In And Out With Words-Arrondissement Part Thirty Nine

Les Requêtes was full of people looking to forget their troubles and enjoy themselves. A foursome of dandies, their clothes shifting through the invisible spectrum all drank from a bowl of smoking liquid using silk straws. A jazz band was playing from an alcove and someone had cleared a small dance floor so the enthusiastic could cut a rug. Almost everyone was having a good time.

At the end of the serpentine bar sat Detective Durand. She nursed the cocktail before her, it was very good, but not the reason she was here. Scanning the crowd, she saw a familiar face.

“Professor Gérin!”

A lean man in a dark purple velvet coat turned and smiled at her. Pushing his way through the crowd, he arrived and embraced her.

“What a surprise to see you Detective!”

“And you Professor.”

“This place seems much too loud for you.”

“It is, I’m here on business.”

“Of course. Still with the F.I.S.?”

“Where else would I be? Are you still with the Imaginary Academy?”

“Toiling in obscurity,” he looked around and leaned in whispering, “Is there a rogue spirit about?”

“No, no. I’m here to speak with the owner about a case I’m working.”

“Is that so?”

“It is.”

“How synchronistic.”

“In what way Professor?” Durand asked as she signaled for the bartender.

“It isn’t my place.”

“May I buy you a cocktail?”

“Too kind.”

“Not at all, you’ve been helpful to me in my investigations.”

“If you insist,” replied Gérin, “I’ll have a pale vesper, with a twist of blood lime.”

The bartender went to construct the drink.

“So, what brings you down to the subterranean bar scene?”

“The owner, Mistress Rosamund, she used to be spirit wrangler and I must admit, I was something of an admirer of hers.”

“Professor!”

“Not like that, though she is a fetching woman. Her act had this… quality. It was rough and raw but still somehow polished. You felt the rush of danger that dealing with the dead can bring you. It was something to see.”

“I can only imagine.”

“We moved in the same circles back then and even though she’s retired from the stage, we’ve kept in touch.”

A glass of faint bubbling liquor with a green and ruby rind on the rim was placed in front of Gérin.

“To old friends,” said Durand.

Glasses were clinked and eyes met, so to avoid bad fortune.

“May I ask you a question?”

“Of course! As long as it not too personal,” said Gérin with an impish grin.

“Have you ever heard of a metal that repels ghosts?”

“No metal that I know of can do that. Except…”

“Yes?”

“It’s just rumors and hearsay.”

“Do go on Professor.”

“There is nothing to back this up, but there is an old story about an alloy called ierósium, that was supposed to be a ward against the undead.”

“Has any ever been found?”

“I should say not. Texts say that it was a mixture of cold and meteoric iron, the tears of the desert, heated by the midnight sun, and forged by a living saint. “

“So difficult to make.”

“I’d say impossible. There hasn’t been a living saint in the Arrondissement
for centuries. As of the other ingredients,” he just shrugged,

“There are wonders to be found in the Arrondissement, why not this?”

“Because outside of ancient accounts, no one has ever seen this wondrous metal. Sometimes stories are just that.”

“I see.”

They both drank as the merriment of the bar swirled around them.

“Why did you ask?”

“About?”

“Ierósium. It’s a rather obscure bit of legend.”

“Just a theory I was working on, but the truth lies elsewhere.”

“Perhaps-“

“You are my first choice to consult, of course.”

“I like to think I am of assistance.”

“And you are but I will need to get approval for any outside consultation.”

A throat was cleared nearby and Durand frowned for a beat.

“I understand. But I’ll always be a bird fold away.”

“Thank you professor. If you’ll excuse me, duty calls.”

They air-kissed cheeks and Durand moved through the crowd.

“He certainly likes himself,” said Nikita who floated unseen alongside her.

“Professor Gérin is a leading expert on the undead and knows a great deal on the subject. He is also rather pompous but if you can get past that, he is a decent person.”

“I guess.”

“If you want to follow in my line of work, you better get used to dealing with all sorts. Solving crime is not like putting together a dinner party.”

“I get it!”

“Good. Now prepare for some more education.”

Durand knocked on the door of Mistress Rosamund’s office.

“Come in!”

The bar owner was sitting at her desk, reading an old book when they entered. She quickly shut it and threw it in a drawer at the sight of Durand.

“Detective, tell your friend to show them self.”

“Nikita if you don’t mind.”

She faded into view.

“You wouldn’t be spyin’ on me, would you?”

“No. As you demonstrated, sending a ghost to watch you would be a waste of time.”

“Uh huh. What is it you want?”

“To tell you that you are no longer a suspect in the disappearance of Etitan Chardin.”

“Finally figured that out, didja?”

“The large numbers of missing spirits indicates some great power at work,” Durand replied as she tapped on a newspaper that lay on the desk. The headline read, “Where Are Our Ghosts!”

“As you well know,” added the detective.

The two women stared at each other.

“Is that all? I’m running a busy establishment.”

“Not quite. First, while you are no longer under investigation I know that you are hiding something.”

“I’d like to see you prove it.”

“That would be fun, but I’ve a better idea.”

“Getting out of my hair?”

“No, I wish to hire you.”

“What?”

“I have to agree. What?” added Nikita.

“You are a talented spirit wrangler a skill that will be useful in my investigation.”

“Why would I want to work with the likes of you?”

“Several reasons. One, you will be compensated for your time and skill. Two, you will have the gratitude of the Gendarmerie. And finally, you care about what is going on.”

“What makes you reckon I care.”

“You consulted with Professor Gérin, a leading expert on the spirit world, I saw him out in the bar, your desk is covered with articles about ghost disappearance, and the book you hid as we came in, the Therimoire of Saint Januarius.”

“You got some sharp eyes there.”

“Thank you.”

Mistress Rosamund sat and stared at Durand. Nikita felt awkward, which she hadn’t happened since she became a ghost. Something was going to happen…

“Fine, I’m in.”

“I and the spirit world thank you.”

“Let’s shake on it,” said Mistress Rosamund who spat on her hand and extended it.

Durand followed suit and they shook hands.

“Now iffin you don’t mind, I’ve got a bar full of drunks to keep happy.”

“I’ll contact you soon,” said Durand.

Both women nodded and the detective and ghost left the office.

“How does that work? How do you get into and out of trouble like that? Like when trapped at that building-”

“A big part of this job is reading people.”

Durand cleaned her hand with a pocket square.

“You are so good at that.”

“Thank you.”

“Can you teach me to do that?”

“Let’s find out.”

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You Cannot Own a Cat-Arrondissement Part Thirty-Eight

The blue tabby accepted the morsel of chicken from Renée’s fingers.

“How long have you owned that cat?” asked the Dashing Chevalier.

“It’s presumptuous to say you own a cat.”

Meowing in agreement, the tabby gently tapped his paw on Olivia’s hand and she fed him again.

“My grandmother owned a cat,” said Dashing, “a grey longhair.”

Olivia smiled, “Perhaps she thought she owned a cat, but it’s more likely that they enjoyed each other’s company.”

“That’s an odd way of looking at it.”

“Is it?”

“I’ve always been a dog person myself,” replied Dashing who tossed her ponytail artfully over her shoulder.

“Oh well, you can own a dog.”

“But not a cat.”

“Not really, but dogs want to belong, cats decide if you’re worth the time.”

“Did the cats of the Arrondissement not recently unionize?”

“That’s right.”

“A union is very much a belonging sort thing, wouldn’t you say?”

Olivia shrugged and said, “They don’t belong to people, they belong to themselves.”

“How very independent.”

“Exactly.”

Olivia continued to share her lunch with the blue tabby, whom she called Thaddeus after her grandfather but whose name was his and his alone. She took out the letter she received that morning. It was scarce on details and she knew it somehow was connected to her having suddenly acquired a Chevalier bodyguard but she read it again. Xs and Os made her blush slightly but it wasn’t a bad thing.

The chicken was all gone, mostly into Thaddeus, so she stood and moved to look at the new piece she was working on. She had been capturing scraps of sounds she heard as she wandered the Arrondissement and had woven them into a rough sculpture. Plucking a strand of laughter, she twisted it around an amorous sigh. Still not quite right.

While she molded and mixed sounds, Thaddeus leapt to the window of her studio, lay in the afternoon sun, and watched. Orange flower petals that had bloomed that morning were now twirling and spinning in the suddenly cool wind.

“Fah!” spat Olivia.

Dashing drew her sword, which flashed in the light and rapidly surveyed the studio. No danger appeared.

“What do you see?”

“What?” said Olivia.

“You cried out in distress.”

“I cried out in frustration, I’m having problems with this new piece.”

With a flourish, Dashing sheathed her blade.

“I see.”

“You’ve never guarded an artist before.”

“Actually, I had to accompany the painter Naviaux to safely.”

“Olivier Naviaux?”

“Indeed.”

“Did you get to see him work?”

“Not on his painting.”

Olivia cocked an eyebrow.

“He was in a feud with a critic, who had hired a member of the Frères de la mort to kill him.”

“That’s crazy. Wait, the critic hired the killer?”

“He did.”

“Why?”

“There may or may not have been some indiscretion with the critic’s wife. And mistress.”

“Oh. Oh…..”

“I’m afraid I cannot speak to Monsieur Naviaux’s artistic process.”

“Wow…”

“I must ask you to be discreet, unlike some other artists, to whom I will give no names.”

“Of course.”

“But I will ask once more, is there anything thing I can do to aid you?”


Olivia looked at her work in progress and sighed.

“A very wise man said that if you’re having trouble making something, then you’re not supposed to work on that today and to try something else.”

“That’s a rather long saying.”

“I’m paraphrasing,” Olivia replied as she removed an artist’s pallet from a table full of paint pots and brushes.

“Put your foot up on that chair.”

Dashing did so and as usual, did it with panache.

“Now just hold still.”

“If you don’t mind, my eyes must move in order to maintain your safety.”

“That’s fine.”

Olivia used a tiny glass needle and traced a path of sigils around the edge of the pallet. The paints went from dull and dry to vibrant and liquid. With a flick of a brush, she set the rough outline of her subject floating in the afternoon sunlight. Walking around, she made slight adjustments. Sometimes it was helpful to return to the basics.

As she painted her guardian, Thaddeus noticed something odd. A flock of pigeons flew by the window. That was not the odd thing, it happened quite a lot. One of the birds stopped. In midair. It was stuck, not moving, and also not falling while the rest of his flock continued on. Then it moved as if nothing had happened. This needed reporting.

“Your cat just jumped out the window,” said Dashing.

“I told you, he’s his own cat.”

“It’s a little abrupt.”

“Cats don’t say goodbye.”

“Aren’t you worried?”

“No.”

“Do you think he’ll come back?”

“Of course.”

“How can you know that?”

“Because I will always share my chicken with him. Now please hold still.”

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A Vigorous Exchange of Ideas-Arrondissement Part Thirty-Seven

“That’s not acceptable,” said Olivia.

“I assure you mademoiselle, your safety is my first and only concern. I have sworn an oath,” declared the Cautious Chevalier.

“How is forbidding me from writing a letter to my family keeping me safe?”

“If any such missive would be intercepted, it would prove disastrous.”

Not for the first time, Olivia wished they had assigned the Fun Chevalier as a bodyguard if such a person existed.

“Can you tell me where they are?”

“I’m afraid that-“

“It would prove dangerous? Unwise? Ill-advised?”

“All of those mademoiselle.”

“Can you at least tell me if they are safe?”

“Absolutely,” replied the Cautious Chevalier a little too quickly.

“Really?”

“Of course!”

She looked at him, from his practical but well-made armor with rounded edges and the safety bond on his sword to his clean-shaven face with the tiniest drop of sweat.

“Tell me the truth.”

“Your family is secure and unharmed.”

“Don’t you all swear an oath to tell the truth?”

“Honesty is one of our virtues, yes.”

“Then tell me what is going on!”

“Technically, what I’ve told you is the truth.”

Olivia’s insides went cold.

“Go. On.”

“Your father, in exploring the place where he and your family, made an unfortunate discovery.”

“What was it? A curse, a deadly trap, a bound demon?”

“A still.”

“A still what?”

“For fermentation. Which he used to great effect. He and one of his guardians became… dangerously inebriated.”

Olivia took a beat and then started to laugh. She laughed so heartily she needed to sit down. After a while, she wipes the tears from her eyes and stopped. Mostly.

“Do you wish to see a chirurgeon?”

“No. My father has a talent for finding trouble. If he’s getting drunk with a Chevalier, he’s fine.”

“I see. We have taken measures that will not happen again.”

“Good luck with that.”

“Merci.”

“There is someone else. Recently, I became involved with someone.”

“Yes, the artist Renée Gardet, the arcane artist.”

“You know far too much about me.”

“It is for your protection and that of those you are close to you.”

“Can I send a message to her or is that too dangerous?”

“If you wish, you can write a missive and it will be hand-delivered.”

“That won’t compromise security? Is she secreted away in some hidden keep?”

“Mademoiselle Gardet’s advocate has accepted the protection of Coterie du Honor but is not in hiding, She is safe.”

Olivia wondered if Renée’s Chevalier was as serious as hers and hoped not. She wrote a letter that seemed too long and yet did not say enough. It was her fault that Renée had been drawn into this madness but perhaps it was better that she no longer had the key. Safer maybe. Ending it with, ‘Stay safe and we’ll see each other when this is all over.” Then adding some Xs and Os.

Stamping it with a wax seal, she handed it to the Cautious Chevalier who summoned a squire.

“Make sure this is delivered post-haste!”

The squire nodded and sped off down the corridor just as another appeared at the door.

“Pardon me, but Mademoiselle Chercheur’s presence is requested by the Marshal.”

“Shall we go post haste?” asked Olivia.

“Not too quickly, it would not do to slip and fall.”

“Of course.”

Soon, but not too soon, they found themselves in the study of Marshal of the Coterie du Honor. It was well-appointed if you considered the display of weapons and pennants to fashionable, which Chevalier’s clearly did. The Marshal sat behind her desk glowering at Maxi who seemed unconcerned. Frau Schlüsselherrin and Monsieur L’Horloge sat, looking respectively exasperated and uncomfortable.

“Mademoiselle Chercheur, please have a seat,” said the Marshal who switched from grimace to grin.

“Thank you,” Olivia replied while taking the last open seat while Cautious stood behind her.

“You are a finder, are you not?” asked the Marshal.

“It won’t work,” said Maxi who seemed to be enjoying the tension in the room.

A gaze that had made both foes and allies quaver rolled over Maxi like rain off a window.

“I wish to engage your services, for the Tower Cerulean.”

Olivia began to feel as though she was in a farce and everyone else was in on the joke but her.

“What do you need me to find?”

“The object that Mademoiselle Couture has hidden.”

‘Who?”

“Me,” added Maxi.

“Oh, right. I’m sorry. I can’t do that.”

The Marshal stood at her near two-meter height and said, “You refuse!”

“No, no, no, no! It’s not that I won’t it’s that I can’t!”

“Are you not a finder?”

“I am.”

“This is something that has been hidden, just find it!”

“My gift is finding lost things, not hidden things.”

“I fail to see the difference.”

“Lost things are forgotten, they are left behind, kicked behind cupboards, fall out pockets and so on. No one knows where these things are. Maxi, do you know where this item is?”

“Exactly.”

“But-“ began the Marshal.

“If someone remembers, my gift will not work.”

“How… specific.”

“It’s the nature of my knack, as my mother would say.”

“Your family are all finders, true?”

“No one has that particular gift, at least in this generation.”

‘I see.”

“Sorry,” said Olivia

“Told you,” added Maxi.

This was followed with a barrage of shouts, accusations, oaths, curses, and other vehement declarations.

“I cannot allow you to saunter out of this keep without an escort!” said the Marshal.

“Because a squad of Chevaliers is the height of subtlety! Why don’t I just give up the object?”

“It is NOT safe to be alone! You cannot fight them all!”

“If things go right, no one will fight anyone!”

“The object must be protected!”

“Your record on protection is not perfect these days, is it!” said Maxi.

“She’s right,” said Monsieur L’Horloge.

Everyone stopped.

“I’m so sorry-“ began Maxi.

“We continue to search-“ interrupted the Marshal.

“If Zsófia were here,” said Monsieur L’Horloge, “she’d chide us for fighting amongst ourselves and doing our enemies work for them.”

He stood and walked to the window. Outside it began to snow on the lush, green leaves that had grown the day before, replacing the dead foliage of two days previous.

“Everything is wrong but I have to believe she’s still alive because if she isn’t, none of this makes any sense at least for me. So, we need to get the Penultimate Machine. Maxi is correct, a squad of Chevaliers-“

“Banner, a group is called a Banner,” added Cautious.

“Very well, a Banner of Chevaliers will draw a lot of attention.”

Maxi laughed.

“But going alone is very dangerous. If you were caught and the object taken, I don’t know what would happen. Likely it would be very bad. Which is also likely an understatement. I…I can’t lose anyone else, I’m not sure I could take it and I desperately wish I knew what to do.”

An elegiac silence took the room as each grappled with their own doubts. Until…

“Pardon me,” said Olivia, “I have a suggestion.”

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A Small Favor-Arrondissement Part Thirty-Six

Files and papers spread across his desk with abandon, each presenting questions with no answers. Sergeant Gendarme Arpin rubbed his eyes and sighed. This was a true mystery, complete with arcane machinations, baffling and unconnected clues, and even a secret society.

Solving this would be the grandest triumph of his career if he could do so. Unfortunately, none of it made sense, the only motive was perhaps secrecy itself, but that is not inherently a crime. He sniffed his café, it had gone cold and bitter. He took out a cigarette and lit it.

“Those are bad for your health.”

Sitting across from his desk was an older man. He had not been there a moment ago and he was spectacularly unassuming. If you passed him on the street you would not give him a second glance, let alone a first. On his lapel was a familiar pin.

“So I’ve been told.”

“You really ought to quit.”

“I appreciate the concern but that is not why you are here.”

“No, it is not.”

Arpin put out the cigarette and took a deep inhale. This man did not smell of fear.

“You’re either brave or foolish.”

“Why is that?”

“You are sitting amongst a large group of Gendarmes who would happily throw you in a cell and question you most vigorously.”

“Sergeant Gendarme Arpin, you will do no such thing.”

“Is that a threat?”

“Let’s call it a prediction.”

“Your man Jules Thibault was less than polite, so you’ll understand my suspicion.”

“It’s reasonable. If it makes any difference, he’s inexperienced.”

“It does not.”

“That’s fair.”

“So, why come here to talk to me?”

“We need you to do something for us.”

They both sat there, the sounds of the Gendarmerie continued unaware.

“It is a small thing,” said the man.

Arpin’s whiskers quivered.

“As a Gendarme, I make it a habit of not aiding and abetting criminal organizations. A point of professional pride.”

“We are not criminals.”

Opening files, Arpin said, “Assault and robbery of a Gendarme, resisting arrest, theft of a regulated article of clothing, breaking and entering and of course the incident at the Tribunal de Justice. Oh and lest we forget illegal and immoral arcane experimentation. ”

“I assure you, there are valid reasons for all of that.”

“So you’ve come to confess?” said Arpin taking out a form, “Would you care to write that down, in your own words.”

“The price for capturing me would be higher than you would be willing to pay.”

“Again, it feels like a threat.”

“I think your curiosity will win out.”

Arpin played with his cigarette case and fought the urge to light up.

“Let us say, hypothetically, that my inquisitive nature wins out.”

“Hypothetically.”

“Yes. What do I have to gain?”

“I will grant you one boon, and it cannot be refused.”

“Anything?”

“If it is within my power, yes.”

“And if I asked you to turn yourself in?”

He held out his wrists and said, “I would come quietly.”

“That seems too easy.”

“One piece would be removed from the board but the game would continue.”

“I suppose it would. And I asked you to dissolve your secret society?”

“You wouldn’t want me to do that.”

“Why not?”

“Things would become…unpleasant.”

“How vaguely sinister.”

The man shrugged and asked, “Is that the boon you desire?”

“Tempting, but no. For now.”

“Sharp as ever.”

“Why me?”

“Because you intrigue me.”

“Are you trying to recruit me?”

“No, I’m afraid you don’t quite fit the profile.”

“Too flashy?”

“By our standards.”

“Again, why me?”

“I admire you. You are dedicated, methodical, intelligent, and violence is not your first impulse. Also, I believe that if you give your word, you will keep it.”

“That’s quite a leap of faith.”

“Great deeds are not done by the timid.”

“And how can I know that you will keep your word?”

“You will have to make your own leap of faith.”

The old man smelled calm, his scent reminded him of still waters.

“I’ve not agreed to do anything, but what exactly do you want me to do?”

“To deliver a message.”

“Can’t you fold a decent bird?”

“This needs to be hand-delivered by someone who is trusted.”

“So I’ve earned your trust?”

“Not my trust, the recipients.”

“This is becoming more byzantine by the moment.”

“Sergeant Gendarme Arpin, there are three outcomes to this conversation. One, you try to arrest me. You might even succeed but I assure you, there will be deaths. Two, we both go our separate ways and this door closes. Three, you agree and gain a valuable tool.”

“If you have observed me as you say you have, you should know that I will not violate my oath as a Gendarme.”

“And I am not asking you to do so.”

“But-“

“Let’s not waste everyone’s valuable time. If you go to your captain’s office, she will give you an envelope. Read the address and decide if you will do this small favor. And to answer your next question, your captain is not one of us, nor is she compromised, and neither is the person who asked her to present you with this choice. What does my scent tell you?”

Still calm waters.

“I will see what the address is, I will not promise more.”

“Understood.”

Arpin stood up and moved to the captain’s office. Looking over his shoulder, he saw that the older man was gone. Frustrating but not surprising. He knocked on the captain’s door.”

“Come in.”

Captain Cordier opened a desk drawer, took out a letter, and handed it to him. Arpin read the address. Then once more.

“D’accord.”

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You’ll Be Fine… Really-Arrondissement Part Thirty Five

It was an ordinary building. No, elaborate facades, fanciful decorations, or memorable features. Just a three-story, stone office building with a tarnished brass plaque by the front door. Just the sort of place you might walk past every day without a second thought.
“I suspect that is no accident,” said Detective Durand, who sipped her café.

“They have no flair, no style,’ added Nikita.

“Therefore, they are invisible.”

“But I can see the building, it’s right there.”

“Not literally. But it is so nondescript that no one would notice it unless they were looking for it.”

“Ahhh…”

“Where did you see the symbol?”

“The way they did it, it’s very clever.”

“I’m sure it is.”

“Only someone who was just as clever, perhaps even more clever, would see it.”

“Nikita.”

“Yes.”

“Please just tell me where the symbol is.”

“It’s on the roof, part of which is stained glass. It’s lit up at night but only dimly.”

“And you saw it when?”

“I was flying over the Arrondissement one evening, and I noticed it. It was odd, not the oddest thing I’d ever seen but it stuck with me.”

Durand contemplated pointing out that any number of flying creatures might’ve made the same discovery but it felt petty to her. It was a solid lead.

“Can you become unseen?”

“Sick of me already?”

“No, but I’d like to know what’s inside.”

“Can’t you just go in?”

“Can you become unseen?”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“Neither did you.”

Nikita sighed.

“Yes, I can become unseen.”

“Wonderful. Please do so.”

“Why not just go in and show your insignia?”

“A visit from the Gendarmes tends to put people ill at ease.”

“So do ghosts.”

“Nikita, are you scared?”

The spirit avoided her eyes and said, “Why would I be?”

“If you are unseen, they will have no idea you are even there.”

“Of course.”

“You have nothing to worry about.”

“But these are the people who, you know…”

She drew a finger across her throat.

“That’s unclear.”

“Why does that not make me feel any better?”

“I think the disappearance of ghosts is not a deliberate attack. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. No connections in history, location, or age. Other than being spirits, they are unrelated.”

“Are you saying I’ll be safe?”

“It’s highly unlikely if you stay unseen and are careful that anything will happen to you.”

“Okay.”

“If you don’t wish to continue, I won’t force you. But being a Gendarme is a calling with risk. It’s not for everyone.”

“You’re a bit of a bastard.”

Durand shrugged and drank some café.

“Only in the name of justice.”

Nikita laughed.

“Fine, I’ll go. But if I don’t come back in five minutes, come and get me.”

“Ten.”

“Seven.”

“All right.”

Fading away, Nikita glided across the street and through the dull, wooden doors of the building in question. A desk with a woman stationed behind it sat in the center of the lobby. The interior décor, if you could call it such, matched the outside in mood. Faded tiles covered the floor, the pattern long since worn down from footsteps. Metal stairways, painted in a drab, institutional green lead up three flights above.

As she floated further in, she saw that the lobby was an atrium that rose to the stained glass skylight, in which was the spider symbol. While it was a sunny day, the light that shone through the glass was somehow drained of brightness and warmth.

Moving to the stairway, she still had the impulse to use them despite her lack of legs when an unpleasant sensation occurred. Unease? Not quite, there was something else mixed in. It felt like…pain. She hadn’t felt that since before she died. What metal were the steps made of?

She floated for a moment, fighting the urge to flee. If she couldn’t go upstairs, maybe there was something in the basement. Moving to the center of the lobby, Nikita began to descend.

As she did, she was jerked upward as a pattern of tiles beneath her flicked into an intricate unbroken circle binding her to the spot. With frantic ambition, she threw herself against the barrier but it did not budge.

The woman behind the desk looked at the circle and was about to press a button when the front doors burst open.

“I am Detective Durand of the Fantôme Investigation Squad, and I am looking for a rogue spirit!”

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Take Me to the Fair-Arrondissement Part Thirty Four

           Fire erupted from the crystal chimera’s mouths to the audience’s delight as the barker called out.

“Madams and Monsieurs! This is but one of the many wonders that await you inside! You will hear the wisdom of the murmuring of the Thirteen Serpents, what will they tell you about your future? Listen to the song of the silken woman, she sings so beautifully, that joys forgotten will return to you! Gaze upon the City Captured in a Teardrop, it’s said that if you look too closely, you will be trapped…FOREVER! So be warned. All this and so much more for the low price of three copper concepts!!

            Monsieur L’Horloge ate some soup on a stick while he and Frau Schlüsselherrin made their way through the crowds, followed by the Precise Chevalier and Unbreakable Chevalier who had been assigned to the key mistress.

“This is entirely too dangerous,” said the Precise Chevalier.

“I concur,” replied the Unbreakable Chevalier. 

            Carnival workers dressed in bright costumes moved through the crowds, eliciting delighted gasps and screams. The sounds of tiny calliopes wove in and out of earshot. A group of teens swarmed around and through them with a burst of laughter and shouts and then were gone. After which, both Precise and Unbreakable removed their hands from their swords, slowly.

“Please try and relax, I know you can’t so don’t say so. But try not looking as if you are about to kill someone,” said Frau Schlüsselherrin as she bought a ring of witbier.

“We do not take lives heedlessly,” said Unbreakable.

“But we will do what is necessary,” added Precise, “But this feels…Reckless.”

“Maxi would not trust you, alone,” said the clockmaker, “We must be here.”

            Unbreakable was about to protest.

“I know you all swore an oath.”

“Multiple ones,” added the key mistress.

“But I’ve known her for years, and she trusts me,” said L’Horloge.

The two Chevaliers nodded with resignation.

“Which one are we looking for?’ asked Unbreakable.

“Tortoiseshell.”

            They continued to wander, each alert. Occasionally, L’Horloge would see another Chevalier roaming nearby. It was fortunate that their armor was so unusual as it allowed them to mingle with the fairgoers with anonymity.

             He did not think that his observation would be as amusing to them as it was to him. Zsófia would’ve laughed. Dropping his soup on a stick into a rubbish bin, he continued to search

            After an hour of seeing delights of every shape, size, color, and scent, he felt drained. This was a waste of-

“Look!” said Schlüsselherrin who grabbed his arm.

            Sitting atop a woven pillar, was a tortoiseshell cat. She regarded them with a regal impatience and leapt off. They followed her to the “Maison de Joie.” This was a popular attraction where those who entered navigated through mazes of mirrors. Rooms where you suddenly found yourself walking on the ceiling. Then sliding down tubes to vast fields that would allow you to leap into the air. Or so the mouthpiece in front proclaimed as they bought tickets. The cat was not charged admission.

“This is a-“

“-perfect place for an ambush.”

             L’Horloge and Schlüsselherrin ignored this, not because they disagreed but it had been said seven times previously that evening. Nothing good would come from rehashing it an eighth time. 

            They moved from room to room, sometimes without trying and encountered many sudden and unexpected challenges. The frictionless loop was particularly frustrating but once they figured out the trick, they escaped. At the end of a long, tiled corridor, sat the Tortoiseshell, waiting for them.

            Upon reaching the cat, after walking around in a corkscrew pattern, as gravity dictated, she gave them an annoyed look and leapt through the wall. With a deep breath, they followed.

            It was a cozy room, lots of pillows on the floor, velvet curtains on the wall, lit by oil lamps. The Tortoiseshell was already curled up on a particularly comfortable cushion and apparently asleep.  

“Monsieur L’Horloge, it is a genuine pleasure to see you!” said Maxi who emerged from behind a curtain.

            They embraced and she looked at him.

“What is wrong?”

“Zsófia was…abducted.”

“I’m so sorry, but I’m sure she is fine.”

“How would you know that?” asked Precise, whose hand rested on her sword.

“Because if she was taken, it was as a bargaining chip, they clearly want leverage over my friend her,” Maxi said as she laid a hand on Monsieur L’Horloge’s arm.

“You seem to know quite a bit about this,” rumbled Unbreakable.

“The reason for that is that I’ve been paying attention.”

“Have you now?”

“Yes, but I can see you haven’t,” replied Maxi.

            Precise and Unbreakable exchanged looks.

“Ich glaub mein Schwein pfeift!” exclaimed Frau Schlüsselherrin, “Everyone stop this foolishness. Chevaliers, you are here to protect all of us, not to look for trouble that is not here.”

            Maxi laughed.

“And you! Don’t be so smug. If you were truly safe, you would not have asked for help! How long can you live under a carnival attraction?”

            After a moment of awkward silence, Maxi said, “Please forgive me key mistress, I am grateful for all this aid.”

            Both Chevaliers knelt and uttered, “We swear to ensure your safe passage back to the Tower Cerulean, by our blades and our lives.”

“My thanks, brave Chevaliers.”

“Well then, we should leave, I think,” said Monsieur L’Horloge, who hated social uncomfortability.

            Precise and Unbreakable leapt to their feet.

“We need two more things,” said Maxi, pulling back a curtain.

“Hello everyone, I’m Olivia.”

            This was more perplexing than awkward. And yet…

“And you are?” asked Schlüsselherrin.

            Olivia pulled a long chain from underneath her blouse. Dangling at the end was…

“The key!”

“We should make haste,” said Precise.

“I will take the vanguard, you should cover the back,” replied Unbreakable.

“Agreed. How do we get out?”

“Follow me,” said Maxi who threw back the curtains and slid the wall aside.

            They climbed several flights of stairs and hurried down a hallway, all of which were thankfully not designed for amusement. Maxi produced masks for all of them and with that, they exited. 

            Festivities were still in full swing, people lined up to ride the Faraday wheel. Cheers could be heard from the dirigible fights. The enticing smells food, savory and sweet, wafted through the air as the Chevaliers discreetly nodded to their compatriots who followed them at a distance. 

            They reached the egress intact, but not unobserved.

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Dangling Threads-Arrondissement Part Thirty Three

The day had started cool and rainy, but by noon, it was unseasonably warm, though still overcast. A small gathering of ghosts, their ectoplasm washed out even in the gloomy light, hovered near the worn tombstone. Madame Rosamund and Mr. Twig were the only living mourners. The chorus of the passed finished their ghastly hymn and then the Necro-Deacon arose before them and spoke.

“Etitan Chardin was loved, not just for his wit and charm, but also for his embrace of spirithood. He had many admirers amongst the living for his work on the stage, and he loved them back. Never angry or bitter, he did not haunt out of malice, and whatever kept him from passing on, he did not share. Many spirits have disappeared and we can only hope that our friend concluded his business and moved on. These are dark times, but we must be strong. I say so verily.”

Everyone replied “Verily,” though with little enthusiasm. With that, the grieving exchanged platitudes then dispersed, fading away to their sepulchers or crypts, leaving Madame Rosamund and Mr. Twig to walk to the gate, silent save for their footsteps. Waiting for them, was Detective Durand and the spirit of a chic young woman the barkeep did not recognize.

“My condolences Madame Rosamund,” said the detective.

“You followin’ me?”

“I read about Monsieur Chardin’s final funeral and came to pay my respects.”

“Really?”

“Does that surprise you?”

“You never met him, did you?”

“I didn’t have the pleasure, I’m afraid.”

“But here you are.”

“I can see the loss has affected you deeply.”

“You takin’ a peek into my soul?”

“If I could do that, my job would be much easier.”

Madame Rosamund began to leave and Mr. Twig followed.

“I was referring to your hair.”

She stopped.

“Grief can affect us in profound ways, sometimes even physically. Your hair didn’t just go white, it’s difficult to describe…”

“It’s colorless,” added the chic ghost.

Detective Durand snapped her fingers.

“Exactly! Well spotted. When did this happen?”

“After…after I heard about Etitan’s final funeral. Just woke up like this.”

“It must have been a great shock.”

“I thought he was just…“

“Yes?”

“Well, I can’t rightly say where he was, but I didn’t think he was really gone.”

“So many missing spirits.”

“Why don’t you investigate that?”

“That is exactly what I’m doing.”

Madame Rosamund took a lunge at Durand, stopping just short of knocking her over. Mr. Twig did not move but exuded what might be called a still readiness.

“I don’t see a lot of-“

“You’re grieving so I won’t take it personally. Please take comfort in that I will pursue this until answers have been found.”

All stood still, waiting for something to happen.

“Merci,” said Mr. Twig

Madame Rosamund stepped back and said, “Thank ya kindly. Iffin’ you don’t mind, it’s been a rough day.”

“Of course,” replied Durand, who produced a card and handed it to Mr. Twig, “If you think of anything that might help, please do not hesitate to contact me, day or night.”

“Of course,” said Mr. Twig, who bowed his head.

“Let’s go,” said Madame Rosamund as they both left the necropolis.

Once they were alone, Nikita turned to Durand.

“What was that all about?”

“A dangling thread.”

“Is she a murderer?”

“I’m not sure, but she hasn’t been entirely honest with me.”

“Don’t people lie to gendarmes?”

“If they didn’t, I’d be out of a job. Now, take me to where you saw the symbol.”

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Down to the Bone-Arrondissement Part Thirty Two

“I’m afraid you cannot speak to the patient, it’s simply out of the question.”

Sergeant Gendarme Arpin held up his hands.

“I don’t need to speak with him, we only need-“

“To see his medical records and speak with his chirurgeon,” said Doctor Flandrin.

The director of the Manoir de la Lune flared his nostrils.

“That is if that is not an inconvenience,” added Aprin.

“The Manoir de la Lune is dedicated to the psycho-hygiene of our patients, and as such, we strictly avoid disturbances to the environment.”

“Don’t be a bigger idiot than you were in school, Andre!” spat Doctor Flandrin, “We don’t need to speak to the patient! All we require is to look over the records and speak to the chirurgeon who treated him! Just nod as if you understand!”

“Good day gentlemen! Behind you is the door, please make use of it immediately!”

Arpin sighed and stood.

“I’m sorry to hear that. I will need to go to the Tribunal for a writ of discovery. It will take time but we will return. I had hoped that you might help with our investigation. Now I will be discrete but if the fourth estate gets wind of this, I fear that the public will misinterpret your intent. Such is life, good day.”

“Is that a threat?”

“No director, just a theory of what might happen. You’ll forgive me, but it is an occupational quirk for someone who does what I do. Possibilities suggest themselves unbidden.

With that, he and Doctor Flandrin began to leave. Just as they reached the door.

“Wait.”

They turned.

“The Manoir de la Lune is a friend of justice. Let it not be said otherwise.”

Doctor Flandrin snorted and the director ignored it. He pressed a button on his desk and a large orderly entered.

“Gustav, please escort our guests to chirurgeon Berthod’s office.”

The hallways of the Manoir de la Lune were tiled in silver and white, with a seemingly abstract pattern that suggested a soothing pearly light. After being lead through several long corridors, they arrived.

Berthod had kind eyes and wore his salt and pepper hair very short with an accompanying beard. He gestured for Arpin and Flandrin to sit.

“What can I do for you?”

“You were the chirurgeon who worked on Jules Thibault when he was brought in?”

“I was on call when he was brought in, terrible business.”

“In what way?” asked Arpin.

“He was in a kind of rage, it took six orderlies to restrain him.”

“Kind of rage? Is that your diagnosis?” said Flandrin.

“No, that is not a clinical term,” replied Berthod calmly as he opened a bright red folder, “The patient displayed preternatural strength but a lack of outward emotional expression.”

“Did you even test-“ began Flandrin.

“Of course, we tested for alchemical enhancements as well and non-arcane stimulants but all tests came back negative. I wish I could tell you how he tossed full-grown people about like toys but I’ve no idea.”

“How are you treating him?”

“We’ve had to put him in an induced fugue, otherwise he would be a danger to himself and others.”

“I see,” said Arpin, “Doctor, if you would please?”

Flandrin took out a binder from his attaché and opened it up.

“I did the post-mortis on the burglar who broke into that famous clock-maker’s home. He was electrocuted.”

“What did you discover?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary, at first. There was no blood to draw so I couldn’t run any tests, not that I had any reason to. However, once the Sergeant Gendarme told me about Monsieur Thibault’s fantastic strength, I did a more thorough post mortis.”

“In what way?”

“I dissected him.”

“But that is your job, isn’t it?”

“True, but I removed all his flesh, down to the bones. He was burned very badly so I needed to soak his body to make it possible to remove the tissue. Let me tell you he was very- ”

“I think the chirurgeon gets the idea, doctor,” interjected Arpin.

“He was a Monsieur Tout-le-monde so there are no angry family members,” added Flandrin.

“Please show what you found.”

Flandrin took a handful of daguerreotypes and spread them on the desk. Berthod squinted at them then took a magnifying glass to look closer.

“What am I looking at?”

“Tiny glyphs, carved into the bones and inlaid with gold.”

“Pardon?”

“I know it’s unbelievable.”

“It’s impossible! No one could survive this! It’s monstrous! To do this to a living person, I can’t imagine…”

Berthod leaned back in his chair and shook his head. Arpin could smell his horror, it reminded him of ammonia and wet smoke.

“It speaks well of your compassion chirurgeon Berthod, but we wondered if you noticed anything similar in your examination of Monsieur Thibault?”

“What?”

“Did Thibault have any scars indicating that-“

“No!”

“I did have to ask.”

“No one could survive that! A living body could not recover from it. I have no idea how that was done but it is an abomination.”

“Mysteries abound chirurgeon Berthod.”

They sat in silence for a while, each lost in their thoughts while birds sang outside the window, unaware and joyful.

“What do they mean? Those symbols.”

Arpin stroked his whiskers and said, “We’ve sent copies to experts that we consult with and they think that they would enhance physical strength, reflexes as well as heighten one’s resistance to pain.”

“Terrifying.”

“Indeed, but they also think that it comes at a cost, as these sorts things often do.”

“Whatever it is, it is too high a price,” said Berthod.

“For most absolutely, but clearly not for all.”

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Dinner Conversation-Arrondissement Part Thirty One

There were no two ways about it, her outfit was ruined. Zsófia knew it was ridiculous, she had much bigger problems at the moment, but still, she loved that outfit. It was the perfect mix of librarian demureness and slightly naughty. Difficult to pull off. She wore it because she knew it would make Monsieur L’Horloge smile.

The door on the other side of the bars unlocked and one of Bland People came in with a paper sack of food. She called them that because they had little to no fashion sense, clad in dull browns, faded tan and nondescript greys. They tended to blend into the background even when they were the only other person present.

“Stand back please.”

She did so. After several escape attempts, they learned their lesson. First, they put her in a cell with only vertical bars. She was able to squeeze through them quite easily. Second, they put her in one with both vertical and horizontal bars, she wasn’t able to slither through but the tin plate they brought her meals on made a wonderful improvised weapon and shield, after that her food was placed in a paper bag. She had not yet weaponized that but she had some ideas.

The cell door swung open, the food sack was tossed in. Her meal was some bread, cheese, a bit of cured sausage and an apple. Not fancy but decent food, she didn’t eat as well when she was a poor student.

Turning, the Bland Person was about to leave when she said, “Wait please!”

With measured movement, the Bland Person turned.

“What do you desire?”

“Freedom,” said Zsófia
.
“I cannot do that.”

“Never hurts to ask.”

“Is that all?”

“Will you stay with me while I eat?”

A moment of pondering followed.

“I will.”

The Bland Person, who Zsófia now noticed was a woman sat down on a stool as far away as she could and still be in the same room. Zsófia took a nibble of the sausage, not bad.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“It is not important.”

“I disagree! Names are very important! My name means wisdom.”

The Bland Person did not reply.

“So you don’t have a name.”

“All things have names.”

“Then what is your name?”

“My name is not important.”

“Of the Ville De Marseille Importants?”

A blank stare followed the question.

“It was a joke.”

“I understand. You inferred that I indicated that my first name was ‘Not’ and that my surname was ‘Important.’”

“Yes, I-“

“And that you knew of a family of that same name residing in Ville De Marseille.”

“Just a little-“

“Even though it is very likely no surname ‘Important’ and any parent of that linage naming their child ‘Not’ would be a cruelty.”

Zsófia took a bite of the cheese.

“This was your joke?”

“It was,” replied Zsófia.

“I understand.”

As she ate, Zsófia wondered if this was some sort of torture. If so, it was of a marvelous subtlety. Not Important, as she now thought of this particular Bland Person sat silently but keep her eyes on her.

“How long will you keep me here?”

“Until we get what we want.”

“That’s a little vague, don’t you think?”

“It is. But is still true.”

“May I ask what it is exactly that you want?”

“No. But it is in the best interest that we get it.”

Zsófia laughed.

“In whose best interest?”

“Everyone’s.”

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Hope and Friendship-Arrondissement Part Thirty

“How many times have you taken that apart?” asked Frau Schlüsselherrin.

Monsieur L’Horloge gently screwed in the back of the chronoton and then slowly wound it up.

“It keeps running slightly slow,” he said holding it up to his ear.

After a moment, he put it down and shook his head.

“Still not perfect.”

The key mistress put her much larger hand over his.

“There is still hope.”

Both of them paused, the only sound, the faint tick-tock of the alleged slow-running timepiece. Withdrawing his hand, Monsieur L’Horloge leaned back in his chair and lowered his head.

“I’m holding on to that, but…”

“She would want-“

Standing suddenly, he knocked over his chair and began to pace about the room the Coterie du Honor had provided him.

“I think she would want to be safe and whole! She would desire to not be at best missing and at worst-“

Grabbing him by the arms, Frau Schlüsselherrin stopped his frantic stride.

“Look at me!”

He did so, eyes full of an earnest panic.

“These Chevaliers are looking for her, they swore to find her. You remember?”

An image of kneeling and oaths flashed in his head.

“They also swore to protect her. That did not go so well.”

“True, but I think that they will do much to recover her. For them, it is a matter of honor. They take that very seriously.”

“They take everything seriously.”

“Yesterday, I hear one swear that she would bring back the runniest cheese in all of the Arrondissement!”

“I hope she also swore to get the freshest bread to spread it on,” he said.

“Mein Gott! We must warn her at once!” cried the key mistress.

They both laughed. To an observer, it might appear to be manic. But to them, it was a relief. Staggering to their chairs, tears falling down their faces, their amusement reduced to a simmer.

“Merci.”

“You are very welcome.”

“I don’t suppose I’ve ever told you who we met?” asked the watchmaker.

“No, but given that we’ve feuded for years, it’s understandable.”

“It seems so silly now, I’m sorry I was such a dolt.”

“Well, I might have some of the blame,” she said with a smile.

“A little perhaps.”

“A little.”

“We met at a party-“

“I thought you hated parties?”

“Very much, so disorderly. People all jammed into a place too small to hold them. Dreadful.”

“But you went to this one?”

“I did. An old friend of mine, a singer, insisted that I come because she wanted an excuse to leave early, which I was supposed to provide. We were only supposed to be there long enough for one drink. But as soon as we were through the door, she disappeared.”

“Why didn’t you just leave?”

“I had promised to help my friend.”

“Your code of honor?”

“Yes, I think so. I had more than one drink, as one does, and was contemplating finding my friend when I felt a tap on my shoulder and there she was. She looked at me and said, ‘Everyone I’ve talked to tonight is boring. I hope you aren’t.’”

“Was she drunk?”

“Probably, but then again, so was I. I said, ‘Do you think time is boring?’ ‘Depends on whom I’m spending it with,’ she replied. So I then give her a brief history of chronotons.”

“How long before she left?”

“That’s the thing. She didn’t. I go on and on about the seven different schools of gear work, self-winding versus manual versus time goblin and so many other topics, all related to chronotons. I got into some very detailed techniques.”

“I thought you said ‘a brief history’?”

“How long would a brief history of keys and locks take?”

Frau Schlüsselherrin pondered that and said, “Point taken.”

“Now I’ve been going on and on, even I’ve lost track of time and I ask her if she has any questions. She looks at me thoughtfully and says, ‘Would you like to get out of here?’ I say absolutely, and we leave. We have dinner where she tells me she’s a librarian, I have many questions about that, which pleases her. Then more drinks and more talking and then, cafés as the sun rose.”

“Quite a story.”

“It hardly seems real. Most people outside my profession don’t have the patience to hear about the details. I’ve always wondered why she listened.”

“Why didn’t you ask her?”

He smiled sadly, “I was afraid it would be like breaking a spell.”

“I know why.”

“Pardon?”

“Would you like to know?”

“Do I?”

“You do.”

“Then please tell me.”

He leaned in with cautious anticipation.

“She told me the same story, from her point of view. And she said, ‘I didn’t understand most of what he said, but he loved his work and clearly didn’t care if anyone else did. He has a pure passion!’”

“Zsófia said that?”

“Yah. Also, the fact you didn’t ask her why a librarian was at a raucous party helped.”

“It never occurred to me.”

“Seems to have worked out.”

“It did.”

They sat for a while. Neither spoke but it was a comfortable quiet. It was broken when a screwdriver was knocked on the floor. Sitting on the desk/worktable was a black cat.

“How did you get in here?” asked Frau Schlüsselherrin.

The cat regarded her with a look that implied that was an absurd question.

“Hold on,” said Monsieur L’Horloge, who scratched the cat behind the ears. Purring ensued, the cat closed his eyes and raised his head, revealing a…

“Note!”

Unrolling it, both of them read.

“Let’s get the Chevaliers.”

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