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The Almagest Expedition


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[indent][right][size="4"][b][font="garamond"]The Wedding[/font][/b] [/size][/right]

[left][size="1"]Fauntleroy Almagest exited his steamcar with a smile on his face. Recently life had been hard on Czenoviaâ??s most famous family, but for the first time in years the Almagests had a reason to celebrate. It was a beautiful summerâ??s day at the Brigit Town Aerodrome, and in less than an hour his sister Beatriste Elyse was to be married. The Chronicle hailed her pairing to Cole Dreadnaught as the â??Wedding of the Century,â?? and like everything with the Almagest no expense would be spared.

â??[b]Today is an important day, Fauntleroy,[/b]â? a familiar voice said from behind. He turned around to discover his father, Leonhart, standing before him with a small package in his arms, â??[b]This will go a long way towards easing tension between Czenovia and Anova.[/b]â?

â??[b]Yes, Iâ??m sure,[/b]â? Fauntleroy replied as he rolled his eyes, â??[b]I hear Beatriste is quite fond of Cole as wellâ?¦[/b]â?

â??[b]Be that as it may, when youâ??ve reached a certain age matters of the heart are no longer your primary concern. I trust youâ??re going to be on your best behavior in front of the Achards.[/b]â?

â??[b]Itâ??s not me you have to worry about, father. From what I hear Macey nearly strangled the help over a mismatched flower arrangement. [/b]â?

"[b]Given her... [i]history[/i] with the Achard men, it is understandable. You know how tense these social functions get when Macey Ellen has to deal with the Anovans.[/b]"

"[b]I don't know about that. These social functions get tense when Macey Ellen has to deal with [i]anyone[/i].[/b]"

Given the nature of the celebration, it was only fitting that the ceremonies take place on the most luxurious airship in Czenovia, Gustave Achardâ??s beloved [i]Alaina[/i]. The two approached an enormous vertical ramp leading up to the deck, and were greeted by a concierge.

â??[b]Welcome aboard the [i]Alaina[/i], gentlemen,[/b]â? the man said, "[b]Gustave Achard has put forth every consideration to ensure that this day is without fault. Allow me to take your package, Lord Almagest.[/b]â?

Leonhart shook his head, â??[b]Noâ?¦ thank you. Iâ??d very much like to give this to Lord Dreadnaught personally.[/b]â?

â??[b]Very well, sir. Is there anything else I may assist you both with?[/b]â?

Fauntleroy raised an eyebrow, â??[b]If youâ??d be ever so kind, where might an attractive socialite be able to secure a beverage?[/b]â?

â??[b]Apologies sir. The bar is to remain closed until after the ceremonies.[/b]â?

â??[b]What? Is that some sort of Anovan tradition?[/b]â?

â??[b]Iâ??m afraid not, sir. That is the result of very specific demands on the part of your sisters.[/b]â?

â??[b]Smart girls,[/b]â? Fonty said as he withdrew a small flask from his jacket pocket, â??[b]Iâ??ll try my best not to make a scene. Where are they, anyway?[/b]â?

â??[b]The Almagest women are preparing for this afternoon on the third deck. If youâ??d like I can send someone to accompany you.[/b]â?

â??[b]Iâ??ll be fine, thank you,[/b]â? he replied, noticing a familiar set of figures approaching the ship in the distance, â??[b]If I do happen to get lost, at least it will be time spent away from the Achardsâ?¦[/b]â?[/size][/left]

[size="4"][b][font="garamond"]Landmark 01[/font][/b] [/size][/center][/indent][/blockquote]
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[indent][center][img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/gustave_achard-1.jpg[/img] [img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/olivier_achard.jpg[/img][/center]
[font=garamond][size=4][right][B]Aboard the Alaina[/B][/right][/font][/size][font=palatino linotype]
Gustave stood before a tall mirror, his brow furrowed. The golden brown tie sat to one side of his chest, with its lop-sided knot seemingly grinning up at him. This moment reminded him why he disliked ties.

Just as he went to battle the tie further, he felt a firm tap on the shoulder. When he turned around, he saw his uncle, Olivier. Uncle and nephew were sharing one of the [i]Alaina's[/i] guest rooms; the main suite was dedicated to Beatriste and Cole. No doubt Beatriste was receiving the final touches on her wedding gown at that very moment.

'You were always terrible with these things,' muttered Olivier with a faint smile. He adjusted and tightened Gustave's knot. 'There, now you look fit for a wedding.'

Olivier had changed greatly over the past three years. He had aged substantially since Evangeline's death. When one looked close enough, though, it was possible to see the faint embers of a youthful exhuberance in his eyes.

'I hope the tables are ready by now,' said Gustave. 'I did hear some commotion earlier about flower arrangements...'

Olivier busied himself at a writing desk in the corner as Gustave spoke. He produced several papers, which Gustave had never seen before; in fact, he had thought that particular desk was empty. He promptly folded the papers and pushed them into his suit pocket.

'I'm sure everything will be fine, Gustave. Today is a grand day for our country; we will show what warm and generous hosts we can be for the Czenovians. You should just try to enjoy it.'

Olivier straightened his jacket and glanced down at his pocket watch. 'We should visit the deck and greet the guests before the ceremony starts,' he said. 'Do you know where Belmonda is?'

'I saw her about an hour ago,' replied Gustave. 'I just hope she and Macey aren't sitting near each other; we don't want a political debate on a wedding day.'

Olivier chuckled. 'I'm sure Belmonda knows all about the appropriate protocol for such an occasion.'

'But does Macey?'

'Possibly not, but if she says something out of turn, I suspect old Leonhart will have a few thoughts about that,' laughed Olivier. 'He is a gentleman of the highest order. In fact, I must go and greet him now - I would very much like to know how he's getting on.'

And with that, Olivier disappeared out the door, bound for the third deck.

Gustave went to follow him and then paused. He reached into his pocket.

[i]Where is it...[/i]

'Aha!' he said aloud. He produced the object from his pocket and examined it in the morning light. It was a small wooden chimaera. It had [i]Victoria Ann[/i] engraved on its side. Gustave smiled to himself and placed it carefully back into his pocket. He did not want to forget it, as it was a special gift for a young lady he was most eager to see.[/font][/indent]
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[LEFT][COLOR="DarkOrchid"][FONT="Times New Roman"][i]Having properly berated the unfortunate rube who mistook daffodils for merely yellow amaryllis, Macey Ellen Almagest had left her elder sister in the capable hands of her maidservants, who were at the moment most likely setting the pins in the heavy veil that Macey had altered slightly to move of it's own volition, as if in it's own private wind.

Meanwhile, being tended by her own maidservants, Macey was bracing herself between the frames of the dressing room door, holding her breath in while she was being laced into a lilac and silver jacquard corset, ringed with lace and silk, guaranteed for a disaster if there was rain. In the mirror, she saw her recalcitrant brother appearing, and he gave her a wicked smile, while holding up the chased silver flask that Macey had forgotten to relieve him of. She sighed and cast her eyes heavenward as if to beg the gods she didn't believe in for a brief respite. Then, as her maidservants withdrew and pronounced her complete, she fastened the clasp of a crystal teardrop pendant at her neck and turned, fixing him with a rather distant frown. [/i]

"Did you have to bring along your beloved bottle?"

"Alas my darling sister, without it I am lost!"

"And they're worried I'll be the one making a scene. Hah!"

[i]Fonty draped himself across the chaise lounge that Macey had been hoping to sit down on herself, and assumed the very picture of a bereaved elegant gothic aristocrat. Macey pressed a cream and white handkerchief into the waistband of her skirt and settled for the other chair sitting across from the lounge. As she did, Fonty leaned forward sprightly and offered her the flask.[/i]

"Little flavor? Take the edge off?"

"Don't mind if I do."

[i]Throwing caution to the winds, Macey took a swig and passed it back, twisting her mouth just slightly as the taste of lighter fluid washed over her tongue.[/i]

"So are you going to make an enormous scene this time with one of those Archard women?"

"This time?! Last time there was a scene I recall it was my darling twin who bathed my ex husband's shirt with champagne."

"Oh... That's true isn't it? Well that's alright. Father just asked me to ask you to please keep your temper in check."

[i]Macey adjusted a comb in her hair and gave him an airy smile and flick of the hand.[/i]

"I'm assisting Beatriste as one of her maids of honor, I'm going to be busy killing the next oaf who ruins a perfectly good flower arrangement. I won't have time to lose my temper with any noble. Although I suppose if one accidentally was tipped off the balcony that could be blamed on excessive drinking or something drea-"

"Oh Macey. You wouldn't!"

"You're right."

[i]Macey flashed him a wicked look, which somehow was even more eerie now that she was no longer perpetually dressing herself in black. Fonty stood as if by accident, and took her arm, the two leaving the dressing room to go out on the main deck. Macey gathered the sheaf of flowers waiting on the corner table for her and gave a nod to the other girls who were lined up in similar dresses, holding perfectly matched bouquets, no thanks to the morons in charge of the flowers.[/i][/FONT][/COLOR][/LEFT]
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[FONT="Book Antiqua"]It was a beautiful day in Czenovia. The sunlight gleamed down on the countryside, giving a warm glow to the landscape. Every farm and field seemed brighter and cheerier than the last.

All of this was lost on Ivan Francis Almagest, as he gazed wistfully out the window of the steamcar.

"Isn't this nice?" asked Diane, a hint of nervousness in her voice, "they even sent us a car! Perhaps we can finally mend ties!"

"Yeah, and perhaps Great Uncle Leonheart has invented some new fantastic machine to bring Dad back to life."

This comment managed to shut down communication for a good portion of the rest of the trip. Indeed, Brigit Town was looming on the horizon before any further words were exchanged.

"Son, please try to keep that ugly business out of this wedding. This steamcar proves their willingness to accept us again."

Ivan turned to his mother. "Mom, if they really wanted to reach out, they would have done it three years ago when we were in mourning. This steamcar is a pity move."

"Ivan, please be reasonable."

"As long as I don't see that murdering bastard uncle of mine-"


"-I'll try to stay civil. The others I have no quarrel with."

Diane, taking this as a conversation ender, spoke no more.

"Your stop," said the driver, pulling up at the airfield.

Ivan and Diane exited the steamcar and prepared to board the [I]Alania[/I].

[I]If I do see Uncle Dawlish, though,[/I] thought Ivan, [I]things will definitely get a little more... exciting around here.[/I][/FONT]
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Juste toyed with the invitation his parents had sent to him. He had heard of the upcoming wedding since the Priestess Waltier was performing the ceremony and he had been assigned to accompany her again. He had just forgotten that his family would be invited to the affair anyway.

His parents might not bother to keep up with the others, but it didn?t stop them from still receiving various invitations for social events. And if he remembered correctly, Cole Dreadnaught was a friend of his mother?s brother Oliver. And naturally she had sent it to him, along with a gift to deliver. Which was her way of saying that she would not be attending.

Juste ignored the surroundings as he approached the ramp leading up to the Alaina where the ceremony would be held. He was wearing a slightly nicer version of his cleric outfit. It was virtually identical to the everyday tunic and trousers he normally wore. The only difference was that the light blue material was a softer weave, and the trim and buttons had the symbol of the phoenix on them instead of the usual plain material.

He paused to make sure he had a firm grip on the present before heading up the ramp. The concierge gave him an odd look, which didn?t surprise him since the Priestess Waltier had already arrived hours ago. Juste just held out his invitation.

?[B]Welcome aboard the [I]Alaina[/I],[/B]? he finally replied. ?[B]If you?ll allow me to take your package for you?[/B]?

?[B]Of course.[/B]? Juste was only too glad to get rid of it. ?[B]Where might I find the other guests?[/B]?

?[B]They?ll be on the second deck sir.[/B]?

?[B]Thanks.[/B]? He nodded and then made his way past the man and into the ship.

Since the Priestess would most likely be preparing for the event, something that he would not be involved in, he was free to do as he pleased. If she had required his aide, she would have told him already.

He immediately noticed that the air ship was far more luxurious than anything he had ever traveled on. It was, by church standards, rather gaudy and overdone. He put it out of mind though, that sort of thing had no place at a wedding.

With the help of a few others he finally found his way to what had to be the second deck. He couldn?t remember the last time he met any of his cousins. [I]I wonder if I?ll even recognize any of them. [/I]
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[FONT="Palatino Linotype"][COLOR="Blue"]
[I]Why must I be here again?[/I]

Natalia didn't know her thoughts had been voiced, but her mother recognized Natalia's disgust at being here. Maria Achard-Lockmere, who insisted on keeping her maiden name after marrying, seemingly ignored her oldest daughter's angst and made herself comfortable as she exited the steamcar to approach the [I]Alaina. [/I]

[B]"Well we are here now so you may as well enjoy it. Besides there may be an upstanding man for you to meet." [/B]

Natalia scoffed at the idea.

[B]"I was busy, you know,"[/B] she started her voice taking on a child-like quality as she continued her statement. [B]"Working at the Junction and then a letter comes stating 'of the utmost urgency' that I return home. I honestly thought something happened with you or father. Yet, it was just a ploy of yours to have me come to this wedding.And now you're here talking of me meeting an upstanding man. I must say I am quite jealous of father, he didn't have to be dragged along".[/B]

Maria turned to look at her. Those around would know they were mother and daughter. Maria had a much more refined look to her pale, but healthy tone and dark eyes, with a face that was beginning to show signs of aging. Natalia echoed her mother in height, built and facial structure but her outdoor lifestyle led to an even tan that had yet to leather the young girl's skin, and blue eyes that captured the color of the noon sky.

Maria moved close to her daughter.

[B]"Now listen here Natalia Christine Achard- Lockmere. I have put up with this silly nonsense of you working with those vile beasts for long enough, and you will be reintroduced to society starting today. You are an Achard, and the lifestyle you live is unacceptable. Your father may not think so, but I am abhorred with your choice to live in such squallor."[/B]

Natalia looked deep into her mother's eyes and saw disdain and it only made her fight harder against her mothers wishes. This same argument had occurred many times over the last 5 years, and as always Nataila stood before her mother not staring into the eyes glaring at her.

[B]"Just because I am an Achard, does not mean that I am not a Lockmere. My father praises my choices and is glad that I am living to fulfill my own happiness."[/B]

[B]"How can you call yourself happy when you do nothing to make yourself look dignified, and you choose to be around those foul animals and men? You make a mockery of yourself and your family name."[/B]

Natalia's temper rose sharply and she pushed past her mother as she left the steamcar. She stopped a few feet away, her eyes searching the skies above the airship, seemingly taking in the beauty around her but it was a way to quell the fire that was beginning to boil in her. She stared for a bit longer and she heard her mothers footfalls. Maria seeming thinking the argument was done for now, thinking her daughter would know better than to continue in public, but Nataila began to speak her voice cool and far above a whisper making a few heads turn in their direction.

[B]"I broke down to come to this wedding because both you and father wished it, but if you continue to attack my choices in life, I will leave immediately after this ceremony and you don't have to worry about hearing about Natalia Lockmere, ever again." [/B]

Nataila purposely left Achard off, a signal to her mother that she had no problem, not being considered an Achard. She barely saw her family distant family and she even wondered if they would recognize 'Little Talia', as her older cousins called her when she was a child.

With a glimpse back to her mother, she continued her way to the ramp to board the [I]Alaina.[/I] Though deep inside she wanted to cry, she held a sense of pride and stubborness, and kept her head up. She would bare with the festivities and support the Achard's for as long as it was needed, then she could once again return home. A home among the animals she cared for and helped raised, ones she felt loved her unconditionally.

[B]"Welcome aboard the [I]Alaina[/I].[/B]

The voice snapped Natalia's attention back to reality for a moment, and looked behind seeing her mother's brow wrinkled. She knew the end of this argument was far from over,but Natalia gave the welcoming attendant a smile and continued into the ship, just hoping she could survive this and if even better, away from her mother.[/COLOR][/FONT]
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[FONT="Arial"][CENTER][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Frederic_Achard.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Belmonda_Achard.jpg[/IMG][/CENTER]
Frederic was trying to decide which was more uncomfortable, the suit he was wearing for the wedding or his dress uniform. Both, he decided firmly, after adjusting the stiff collar for what seemed like the hundredth time. At least the regular uniforms for work were moderately comfortable.

Better yet, why was he here again? It wasn?t just because father expected it. He looked over at Bella who in spite of the beautiful dress she was wearing, looked less than thrilled. That?s right, he came because her less than ecstatic look when father had talked to them about the wedding months ago, had resulted in him volunteering before he could think the better of it.

She caught his gaze and laughed at his expression. ?[B]I thought I was the gloomy one here.[/B]? Bella smiled, ?[B]You should cheer up.[/B]?

?[B]Only if you do Bella.[/B]? He teased, earning a tiny frown. ?[B]It can?t be that bad can it?[/B]?

?[B]Oh I don?t know,[/B]? she mused, ?[B]perhaps if there were less Almagests around I might enjoy myself more.[/B]? Her tone of voice was light as if she was joking but Fredric knew better.

Not that he blamed her; he had already heard the rumors from the staff of the [I]Alaina[/I] about how Macey Almagest had berated someone over a simple mistake with one of the flower arrangements. What Vincent had ever seen in her, he?d never understand.

And [I]that[/I] was a line of thought he wasn?t going to follow. It was a wedding after all, whether or not he liked some of the relatives of the intended couple was a moot point. Once the affair was over with, they would return to Le Monde and he wouldn?t have to see any of them for quite some time. If he was lucky, for some of them, that would mean never.

?[B]Well it will be over with soon enough so stop being a grouch?[/B]? He twitted Bella and then pulled away with a grin when she moved to poke him in the side.

?[B]You asked?[/B]? She started to point out and then chuckled in spite of herself. ?[B]Fine, fine, I?ll cheer up. I at least know better than to pick a fight at a wedding.[/B]?

Fredric studied his hand for a moment and then looked back up. ?[B]Of course you do.[/B]? He answered in that voice of disbelief that he knew irritated her so. She hadn?t quite given up after all.

?[B]I at least promise to not be the one to start it, fair enough?[/B]? She fixed him with a glare.

?[B]More than fair oh dear sister of mine?[/B]? He chuckled as she moved to swat him again, a mock serious look on her face barely keeping her own laughter in.[/FONT]
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[font=garamond][size=4][right][B]Edith's Lair[/B][/right][/font][/size]
[font=palatino linotype]A nervous young man stood at the foot of several stone steps, which led towards a heavy, black double-door. It was adorned with two silver knockers, one on each side. An older man waited impatiently at the top of the stairs. He wore an elegant gray tailcoat with matching gloves. He glared down at the young man with a piercing stare.

'Why you?' The servant in gray raised an eyebrow.

The young man fumbled with a large leather portfolio, which he held under his arm. Several pieces of parchment had come loose and he was unsuccessfully trying to stuff them back into their original positions.

'I-I don't know,' stammered the young man. 'I was chosen at the last minute.'

The servant rolled his eyes. 'I see. I suppose none of the regulars were prepared to make the trek to Bourgade today - it is [i]such[/i] a long way from the office, after all.'

A bead of sweat rolled off the young man's forehead and plopped audibly against the elaborate leather portfolio. The front cover contained a large, embossed "G".

The servant glanced down at his watch slowly, ensuring that the full weight of his disapproval was noticed. 'Your name, then?'

The young man looked up briefly. 'Frederic, sir. I only started a week ago, I'm still study--'

The servant raised a gloved hand. 'An [i]intern?[/i] Oh, you must be joking, my boy. There's obviously been an error.'

Frederic shook his head slowly. 'I don't believe so, sir. I was given specific instructions to--'

The servant held his hand up again. 'I do not need your explanations, we are wasting precious time. In case you hadn't noticed, it is now five minutes past nine. Madam expected these layouts five minutes ago. And since Madam sits down at her desk ten minutes early, that means you have kept her waiting for fifteen minutes. I suggest we head straight to her office, otherwise the spring season will have ended by the time you're finished organizing that portfolio.'

In an instant, one side of the double doors swung open. The servant did not gesture Frederic through, but simply walked inside and followed with a quiet "follow me".

Frederic closed the portfolio and fluttered up the stone steps - he somehow felt that if he walked too loudly, he may get in trouble for upsetting [i]Madam[/i].

As the door closed behind him, Frederic's eyes adjusted. The foyer was spacious, but dark. The curtains were drawn everywhere. Slim threads of sunlight flitted through the curtains now and then, revealing columns of dust sitting densely in the air.

The servant was further ahead and seemed to have quickly rounded the first corner. Frederic picked up pace; he did not want to get lost in the mansion on his very first visit.

Frederic did not get much opportunity to examine the mansion's interior, however, he could not help but notice several unique sights from the corner of his eyes. He noticed numerous rooms branching off the corridor he was following. One room seemed to contain the head of some kind of enormous beast - it sat on the far wall and glared into the room with a menacing stare. Yet another room contained several mannequins with various elaborate gowns. The mannequins all bore joyous expressions, but several had deep cracks running across their faces. A shiver ran down Frederic's spine.

The servant abruptly stopped. Frederic nearly ran into him.

'Here,' muttered the servant quietly. He gestured towards a wooden door, which was not unlike any other door Frederic had seen so far. He had imagined Madam's office to be some kind of fantastical place that he and other design students could only have dreamed of. Instead, he came upon a very average, slightly dusty door, which looked identical to its many siblings along the hallway.

As he came closer, however, Frederic noticed a small "G" carved into the door at eye level. The famous G logo was circled with a silver ring. Long silver wings extended from either side.

'Wait,' said the servant abruptly. He opened the door without a sound and disappeared inside. All Frederic could hear was his own heartbeat and the tick of a grandfather clock at the end of the hall.

The door promptly opened. 'Come in. Do not take too much of her time. When you're finished, I will lead you out. You'll find me back in the foyer.' And with that, the servant swept off down the hall.

Frederic gulped. He gripped the portfolio tightly under one arm, took a deep breath and turned the shiny silver door handle.

The inconspicuous door certainly gave a false impression. Beyond it, Frederic found himself enveloped in a cavernous office - it was easily larger than his own home. At least two floors high, the east and western walls were completely hidden by enormous wooden bookshelves. Each wall had a long stepladder attached, which seemed to stretch far into the air. As he looked up, he noticed that the distant ceiling was adorned with stunning paintings - at a brief glance, they seemed to depict historical Anovan scenes, particularly the Mine War.

The office's rear wall was largely made of glass, with an enormous Anovan window stretching from floor to ceiling. It was divided into many hundreds of smaller panes by elaborately carved wooden beams. Frederic could barely see this detail, as the windows were mostly covered by heavy curtains, which billowed out onto the floor.

And there, near the back of the room, sat a modest wooden desk. Several mannequins mingled on either side, some only half-clothed, others with rolls of fabric draped over their shoulders.

In the center of the chaos, Frederic finally saw her; a lone figure sitting at the desk, leaning down over a heavy book. She wore a detailed indigo suit, which seemed to be made from a blend of exotic fibers - as best Frederic could tell from such a distance. Her hair seemed to stretch from her scalp like a thick bundle of black lightning bolts - they intertwined like courting snakes. The long purple cuffs of her shirt draped off her hands. She held a fountain pen in her right hand - as it scribbled away, it seemed to be the only noise in the room.

Frederic was so entranced by his surroundings that at first, he did not notice the time.

'I'm sorry, do you have something better to do? Somewhere else you should be?'

Edith Grimoire's voice was light and airy, yet her precise Anovanique betrayed her obvious intellect.

Frederic gripped the portfolio tightly and approached her desk. Edith did not look at him, but instead continued to pour over the large book in front of her.

As he came closer to her desk, he saw that the giant book was actually a thick sketchbook. Edith seemed to spend much of her time simply examining a few lines, occasionally pausing to add a stroke here or there. She finally looked up at him over her narrow glasses. Her large gray eyes did not blink. Instead, they slowly moved from Frederic's face downward, before settling on the portfolio under his arm.

Edith twisted the pen in her fingertips. 'Show me,' she said flatly.

Frederic took the portfolio from under his arm and opened it. As he went to place it on her desk, a piece of parchment fell out and landed on the floor. The edge was crumpled slightly, as a result of Frederic's earlier attempt to stuff it back into place.

'Oh! I'm sorry,' he stuttered as he leaned down to grab the parchment.

Edith pursed her lips. 'You're studying, aren't you? Fashion, I presume?'

Frederic nodded. He placed the crumpled parchment on her desk. Her eyes seemed to avoid it.

'Tell me, would you ever submit a class project to a tutor in this condition? I assume you take your studies seriously.'

'Oh, well...no, of course I--'

A faint smile crept across Edith's lips. She leaned forward slightly on her elbows. 'You take your studies seriously,' her eyes briefly glanced at the paper, 'but you apparently think your internship is a joke.'

'A joke? No, of course not, I take it very seriously, Madam and I'm sorr--'

Edith's eyes shifted back to her book. 'It may interest you to know,' she began coolly, 'that the design you so carelessly dropped onto the floor is a very important gift. It is a new, completely customized design for Beatriste Almagest. I'm sure I don't have to tell you who the Almagests are.'

'No, I know who they--'

'I did design Beatriste's wedding gown,' Edith continued as she flicked the page on her book, 'but we consulted on that for months. This design is secret, she is not even aware it is being developed. It will be an important gift to symbolize strengthening ties between our nations. Even the Anovan Prime Minister has agreed to pay for half of its cost - it is [i]that[/i] expensive.'

Frederic felt himself sinking. It was as though he were about to sink right into the carpet beneath his feet.

'So, the only master copy of the design we are working on has been crumpled as if it were, well, a piece of garbage. Yet this is perhaps the most important piece of clothing the House has ever produced. Do you understand?'

Frederic nodded slowly. 'Yes, Madam. I'm very sorry, it won't happen again.'

'See that it doesn't,' replied Edith calmly. 'Dismissed.'

When Frederic emerged into the daylight again, he realized that there were two large patches of sweat under his arms. He looked back at the servant, who was returning to the front door.

'Is every visitor so welcome?'

The servant paused but did not turn around. 'Only the lucky ones,' he replied.

Frederic sighed. 'And, if I can ask, how much [i]is[/i] that dress going to be worth? Do you know?'

'Four times as much as the wedding gown,' replied the servant. 'Good day. I suggest you don't loiter.' And with that, the front door closed.

Frederic strained his memory. [i]How much was Beatriste Almagest's wedding gown?[/i] He vividly remembered several staff discussing it over a lunch break. Edith Grimoire had made several rare trips from her mansion to her city office to view the progress. It was unprecedented.

And then, it came to him. [i]Sixty-thousand Crownes, I think...[/i]

Frederic's eyes widened and he nearly choked as the large wrought iron gates at the front of the estate closed behind him.[/font][/indent]
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Victoria Ann stifled a yawn as she watched the maidservants fussing over her mother's wedding gown, veil and hair. She had been ready for what seemed like hours, and why they were fussing so much over anything that just might be slightly off was a mystery to her. [I]You'd think she's never been married before.[/I]

"[B]Stop frowning dear, you look like your pouting when you do that.[/B]"

"[B]What if I am?[/B]" Victoria pointed out. "[B]Come on mom, it's not like it's the first time you've ever been married after all.[/B]" She rolled her eyes. "[B]It's not gonna hurt anything if your dress has a fold out of place or if the wind messes up your hair a tad.[/B]"

"[B]Victoria, you're much too young to understand.[/B]" Her mother said kindly.

Victoria snorted. "[B]No I'm not. I'm too sensible to let something as silly as worrying over a dress being perfect get in the way of having fun.[/B]"

"[B]Why don't you go and check on the guests dear?[/B]" She gave her a knowing glance. "[B]Just make sure you're back here no later than ten till for the ceremony.[/B]"

"[B]I know. Even if I think it's silly I won't be late.[/B]" Victoria paused at the door and looked back. "[B]I'm never late.[/B]" She finished as she closed the door behind her.

Victoria looked at the little pocket watch that she had, there was plenty of time to run around and see what everyone was up to before she had to be back. At least it would be more fun than watching them fuss endlessly over her mother's attire.

Not that looking nice wasn't a good idea, but honestly, her mom and soon to be step dad were way too old to be fussing like a soon to be newlywed couple in her opinion. He seemed nice enough but she wondered if it was just some arrangement since she knew all about marrying for convenience.

[I]One of these days they'll stop treating me like I'm a kid who's too dumb to know what's going on. [/I]She thought as she headed for where the guests would be waiting. [I]I wonder if Gustave and Harrison are here yet?[/I] She wondered.

She had been stuck all morning and afternoon with her mother and the others while they got everything ready. Which had unfortunately had included fussing over her dress as well. [I]I'd better be back at fifteen till since I bet they'll want to check and make sure I didn't get anything dirty. [/I]Not that she would. Victoria sighed a little.

"[B]Honestly,[/B]" she mused to herself as she walked down one of the many corridors of the [I]Alaina[/I], "[B]If getting married is that much of a silly fuss, I'm going to stay single for the rest of my life![/B]" [/FONT][/COLOR]
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[size=1][indent][center][img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Frederic_Achard.jpg[/img] [img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Belmonda_Achard.jpg[/img][/center]
Even with every business in the city closed to celebrate the day’s festivities a steady stream of black smoke could be seen billowing out of the Villette Mines. It poured out of enormous smokestacks endlessly, polluting the otherwise perfect blue Anovan skies. Belmonda Achard turned her head away from the horizon in disgust, looking down at the crowds gathering outside of the aerodrome. As she climbed the ramp leading onto the Alaina she couldn’t help but feel annoyed.

“[b]Although I’m not particularly fond of Cole, I wouldn’t wish this onto my worst enemy. His ‘private ceremony’ is anything but.[/b]”

“[b]Nor would I,[/b] Frederic replied, “[b]Even in Fort Blanc this wedding is all any of the men have been talking about. He’s quite a hero to them you know.[/b]”

“[b]Yes, I read the book during one of my lunch breaks at the museum. Aside from the grammatical errors even I will admit that he has a gift for telling a good story.[/b]”

“[b]And to think the rogue has finally settled down, and with an an Almagest no less.[/b]”

Bella winced, “[b]Seems rather anti-climatic if you ask me.[/b]”

Onlookers couldn’t help but admire the young woman’s hourglass figure, veiled beneath a conservative and ill-fitting green gown. She had owned the dress since her days at Lumière Academy, but had neither the time nor the interest in purchasing a new one. [i]Besides. I’m certainly not trying to impress anyone tonight.[/I]

“[b]Oh it’s not that bad,[/b]” Frederic replied, “[b]From what I recall Beatriste was supposed to be the level-headed one in the bunch.[/b]”

“[b]That’s very amusing brother.[/b]”

“[b]What is that Bella?[/b]”

“[b][i]A level-headed Almagest.[/i] If I didn’t know any better I’d say you were starting to sound like Vincent….[/b]”

Frederic cringed, “[b]Please. As much as I admired our late brother, I’ll never understand his, or our father’s eagerness to ‘make nice’ with that family.[/b]”

The two were greeted by a concierge and Belmonda’s gaze turned to the majestic vessel and the shameless extravagance of the event. Vincent had played this role with Macey Ellen almost a decade before: a sacrificial lamb to Czenovia’s powerful industrialists. Although he ultimately found some common ground within the family he was never at home.

In the letters she had received prior to Vincent’s death Belmonda had learned that her brother was not a well man. She would always blame herself for not doing more to care for him, but she reserved her harshest criticism for the Almagests. To her they would always be the people who stole her brother away, and Czenovia the nation that murdered him.

She turned to Frederic, her eyes beginning to water, “[b]Oh, my….[/b]”


“[b]I’m sorry. I just need a moment to compose myself….[/b]”

“[b]Are you going to be alright?[/b]”

“[b]I’ll be fine,[/b]” Bella wiped a tear from her eye, “[b]I just started to think about everything that has happened. I know it has been a few years but it’s difficult to think of how much we’ve lost.[/b]”

Frederic embraced his sister tightly as they walked along the bridge, “[b]We shouldn’t have attended this farce. I knew visiting Czenovia was only going to upset you.[/b]”

“[b]We’re still in Anova, and don’t you forget it,[/b]” Bella commanded, “[b]As far as I'm concerned Brigit Town rightly belongs to our homeland![/b]”

“[b]Yes, yes. Of course.[/b]” Frederic said with a nod, “[b]Don’t you worry. There are forces at work, dear sister, and Anova will return to its’ former glory soon. I am going to make certain of that.[/b]”[/size][/indent]
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Harrison had spent most of the day watching the proceedings from a distance. It was enlightening to watch the people arriving for the wedding. You could tell a lot just by someone?s body language and it was clear to him that many of the guests arriving were less than thrilled. It was a sentiment that he shared.

He had arrived at Brigit Town the night before, the Air General had insisted on it upon learning about the wedding. It had at least been useful in that he took advantage of the extra time to see about getting a suit so he wouldn?t have to wear his dress uniform. Still it was a shame really; Harrison would have preferred to simply skip it. He had sent an inquiry to Dawlish to see if he would be coming or not, but there had been no reply.

He supposed he shouldn?t be surprised by that. Since he had left the military, other than the occasional message from Dawlish inviting him to leave the military and come work for him at Icarus, he rarely bothered to keep in touch. All other correspondence was solely related to his guardian ship and the fact that Harrison would be turning eighteen in a few months. The legal papers always made him feel odd since he felt much older than he really was.

And receiving his share of his father?s fortune was something he could care less about. Harrison didn?t care about being wealthy, the things he wanted most were already gone, thank to the revolution. It did make him wonder what had happened to Dawlish though. The rumors about him, besides the fact that he was making an absolute fortune, made him feel like he didn?t know him anymore. But then he didn?t really know his nephew Ivan either. [I]I?ve become a stranger[/I], he thought darkly, and oddly, it didn?t bother him at all.

A quick look at his pocket watch, since he didn?t want to be late, and he finally left his vantage point overlooking the city to head for the aerodrome. [I]If I don?t show up, someone will make a fuss and I?ll never hear the end of it.[/I] He patted his suit pocket to make sure the gift was there and then made his way to the ramp leading up to the [I]Alaina[/I].

There were of course the usual gawkers looking on but Harrison ignored them in favor of checking out the ship. She was pretty looking and it was obvious that no expense had been spared, but he preferred the sleek deadly beauty of the warship [I]Tempest[/I] he was assigned to. Civilian vessels felt like floating decorations that a stiff breeze could bring down.

It was a sensation that had him feeling like laughing over how much he had changed in the past three years. Still he couldn?t deny that he felt more at home in the military than he ever had at CHAOS or at Rosengard. If only the price for being able to serve hadn?t been so high.

Finished with checking the ship out, he pulled the invitation out of his pocket and with a wave the concierge gave him directions on where to go. [I]The sooner I go, the sooner this will be over with and I can head back to the 2nd fleet.[/I] Knowing his family, there was bound to be some form of stupid drama. There always was, it was why he hated social functions. [/COLOR][/SIZE]
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[SIZE="1"]Marcel exited his personal steam-car, pausing to help his granddaughter, Liana. They were obviously of high class. Marcel was wearing his nicest suit that he saved for rare, special occasions. Liana, had on a dark gray pea coat and modest red Grimoire dress that Marcel had recently bought her for her sixteenth birthday. They slowly walked, hand-in-hand, towards the [I]Alaina[/I]. Liana's face was lit with excitement, and Marcel couldn't help but smile at his beautiful granddaughter.

[B]"What are you smiling at?"[/B] She asked, when she saw him staring.

[B]"Just you, my dear."[/B] He said, weaving his way between the hustle and bustle just outside the vessel. [B]"You look so happy."[/B]

[B]"Of course I'm happy! I've never been to a wedding before. And just think: We get to meet the Almagests of all people."[/B]

Marcel frowned a bit at this sentiment. He had only met Leonhart once, but working closely with Oliver at Cobalt Silverworks was enough to give him the impression that this celebration might not be all it was expected to be. And of course, he had his own reasons for caution when it came to the Almagests. But mostly, he was just worried that Liana would set herself up for disappointment.

Seeing the look in his eye, Liana changed the subject: [B]"Plus, it's a great opportunity to wear this beautiful dress you bought me."[/B]

[B]"Anything for you."[/B]

[B]"Have I thanked you and told you how much I love it?"[/B]

[B]"Only a million times,"[/B] he replied, [B]"But your smile is thanks enough."[/B]

They stopped just outside the entryway to the [I]Alaina[/I], And the great giant that Marcel was, crouched down to eye level with Liana's. She had such a tiny frame, but Marcel had learned many years ago to never underestimate his granddaughter's presence. Even at Lumière Academy, Liana was the head of her class. She was helping him with the business at Cobalt, and she interned for a jewelry store in Le Monde. No doubt, when this girl put her mind to it, she was a force to be reckoned with.

He straightened Liana's signature red bow in her blonde hair and then said, [B]"I have another gift for you."[/B]

[B]"Grandfather, my birthday was a week ago."[/B] She was still so excited, but Marcel's somber tone had changed the air a bit.

[B]"This is something that I thought I could never give you, but it's something that's rightfully yours and I suppose you should have it."[/B] He produced a small circular locket.

There was an obvious look of surprise in Liana's face and she held the locket up to inspect it. [B]"Is this--"[/B]

[B]"Pure Silver? Yes?"[/B] He finished her sentence.

[B]"How did you come across something like this? It must have cost a fortune! You shouldn't have."[/B] If it weren't his own granddaughter, Marcel knew she wouldn't have accepted it. He had raised her well.

[B]"To be honest,"[/B] he started, struggling to find the right words, [B]"I have no idea how much it cost. I've had that locket as long as I've had you."[/B]

Liana's instantly tore her gaze from the shiny locket to stare at her grandfather. She immediately deduced the previous owner.

[B]"This was--"[/B]

[B]"Your mother's."[/B] He finished, [B]"Every time I thought of giving it to you, I thought that it would somehow make you less of my granddaughter. But I realize that you're becoming an independent young woman now. It's not my place to deny you the truth."[/B]

[B]"Grandpa,"[/B] tears were forming in Liana's eyes, [B]"I'll always be yours. My real parents could never change that if I ever meet them. Thank you so much, I love it."[/B]

She turned around, and Marcel fashioned the clasps in place, letting the locket hang delicately over her chest; the perfect accent to the perfect dress on the young woman.

[B]"One thing you'll notice about the locket is that it doesn't open."[/B] He said, seeing that Liana was fiddling around with it. [B]"I've tried for years and done everything just short of smashing it with a hammer. When I met your mother, she told me that it would open when it's ready."[/B]

The two were walking again and the concierge took their invitations and pointed them in the direction of the guest lounge.

[B]"When are you going to tell me about my mother and father anyway"[/B] Liana asked, placing her hand in his.

[B]"Soon,"[/B] Marcel replied, [B]"Now, let's go and have a good time. Remember to be civil and polite."[/B]

[B]"I always am."[/B]

[B]"Yes, but you've never been around the Almagests. You need to know that public events don't always run smoothly with this family. Don't get caught up in anything."[/B]

She nodded in agreement. Then, just as they were about to enter the guest lounge, she added, [B]"I love you grandpa."[/B] and gave him a kiss on the cheek.[/SIZE]
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[center][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Felix_Achard.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Frederic_Achard.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Belmonda_Achard.jpg[/IMG]
[FONT=Arial][SIZE=2][COLOR=Navy][B]“[/B][/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT][FONT=Arial][SIZE=2][COLOR=Navy][B]I thought this was supposed to be a day for celebration,[/B][/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT][FONT=Arial][SIZE=2][COLOR=Navy][B]”[/B][/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT][FONT=Arial][SIZE=2][COLOR=Navy] Said a stange man, making Bella and Fredric both lift their heads and face him. [/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Arial][SIZE=2][COLOR=Navy]A man dressed in the white dress uniform of the Citadel Guard stood tall before them. A small smirk graced his worn face and a golden sheathed saber hung at his hip. A moment passed and then a look of realization swept across Bella’s face. A small smile cracked at the corners of her mouth and she ran her forearm across her face to rid it of any leftover tears.[/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Arial][SIZE=2][COLOR=Navy][B]“Felix,”[/B] she said pushing off of Fredric. [B]“I half expected you not to come since you didn't reply to the invitation.

[/B][/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT][FONT=Arial][SIZE=2][COLOR=Navy][B]“[/B][/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT][FONT=Arial][SIZE=2][COLOR=Navy][B]And it has been two years at least since we have last seen you at a family gathering.”[/B][/COLOR][/SIZE][COLOR=Navy] Fredric chimed in[/COLOR][/FONT].
[FONT=Arial][SIZE=2][COLOR=Navy]Felix rolled a shoulder and shifted his gaze to the ground. [B]“My job is a demanding one, I can’t leave too often. In fact I am only allowed here because I am supervising the security over some of the members of the church attending.”[/B][/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Arial][SIZE=2][COLOR=Navy]Bella’s smile faltered some. Fredric stepped up beside her giving Felix a bit of a glower. [B]“You couldn’t take off to see your family? A little too devoted are we?”[/B] Fredric scolded.[/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Arial][SIZE=2][COLOR=Navy][B]“I’m supposed to be the worrisome one,”[/B] Felix replied teasingly tussling his brother’s hair. [B]“Besides being the High Captain of the Guard does not come without responsibilities.”[/B][/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Arial][SIZE=2][COLOR=Navy]Bella and Fredric both responded to his answer with almost the exact same expression of displeasure. It was true that Felix was a little too absorbed as a Citadel Guard. He wrote Bella regularly, but had fallen out of contact with his father and Fredric within the past year or so.

[/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT] [FONT=Arial][SIZE=2][COLOR=Navy] Bella’s expression was the first to soften as she walked over to him looking at him then eying his uniform. Felix just then noticed how much taller he was than his siblings. He was head and shoulder over Bella and and the top of Fredric's head was just at his nose.[/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Arial][SIZE=2][COLOR=Navy][B]“You couldn’t have at least worn the suit we sent you?”[/B][/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT][FONT=Arial][SIZE=2][COLOR=Navy] She asked eyes falling on the sword at his side. [/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT][FONT=Arial][SIZE=2][COLOR=Navy][B]“And is that necessary?”[/B][/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Arial][SIZE=2][COLOR=Navy][B]“Well I heard that Macey Almagest was attending.”[/B] Felix chuckled. [B]“I just wanted to be prepared.”[/B] Fredric’s glare faltered at the utterance of that line and they all stifled laughter. They quickly regained their formal composure and glanced around to make sure they didn’t make spectacles of themselves. Felix gave a heavy sigh. He had missed the twins.
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[SIZE="1"][INDENT]Sighing in irritation Dawlish brought the blade around in a wide arc through the frame of his robotic adversary, sparks streaming and steam hissing from the metallic corpse as it gracelessly struck the ground in two halves. Fighting machines was becoming almost as devoid as entertainment as fighting human opponents, in fact if he was perfectly honest their sharper response times and greater strength were nowhere near satisfactory replacements for the ferocity a flesh and blood opponent fought with when his life was on the line. Both lost, but all in all he preferred fighting the living.

War... It fascinated him, human predilection towards exterminating their own kind with the weapons he and others provided for them. So much of his life had been defined by it: the death of his grandfather during the Mine Wars, the murder of his beloved sister during the Rebellion, his fatherâ??s noble sacrifice to save the monarchy, his own orders to purge the revolting vermin...and finally the duel with his estranged younger brother that had shattered his fervently held preconceptions about humanity. Humanity was driven by war, its greatest creations birthed within the fires of combat, its brightest geniuses forged legacies on the battlefield.

He mused that a man such as his father who had advocated peace and co-operation had generated nightmares that languished within the bowels of Mount Grail capable of destroying the entire world if unleashed. How could one seek peace and fellowship with such tendencies? What was the difference between the Dynast King declaring war and a man killing another with a Magitech-built pistol? Dawlish had relinquished any such naiveté about the morality of a just war, he would provide weapons to anyone who could meet his price, and if they chose to annihilate one another after that it was not his concern.

Exhaling slowly he attempted to free himself of these unnecessary thoughts but there was little point, as a man whose life had been so utterly changed by history his search for a new identity would likely be a lifetime journey. A dull ache ran through his lower back as he directed two of the machineâ??s brethren to clear up their fallen sibling. Dawlish caught her scent on the air, the aroma of spring flowers and wrapped his arms around her waist before she had time to protest.

[B]â??Dawlish I donâ??t this is appropriate.â? [/B]

He couldnâ??t help but smile at the comment. This woman who had come to dominate so much of his life and his heart had, to an art form, divided her personal and professional lives. And right now judging by the stack of official documents in her arms she was here in her professional capacity as his assistant. Giving a mock sigh of horror he tightened his grip slightly and leaned in closer bringing their faces only inches apart.

[B]â??My dearest Esther please tell me youâ??re not here to make me work. Beatriste's wedding is in only a few hours and I need to get everything ready.â?[/B]

Cocking an eyebrow at him Dawlish knew his feeble attempt to worm out of whatever paperwork she intended to present to him had clearly not worked.
â??Oh my apologies, clearly duelling with those automatons is some kind of pre-wedding ritual from Czenovia I was unaware of. If I am to accompany you do I need to engage likewise? If youâ??re going to try to get out of work Dawlish I expect a man with a genius as great as yours to come up with better excuses than that.â?[/B]

Leaning forward she bridged the gap between the two placing her lips softly against his for a moment before withdrawing to her previous position. His heart was beating with a greater force now than it had during his fight only minutes beforehand.
â??I shall endeavour to come up with more cunning lies to trick you then my dear, although perhaps I should just have a member of our PR division with me the whole time to come up with sufficiently acceptable excuses for my behaviour.â?
Her laugh was a wonder, an airy musical laugh that reminded him strangely of the way his mother would laugh with his father in situations like these, freeing one of his hands he reached up to stroke a lock of hair from her face before cupping her cheek and kissing her again. He absolutely loved this woman; there was not a single doubt in his mind about that. After a moment she broke the kiss and withdrew from his embrace over to his desk, leaving the documents perfectly centred on the heavy oak surface.

[B]â??Thank you Ms. Blakeâ?[/B]

She flashed him a knowing smile.

[B]â??Of course Mr. Almagest, now do please get ready, Iâ??ve never been to an Almagest event and would hate for Madame Grimoireâ??s dress to go to waste.â?[/B]

[B]â??Oh? I thought we were going easy on my account after this latest â??stuntâ???â?[/B]

[B]â??No, you Mr. Almagest are going easy on your account, as your company for this evening I believed I should be dressed suitably to reflect the wealthiest man in the world.â?[/B]

Dawlish laughed before extending his arm and leading her out of the office, tonight would certainly be interesting.
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[indent][center][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/gustave_achard-1.jpg[/IMG] [img] http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Belmonda_Achard.jpg[/img] [/center]

[font=garamond][size=4][right][B]Reunion on the Queenâ??s Deck[/B][/right][/font][/size][font=palatino linotype]

Gustave stood at the edge of the [i]Alainaâ??s[/i] deck. The bright sun was starting to warm the air and he enjoyed the slight breeze. Brigit Town was situated in Czenoviaâ??s temperate north, where the land tapered off before the Anovan border. The narrow plains were an ideal location for a city; in the summer, cool breezes from the Sea of Sorrows swept over the entire area. And the town was far enough south of Anova in winter, which allowed it to avoid heavy snowfall and cooler temperatures.

As Gustave looked back across the expansive decks of the [i]Alaina[/i], he noticed that the ship was starting to fill up with guests rapidly. Fewer and fewer guests were arriving far below, as the last few made their way up an extensive ramp to the main deck. The enormous, old-globe-style airship hovered obediently in place for the most part, although several thick ropes anchored it to the aerodrome as a back-up; as an older style ship, devoid of much modern magitechnology, effective piloting required slightly greater finesse and intuition. Gustave appreciated this. As an occasional airship pilot himself, he preferred the old-globe ships. It was akin to driving a manual steamcar rather than an automatic. The magitech-based Czenovian models were full of expensive automated parts. Many of them did not even bear sails, but instead relied on powerful magitech engines. They certainly had their place â?? especially militarily â?? but Gustave preferred the quieter and more serene sensation of the old-globe airships.

The [i]Alaina[/i] itself was Gustaveâ??s most prized vessel. It was primarily wooden, although it contained a steel interior frame. The exterior was adorned with many carved wooden and silver accents, which gave the entire ship a slightly feminine touch. Combined with its long nose and sleek body shape, the [i]Alaina[/i] exuded elegance. The three decks cascaded downwards from the rear (with deck three being the highest and containing the most luxurious quarters). A tall mast sat in the center of each deck, with extensive white sails billowing from each. Large curved sails also protruded from the shipâ??s rear quarter panels â?? these could be adjusted for manoeuvring. The lower hull also contained two modest steam engines, which were used to add speed or to combat strong opposing winds. Mostly, however, the engines were disengaged; the [i]Queen of Anova[/i] (as she was often referred) generally sailed the skies silently and gracefully.

Several large tables had been set up across the third deck and various guests were already seated. The largest table at one end was to sit the bride, groom and immediate family. Several Achards had been invited to sit there, however, including Olivier and Gustave. Given that they were not part of Coleâ??s family, Gustave felt somewhat awkward; it was an obvious political move. Just near the table, Gustave saw Olivier and Leonhart engaged in an intimate discussion. Olivier was holding an old piece of paper â?? perhaps the one heâ??d taken from the drawer earlier â?? and both men were looking over it with great interest.


Gustave heard a familiar voice nearby. When he turned, he saw his cousin Belmonda, approaching him with a large grin on her face.

â??Bell! I almost wondered if you were coming!â?? Gustave smiled broadly and embraced her. As he looked over her shoulder he saw two other familiar faces walking their way: Frederic and Felix. Partly due to his travels, Gustave had not seen either in some time. Now that they had all grown up, theyâ??d gone their own ways. Gustave felt a sudden sting of pain as he realized how much he missed his extended family.

Belmonda rolled her eyes. â??Well, hey, itâ??s not every day I get to visit the [i]Alaina[/i], is it?â??

â??Very true. Itâ??s so good to see you,â?? beamed Gustave. â??I must admit, my travels in recent years had faded the memory of familyâ?¦but being here with your father makes me realize what Iâ??ve been missing all this time.â??

Belmondaâ??s smile faded slightly. It appeared that she was making great effort to appear cheerful. â??Family has a new meaning now,â?? replied Belmonda flatly, â??I mean, with Vincent and my mother, Iâ?¦â??

She paused momentarily and looked over the edge of the deck. Gustave put a hand on her shoulder.

â??I know,â?? he whispered. â??Believe me, I know. I saw him not long before he died andâ?¦I canâ??t forget what happened to him. But we have to stay strong and stay [i]together[/i]. We all need it, but your fatherâ?¦â??

Belmonda nodded. â??My father needs it more than anyone, I know. Ever since mother passed away, he hasnâ??t been the same. Heâ??s growing so [i]tired[/i], I am worried about him.â??

Gustave gestured towards Olivier, who was still engaged in heavy discussion with Leonhart. â??Looks like heâ??s still got a few tricks up his sleeve though. Heâ??s a cheeky old chap.â??

They both laughed and Belmonda smiled again. â??I guess he has some life left in him yet.â?? [/font][/indent]
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[COLOR="RoyalBlue"][FONT="Lucida Sans Unicode"][CENTER][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Elaine_Waltier.jpg[/IMG][/CENTER]
No morning was spent without first devoting time to reflective meditation and giving thanks to the Phoenix Goddess. Doing so always put Elaine in the proper frame of mind for carrying out her duties as a Priestess. She actually had very little on her agenda for the day. Most of what she had come for had been taken care of in the past week. The last thing she was to deal with before returning to the Citadel was performing the wedding ceremony for Beatriste Almagest and Cole Dreadnaught.

The aftermath of the terrible revolution had seen far too many funeral services and in her mind, it would be refreshing to see to a wedding for a change. With all she did lately, it seemed like she saw them so infrequently. So when she had been asked to perform the ceremony she had been only too glad to accept. Elaine was not surprised that the wedding was clearly the talk of both nations. Nor was she surprised that no expense was being spared.

However, it was hard to feel critical over such extravagance when the Almagest?s had poured a considerable amount of their fortune into rebuilding their homeland after the revolution. That was how she had met many of them in the first place. The Church had been among the first to arrive with humanitarian aid, and within no time that had led to her working with the Almagest?s and other families devoted to the restoration of Czenovia.

Now as the hour of the ceremony approached she was taking a moment to prepare herself in the room set aside for her on the [I]Alaina[/I], carefully checking her attire over. They did believe in simplicity, but at the same time, it was important to properly represent the Church. Since she worked on behalf of High Priestess Yolanda she was required to wear the more formal dress for occasions such as this. Considering the symbolic nature of the wedding, it was only fitting that she did.

Instead of the simple cotton weave for her high collar sleeveless, floor length robe, she wore one of the finest pure white silk, the symbol of the Phoenix Goddess carefully woven into the fabric. If you were up close you could see it, sometimes the light would fall upon it just right, but otherwise it was virtually unnoticeable. Over that was the open floor length light blue vest that fastened at the waist with four clasps. A slightly darker blue flat wrap six inches in width was wrapped around her waist. The clasps in the back carefully done so as not to show.

Like the white dress, they too were of the finest silk. Over that was a floor length silk cloak, gathered in front with a gold fastener. And finally, the traditional gold band that went from one ear, around the back of her head to the other, with gold danglers that gave off soft little chimes when she moved. Only the Cardinals, High Priest, High Priestess or a member acting on their behalf wore them.

It was the only part of her attire she did not care for. Not because she didn?t understand the necessity of some form of material trappings in one?s attire, and compared to most nobles, even her attire would still be considered quite poor. However, she was not a High Priestess and if not for High Priestess Yolanda?s poor health, she wouldn?t even be there.

Three years and yet she was still not used to it. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and then slowly let it out. It was not important. A tiny knock at the door brought her out of her thoughts; she turned to answer it, the soft chime of the gold danglers from the band breaking the silence. Elaine composed herself and then opened the door to the pair of Church guards currently assigned to her. It was almost time for the ceremony. [/FONT][/COLOR]
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[CENTER] [IMG]http://zeitgeistglee.250free.com/Esther.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Dawlish_Almagest.jpg[/IMG][/CENTER]

[SIZE="1"]Even before Dawlish had so rudely accosted her, Esther had known he wouldn?t have let her hand over those budget plans without some sort of weak protest. But she was ready, she always was, and even though she realised he would resent her professionalism, she knew jobs had to be done. It was what she was paid for, after all, and Esther couldn?t help but feel that if she didn?t still work as hard as she could, her generous salary was nothing more than Dawlish buying her company. And anyone would know what that meant.

She allowed him to lead her a little way down the long, opulently decorated hallway before turning, pressing a hand against his chest firmly and giving him a stern look, trying to keep her lips from quirking up into a playful grin. [B]?Mr Almagest, I believe you have work to do. I?ll know if you haven?t done it,?[/B] she saw how he almost pouted, a man of his age, and rolled her eyes, moving her hands back to put them on her hips. [B]?Honestly, Dawlish. Just read the papers, please? I can deal with them tomorrow if you?re that distracted.?[/B]

[B]?Ah, my love, you do know how to keep your man happy.?[/B] He seemed to move towards her again, but the look in Esther?s eyes told him to think otherwise. He bowed his head slightly, sighed, and cupped her cheek again lightly before turning back towards his office. Esther watched him go, knowing that he?d probably get through three pages before giving up, but at least he seemed to listen. Sometimes she missed his old demeanour, when he?d hardly pay attention to anything apart from his company business and his weapons. Perhaps she had spoiled him too much.

But for now, that was neither here nor there, and as her boss disappeared back into his office Esther headed towards her room. She reached up to untie her hair as she stepped inside, kicking off her plain, flat shoes casually as she padded over the polished wooden floor, before feeling the thick rug under her feet. She had tried to resist Dawlish spoiling her with gifts and a larger suite, they were supposed to be a secret, after all, but the few luxuries she had in her quarters were a comforting touch.

The dress that lay on her bed was stunning, one of the finest she had ever seen of the Grimoire company's creations, though the fact it was hers probably made her slightly biased in that assessment. She stroked her fingers over the fine, dark purple silk, feeling the coarser lace lining that edges of the bustier, smiling faintly at the very thought of being seen in something like this. Even on her salary, if she and Dawlish weren?t so close there was no possible way she would have been able to afford this outfit otherwise. That was a perk, she had to admit.

As she ran her bath and washed her hair, Esther couldn?t help but ponder on their relationship. She knew Dawlish sometimes didn?t understand her forced professionalism, her insistence on telling no one, not even her mother or brothers, whom she had always thought she could tell everything. Not only was the age gap so dramatic, though she supposed not unheard of, it was the nature of Dawlish?s work, and the reason for his huge fortune, that upset her mother, especially. She didn?t like Esther working for the man, and would likely faint if she found out they were sleeping together.

But Esther never felt she could tell Dawlish this, and when he asked she would simply shrug it off, shuffle awkwardly and change the subject, or distract him with kisses and caresses. Even she wasn?t sure if that was the whole reason, and often had moments like this when she would just think. She knew she loved him, but she also knew that she had never experienced love before, at least not like this, and not with a man who, supposedly, understood how adult relationships worked. To what extent Esther didn?t feel comfortable asking.

As the bathwater began to cool, Esther realised she?d been thinking far too long, examining her hands and groaning at the way her fingertips had wrinkled. Pulling herself out quickly she began drying her hair and making the most basic of preparations, creams and powders and perfumes, to make herself feel more respectable.

It was only when she had managed to wriggle her way into the dress, standing in front of the mirror with her hair pinned up tightly, that she frowned at the idea of what ridiculous plans Dawlish had for this ?exciting? public display. She sighed deeply and cupped the back of her neck, the skin feeling hot with nerves under her touch. Her stomach was a mess, too, and she wasn?t sure of how she?d be able to hold out this whole event without running away and hiding. With Dawlish at her side, she hoped, it would be more bearable, but even then she would still be his assistant, nothing more, nothing less. Barely a friend in the public eye.

She heard voices in the corridor outside and supposed Dawlish?s team were letting him know of final preparations, last check-ups and, she almost hoped, failures that would put this whole silly thing off. Sometimes she wondered if he was more trouble than he was worth.[/SIZE]
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[font=garamond][size=4][right][B]The Emerald Gown[/B][/right][/font][/size]
[font=palatino linotype]If viewed from the city at night, Bourgade looked something like a sparkling diamond nestled among rolling ebony hills. Those who were lucky enough to live in the exclusive district had commanding views of the entire greater Le Monde area from their homes. The houses were each alight with large fireplaces and sprinklings of fairy lights throughout their expansive gardens. As airships passed quietly overhead in the night, the enormous estates were sketched out on the landscape below by these lights. However, one corner of the Bourgade estates was perpetually dark at night - Grimoire Manor.

At the same time as Beatriste and Cole's wedding ceremony commenced, a solitary light appeared somewhere within the mansion. The light came from a window on a turret at the building's rear. A single room occupied the turret's highest point. It was Edith Grimoire's sewing room and it contained a number of unique and secret tools used to create some of her most remarkable outfits.

Edith sat at a desk facing the window. Dressed in her favorite silk nightgown, she placed a small cup of tea to one side. A dusty gramophone occupied the far corner of the desk. Edith leaned over and flicked a brass switch on its side. The stylus dropped and sat delicately against a circular piece of parchment underneath. As Edith spoke, the stylus etched her words into the parchment; when these discs of parchment were re-played at a later time, they read the words back in the subject's own voice.

The gramophone was useful for many reasons. For one, Edith occasionally sent her recordings to the House of Grimoire's main offices in the city, where her detailed instructions were followed by the designers. At other times, her recordings were used for instructional purposes at Lumière Academy's design department.

Aside from these purposes, however, Edith liked to record her progress. She would spend some nights in her study by herself, listening to her earlier recordings, in an attempt to pick up on imperfections. She believed that "perfection" could never be achieved, but each design must be better than the last - taking a step backwards was unacceptable.

'The Emerald Gown,' said Edith slowly as she looked over the dress carefully. 'This is quite possibly one of my most complex pieces. It is made from emerald thread, a substance that does not exist anywhere else in the world. I do not want to specify how we achieved this, in case this recording is ever stolen by a competitor, but I can say that we have invented a wonderful machine to make this all possible.'

Edith took a sip of her tea. It was warm and flowery. A faint smile appeared. Memories of her childhood near Cobalt Bay flooded into her mind.

'This machine,' she continued, 'has one very unique quality. It processes raw emeralds and turns them into a light thread, suitable for sewing.'

The gramophone obediently scribbled her words onto the circular parchment. If she spoke for too long, a new parchment would be needed, as it was only possible to record so many tracks.

'While I am sure that the true possibilities of emerald thread will not be revealed for some time, we have already discovered some remarkable qualities inherent to the material.'

Edith propped her glasses on her nose and produced a small notepad, which she flicked open.

'For example,' she said, 'we have discovered that emerald threaded clothing can maintain a constant temperature no matter what the outside influence. In one of our tests, we fitted an emerald tunic to one of our designers, who we then placed into a temperature-controlled room. Even as we simulated snowfall and ice, his body temperature remained unchanged. Unfortunately he was not wearing gloves, however, which caused severe frostbite on one hand. This did delay our testing by several days, which was most frustrating.'

The tea up was empty. Edith poured another cup from a nearby pot. The floral aroma filled the little study.

'We also discovered that the amount of thread layers determines the maximum and minimum temperatures. Theoretically we could produce an emerald suit of armor that could withstand direct contact with fire - of course, we are not in the habit of producing military attire, but it is nice to know that this is one other invention we have exclusive rights to. Perhaps Dawlish Almagest would pay to license the material?'

Edith laughed at the thought. 'High fashion on the battlefield,' she murmured.

Her thoughts shifted to Beatriste's wedding, which she estimated would be in full swing at this very moment.

'I think this will be a fitting gift for Beatriste Almagest, who has always been one of my biggest customers,' said Edith with an air of satisfaction. 'This unique gown will not only be a wonderful gesture, but it will ensure her further loyalty as a customer. Nobody else in the New Globe - or the Old Globe, for that matter - is capable of producing such a garment.'

And with that, Edith flicked the brass switch on the gramophone back to its original position. The machine fell silent.[/font][/indent]
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[size=1][indent][center][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Macey_Ellen.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest/fauntleroy-chronicle.jpg[/IMG] [img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest/leonhartavatar.jpg[/img] [img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/cole_dreadnaught.jpg[/img][/center]

Fauntleroy and Macey Ellen walked arm-in-arm through the halls of the Alaina as preparations began for itsâ?? departure. Servants hurriedly closed cabinet doors, making sure not the smallest teacup would fall out of place during takeoff. Over the light hum of the steam engines, the Almagestâ??s former housemistress, Dame Anna Grimalkin, could be heard shouting commands to the staff from down the way.

â??[b][i]And people wonder where I get it from[/i],[/b]â? Macey mused.

â??[b]Thatâ??s the Anovans for you. Gustave employs a small army to maintain this ship and they havenâ??t the slightest clue how to throw a proper party.[/b]â?

â??[b]Give it a few hours and a few glasses of champagne, Fonty. Iâ??m sure youâ??ll be fine.[/b]â?

Fauntleroy looked into his sistersâ?? eyes as she laughed softly. He recognized that look. Macey was adept at holding a conversation about one subject, while still devoting her entire mental resources to her work. Even now he could practically hear the gears turning in her head; [i]but what was it this time?[/i]

â??[b]Iâ??ll get byâ?¦[/b] Fonty replied dryly, â??[b]Anyways, how have you been lately?[/b]â?

â??[b]Busy, Iâ??m afraid. Between my speaking engagements and new research I havenâ??t had a single moment to myself.[/b]â?

Fonty raised an eyebrow in suspicion, â??[b]I had no idea that you were working again.[/b]â?

It was three years ago that Macey Ellenâ??s research had come to haunt the family, and nearly destroyed Magitech in the process. Leonhart and the Dynast monarchy were convinced that human beings could be augmented and enhanced in the same way that racing chimaera were. With Maceyâ??s knowledge of alchemical science and her moral ambiguity she was a natural to undertake the project. Poor children from across Czenovia became her test subjects, and the results were almost always fatal.

Although Fauntleroy loved his sister dearly, this was a side of her and his father that he would never be able to understand. He often wondered had it not been for the revolution would anything have stopped them in their quest to create an army of super-soldiers?

â??[b]You know, I never thought I would work again either after the revolutionâ?¦ but it turns out that being infamous only increases your asking price. For this particular project I simply couldnâ??t say no.[/b]â?

â??[b]Promise me youâ??re not getting into anything serious again.[/b]â?

There was an uncomfortable pause before a young servant approached the two, â??[b]Maâ??am, the bride has requested your presence.[/b]â?

â??[b]I should go. The ceremony is about to begin.[/b]â?

â??[b]Of course,[/b]â? he withdrew his flask and handed it to his sister, â??[b]Perhaps we can talk about your new work at the reception?[/b]â?

â??[b]Iâ??m afraid for the time being that matter is private,[/b]â? Macey kissed her brother softly on the check, â??[b]You will have to trust me on this.[/b]â?

Macey turned around, and walked away before Fonty could respond. He stood there for a moment, stymied, before her decided to head in the opposite direction towards the main deck.

As he passed by a set of doors he heard his fatherâ??s familiar voice, passionately engaged in conversation with Cole Dreadnaught in the study. He knew better than to spy on his own family, but he couldnâ??t help but listen in for a few moments.

â??[b]I canâ??t tell you how proud I am of you, Cole. I wish you and Beatriste Elyse only the best.[/b]â?

â??[b]Why thank you sir. I know that Bea wouldnâ??t have even considered marriage if she didnâ??t have the full support of you and the girls.[/b]â?

â??[b]It puts my mind at ease to know you are here,[/b]â? Leonhart paused before he finished his thought, â??[b]Should anything happen to be I want to ensure my family and business ventures are in the right hands.[/b]â?

â??[b]You shouldnâ??t talk like that. You have many years ahead of you.[/b]â?

â??[b]Whether or not thatâ??s true, who can say? I just want you to know that I have spoken to the board at Magitech. You will have their full support to take on the daily responsibilities of the company should I be unable to.[/b]â?

â??[b]Me? But what about Fauntleroy? I thought you were vetting him for the position.[/b]â?

â??[b]Fauntleroy means well, but even now I feel there is still too much to learn in too little time. The girls have no interest in the daily affairs of the business; you are the only logical choice.[/b]â?

â??[b]It would be an honor to follow you, Leonhart. You have always been a true friend.[/b]â?

â??[b]As have you, Coleâ?¦ [i]oh![/i] Here, I have another small surprise for you.[/b]â?

Fauntleroy peered around the corner ever-so-slightly to see Cole Dreadnaught open the small box that Leonhart had carried with him aboard the ship. He withdrew a small silver compass and stared at it for a moment. Leonhart sat on a small couch, leaning heavily on his cane.

â??[b]A broken compass? Iâ??m afraid I donâ??t understand.[/b]â?

â??[b]This ancience compass has been sitting in the Czenovian Musem of History for nearly a century. As youâ??ll notice it doesnâ??t face north, but rather west. However, on the other side of the continent it faces south.[/b]â?

â??[b]So something, or some[i]things[/i] are attracting this device.[/b]â?

â??[b]It is believed to date back to the Xear culture, so one can only assumeâ?¦[/b]â?

â??[b]We can track down the treasure with this![/b]â? Cole exclaimed, â??[b]This is fantastic.[/b]â?

Fauntleroyâ??s eyes widened. [i]Treasure?[/i]

â??[b]Although the map we have recovered would make for a strong starting point, I want to ensure that you have every tool available to you on your search.[/b]â?

Cole let out an uncomfortable laugh, â??[b]Me? Iâ??m about to be married. I canâ??t simply leave to take part in another grand adventure.[/b]â?

â??[b]But you must,[/b]â? Leonhart countered, â??[b]Beatriste will understand in time, and it would be foolish to risk letting this fall into anotherâ??s hands.[/b]â?

â??[b]Who are you so afraid of finding this Leonhart? The Anovans? Your business rivals?[/b]â?

â??[b]Anyone else.[/b]â? the old man stated coldly.

Trumpets could be heard from the floor above, announcing the beginning of the ceremonies. Cole rose to his feet.

â??[b]Now if youâ??ll excuse me, thatâ??s my cue,[/b]â? Cole said as he placed the small box in a nearby drawer, â??[b]This matter will have to wait until after the honeymoon.[/b]â?

Cole stepped out of the study, nearly crashing into Fauntleroy as he did.

â??[b]Oh, excuse me Fonty. I didnâ??t even see you there.[/b]â?

â??[b]No, you didnâ??t. But Iâ??m sure you have a lot on your mind.[/b]â?

â??[b]That I doâ?¦[/b]â? Cole replied, â??[b]Wish me luck?[/b]â?

"[b]No... [/b]" Fonty shook his head, "[b]I clearly need to save some of that for the rest of us.[/b]"[/size][/indent]
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[FONT="Palatino Linotype"][COLOR="Blue"]Natalia sat through the ceremony her mother close at hand whispering about the attendees and even the participants of the luxurious event. Although Natalia drowned out much of the petty conversation she did happen to note who some of them were. Though their alliance or mistrust towards her family was never really known, nor cared about. She just stood when the bride came down the aisle and watched her slow walk and admired thee dress she wore.

Maybe even envious, to a point, of her dress, but it always was that way at these festivities. The ceremony and fanfare of the event circling around the bride, and many an whisper were murmured about the lovely gown Beatrice happened to wear.

But many of the female attendees tried their best to overthrow the bride's reign, to their bitter disappointment, allowing Natalia to smile to herself, happy that her simple gown was not over-flamboyant, making her look like a stuffed peacock just as Mrs. Dermont did.

The same lady Natalia was being re-introduced to right now, after the ceremony.

[B]"My dear girl how lovely to see you again. And after so many years you have managed to develop into such a lovely young girl...."[/B]

The conversation seemed to go on forever as she told Natalia of her husband who happened to die in an unfortunate accident, and even her ridiculous looking looking royal-blue and emerald gown that seemed to be layered many a times but was actually do to the healthy nature of its wearer.

Natalia could only smile and nod her response and look away many a time before moving away her head held down and shaking as almost stumbled into a family member.

[B]"Still not watching where you're going are you Little Talia.?[/B]

Although she did not know the voice, once she saw the face she could only smile and nod. Maybe a little too kid-like for her nature but she was just happy to see someone closer to her age, and even someone who held the same interest.

[B]"Well as I remember you were shorter than me for a few years, Gustave."[/B]

A quick smile showed on his face, before he replied.

[B]"You must mean when your father was carrying you in his arms. Other than that. I have always been bigger."[/B]

She gave him a brief hug then looked him over.

[B]"How long has it been since I have seen you? Goodness it must have been years. I think you were racing and I had just started working at the Junction"[/B]

[B]"That is where you are now? I hadn't known...[/B]

Before Gustave could catch up with him further. Natalia's mother joined the two of them.

[B]"Well hello Gustave. I must say this airship is quite lovely... But if you do not mind I need to steal my daughter away for a few moments."[/B]

[B]"As always dear Maria,"[/B] Gustave stepped over and kissed his older cousin on the cheek.[B] "As always a pleasure to see you both here, but I didn't know Natalia was working with Chimaera."[/B]He paused turning from Maria then to Nataila. [B]"Can't wait to find out more."[/B]

Natalia held her emotions in check for a moment and plastered a fake smile on her face while turning her attention back to Gustave.

[B]"Yes we must. Good to see you again Gustave."[/B]

[B]"Now Natalia,"[/B] Maria started moving her away from where her family was sitting and back into the group of older women. [B]" I want you to meet Mrs. Edenburr. I hear in particular she has a grandson who may be seeking a bride."[/B]

Although it was the last person in the world she wished to converse with, Natalia knew that upon seeing Mrs. Edenburr in her yellow dress, with her thin frame that she would have a time not trying to laugh at her. And if it gave her memories to laugh at once she returned to the Junction she would take it. Who knew maybe even the chimaera may think her stories funny. Her mind not knowing that more interesting things may begin to transpire.[/COLOR][/FONT]
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[RIGHT][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Macey_Ellen.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Victoria_Ann.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Harrison_Almagest.jpg[/IMG][/RIGHT]

[LEFT][FONT="Times New Roman"][COLOR="DarkOrchid"][i]Carefully maneuvering a plate of candied almonds and plums next to a freshly drizzled black and white chocolate covered strawberry, Macey Ellen found herself cornered by Victoria Ann, fresh from the chocolate fondue table. She was holding a skewer of fruit, doused liberally in both dark and milk chocolate, and looking thrilled.[/i]

"Auntie Macey! Wasn't the ceremony just [i]gorgeous[/i]!"

"Of course darling, it was simply divine. Everything was perfect, no thanks to some of the staff."

"I heard Dame Grimalkin calling one a summbit. What's a summbit?"

[i]Macey's face contorted slightly while she considered all the ways she could explain Victoria's imperfect remembrance of a rather nasty word when Harrison appeared holding a glass of milk and looking rather put out.[/i]

"Hello Harrison. I trust you're not having a horrible time."

"Could be worse. Hey Aunt Macey. Hi Victoria."

[i]He sighed glumly and leaned against a stone pillar twined around with garlands of exotic jasmine and honeysuckle. Macey snatched up a handful of olive crackers and handed them around to her niece and nephew, noting his doleful expression. [/i]

"What is it Harrison? Sour milk?"

"No. I was just looking around and I figure you'd know. Isn't there any real food here? Everything is all sugar spun and tasteless and battered in oil."

"It's a [b]wedding[/b] reception Harrison. Insubstantial food is the name of the game."

"Strawberries are real food!"

[i]Victoria brandished her skewer at him dramatically as he took a bite of cracker smeared in cream and olives mournfully. Macey grinned at him and sipped at her glass of ice water cheerfully. Surveying the crowd she could see one of Vincent's more poisoned looking female siblings giving her a sour look, possibly because she was happily mingling with the children while they drank from crystal flutes of champagne and focused on caring only for themselves. She knelt at Victoria's behest and let her put a fresh honeysuckle bloom in the elegant knot of hair piled on top of her head.[/i]

"There! Now you'll smell like flowers all afternoon."

"Thank you Victoria." [i]She nodded her head gravely and let her walk straight back to the fondue table, where she began to chatter brightly to one of the extremely well dressed ladies. Harrison looked through the crowd and drank his milk, waiting in vain for one of the servants to pass holding a tray of something that looked, well, solid.[/i][/COLOR][/FONT][/LEFT]
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[FONT="Arial"][CENTER][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Frederic_Achard.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Belmonda_Achard.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Felix_Achard.jpg[/IMG][/CENTER]
[I]So far so good. Everything is going smoothly and no one has started any fights? yet.[/I] Frederic thought as he took another sip of champagne. It was of course excellent, it was a pity there wasn?t much in the way of real food to go with it. Weddings were always the same when it came to food. He?d have to get something to eat later.

In the meantime he couldn?t help but notice that Bella?s gaze was wandering in Macey?s direction all too often. Her brow would furrow each time she caught sight of her. [I]I suppose so long as the two stay apart it?s not a problem. [/I]He didn?t really like her, but he had no urge to pick a fight either.

Fredric glanced about again and then choked on his champagne when Bella elbowed him in the side, catching him off guard. The glass slipped from his fingers and he scrambled to catch it with his other hand. He managed to do so but the liquid splashed over the sides a bit to land on his hands and the floor.

?[B]Bella![/B]? He exclaimed, turning to stare at her in surprise.

?[B]Stop watching the guests as if you?re expecting to break up a fight.[/B]? She admonished him.

She glared at him, frowning slightly as if daring him to say otherwise. He opened his mouth to object and then closed it. She was right of course; he [I]had[/I] been doing just that. A soft chuckle caught his attention and Fredric scowled at Felix?s look of amusement.

?[B]Don?t think I haven?t noticed you doing the same Felix,[/B]? Bella gave him the same look she had just given Fredric.

Felix smiled charmingly, ?[B]Of course sister, it[I] is [/I]my job to...[/B]?

?[B]To protect members of the Church of the Phoenix,[/B]? She interrupted, ?[B]Not babysit the other guests.[/B]? She glared at him a bit more and then sighed. ?[B]I wish this was over already.[/B]?

?[B]Why don?t you two go and get some fresh air?[/B]? Fredric suggested.

Bella looked over to Felix who nodded and then back, ?[B]Shouldn?t you come with us?[/B]?

?[B]I?m going to go wash this champagne off of my hands.[/B]? He held up his hands after setting the crystal flute on the nearest table. ?[B]I?ll come and find you when I?m done.[/B]?

Bella grimaced slightly, ?[B]Sorry about that.[/B]?

?[B]Don?t be. You?re right; I should be seeing how everyone is doing instead of hanging back and looking for trouble.[/B]? He made shooing motions. ?[B]Go on.[/B]?

He waited for the pair to start working their way through the guests before turning to find one of the staff and ask where the nearest wash room was. [/FONT]
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[COLOR="DarkGreen"][FONT="Tahoma"][CENTER][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Victoria_Ann.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Belmonda_Achard.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Felix_Achard.jpg[/IMG][/CENTER]
Victoria handed over the little plate that her food had been on to one of the staff circulating through the room helping guests. She lifted the crystal flute up to her face. Victoria wrinkled her nose in distaste at the smell of the champagne. Curious she took a tiny sip from the glass she had snatched from one of the servers. Her face contorted in distaste as she spit it back into the glass.

?[B]Ewwww. That?s nasty.[/B]? She complained.

?[B]Aren?t you a little young to be drinking that?[/B]? A soft voice said from behind her.

Startled she whirled to see a woman wearing a green gown that though pretty, didn?t seem to fit her very well. A man in a white dress uniform that she thought was for the Church of the Phoenix was with her.

Victoria shrugged. ?[B]I know. I was curious why adults like it so much.[/B]? She gave up the glass to one of the passing servers before cocking her head to the side and looking directly at the woman. ?[B]So why do you? It tastes [I]terrible[/I].[/B]?

The one in the uniform looked away even as he shook with suppressed laughter, earning a glance from the woman. ?[B]Felix, you?re not helping. Say something.[/B]? She whispered urgently.

?[B]Oh no Bella, you started it, you should finish it.[/B]? He looked back to Victoria who had turned her attention over to Bella.

?[B]Well?[/B]? Victoria put her hands on her hips when Bella didn?t say anything after a long moment. ?[B]You going to explain or not?[/B]?

?[B]Well you see,[/B]? she started hesitantly, ?[B]it?s not that simple?[/B]?

Victoria frowned in irritation. ?[B]In other words, you?re going to say, [I]once you?re older you?ll understand[/I].[/B]? Victoria rolled her eyes.

?[B]Never mind. So who are you?[/B]? She waited for them to explain.

?[B]Ah so you?re Gustave?s cousins?[/B]? She beamed when they nodded. ?[B]I?m glad you came to my mother?s wedding then. I've always wanted to meet his friends.[/B]?

Victoria didn?t notice that they didn't really respond to that, she was too busy thinking about how she needed to be polite and talk to the people who had come. Her mom had told her many times that it was important to greet all of the guests.

?[B]Well nice to meet both of you.[/B]? She said politely only waiting long enough for them to mummer something in reply before she bowed slightly and moved off to talk to someone else.

She walked among the guests, looking for someone she hadn?t talked to yet. There was still the other guy who had been with those two; she had seen Aunt Macey looking in their direction. She looked around but didn?t see him in the room. Some of the guests were wandering around the ship and along the decks that let them enjoy the cool evening breeze. [I]He's probably outside. [/I]

Victoria just looked for the closest person she didn?t know and then headed in their direction. She pulled out her pocket watch and took a look at it. It hadn?t even been an hour since the ceremony. She put it back up. It was way too soon for the reception to be over.

If it was like any other family function she had been too, they would be there for hours. Which meant people would have too much to drink and all sorts of interesting things would happen. [I]I?d rather go and see how Lucy is doing.[/I][/FONT][/COLOR]
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[CENTER][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Elaine_Waltier.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Juste_Achard.jpg[/IMG][/CENTER]
He knew the wedding was going to be too much, but until Juste saw the wedding dress he hadn?t realized just how [I]excessive[/I] it would really be. He had spent the past fourteen years at the Citadel, but he still kept up with what his parents were up to. That kind of material and dress would have cost a fortune.

[I]I?ll be glad when we?re done and we can head back to the Citadel[/I]. Juste had thought it would be nice to see his cousins, but other than a few of them, he just didn?t know them at all. Most of them he hadn?t seen since he was a small child. He was grateful for the chance to be there, but he was ready to simply head back home.

Juste had been only too glad to finally escape the stuffy reception area and wander off out onto one of the decks. The cool breeze was refreshing and if you ignored the black smoke from the Villette Mines that could still be seen in the distance, the view was beautiful. The sound of footsteps came from behind him, indicating that someone was approaching. The soft chime from her headband told him without turning to look that it was the Priestess Waltier.

She stopped when she was standing next to him and placed her arms on the railing before turning to smile kindly. ?[B]Lovely weather for a wedding. Don?t you think?[/B]?

?[B]Of course.[/B]? It [I]was[/I] a beautiful evening after all.

?[B]You?re not really thinking about the weather or how nice the breeze is are you?[/B]?

Juste looked away. ?[B]No, I?m not.[/B]? He left it at that, not wishing to elaborate. The two of them just stood there for a while, enjoying the view.

?[B]It really is lovely weather.[/B]? She said again, almost to herself. She turned to face him. ?[B]If it helps, I find being in a fancy place like this uncomfortable as well.[/B]?


[I]Oh great. Now I?ve done it.[/I] Juste thought he had been careful about hiding how the whole thing made him uncomfortable. [I]If mom hears about that? I?ll never hear the end of it.[/I] He should have known he couldn?t hide that from Priestess Waltier.

?[B]Relax.[/B]? He could hear a hint of amusement in her voice. ?[B]I think it?s expected for us to feel out of place so you don?t need to pretend that you?re fine. You?ve been at the Citadel for over a decade correct?[/B]?

He nodded. ?[B]Yeah. I go home for the holidays, but my parents live a lot more modestly than the rest of the Achard?s do.[/B]" Juste explained. "[B]It still feels odd to visit them though.[/B]?

The sound of talk and laughter filled the air and they both turned to look at the guests who were approaching. ?[B]I guess we should head back in?[/B]?

Waltier folded her arms across her chest and glanced back. ?[B]You must be hungry. I didn?t see anything other than sugary and greasy confections, perhaps we should see if we they have some fruit and cheese in the kitchen?[/B]?

Juste tried to not look too eager, but her laugher at his expression told him she had seen right through it.
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[indent][size=1][center][img] http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Victoria_Ann.jpg[/img] [img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest/fauntleroy-chronicle.jpg[/img] [img] http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Liana_Prideux.jpg[/img][/center]
During the course of the evening Fauntleroy somehow found himself as the dance partner for nearly every woman aboard the Alaina. Naturally he volunteered to dance with his sister, the bride, who was reveling in every bit of attention she could receive that evening. Unfortunately for Fonty a single Czenovian Waltz with Beatriste spawned countless sequels with Evangeline Marie, Macey Ellen, Dame Anna, Alecia Leanna and several others he had only just met that evening. This was one of the few occasions where he lamented looking so dapper in a tuxedo.

Sadly the one person he had hoped to find on the dance floor was anywhere but. Victoria Ann had a habit of getting herself into mischief, and with Cole distracted by the celebration now was a perfect time for the two of them to launch his latest scheme. As he dipped a young girl whose name he couldn’t quite remember, [i]Liana perhaps[/i], he finally noticed his niece helping herself to a small assortment of pastries.

“[b]Victoria![/b]” he exclaimed cheerfully from across the room.

“[b]Hi Uncle Fonty![/b]” Victoria Ann replied, “[b]What’s going on?[/b]”

She turned to the stranger dancing with Fauntleroy, “[b]Hi, I’m Victoria Ann. My mother was the one who got married today.[/b]”

“[b]Oh, congratulations. It was a lovely ceremony. My name is Liana Prideux. My grandfather knows Mr. Dreadnaught through the Anovan Silver Works.[/b]”

The two girls shared a smile.

“[b]Well Victoria Ann,[/b]” Fonty said, “[b]I have a top secret favor to ask of you.[/b]”

Victoria grinned, “[b]Oh really? [/b]”

“[b]Well …[/b]” he looked at Liana for a moment, thinking for a moment before he spoke, “[b]Actually, if you’d both like to help me it would be wonderful.[/b]”

The two nodded, and Fonty continued, “[b]Wonderful. I was changing my shirt earlier, so I set aside a small trinket of mine in the study. Could you go and fetch if for me?[/b]”

“[b]Wow, you must have had a lot of champagne if you don’t feel like getting it yourself,[/b]” Victoria Ann teased.

“[b]It’s not that. I just want to make sure I stay close to Macey Ellen and Marie Evangeline should there be any trouble…[/b]”

“[b]Oh. Right. What is it you needed us to get?[/b]”

“[b]It’s a small compass I left in the desk. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s very important that I have it in my posession. I'll need it for something big I am planning for tomorrow.[/b]”[/indent]
[indent][center][img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Elaine_Waltier.jpg[/img] [img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Belmonda_Achard.jpg[/img] [img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Juste_Achard.jpg[/img] [img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Felix_Achard.jpg[/img][/center]
Priestess Waltier and Juste walked around the deck of the Alaina, overlooking the desert sands below as they conversed with one another. Although he would never say it, Juste couldn’t help but admire his counterpart’s beauty beneath the full moonlight. Out of all the party’s guests, even among his own family, Elaine seemed to be the only one not completely caught up in the celebration. [i]If I had to attend one of these functions[/i], he thought, [i]I could be in much worse company…[/i]

Out of the corner of his eye Juste noticed a pair of figures approaching them from the other end of the deck. Both were familiar faces; his cousins Belmonda and Felix, who was conveniently a member of the elite Citadel Guard. Juste thought it strange that a security detail would be assigned to protect he and Priestess Waltier during something as benign as a wedding, but given the Almagests' history it made more than a bit of sense.

“[b]A-ha! I thought I had seen you during the ceremony![/b]” Bella said warmly, “[b]It’s been years Juste.[/b]”

He nodded, “[b]Yes it has, Belmonda. The last time I remember seeing you we were gathered in Achard Hall, playing soldiers in the courtyard.[/b]”

“[b]Yes, but some of us aren’t playing anymore.[/b]” Felix said.

“[b]Let me introduce you to Priestess Waltier, Belmonda,[/b]” Juste said as he motioned towards Elaine, “[b]She has been working closely with the High Priestess Yolanda and the Almagests following the Czenovian Revolution.[/b]“

“[b]It’s a pleasure to meet –[/b]” Priestess Waltier extended her hand to greet Belmonda and she sharply turned away “[b]Pardon me? Did I do something wrong?[/b]”

“[b]No no, not at all,[/b]” Felix said apologetically. “[b]Our family has a complicated history with the Almagests. [i]Isn’t that right Belmonda?[/i][/b]” He glared.

There was a moment of silence before Belmonda shook her head, “[b]Yes. I apologize for being so disrespectful. Merely the mention of that name causes me to cringe. You have my sympathies for having to deal with them as much as you have.[/b]”

Elaine laughed softly, “[b]If I may say so, Miss Achard, I don’t understand your feelings at all. They are not without fault, but the Almagests have worked tirelessly for the good of all Czenovians for many years now.[/b]”

“[b]Charity work is little comfort for the dead.[/b]” Belmonda replied coldly.

Felix quickly forced himself between the two women as Belmonda attempted to move closer to the priestess, “[b]Now I see why I was assigned here…[/b]” he quipped.

“[b]Bella, please.[/b]” he added, “[b]We stepped out to get away from this.[/b]

He shot an angry look at his sister, and she immediately stormed off towards the party. Priestess Waltier turned to Juste with a look of confusion on her face, “[b]What just happened?[/b]”

“[b]I’m honestly not sure. Perhaps we were better off on the deck after all.[/b]”

Suddenly a loud rumbling could be heard from above as an enormous shadow cast itself over the deck of the Alaina. The three turned their heads upwards, and discovered an enormous silhouette following closely behind the ship in the sky above. Felix reached for his sword.

“[b]Both of you![/b]” He commanded, “[b]Alert the crew that someone is approaching.[/b]”[/size][/indent]
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