horloge, who added comments in his notebook.
“It looks like we’ll need another key,” said Frau Schlüsselherrin, “Unless…”
As the key descended, it reassembled itself to fit the new configuration.
“It’s a variable key!” she said delightedly, “The art has been lost for ages.”
“Remarkable!” added L’Horloge.
The Repairperson continued to turn the variable key in multiple permutations until The Penultimate Device had opened to show an array of dials and buttons, each one etched with a number.
“She just needs to adjust the figures to the correct formula and then wind it in the correct sequence,” the watchmaker said to the lock-mistress.
“This might be too little and too late, but it seems we could’ve done this ourselves,” stated Schlüsselherrin.
“I afraid Zsófia still hasn’t decoded the final turn combination, so we do need to work together,” he said
“I see. But are those the correct numbers?” she asked.
“Hold on,” he replied, flipping through his notes.
“Pardon!” said L’Horloge, “But I think you made an error!”
A terrifying silence filled the chamber.
“I believe if you check that it should be 6390271573832498. You set it to 6390271575832498.”
Everyone waited for the reply. It came in the form of a quick key turn and a rapid and loud ticking.
“Portcullis formation!” shouted the Marshal.
Several large knives flew and hit the repairperson before the dozen Chevaliers closed in on her. The fight was absurdly brutal, a banner of Chevaliers versus a petite woman. Though admittedly, a banner of Chevaliers versus a petite woman with preternatural strength, speed, and the ability to ignore pain.
The Repairperson was wounded multiple times but she kept dodging when she could and knocking back Chevaliers. After pushing two of her foes away, and suffering cuts across her back and left arm, she leapt to the door, kicked it down, and fled.
“To me Chevaliers!” cried the Marshal as she led her people out in pursuit.
The only Chevalier not in the group was Unexpected, who had been given orders to stay with Maxi.
“Monsieur L’Horloge, Frau Schlüsselherrin” said Sergeant Gendarme Arpin, “If you have any solutions, please use them now.”
“Right,” replied the watchmaker as he stared at the bewildering display of gears work.
“Maybe adjust the numbers?” suggested key-mistress.
“Yes, of course!”
L’Horloge corrected the numbers but the ticking continued.
“What will happen if you do the wrong sequence of turns?” asked Maxi.
“Something terrible or wonderful or maybe nothing,” L’Horloge said nervously. “Maybe Zsófia has some idea. I’ll go get her.”
“Nein,” said Schlüsselherrin, “I’ll do it, you know more about this machine than I do.”
“Honestly, I don’t know that much!”
“Still more than me!” said the key-mistress as she left the room.
“Do you have any suggestions,” asked Arpin of Maxi.
“Hope?” suggested Maxi.
“Could you take it apart?” asked Unexpected, “Wouldn’t that just shut it off?”
“NO!” yelled L’Horloge, “This is a device of many unknown properties. Dismantling it would be a terrible mistake and I wouldn’t even know where to start.”
“What can we do then?” asked Unexpected.
“Hope that Zsófia has figured this out,” said the watchmaker.
“Where’s the key?” asked Arpin.
It was no longer in The Penultimate Device.
“Oh no!” L’Horloge whispered.
“Don’t fret, the Marshal will be back with it very soon,” said Unexpected.
It was then that they all experienced it. An infusion of warmth with golden illumination that filled the room. It felt like the time just before sunset when you are sitting outside and enjoying a drink. Then it faded.
“Is anyone injured?” asked Arpin.
No one was.
“That wasn’t so bad,” remarked Unexpected.
“I hate to say this, but it was…pleasant,” added Maxi.
“Listen!” said L’Horloge.
“I don’t hear anything,” said Arpin.
The Penultimate Device had stopped.
“Everyone stay here and lock the door. I’ll be back with help,” said Unexpected who dashed out.
“Is this good or bad?” asked Arpin.
L’Horloge just shrugged.
“At least we’re still alive and whole,” added Maxi.
The door opened and Unexpected entered.
“Is no one around?” asked Arpin.
“That’s not comforting,” said Maxi.
“No, it isn’t. You need to see this,” said the Chevalier.
They walked down to the main entrance and out to the main gate. Everything was silent save their footsteps.
“Take a look.”
The Arrondissement was whole and unharmed but nothing moved. In the sky, the Wandering Woman was fixed in place. As were autogyros, dirigibles, clouds, and birds. Velo-Pedes, the monorail, and of course, people all were still. The silence was chilling.
All of them just stared a while, for how long was difficult to say. Finally, Maxi said, “I could use a drink, anyone care to join me?”