The Other Shoe-Arrondissement-Part Fifty-Two.

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.

“Yes.”

“Mein Gott, you have an Azzini double-headed tumbler.” Said the lock-mistress with a gasp.

“I do.”

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.

He sniffed.

“She seems… calm”

“Is that good or bad?”

“On the surface, it’s good.”

“And below?”

He shrugged.

“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.”

“And observe?”

“Absolutely.”

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?”

“Black café.”

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.

Everyone did.

“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.

“Not exactly.”

“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?”

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Working yesterday, for a better tomorrow.-Arrondissement-Part Fifty-One

Ministry of Chronology
Memo # 897-B-246
Date: November 17th, 394th Year of the Thrush
Subject: Dealing with The Public
Level: HIGHEST OBSCURITY

FOR INTERNAL DISTRIBUTION ONLY

There have been many questions about the current temporal crisis, (which will hereafter be referred to as the C.T.C.). Below are guidelines on how to deal with them.

1- “What are we to tell the public?” The citizenry of the Arrondissement wants to know what is going on. This is of course to be expected. Things are very serious and many questions have arisen. If a citizen asks you about the C.T.C., please respond with the following phrase, “The Ministry of Chronology is working diligently to correct the variances in the time stream.”

If that does not satisfy them, encourage them to fold a bird to the Office of Public Inquiries with any and all concerns. Extricate yourself from the conversation as quickly as possible. Site pressing Ministry business as an excuse.

2- “How to handle interactions with the public?” Due to the ongoing and escalating nature of the C.T.C., it is important to maintain the prestige the Ministry has built up. While we are investigating all avenues, nonetheless a lack of visible progress can undermine public trust. Do not identify yourself as a Ministry of Chronology employee to anyone you do not know. While the law prohibits us from lying about who we are, mumbling or pretending not to hear a request to identify is an acceptable alternative. Remove all pins or other devices from your clothing that could identify you as a member of the Ministry of Chronology. We are currently arraigning alternative entrances to our offices to ease any difficulties.

This policy is strictly so we can apply our efforts to end the C.T.C., not to avoid questions we cannot answer.

(NOTE: Please treat all employees of the Mayoral Office, members of the General Assembly, officers of the Gendarmerie, Sapeurs-Pompiers, and representative of the Fourth Estate the same way you might an overly curious citizen.)

3- “What procedures and equipment may we use?” As a result of the C.T.C., our standard techniques and specialized apparatus is not to be relied upon. Even in situations where the timeline seems intact, do not manipulate the matter of time, use double or triple dating, future shock collars, clock-beating, stitching up time threads, firing blast from the past firearms, employ second or minute sight, occasion planning, instant communication, both good and bad timing, and avoid all clear and present dangers, as well as past, future ones. This cannot be stressed enough. Results thus far have been extremely unpredictable and therefore, dangerous. If you have any Ministry equipment, please return it to the Quartermaster’s Office posthaste. Those who do not comply will be disciplined with suspension without pay, demotion, cession of café privileges, and retroactive termination.

4- “What is going on?” While the C.T.C. is of an unprecedented scale, the Ministry of Chronology is using all of its considerable resources to resolve it as quickly and safely as possible. Any conversations or correspondences to the contrary are unhelpful and should be reported to your immediate superior. Remember, we are all on the same side!

                                                     Ministry of Chronology

                                    “Travailler hier, pour un avenir meilleur.”


IMMOLATE AFTER READING

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How Could I Say No-Arrondissement-Part Fifty

Maxi sat in the shade of a tree on the training grounds of the Tower Cerulean. The weather had cleared nicely since the snow this morning. Now it felt like a pleasant early summer afternoon. She spun a silver Notion on the tip of her finger. It moved to each digit and then to the other hand.

“That’s quite a feat.”

She looked over to see Sergeant Gendarme Arpin watching her. She shrugged but the Notion did not drop.

“Just a silly trick,” she replied with a smile.

“Perhaps, but there are few that could do that.”

“You’re not wrong.”

He took a pack of cigarettes out and offered her one. She accepted and he sat next to her. They both smoked for a while, just enjoying the moment.

“These are terrible for us you know,” she said after a long drag.

“Absolutely, but I cannot quit.”

“Me either. Can I ask you something?”

“Yes.”

“Are you going to bound me by law?”

His whiskers twitched.

“On what charge?”

“You tell me.”

“As far as I can tell, you have not broken the law.”

“I had the Penultimate Device.”

“You inherited that from your Semi-Aunt Ismay-”

“-the Golden Kraken. I got an earful from the Marshal about that.”

“The Marshal is a woman of definite opinions.”

“Technically, I was in possession of a stolen artifact.”

“True, but you didn’t do the actual stealing.”

“Some people think that if you are related to a criminal, that makes you a criminal,” Maxi said with a slight note of bitterness.

“Self-pity does not suit you. You strike me as someone who knows who they are and is content with that. Am I wrong?”

She smiled and said, “You’re very astute.”

“If you simply watch and listen, it’s remarkable how much you can learn.”

“I’ll have to remember that.”

“Additionally, people cannot be prosecuted for the crimes of their family, not since the Grand Liberation. You are free and clear of any wrongdoing. I suspect you knew that already.”

“Maybe. I’m sure there are colleagues of yours who might not be as generous in their interpretation of the law.”

“Very likely. However, I must take a longer view of the situation. We both have seen what is going on or at the very least we see that something is going on. If I tried to bound you by law now, it would be like catching a rat while the house burns down.”

Maxi gave him a slide long look and said, “Am I a (the) rat in this analogy?”

“A very clever one, if that makes any difference.”

“A little.”

“What are you going to do now?”

“I’d love another cigarette,” she said with a raised eyebrow.

He handed one to her and lit it for her.

“You should get a proper cigarette case.”

“When this is all over,” Arpin said, lighting his own, “Beyond this smoke, what are your plans?”

“Sergeant Gendarme Arpin! Are you flirting with me?”

His whiskers twitched again.

“While that would be very enjoyable, I meant about the immediate future.”

“Well, I don’t really have any reason to stick around. The key and Penultimate device are here, guarded by the Chevaliers. The League doesn’t have any real reason to hunt me down.”

“Yet, you have not left.”

“No… I haven’t.”

“Why haven’t you?”

“It’s like a holiday, only with uninteresting food and no wine or cocktails. To say nothing of all the suspicious looks.”

“Who could leave such a paradise?”

They both chuckled.

“I suppose I feel safe here,” Maxi admitted, “Don’t tell the Marshal.”

“Your secret will die with me.”

“Merci.”

“May I tell you something?”

She smirked and replied, “A secret for a secret.”

“On paper, we have a détente. If everything goes to plan, the Arrondissement will return to normal, or at least it’s version of normal. However, things seldom go to plan. I am pleased you are still here. “

“What do you think I can do?”

“You evaded the League of Spiders for approximately a month, disguised as a novice of the Order of the Déception Éternelle. You subtly aided Olivia Chercheur in finding the key, to say nothing of discovering that she was hired by the League and later rescuing her from them. According to the Unexpected Chevalier, you dispatched a League assailant, even if it did put you in danger. That and you have friends in the Feline Union.”

“What makes you think I’m a cat-friend?”

He pointed to a grey shorthair sitting on the wall around the grounds. It stared at them with unmistakable impatience.

“I have to say, I’m impressed,” Maxi said nodding her head.

“Then will you help me?”

“How could I say no?”

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Insights and Delights -Arrondissement Part Forty-Nine

Zsófia was still filthy when they returned to the Tower Cerulean but Monsieur L’Horloge did not care. He flung his arms around her and kissed her deeply. If she had any doubts about his love for her, and she didn’t, this was all the proof she needed.

He almost didn’t let her bathe, he later confessed that he was afraid she might disappear again. As a compromise, Zsófia asked him to join her, that way if kidnappers appeared they would have to take them both. It was meant as a joke but he did as she asked.

Later, they lay entwined in bed.

“I cannot say how relieved I am that you are back, safe and sound,” said Monsieur L’Horloge.

“Drágám, that’s simply not true. You’ve already done so a dozen times or so in the last hour,” she replied.

“I suppose so.”

“And I loved hearing it each time.”

He ran his hand along her face, and she kissed it. They lay for a while, luxuriating in each other’s company.

“May I ask you something?”

“Anything,” she said.

“Did they… Harm you?”

“They ruined a really wonderful outfit,” she said with mock horror.

“I’m not joking!” he said, likely louder than intended.

Monsieur L’Horloge turned from her and looked out of the window. The lights of the Arrondissement flickered through the thick glass.

“I’m sorry,” he said softly.

“Szerelmem,” she said, “I know that this comes from your heart, but know that I have never felt safer than when I am with you.”

He smiled a little sadly, “I’m acting as if I was the one who was kidnapped.”

“Perhaps just a bit.”

“Forgive me?”

“Always.”

They embraced.

“I envy your ability to laugh when the darkness knocks,” he said into her ear.

She ran her fingers through his unruly hair. As always, it defied even the most casual of styling.

“Laughter will defeat tears,” she said as she impishly nipped his neck.

“I wish I could be more like you.”

She pushed him down on the bed and said with a grin, “If we were too alike, I’m sure we’d just fight. Stay as you are.”

“As you wish.”

“But to put your mind at ease, they treated me rather well, aside from the abduction. The food was edible, if a bit dull. They didn’t harm me at all. Even when I tried to repeatedly escape.”

“Are you saying that they are good people?” sputtered Monsieur L’Horloge.

“No! But I’m not sure they are entirely bad either.”

“They’ve done such monstrous things. They have little regard for life – “

“And yet, they let me go.”

“That you are safe and in my arms delights me, but I don’t trust them.”

“Very wise.”

“Occasionally.”

“The Device, have you discovered how it works?”

He leapt out of bed, dashed to his desk, and beckoned Zsófia to follow. She slithered to his side. He carefully opened up The Folio of Mechanical Fabrication.

“I’ve been reading it over and over. There are vague references to the Penultimate Device peppered throughout the text and a few rough sketches. I discovered a pattern for a code from the little that was written. However, all that produced was a recipe for mutton stew.”

“Really?”

“Quite strange, I know.”

“Is it any good?”

“Very, though it didn’t give me any insights into the Device.”

“Will you make it for me sometime?”

“Of course. Good stew or not, it felt like a dead end. It seemed as if fate was toying with me.”

She laid her hands on his shoulders.

“Then, one evening, I was flipping through the folio hoping for something, an insight or an epiphany, but everything looked the same until this.”

Monsieur L’Horloge pointed at a page in the Folio. “There,” he exclaimed, “See this pattern along the edge of the page?”

“It looks like some sort of geometric embellishment.”

“At first glance, yes. But I discovered this!”

He took a candle and held it behind the page, closer than he probably should. The thick vellum glowed and words appeared in the pattern and flowed along the edges.

“Fever Script?” she said with wide eyes, “It’s a lost art.”

“To us, but not to The Huygens,” Monsieur L’Horloge said with a wide grin.

“And?”

“And what?”

“What does it say?”

“Ahhh… I’m still working on that.”

He picked up a notebook and showed her all he had transcribed.

“Another code?”

“It’s not that mutton stew one.”

“That would’ve been too easy,” said Zsófia.

“Would you try?”

“I accept this challenge,” she said, bowing.

“Let me set up an area for you to work,” he said, carefully moving papers and fine tools to one side.

“I think,” she said putting her arms around his neck, “That it would be best to start in the morning. Don’t you?”

“Where would I be without you?”

“I shudder to think.”

She led him back to bed, an easy thing to do, and continued their reunion. Later, they talked about their future, as uncertain as the future seemed to be. It was a small portion of normalcy.

“Before we drift off, I have one more bit of intelligence for you,” she said snuggling next to him.

“And what is that?”

“The League of Spiders is sending someone to work on the Device.”

“What? Who told you that? When are they coming? How did they convince the Coterie du Honor to agree to that? Why did they agree? How can they trust them?”

“I only know the answer to one of these questions. When we were being driven back, the Marshal and the Renard gendarme spoke in front of us. I suspect that they thought we were too traumatized to listen. The League is sending someone to adjust the Device. The Marshal, like you, does not trust them but the gendarme convinced her to go along with the plan.”

“This feels like a terrible plan.”

“Better a terrible plan than none at all,” she said.

Monsieur L’Horloge sighed and declared, “Well then, we have two things to do. Wait for the person the League sends and see if we can figure it out before they arrive.”

“Tomorrow.”

He kissed her once more and said, “Yes, tomorrow.”

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Believe What I Say-Arrondissement Part Forty-Eight

They picked a small café, The Petite Bouchée, to meet. As previously agreed, each brought two others with them. The Marshal chose Sergeant Gendarme Arpin and the Watchful Chevalier. Old Man whom Arpin met before, was accompanied by two nondescript people. Each leader nodded, then sat at a table on which a tray of cheese and bread was set along with a pitcher of water.


“We have much to discuss,” said the Old Man.

Arpin and the Marshal sat while Watchful stood behind them.

“Please have something to eat, the bread is freshly baked,” said the Old Man.

“No thank you,” said the Marshal.

“They aren’t poisoned,” added the Old Man, “If that’s what concerning you.”

“Amongst many things,” replied the Marshal.

“He’s telling the truth,” said Arpin, who then took a bite from a thick slice of bread, “At least about the food.”

“Marvelous, your sense of smell can detect lies!” exclaimed the Old Man.

“I can also smell poison,” added Arpin.

“Of course,” said the Old Man with a smile.

“I did not agree to this parley to make idle chit-chat. What is it that you want?” said the Marshal.

“Right to business then, very well. You have an object that belongs to us, we’d like it back.”

“The Penultimate Machine?” asked Arpin.

“Indeed.”

“Making a claim on a legendary and obscure artifact is legally tricky. Do you have any proof?” asked the Sergeant Gendarme.

“Are you asking for a bill of sale?” asked the Old Man.

“Documentation would be quite useful.”

“Do you wish to aid this malefactor?” hissed the Marshal.

“I am here in the service of the truth,” said Arpin.

“A worthy cause,” said the Old Man.

“Please do not mistake manners for approval. You and your organization have committed many crimes, including the most recent events at the Manoir de la Lune.”

“Young Thibault needed specific care.”

“Small comfort for those who were injured,” said Arpin.

“You are all villains and scoundrels! Your claim means nothing,” said the Marshal, “You and your cabal have been responsible for thefts and bloodshed going back centuries.”

“The same might be said for the Coterie du Honor,” observed the Old Man.

The Marshal’s eyes narrowed at that.

“Our causes are always just. We defend those who cannot defend themselves. Every Chevalier lives their lives by a code of conduct. You do as you please. We are nothing alike.”

“Have you not sent Chevaliers on quests that might end in their deaths? Did you not go on them yourself in the past?” asked the Old Man.

“Hardly the same. A Chevalier will give their lives to save others, we do not spend them as freely as you do.”

“You have no idea what we do for…, “began the Old Man.

“Do not try to justify your crimes!” shouted the Marshal.

A shrill sound cut through the argument. Arpin put away his Gendarme whistle and said, “Apologies, but this feels an unproductive use of this parley. The League of Spiders requested this, we should listen to what they have to say. Let us put philosophies aside for the moment.”

“Very well,” said the Marshal.

“Agreed,” said the Old Man.

“Now, if I may ask how you claim ownership of the Penultimate Device?” asked Arpin.

“It’s a rather long tale,” said the Old Man, “But the short version is that The Huygens entrusted it to us, many years ago.”

“Quite a statement,” said the Marshal.

“I assure you that it true.”

The Marshal fixed her stare at Arpin, “Is he lying?”

Arpin sniffed.

“No, he’s not.”

The Old Man smiled.

“However, that does not mean it is true.”

“Are your acute senses faltering?” asked the Old Man.

“Not at all. You believe what you are telling us. That does not mean it is objectively factual.”

“I see,” replied the Old Man thoughtfully.

“Please continue with your story,” said Arpin.

“As I said, we were entrusted with the Penultimate Device by The Huygens. He knew that it was extremely dangerous and he did not want it to be used for immoral purposes.”

While the Marshal said nothing at that last part, Arpin noticed that she gripped the arms of her chair tightly.

“And we had done so, maintaining it as per The Huygens’ instructions. However, approximately twenty-three years ago the Penultimate Device was stolen from us. There was a concerted effort to recover it but unfortunately, we were unsuccessful, clearly. It was never offered to collectors nor was whispered about in less savory circles. It effectively vanished.”

“You should’ve been more vigilant,” remarked the Marshal.

“I agree. We have since tightened our defenses,” replied the Old Man.

“Understandable,” said Arpin.

The Old Man shrugged and said, “Yes, well barn doors and horses.”

“Then you heard about Mademoiselle Couture’s inheritance.”

“Yes, did you know her semi-aunt was the infamous jewel thief, the Golden Kraken? It was said that she could charm a roomful of people while removing their jewelry and bilfolds with no one the wiser. Until after she left of course.”

“You sound as if you admire her,” said Arpin.

“It’s difficult not to be impressed with someone so gifted.”

“I see your point,” said Arpin.

“Really?” asked the Marshal.

“She was never caught. Most criminals slip up sooner or later. If I recall correctly, she never stole from anyone who could not afford it.”

The Marshal seemed scandalized, and asked tightly “Are you saying you would let her go?”.

“Absolutely not,” Arpin replied. “To capture the Golden Kraken would be the crowning achievement of any Gendarme. But I never had the opportunity.”

Arpin shrugged and then turned to the Old Man.

“So, you discovered the Penultimate Device was part of Ismay Fitz-Couture’s estate and then you attempted to retrieve the item by force.”

“Actually, we first attempted to purchase the entire inheritance through an advocate,” said the Old Man.

“You did?” asked the Marshal.

“Did she not mention this?”

“She did not.”

“A shame, this all could have been avoided.”

“It’s disturbing how easily you justify murder and chaos,” said the Marshal.

“As if your hands are not covered in the blood of your enemies,” countered the Old Man.

Arpin once more brandished his whistle.

“Do not make me use this again.”

The Marshal and the Old Man stared at the Sergeant Gendarme with a fury that quickly transformed into amusement.

“I yield,” said the Marshal

“As do I,” added the Old Man.

“Clearly you will not agree about the past, let us put that aside and discuss the future.”

The others nodded.

“Excellent. Let us name terms, perhaps if we all know what each other wants, compromise can be reached.”

“May I speak first,” asked the Old Man.

The Marshal nodded.

“We want the return of the Penultimate Device. That is all.”

“I see,” said Arpin, “That seems on its face, simple.”

“It is, that is all we desire.”

“Then let me ask you this. What is it? Why is it worth so many lives?”

The Old Man looked at Arpin and the Marshal.

“You have seen what is happening. The incident at Rue du Référentiel, the astounding growth of the Cure-dent de Déant, the de-aging of Willem Molyneux, and countless other events that have been going on all over the Arrondissement.

“Time is unraveling. As we’ve seen, it is wildly unpredictable and these episodes are accelerating. If we cannot re-align the Device, things will assuredly get worse. For everyone.”

This last statement hung in the air.

“I believe him,” said Arpin.

“He could be delusional,” said the Marshal.

“I think not,” replied Arpin, who gestured to the plate of bread and cheese that [had been placed] in the middle of the table. Pale green mold covered the food and its putrid odor rose making him repress a gag.

“Proof, if you needed more,” said the Old Man.

“Maybe so, but I still do not trust you,” said the Marshal.

“I can understand why, but sometimes you need to make a leap of faith.”

“Do you have an expert on the Penultimate Device?” asked Arpin.

“Yes of course. Until it was stolen, it was they who maintained it.”

“May I offer a compromise?”

“Please,” said the Old Man.

“Send your expert to make the necessary adjustments, under the protection of the Coterie du Honor.”

“That seems a little dangerous.”

Arpin turned to the Marshal and asked, “Will you swear an oath that if the expert acts in good faith, they will not be harmed or restrained?”

“I will,” she said.

“The Marshal would rather die than break an oath.”

“As would any Chevalier,” she said proudly.

The Old Man said nothing but looked at Arpin and the Marshal thoughtfully. Finally, he spoke.

“I will speak to my superiors and I will let you know if they agree.”

“You are not the leader?” asked Arpin.

“Everyone reports to someone.”

“I suppose so,” said Arpin.

Things concluded, at least for the moment, and they all stood in unison.

“I will let you know as soon as I have my orders,” said the Old Man.

“I will wait for your reply,” said the Marshal.

The Old Man snapped his fingers.

“I know you have trouble trusting me but let me make a gesture of good faith.”

From the back of the café, one of his nondescript men brought out Zsófia and Mr. Twig. They were both filthy and Mr. Twig was clearly the victim of a savage beating, but they were upright.

“Hostages?” spat the Marshal.

“They are both whole and mostly unharmed. Mr. Twig put up quite a fight.”

“That I did,” said the doorman.

“Before you go on a tirade about our honorless ways, consider this. We do nothing with malice.”

“I find that hard to believe,” said the Marshal.

“Bonsoir,” said the Old Man.

Watchful lead the two hostages out to the Velo-Pede and the Marshal brought up the rear. Arpin stayed and turned to the Old Man.

“If I may, I have one more question.”

“I imagine you have many.”

“True, but let me ask you this. If this truce works and the stewardship of Penultimate Device changes, what will you do?”

He smiled at Arpin.

“What makes you think that’s all we protect?”

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Egress In The Night-Arrondissement-Part Forty-Seven

                                                             Excerpted from La Vérité
                                                             

                                                              “Mayhem on the Moon”
                                                                    By E.P. Ranque
                                             November 10th, 394th Year of the Thrush

Jules Thibault, the mysterious criminal responsible for a host of malfeasances and a member of the shadowy organization known as ‘The League of Spiders’, left the psycho-hygiene institute, the Manoir de la Lune, Tuesday in the dead of the night. The time was unorthodox, but it was the means of his egress, which is sending the Arrondissement into a fervor.

Young Thibault was ‘rescued’ by a small group of black-clad figures that attempted to slip in quietly. However, the night staff, ever vigilant, discovered this intrusion and attempted to prevent it. Sadly, the League of Spiders members overpowered the orderlies with their preternatural might. Jean-Henri Appell, 28, and Jean-Julien Cuch, 23, suffered multiple contusions and several broken limbs. In a twist of irony, both men are now receiving care at the same facility where they work.

Last night’s escape was the first since the disappearance of the infamous mass murderer known only as Tueur de fantômes. Not to be confused with the resident spirit, the Fantôme de Lune, whose comforting nature inspired the song, ‘Silver Soothing Sighs’, made popular by the songbird Célia Benoît.

While our daguerreotypist was not given access to the scene, reports have indicated that much collateral damage occurred, including but not limited to: broken furniture, shattered glass, and twisted metal, all done with bare hands. That right, bare hands. If this is true, clearly the League of Spiders are not to be trifled with.

Director of the facility and chief Alienist, Doctor Hugo Flandrin made this statement, “We condemn these acts of violence. The Manoir de la Lune is a house of healing and peace. This so-called ‘rescue’ disrupts the progress Monsieur Thibault had made and damages his chance of recovery and eventually become a contributing member of society. We are cooperating fully with the authorities so he can be returned and continue his treatment.”

When asked how much progress Thibault had made before the events of last night, Doctor Flandrin invoked patient confidentiality. One wonders if the young Spider made any headway at all.

Sergeant Gendarme Arpin, who originally apprehended Thibault had only this to say, “The Gendarmerie is treating this incident most seriously. However, we cannot comment upon an ongoing investigation, as I’m sure the members of the fourth estate can appreciate. We will release information when it becomes prudent to do so. Merci.”

So gentle readers, in the end we are left with more questions than answers. Who are the League of Spiders? How have they eluded capture for so long? What dangerous and frightening abilities do they possess? And more importantly, how will you, the decent citizens of the Arrondissement, protect yourself from the evil that lurks unseen? As always, the La Vérité is here to shine a light on the hidden.

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Play Time-Arrondissement-Part Forty-Six

Maxi buttoned up her blouse, smoothed her trousers, and put on her jacket. Her latest conquest still slept in the hotel bed, snoring softly. He was the perfect distraction, beautiful, skilled, and uninterested in asking any questions. Severin, no.. was it Simon? It didn’t matter, they would never see each other again.

Picking up her boots, she silently exited the room. Time to go home. Well, not home, the Tower Cerulean. Maybe one more drink, just for the road. She exited the small hotel which was nestled between a long inactive automata and reverse fountain, turned the corner and headed for a quiet brasserie she had seen on her way to the hotel.

Sitting in the back she ordered a Fleur Deliquor, dirty, and observed the room. It was still early, so the place was not yet crowded. A young couple sat the bar, hands intertwined, smiling widely. Three office workers at a small table talking rapidly and laughing. A craftsperson, her boots still covered with fine sawdust, leaned against a beam and took a long draft of her beer, eyes closed with pleasure.

“Are you expecting someone?” asked the barmaid as she placed Maxi’s drink in front of her.


“Pardon?”

“I saw a man walking past the front window, he couldn’t keep his eyes off you. I thought it might be your lover.”

“What did he look like?”

Tapping her fingers, the barmaid furrowed her brow.

“Strange.”

“He looked strange?”

“No!” she laughed, “No, it just that he seemed rather ordinary. Sorry, no offense.”

“None taken. I think I know who you’re talking about. He’s pursued me but I’ve told him no, but he keeps following me.”

“Merde! I hate men like that! Can’t take a hint. Do you want me to call the Gendarmes?”

“No, but do you have a back exit?”

“Yes, just go past the WC and open the last door on the left, that will lead you out to the alleyway. Do you want someone to walk with you? Our kegman is very strong.”

“No, I’ll be fine if I give him the slip. Thank you!”

“Don’t worry, we have to look out for each other, right?”

“Absolutely!”

The barmaid winked and went to get another order from the office workers who were loudly talking. Maxi took a sip of her drink. It was well mixed, which was too bad, as she couldn’t enjoy it fully. A minute later, she got up and headed to the back and exited to the ally. There was a fire escape on the building, easy enough to get to the roof.

Looking down on the other side she saw people walking home or off to dinner or drinks or whatever they had planned. On the corner, three figures stood talking. They then walked with purpose to the brasserie. Moving to the alley side, she waited a moment and then two of them exited then split, each going in opposite directions.

Maxi padded to the street side. No sign of number three. She hoped he wasn’t doing damage to the brasserie or the barmaid who was so kind to her. But she also wasn’t going to go back and find out. No one was fleeing so that was a good sign. Time to move.

With a casual air, Number Three leapt from the fire escape on to the roof.

“Maxilline Couture, would you please come with me?” he said politely.

“Since you asked so nicely,” she said, “No.”

He pursued her over rooftops, leaping over narrow lanes and passages. Maxi had to admit he was nimble. He missed his calling. Number Three could’ve been a first-rate burglar. What a waste of talent.

Maxi came to a narrow plank that was placed between two buildings. Things being what they were she didn’t take time to check sturdiness, balance, or the various criteria she normally would but just ran across as quickly as she could. The plank did bow in the middle, but it did not break, which was all she wanted.

Landing on the other side she flipped the plank, sending it plummeting to the street. Number Three was running towards the edge of the roof across the street. Maxi, with an impulse she knew was childish but still immensely satisfying, made a rude gesture to Number Three.

It was impossible to tell if it made any impact on her pursuer because he leapt into the air and landed on the same roof as Maxi.

“Eh Biden, bias-mois,” she said.

She landed three blows in rapid succession, which did not slow Number Three down in the slightest. Maxi soon realized that this was not a fight, he wasn’t trying to hurt her, Number Three just wanted to capture her. Maxi could fight when she needed to, but she was better at not being caught.

It was a bit like a dance, lunge then sidestep. A grab followed by a pivot, a bear hug countered by a drop. They were evenly matched with one exception; Maxi was getting tired. She prided herself on keeping fit, but Number Three wasn’t even sweating. It was a matter of attrition. She had to do something risky.

Maxi tumbled in-between Number Three’s legs, his arm shot out, grabbed the collar of her jacket and she threw her arms backwards slipping out of the garment. He flung the jacket into the air and it fell to the street below.

‘Damn’, she thought, ‘I really liked that jacket’.

She moved to the edge of the roof. It was about as high as her waist and Maxi could feel the stone pressing against her back. Number Three ran towards her and she gripped the edge.

Everything seemed to slow down as he reached out for her. Gripping the low wall, she somersaulted back over the edge, straightening her legs and placing her boots on his chest. Number Three flew for a heartbeat but then gravity applied her gentle but unrelenting hand.

Maxi felt a jolt of pain as she dangled from the edge by her on arm, the other shirking its duties. Gritting her teeth, she tried to use her legs to leaver herself up but the angle was less than optimal. She knew it was a risk but it was not the time to play it safe. Her fingers began to slip and safety began to have a distinct appeal.

Just as Maxi lost her grip, a hand grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her up. With less grace than she normally exhibited, Maxi tumbled onto the roof. Looking up, she saw a Chevalier dressed in dark red armor of forged silk, with short spiky white hair.

“Are you injured?” the Chevalier asked.

“My right arm- “began Maxi.

“Let me look.”

The Chevalier examined Maxi quickly.

“Can you lift it?”

Maxi tried but pain flared.

“It’s dislocated. No worries, I can fix that a jiffy.”

“Maybe I should see a chirurgeon.”

“No, it’s easy to remedy,” she said taking Maxi’s arm gently, “Now just count to three.”

“One, two, AHHHHH!”

The Chevalier pulled her arm and popped it back into the socket. Maxi lay on the roof and closed her eyes.

“Wake up.”

“I am awake, I’m just resting quietly.”

“Well, we should be on our way.”

“Why?”

The Chevalier helped Maxi to her feet, more tenderly than she had popped her arm back and led her to the edge. Below, Number Three’s body was impaled on a spiked iron gate. People were gathering and the trumpets of the Gendarme Velo-Pedes could be heard.

“I take your point.”

They took a fire escape to the street and entered a waiting Velo-Pede and sped off into the night.
“Thank you,” said Maxi, “How did find me?”

“Oh, I’ve been following you all day. You’ve been quite busy mademoiselle.”

“All day?”

“Indeed. He was very pretty.”

“Yes, he was. But you saw that I was in danger?”

“Oh yes.”

“And did nothing?” sputtered Maxi, “I could’ve been killed!”

“But you weren’t. And I have to say, I was curious.”

“About?”

“You have a reputation for getting out of trouble, I wanted to see how you handled the situation.”

“I almost died!”

“But you didn’t! I was impressed by your solution.”

“Are you the Reckless Chevalier?”

She laughed and said, “Oh no, he’s off on a quest at the moment.”

“Then who are you?”

“Forgive me, I am known as the Unexpected Chevalier,” she said with a nod.

“How did you know to shadow me?”

“Orders from the Marshal.”

“I don’t suppose she trusts me.”

Unexpected shrugged and said, “Well, you can hardly blame her.”

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A Long Road Back-Arrondissement-Part Forty-Five

Heavy snow pelted the Gelatinous Arc as it slowly slid across the Plaza of Vœux and was absorbed. Olivia and her Chevalier bodyguards strode underneath but the flakes still swirled about them.

“We should find shelter,” said the Cautious Chevalier.

“Most people are indoors,” replied Olivia, “We are perfectly safe.”

“Visibility is far too short, a perfect place for an ambush.”

“Or perfectly suited for me to find what we are looking for.”

“I must insist we go inside.”

Olivia, who was looking intently at the objects moving within the Arc frowned.

“I thought Chevaliers were supposed to be brave.”

This elicited laughter from the other Chevaliers.

“That is not helpful!” he said to his compatriots.

“I don’t know, a good laugh makes life worth living,” said the Jocular Chevalier.

“I am brave, but I am also cautious.”

“If you say so,” replied Olivia.

“If I were not brave, then I would not be here!”

“How did you get that name?”

“It was bestowed upon me when I was dubbed.”

“Each Chevalier is given a descriptor when they are elevated,” added one of the others, “For example, I am known as the Watchful Chevalier because I am acutely aware of my surroundings.”

“Very useful,” said Olivia.

“And if Cautious had merely asked, I would have told him that at present, we are the only hearty souls on the plaza at the moment,” Watchful said with a smile on her face.

“You might have offered that insight without having to show off,” said Cautious.

More laughter ensued.

“True enough! Will you accept my apologies Cautious?”

“I will,” he said as they shook hands.

The finder carefully gazed at the myriad objects that were suspended in the clouded structure. A variety of things came into view and then tumbled slowly away.

“At the risk of stating the obvious, removing something from the Gelatinous Arc is considered very bad luck,” observed Cautious.

“I am aware of that.”

“And yet, it looks as though you are searching for something.”

“That is correct.”

Wind blew snow around them, adding an additional layer of frost to their clothes and armor.

“Are you planning to risk the wrath of the Arc?”

Olivia sighed and said, “Only if absolutely necessary.”

“The thing is-“ began Cautious.

“What happens to the objects that the Arc leaves behind?” Olivia asked.

“Pardon?”

“The things that are ejected by the Arc.”

“I would think that there is some sort of system to collect them.”

“There is, people pick them up.”

“Custodians?”

“No, ordinary people.”

“That seems…disorganized.”

“I suppose so. The legend says, when the Arc gives up an object, the wish is either fulfilled or rejected. Whatever comes out is found by the person who needs to.”

“Quite random.”

“That’s the nature of luck.”

“But what-“

“Shush.”

Olivia followed something moving through the gel. It was rectangular and traveled toward the back end. She dashed around to the corner, nearly slipping on the slush to see the object she found slip out with a wet sound. (The Gelatinous Arc was unaffected by temperature, it neither melted nor froze.)

Picking it up and wiping the goo off, she gestured to Cautious who opened up a satchel for her to place it in.

“Now we go inside,” she said.

Leading her protectors off the plaza, they traveled along a series of narrow streets, which troubled Cautious to no end, until they came to a brothery. Her cousin told her about this place and she knew where all the best but uncrowded eateries were. An Oriole chanteuse sang on a small stage as wonderful and comforting smells drifted around them.

Once they settled in a booth in the back, ordered a tureen of chicken and a basket of fresh rolls, Olivia took a look at her prize. It was a box made from a sliver wood and bound with deep red metal straps.

“What do you think is inside?” asked the Curious Chevalier.

“Let’s find out,” Olivia answered.

After a half-hour or so of examining, tapping, pressing, one shake that did nothing, and including a quick break to enjoy the truly excellent broth and rolls, they finally discovered a hidden latch.

“Huh,” said Olivia.

Wrapped in a thick, soft cloth was a tombstone replica. The name was ‘Guy Naviaux’ and the date of his death twelve years prior. Two swords were carved on either side of this peculiar item and the words, ‘Let Darkness Take You.’

“What does this mean?” asked Curious.

“It’s a clue,” said Watchful.

“Who makes a replica of their tombstone?” asked Cautious.

“How do we know it’s a replica?” said Curious.

“What else could it be?” replied Cautious.

“A clue,” stated Watchful.

“Could this really-“ began Curious.

“Quiet please!” said Olivia.

The Chevaliers stopped speaking but looked at her expectantly. She ran her fingertips over the carvings, they were very expertly done, this was a well made if bizarre thing. That inscription…

“Finish your meal,” said Olivia.

Everyone wiped their mouths and looked at her.

“We’re going to pay our respects.”

Once they left the brothery they found that the weather had taken a much warmer turn, the skies were clear and the snow was melting. They entered their Velo-Pede and sped off through the Arrondissement. After a short trip, they arrived at the Jardin Des Morts, a small cemetery off the Rue de la modestie.

“Look for the full-sized tombstone.”

It only took ten minutes or so to find it. It stood near a small willow tree that shaded a stone bench. Sitting on that bench was an old man. He looked up as they all approached.

“Good afternoon,” he said.

“And to you,” said Olivia.

He looked at all of them, four Chevaliers and a stylishly dressed young woman and smiled.

“Do you have it?” asked the old man.

“Do we have what?” asked Cautious who could not escape his nature.

“Either you know, or you do not,” he replied.

“Give it to me,” said Olivia.

Cautious took out the box and passed it to her.

“May I?” asked the old man.

Olivia nodded and with assurance, he opened the box and uncovered the small tombstone. He smiled and sat straighter.

“Well then, I am to give this to you.”

He reached under the bench and took out a long, flat, and battered case and placed it alongside him on the bench. It was made of leather and was scuffed in many places, the straps were worn and some had been repaired where they had broke.

“May I?” asked Olivia.

“By all means,” replied the old man.

She unbuckled the straps, snapped open the case to reveal two long swords in pristine condition. One had a brass pommel with a green gem set in it, the other blue steel with an orange gem. The Chevaliers all gasped in unison.

“It is them!” said Watchful.

“I didn’t think it was possible,” said Cautious.

“And yet, there they are!” exclaimed Curious who reached out and then pulled his hand back.

“The Twin Swords of the Whirlwind Chevalier,” added the Solemn Chevalier, who up till this moment, had said very little.

“Indeed,” the old man replied, “My brother entrusted them to me when he died. Forgive my manners, I am Paul Naviaux.”

“I have so many questions,” said Curious.

“My name is Olivia Chercheur,” she said offering her hand.

The Chevaliers very quickly followed suit, shamed by their lack of manners, though Paul seemed unconcerned.

“This story is worthy of a song but I fear that it might end up an opera if I’m not careful. My brother Guy was a prognosticator, but of a very limited scope. He could see the future only for the Whirlwind Chevalier. I know how odd that sounds and the Whirlwind Chevalier was equally skeptical, as many of you might be. But after a number of very accurate predictions, he accepted that it was true and they became partners and friends.”

Paul took out a pocket square and wiped his brow, the day had become very warm.

“This went on for many years and Guy was a great help. But one day, he saw Whirlwind’s end. Guy debated telling him, but in the end, he felt it would be a disservice. When he told him, the Chevalier nodded and accepted his fate but asked my brother to accompany him on this last quest. And when Whirlwind fell, Guy was to retrieve the swords, so that they would not be used by his foes. My brother was no fighting man but he agreed when the time came, Guy honored that last request from his friend.

“He had that small tombstone prepared and put it in the Gelatinous Arc and instructed me, once he had died, to visit every day with the case until someone came and presented the replica to me. So here we are.”

“I have even more questions now,” said Curious, “Why not just bring the swords to the Tower Cerulean? How did he know the right people would find the box? How did he know the date of his death? What does that inscription mean?”

Paul shrugged and said, “Guy was the seer, not I. While it seems unnecessarily complicated to us, I trust he had his reasons.”

“Merci Monsieur Naviaux, I hope this brings you some peace of mind,” said Olivia.

“Indeed it does. Now I may do some traveling, it’s impossible when you have to come to the same bench every day.”

The Chevaliers all knelt and presented Paul each a coin that bore their sigils.

“You have done a great service for the Coterie du Honor. Should you find yourself in need of our swords, you may present these and your request will be honored.”

“I think perhaps I’ve had enough swords for a while but thank you. Since the weather has turned warm, I think I’ll take a walk and enjoy it.”

“We have a Velo-Pede, where can we take you?” asked Cautious.

“Thank you but I’d like to stretch my legs. Au revoir!”

And with that, he walked away. Olivia and her escorts strode back to the Velo-Pede and speed off to the Tower Cerulean.

“I must admit, I did not think you would find the Blades of the Whirlwind,” said Curious, “They have been lost for quite some time.”

“Who was the Whirlwind Chevalier?”

“He slew the Eponymous Ettin, rescued the Sable Salamander, broke the Gloaming Ward-“ said Curious.

“And is one of the few Chevaliers to fight with a sword in each hand,” added Solemn.

“That’s some CV,” mused Olivia, “Most of my clients aren’t looking for the legendary. It’s good to know that it wasn’t a barrier to success,” replied Olivia.

“While this is a victory, do not forget that we are merely a decoy. Our success was not the point,” said Cautious.

A social chill ran through the Velo-Pede.

“Which is not to say that I’m displeased by it,” he added.

“Hold on,” said Watchful.

They had stopped for a change of light when a figure crossing the rue stopped in front of them. She was completely ordinary.

“Back up quickly!” shouted Cautious.

Someone landed on the roof with a thump.

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It Can Be Intoxicating-Arrondissement Part Forty-Four

Mr. Twig walked down the alley in the foggy, pre-dawn hours. The sky above was tenuously lightening as he knocked on the back door of the boulangerie. With a creak, the door swung open.

“Good morning Mister Twig!” exclaimed the baker, her chestnut fur dusted with flour.

“And good morning to you Mademoiselle Darcey.”

“How was work? Did you break up any fights?”

“I prevented several and assisted one gentleman to leave.”

“Assisted?” asked Darcey who ‘put up her dukes.’

“It would have been an unfair fight, given his heroic intake of cocktails.”

“How gallant of you!”

“We wish everyone to have an enjoyable evening.”

“You don’t enjoy violence, do you?”

“No, but it can be can be intoxicating.”

“You sound like you know that first hand.”

“It’s too long a story to be told at a doorway.”

“Okay, I’ll let you off now, but I want to hear more sometime.”

“Perhaps.”

“You are very mysterious.”

“Only accidentally.”

Darcey laughed and said, “Fine, fine. I have your bread ready.”

She handed him a pale blue paper bag and he handed her a seven copper concept piece.

“I slipped in a few of those sweet rolls you like.”

“How much-“ he began.

“Call it an accidental kindness.”

“Merci.”

“See you tomorrow. This dough isn’t going to knead itself, not properly anyway. Au revoir.”

With that, she shut the boulangerie door and the warm scents of bread faded. Gripping the bag gingerly, Mr. Twig began his walk home. Fog continued to roll in, making the streetlamps glow like engorged lightning bugs.

Mr. Twig enjoyed his walk home each morning. The Arrondissement was quiet, the hurly-burly of the day still slumbered. All he heard were his own footsteps and the faint stirring of early risers. From a side street, a figure emerged, a perfectly ordinary person, the kind you would pass without any curiosity.

“Mr. Twig.”

“Yes.”

“Would you please come with me.”

It was a statement, not a query.

“No. I will not.”

“I think it is in your best interest to do so.”

Mr. Twig stopped and placed his bag of baked goods on a crate that stood in the alley. Violence was coming and he did not wish his breakfast to be ruined. Wasting food was a sin.

“Your assessment of my best interest is skewed. Please tell your people behind me to stop.”

“Impressive.”

“You are not the first group to gang up on me, and you will not be the last.”

“Do you remember what happened at Les Requêtes?”

“I remember that you were driven off.”

“After much damage.”

“It’s not going to work.”

“What?”

Mr. Twig pivoted as one of his assailants tried to strike him in the back. As the fist moved past him, he grabbed the arm and flung him into the chattier member of his gang sending them both off into the fog. With a smile, Mr. Twig began to fight.

Punches and kicks were landed and blocked, limbs were broken, though none of Mr. Twig’s. He had not lied to Mademoiselle Darcey when he said that he did not enjoy fighting. He reveled in it. Each blow delivered and the pain inflicted was a delight. Nothing could be as wonderful as this. Later, he would regret each strike but at that moment, it was transcendent.

After pummeling his foes, he leapt to the one who spoke to him. More accurately, tried to distract him. Mr. Twig leaned in.

“I am going to go home now and if you are wise, you won’t follow. But in the interest of honesty, part of me wants you to.”

Bloodied and battered, the figure held up his hands in a gesture of surrender.

“Apologies. We underestimated you.”

“Accepted.”

“One last thing.”

“I do not-“

Before Mr. Twig could finish, the figure blew a cloud of fine particles into his face and everything faded to grey. What came next had a dream-like quality, his limbs were bound, followed by movement, and images wavered like light reflected by water.

When finally everything coalesced into clarity, he found himself shackled to the wall of a barred cell. Sitting on a low wooden table, was the pale blue paper bag containing his bread and sweet rolls. The chains allowed him to reach it but no further.

Shame of his joy of savage brutality kept him from opening the bag. But wasting food…

“Bollocks,” he said.

“Excuse me?”

He looked up. Clearly, he was not alone.

“Yes?”

“Do you work the door at Les Requêtes?” asked Zsófia.

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The Itch of Larceny-Arrondissement Part Forty-Three

A young woman, chicly dressed, was accompanied by six Chevaliers as she left the Tower Cerulean. This was done with much pomp and the entire departure had a theatrical air. The Chevaliers strode in lockstep, their armor shining or rippling or undulating depending on the style and make.

With a roar, a large Velo-Pede pulled in front of the gates and they all got in and it sped off through the Arrondissement. For anyone watching, it was just as much a declaration as it was a departure and no one noticed a lone squire who trotted towards the gate but then gently turned and doubled back across the training grounds.

On the east-west corner of the tower was the kitchen entrance where our lone squire entered. Pots full of bubbling sauces, spits roasting a variety of meats, and ovens baking fresh bread would be an easy distraction for most squires but not this one. She moved through the kitchen quickly and without disturbing the culinary dance. Once out of the kitchen, she walked along the hallway to the entrance to the lower levels.

“Ho squire!”

She turned to see a Chevalier clad in topaz scale mail.

“Yes sir?”

“Where are you headed?”

“I’m to find a particular lance.”

“In who’s service are you?”

“The Observant Chevalier, sir.”

“I see.”

“She tasked me with finding a red lance with a scratch on the grip in the lower armory.”

“That sounds like one of her tasks.”

“I don’t mind sir.”

“I admire your attitude.”

“Thank you sir.”

“Well, you better get going, it won’t be easy.”

“I’ll do my best sir.”

She turned but the Chevalier spoke again.

“Squire?”

“Yes sir?”

“Make sure it’s really red and not burgundy or vermillion or cardinal.”

“Thank you, sir. I will.”

“Off with you then, it’s going to be a long day.”

She nodded and entered the door. Stairs wound down past the dungeons, now only used for storage, and into the armory. Racks of wooden swords, spears, maces, war-hammers, and other training weaponry filled the chamber. Walking past a row of lances, the squire removed her padded coif and shook out her hair. So unstylish, thought Maxi.

Along the back wall stood a statue of a Chevalier holding a shield. The coat of arms was an owl with a lotus flower above the head and two below the talons. With a careful touch, she rotated the bottom two clockwise and the top one widdershins. The owl’s wings opened and the statue slid into the floor, revealing a dark doorway.

Taking a deep breath, Maxi walked in and immediately began to plummet. Even knowing what was happening, she still screamed, it was impossible not to. Rushing towards a point of light, she emerged and floated to the floor.

“Welcome, little thief.”

The room was made of steel and stone, lit with braziers that filled with a blue flame. Standing in front of the floor to ceiling door was a tall, cloaked figure made of what looked like brass. The face was always shrouded in darkness, and Maxi was unsure if this was a very sophisticated automata or a living being.

Blowing, Maxi said, “I feel welcomed, though I would like to point out that I’ve stolen nothing from here.”

“Are those raiments yours?”

“I’m just borrowing them.”

“Make sure to return them.”

“I will.”

“Very well then, but you are still a thief nonetheless.”

A number of clever retorts danced through her mind but she had a job to do and this guardian was not taken with her charms.

“I will not debate you today.”

“A wise choice, little thief.”

“However, I do need to retrieve what I placed in your vaults.”

“As is your right.”

“Thank you, if you could-“

“But I must warn you.”

“I understa-“

“Since you solved the mystery of the vault, you may enter and remove only what you placed there. But lest you forget, the penalty for taking what is not yours is dire.”

“I remember.”

“Stray from your vow, and regret will be an inadequate word to describe what you will feel.”

“Right.”

“Others have-“

“Pardon me.”

“Yes?”

“I hate to be rude, but I’m on a bit of a schedule.”

“I see,” replied the guardian.

“You’re very intimidating. Really.”

“This is a matter of the gravest import.”

“And you have made that crystal clear.”

“You seem unimpressed.”

“No, no, no. Not at all. But since my intentions are pure, I have nothing to fear.”

“Clever. Very well, you may enter. But do not forget my words.”

“I will not.”

The guardian stepped aside as the locks whirred and clicked. With a sigh, the tall doors opened. Maxi walked towards the vault.

“One last drop of wisdom. Beware your own nature.”

Maxi bowed and entered. It took her a half hour to make her way to the obsidian casket where she had placed the box containing her inheritance. She took the box and placed it inside her tunic. Turning she began to retrace her steps.

As she walked through this repository, she felt the itch of larceny on her fingertips. So many treasures. A cast of viscous emeralds. The rune encrusted reliquary of St. Erasmus, patron of high-flying heroes. A crystal orb containing the grand blizzard from the year of the Hart. The prophetic portrait of Cassia said to know your heart’s most desperate desire. These temptations spread before her and she wanted them all. Plans bloomed in her mind and just as quickly died, impractical at best, impossible at worst. Time to leave.

After secreting the box in the austere quarters provide for her by the Coterie du Honor, Maxi made her way out of the Tower Cerulean. Everyone thought that the item was hidden somewhere in the Arrondissement, which technically it was. More than enough time to have a little fun. After all, she’d earned it.

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