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RPG The Almagest Expedition

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[COLOR="Indigo"][SIZE="1"][CENTER][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Harrison_Almagest.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/Ivan_Almagest.jpg[/IMG][/CENTER]
Harrison never did find anything better to eat. The only concession had been to at least get the staff to get him some milk instead of tasteless champagne. It still didn?t make up for the lack of real food. [I]What idiot planned this reception?[/I] With a ceremony at 4 o?clock one would think the fool would have thought to include more substantial food to account for it being the dinner hour.

In spite of that the evening seemed to be preceding rather smoothly, other than a few times when it looked like people might do more than a sharp exchange or two, things stayed calm. It probably helped that others were quick to keep things from becoming more than a few heated words. The dances, which he avoided as much as possible, went well. Harrison watched Fonty dancing with a number of the guests. Though why Fonty seemed to actually enjoy socializing was something he?d never understand.

At the moment Fonty was talking to Victoria Ann and one of the other guests, a Liana Priduex if he remembered correctly. There was something he wanted to ask Victoria Ann, but by the time he managed to get to where they were on the other side of the room, the girls were already on their way out.

?[B]Where are they going?[/B]? He asked his cousin, figuring it would be easier to ask than to follow and start hunting though the corridors.

Fonty turned to face him, an odd expression on his face. ?[B]Oh, there you are Harrison. You finally decide to stop hiding from the girls?[/B]?

?[B]What are you talking about? Answer the question.[/B]?

?[B]Didn?t I? Aren?t you here to ask Liana for a dance? She is quite pretty after all.[/B]? Fonty affected a look of innocence, but the hint of a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth gave him away.

?[B]You?re such a jerk.[/B]? Harrison said with disgust. ?[B]Why would I want to do that? I didn?t come here for that kind of stuff.[/B]? He glared at Fonty.

Fonty just grasped his chin and looked thoughtfully off into the distance for a moment. ?[B]Aren?t most boys your age looking for a pretty girl to hang out with?[/B]? He let go of his chin and grinned at Harrison.

?[B]Forget it.[/B]? Harrison shook his head in disgust as he turned to stalk off.

[I]What the hell has gotten into him?[/I] He thought as he found a spot at one of the empty tables back along the far wall. It wasn?t that he didn?t think girls weren?t interesting; he really didn?t have time for that kind of nonsense. He would be heading back to the 2nd fleet soon so it was a waste of time to get to know anyone.

He was so engrossed in his thoughts that he didn?t realize someone was approaching where he was sitting. A shadow falling on the table caught his attention and he looked up, expecting to see one of the servers. Instead, it was another guest. There was something familiar about the young man, as if he should know who they were.

?[B]Are you Harrison Almagest?[/B]? He asked him curtly.

Harrison?s eyebrow shot up. ?[B]What of it?[/B]?

?[B]Where?s Dawlish Almagest.[/B]? He demanded.

?[B]Excuse me?[/B]? Harrison stood up. ?[B]Just who the hell are you?[/B]?

?[B]Don?t act like you don?t know.[/B]? The young man said defensively.

Harrison leaned back against the wall behind him and folded his arms. ?[B]And I?m supposed to know who you are because...?[/B]?

The stranger?s arms stiffened and he clenched his hands into fists, his face reddening slightly. ?[B]Don?t play stupid; just tell me where the hell that murdering bastard is.[/B]?

Harrison?s mouth opened in a little o of understanding. ?[B]Ahhhhh, so you must be my nephew, Ivan if I remember correctly.[/B]? He sighed. [I]What a pain in the ass.[/I] He let his arms drop to his sides before answering the question.

?[B]Do I look like my brother?s keeper?[/B]? It was a rhetorical question and he didn?t wait for Ivan to answer. ?[B]Let?s get something straight [I]kid[/I][/B],? he said in his most condescending tone of voice, ignoring Ivan who had bristled indignantly, they were, after all, the same age.

?[B]If you have issues with my brother, that?s [I]your[/I] problem.[/B]? He pushed off the wall to walk around him, god how he hated the stupid drama his family couldn?t seem to leave behind.

?[B]I?m not done talking to you.[/B]? Ivan protested.

?[B]Yes you are. In case you haven?t done your homework, Dawlish is involved with Icarus industries where I?ve been serving in the 2nd air fleet.[/B]? He stopped and turned back to stare at Ivan. ?[B]I haven?t seen Dawlish in over a year so [I]obviously[/I] I don?t know where he is. Try contacting Icarus.[/B]?

Finished he turned and stalked through the guests, heading for one of the doors that lead to the outer decks. He needed a breath of fresh air. The sooner the stupid reception was over, the better. [/SIZE][/COLOR]

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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/Victoria_Ann.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Liana_Prideux.jpg[/IMG][/CENTER]
The evening was going far smoother than Frederic had expected. Either people were outright avoiding one another or they were just being civil for a change. He hadn?t seen Bella or Felix in a while but he knew Felix would step in if anything started to get out of hand.

Frederic smiled a little to himself as he returned from taking a look around the [I]Alaina[/I]. He stepped to the side to make way for the two girls coming down the hallway but instead of passing him, they came to a stop and the one with dark hair looked up at him questioningly.

?[B]You?re with Bella and Felix right?[/B]? She leaned forward just a touch while the other girl held back a tiny bit. There was something familiar about the other one though he couldn?t seem to place it.

?[B]I am.[/B]?

?[B]Oh good.[/B]? She smiled at him. ?[B]I was looking for you earlier you know.[/B]?

?[B]Oh? Why for?[/B]?

?[B]Because I figured you were siblings since you look so much alike.[/B]?

Frederic laughed a bit at her astuteness. ?[B]You?re quite correct. My name is Frederic Achard.[/B]?

?[B]I thought so.[/B]? She sounded quite satisfied with herself. ?[B]You look an awful lot like Bella.[/B]?

?[B]That?s because she?s my twin sister.[/B]?

?[B]Ohhhhh. No wonder![/B]? She curtsied slightly and grinned. ?[B]I?m Victoria Ann Almagest; my mother is the one who got married.[/B]? She continued before he could congratulate her. ?[B]This is my new friend Liana Priduex.[/B]?

[I]Ahhh, no wonder she looks familiar.[/I] He didn?t really know her all that well but he had seen her before and knew what she did. He addressed her directly. ?[B]You work for Cobalt Silverworks correct?[/B]?

?[B]Yes.[/B]? She stammered in surprise.

?[B]I thought so. I?m pretty sure you?ve helped me pick out a locket for a birthday present before.[/B]?

Frederic chatted with the girls for a couple of minutes before Victoria politely ended the conversation. The pair continued to wherever it was they had been headed before running into him. He watched them go and then just chuckled a bit before returning to the main reception room.

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?[B]I see that Victoria Ann finally managed to catch up with you Fredric.[/B]? A familiar voice over to the left commented.

He turned and then smiled upon seeing that it was Gustave. ?[B]That she did, she?s just as you described her, bright and inquisitive. She certainly seems like a nice enough kid.[/B]?

Gustave nodded. ?[B]So how have you been? You like being back in Le Monde? Though I?m sure you could do without the meddlesome attempts at matchmaking.[/B]?

?[B]Don?t I know it.[/B]? Frederic agreed. ?[B]At least here, everyone is either married, the wrong age or completely unappealing.[/B]? The two of them laughed.

Frederic watched the guests as they danced and mingled. He could see the Almagest twins across the room and he was careful to look away before either one of them caught his gaze.

?[B]That?s the best kind of wedding to attend.[/B]? Gustave observed. ?[B]One where you can actually enjoy yourself without needing to dodge unwanted attention.[/B]?

A voice from behind cut in. ?[B]If only I could be so lucky,[/B]? They turned to see who it was. It was Natalia.

?[B]How have you been Natalia?[/B]? Frederic asked her. It had been a while since he had seen her. ?[B]I take it you?re still working with Chimaeras?[/B]?

She smiled wanly. ?[B]I?m doing alright, and yes I?m still working with Chimaeras.[/B]?

?[B]Glad to hear it. I also hear that your mother is bound and determined to find you a suitable husband.[/B]?

Natalia rolled her eyes and then grimaced slightly at the sound of her mother?s voice as she came to find her. ?[B]I hate to be rude,[/B]? She said urgently, ?[B]But I?m going to hurry off before she gets over here.[/B]?

?[B]Not at all.[/B]? Gustave looked over her shoulder, he gave her a sympathetic look, ?[B]A breath of fresh air is just what you need and I will tell your mother so.[/B]?

"[B]Thank you.[/B]" She smiled gratefully to both of them before taking off, quickly making it to the closest exit to the reception area.

?[B]You might want to do the same.[/B]? Gustave advised, once Natalia was gone.

?[B]Oh? Why is that?[/B]?

?[B]Don?t look now, but the Almagests are wandering in this direction and though I know Macey will be perfectly civil, you wouldn?t want Bella to feel like she had to rescue you from her clutches.[/B]?

?[B]You?re right,[/B]? Frederic agreed. ?[B]I think I?ll just head on over and explore the sections of the ship I haven?t seen yet.[/B]?

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Frederic couldn?t help but grin to himself as he made for the door leading to the other side of the airship. It was rather amusing to be dodging some of the guests. He may not have liked Macey, but it wouldn?t have bothered him if he had actually talked to her. Gustave was right though, if Bella saw them talking, she?d feel compelled to do something and the two of them talking, would be a disaster.

He was through the door and halfway down the corridor when he was joined by Cole Dreadnaught who was also going in the same direction. Frederic paused to offer him congratulations on the wedding but Cole spoke first.

?[B]Ah Frederic, I?d like to speak with you for a moment if you don?t mind.[/B]?

?[B]Uh, sure.[/B]? He answered.

He motioned with his head, ?[B]follow me please.[/B]?

His brow furrowed slightly as he followed Cole through several passage ways until he let both of them into a private room and shut the door. He gave Frederic a searching gaze before he finally begun.

?[B]I apologize for taking you away from the festivities.[/B]? He paused for a moment, his eyes narrowing slightly before he continued. ?[B]I?d like to ask you to do something for me but before I do that, I must ask you to swear that you will not tell anyone about what I?m about to tell you should you choose to decline.[/B]?

[I]What??[/I] Fredric just stared at him for a moment, wondering what in the world he could possibly be talking about that would warrant such secrecy. Cole waited patiently for him to answer and finally agree that he would tell no one what he heard.

?[B]Right,[/B]? Cole walked away a few steps and then turned back, standing almost at attention. ?[B]What I?m about to tell you is top secret and as agreed, you must not tell anyone about it.[/B]?

?[B]Recently we?ve gained information about the existence of Xear artifacts,[/B]? He took in Frederic?s look of surprise at the statement. ?[B]I'd like to ask you to lead the search for these artifacts. I?m sure I don?t have to tell you the magnitude of such a discovery.[/B]?

Frederic shook his head. Cole certainly didn?t need to tell him just how important such a find would be. Artifacts from the Xear culture would be beyond price and something that, depending on what it was, shouldn?t be allowed to fall into Czenovian hands.

?[B]I see,[/B]? Frederic finally said once Cole was done explaining. ?[B]If I agree to lead the search, you?ll be providing whatever supplies or services are needed, correct?[/B]?

?[B]Yes.[/B]? Cole answered. ?[B]You don?t have to answer right now, but I will need to know by morning what your decision is.[/B]?

?[B]Understood. I?d like to think about it.[/B]? Frederic replied. ?[B]I?ll give you my decision first thing tomorrow.[/B]?

?[B]Fair enough.[/B]? Cole replied. ?[B]In the meantime, let?s head back before my wife realizes that I?ve wandered off.[/B]? He opened the door and lead the way back to where the reception was being held.

He was talking about various things going on, idle discussion really, but Frederic?s mind was already spinning with what he had told him. He wasn?t sure about the specifics of getting time off and heading out, but he knew, even before they got back to the reception area, that he would accept the offer. [/FONT]

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[SIZE="1"][B]"So you know Frederic?"[/B] Young Victoria Ann asked.

[B]"Not personally."[/B] Liana replied, [B]"I've met most of the Achards on occasion through Cobalt and the jewelry store where I intern at in Le Monde."[/B]

[B]"That sounds like a lot of fun. The last time I was in Anova, I was too young to remember. But I've seen pictures and it looks so beautiful."[/B]

[B]"Well, maybe sometime soon, I can invite you for a visit. It would be a lot of fun seeing that I don't have a lot of friends."[/B]

[B]"I would really like that, thank you."[/B] Victoria was beaming at the thought of it.

Liana and Victoria were becoming fast friends, it seemed. So far, Liana couldn't understand why Marcel had looked so gloomy at the mention of the Almagests. The entire family seemed incredibly nice and deep down, Liana had always wished for a bigger family. It was moments like this that made her think about her real parents.

Victoria Ann caught noticed the sudden change in her demeanor, [B]"What's wrong?"[/B]

[B]"Oh, it's nothing. I was just thinking of my parents."[/B] she replied, staring at her feet as the two walked down the many corridors of the [I]Alaina[/I].

[B]"Well, if you want, you can go back to the reception and I'll fetch the compass for Uncle Fonty. It's not a big deal."[/B] she said innocently.

Liana smiled. [I]'Of course, she couldn't have known,'[/I] She reminded herself. [B]"Well, I highly doubt that my family is at the reception.[/B] Victoria stopped and looked at her quizzically, prompting an answer. [B]"You see, I was adopted. I don't know my real parents."[/B]

[B]"Oh,"[/B] Victoria turned to walk again. She must have felt awkward for prying. [B]"I'm sorry, I didn't know."[/B]

[B]"It's fine. I love my grandfather just as much as if he were my real family."[/B] she assured her.

[B]"That's good,"[/B] Victoria continued, [B]"I suppose that family is really what you make of it."[/B] The couple took another hallway to the left. [B]"Look at the Almagests: We don't see each other for years on end and when we do, you're lucky if you leave without getting caught up in the drama."[/B]

[B]"But you all seem so happy."[/B] She said.

Victoria smiled, perhaps Liana was the innocent one now. [B]"Well, on the outside yes. But the revolution three years ago has really torn us apart.[/B] Another turn to the right and a flight of stairs upward. [B]"But I suppose they could also seem nice because they're overcautious with Macey and Bella in the same room."[/B]

[B]"I did pick up on something like that, when I was dancing with your uncle. He kept glancing over at Macey and Bella as if they would murder each other."[/B]

[B]"It's a long story, Liana."[/B] she said with a smirk, [B]"You don't even want to know."[/B] And Liana agreed to leave it at that.

They were finally at the study. Liana felt awkward being there, like she wasn't allowed, but the bold girl just marched through the door. [I]'I suppose she is an Almagest. Surely I can't get into any trouble with her.'[/I]

Upon entering, there was a man sitting in a chair in the corner of the room. [B]"Hi Charles. Why aren't you at the reception."[/B] Victoria Ann was a social butterfly; she seemed to know everyone.

[B]"Oh, you know,"[/B] He said, raising a glass to his lips. Liana assumed it was liquor of some sort. [B]"I've never really known how to function at your family's get-togethers."[/B]

[B]"That's true,"[/B] Victoria agreed, [B]"Well, don't mind us. We're just grabbing something for Uncle Fonty."[/B]

The man nodded and Victoria immediately approached the desk and retrieved the compass before turning to exit. She said farewell to the man and the the two began their trek back to the reception room. Victoria was examining the compass.

[B]"So who was that?"[/B] Liana questioned.

[B]"Right! I forgot to introduce you. It must have slipped my mind."[/B] she said apologetically. [B]"That was my brother in-law, Charles. He was married to my eldest sister, Liz, but she passed away some time ago."[/B]

[B]"Oh, I'm sorry."[/B]

[B]"It's okay. He's been a recluse ever since. I really wish he could find someone to make him happy some day."[/B] She stopped. And made an odd face when she opened the compass. [B]"That's odd."[/B]

[B]"What is it?"[/B]

[B]"The compass isn't pointing north."[/B]

Liana leaned over to examine the object with her new friend. After some time, Victoria closed it and shrugged it off. [B]"Oh well,"[/B] she said.

They walked in silence for a brief period. Then suddenly, [B]"So, any boys you're interested in?"[/B]

[B]"What?"[/B] Liana burst. She was caught so off guard that she couldn't help but laugh a little. [B]"No, none that I'm aware of."[/B]

After going back down the stairs, they took a corridor that didn't look familiar. [B]"Is this the way we came?"[/B] Liana was completely lost onboard this foreign vessel.

[B]"Detour,"[/B] Was all Victoria said before changing the subject back to her. [B]"Well, I could introduce you to some, if you want. Chances are, I'm related to most of them here."[/B]

Liana wasn't sure why Victoria Ann felt the need to play matchmaker all of a sudden, but she certainly didn't protest. She actually kind of liked the idea, but she could never let Victoria know that. She smiled at the thought of some of the cute boys she had seen at the reception.

Liana just shook her head and smiled gratefully at Victoria, hoping that young girl would know what that meant. They continued to wander through the many corridors of the [I]Alaina[/I]. Liana realized she hadn't seen much of the ship yet, but for some reason she couldn't take her mind off of Victoria's offer.[/SIZE]

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[INDENT][SIZE="1"][CENTER][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Dawlish_Almagest.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://zeitgeistglee.250free.com/Esther.jpg[/IMG]
?[b]My lord, we?re approaching the expected position of the [i]Alaina[/i] for this time and have located a ship.[/b]?

Dawlish?s fingers glided across the elegant ivory keys of the grand piano in front of him, a sombre tune more reminiscent of a funeral dirge than a wedding melody filling the stately room he?d seconded himself to in preparation for their arrival. Sighing quietly he withdrew from the instrument, rubbing his right wrist slightly before redonning his gloves.

?[b]Excellent, thank you Soran. Have the crew make the necessary preparations and ensure that everything is, and goes as planned. Should anything happen to ruin my cousin?s wedding I shall be looking for new human participants for my evening exercise.[/b]?

The Al-Ahmari flinched visibly at the comment, their master did not tolerate failure and the nature of his exercises were spoken of with fear and hushed tones. Dawlish allowed the comment to hang in the air between them, adjusting his dinner jacket without returning his attention to the servant. His tone was never menacing, without a hint of aggression or malice but it never needed to be. Just like with his detractors, half rumours were expanded upon into innately held fears and they sufficed better than any other motivator he could think of. Yes loyalty obtained through fear was utterly superior to loyalty bought.

?[b]Of course my lord. All shall be as you command it.[/b]?

He smiled as the man automatically bowed and withdrew from the room, his back still firmly arched forward in subservience.

Walking slowly over to the window Dawlish watched the clouds whip by. For a ship of its size its speed was quite surprising, and even that was not its true trump card. The doors opened and he gave a half glance over his shoulder as Esther drew into the room, her form accentuated perfectly by the new gown. It as most regretful that she remained unwilling to publicly admit they were involved but perhaps with time that would change. Wordlessly she drew up beside him, he arm moving around the small of his back as she hugged in close to him and his left arm embraced her. They watched the clouds in silence for several moments before she broke it.

?[b]I saw Soran in the hall, you frightened him half to death Dawlish.[/b]?

Her tone wasn?t accusatory, though neither was it admonishing, a simple statement that somehow stung him to have it come from her.

?[b]I know, I?m sorry. Soran has been an excellent servant his predecessor?s death but sometimes my dear I must use unpleasant techniques to ensure that nothing is risked. Tonight must go absolutely perfectly in my plans are to proceed as expected.[/b]?

He felt her grip tighten against him and again they were left in one another?s silence, simply to gaze at the clouds passing by. His family, he thought silently, would not be pleased to see him, in fact that would probably be putting it very, very lightly. The manner in which he would now make his grand re-entrance into their lives was also bound to cause further contention as well. It didn?t exactly perturb him to have become such a pariah, Leonhart and his kin had come through the revolution without any irreplaceable loss so who were they to judge Dawlish based on his choices, having buried all but his youngest brother.

Harrison...It had been too long since he?d seen him, but his brother had made his feelings on the matter of joining Icarus and Dawlish quite clear twelve months beforehand. It had stung to have him turn down the offer flatly, but in retrospect Harrison seemed to have settled into the military well in the two years since he?d been commissioned so perhaps Dawlish had been foolish in believe he would simply leave at his brother?s call. They would have a talk later, away from the others, after all it was nearly time for him to receive his share of their inheritance. Maybe this time his answer would be different, Dawlish did not expect it to be but there was always a chance.

Of course then there was his nephew Ivan to deal with. The existence of the boy had come as quite a surprise to the normally meticulous Dawlish, but then the way in which he had come to learn of his nephew could hardly be described as normal circumstances. Doubtless the boy would come charging at him full of rage and retribution intending to avenge his father?s ignoble death at the hands of his uncle, he would have to pitch the idea to the literary division and have them create a book out of it. Funny, even now the boy was helping push his plans, if only financially.

?[b]You?ve gone very quiet Dawlish, having second thoughts ?[/b]?

Broken from his pattern of thought he shook his head slightly and smiled.

?[b]Never. The party needs a bit of excitement.[/b]?

She rolled her eyes and then sighed as the [i]Alaina[/i] came into view from their descent. The gentle hum of the ship quietened to a whisper as the crew were preparing everything as per his instructions. This is really going to cause he scene he thought amusedly. Dawlish would have to give Gustave credit where it was due, the [i]Alaina[/i] was quite a beautiful ship to view from the outside. The sunset seemed to create a pearlescent effect on the exotic varnished timbers of her hull, and the way in which he sails caught the gentle evening breeze gave it an elegant and almost lifelike quality.

Esther remained perfectly professional in front of the other staff as they stepped onto the much smaller craft that would rendezvous with the [i]Alaina[/i]. As far as they were concerned she was simply accompanying him as his assistant to the formal function, the fact she was wearing such an expensive dress would be accepted as a requirement for the event rather than something more personal between the two.

A single low whine and the shuttle left the safety of the much larger vessel behind, making a beeline for the [i]Alaina?s[/i] open bay. Dawlish would have to admit that despite leaving the military he still found piloting a pleasurable activity, moments later the ship touched down, it was somewhat surprising there were no security guards present, after all if someone with ill-intent were to arrive one never knew what could happen.

?[b]Please Dawlish, don?t do anything rash that you?ll regret later.[/b]?

He gave her a knowing smile before offering her his hand, yes tonight would be complicated, for a variety of reasons.

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The [i]Alaina[/i] was quite a bit more spacious inside than he?d expected, a litany of servants moving to and fro between the rooms where the guests were dining. It had been a servant, who at a glance appeared to have been dipping into the wine he was supposed to be ensuring reached the attendees that had provided Dawlish and Esther with directions towards the main reception room. After a set of jovial hics the man proceeded to slap Dawlish on the shoulder and say that the newlyweds would hardly be impressed by party-crashers but that he was probably well-dressed enough to get away with it.

Oddly he felt something like butterflies in his stomach before actually walking into the room, it had been a long time since he?d seen most of them in person, even his recent contact with Macey had been conducted through a medium. Perhaps it was down to the fact the last time he?d seen them all had been at his father?s funeral and what had occurred after it was something he still found quite difficult to even think about.

?[b]Dawlish ?[/b]?

Oh well so much for making a grand entrance.

?[b]Hello Macey, lovely evening isn?t it ?[/b]?

She wasn?t in the mood for jokes.

?[b]You absolute cretin. Do you have any idea how badly Bea will react to this? There was a reason you were left off the guest list although perhaps they?d have been more intelligent just invite you rather than allow you to create a commotion by crashing the party.[/b]?

Her expression softened into a small smile.

?[b]Honestly, only you would arrive uninvited to a reception being held thousands of feet above the ground. I take it that ship was yours then? It caused something of a panic among the Anovans, though I suspect most of the Almagests knew it was probably you.[/b]?

?[b]I take it you?re getting on splendidly with your new family members?[/b]?

She glared at him before tugging on his arm.

?[b]Well no sense in having you wait out here alone in the hallway, you might be mistaken for a servant.[/b]?

He doubted Macey could gather any more satisfaction from leading him inside though he strode as confidently as if it had been his idea entirely. The reactions went as expected, a dozen mutters, a few sighs, a litany of eyes glancing at the ceiling before someone deigned to break the verbal silence that had been marked by a rather jolly Anovique waltz in the background.

?[b]I suppose this means you lose the bet Fonty, Macey was the first one to find him.[/b]?

His cousin muttered something that sounded distinctly like ?probably only came upon him by chance getting away from the Achards? but Leonhart merely waved his son off and shook his head at seeing Dawlish.

?[b]You really are an incorrigible man sometimes Dawlish.[/b]?

Beatriste appeared to be debating how exactly she would respond to his arrival, probably assessing exactly how she would be judged based on the rumours that would spring forth from the evening. In the end she gave him what he knew was a mock smile and spoke in a tone he recalled her using only to scold him, not that anyone would know from the tone?s sweetness.

?[b]Dawlish how wonderful of you to join us, we did hope your business wouldn?t keep you away. And who?s your company for this evening, such a lovely young lady.[/b]?

?[b]Of course I would make time to see my family my dear Beatriste, it is not often we have such happy occasions to celebrate. This is my assistant Esther, I?m afraid I simply left at the last minute and chose to come almost alone.[/b]"

He gave a small laugh before turning to lock eyes with her new husband.

"[b]Cole my sincerest congratulations, you've landed quite a catch here. I imagine seeing as we're family now I'll get a discount on all that silver I buy from you.[/b]"

"[b]I wouldn't count on it Dawlish, I thought you said business was business.[/b]"

Anyone from outside probably wouldn?t see beyond the veneer of cheer. Thankfully that was shattered relatively quickly.

?[b]You murdering bastard.[/b]?

Ah, time to meet his nephew.[/SIZE][/INDENT]

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[FONT="Times New Roman"][B]"DAAAAAAWLIIIIISH!"[/B]

Ivan charged at his uncle as fast as his feet would carry him, left fist drawn back for a heavy blow. He let fly, only to feel the air in front of him as Dawlish deftly sidestepped.

[B]"Ah, hello, Ivan. Enjoying the party?"[/B] asked Dawlish calmly,[B]"I imagine it's somewhat rare for you to be at an Almagest gathering like this."[/B]

[B]Yeah, I think the last one was my father's funeral!"[/B]

Dawlish chuckled slightly. [B]"Clever. Did you spend the entire evening thinking of that?"[/B]

[B]"No,"[/B] replied Ivan, [B]"I spent it plotting to kill you!"[/B]

Ivan threw a number of punches, most of which were blocked or dodged. The kick, however, made hard contact with Dawlish's stomach.

[B]"Right,"[/B] muttered Dawlish, clutching his chest and turning to the other guests, [B]"Have we all had enough of this spectacle?"[/B]

There seemed to be a general consensus, so Dawlish drew his sword. Two swift jabs and a light cut to the cheek soon had Ivan sitting on the ground, utterly defenseless, with the tip of Dawlish's blade at his neck.

[B]"I've been told that the sword can be thought of as an extension of the arm. It also happens to be sharper."[/B]

[B]"Finish it, then!"[/B] said Ivan, coldly staring into his uncle's eyes.

Dawlish turned to the onlookers and noticed Diane, mortified, staring at the scene.

[B]"No, I don't think I will,"[/B] he replied, [B]"Not in front of your mother, at least. And I suppose it would put quite the damper on the festivities."[/B]

With that, Dawlish sheathed his blade and returned to the party.

Ivan took the opportunity to patch himself up a bit, alchemically mending the cut on his cheek. [I]It's not even deep enough to scar!,[/I] he muttered to himself, [I]Damn him, he was playing with me![/I][/FONT]

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Victoria Ann had planned on introducing Liana to people at the reception, but instead she got to the doors leading in only to see that Dawlish and some woman she had never seen before had shown up. She didn?t even know the elegantly dressed woman but she instantly disliked her, just as she groaned inwardly when Ivan attacked Dawlish.

?[B]Honestly,[/B]? She lamented. ?[B]See what I mean? Silly stupid drama.[/B]? She rolled her eyes as Dawlish put an end to Ivan?s theatrics and moved on.

She grasped Liana?s shoulder to reassure her since the sight of Dawlish lightly cutting Ivan?s cheek with his sword seemed to alarm her quite a bit.

?[B]Don?t worry; Dawlish won?t do anything that stupid.[/B]? She nodded towards Alexander and a few others who were already moving to break it up should either one of them get any ideas.

She smiled reassuringly to her. ?[B]And here they think I?m a kid and even I know better to behave like that. Adults are [I]so[/I] irrational.[/B]?

?[B]I don?t understand,[/B]? Liana stammered a bit. ?[B]Why did he call him a murderer?[/B]?

Victoria sighed, the compass in her pocket forgotten, as she firmly took Liana?s right arm and started steering her away from the reception. ?[B]Why don?t I show you more of the [I]Alaina[/I] while I explain?[/B]?

?[B]Is that alright?[/B]? She asked once Victoria Ann let go. ?[B]I mean, is it okay if we take off without asking?[/B]?

Victoria Ann made a harrumphing noise. ?[B]Of course it is. Gustave is one of my best friends.[/B]? She laughed lightly. ?[B]He promised me a tour of the ship later on and he wouldn?t say that if it wasn?t okay for me to look around.[/B]?

?[B]Besides, so long as Dawlish is here crashing the reception I?d rather do something more fun than listen to the adults fight like little kids.[/B]? She frowned. ?[B]I guess telling you about that mess won?t really be fun either.[/B]?

?[B]You don?t have to tell me,[/B]? Liana said hurriedly. ?[B]I don?t mind.[/B]?

Victoria shrugged as she choose a right turn and then started down a set of stairs. ?[B]It?s not like it?s a big secret. Dawlish?s father died during the revolution. When we went to the funeral, his brother Jacob, who is Ivan?s father, showed up.[/B]?

She grimaced. ?[B]He was really rude and Dawlish got mad and challenged him to a duel.[/B]?

Victoria nodded grimly at Liana?s sudden intake of breath. [I]Maybe I shouldn?t have told her,[/I] she thought as Liana?s hand flew to her mouth and she turned pale.

?[B]I tried to stop him, I don?t care if duels are legal, they?re stupid.[/B]? She growled. ?[B]Alexander tried to stop them too, but the others wouldn?t let us.[/B]?

?[B]I?m so sorry.[/B]? Liana said in a shocked voice. ?[B]I had no idea. I?m so sorry, I shouldn?t have asked you.[/B]?

Victoria Ann stopped and reached over and hugged her gently before letting go. ?[B]Don?t be sorry, it?s not your fault and like I said, it?s no secret. But it is why the others were moving in to break it up. I don?t think Dawlish would do anything to Ivan, but I didn?t think he?d do anything to Jacob either[/B].?

She grabbed her hand and pulled to get her moving again. ?[B]Forget about that, we?ll explore the engines and all the rooms. We?ll have fun while all the silly adults drink too much and argue over things that don?t matter.[/B]? She grinned at Liana, ?[B]Okay?[/B]?

She let go when Liana nodded and then proceeded down the corridor, her mind already moving to other things. [/FONT][/COLOR]

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Several of the [i]Alaina’s[/i] private security had formed a semi-circle around Dawlish Almagest, cautiously waiting for an excuse to forcibly remove the unwanted guest. As the crowd gossiped amongst themselves, Leonhart Almagest took a moment to admire the size and scope of Dawlish’s [i]Merdidia[/i]. Every since the young man sold his interest in Magitech and founded Icarus Leonhart had been hearing rumblings of enormous construction projects taking place along the Anovan border. [i]If he were able to build such a majestic ship in only a few year’s time[/i], Leonhart thought, [i]What else could he have created?[/i]

“[b]That is quite enough,[/b]” the old man commanded, motioning for the young Ivan to leave, “[b]I will not have either of you make a mockery of my daughter’s wedding.[/b]”

Dawlish thought for a moment, then softly nodded, “[b]But of course Leonhart. I merely came to present a gift to the bride, and send her my best wishes.[/b]”

He reached within his coat pocket and withdrew a simple silver pendant, containing a few arcane symbols scratched onto its’ side. Beatriste turned her head away in disgust. Dawlish reached for his cousin’s hand, but was quickly interrupted by a sharp set of glances from Cole and Gustave. Instead he reached for Cole’s hand, and placed the jewelry in his palm.

Cole took a moment to admire the piece, and soon recognized the origin of the inscription: Xear.

“[b]It seemed appropriate given the mumblings I have been hearing from Villette, Cole. I take it you’ll launch your search as soon as the festivities are over?[/b]”

Beatriste leaned in to her husband, “[b]What is he talking about?[/b]”

“[b]You’ve been spying on me?[/b]”

Dawlish let out a cocky laugh, “[b]It’s a necessity of this business, I’m afraid. But don’t worry, not even I have seen the details of that Xear map you have hidden so deep underground….[/b]”

The word ‘Xear’ quickly drew the attention of several onlookers. Leonhart narrowed his eyes; what he had hoped to be a private search was at risk of becoming public; he knew that he would have to organize an expedition at once if he hoped to recover the artifacts for Czenovia.

Beatriste was clearly upset by these confrontations, but did her best to hide it so as not to ruin her make-up, “[b]Cousin. Please. We will be landing soon and I’d like to enjoy the rest of my wedding peacefully.[/b]”

Dawlish bowed respectfully, "[b]You are right Bea, I'm sorry for the commotion.[/b]"

The bride stood up and walked away to Esther, who had been sheepishly standing in the corner during the various confrontations, “[b]Hello my dear, I don’t believe we have been formally introduced, and I make it a point to meet everyone who attends my wedding.[/b]”

Esther curtsied, “[b]My name is Esther Blake, Dawlish's personal assistant and advisor.It’s a pleasure to meet you Mrs. Dreadnaught. Your gown looks absolutely gorgeous.[/b]”

“[b]Why thank you Miss Blake, and you can call me Beatriste. This was a personal gift from my friend Edith Grimoire,[/b]” Bea smiled softly, “[b]I see from your dress that you are a fan of her label as well.[/b]”

“[b]Oh very much so! I think every young girl goes through the newspapers, though, cutting out pictures of the latest fashions from the House of Grimoire. If Dawlish had not been kind enough to buy me this, I never would have been able to afford it myself.[/b]”

“[b]Well, I think even Edith would agree that someone such as yourself deserves only the finest things in life.[/b]”

“[b]You are too kind.[/b]”

“[b]Not at all. If you are in Le Monde after the weekend you should visit the House of Grimoire, and tell them I sent you. I understand the label is holding their annual fashion show throughout the week, and nobody leaves without a designer outfit or two.[/b]”

The two women shared a laugh, and they turned towards Dawlish.

“[b]This is the side of him I loathe,[/b] Esther said coldly, “[b]In private company he is one man, yet when running Icarus or dealing with his family he is someone else entirely.[/b]”

“[b]It is… it is hard for me to [i]pity[/i] Dawlish after everything he has done, but I will always care for him. He has been through much tragedy in his life, I only wish he could find peace.[/b]”

Esther sighed, “[b]I only wish he would let me in.[/b]”

Beatriste paused, thinking for a moment before she spoke again, “[b]You know, Dawlish’s mother once told me that the key to dealing with an Almagest was patience. If you give it enough time, his softer side will begin to show itself.[/b]”

“[b]And what am I supposed to do until then?[/b]”

“[b]Ride it out and make the most of it, I suppose. After all, you are being paid to attend the biggest party of the year. It seems such a waste not to enjoy yourself at least a small bit.[/b]”

Esther gave an approving nod, and she walked back towards her date.

"[b]How was your chat with Beatriste Elyse?[/b]"

"[b]Good, thank you. She's as nice as the papers say she is,[/b]" Esther replied as she extended her hand to Dawlish, "[b]Now if you're done terrifying your family, this girl would like a dance.[/b]"[/size][/indent]

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[SIZE="1"]When she had followed Dawlish into the party, Esther had tried her best to prepare herself for any sort of eventuality. She was caught off-guard by Macey Ellen?s cold pleasantness, and had dared to hope that, perhaps, the evening would go off without stepping on too many toes. As Dawlish made formalities and began speaking with his family she excused herself, instead preferring to observe from afar. She had not expected such an uproar, however, when one of Dawlish?s younger relations spotted him. She hated confrontations, they made her feel weak and at a loss for how to handle them in any sort of intelligent way. She had never felt herself stupid, but when a person told her in no two ways that she was useless she usually struggled to construct an argument against it. It wasn?t that she agreed with them, far from it, it just seemed as though her brain shut down and retreated and hoped the predator would go away so she could breathe properly again.

She also found the situation with Dawlish and his family monumentally sad. For someone as close to her own family as Esther was, seeing a rift on such a scale made her heart ache, not just for the man she loved but for his relatives, too, and their friends. Family networks should have been close things, and a rift like this affected those even without an opinion on either side. She had watched Ivan as he retreated, a hand against her chest and a saddened look on her face. The fact that Dawlish had done something so terrible to incite such rage from his own blood made her feel like she didn?t know him at all, and not for the first time. This was something she felt she should one day discuss with him, but when their heads rested on their pillows and their hands laced together, still clammy with sweat, she found it hard to think of any criticisms of Dawlish Almagest at all.

When the lady of the evening herself had drifted over, an air of pleasantness and confidence about her, Esther had had to forcibly unstick her tongue from the roof of her mouth. She was shocked to find conversation coming so easily, feeling quite surreal as she held herself with such an important figure. It seemed different dealing with Dawlish. She sometimes forgot how important he was as a professional, instead of just the man.

The idea of going to a show at the House of Grimoire, and being able to say she had been sent by an Almagest filled her head with a childlike buzz that made Esther forget her previous nerves. She appreciated Beatriste?s advice, suspecting the bride knew more than she was entirely letting on, and wandered back over to Dawlish, a smile creeping onto her face as he looked at her appreciatively.

[B]"How was your chat with Beatriste Elyse?"[/B]

[B]"Good, thank you. She's as nice as the papers say she is,"[/B] her reply had been slightly cheeky, as though Dawlish had been expecting her to flail for words, and she felt more comfortable again. He had that sort of an effect on her. [B]"Now if you're done terrifying your family, this girl would like a dance."[/B]

[B]?But of course, Miss Blake. If I didn?t bring you along to dance, why would I have brought you at all??[/B] he said, taking her hands so she could fold them over his own, her form set and the space between them all that proprietary demanded.

[B]?So that you seemed as though you actually had friends??[/B]

He had laughed at that, and her heart fluttered, though the laugh seemed projected somehow. The laugh of a man in charge, not a private one that only the two of them could share. She was pleased the music was more lively, supposing the musicians were aware that by now more than a few of the guests had enough drinks in them to be less embarrassed and more in the mood for a giggling, twirling faster pace. She had always been a fair dancer, not exceptional, but fair. Dawlish was a fantastic partner, and she felt only more capable because of him. Though she did notice he seemed to be steering them towards another group of people she didn?t entirely recognise, but they clearly knew of him. Her feet followed the steps she had practiced ever since she went to school balls, and Dawlish?s hand rested at the small of her back, guiding her with gentle presses and soft strokes, when he seemed to think he could get away with it.

Of course she realised this would be another chance for him to talk, and another time for her to excuse herself while Dawlish dealt with business. She could use a drink, anyway. Better to get rid of the urge now before she got to the point when she didn?t want to stop.

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[font=garamond][size=4][right][B]Xear Who?[/B][/right][/font][/size][font=palatino linotype]Gustave stood next to Olivier on the upper deck, just behind a large group of people. Dawlish Almagest's arrival had caused quite a stir.

'Uncle Olivier, what is this map Dawlish is talking about?' asked Gustave, his eyebrows furrowed.

Olivier rubbed his chin thoughtfully. 'He mentioned the Xear. You know who they are, don't you?'

Gustave remembered vague stories about the Xear from his school years. He had never been the most adept student, mostly due to tardiness and disinterest more than raw intelligence. By far the most interesting topic in high school, though, was the Xear. Surprisingly his history class spent only a short time on the ancient culture, although perhaps this was because so little was known about them.

'I think everybody knows the word "Xear",' muttered Gustave. 'But I thought there were very few traces of them left in the world now. I know there are some ancient buildings in Al Ahmar...the Sky Pyramid comes to mind.'

Olivier nodded. He crossed his arms as they watched several more onlookers divert their attention to Dawlish and Leonhart.

'The Xear are a great mystery,' said Olivier. 'Many years ago a famous archaeologist from Czenovia declared that he had the definitive answer as to how the culture ended - the theory is that they simply destroyed themselves. Their society had become so advanced that it fell under the weight of its own technology.'

Olivier's comments struck a chord with Gustave. Was this why the Church of the Pheonix was largely anti-magitechnology? Gustave was no expert on the Church, but he wondered if their opposition to magitechnology was centered partly around the idea that it could eventually destroy mankind - that the New Globe had learned nothing from the Xear's experience.

Gustave removed his pocket watch and glanced down. It was getting late. 'So,' he continued, 'why would Dawlish be talking about a Xear map?'

For a moment Olivier said nothing. The cool evening breeze swept over the deck. At this stage, various people were starting to go back to their tables to finish their dessert. It seemed that the commotion had ended as quickly as it had started. Nonetheless, both men could hear hushed whispering around the deck; "Xear" was on everyone's lips.

Olivier turned to Gustave. 'I must show you something, but not here. When are we due to dock back at Brigit Town?'

'Not long now,' replied Gustave. 'The crew should be preparing to turn the ship around within minutes.'

'Once we return to Brigit Town, I must head straight to Le Monde. We should meet there so we can discuss this further.' Olivier straightened his jacket. He seemed somehow irritated or on edge.

'Er, well, I was [i]hoping[/i] to take Victoria Ann to the Grimoire Fashion Show...the first day of the show is tomorrow. I have to find her before the ship lands.'

Olivier smiled warmly. 'You really care about Victoria Ann, don't you?'

'I suppose she's like the daughter I never had,' replied Gustave earnestly. 'Perhaps she will be able to stay in Le Monde while her mother and step father are on their honeymoon.'

Olivier put his hand on Gustave's shoulder. 'Now, she's a young woman, she may have plans of her own. You can always ask her though.'[/font][/indent]

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Davos?s gaze swept the desk scattered with numerous reports still waiting for her attention. When she had first become Sief, she had almost felt like a prisoner, trapped behind a lock of paper as she attempted to keep up with the seemingly endless ledger books. At the time she had been mystified by why so many aspects of the Citadel?s upkeep had required the current Sief?s initials to prove it had been certified.

Since then she had made minor alterations and delegated responsibility enough to allow her to still keep track of what was going on, without it interfering with more important Church matters. It was a danger that anyone as Sief had to cautiously guard against, keeping a close enough watch to maintain order, without overwhelming one?s self to the point that they were nothing more than a figurehead.

She wrinkled her nose in distaste as she set aside the current reports she had been reviewing and stood up. Thirty years and yet she still found the task as tedious as she had back then. Davos moved to the double doors leading out to the balcony of her office. The massive doors already open to let the evening breeze in.

A small wrought iron table and set of chairs graced the balcony and she moved around them to stand along the edge. Davos rested her palms on the stone railing as she took in a deep refreshing breath of the humid air. The view of the massive gardens in the center of the Citadel was, like always, soothing. The growing shadows as night approached played across the waters of the small pond in the center.

Ducks sleeping with their heads tucked under their wings could be seen along the edge closest to the path winding through the garden. The gentle sound of unseen frogs croaking from within the reeds, along with the rustle of leaves from the breeze added to the restful view. It was like a soothing tonic and just as no day went without prayer and meditation, she always found a moment to enjoy the gardens.

The sharp smell of salt water was in the air. Not as profound as the port, but recognizable enough. The Citadel, and the surrounding city, was situated back in the island, away from the few places where ships could actually land. The rest of the island was impossible to reach by sea, with massive cliffs that stretched straight up for hundreds if not thousands of feet.

A soft knock brought her out of her musings and she moved back into the main room, taking a seat behind her desk before calling for whoever it was to enter. Considering the time, it was probably her aide Anna with the newest reports. The door opened to admit Anna?s head of curly blonde hair. She smiled and then let herself all the way in when Davos motioned for her to do so.

?[B]Good evening Sief, you look to be hard at work.[/B]? Anna had yet another stack of papers that she was holding up against her chest as she approached her desk.

?[B]I?ve got today?s reports. Would you like to have them now?[/B]? She looked at the reports scattered across the desk and then back to Davos. ?[B]You must be nearly finished with the others.[/B]?

Davos folded her hands on the desk. ?[B]Go ahead and leave them here.[/B]?

Anna set the pile down. ?[B]You look tired, would you like me to get some tea for you?[/B]?

?[B]That?s not necessary dear,[/B]? Davos said kindly. She would be leaving shortly for a meeting and didn?t have time for tea anyway. She did have time for perhaps a short walk in the gardens if she left immediately. Political discussions were always tiring and a walk would do wonders to mentally prepare her for it.

She stood up. ?[B]I need a breath of fresh air before tonight?s meetings. Why don?t we go for a walk. You look like you could use a break as well.[/B]?

Anna thought about it for a moment. ?[B]Well.... I guess I would like a short walk.[/B]?

?[B]Good,[/B]? Davos replied as she walked around her desk and led the way out and towards the gardens. She could tell that Anna was at a loss as to what to say, friendly or not, many aides were too hesitant to step forward. That too was something she had gotten used to.

?[B]I understand that there?s been a bit of mischief by the younger novices in the kitchens lately.[/B]? She couldn?t help but smile a little at Anna?s startled look and then slight look of embarrassment.

Davos knew that Anna?s own boy had been one of the instigators of the food fight. It certainly didn?t hurt anyone, she was only sorry she hadn?t been there to see one of the stuffier Cardinal's, Kevin, covered in mashed potatoes.

?[B]I?m terribly sorry about that.[/B]? Anna started to apologize but Davos cut her off.

?[B]Nonsense, a little silly fun never hurt anyone.[/B]? She asserted with a wave of her hand.

Davos continued to fire off questions as they took one of the paths through the garden. It was a pity she rarely had time for everyday conversation such as this. And with the end of her tenth term approaching, soon she would have even less.

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[FONT=Palatino Linotype][COLOR=navy]The Lordless Lands, a barren twelve mile expanse on the border of Czenovia and Anova, earned a nickname in its long history, the Forge. Here, Czenovia, Anova, and whatever countries, counties, and realms they were before have always come to make their deals. Here alliances and treaties, accords and par lays, have been forged for centuries in blood, tears, war, strife, and secrecy. It is in this desert, where the ground has been made stale by the bones and rusted armors of armies and pirates that a deal is going to be made this night. In the stinking realm where neither Czenovia or Anova will claim within their borders, our story begins not on the ground, as no one knows what parasites and beasties may grab them, but in the air.[/COLOR][/FONT]

[FONT=Palatino Linotype][COLOR=navy]In the air, there flies three ships, all state of the art and all strikingly anachronistic. They fly at the behest of their three masters, the children of Agron Deacon, as what they are about to discuss should not be heard within any country's borders, particularly because one of them is not allowed in Czenovia and the other is not particularly well liked in Anova. The third child, the eldest, is a diplomat and finds it easy to get along with most governments and ruling classes, however at the behest of her siblings she arranged the meeting here in the Lordless Lands. Aboard the Lady Imp, Lady Morphia Markham's personal airship, Jack Deacon sits in the conference room, meticulously going through the business of his sister's company, Artemis Air Transports. Financial reports, statements, proposed solutions all fall under his eye as he attempts to dissiminate the work. Across from him sits his sister, cross-legged and armed staring daggers at him.[/COLOR][/FONT]

[COLOR=navy][FONT=Palatino Linotype][B]"If you are done trying to find ways of telling me how to run my company, you should let me know."[/B] she shot at him. Jack looked up, watching her through horn-rimmed spectacles (a rare look for him) and once again buried his head in the papers.[/FONT][/COLOR]

[FONT=Palatino Linotype][COLOR=navy]A solid ten minutes pass before he looks up at her. [B]"You got the deal for another airport in the new globe? How?"[/B] he asks, showing a genuine look of wonder.[/COLOR][/FONT]

[COLOR=navy][FONT=Palatino Linotype][B]"I let the local head of state take me on a wonderful cruise in the tropics."[/B] she replies throwing her hair back to reveal pearl earrings.[B] "You can't solve everything in the business room anymore I'm afraid."[/B][/FONT][/COLOR]

[COLOR=navy][FONT=Palatino Linotype][B]"Did you-"[/B] before Jack could finish he felt the lightning strike of Morphia's hand hit his face, making his glasses fly off into the corner. The shock of it set the gears in his arm into motion for a moment before he could recover from it. [B]"Alright, I'm sorry for asking. Good job."[/B][/FONT][/COLOR]

[B][FONT=Palatino Linotype][COLOR=navy]"I don't need your approval of how to run my company dear brother."[/COLOR][/FONT][/B]

[FONT=Palatino Linotype][COLOR=navy]Jack opens his mouth the say something, but fearing another slap he closes it and tucks the papers away into a manila envelope. As he does so the door swings open to the conference room and his other sister dashes in, Lady Almagest, but to them Bavaria.[/COLOR][/FONT]

[COLOR=navy][FONT=Palatino Linotype][B]"It's been too long you two."[/B] Bavaria says as she struts to the table. Her heels can be heard striking the floor as she makes way to her seat. [B]"Have you already told him, Morphia?"[/B] she asks as Jack pulls her seat out for her.[/FONT][/COLOR]

[B][FONT=Palatino Linotype][COLOR=navy]"Well I was, but he wanted to give me another lecture on what to do with the company. I've already been proclaimed the richest woman in the world, and yet he wants to criticize me on the type of oil I use for our consumer transports. He'll be doing this long after our wealth surpasses the Almagests I would imagine imagine."[/COLOR][/FONT][/B]

[COLOR=navy][FONT=Palatino Linotype]The name makes Jack cringe slightly as he remembers the family: the bratty kids, Leonhart's clueless son, and not to mention the witch-whore who nearly killed him. However Morphia did have a point, the company's economy had already surpassed that of many sovereign nations' and Leonhart was getting frighteningly close to having to change his name to Deacon by the laws of Czenovia. These were exciting times for the Deacon family indeed. Jack shook to and finally asked after a long moment, [B]"How is my appeals process going?"[/B][/FONT][/COLOR]

[COLOR=navy][FONT=Palatino Linotype]The sisters exchanged looks and Morphia even let out a giggle. [B]"Well, there is no appeals process."[/B] she said, covering her mouth slightly, [B]"You're still wanted for crimes against the state. Also it appears that because your actions were against the military, they will handle your trial in a tribunal, not through our judiciary system."[/B][/FONT][/COLOR]

[COLOR=navy][FONT=Palatino Linotype]Jack's expression changed instantly. [B]"What do you mean crimes?! They were killing civilians!"[/B][/FONT][/COLOR]

[COLOR=navy][FONT=Palatino Linotype][B]"Calm down Lightning Jack."[/B] Bavaria retorted, amusingly using one of the names the papers called Jack. [B]"We wouldn't call you here unless we had a way to avoid the tribunal."[/B][/FONT][/COLOR]

[FONT=Palatino Linotype][COLOR=navy]Jacks eyebrows raised, showing his peaked interests, slouching back down he settled in to hear what his sister had to say, although he knew it undoubtedly involved him running some errand or doing some favor.[/COLOR][/FONT]

[COLOR=navy][FONT=Palatino Linotype][B]"Czenovia's first parliamentary election is coming up, Jack."[/B] She began, snapping her fingers and ordering a servant in with wine, [B]"and sadly as a result our family is now a house divided."[/B] Bavaria took a small sip of her wine never once loosing her composure or control, [B]"After much deliberation, it has been decided that I will represent the new political entity, the Central Labour party, as it has thrown my name is as its candidate for Prime Minister."[/B][/FONT][/COLOR]

[COLOR=navy][FONT=Palatino Linotype][B]"Congratulations."[/B] Jack mumbled.[/FONT][/COLOR]

[COLOR=navy][FONT=Palatino Linotype]"[B]Well, the problem is. The Conservative party, headed by non other than our dear father, has thrown his name in as well for the position of prime minister."[/B] chimed in Morphia, who obviously was just as informed about the situation as their sister. [B]"Bavaria needs an edge in the election and recent polling has shown her to be behind our father. So..."[/B][/FONT][/COLOR]

[COLOR=navy][FONT=Palatino Linotype]Scratching his chin, Jack immediately understood what was wanted of him. [B]"You need me to stage a publicity stunt and in the wake of my popularity expound the greatness of your party and its agendas. I can understand why this would benefit you Bavaria, but what about you Morphia, what do you get out of this?"[/B][/FONT][/COLOR]

[B][FONT=Palatino Linotype][COLOR=navy]"Bavaria opposes government protected unions. In essence without government backing, unions won't be able to make superfluous demands for less hours and more pay. Artemis Air Transports is already ranked as one of the top employers in the world, it doesn't need its workers trying to bleed more out of the company. Meredyne already made many policies that protect workers rights, but given that extra power by the government the union will want a place at the board, which quite frankly neither you or I want, Jack."[/COLOR][/FONT][/B]

[COLOR=navy][FONT=Palatino Linotype]Jack said nothing for a moment, taking time to consider all of the information that just been fed to him. It was true that labor unions were forming all over the country and they were wreaking havoc on company price margins with their demands for higher wages, fewer hours, and pensions, Jack had heard too many stories of countries going under simply because they couldn't meet union demands. He was sure Meredyne wouldn't approve of letting such a toxic beast into her company. [B]"So what do I get out of this?"[/B][/FONT][/COLOR]

[COLOR=navy][FONT=Palatino Linotype][B]"A pardon from the King,"[/B] said Bavaria, [B]"sadly under the new constitution he will still have final saying on who gets pardoned or not, but he can be pressured by parliament. Its your only hope if you want your citizenship back."[/B][/FONT][/COLOR]

[COLOR=navy][FONT=Palatino Linotype]Silence once again fell on the room. If Bavaria were anxious, she hid it well, Jack's sisters both held their faces steady, business-like as they awaited his decision. [B]"I'll do it, just tell me what I have to do."[/B][/FONT][/COLOR]

[COLOR=navy][FONT=Palatino Linotype][B]"Oh good! I knew you would come around."[/B] said Morphia, dropping her business composure and kissing Jack on the cheek. [B]"I am sure you're familiar with the term Xear?"[/B][/FONT][/COLOR]

[COLOR=navy][FONT=Palatino Linotype]Jack raised one skeptical eyebrow, [B]"Now this, this should be interesting."[/B][/FONT][/COLOR]

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[RIGHT][IMG]http://zeitgeistglee.250free.com/Esther.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Macey_Ellen.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/leonhartavatar.jpg[/IMG] [/RIGHT]

[LEFT][FONT="Times New Roman"][COLOR="DarkOrchid"][i]Esther headed for the table where a servant in white livery waited, pouring out a glass of punch for her when she held out a hand. As she turned she saw Macey standing behind her with a markedly cheerful expression, holding her drink between graceful fingers.[/i]

"You're looking very well Esther."

"Oh, well thank you."

"You seem nervous. Is something the matter?"

"It's just the unfamiliar surroundings. And the feeling that everyone wants to suddenly turn on my husband and stab him repeatedly."

"Oh they're too terrified for that, at least after Ivan's little shenanigan."

"Is your family always so interesting?"

"You should've been here last year. It made this party seem positively dull."

[i]Macey gave her what she hoped was a reassuring smile and Esther returned the favor. Dwalish caught her eye and she gave a polite nod to Macey and drifted back towards him. Turning to survey the crowd, Macey saw her father give her a brief salute with his glass and she immediately began the process of weaving her way through the crowd towards him. As she did, she caught a drift of something Belmonda Archard had been saying that she immediately stifled when she saw Macey.[/i]

"Hardly dare t--"

[i]Arranging a vacuous smile, Belmonda simpered at Macey in a way that reminded her very strongly of her former mother-in-law. Instead of rising to the obvious bait, Macey arched one eyebrow and smiled as genuinely as she knew how.[/i]

"So good to see you Belmonda. I trust our humble caterers are sufficient for your exquisite taste."

[i]Instead of responding immediately, Belmonda merely looked flustered, which Macey took as her cue to continue on to Leonhart. Leaving behind the person she'd given up on avoiding entirely, she took refuge in her father's courtly taking of her hand. He led her to the balcony and gave her a rueful smile.[/i]

"You just couldn't resist saying a few words to her could you?"

"They were all very polite father. You know I wouldn't make a scene. I've worked that out of my system."

"If only my other relatives had done the same."

"What did you want to talk to me about?"

[i]Leonhart looked over his shoulder as if checking for spies, and then turned back to Macey casually, as if discussing the beautiful weather.[/i]

"There will be an expedition leaving soon to study the artifacts that we've connected to the Xear. Would you be able to accompany us as the group's biological scientist?"

"I'll have to check my lecturers schedule. I might be able to, but I'm not 100% sure."

"That's understandable. Your schedule almost puts mine to shame."

"Well if I don't keep busy I may just fall apart."

[i]The two shared a chuckle that perhaps only they understood and Macey turned to see Belmonda whispering something furiously to one of her relatives. On the other side of the pavilion, Esther was chattering brightly to Dwalish and turned back to wave cheerfully at Macey. She returned the gesture with a lady-like flick of her hand and grinned. Peace at last.[/i][/COLOR][/FONT][/LEFT]

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[COLOR="Indigo"][SIZE="1"][CENTER][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Harrison_Almagest.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Dawlish_Almagest.jpg[/IMG][/CENTER]
He couldn?t explain how he knew the massive airship approaching was Dawlish. Nor could Harrison explain why he couldn?t seem to bring himself to move from his spot out on one of the many decks of the [I]Alaina[/I]. Like some insubstantial mist that hung in the air, he could tell that some form of stupid drama would occur and later, hearing the sound of his Nephew yelling only confirmed that feeling.

Later on, if he got the chance, he wanted to talk to Dawlish, but right now he couldn?t seem to muster up the will to go back into the reception area. [I]Knowing Fonty, he?ll try to set me up for a dance with that Liana girl.[/I] For all he knew, Macey or any of the others might do the same. It was bad enough that there wasn?t any decent food to be had, but to have to dance too? He couldn?t help but sigh.

Probably the only one who wouldn?t was Alecia, but then she was too busy keeping an eye on Daedalus Thomas, who was blissfully unaware of the drama going on as he ran about with that carefree expression of glee only a child could have. It was both annoying and yet funny to watch him getting into mischief. Harrison had planned on talking to Alecia since he hadn?t seen her or Alexander in a while, but the opportunity hadn?t presented itself.

?[B]There you are.[/B]? The voice pulled him out of his musings and back to where he was.

A quick glance showed it to be Dawlish approaching. Harrison just turned back to watching the horizon and incidentally the airship his brother had come in. Unlike the [I]Alaina[/I], it certainly aroused his curiosity. Perhaps one of these days he?d get to check it out. He gazed at it a bit more before he turned and with an inward sigh, finally answered his brother.

?[B]You know how it is,[/B]? He said. ?[B]I hate parties.[/B]?

He looked at Dawlish who grinned slightly. In spite of the carefree manner he seemed to air, it seemed to Harrison that he was keeping himself closely guarded. He couldn?t explain it; it was more of a feeling than anything else. He supposed it was due to his profession, something he still didn?t understand and honestly didn?t want to.

?[B]Some things never change little brother.[/B]?

?[B]I suppose that?s your way of saying you haven?t given up on asking me to leave the military to work for Icarus.[/B]? Harrison skipped straight to the point he was sure Dawlish was going to make, his eyes narrowing slightly as if to dare him to say otherwise.

?[B]Well we never did get a chance to fully discuss what I had in mind.[/B]? He motioned with his right hand as if inviting Harrison to walk along the deck as they talked.

Harrison obliged him, clasping his hands behind his back as he followed along. ?[B]What?s there to discuss? I thought I was pretty clear when I said I wanted to stay in the military. If I had left and changed my mind, commission or not, I would have had to wait until I was eighteen to return.[/B]?

?[B]What if what I had in mind would tie in with the military? What then?[/B]?

Harrison shot him a puzzled glance, uncertain as to what he was getting at. Sure he knew that part of the reason Dawlish was making so much money was from selling weapons to the military of many nations. It wouldn?t surprise him to learn that he was one of, if not the richest man in all of Czenovia and Anova.

How that tied in to the military for him though didn?t quite make any sense, and he waited for Dawlish to elaborate further as to what he meant.

?[B]It?s really quite simple Harrison; you?d be working with our research and development team.[/B]?

?[B]I don?t know anything about developing weapons,[/B]? he protested.

?[B]Oh really? Think about it, you?ve been serving in the 2nd Air fleet for nearly three years now. Unlike a consultant you actually know what a soldier wants and needs.[/B]?

?[B]I guess.[/B]? He mumbled back, still not completely convinced. ?[B]I still have very little experience and you know damn well others would think you did that just because I?m your brother.[/B]?

?[B]You really think so?[/B]? Dawlish?s expression turned more serious. ?[B]I?ve done a little checking into how you?ve been doing Harrison. Top marks in your training in addition to being on track for a promotion to 1st Lieutenant when you turn eighteen. Family connection or not, they don?t do that if one isn?t capable or hasn?t worked hard to earn it.[/B]?

Harrison stopped walking, too startled to think for a moment. [I]How did he know about the promotion?[/I] He flushed slightly, feeling really stupid that it had even surprised him. They may be brothers, but he should have known better than to think Dawlish would simply toss him some shallow meaningless job.

?[B]I still don?t know enough.[/B]? The protest felt a bit hollow, even though he already knew he wasn?t going to leave the 2nd Air Fleet. He [I]liked[/I] being in the military.

Dawlish started walking again, ?[B]Of course not, like any other job there would be a transition period in which you would receive training. I?ve no doubts that you?d excel at it.[/B]?

So it came down to this?. again. He didn?t want to leave the military, he didn?t want to be around Dawlish and yet at the same time, it bugged him how that seemed to hurt his brother. He couldn?t seem to help it though, being around Dawlish made him feel ill at ease. He was sure the duel was why. The memory of that still troubled him. Differences or not, arguments or not, he couldn?t seem to see past that moment. In some ways it was more sickening than the revolution had been.

?[B]Dawlish,[/B]? he started to say hesitantly and then faltered, not sure how to say it but Dawlish seemed to understand it as he just gave him a tiny smile and grasped his shoulder.

?[B]It?s alright Harrison; I can tell you?re not ready yet.[/B]? He let go. ?[B]We can discuss it again after you turn eighteen and that promotion goes through.[/B]?

Harrison just nodded; he doubted he?d feel any different though. It had been a year since the last time they had talked about it and yet his feelings of reluctance had not changed at all, if anything, he was surer of his decision to stay in the military.

?[B]Let?s get back to the party before someone comes looking for us.[/B]?

Harrison grimaced, ?[B]No thanks, I?m going to stay out here.[/B]?

?[B]No buts Harrison,[/B]? Dawlish said firmly as he grabbed a hold of his tunic. ?[B]What did I teach you about responsibility?[/B]? He grinned at his dumbfounded expression, knowing full well that Harrison would have never expected him to pull that one on him.

?[B]You don?t get to hide from social functions and you know it. It?s more than just family, as an officer, you should [I]know[/I] better.[/B]? His smile at Harrison?s irritation grew wider. ?[B]Unless you?d rather I let the Fleet Admiral know you neglected to wear your dress uniform.[/B]?

Harrison was speechless for a moment before he sputtered and then cursed colorfully as he let Dawlish lead him back to the reception. [I]God damn stupid?. [/I][/SIZE][/COLOR]

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[indent][font=garamond][size=4][right][b]Setting the Stage[/b][/right][/font][/size]
[size=1][i]The Alaina’s[/i] celebratory flight only lasted a few short hours, and it was not long after landing that the two families parted ways. For Belmonda, like many other guests, this meant another long airship voyage home where she could resume her work. Although it was nice to spend an evening with Felix and Frederic again, the occasion brought on too many painful memories for her to bear. For once Belmonda was grateful that the Almagests were so quick to air their dirty laundry at public functions; Dawlish’s arrival made her own emotional outburst seem tame by comparison.

The next morning Belmonda left Achard Hall early for her job at Le Monde’s famed Bourgade National Museum. Over a century ago the Bourgade family was the wealthiest in all of New Globe, having earned their fortune through a successful shipping business. Their matriarch, Abigail, was a prominent artist who took great pride in displaying her works, as well as collecting the works of others. It is through her acquisitions that the bulk of the museum’s collection was formed, and following Abigail’s death Bourgade Manor was opened to the public and renamed to the Bourgade National Museum.

Even with recent renovations and additions small touches were scattered throughout the manor that made it very clear that a family had once lived there; after all, nowhere else could one view prehistoric fossils in the middle of a kitchen. Space was limited, certainly, but the dedicated staff and curators worked tirelessly to make the Bourgade the finest in the New Globe, if not the world.

Much of the history museum was located in an adjoining building constructed years after the museum had been donated to the Anovan government. Enormous skylights beamed in the silver glow of morning, adding an extra bit of luster to the historical heirlooms that were being prepared for display. In only a week the Bourgade would be debuting a historical retrospective on the Mine War, one of the first of its’ kind. While in Czenovia the war was looked at as a source of pride, on the other side of the desert there was still a great deal of shame and resentment. As Belmonda polished a bronze Czenovian helmet near a display case she heard the sound of footsteps approaching from behind her chair.

“[b]Hello sister.[/b]”

Belmonda turned around to discover Frederic standing before her in full military regalia.

“[b]This is a pleasant surprise,[/b]” she said with a smile, “[b]It’s so rare that you visit the museum anymore.[/b]”

“[b]The SSF has kept me busy, I’m afraid. In fact, I can only be here a few short moments.[/b]”

Bella raised an eyebrow in suspicion, “[b]Then I wager that this is not a personal visit. Is everything alright?[/b]”

“[b]It’s regarding the Xear. I’m sure you overheard whispers at the party last night.[/b]”

Of course Belmonda had. It seemed as though once the word was muttered it was all the guests could talk about. Decades earlier Lector Moebius had discovered the key to translating select portions of the Xear language, leading to a renewed interest in uncovering information about the ‘lost’ culture. As a result, throughout Belmonda’s education she visited several former Xear cities, including the ruins beneath Cobalt Bay. These expensive excavations proved time-consuming, and ultimately few artifacts were ever recovered.

“[b]It would appear that some sort of Xear map was found during a dig at the Villette Mines,[/b]” Frederic continued, “[b]A map to what, nobody is certain, but Cole Dreadnaught has made it a priority that a search party is formed immediately. [/b]”

“[b]That is absurd,[/b]” Bella huffed, “[b]Archeologists have been looking for Xear culture and records for ages. It seems obvious that whatever this map leads to was destroyed or stolen centuries ago.[/b]”

Frederic nodded, “[b]That’s certainly a fear, but the alternative is not to act at all, and that seems even more foolish.[/b]”

Many in the historical community believed that discovering the secrets of the ancient civilization was a lost cause, Belmonda included. However she was fully aware of what ramifications that uncovering another piece of advanced weaponry could have. Had the Underdogs’ Xear canon not been destroyed or fallen into Anovan hands, the balance of world power might have shifted significantly.

“[b]Cole has asked me to lead the expedition, and I would like for you to work alongside me Bella.[/b]”

Belmonda knew that tone of her brother’s voice well; he was not so much asking as he was telling. She shook her head softly, “[b]And when would this expedition begin?[/b]”

“[b]At once. I need to speak with a few others, and Natalia, as her expertise with chimaera will be paramount to our first destination. She is one of the best in her field, and more importantly I know I can trust her.[/b]”

“[b]But do you know that you can trust Cole Dreadnaught? Aren’t you concerned that his allegiances shifted along with his surname?[/b]”

“[b]Not at all. My understanding is that this group is being assembled without the knowledge or approval of the Almagests and Czenovia. Besides, I’ve no doubt that Leonhart is organizing a group of his own.[/b]”

“[b]Married for not even a day and already plotting against his family. Perhaps Cole was a better fit for the Almagests than I thoughts….[/b]” she looked into Frederic’s eyes, hoping to steal a smile from his stone-cold façade, “[b]I’ve little choice in the matter, do I?[/b]”

“[b]I spoke with Director Ordway as I entered. As of right now you are taking a leave of absence due to a ‘looming national crisis.’ I have made it very clear that he will have to answer to me if you aren’t welcomed back into your position by the end of this…[/b]”

“[b][i]--However long that may be.[/i][/b]”

“[b]However long that may be. Yes.[/b]” he replied, “[b]Now head home and pack light. We will be leaving this afternoon.[/b]”

“[b]Pack for what? I don’t even know where we are going.[/b]”

“[b]You’ll find that out when we arrive, Bella,[/b]” he replied as he bowed farewell, “[b]But I would recommend bringing a jacket.[/b]”[/size][/indent]

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[FONT="Palatino Linotype"][COLOR="Blue"]

Natalia hated that the rest of her time on the ship was spent in the company of her mother. Although her brief and somewhat relaxing time on the deck had been enjoyed. The moments soon following had caused not only a buzz of excitement within the passengers on board but also her.

[I]Xear...[/I] She didn't seem to remember much about it growing up but she had heard it at least once or twice and her brain burned thinking about the word so much.

Now back home with her parents, Natalia stayed with her father, hoping from a repreive no matter how brief from her mother who was already having a new slip gown touched up for the both of them for the fashion show tonight.

As soon as the [I]Alaina[/I] landed her mother began buzzing in her ear about the show and how she hoped there were not only exquisitely fabulous gowns to purchase but the large amount of young males looking for eligible young women wanting to be in their company.

Natalia was sure to shoot down her mother's offer of introducing a young man to accompany Natalia to the show.

[B]"If you want me there I will only go with you or father?"[/B]

Her mother fumed briefly but once Natalia told her about how she may like to purchase one of those gowns Maria beamed. A chance to spend money on top fashion was a good enough reason to be present.

But now her thoughts went to more pressing matters. She looked over the books in her father's study and had picked out one in particular. Its papers bound in brown leather with silver writing on the spine with the large "X" drawing her attention. SHe traced the letter with her finger time and again at the bookshelf her father's question snapping her back to reality.

[B]"So what do you think, Natalia?"[/B]

[B]"Huh? What?!"[/B]

Her father paused for a moment and came to stans by the young girl. He knew her mind was preoccupied and once seeing her fingers over the "X" And according to what Maria had told him about last night he had a clue as to what was going through his daughter's mind.

[B]"Natalia?"[/B] He took her free hand and led her to the small couch in his room, sitting next to her. Her arms draping shyly over the book. [B]"Why are you still here? I know that you are not really into fashion, so please do not use that as a lie. And do not try to say you are here to satisfy your mother. It would be the first time in 5 years that you have done so."[/B]

Natalia sighed seeing that her father read her so well. She looked away for a moment and then seeing that the doors to the study were opened, placed the book onto the small table beside her and moved to the doors and closed them. Her mother was not around and probably still upstairs with the seamstress, giving Natalia enough time to tell her father without mom's interference.

She came back and looked directly into her father's eye. He smiled seeing the confidence in his daughter's eyes and knowing the truth was going to be told.

[B]"Father, I want to go. I know mom told you about what has possibly been found. And although I do not particularly remember much about the Xear, they may need to use Chimaera. Though not 100% sure if they could use me. And I know some of my cousins will be involved and I want to use the time to be around them. [/B]

She paused for a moment before taking his hand and holding it between her two.

[B]"Mother does not know my wishes and I want it to stay that way. She is so focused on me becoming this great lady of society that she does not see how truly happy I am living my life not bound up behind closed doors and gossiping."[/B]

He smiled but thoughts in his eyes were different, but Natalia did not press any further on his thoughts.

[B]"I will ask about it tonight, and although I am not sure when we will leave. I will be with them."[/B]

He smiled and stood her up.

[B]"Natalia your wishes and your desires are your own. Go if you wish, but you are going to be the one to tell your mother, not me."[/B]

With that he picked up the book that was lain on the table by Natalia and handed it back to her.

[B]"I guess you better catch up on your history."[/B]


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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/Victoria_Ann.jpg[/img] [img] http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Liana_Prideux.jpg[/img] [/center]
[font=garamond][size=4][right][B]The Wooden Chimaera[/B][/right][/font][/size][font=palatino linotype]Gustave loosened his collar as he walked down a long flight of wooden stairs into the heart of the [i]Alaina[/i]. The chimaera stables, among other things, were found underneath the lower deck. Gustave decided to spend a few moments down there before the ship docked at Brigit Town to release the guests. The night’s events had been emotionally intense for a number of guests and Gustave felt tired having only watched it.

As he made his way down the staircase, an enormous wooden room opened out before him. It was divided down the center with a long aisle. On either side, simple wooden stables housed a number of chimaera – or at least, they usually did. On this occasion, Gustave had left the chimaera at his private stables within the Chimaera Junction, with the sole exception of Lucy. He worried that the noise and music from above might distress them and, given the night’s drama as a result of Dawlish’s arrival, he was even more relieved that they hadn’t been subjected to it.

The stables were cool, dark and quiet. Dim lights punctuated the thick wooden columns, which stood at the front of each stable. Gustave wandered down the aisle, the clack-clack of his shoes being the only sound to pierce the emptiness.

‘Isn’t she beautiful?’ said a young female voice nearby. It startled Gustave. He looked around but saw nobody. The stables gently curved to one side – perhaps the voice was just around the corner?

As he approached the end of the aisle, Gustave saw something most unexpected: the end stable was occupied by none other than Lucy, the chimaera which he had given to the Almagest family as a gift years earlier. Its default owner had become Victoria Ann, who seemed fascinated by the creature and who had since become interested in all things chimaera-related. Standing next to the stable were two young girls, Victoria and Liana. Gustave recognised both immediately, despite the dim light surrounding them (he already knew Victoria Ann well of course, but he was also well-acquainted with Liana’s grandfather, who was now president of Cobalt Silveworks). Apparently both girls had not yet seen him.

‘So,’ said Victoria excitedly, ‘Uncle Gustave taught me how to ride Lucy really early on and now I’m a natural!’

Liana grinned widely. She was holding a handful of chimaera greens, which Lucy snapped up in her beak eagerly. ‘Is Gustave really your uncle? I thought he was an Achard?’

‘Well, he’s not exactly my uncle,’ replied Victoria slightly defensively, ‘but he is as close to an uncle as I can imagine. And that’s what counts, right?’

Liana shrugged. She seemed too busy feeding Lucy to think much about the subject. ‘Yeah, I guess so.’

‘Ahem,’ Gustave coughed. The two girls jumped and spun around. ‘Oh, er, hello!’ said Liana with a large grin. She still had tufts of chimaera greens in both hands. ‘Uncle Gustave!’ Victoria smiled broadly and ran towards him and they embraced warmly. ‘I hadn’t seen you all night; I was starting to wonder if you were here!’

‘Oh, of course I’m here,’ laughed Gustave, ‘do you really think I’d let those other grumpy adults on here by themselves?’

‘Grumpy is right!’ huffed Liana. ‘We came down here to get away from the commotion upstairs.’

Gustave nodded. ‘Yes, so did I to tell you the truth.’

‘Silly adults and their ridiculous drama,’ chuckled Victoria. ‘I just don’t understand it. This is a wedding, it should be happy!’

‘I suppose the world can be a bit more complicated for adults,’ said Gustave.

‘Only because they make it complicated,’ replied Victoria with a wink.

‘Very true,’ acknowledged Gustave. ‘Oh! Before I forget, I have something for you.’

He reached into his pocket and came across the little wooden chimaera. When he held it up in the dim light, Victoria squealed with glee. ‘That’s so pretty! Thank you so much!’ She hugged him again and inspected the little chimaera more closely.

‘I haven’t seen this type before,’ said Victoria as she squinted in the light. ‘What kind is it?’

Gustave scratched his head. ‘I [i]think[/i] it’s a Western Diamond Tail. They’re usually almost twice as big as the native ones from our continent.’

Liana looked over Victoria’s shoulder, her eyes also transfixed on the little wooden carving.

‘So if it’s not from Anova or Czenovia, where is it from?’ she asked.

‘Al Ahmar,’ replied Gustave. ‘I believe this species is quite rare, only found in the jungles to the far south of the western continent. I saw this carving in a market back in Le Monde and thought it looked interesting. Not many people know about the western chimaera, except for the most famous ones that race in the Chimaera Cup.’

The [i]Alaina’s[/i] engines suddenly became audible somewhere outside the stables. ‘Looks like we are about to dock, we must already be close to Brigit Town,’ murmured Gustave. ‘Speaking of which, Victoria, what will you do once we land?’

Victoria tucked the wooden chimaera away and looked around. ‘Mother’s honeymoon will start soon,’ she said, ‘so I am not sure. I suppose I’ll return home and wait for their return…’

‘How about coming to Le Monde with me?’ asked Gustave, with a mischievous glint in his eye. ‘I’ve been invited to the Grimoire Fashion Show and I’d hate to go all by myself.’

‘Oh! A fashion show?’ Victoria giggled. ‘That sounds like fun; I’ve always wondered what they would be like. Those funny adults and their strange clothes…’

‘I’m sure you’ll enjoy it,’ beamed Gustave, ‘besides, it’ll give us a chance to see the city.’

Victoria smiled. ‘Thank you for the offer,’ she said warmly. ‘It sounds better than staying in Rosengard for the next few weeks.’

Gustave suddenly realized he had offered the trip right in front of Liana. He felt bad – perhaps she wanted to go too. ‘Liana, what about you? If you’re going to be in Le Monde over the next few days I’d be happy to get a ticket to the show for you. Lots of other young ladies from around the world will be there, I’m sure!’[/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] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Felix_Achard.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Juste_Achard.jpg[/IMG][/CENTER]
Now that they were traveling back to the Island Citadel aboard the smaller Church airship, the [I]Mariette[/I], Elaine had been only too glad to take advantage of her tiny quarters to change back into the more modest dress for a priestess. It was virtually identical but of a simple cotton weave instead of the finer silks she had adorned for performing the wedding ceremony.

She felt more at ease in the standard attire though she carefully packed up the precious silk along with the gold fastener and band. Then because she wasn?t ready to rest just yet, she ventured back out to the small lobby. The [I]Mariette[/I] was one of the Church?s smaller vessels, and only suited to carrying Church officials about, unlike their larger ones that were designed to carry cargo for dispersing much needed supplies and aid.

A handful of the guards were chatting among themselves and she caught snatches of their conversation as they discussed the wedding. After the fuss created by unexpected guests arriving and the already spreading rumors in regards to the Xear culture being brought up, she was not surprised to see them talking animatedly.

Elaine spotted Juste and Felix who were off on their own discussing something and she moved to join them. Both of them stood up from the small table next to one of the observation windows when they saw her approaching.

?[B]Priestess,[/B]? Felix said formally with a slight bow, Juste doing the same.

?[B]Captain,[/B]? She replied just as properly before taking a seat.

?[B]It?s not necessary to address me so formally,[/B]? She said kindly when both of them had sat back down. ?[B]Not when all of us are merely relaxing for the long trip home.[/B]?

?[B]Perhaps,[/B]? Felix agreed. ?[B]Though considering what happened, it?s going to be difficult to simply turn in and get some rest.[/B]?

It was a sentiment that Elaine had to agree with. She knew perfectly well that the Almagest?s had issues that were often politely ignored. Just as she also knew how much they had worked to help rebuild the country after the terrible revolution.

She did not want to judge anyone, that was for the Goddess, but it had still been distressing to have the wedding interrupted by guests that were obviously not wanted. Elaine would like to believe it was merely to wish the newlywed couple well, but mention of the ancient culture Xear was enough to tell her that it was more likely for personal gain.

?[B]Yeah, I wasn?t expecting anything like that.[/B]? Juste winced slightly. ?[B]I know mom talks about all the drama between the two families; I just figured she was exaggerating a little. I certainly didn?t mean to upset your sister Felix.[/B]?

?[B]I wouldn?t worry over that, there was no way you could have known.[/B]? He grinned a bit. ?[B]Bella?s just a little excitable at times.[/B]?

Elaine couldn?t help but be curious, but she didn?t want to pry either. ?[B]Do you know anything about the Xear Juste?[/B]? She asked, politely changing the topic.

?[B]Of course. Out of all the older civilizations, they?re the most elusive and yet most fascinating.[/B]? His expression brightened as he warmed to the topic. ?[B]I?ve been leaning how to translate the ancient Xear language. There?s even a small section in the library where any book or document related to the Xear has been gathered for study.[/B]?

?[B]I don?t recall seeing anything like that,[/B]? said Elaine.

?[B]You wouldn?t, the section for older language studies is in a separate wing from the medical texts.[/B]? Juste explained. ?[B]There might be a few in there if it related to medical treatments, but there isn?t any that I know of.[/B]?

Felix chuckled. ?[B]So that?s why I never see you at the Citadel cousin. You?re always off somewhere in the library with your nose in a book![/B]?

Juste smiled sheepishly in response, ?[B]Yeah. If I?m not working on translating something or working as Waltier?s aid, then I?m usually in the library.[/B]?

Elaine started to comment and hastily covered her mouth instead when an unexpected yawn caught her by surprise. ?[B]I think I?m going to turn in.[/B]? She stood up, the others doing so as well. ?[B]Goodnight.[/B]?

?[B]Goodnight Priestess.[/B]? Both of them replied in unison.

Elaine just smiled and took her leave. It took her little time to return to her quarters. The trip would take at least six hours, longer if they ran into troublesome weather. There was no reason to stay awake for the journey.

She slept for the rest of the trip, and then got up when a soft knock at her door letting her know they had arrived sounded. What few possessions she had with her were already packed and it took her little time to quickly get dressed. It wasn?t quite four am yet and she stretched sleepily before finally exiting the airship.

There was always something comforting about returning to the Citadel and it warmed her heart to be back as she stepped onto solid ground again. Elaine was only sorry that it was too dark out for her to truly see the familiar buildings and towers of the massive Citadel.

Other than to absentmindedly nod to people she knew as she made for her quarters, she paid little attention to the familiar halls and comforting sounds as those who were awake went about their business. Since she was not expected to report to High Priestess Yolanda until ten am, once she had put her things away, she turned in to get a bit more sleep.

It wasn?t until half past eight that she finally woke up. Once she had placed her clothing that needed cleaning in the hamper, she straightened up and made for the women?s baths. Having risen a little on the late side due to her trip, the private rooms were fairly empty and she quickly got cleaned up.

Elaine stopped by the kitchens once she was done to get a bite to eat, opting for some fruit, bread and cheese, washing it down with cool water. She chatted a bit with the few people she ran into, but she was too busy running what she needed to discuss with High Priestess Yolanda through her head to truly pay attention.

It was half past nine when one of the many messengers that served in the Citadel caught up with her, giving her a slip of paper. She thanked the boy, and then opened up the small sealed envelope to read what was inside. Elaine stopped and stared at it for several minutes before she finally got up and left the kitchens.

There was only one thought on her mind as she followed the instructions, and that was to wonder why the Sief had requested that she come to her office immediately upon receiving the message. [/FONT][/COLOR]

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[FONT="Book Antiqua"]Ivan returned to school early the next morning. He staggered from the car, shuffled up the steps to his dorm, and flopped down on his bed.

[B]"Rough night?"[/B]

[B]"I'm tired, Elwin,"[/B] muttered Ivan into his pillow, [B]"shut up and let me sleep."[/B]

[B]"Alright, I won't push it,"[/B] replied his roommate, [B]"didn't meet your uncle, then?"[/B]

[B]"Just drop it, would you?"[/B]


[B]"Wake up, Ivan!"[/B]

Ivan heeded the warning, but not in time to dodge the chalk projectile that the teacher had hurled at him.

[B]"OW! Dammit, what was that for!?"[/B]

[B]"Sleeping in class, primarily,"[/B] replied the teacher, [B]"but there's also a message for you. You're wanted in the Headmaster's office."[/B]


[B]"Damn that hurt,"[/B] muttered Ivan, massaging the red spot on his forehead, [B]"Would it kill her to yell?"[/B]

He continued down the hall to the Headmaster's office, stopping in front of the door.

[B]"Come in,"[/B] said a voice, just as Ivan was reaching up to knock on the door.

Ivan entered the room. Waiting for him inside was Headmaster Moebius, as well as Leonhart Almagest.

[B]"And here he is,"[/B] said Mr. Moebius, [B]"I believe this is who you were looking for, Leonhart?"[/B]

[B]"What's going on?"[/B] asked Ivan, [B]What's he doing here?"[/B]

[B]"Ivan, this is Leonhart Almagest,"[/B] Headmaster Moebius replied.

[B]"I know who he is, dammit!"[/B] snapped Ivan, [B]Why is he here?"[/B]

The Headmaster gave Ivan a stern look. [B]"It seems that you assaulted Mr. Dawlish Almagest last night during a reception aboard the [I]Alania[/I], Ivan.[/B]

Ivan protested. [B]"He killed my father!"[/B]

[B]"Unfortunately, revenge is not usually regarded as justification by our laws. Much less when the motive has been stale for three years. I'm afraid this is the last straw, Ivan,"[/B] said the Headmaster, [B]"We will have to expel you for this."[/B]

[B]"WHAT?! I don't have anywhere to go! my mother is going to be furious!"[/B]

[B]"Actually, Ivan, we've already talked to her,"[/B] said Leonhart, [B]"she agrees with the decision. Frankly, your grades have been abysmal. Diane has been having second thoughts about your future for a while now, and she thinks it's best for you to accept this proposition."[/B]

[B]"Wait,"[/B] said Ivan, [B]"What proposition?"[/B]

Leonhart looked startled. [B]"Didn't we tell you? You're a very lucky young man, Ivan. Dawlish nearly took you to court over this incident. I did, however, manage to convince him to let me take care of it. I've taken an interest in your case and want to see if I can help you work out this nasty little revenge issue myself."[/B]

[B]"One of the most powerful men in the country is taking you under his wing, Ivan,"[/B] added the Headmaster, [B]"You should be very grateful."[/B]

[B]"Ah- Lector, I wonder if there's somewhere that the boy and I can speak for a moment? Privately?"[/B]

[B]"Oh, of course, Leonhart,"[/B] replied the Headmaster, [B]"I believe there is an empty classroom down the hall here. Third door on the left."[/B]

[B]"Thank you,"[/B] smiled Leonhart. He led Ivan down the hall to the vacant room, shut the door and checked for possible eavesdroppers.

[B]"What's this all about, old man?"[/B]

[B]"Quite the tongue on you, boy,"[/B] commented Leonhart, [B]"Anyway, I must confess I have an... ulterior motive for borrowing you from your studies."[/B]

[B]"It's not 'borrowing',"[/B] replied the boy, [B]"I've been expelled, remember?"[/B]

[B]"Now now, young man, don't lose hope just yet. You see, we've recently discovered some documentation pertaining to some Xear artifacts. I understand that you have an unprecedented amount of experience in the field of exploration due to traveling with your late father. Since precious little is currently known about the Xear, I think that the faculty here at CHAOS might be willing to review the case of your expulsion depending on the success of this expedition. Think of it as a very, very important field trip. Are you interested?[/B]

Ivan hadn't been on an expedition for three years. They were the only times he ever remembered actually being happy. Therefore, there was only one logical answer to this query.

[B]"Of course I'm interested!"[/B][/FONT]

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There was no morning that Davos was not up early, hard at work behind her desk, reviewing Church matters. There was too much to be done for her to allow herself the luxury of sleeping in. This morning was no different and as soon as she entered her office, it was to see that there were several sealed messages waiting for her.

She opened up the curtains to the French doors leading to the balcony. It was still just a tiny bit too cool out to actually open them up. She could see a hint of the approaching dawn; it was enough to show that it looked to be a clear sunny day once the sun came up.

Davos took a seat and started working through the sealed letters first. Everything was pretty standard until she got to the second to last one. She looked at it, read it again and set it down. That would have to be dealt with first. She took a moment to make sure nothing else needed immediate attention before pulling out some paper and writing up several orders.

Then she summoned one of the messengers assigned to her and sent them off. Once the door had closed behind the messenger she stood up and went over to open the balcony doors. It was nearly eight am and Anna would be along shortly with breakfast. But before that, she needed to take care of something else.

She left her office and headed down the hallway. There were always guards about and she paid them no heed as the two assigned to her for the day fell in and followed along. Nothing was said as she veered unerringly towards her destination deep within the Citadel. Before long they came to a set of locked double doors.

Davos, after unlocking them, let herself in, leaving the guards behind. It didn’t take her long to retrieve what she wanted. She took a moment to look at the map once she had retrieved it before she left the room and relocked the doors. To think that now, of all times, this would come up.

[CENTER][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Davos_Frost.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Elaine_Waltier.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Felix_Achard.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Juste_Achard.jpg[/IMG][/CENTER]
Davos looked at the trio standing on the other side of her massive wooden desk. She looked at each one as they waited for her to begin. High Captain Felix Achard, Cleric Juste Achard and Priestess Elaine Waltier. The former waiting expectantly for her orders, the latter two waiting with a slight look of confusion. Davos stood up.

“[B]Thank you for coming[/B].” Davos was not one to waste time. “[B]I’ll get straight to the point. I’m assigning the three of you to retrieve the Xear artifacts on behalf of the Church.[/B]”

“[B]So the map is real then.[/B]” Felix stated.

“[B]Correct.[/B]” She picked up the map she had retrieved from storage and motioned for Felix to retrieve it. “[B]It’s located on the Vosper summit. That map will take you straight to it. I’ll be assigning you all to the [I]Ilbert[/I] for the trip. You’ll need the greater speed and cargo space if you are to get there first.[/B]”

“[B]Uhh…[/B]” Waltier looked a bit confused and Davos understood; she didn’t fully understand why she was sending her along.

“[B]You’re probably wondering why I’m sending you.[/B]” She asked. Waltier nodded. “[B]It’s simple; no journey should be without spiritual guidance. Also, though I’m sure it will fool no one, sending you out like we normally send a group will provide some small protection at first.[/B]”

“[B]Of course Sief.[/B]”

She looked to Juste, “[B]I’m sure I don’t need to tell you why you are going.[/B]”

“[B]No. I’m not sure what we’re looking for though.[/B]”

“[B]The first artifact is a large crystal with a Xear inscription on it. You’ll need that in order to determine where the next one is located.[/B]” She looked to each of them again before finishing.

“[B]You have full authority to request any supplies you feel necessary Captain. Since the high elevation prevents airships from landing, you’ll need to take chimeras. I suggest all of you go and pack immediately, you are to leave as soon as possible.[/B]”

"[B]One more thing,[/B]" She cautioned. "[B]This assignment is not officially recognized so please keep that in mind on your trip. It will of course be obvious that you were sent, but other than myself and a select few, no one knows of your assignment.[/B]"

“[B]At once Sief,[/B]” Felix offered the proper bow of respect, the others doing so as well.

Once the door closed she sat back down and leaned back into her chair. She placed the tips of her fingers together as she looked at the sunlight streaming into the room. She had given them everything they needed to get the artifact. Hopefully they would get there first.

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[font=garamond][size=4][b][right]Phantom Symbols[/right][/b][/font][/size][font=palatino linotype]Twelve wooden men and women stood in the center of a large, featureless room. Each was adorned with a unique, exotic garment of its own; they were a collection of shapes and angles that had never been seen before within Anova and possibly the entire Globe itself. A further perimeter of men and women – half in number and more flesh than wood – watched over them. Each had a notepad and pen and several were cocking their heads and scribbling madly.

The only design feature in the room was the large black double door at one end. They were made of a heavy Czenovian oak and carved with elaborate fretwork around their edges. The imposing “G” logo was etched deeply into the center.

As the six sets of critical eyes moved over the lifeless mannequins, the double-door swung open behind them. Edith Grimoire swept into the room and as she hovered past each of them, their pens stopped scribbling and their eyes nervously scanned the room. They were trying to check their peripheral vision without actually looking at her.

A lone wooden chair stood at the end of the room and Edith promptly perched herself against it. She wore a deep grey suit, with matching gloves. Her birds’ nest hair reached for the ceiling like black flames. Her eyes were fixed on some intangible point in the distance.

‘So,’ she began softly, ‘any thoughts on this year’s line-up?’

The room’s other occupants exchanged glances and flipped through their note pads. One design assistant cleared his throat.

‘The skirt on number six is a bit long,’ he said earnestly. The other staff looked at the sixth mannequin.

‘We are previewing the winter collection at this show,’ replied Edith flatly, rubbing her forehead. ‘What alternative would you preview? A mini-skirt?’

The design assistant nervously flipped through his notepad. ‘Er, well, I didn’t think…’

‘No, you didn’t,’ said Edith coldly. She looked over her glasses at the assistant for a moment and then glanced around the room. ‘This show will be our largest ever. Representatives from our biggest importers will be there. These garments must be nothing less than flawless and you’re complaining about a winter skirt being too long?’

The entire room fell silent. After several awkward moments, an arm went up at the back of the room. A short, slightly dishevelled-looking woman stepped forward. Her hair was pulled back into a lazy pony tail and she continually adjusted her shirt. The expression on Edith’s face was so clear that it was impossible to misinterpret: [i]Who hired this girl and why are they still working for us?[/i]

As Edith raised a gloved finger at her, the girl interrupted. ‘I have noticed some strange symbols on several of these garments,’ she said quietly as she began walking among the mannequins. ‘This one,’ she tugged at the edge of a jacket, ‘it has some overlapping triangles on the pocket. And this one too,’ she turned a mannequin around. A long dress was draped over it and the rear of the dress was stitched with a tight web of geometric shapes. ‘None of these patterns were on the preview brochures though. They seem to have been added later on.’

All eyes in the room fell upon Edith. She had personally finalized the designs. As she examined the faces with their eyes focused on her, she slowly retracted her finger and settled her gaze on the slightly dishevelled staff member who had raised the issue.

In truth, Edith could not even remember adding these designs to the clothing. Some dresses had been almost completely remodelled to reflect the odd geometric shapes. Interlocking triangles, sharp conflicting angles and highly complex stitching. It wasn’t unattractive, but the design was so unique and so utterly different than she had envisioned originally, that Edith was almost lost for words. She approached one of the dresses and took a closer look. The symbols were interwoven with such complexity that she almost gasped audibly. None of her machinery could do this – and she certainly couldn’t do it by hand – so how was it possible?

A grin spread across Edith’s face. ‘It looks like this is a lucky break,’ she declared. The other staff whispered amongst themselves.

‘Who else in the New Globe – or the Old Globe for that matter – can attest to such craftsmanship?’

‘But how will we duplicate it if we don’t know how it happened?’ The girl adjusted her skirt once more and cocked her head. ‘I don’t think any of our machinery can achieve this.’

Edith glared over her glasses at the girl. ‘Our machinery [i]must[/i] have achieved this, how else would it be possible?’

The girl shrugged. Everybody knew that Edith was the last person to view the garments and that she had personally overseen their production. If anybody knew, it would have to be her. But apparently she didn’t and this fact unnerved the other staff – was Edith Grimoire losing the plot? The very idea struck fear into all of them, for as much as they feared Edith herself, they knew that the fashion house could not survive without her.

‘I want a solution to this before the show starts,’ declared Edith. ‘If we can not duplicate these designs in our final garments, we will upset many customers. And the House of Grimoire has [i]never[/i] upset a customer.’

The girl who had first raised the unexplained designs appeared to be preparing to open her mouth again, but Edith cut her off. ‘I expect a solution. Your jobs depend on it.’

As Edith left the room and closed the double doors behind her, she heard a sudden explosion of whispers from the staff she’d left behind. For a moment her expression changed and a glimmer of uncertainty crossed her face. She genuinely couldn’t remember creating those designs, but she also couldn’t remember approving them at any stage – or even seeing them before the preview. How was this possible? They’d obviously appeared from [i]somewhere[/i] and it was unlike Edith not to know every detail, especially for fashion shows. As she considered the patterns, it also dawned on her that she was sure she’d seen them somewhere before. But where? She had to find out.[/font][/indent]

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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/Felix_Achard.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Juste_Achard.jpg[/IMG][/CENTER]
If he hadn?t heard it straight from the Sief, Juste wasn?t sure if he would have believed anyone telling him he was to go with a group to retrieve artifacts built by the Xear. It just seemed too unbelievable to be true and yet he couldn?t imagine the Sief sending them on a fool?s errand.

?[B]You look a little green cousin,[/B]? Felix commented, his voice just loud enough for the two of them to hear over their footsteps echoing down the hallway.

Juste laughed nervously, ?[B]I feel it. It?s just that, studying the language is one thing, actually going to ruins?[/B]? He trailed off, not sure how to put it.

If there were still artifacts around, considering what he had overheard at the wedding, others would be searching for it as well. He wasn?t so naïve that he didn?t understand the inherent dangers in something like that. People would kill for artifacts left behind by the mysterious Xear.

As if reading his thoughts Priestess Waltier smiled reassuringly, [B]?I?m sure that Captain Achard will see to the necessary security and safety of all who come.[/B]? A statement he merely nodded at.

?[B]And since I can?t read the language or do much else,[/B]? She paused at the split in the hallway, the others doing the same, ?[B]I?ll go and see to arranging proper medical supplies once I?ve gathered my things.[/B]?

She smiled slightly, ?[B]I can at least make sure we have everything necessary should anyone get hurt.[/B]? She bowed her head slightly.

?[B]Unless you need something,[/B]? Felix shook his head indicating he did not. She continued, ?[B]I?ll go and get that done immediately, I?ll meet both of you on board the[I] Ibert[/I].[/B]?

With another slight nod of her head she turned and headed down the corridor to the left. Juste watched her go for a moment and then turned back to Felix who was still waiting.

?[B]I guess I?ll do the same.[/B]? He shrugged. ?[B]I won?t need anything from the library.[/B]? He grinned. ?[B]I have a good memory for that kind stuff. That and I doubt they?d let me walk off with some of the books.[/B]?

?[B]Probably not,[/B]? Felix agreed. ?[B]Gather what you need and wait at the [I]Ibert[/I]. Once we have everything we?ll get going.[/B]?

[B]?Right, it shouldn?t take me all that long to collect what I need.[/B]? Juste continued with Felix for a bit longer until they both took separate paths when the hallway split again.

It didn?t take him long to get to his quarters. It was a tiny little affair with nothing more than a bed, small desk and bookcase, along with a chest at the foot of the bed. The only concession he had to material wealth were some colorful rugs in Earth tones that his parents had insisted on sending him.

Combined with the quilts and pillows in similar colors, when it got chilly, it was easy for him to curl up and get cozy while he worked on whatever he was currently studying. He fished under the bed for his travel bag that he had stuffed under there after unpacking it earlier that morning.

Then he packed up his remaining cleric uniforms along with some extra boots and other odds and ends. Then he finally finished wrapping it up with his extra set of notes for translating text written in the Xear language. He had been studying it long enough that most of it he could simply read, but it was possible they would run into new symbols or other aspects never seen before.

If that were the case, his notes would come in handy. Well at least for him they would. His shorthand was anything but standard. It was a mix of many languages and a few things he had unintentionally made up over the years. It made it unreadable for others, but no one but him would be using it.

Juste hefted the bag over his shoulder and then grabbed the other small one he had prepared. He looked around the room briefly to make sure he hadn?t missed anything and then left for where the air ship would be docked.

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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/jackavatar.jpg[/IMG][/CENTER]
Frederic smiled to himself upon leaving the Bourgade national Museum. For all of Bella?s apparent protesting, he knew perfectly well by the slight gleam in her eyes that if he had left her behind, she would have been furious.

He felt only the slightest twinge of guilt over giving her no warning whatsoever, but it couldn?t be helped. The events at the wedding made it clear that if they weren?t quick about it, someone else would beat them to the location. He was certain that if they found nothing though, he?d never hear the end of it from Bella.

It took no thought on his part to head for one of the taverns where freelancers of all sorts would gather, he could about navigate through the town blindfolded. Frederic could have requested a military ship, but doing so would have set them back time wise and drawn far too much attention to what he was up to. What he needed was someone who had the right kind of ship and would have no problem keeping their mouth shut.

He halted in front of the Crete Tavern. It was still morning but he wasn?t surprised to find over a third of the tables occupied when he entered. Frederic ignored the glances sent his way on account of his uniform. He had already done a little research and knew who he would consider approaching, provided they were? He smiled slightly when he caught sight of a man sitting in the far back. He made straight for the table.

?[B]Jack Deacon I presume.[/B]?

Jack blew smoke from his cigar and leaned back a bit, ?[B]It depends on who?s asking.[/B]?

?[B]May I?[/B]? Frederic indicated the chair across from him, ignoring the question.

?[B]Feel free.[/B]? Jack waited for him to take a seat. ?[B]Can?t say I care for the military, so I suggest you get to the point.[/B]?

?[B]I?m not here on behalf of the military,[/B]? Frederic replied. ?[B]I?m looking to hire a ship for a private trip.[/B]? He could see only the tiniest hint of interest.

?[B]I?m not really into babysitting.[/B]? Jack looked slightly bored with the conversation.

Frederic looked down briefly and then back up. ?[B]If I wanted a pleasure cruise, I wouldn?t have bothered to come here.[/B]? He placed both hands on the table between them.

?[B]I need someone who can handle carrying chimeras and most pleasure cruisers can?t handle the height we?ll need to get to.[/B]?

Jack seemed a little more interested upon hearing that. ?[B]So you?re doing some? [I]exploring[/I] then.[/B]?

?[B]And that answers the other thing I?m looking for, someone who doesn?t ask stupid questions.[/B]? Frederic folded his arms across his chest. ?[B]I don?t want to waste my time with someone who will question orders since they have no experience with something [I]unexpected[/I].[/B]?

Jack took another long drag on his cigar before answering. ?[B]Alright, you?ve got my interest, and you are?[/B]?

?[B]Frederic Achard.[/B]?

He leaned forward slightly, ?[B]So basically Frederic, you?re looking for someone who isn?t going to ask pointless questions and won?t require a set time frame for their services.[/B]?


?[B]Standard pay including additional expenses I assume.[/B]?

?[B]Of course, it will be based on the fair market; with a five percent bonus should the trip go as planned.[/B]?Frederic tilted his head to the side a bit. ?[B]I assume that?s acceptable?[/B]?

Jack just looked at him a bit before finally extending his hand to shake Frederic?s. ?[B]It?s a deal then. I assume you want to leave as soon as possible?[/B]?

?[B]I have one more person to talk to before we can load up what we?ll need.[/B]? He stood up. ?[B]I?ll send a messenger to where your ship is docked to let you know where to come and pick up the chimeras.[/B]?

Jack just nodded. Frederic turned and took his leave. He already had someone gathering the supplies; all that was left was to talk to Natalia. After the fuss with her mother at the reception the other day, he was pretty certain she?d jump at the chance to get away for a bit.[/FONT]

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[COLOR="DarkOrchid"][FONT="Times New Roman"][i]Macey Ellen sighed and sifted through the files on her desk. Her research on the Xear files was scanty at best, and it was really depressing. She sighed again, put her head down on the desk, and looked over her shoulder to see Lannie, her personal maid, putting down various blouses, skirts, and the trousers she'd convinced Macey were all perfectly legitimate to wear.[/i]

"But what will the others think?"

"Oh tush. You'll need freedom of movement for-"

"I'm going to be doing experiments, not tramping through the wilderness."

"You never know!"

[i]Feeling resigned and like a big scummy failure, Macey pulled on her pongee traveling skirt and blouse. She slipped her papers and research files into the briefcase Leonhart had given her the day of her graduation. Turning to her cabinets, she pulled out her testing kits, her litmus strips, and her extra package of test tubes. Placing the breakables in the soft piles of her petticoats, she strapped her trunk with Lannie's help, and snapped the lock.[/i]

"Happy to be leaving?"

"Thrilled. Not that I won't miss your company. And the back work you do."

"Well there is that."

"Wish you could come with me, but Leonhart's actually expecting us to do our own work. I'll bet the men don't do their laundry."

"Maybe you should pack more perfume."

[i]Repressing a sigh, she let Lannie and one of the pageboys pick up the entire affair and drag it out to the front hall. Pulling on her gloves, Macey picked up her briefcase, and headed out the door. Lannie waved goodbye as Macey went to wait outside.

She leaned back against the stone wall of the house she'd grown up in and smiled to herself. Finally going somewhere without a timetable, schedule she had to adhere to permanently. All she had to do now was wait for her father and his cadre of other adventurers.[/i][/FONT][/COLOR]

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[size=1][indent][center][img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest/leonhartavatar.jpg[/img] [img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Ivan_Almagest.jpg[/img] [img]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest/ladybavariaavatar.jpg[/img][/center]
Leonhart and Ivan Almagest entered the courtyard of Rosengard late that afternoon. It was a lovely day outside, and many of the freshly planted flowers had already begun blossom in the unusually warm weather. The small children of Rosengard, many of whom had become orphaned during the Revolution, played beneath an enormous oak tree as a small crew of workers worked to maintain the grounds. With so many new faces and sights the Almagest estate had never been more alive; but ironically the family’s patriarch no longer felt at home there.

In his old age Leonhart found it difficult to sleep, and would often spend his evenings walking the halls, inspecting Rosengard for even the slightest imperfection. In years past he had passed that responsibility to his oldest friend and most trusted advisor Dame Anna Grimalkin, but the actions of another had damaged that relationship irreparably. He was a perfectionist first and foremost; aside from Anna there were few who could survive his impossible attention to detail. With each passing day in Anna’s absence, no matter what Leonhart did, it seemed to him that Rosengard continued to fall deeper and deeper into disrepair.

To those in Czenovia, and even abroad, Rosengard was a monument to his family’s name. This was the home that Lord Celcius first constructed over a century ago, and one whose history should never be forgotten. Leonhart was more worried than ever about the future of his family. [i]Perhaps like Rosengard[/i], he wondered, [i]The Almagests were perhaps falling apart as well.[/i]

Leonhart made a mental note of some overgrowing brush towards the stone archway as he entered through an enormous set of double doors, and motioned Ivan towards the stairway.

“[b]Up there should be a room prepared for you,[/b]” Leonhart said gruffly, “[b]Expect to depart late this evening.[/b]”

Ivan sheepishly nodded, clearly intimidated by his great uncle, “[b]Yes sir,[/b]” he walked halfway up the stairs before stopping momentarily, “[b]And thank you.[/b]”

“[b]Don’t,[/b]” Leonhart paused before he continued, “[b]I thought very highly of your father.[/b]”

“[b]Will you be coming with us, sir?[/b]”

“[b]No,[/b]” a commanding female voice called out from the top of the stairs, “[b]He most certainly will not.[/b]”

Although he did not recognize the voice Ivan certainly knew the face. The woman before him was none other than Lady Bavaria Deacon, Leonhart’s wife and the current advisor to Dynast King Primas Generous. He did not know the details specifically, but he had heard from his mother that she and Leonhart had a falling out. She folded her arms as Leonhart turned his attention her way.

“[b]Bavaria. This is a surprise.[/b]”

“[b]An unpleasant one, I’m afraid,[/b]” she replied dryly, “[b]I need to discuss your expedition with you.[/b]”

Leonhart narrowed his eyes, “[b]No.[/b]”

Bavaria let out a soft laugh as she walked down the stairs, passing Ivan without the slightest acknowledgement of his presence. Leonhart turned his back to her, and she followed closely behind as the two headed down the hall towards his study. Ivan, unsure of what to do, decided it might be safer to head upstairs rather than witness the exchange unfolding before him.

“[b]Did you think you could prepare supplies, chimaera… [i]an airship[/i] without King Primas learning of it? Were you not going to talk to me first?[/b]”

“[b]What I’m doing is in the best interest in Czenovia, Bavaria. There was no time to put this matter to a vote.[/b]”

“[b]This is more than a simple treasure hunt. The last time an Almagest uncovered a Xear artifact it ended in disaster.[/b]”

He shook his head, “[b]Only because it was stolen by Primas’ father. I will not make the same mistake again.[/b]”

“[b]I suppose Cole is working with you on this as well? If so, you can inform him that the recovery of any Xear artifacts on Czenovian soil should have been reported to the Czenovian Poice immediately. That map of his, and whatever comes of it, are rightful property of this nation.[/b]”

“[b]Cole is on vacation with Beatriste Elyse,[/b]” Leonjart replied, “[b]I will lead this expedition myself.[/b]”

“[b]That’s absurd,[/b]” Bavaria said coldly, “[b]I have merely come to express the orders of the Dynast. A member of the military is being approached right now, and he will personally escort your team to the location of the artifact.[/b]“

“[b]This is none of the Dynast’s concern,[/b]” he said between heavy coughs, “[b]Nor yours, since you’ve taken up residence in the Mirror Palace.[/b]”

She winced, “[b]There’s another thing… it’s my brother Jack. I asked him to work with your team.[/b]”

“[b]You can’t be serious,[/b] Leonhart said as leaned against the wall, “[b]Your brother is an unreliable scoundrel.[/b]”

“[b]He’s my blood and I thought he we held leverage over him. However, it seems he has disappeared in one of Artemis’ advanced airships. I'm afraid if he hasn’t sold the details of the artifact to the Anovans he may have turned to the pirates.[/b]”

“[b]This is exactly why I wanted the details of this private,[/b]” he glared, “[b]It appears nobody can be trusted.[/b]”

“[b]Please, try to act adult…[/b]”

As they turned a corner Leonhart stopped for a moment, breathing heavily. Bavaria reached for his shoulder, and he pulled away suddenly.

“[b]Are you alright?[/b]”

There was a pause, and suddenly Leonhart reached for his chest, collapsing to the ground.


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Harrison wasn?t at all sorry that the reception came to an end. He had been only too glad to take the transport back to the [I]Tempest[/I] and incidentally leave all of the family nonsense behind. There was something oddly comforting about having a routine that relied on more precise rules and regulations. There were exceptions of course but for the most part, one always knew what was expected of them.

He did find some of his duties rather tedious but he was more than willing to put up with it. What he enjoyed the most was the specialized training. His sword master at CHAOS had been good, but quite a few of the teachers on the [I]Tempest[/I] were better. He?d learned a lot about using different weapons in the past three years, but he still liked sword work the best.

And now, as his eighteenth birthday approached, he was being put through more training to prepare him for accepting even more responsibility. Harrison worked hard so he believed his superiors when they told him he had earned the commission. However, he still felt self conscious on account of technically not being old enough to enlist, at least not yet. [I]I should stop letting it worry me[/I], he thought as he finished getting cleaned up after his training session.

?[B]Second Lieutenant Almagest.[/B]?

Harrison turned to see who was addressing him, the comb he had been using to straighten his damp hair in his hand. It was Colonel Tallis. ?[B]Yes sir?[/B]?

?[B]Come with me.[/B]? He turned and headed straight to where Harrison?s quarters were located.


?[B]Pack your things; you?re being assigned to co-lead an expedition on behalf of the Dynast.[/B]?

Harrison?s eyebrow shot up. [I]What?[/I] He looked at Colonel Tallis, but he just motioned with his chin towards the door. Puzzled, Harrison did as he was told, gathering what he would need. It didn't take long. He didn?t have a lot of stuff anyway.

He still couldn?t shake the confusion as Colonel Tallis took him to one of the many bays of the ship and boarded one of the smaller air shuttles. He was a little surprised when he had him stow his stuff in the back and then personally launch the ship once the hatch was secured and the two of them were in the cockpit.

?[B]Here, you?ll need this.[/B]? Colonel Tallis tossed a small metal stripe to Harrison who deftly caught it. It was the little pin for the rank of First Lieutenant.


?[B]Leonhart Almagest was planning an expedition to possibly retrieve Xear artifacts.[/B]? He looked over at Harrison. ?[B]I?m sure I don?t have to explain to you what that could possibly mean.[/B]?

Harrison shook his head. ?[B]No sir.[/B]? He had been on the [I]Sentinel [/I]when the Cannon the Underdogs had stolen had struck it. There was no doubt in his mind that anything by the Xear had the potential to be extremely dangerous.

He looked at the pin and then back at Tallis, ?[B]It doesn?t explain this though.[/B]?

?[B]Sure it does,[/B]? Tallis grinned slightly. ?[B]If you?re going to work as my second for this trip, you need to be more than a glorified errand boy.[/B]?

?[B]I still haven?t earned it.[/B]? Harrison insisted stubbornly.

?[B]Actually, this is like a final test if you will.[/B]? Tallis said seriously. ?[B]It?s unlikely that you?d fail and you were due to receive it shortly anyway. It?s not unusual for someone to receive a promotion in advance if the situation warrants it. We?ll be crossing into other countries and though the chance is slim, not having the proper authority could hamper our efforts.[/B]?

It hadn?t occurred to him that they would be leaving the borders of Czenovia. Harrison nodded. ?[B]Understood sir.[/B]? He unfastened the other pin and replaced it with the new one.

[CENTER][IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Harrison_Almagest.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest%202/Ivan_Almagest.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/Runaway511/almagest/ladybavariaavatar.jpg[/IMG][/CENTER]
It took them what seemed like forever to get to where the ship for the expedition was docked in High Czenoble. Harrison wasn?t too keen on returning but at least he wouldn?t have to visit anyone at Rosengard, or Leonhart since it seemed he was in the hospital. Colonel Tallis had made it clear that they would be departing almost immediately.

He grabbed his stuff and followed Tallis to where the ship they would be taking was docked. Harrison didn?t know who was more surprised when he ran into Ivan onboard. [I]What is that kid doing here?[/I]

?[B]What are you doing here?[/B]? Ivan asked as he opened the door to the small quarters to stash his stuff away.

?[B]I could ask the same of you.[/B]? Harrison pointed out. ?[B]Last I heard you?re on the brink of being tossed out of CHAOS.[/B]?

Ivan stiffened slightly. ?[B]I was asked to come by Leonhart.[/B]?

Harrison smirked. ?[B]Whatever kid.[/B]? He turned his back on Ivan and headed for the bridge of the airship, ignoring anything else he had to say.

He was almost to there when he ran into Bavaria. [I]What the hell is she doing here?[/I]

?[B]Hello Harrison,[/B]? She said politely.

?[B]Come to see us off?[/B]?

Bavaria smiled sweetly, ?[B]Oh no Harrison, I?m along for the trip.[/B]?

?[B]Oh?[/B]? Harrison?s eyebrow shot up. ?[B]I heard that Leonhart is in the hospital.[/B]?

?[B]That?s why I?m here since he?s not able to lead this himself.[/B]?

Harrison kept his expression as neutral as possible. ?[B]So Colonel Tallis isn?t going to lead this after all?[/B]?

?[B]Oh no Harrison, you misunderstand. He?ll still be responsible for the expedition.[/B]? She explained.

?[B]If that?s the case, you should go and take care of Leonhart.[/B]? Harrison said coldly. ?[B]You did more than enough damage the last time he was incapacitated.[/B]?

Harrison swiftly dodged around her and hurried to the bridge before she could answer. If this was his test, putting up with Bavaria, to earn the rank of First Lieutenant, he wasn?t sure he wanted it.[/SIZE][/COLOR]

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